Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my book called "The Bluestone Enigma" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Friday, 9 October 2015

Rhosyfelin Mill?

"Rhosyfelin" means "the moor by the mill" or some such thing, and I have always wondered where the mill was or is.  I think we found it a couple of weeks ago, a few hundred yards up the valley, lost in the trees and somewhat ruinous.  To get there, you just follow the public footpath from the archaeological dig site and the ford.

This is far more worthy of archaeological investigation than the "Neolithic Quarry" since it has some quite interesting features which appear to be man-made.  In the winter it will be far easier to explore, when the vegetation has died down a bit.  But there is a sort of walled depression in front of it, which brings to mind the old fulling mill at Pandy, in the Gwaun valley.  ("Pandy" means fulling mill.)

So my working hypothesis is that this is a fulling mill, and not a woollen mill or a corn mill.   I wonder if the National Geographic will sponsor a full-scale research project?  Hmm -- I suspect not.  That worthy journal is probably not that interested in old mills which had stinking ponds full of urine in front of them........

Monday, 5 October 2015

Red sarsens

On the matter of red sarsens, Pete Glastonbury has kindly given permission for me to use this interesting pic -- of red sarsens in a cottage wall. What strikes me is the distinctly foxy red colour -- typical of the iron oxide staining which can occur on rock surfaces when they are underground.

What intrigues me rather more is the pinky colour that sometimes appears on rocks -- presumably that must also be due to oxidation processes, involving different mineral combinations?

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Reddish erratic in Savernake Forest?

Out of the blue, I have received a letter from a gentlemen who once did some work in Savernake Forest, which lies SE of Marlborough.  He was asked by a well-known geomorphologist to investigate and take photos of an apparent erratic boulder with dimensions c 18" x 18' x 12" which lay in the depths of the wood.  He recalls that it was sub-rounded in shape, and it had a reddish colour -- in other words, it was very distinct from the chalk bedrock in that area.    A reddish bluestone?

The grid ref is approx 423166.  The location is more than 25 km to the NE of Stonehenge.  The gentleman concerned is trying to find his photos taken at the time.  I will also try to discover more details......

Has anybody else got any knowledge of possible glacial erratics in that area?  Or has anybody else come across any records that might be of interest?

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Striations at Stonehenge

We have had some recent discussion on this, and Myris has kindly brought to my attention the enclosed -- written by HH Thomas for the BGS Annual Report -- I'd hazard a guess and say the date was around 1920.

The text is almost a hundred years old, and much has moved on since then (including our understanding of glacier behaviour), but what's interesting is a reference to a large flake of bluestone showing "good" glacial striations.  On the whole I would trust HHT on whether the marks were glacial striations or not -- he had after all seen a lot of them in his time in Wales.

Others have also mentioned striae on bluestone monoliths, but they seem to be very indistinct and open to other interpretations too.  Mind you, we should not be surprised.  The mottley collection of stones and stumps of all shapes and sizes is after all best explained as a suite of glacial erratics  -- as we might have mentioned before.....

Four cheers for William Smith

Good for William Smith!  This was William Smith's map that started it all -- with a recognition that rocks were arranged regularly and according to certain rules, that they could be identified by their textures, colours and fossil contents, and that all rocks exposed today represent the conditions that prevailed when they were originally emplaced.  This followed Hutton's revolutionary Principle of Uniformitarianism of 1785.

This map, showing the spatial arrangements of rocks in the UK, underpinned the vast interest in the tracing of glacial erratics in the 1800's -- a process that involved many academic geologists and amateurs as well.  So this is where it all began -- the provenancing work of Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins today is a recent manifestation of this instinct for geological detective work.

This looks like a really interesting exhibition in the National Museum of Wales.....

Monday, 28 September 2015

A Long History of Rhosyfelin (4th version)


I have revised this document to take account of the latest information.  It's essentially a guide to what happened in the Ice Age, with a simple explanation how the regional chronology is represented at this site.   The more promotion there is for the quarry idea, the less convincing it becomes.  If you go to Craig Rhosyfelin "cold" and with no preconceived notions fixed in your head, and ask yourself what you are looking at, what you find is a rather beautiful craggy rock in a wooded valley, with a long history of landscape evolution and an interesting set of Quaternary sediments.  And signs of occasional settlement by hunters or travellers.  End of story.

A Long History of Rhosyfelin (4th version) 

This is an informal explanation of the history of landscape evolution, and sediment accumulation, at Craig Rhosyfelin in North Pembrokeshire. The site is claimed by archaeologists to be a Neolithic bluestone quarry, but that is not supported by the evidence on the ground.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Bluestones and the "smoking gun"

About a year ago I published a post on this blog relating to a 2011 paper from the team involved in the Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog digs.  It represents their thinking at the time the project started.  It's interesting to look at it again, since this article contains their most comprehensive assessment of the glacial transport hypothesis.  It is to the credit of the team members that they did at least consider some of the pros and cons, and give some time and space to looking at the arguments presented by Olwen Williams-Thorpe and her colleagues in 1991.  Here is the piece:

