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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Saturday, 13 February 2016

Concerns about the Giant's Quoit at Porthleven

 Wow -- Porthleven has taken quite a bettering lately in the storms.  This photo shows the breaking waves at the height of the recent gale.  Hope the Giant's Quoit is still OK and remains where it was.  On the other hand, if the cliff face has been heavily battered, maybe more giant erratics might have been revealed.....

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Gateposts in the Whitland area

Whitland SN 167199.  Right in the middle of the town between the surgery and the Co-op.  This is a conglomerate, difficult to tell because it has been painted, but rounded pebble inclusions can be seen in the rear

Crosshands SN194234.   Gate post in slab material dressed to present a sloping design

Llanglydwen SN192268.  Slate gate posts, dressed to present a sloping design

From Dave Maynard, with thanks: 
Some gateposts I’ve noticed in the area north of Whitland.  Just a small sample, plenty of other big stones off the Preselis, these are just a few I’ve noticed.   I think I'll do a bicycle mounted survey when the weather is better, but before the vegetation grows too much.

The issue of mauls at the supposed quarries appears to have been avoided.  To get any stone out of the parent rock will result in lots of flakes and spalls.  The only other option is if they had previously been detached.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

That "Jovian" fabric -- how accurate can "spot provenancing" be?

One of the interesting points that came up in discussions after my seminar last week in Swansea was the claim by geologists Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins that they have identified the source of some chips of "foliated rhyolite with Jovian fabric" at Stonehenge to within a few square metres of sampling point 8 at the tip of the Rhosyfelin spur.  I have dealt with this claim before, more than once, and have expressed my scepticism:

Although the geologists have been rather cautious about their interpretation, it has been seized upon with relish by the archaeologists -- and has led to all that wild speculating about the "monolith extraction point" which has been much photographed, mostly with MPP indicating exactly where a Stonehenge bluestone is supposed to have actually come from. Of course, he cites the geologists as his authority.   Has MPP been chastised by the geologists?  It does not appear so.......

Following my presentation, without any prompting from me, some of those present were mystified about the degree of accuracy claimed, on a craggy outcrop from which rock has been removed down through the millennia by a variety of different processes.  So herewith are my attempts to articulate the concerns:

As I understand it, the foliated rhyolites from across this area have subtle variations on the "Jovian" texture theme -- no two samples look precisely the same in thin section.  Presumably that means that each foliation layer has its own "signature" which is different from the foliation layers above and beneath it.  It does not appear that the geologists yet have enough detail -- at least not in the published articles thus far -- to say whether the "signature" of each layer remains consistent laterally, right across a foliation surface or plane.  Several other geomorphologists have pointed out to me that if a particular foliation plane has its own signature, then any point at which that plane is exposed (maybe miles away from Rhosyfelin) could be a source for the fragments found at Stonehenge.  We can see on the photo above that the foliation plane exposed in the yellow strip closest to the camera (the supposed "monolith extraction point") is also exposed at multiple other points across the face.  That face is not flat, and it is not a single fracture plane -- the face is made up of multiple fracture surfaces, some set more than 50 cms "deeper" than others.  So the celebrated fragments at Stonehenge could have come from any one -- or several -- of those exposures -- or more likely from exposures of that same foliation layer from parts of the crag long since destroyed.  Or -- and this is perfectly feasible -- from localities many miles away from Rhosyfelin.

Which brings me to the point that we still haven't seen a thin section slide from Rhosyfelin that precisely matches up with a thin section slide from the Stonehenge rhyolite debitage.  Rob and Richard, if you are reading this, and if you have such a "matching pair",  please send them along and I'll happily reproduce them.  Alternatively, you might wish to publish the slides in this strange thing called the "primary literature", in which case we look forward to reading the forthcoming article.

Sad as I am to bring this up again, I have to repeat that we seem to have a case of geological "over-interpretation" here -- which has, as we all know,  led to the committing of a multitude of sins by the archaeologists.

This is the figure published by Ixer and Bevins which shows the sampling points used in the collection of rhyolite samples.  As we can see, point 8 is near the tip of the spur and all the other points are on the SE flank of the ridge. It appears that no samples were taken in the original research programme from the NW face of the ridge, which has attracted so much attention........  No doubt other samples will have been collected from the rock face and analysed by now, and we look forward to reading about them in due course.


