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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Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Back to normal service

Thanks for the patience during the breakdown of the mail service!  It was a password authentication problem -- a typical Apple Mac issue.......

If I have missed any submitted comments, apologies.  Some messages might have come in and been accidentally dumped while I was sorting things out.  Anonymous messages will ALWAYS go straight into the bin -- I don't even get to see them.

By the way, since some were asking for reports of the MPP talks last week, I got this today from a very senior (retired) academic: 

"We very much enjoyed your talk at Castell Henllys last week. We also attended the talk the following day by Mike Parker Pearson which was interesting but had a far more uncritical, one might almost say sycophantic, audience. The debate at the end of your talk was enjoyably extensive and pointed by comparison. It was especially disappointing that despite the juxtaposition of the two talks and theories MPP did not even acknowledge the existence of an alternative to his view."

So there we are then.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Mail problems

Apologies if there have been any comments submitted in the last 24 hours -- my mail programme is giving problems -- nothing in and nothing out.  Please bear with me -- working on it!


Saturday, 24 September 2016

Meini Gwyr

 Illustration from Pam Figgis's book on Prehistoric Preseli

We have been thinking about what the archaeologists were hoping to find at Pensarn when they started their dig a few weeks ago.  Tony has mentioned possible matches in Anglesey.  Maybe they were hoping to find something like this?  This is Meini Gwyr, close to the Glandy Cross petrol station, at SN14172658.  At present all you can see is two small standing stones and a faint raised embankment or circular cairn with a lower area in the centre.  But the excavations revealed an interesting structure with at least 17 standing stones, a passage down the middle, and kerbs or revetments.  There do seem to be segments and kerbs like this at Pensarn as well.......

This site is of course interesting because it is a part of the Glandy Cross complex, flagged up as one of the most important Early Bronze Age ritual complexes in West Wales.  Herbert Thomas knew about it, and of course this is the same area as his "Cilymaenllwyd" which he speculated as being the possible location for a proto-Stonehenge.  So MPP and his colleagues are by no means the first people to think about a large stone monument being erected in Pembrokeshire and then shipped off later to Stonehenge for some mysterious reason or other...........

The trouble is that in spite of much searching, no circle of sockets of other evidence has ever been found for a big stone circle in this area -- and neither has anybody found a stone working area or "Preselite" tool-making factory, although both have been mooted many times over the years.

From the Coflein web catalogue of sites in Wales:

Site Description
This is an interesting example of an embanked stone circle, a monument type not common to south Wales. Its occurence here shows that the Glandy Cross area was of exceptional importance in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. The circle consists of a broad, low, roughly circular bank 36.6m in diameter with a narrow entrance on the west. There is no ditch, and excavations by Grimes in 1938 confirmed there had never been one. Two stones of an original 17 still survive on the west side, 1m and 1.7m high respectively, standing 6.5m apart.

Information from Rees, S. 1992, A Guide to Ancient and Historic Wales - Dyfed, Cadw/HMSO, page 38.
For fuller discussion see: T. Kirk and G. Williams, ‘Glandy Cross: A Later Prehistoric Monumental Complex in Carmarthenshire, Wales’, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 66 (2000)

T. Driver, RCAHMW, 16th April 2010.


More info (Dyfed Archaeological Trust):

Meini Gwyr, also known as Buarth Arthur, is an embanked stone circle probably dating to the transition between the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age periods. The site is likely to have been used for religious rituals.
According to a late 17thC account by Edward Lhuyd, there were then fifteen stones in the circle ranging in height from three to six feet, but a further seven or eight were thought to have been 'carried off'. Apparently, there was also an entrance lined by smaller slabs.

The site was partially excavated in 1938 by Professor W.F. Grimes. Unfortunately most of the records were destroyed in a bombing raid on Southampton in 1940. The plan is based partly on ground and air photographs of the excavation. Grimes established that the circle, some 60 feet in diameter, originally consisted of 17 stones which, like the two surviving ones, were set at an angle into the inner slope of the bank about 3 feet height and 120 feet in the external diameter, with no trace of a ditch. The excavations confirmed that the entrance through the earthwork was formerly flanked by upright stones, set in a trench. The bank was set with stone curb extending for some 30 feet on either side of the entrance, in front of which was a clay-filled pit containing a large quantity of charcoal. There were no features or finds recorded from the interior, though this was only partly examined. Some fragments of early Bronze Age pottery came from a hearth set in a deep depression on the southeast bank.