It will come as no surprise to anybody that I think the arguments presented against the glacial transport hypothesis are faulty -- as I state in my blog piece.  Also unsurprisingly, the human transport hypothesis is then accepted as fact, with analysis devoted to "how" and "why" the stones were carried / dragged / pushed / sailed / punted all the way from West Wales to Stonehenge.  The essential acceptance of the hypothesis is based upon no facts at all, but on a string of speculations and fantasies.  There is no itemisation of the flaws in the human transport thesis, as there is in the case of the glacial transport thesis.  The authors should have noted the following:

1.  There is no sound evidence from anywhere in the British Neolithic / Bronze Age record of large stones being hauled over long distances for incorporation in a megalithic monument.
2.  The builders of Neolithic monuments across the UK simply used whatever large stones were at hand.
3. If ancestor stones were being transported to Stonehenge, why have all of the known bluestones come from the west, and not from any other points of the compass?
4.  There is no evidence either from West Wales or from anywhere else of bluestones (or spotted dolerite in particular) being used preferentially in megalithic monuments, or revered in any way.
5.  If long-distance stone haulage was "the great thing" for the builders of Stonehenge, why is there no evidence of the development of the appropriate haulage technology leading up to the late Neolithic, and a decline afterwards?  It is a complete technological aberration.
6. The evidence for quarrying activity in key locations is questionable, to put it mildly.
7.  The sheer variety of bluestone types  (I still insist the figure is somewhere near 30 when one includes packing stones and debris) argues against selection and human transport.  There cannot possibly have been up to 30 "bluestone quarries" scattered about West Wales.
8.  No physical evidence has ever been found of ropes, rollers, trackways, sledges, abandoned stones, quarrymen's camps, or anything else that might bolster the hypothesis.
9.  Bits and pieces of experimental archaeology on stone haulage techniques (normally in "ideal" conditions) have done nothing to show that our ancestors could cope with the sheer physical difficulty of stone haulage across the heavily-wooded Neolithic terrain of West Wales (characterised by bogs, cataracts, steep slopes and very few clearings) or around the rocky coast.  Aubrey Burl made this point forcefully many years ago, and it remains forceful today.
10.  And if there was a "proto-Stonehenge" somewhere, built of assorted local stones and then dismantled and taken off to Stonehenge, where was it?

In relation to point (8) on the above list, the authors of the article have argued on a number of occasions that the discovery of a genuine bluestone quarry would be the "smoking gun" that would sort the issue out once and for all.  The quarry hunt has become something of an obsession.  Well, that's all very well, except that the evidence for ancient quarrying is incredibly difficult to interpret since we are dealing with the pre-metal tools era and with acidic environments in which bone and other organic materials do not survive for very long.  As we have seen at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog, one man's Neolithic quarry is another man's natural rock outcrop.  In my book the supposed trackways, platforms, ramps, pivots, scratches, rails, revetments, pillars and so forth at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog are figments of a fertile imagination -- and some of them have even been unconsciously "manufactured" by those involved in the archaeological digs.

Actually there are scores of "smoking guns" that might sort out the bluestone transport arguments.  One would be a discovery of a bluestone monolith on a sledge, buried in the mud of the Severn Estuary.  Another would be a discovery of an unequivocal glacial deposit on Salisbury Plain.  Another would be a collection of erratics scattered about in the Stonehenge landscape, or not far from it.  Another would be a sunken Neolithic boat somewhere in Carmarthen Bay, with a bluestone monolith in it.   Another might be a bluestone monolith abandoned somewhere near Abergavenny, with the remails of a haulage contractor crushed beneath it..........

Dream on, folks -- there must be plenty of other possibilities........

The paper:

No 1, 01 // 2011, pp 219-252


Whilst the sarsen stones of Stonehenge were brought from a short distance of about 30km away,
the smaller bluestones originate in Wales, over 200km to the west. This remarkable distance for the
movement of megaliths is unparalleled anywhere in the prehistoric world; some geologists have
suggested that the bluestones were carried by glaciers in a previous Ice Age but others point out
that there is no evidence for past glaciations ever having reached Salisbury Plain or even close to it.
This paper proposes that the bluestones were dragged by Neolithic people around 3000 BC, taking
a largely overland route except for a crossing of the River Severn. This contrasts with the conventional thinking that the stones were carried on boats across the sea from Milford Haven in south Wales to southeast England. It presents evidence for new sources of some of the bluestones on the northern flanks of the Preseli hills, as well as rejecting the long-held notion that the sandstone Altar Stone came from the area of Milford Haven. Finally, it proposes that the Preseli bluestones were selected for transport to Stonehenge because they represented the ancestry of one line of Britain’s
earliest farming migrants who arrived in the Preseli region shortly before 4000 BC.


Mike Parker Pearson (Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield). 
[ ]
Joshua Pollard (Department of Archaeology, University of Southampton). 

[ ]
Colin Richards (School of Arts, Histories and Cultures, University of Manchester). 

[ ]
Julian Thomas (School of Arts, Histories and Cultures, University of Manchester). 

[ ]
Kate Welham (School of Conservation Sciences, Bournemouth University).
Richard Bevins (National Museum of Wales, Cardiff).
Robert Ixer (Freelance geological consultant, Sutton Coldfield).
Peter Marshall (Honorary lecturer, University of Sheffield).
Andrew Chamberlain (Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield).