Much wandering later, just as I’m on the verge of reluctantly giving up, I spot a pointy stone, which looks familiar. And so it proves to be, the unmistakable grooves of the Polisher lying just beyond. I’ll be honest, I’m feeling a bit pleased with myself at this point, but even without the extra euphoric boost, this would be a winner all day long every day.
I won’t try to describe the stone, the pictures do that better. Instead I’m going to lie down with my head resting on its smooth surface and enjoy the peace for a few minutes.
An excellent counter point to the likes of the massive Swindon stone and al the other massive testimonies to stone age know how, this is an absolute gem. If you have your fill of Avebury, make the effort. It's such a superlative illustration of the amount of time and effort taken by humans to work stone.
To be get a sense of just why this is such a significant bit of rock, try grinding two small bits of (non-archaeological) sarsen together. This is hard stone, so to polish it to this degree is no mean feat, even if it did take 1200 years.
Can't really testify to the difficulty in finding it, as I was well guided by people who had been there on more than one occasion. But I reckon that if you look at the photos with the tree and the triangular stone, they are effective markers.
Access a walk of at least 2 or 3 miles from the nearest parking place. Walking as we did from Manor Farm to the east of Avebury, the Ridgeway is a reasonably evenly surfaced bridlepath-type track. The gate to the bit of the down where the Polisher is has been locked both times I've been there, but isn't difficult to climb if you can climb at all.
Wednesday 17 September 2003
When I was here before I thought it'd be a cool place to sit & chill in good company. I was right.
Also had a stomp about looking at the sarsens in the area. Loads of them are beautiful and impressive. Made me want to go down into the Mother's Jam etc & just wander about looking at stones, but didn't have time!
Found a couple of stones nearby with holes in, but probably not 'the holed stone' that people talk about. Didn't find the 'cup-marked one' either. Didn't much care. This is such a special place.
This big old rock is so soft to the touch and worn so completely smooth it's absolutely staggering! To consider just how many people's actions upon this stone created the way it is today makes my head spin.... But why this stone and why here, exactly? I wondered has it fallen or been moved or was it always thus? (I now see from baza post below that it has indeed been moved)
I lay in the sunshine pondering these questions and drew a complete blank. This is a stone with secrets never to be revealed.
It's a bit of a hike up to find it but with good directions is actually pretty easy to find. (Moth used me as a guinea pig to test whether his written directions were clear or not. Well, I found it, which either proves I'm not as stupid as I thought or Moth writes well. Or possibly both.)
If you can find it, see this! But take your time once you have. It's very rewarding.
Sunday 27 July 2003
I know many people regard this stone as a kind of (un?)holy grail. And it wasn't exactly easy to find, even though I had gleaned a fair amount of information and hints from a few different sources.
Reading about it, it seems a very special place and I was very 'keyed up' about trying to find it, with slight misgivings about whether I'd be disappointed.
So is it worth the effort or is the chase better than the catch?
When I first approached the stone, I didn't think it was the one. It seemed smaller than in photos I'd seen and the way I approached, the corner with the grooves was farthest from me.
When I spotted the grooves I could hardly believe how insignificant the much sought-after stone looked....
BUT, the very moment my fingers traced the grooves, feeling how incredibly smooth they are worn, I felt a sudden connection to the people who used the stone to sharpen their tools and weapons.
And I'm not someone who usually feels that kind of 'nonsense'! For me, that in itself means this is a very special place.
How many people must have sharpened how many tools and weapons how many times to wear such long and relatively deep grooves in such hard rock?
(A question I couldn't help keep coming back to as I sat and pondered the stone is actually kind of banal, and will surely never be answered - why this stone…?)
This is such a special spot. The polissoir is one of only two in England, and it's apparently by far the better one*. It's a sarsen stone worn smooth / into six gashes by people sharpening stone axes and arrows. We sat there for ages. It's amazing to think you are sitting in exactly the same spot as those people thousands of years ago, and it's amazing to run your hand over the marks in the stone. It's not easy to find, for which I'm not sorry. If some people don't mind daubing paint all over Avebury or Glastonbury tor or breaking the stones at Stoney Littleton (ooh it makes me SO MAD thinking about that even now) well I don't want them anywhere near this, or I would be forced to practice sharpening their faces on it. Basically you walk along the Ridgeway from the Sanctuary, turn right and hunt for it amongst the 'Grey Wethers'. Helpful eh. But half the point is to find it yourself.
*sheer hearsay, from George Osborn's 'Ancient Wiltshire' (1982). I have no idea where the 'other' he talks of is. And besides, people were polishing their axes somewhere weren't they. Maybe he means this is only one of two really obvious 'multi channelled' polishing stones. Who knows.
For those who cannot find this site or cannot walk all the way up here, another although not so grand, polissoir surface can be seen on stone number 19B of the West Kennett Avenue.
As this stone is complete and in the upright position, its use as an axe grinder would have long ceased before it was incorporated into the Avenue
(It seems that Baza's post pre-empts this, but for some reason I hadn't taken in the human implications of it.)
The deep grooves on the polissoir obviously took years of repetitive axe-polishing to produce, perhaps generations' worth. Think of all the people who came to this very stone over and over in their lives, as young people, then bringing their children, then their grandchildren - watching how the axes were polished. They must have been thinking about the passing of time, sharing stories about themselves and their ancestors, the land around them, and how the two fitted together. The polissoir would have been a fixed point of reference in a world where people wouldn't have lived in one place for more than a few seasons or years.
Used as a polissoir in the earlier Neolithic, and containing all this symbolic significance, the stone was eventually stood up on end as a monument in its own right in the later Neolithic. I suppose it then it lost its function as a polissoir, but became purely symbolic of links with the past and the ancestors. Other polisher stones have been incorporated into other monuments relating to the past and the ancestors, as at the West Kennet longbarrow.
(from reading 'Avebury- the biography of a landscape' by Pollard and Reynolds, 2002)
The stone`s description as it appears in the SMR (N.M.No.33951):
A recumbent tabular stone 1.4m in length includes grooves and a dished area consistent with its use for the shaping, whetting and polishing of Neolithic stone axes. Excavation around the stone in 1963 demonstrated that it had originally been upright, whilst an iron wedge and a coin showed that it had been split in the 13th century AD.