Meini Gwyr stands at the centre of 'West Wales' most important complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age ritual and funerary monuments, lying on a ridge-way linking the wester end of the Preselis to the eastern Cleddau river and Milford Haven. This was a route by which the bluestones for Stonehenge may have been transported. Included in the complex are several Bronze Age burial mounds and cairns or various forms, and a 'henge' monument (akin to early elements at Stonehenge). Also, there is the site of 'Yr Allor' ('The Altar') comprising two, formerly three standing stones some 200 yards west of Meini Gwyr and apparently known by the 17thC. These stones may be the remains of a chambered tomb.

Carn Meini, a source of the bluestones lies only 3 miles to the north. The site's name - 'Meini' ('large stone') and 'Gwyr' ('crooked') may refer to the varying size, shape or angle of the stones set in the circle. These were not 'bluestones' but another form of volcanic rock. Many such boulders are found locally and were originally deposited by glacial action. The alternative name 'Buarth Arthur' ('Arthur's Yard') is an example of a common legendary association of this figure with prehistoric stone monuments and is not regarded as significant.

Erratic boulders or quarried blocks?

 One of the slides used in my talk at Castell Henllys the other evening.

The Myris Challenge!  Our beloved colleague Myris seems to think that all sensible geomorphologists would have a problem with my description of these bluestone boulders, slabs and blocks at Stonehenge as "typical glacial erratics" that would not look out of place close to any modern glacier front.  There are plenty of other photos on the "Stones of Stonehenge" web site, here:

Look in particular at the photos for stones 31 to 49.......

So let's have a straw poll.  Do YOU think these stones look more like ancient glacial erratics, or Neolithic quarried blocks?

Stones in Wales, Wood in Wessex (again)

Tony reminds me of this post from 2012 -- was it prophetic in some way, given all the new stuff about Durrington Walls etc?  We had quite a good discussion when it was originally posted, but when we look at the quarrying obsession again, we have here a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why there was no need for quarrying in Preseli in association with Stonehenge, and why there was no need for the great Neolithic political unification as envisaged in the MPP narrative.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Stones in Wales, Wood in Wessex

 Above -- Pentre Ifan, Pembrokeshire.  Megalithic culture and big stones at the core of a now-removed long barrow.
Below:  White Barrow, Wilts.  An earthen barrow that may have had a timber internal structure.

I was struck, when reading one of Aubrey Burl's books the other day, by the extraordinary lag that occurred between the use of big stones in megalithic monuments in Brittany, Scotland, Wales and Ireland on the one hand and in Wessex on the other hand.  Big stones started to be used in all those former places around 6,000 years ago, but while a megalithic culture was flourishing on the Celtic fringe, the people who lived on and around Salisbury Plain carried on making timber monuments (were their trees bigger and better?) and long barrows made almost entirely with chalk rubble and soil, with a few stones chucked in if they happened to be handy (as at Boles Barrow).  Often they are referred to as "earthen barrows" although some of them incorporate sections of stone walling -- generally using small stones.  I have found some references to incorporated sarsens -- but very few.

I think I have this right -- no doubt I will be corrected if I don't -- but Burl mentions that of the 66 long barrows in the Stonehenge area only one (Tidcombe and Fosbury 1) has a fabricated stone chamber made out of sidewalls and capstone.  West Kennet uses much bigger stones, and has a date of around 4,900 yrs BP.  So the portal dolmens, passage tombs and variations were built over a wide geographical area in the Celtic Fringe, with only the Cotswold-Severn tombs impinging onto the chalklands of Salisbury Plain.  This situation persisted for almost 1500 years, if we accept that the first stone settings at Stonehenge were not put in place until about 4500 yrs BP.  Around about the same time, big stones were used at Avebury -- and after that, a megalithic culture then carried on alongside an earth-moving culture and a timber using culture.  In the centuries around the Late Neolithic - early Bronze age transition, all three elements were incorporated into the big civil engineering projects of the Salisbury plain tribes or family groups.

Then, in the west and north, people got fed up with using big stones in tombs and moved into a "standing stone" phase instead, putting up rows, circles, ovals and pairs all over the place, not to mention thousands of single standing stones as waymarks, memorials, territorial boundary markers, cattle scratching stones, or whatever.