The Rhosyfelin "Quarry" -- is common sense breaking out?

One of the AerialCam images of the Rhosyfelin dig site, 2015.

It appears that common sense might be breaking out.  In the new edition of "British Archaeology" (March / April 2016), on pages 12-13, there is a letter from John Sorrell with the title "Where are the Mauls?" it is a response to the article by Mike Parker Pearson et al in the last issue of the magazine, which we have already discussed at length:
It appears that we have at least one archaeologist who shares the view that there is no quarry at Rhosyfelin; probably the one who speaks out represents the views of a good many more......

I reproduce the letter below, with thanks to the magazine. It's worth looking at some of the points JS makes.

" I read the feature through straight away expecting to have my ideas reversed. But is seems as if pre-held ideas drive the interpretation." So it appears that John Sorrell, too, thinks that the quarry "discovery" is a non-event, based upon the over-zealous use of a ruling hypothesis.......

"As Craig Rhos-y-Felin is a perfect place to make a summer camp, some prehistoric activity should be expected."  Quite so -- exactly what Dyfed, John and I have been saying.

"Two important items were missing from the excavation:  mauls and chippings." Agreed.

"You would expect many tens (or hundreds) of mauls and huge amounts of chipped stone. Without these there is no case for quarrying."  Agreed.

"The occupation was dated to at least 300 years before bluestones appeared at Stonehenge: the statement that the stones loitered around in a local circle seems like special pleading."  Agreed.

 In making his "balancing" argument that the glacial transport hypothesis also has problems, JS says:
"It is not feasible that the “stone hunters” took every stone, and that they were all of the desired size and shape.  Somewhere there must be a moraine, now buried, from which the bluestones were obtained."   We will part company on this.  As I have said before, I think that the Stonehenge builders were looking for stones of some "desired size and shape" is not supported by the evidence.  The bluestones are a mottley collection of boulders, slabs and pillars that suggest that ALL the stones they could find, no matter what their characteristics might have been, were collected up, until there were no more left to gather.  And you do not need a "lost moraine" either.  As I have tried to explain many times on this blog, glacier snouts are not always marked by moraines.
"Although questioning the interpretation of these claims (by MPP and his team), I applaud the time and money going into this exercise."  I think I would disagree with that.  If vast budgets are being spent on archaeological research, on topics that are entirely fanciful with no secure underpinning in the form of preparatory work, God help us all.....

Where are the mauls?

Having had a long-time interest in the
origin of the Stonehenge bluestones,
I read the feature about quarries with
great enthusiasm (Jan/Feb 2016/146).
It is a story that always has had a
fascination for me.

I have come down on the side of the
glacial transport theory, having read
Brian John’s book (Books Nov/Dec
2009/109). Possessing a logic-driven
scientific mind, however, I am
perfectly willing to change my view
when confronted with sufficient
evidence. I read the feature through
straight away expecting to have my ideas
reversed. But is seems as if pre-held
ideas drive the interpretation.
As Craig Rhos-y-Felin is a perfect
place to make a summer camp, some
prehistoric activity should be expected.
The fireplace, orthostat and platform
are exactly what anyone living there
would do for themselves. There seems
to be no clear evidence that stones were
quarried from the rock face.
Why quarry at all when all around there
are shattered dolerite outcrops of all
sizes of stone ready to hand (look at
Carn Goedog)?

Two important items were missing from
the excavation:  mauls and chippings.  Stones
would most likely have been dressed on site to
reduce the weight for transport.  You
would expect many tens (or hundreds)
of mauls and huge amounts of chipped
stone. Without these there is no case
for quarrying. The “monolith” is a
product of glaciation; it is also, at 4m,
too big. The “threshold” stone is just
debris. The “lever point” stone is most
probably associated with household
living by the hut shelter occupants. The
“wedge” marks are more likely natural.
In my explorations over the Black
Mountains and Brecon Beacons of
many years, corners missing at fractures
in boulders are commonplace. The
occupation was dated to at least 300
years before bluestones appeared at
Stonehenge: the statement that the
stones loitered around in a local circle
seems like special pleading.

