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Letter 8137

Darwin, W. E. to Darwin, C. R.

[1 Jan 1872]


Worm action at Stonehenge.



My dear Father,

I went to Stonehenge yesterday. about 434 m. from Salisbury I saw anold ridged & furrowed field (which shepherd at Stonehenge said hadbeen so out of memory)f2

The hill sloped perhaps 7o at top to 10o or 12o 34 way down & thengradually lessened its slope to the valley.

The ridges were straight down the slope & faint and seemed to terminate ina common transverse furrow at the bottom of the steepest pitch, &therefore some little way from base of slope.

It was so gastly cold I could not stay long, meaning to go again, unlessanything else turned up.

I unfortunately did not examine carefully enough transverse furrow

Beginning at top of slope

depth of furrow— 5 18 inch deep

70 strides down— 4 ” deep

60 ” lower 5 14 “

10 ” ” 4 14 “

10 ” ” 5 “

I do know what the interval is between these two measurements.

18 strides from transverse) furrow was 312 deep

furrow where the other ends)

8 strides nearer transverse) ” ” 312 ”

furrow )

4 strides nearer transverse) ” ” 314

furrow (i.e. 4 strides from it))

This is quite incomplete, and should be measured all again; itwants 2 or 3 persons to do it quickly.

at Stonehenge itself little was to be made out. the main outerrange of stones with flat ones on the top were all of same level andtherefore certainly had not sunk.

A pair of large ones with top one fell in 1797; these have made agreat indentation in the ground, and have squeezed some of theircorners into the ground, but they are undermined by rats or rabbitsand are of such gigantic size that nothing could be told as to thework of worms.

In several places the outer stones have fallen outwards and broken in two, and these great blocks are all sunkin the grass at various angles.

I examined one which may have lain for many centuries as thefracture between the two halves was quite weather worn. By means ofmy trowel I found that this was sunk at the spot I examined 10 inchesinto the mould (it was evidently worm mould v. full of worms); theshepherd said the earth had probably been disturbed there, but I couldsee no signs of it and the turf was smooth all round the block. atalmost 8 yards from the point outwards and falling about 10 inches to afoot, I found the depth of the mould above the mixed flint and chalkto be 512 inches and at a depth of about 4 inches I found a bit oftobacco pipe.

I should think therefore the blocks had long sunk asdeep as they could, tho’ by driving my skewer (of 6 inches) down downat bottom of my trowel hole (of 12 inches deep) I did not find thebottom.f3

I found I had reached bottom of stone on that side by being able todrive my skewer underneath it at right angles to my trowel hole. Thetwo halves of the stone I think have sunk to the same amount intothe soil as they are about the same level above it namely 2 ft; acorresponding stone standing up is about 2ft 10 inches in depth whichagrees with this one, but they are not very regular, and the block mayeasily have sunk on certain points as far as the rubble so as to prevent this block sinking any more on the side I examined.

round many of the buried(not round the upright) stones the angle between the turf & stone wasfilled with turf to the height of 3 to 4 inches


this turf was pretty evidently caused by worms as the castings werecoming out between the stone & the upper edge of the turf, and in somecases in the little slope itself. this turf band was not all roundthe blocks, and as far as I could decide anything, there was no bandof turf where the stone went sheer (perpendicular) down.the irregularities in the stone were mostly filled in. As thispatch pointed out by the shepherd as having been untouched duringmemory of man I send you particulars on another sheet.

I go tomorrow to examine a field which I hear on first rate authoritywas corn about 50 years ago & has not been touched since.

I also hear of a similar field in Beaulieu Park which I hope to goto soon as well as the Abbey armed with an introduction.f4

Your affect Son | WED

DAR 162: 105



The date is established by CD’s annotation.
Stonehenge is a group of standing stones on Salisbury Plain inWiltshire. William’s observations of the field are given inEarthworms, p. 296.
CD gave William’s observations at Stonehenge in Earthworms, pp. 154–6.
William examined the buried pavement at Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshireon 5 January 1872; CD himself visited in 1877 (Earthworms,pp. 193–7).
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