To summarise -- it seems to me that for about a thousand years, between 6,000 yrs BP and 5,000 yrs BP,  big stones were used as a matter of course in burial chambers around the Celtic Fringe, but not on Salisbury Plain.  Why?  It's not that there weren't plenty of big stones lying around in the landscape -- David Field, Aubrey Burl and others have commented on the fact that there were sarsens littered across the chalklands.  (I would argue that somewhere there were lots of erratics as well, but leave that to one side for the moment.....)  People chose not to use them, but to continue with digging ditches, making ridges and embankments and putting vertical posts into the ground.

This does not argue for close cultural ties between the Salisbury Plain community and the communities of the Celtic Fringe.  When, finally, a stone-based megalithic culture arrived on Salisbury Plain, it lasted for 500 - 600 years and was something of an aberration, with the creation of a rather wacky monument called Stonehenge, using woodworking techniques (tongue and groove joints, mortise and tenon joints etc) on stone -- and mimicking and developing the things people had been doing for many generations with big timber posts.

Very strange......and this does have a bearing on the likelihood of the Stonehenge people knowing anything at all about bluestones, the uplands of Preseli, and the routeways between West Wales and Salisbury Plain.  There was clearly not complete cultural isolation, because stone axes and other trade goods were being exchanged all the time, but I would argue that that trading activity was more or less random, opportunistic and quite small in scale.

Friday, 23 September 2016

The Dyffryn Stones

The Dyffryn Stones (courtesy RCAHMW)

I am still mystified as to why anybody should ask Facebook to remove those images from the Pensarn dig that were posted up by Emyr Jones and myself.  Anyway, they are gone, and have not returned in precisely their original form, although what is out there is out there, and I have put two of the images back onto my Facebook page so as to inform and educate those who are interested in such things. 

In our speculations on what the archaeologists might have been looking for in the current dig, we made a reasonable stab at it by suggesting they were looking for a Neolithic passage grave surrounded by a stone circle which could then be labelled as a "proto-Stonehenge".  This would also fit nicely into the MPP thesis that the stones would be invested with significance since they were set up around "a place of the dead" -- and could thus be linked with Stonehenge, which is also seen as a place of the dead.  This would then be a reason for those old Neolithic folks to cart away these "stones of the ancestors" as tribute stones all the way to Stonehenge, to be built into the monument around 5,000 years ago.  Emyr also picked up on something like this when he talked to the diggers, and indeed MPP has suggested as much in his talks.

In the event, what we have at Pensarn, by the look of it, is a Bronze Age cist burial site maybe with a sharp edge or kerb and maybe segmented internally as well.  A serious disappointment to the quarrymen.  But all will be revealed in due course, if the news and image blackout allows........

So what were the diggers hoping for?  Something like the Garn Ochr Cairn, I suspect.  It's a bit confusing because it is also called Henry's Moat, the Dyffryn Stones, the Dyffryn Syfynwy Stones and the Dyffryn Circle.  It is classified as a ring-cairn or henge.  It lies between Tufton and Rosebush, on the southern flank of Mynydd Preseli, at grid ref SN05922845.  In the NP Figgis book it is site number 33.  Here is the link to the Coflein record:

From the air - a Toby Driver photo (RCAHMW)

Site Description

Garn Ochr Cairn is a greatly disturbed and much denuded round cairn some 21.3m in diameter and surviving to only 0.5m high. It was contained within a ring of thirteen orthostatic - earthfast - stones, although only ten remained in 1966, two of which were prostrate. The stones are up to 2.0m long.

This is probably a prehistoric funerary or ritual monument. It has been supposed that there was originally a burial chamber within the ring although there appears to be no evidence for this. Three stones, now gone, some 12m to the north-east, were seen as evidence for a burial chamber.

Sources: RCAHMW & M Pembrokeshire Inventory (1925), 118 No. 313
Daniel 'The Prehistoric Chambered Tombs of England and Wales (1950), 204 No. 38
Driver 'Pembrokeshire: Historic Landscapes from the Air' (2007), fig 65

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Greenland ice sheet trimline

A fabulous photo of the edge of the Greenland ice sheet, showing a very prominent trimline between a landscape of weathered rock and reasonable vegetation cover, to the left, and a landscape of newly exposed and "clean" rock in the centre of the photo.  On the lower version of the image I have added one white line for the position of the trimline, and another showing the current ice edge.  Sadly, I don't have info on the length of time that has elapsed between the advanced ice edge position and that of the present day.....

The image is from somewhere in SW Greenland.