Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
To order, click

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

The shallowing of the Baltic

Isostatic uplift following a glacial episode is difficult to comprehend — but in the Baltic region the changes brought about can easily be appreciated during a single lifetime.  In the Stockholm Archipelago the rate of uplift has fallen off, but the land is still rising from the sea at a rate of about 5 mm per year.  That’s 5 cm per decade, and 25 cms over 50 years.  When I first built this magnificent jetty the water was quite deep enough to moor our rowing boat alongside under all conditions, given the rises and falls of water level in line with pressure changes and changes of wind direction.  Now, however, the water is too shallow to moor the rowing boat alongside, and algal blooms have made the water quality very poor as well.  This in turn leads to increased rates of sediment accumulation, and already the sound between the mainland and our little island just offshore is occasionally devoid of any water at all, particularly during the winter.

The only consolation is that as isostatic uplift continues, the size of our little piece of real estate gets bigger every year!

Monday, 16 July 2018

The “false stone” near Everleigh

Thanks to Phil Morgan for this bit of interesting information.  He has been looking at a book by John Ogilby who was appointed "His Majesty's Cosmographer and Geographic Printer” in 1674.   In 1675 he published maps of England, and one of these maps ( p 85 of the book) shows the route from Salisbury to Camden.  The route is read from the bottom to the top of the first (left-hand) strip, and then continues to the bottom and then to the top of the second strip and so on. To the north of the village of Everley (now spelt Everleigh) (SU 2069 5434) Ogilby shows 'false ftone' with a small standing stone symbol (circled red on map), alongside the old road.

On the current OS map the location is recorded as 'Falstone Pond', possibly a corruption of False Stone Pond. Phil wonders, quite reasonably, about the origin of the stone in the middle of a chalk downland landscape.  If the stone was called the False Stone in antiquity would that, perhaps, indicate that it is foreign to the locality and was either deposited there by glacial action, or dumped there by disgruntled neolithic stone shifters? 

Does anybody know anything about this old stone?

The moraine at the Ness of Brodgar

Quote: “This is the temple complex of the Ness of Brodgar, and its size, complexity and sophistication have left archaeologists desperately struggling to find superlatives to describe the wonders they found there. “We have discovered a Neolithic temple complex that is without parallel in western Europe. Yet for decades we thought it was just a hill made of glacial moraine,” says discoverer Nick Card of the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology. “In fact the place is entirely manmade, although it covers more than six acres of land.”

There is renewed interest in the Ness of Brodgar, on which extensive excavations have been going on for some years.  We have covered this site before — use the search facility and look for “Orkney” and “Ness of Brodgar”.  

Our friend Nick Card is fond of saying things such as those quoted above — and while he acknowledges the fact that this is glaciated terrain (across which the Devensian ice flowed from south-east towards north-west) it is patently absurd to suggest that the whole of the Ness is man-made.  This is a moraine ridge with a Neolithic complex of buildings built on top of it.  It’s wonderful enough as it is, without the need for all this hyperbole.........

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Why do people believe what they are told by senior academics?

This is a rather interesting article from the BBC web site, addressing the question of why people in general do not choose to stand up to authority.  Why do they do what they are told to do, even when their actions may cause harm and even though they may be morally questionable?  In parallel we have the questions of belief — why do people tend to believe what they are told by authority figures such as politicians, civil service people, policemen or, dare we say it, senior academics?  Of course, the authority figures love it when people defer to them and accept what they say, or do what they are told to do — it butters up their egos and increases their sense of self-esteem.  But most people follow instructions anyway — for very complex reasons.  One of those reasons is sheer laziness — people cannot be bothered, in this complex world, to work things out for themselves, so they defer instead to “experts” or authority figures who can — and willingly do — take on the job of doing the thinking on their behalf.

I find this rather interesting because of the response I have come across occasionally at my talks when I apply close scrutiny to the “findings” and assumptions of the quarrymen.  It’s not unusual for people (and, of course, the media) to accept what they are told by MPP and his merry gang because they are senior academics who are asssumed to know exactly what they are talking about and who should, in the nature of things, be deferred to or respected.  In contrast, I can safely be dismissed as a
nutter because I am NOT a senior academic.  Once or twice, I have even had members of an audience expressing outrage:  “It’s disgraceful that you should question the motives and the quality of research of these senior archaeologists!  After all, archaeology is their field, and they are trained to know exactly what they are looking at.  And they would never knowingly put into print anything that might be questionable!”  In this way I am made to feel like a party pooper, spoiling all the fun — and as the BBC article points out, it is easy to impose a sense of guilt on anybody who does NOT defer to authority and who, because of his or her independent or defiant attitude, makes life difficult for those who would set the agenda and tell the rest of us what to think and how to behave.

Interesting stuff.  So should I go with the crowd, and accept everything I see in print?  I think not, even if it means upsetting those who tend to defer to authority.  I was taught to think for myself, to apply scientific method, to apply scrutiny (and a degree of healthy scepticism) to the research work of others, and to follow academic convention in presenting and analysing evidence.

In this era of false news and alternative truths, these old standards (that were drummed into me in
Oxford and which I tried to drum into my own students in Durham) are more important than ever.  So, ladies and gentlemen, feel free to stand in front of the tanks, go nose to nose with those who are bigger and stronger than you are, and think for yourself if you wish to maintain any sort of dignity.

A very closely related issue is that of the “naked emperor syndrome” — where, according to the old story, everybody bowed and scraped, and pretended that the Emperor was fully clothed, until somebody brave enough or innocent enough said: “Look, the Emperor has no clothes!”    We are not talking about the personalities of particular individuals here, but about human nature......

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

The dressing of the bluestones

I have been pondering on the dressing of the bluestones.  As we all know, of the 43 bluestones at Stonehenge, those in the bluestone circle are undressed, and are best described as an assortment of boulders which appear to be in their natural state — greatly abraded and deeply weathered, and of many different lithologies.  These characteristics are conveniently ignored by the quarrymen who, by all accounts, want them all to have been quarried from Carn Goedog, Rhosyfelin and presumably from another twenty or so quarries as yet undiscovered.

Turning to the bluestones in the bluestone horseshoe (or oval), we see stones that are more obviously shaped.  Six of them are pillar-shaped, and their shapes are of course used by those who oppose the glacial transport thesis and who argue for human transport.  “It is quite impossible,” they say, “for stones with these shapes to have been carried for 200 km or more by glacier ice.”  There is weight to this argument, for although there are plenty of elongated glacial erratics known from around the world, glacial transport processes, whether in the ice, on the ice or beneath the ice, would tend to break up stones whose length is up to five times their width or depth.  So the natural conclusion might be, if you are a believer in the “glacial erratic” hypothesis, that the shaping of the stones was done at the Stonehenge end rather than in the stone source area.  There has of course been much debate about this; some have argued that it would make no sense for “undressed pillars” to be transported by Neolithic argonauts all the way from Preseli to Stonehenge, if the fellows involved knew that much of the weight of the stones would be got rid of on arrival.  No, goes the argument — the stones must have been shaped in the quarries where they came from, and then carried in their dressed state. Economy of effort an all that......

So we come to the Stonehenge Layer and the debitage which — to their great credit — Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins have concentrated upon in many of their papers.  Look up “debitage” on this blog and you will find many entries and much discussion.  Ixer and Bevins have concentrated in recent years on the “non-spotted-dolerite” material, because it is inherently more interesting although it is less abundant.  Because much of the debitage studied (all from the 50% or so of the stone setting area that has been investigated) does not apparently come from known standing stones, the thinking goes that it must have come from “unknown standing stones” which have been destroyed.  This conveniently slots into the argument that there were once 80 or more bluestones on the site and that almost half of them have been taken away or systematically destroyed over a long period of time.  We know from written records that Stonehenge has indeed been used as a quarry in historical time, and there is also some evidence, as Olwen Williams-Thorpe and her colleagues have pointed out, of certain stones being used for the manufacture of axes and other tools.

Now take a look at this very influential article from Aubrey Burl.......

What if the bulk of the debitage and the Stonehenge Layer has not come from stone setting destruction at all, but from the much earlier period of stone setting CONSTRUCTION?  I know no no evidence that might contradict this thesis.  As I have argued in my book, the most parsimonious explanation of the bluestones and the related debitage at Stonehenge is that the monument was built more or less where the stones were found; that a recumbent Altar Stone might have determined the location; that much of the debitage (and maybe some of the packing stones and hammer stones) came from the breaking up of “inconvenient” smaller glacial erratics; that there never were many more than 43 bluestone monoliths on the site; and that the known shaped dolerite monoliths in the bluestone horseshoe were shaped on the site from larger blocks of dolerite that were dumped in the vicinity at the end of the Anglian Glaciation. Again, economy of effort.....

I know that this contradicts the interpretation of Ixer and Bevins, writing in “Chips off the Old Block” and other papers —  but it makes a great deal more sense.

Monday, 9 July 2018

A spot of book bombing.....

Don’t blame me for this — Tony has been up to his mischief again!  Nice pic of Prof Michael Wood at a recent lecture and signing session in Frome, with a copy of a certain well-known book on his desk.  Anyway, I hope he reads it and goes on to buy the new one........

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Assumptive research

This is called (by the archaeologists) a ruined revetment or dry stone wall, used for loading bluestone monoliths onto sledges or rafts before they were shipped off along a “hollow way.”  That is the assumption.  Geomorphologists, on the other hand, see clear evidence of glacial and fluvioglacial processes that have been at work in a chaotic dead-ice environment.  What is the truth?

This is a quote from a recent letter received from Brian Roberts, one of my old colleagues in the Durham University Geography Department.  He says: “Assumptive research’ is more common than one might expect … and embedded assumptions create vast barriers, dams, holding up research … YET flexibility is unwelcome.....”

This is what somebody at the University of Louisville says about assumptions in research: “An assumption is an unexamined belief: what we think without realizing we think it. Our inferences (also called conclusions) are often based on assumptions that we haven't thought about critically. A critical thinker, however, is attentive to these assumptions because they are sometimes incorrect or misguided. Just because we assume something is true doesn't mean it is.”

This is advice to research students:  “Think carefully about your assumptions when finding and analyzing information but also think carefully about the assumptions of others. Whether you're looking at a website or a scholarly article, you should always consider the author's assumptions. Are the author's conclusions based on assumptions that she or he hasn't thought about logically?”

Another quote:

A good hypothesis statement should conjecture the direction of the relationship between two or more variables, be stated clearly and unambiguously in the form of a declarative sentence, and
be testable; that is, it should allow restatement in an operational form that can then be evaluated 
based on data.  Generally, an assumption refers to a belief. An assumption does not require any evidence to support it. It is commonly based on feelings or a hunch. 

Could it be that the profound differences of opinion and “research behaviour” which come out of my spat with the archaeologists over “the bluestone quarries” are explained by the different research cultures that exist in the sciences and the social sciences?  In science there is the presumption that everything is observable and/or testable, and that hypotheses must be used because (although you hope that they are true) they are falsifiable.  Karl Popper has always been the hero for many of us with science backgrounds.  On the other hand, in the social sciences there is the little matter of human behaviour to be taken into account — and human behaviour, as we know, is sometimes logical and sometimes not.  People do the strangest of things for the strangest of reasons.  The being the case,  we can assume quirky or illogical behaviour, and if something is apparently inexplicable we can always try to explain it as having “an unknown ritual purpose.”  This releases the social scientist from the constraints of science, and allows him or her to get away with much more profound or extensive
assumptions than would be permitted in geology or physics or chemistry.

So what we have in the case of Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog is a “quarrying assumption” rather than a “quarrying hypothesis.”  From the very beginning of the research at both sites, the archaeologists have assumed that they have been looking at Neolithic bluestone quarries because this is what was (in their view) pointed at by the research by geologists Richard Bevins and Rob Ixer.  It was not considered necessary to test a hypothesis — but simply to assemble evidence in order to confirm the correctness of the assumption.  This explains the unscientific methods used by the digging team, making it obvious to all independent observers that they were not interested in testing a working hypothesis, but were intent upon confirming a ruling hypothesis or assumption.

When archaeologists are fixed in this mind-set, they can ignore scientific methods even though they use “scientific” tools in their research. They can claim, as MPP has done, that archaeology is not a science and that it is therefore freed from scientific constraints. So assumptions rule, and evidence and arguments from other disciplines (such as geology, geomorphology or pedology) can be ignored if they are inconvenient.

It is of course deeply worrying when this style of thinking becomes prevalent, and when papers which are deeply flawed scientifically are published in “reputable” journals.  It is even more worrying when people say to me (as they have done) that we should not apply scrutiny to the papers published by archaeologists, because they are always dealing with the erratic obsessions and belief systems of human beings — so if something makes no sense whatsoever, that’s perfectly all right........