For balance, the major objection to
the glacial transport theory is the fact
that no relevant glacial debris has been
found anywhere between the Bristol
Avon area and the start of Salisbury
Plain. It is not feasible that the “stone
hunters” took every stone, and that they
were all of the desired size and shape.
Somewhere there must be a moraine,
now buried, from which the bluestones
were obtained. One day spotted dolerite
may turn up on a building site, but the
discovery will probably go unrecorded.

Although questioning the
interpretation of these claims, I
applaud the time and money going
into this exercise. It is only by finding
proof at the origin quarry or the glacial
moraine that the human transport
theory can be proved, so I look forward
to future excavations.

John Sorrell, Caerleon

Friday, 29 January 2016

Our Neolithic ancestors -- too smart to take stones from stupid places...

 Garn Turne -- a Neolithic site predetermined by the position of the chosen capstone.

Earlier this month I put up a post on this blog which asked this question:  why would anybody in their right mind, back in the Neolithic, go to the trouble of quarrying large slabs of rock from stupid places like Carn Goedog or Craig Rhosyfelin when they could have picked up all the stones they needed from almost anywhere in the landscape?

This came up in my seminar in the Swansea Geography Department the other day, in the context of a discussion about the collection of stones to be incorporated into cromlechs and other stone settings.  We talked quite a bit about cost / benefit ratios and agreed that as far as any of us knew, all of the big capstones used in Welsh cromlechs were probably used exactly where found (many were glacial erratics), and were maybe levered upwards or propped up in some cases, whereas the vertical or supporting stones, which tend to be smaller, might have been brought in from within the neighbourhood, with a search extending outwards from the building site until the costs of the exercise outweighed the benefits.  I'm increasingly convinced that the LOCATIONS OF DESIRABLE CAPSTONES is what has determined the location of cromlechs across Wales -- and this of course is what Steve Burrow has said quite forcefully in his book "The Tomb Builders."

So the signs are that the Neolithic tomb builders knew all about costs and benefits, and were far more concerned about economy of effort than they were about aesthetics, or astronomical alignments, or the magical or healing properties of the stones they were using. 

The consensus in our discussion was that the Neolithic tribesmen of North Pembrokeshire would have been completely stupid to have actually quarried monoliths at Carn Goedog or Craig Rhosyfelin, given the superabundance of convenient stones already littering the landscape following the events of the Devensian glacial episode.    And the signs are that they were not stupid at all, if the arrangements and characteristics of West Wales stone settings is anything to go by.

So who were, or are, the people behaving obsessively or irrationally in this whole business?  Sadly, we have to conclude that the ones who appear to have taken leave of their senses are the quarry hunters themselves, who appear to have set themselves upon a course of action where the minimalist returns are out of all proportion to the effort and cash expended, and who appear to have learned nothing at all about cost-benefit considerations from their Neolithic ancestors.

Rhosyfelin.  Diggers and buckets galore, and a vast expenditure of time and money. But did anybody actually do a cost-benefit analysis before it all started? 

Thursday, 28 January 2016

That hilarious exchange......

Here are screenshots from that 1972 BBC TV programme introduced by Alice Roberts and shown on BBC4 last night.  It's worth watching just for the exchange between Richard Atkinson and Geoffrey Kellaway.  Atkinson is resplendent with bow tie under his chin and with spectacles perched precariously on the end of his nose, pontificating like some insufferable patriarch, behaving as if it was really beneath his dignity to be meeting riff-raff like Kellaway, let alone sharing valuable TV air time with him on matters that have long since been determined as the truth.   His speaking style is really quite wonderful.......  Then we have Kellaway, sitting uncomfortably in his Sunday best suit, trying, as a humble field geologist, to explain things about glaciers to a group of senior and very smooth operators from the archaeology establishment who clearly considered him to be an idiot........ Actually he was not the greatest public speaker, but he was a smart fellow who knew the evidence very well, and who got some things wrong but a great many things right.

Lost Stones

I had to reproduce this splendid portrait of the eastern Preseli Hills, from the "Lost Stones" web site.  Click to enlarge.  On the matter of people plundering stones from "authentic locations" on Preseli, the people who run "Lost Stones" are making a business of selling shaped and polished stones from the area, but to their credit they say that all of their stones are taken  from the jumble of bluestone and other erratics found on their own land, in fields and hedgerows.  I don't have any problem with that, and wish the best of luck to anybody who starts a little business and has the persistence to run with it and make a success of it.  Here is a link to their site: