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....
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Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The Waun Mawn Metaphor competition

Sometimes I get too serious on this blog, on things that seem to me to be important.  OK -- I admit it! So now and then it's good to be a bit more frivolous.

A well-known author of official Stonehenge guide books -- who shall be nameless -- recently referred to those of us who know something about glacial processes as "ludicrous glacial transport cobblers".  That was a very jolly jest, and of course he didn't really mean it........ so let us continue in a similarly frivolous vein........

 Here is a light-hearted competition -- what is the best metaphor for what is going on up on the windswept slopes of Waun Mawn?  Our jolly jesting archaeologist may even be up there as we speak.    Who knows?  They stick together, these guys.

Anyway, all entries will be given due consideration.  The prize for the winner is still to be decided -- maybe Simon up at the brewery will donate a free pint of Bluestone ale?  No -- that's an outrageous suggestion -- he has to earn a living, like the rest of us.......

Monday, 17 September 2018

Proto-Stonehenge, Waun Mawn and the burden of proof

Further to my previous post, rumour has it that the dig is now complete, and that the diggers will be filling in, tidying up, and moving on within the next couple of days. The Pembrokeshire Historical Society members visited the site of Sunday for a guided tour;  maybe other groups have also visited.  This week MPP will be giving his latest talk three times in the local area. 

Since it was announced even before the 2018 dig commenced, and since Waun Mawn has been widely flagged up as Proto-Stonehenge on the basis of no evidence and much speculation, it's worth reminding ourselves what a task MPP and his team have on their hands.   We are not just dealing with Occam's Razor here, but with Hitchens's Razor too.

"Hitchens's razor is an epistemological razor asserting that the burden of proof regarding the truthfulness of a claim lies with the one who makes the claim; if this burden is not met, the claim is unfounded and its opponents need not argue further in order to dismiss it. It is named, echoing Occam's razor, for the journalist and writer Christopher Hitchens, who, in a 2003 Slate article, formulated it thus: "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."

And as Carl Sagan said: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence":

See these posts:

I don't want to go over all that again, but let's remind ourselves of a quite extraordinary claim: namely that the stones used in the  bluestone settings at Stonehenge were brought, lock, stock and barrel, from an older (Neolithic) stone setting at Waun Mawn, in the form of a giant venerated stone circle which used stones quarried from Rhosyfelin (foliated rhyolite), Carn Goedog (spotted dolerite), Cerrigmarchogion (dolerite) and Pontyglasier (Palaeozoic sandstone).  In the light of what has already been claimed in print by MPP and his team, the burden of proof rests squarely on their shoulders, and they will look extremely foolish if this all proves to have been a classic wild goose chase.

This is what they now have to do:

1.  Prove that around 80 bluestone monoliths were arranged in a giant circle here, and that they were later taken away in a concerted fashion over a short period of time.

2. Prove that the putative stone circle was Neolithic, not Bronze age.

3.  Prove that the stones were all placed here around 5,600 yrs BP and all taken away around 5,000 yrs BP.

4.  Prove that the stone circle was not made of dolerite and meta-mudstone monoliths picked up in the neighbourhood, but of spotted dolerite monoliths from Carn Goedog, foliated rhyolite from Rhosyfelin, sandstones from the Afon Nyfer headwaters near Pontglasier, and unspotted dolerite from Cerrigmarchogion.

5.  Prove that any "sockets" discovered really did hold monoliths, and that they are not simply extraction pits marking places from which stones have been collected for use elsewhere on Waun Mawn.  They must also prove that they are not simply natural hollows in the surface of the broken bedrock / till layer that lies beneath the thin surface peat and soil layer.

6.  Prove that any so-called traces of human activity on this site really do relate to settlement and "engineering work" and are not simply natural phenomena related to glacial and periglacial processes.

7.  Prove via control digs that any features exposed during this dig really are exceptional and significant, and that they are not just typical of what occurs beneath the peat across a wide swathe of countryside.

That is a pretty onerous set of requirements, but you make your bed, and you lie in it.  We can be quite sure that there will be meticulous surveying and recording of data, enthusiastic collection of organic materials for C14 dating and species identifications, collection of rock samples for the "pet rock boys" to look at, and much overflying and photography from Adam Stanford's drone.  The word is that the dig has been huge, spreading across more than a thousand square metres of moorland.

As Hitchens reminds us, there is no obligation on any of us to believe a single word that these diggers utter in support of their extravagant hypothesis, and certainly no obligation for us to believe what people say simply because they are "experts" or senior academics.

So we await their evidence, with interest.........

Where is the Carn Goedog spotted dolerite?

This is one of my better images of spotted dolerite from Carn Meini or one of the other eastern tors.  At least, that's where I think it came from -- it's actually the surface of a dressed stone (hence the fresh appearance) in the front wall of the nonconformist chapel in Mynachlog-ddu.  Many of these stones were taken down from the mountain and dressed for the front (posh) face of the chapel.  Whether they were quarried is another matter -- perhaps "collected" would be the best word.

Click to enlarge.  The texture of the stone shows up rather well.

Just a reminder -- if the idea of proto-Stonehenge is to have any credibility at all, stones with a surface like this will have to be found in abundance by MPP and his fellow workers during their current dig at Waun Mawn.  (It is a central part of their thesis that scores of monoliths were carried from the supposed Carn Goedog "Neolithic quarry" and were parked up in a giant Waun Mawn stone circle prior to being transported to Stonehenge.)  When I looked quite intensively at the dig site, I did not find a single piece of spotted dolerite..........

Digging up Waun Mawn -- the costs and the benefits

I try, quite often on this blog, to explore issues raised by assorted faithful readers -- and today I have been giving some thought to something raised by Chris and others -- namely the damage done by MPP and his team of diggers to what is a very valuable and sensitive habitat.

Waun Mawn lies within the Preseli Special Area of Conservation, incorporating the Mynydd Preseli SSSI.  It's inside the National Park.  So it's valuable, and it is heavily protected by law.  The details are here:

In the area where the digs of last year and this year have taken place, there is thin peat and soil resting on a substrate of till and frost-shattered bedrock made of dolerite and meta-mudstones.  The vegetation in the vicinity of the proposed "proto-Stonehenge giant stone circle" is dry heath and wet heath -- it is not, as claimed by MPP, blanket bog.  The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is charged with looking after it.  As we see on the web sites listed above, there are strict rules about damage to valuable habitats including SACs, and requirements relating to remediation and to penalties to be paid by offenders.  So we need to ask this question:  how much damage has been done, and is being done, by the archaeologists?

Well, last year the damage was quite considerable, since heavy machinery was used on the dig site and since the trackways up and down from the standing stone area were seriously churned up.  As we have seen in my posts from a year ago, the turf that was dug up from the half dozen or so rectangular dig sites was plopped back again in a rather haphazard fashion and in quite a hurry.  This is bound to have had a negative effect on the habitat and it is bound to have affected drainage characteristics.  Now here is a question:  did the National Park insist on minimal standards of habitat interference in advance of the work being done, and did they assess the damage afterwards?

As for this year, the scale of the work up on Waun Mawn is truly spectacular.  I haven't measured, but by a conservative estimate, no less than a thousand square metres of turf have been removed  -- and presumably put back again.  The archaeologists have done their best to be organized and tidy, but this is an exposed and very wet area, and conditions have not always been conducive to minimising environmental impact.   It would be rather too much to say that the area resembles the battlefield of the Somme, but it most certainly does not look very nice........

So here are some questions for the diggers and the National Park:

1.  Who signed off this digging programme?  In other words, what was the application procedure and what form did the consents take?

2.  What requirements were placed on the diggers relating to the protection of the SAC habitat?

3.  What assessment has been made, now that the dig is almost over,  relating to the restoration and remediation work undertaken?

4.  If the diggers have actually done damage on an unacceptable scale, what action does the PCNPA propose to take against them?  (Bear in mind that in present-day Pembrokeshire, we can get a Fixed Penalty Notice for £150 from a "Uniformed Enforcement Officer", for dropping a crisp packet in the street........)

This brings me to the question of costs and benefits.  Has anybody in the PCNPA actually asked whether the benefits perceived to flow from this dig actually do outweigh the cost of the environmental damage done?  How important was it to determine whether there really was a stone circle on Waun Mawn in the Neolithic or the Bronze Age?  Did Dyfed Archaeological Trust, Coflein, Natural Resources Wales and RCAMW express a view on this and have an input into the consent process?

Or was this large and expensive -- and damaging -- dig allowed to go ahead just to indulge the fantasies and the ambitions of one rather charismatic project leader?

Sunday, 16 September 2018

The way to do things.....

With ref to some of the comments coming in to my "inbox" recently, one must either laugh or cry.  One might as well laugh, and suggest that the average respectable student of archaeology is probably given guidance somewhat along these lines........

Note the box which says "Share the credit, which will ensure that you don't get all the blame".

This is of course pinched and adapted from some obscure source......  I posted it a couple of weeks ago,

It's official -- there is indeed a Rhosyfelin dispute

Rhosyfelin yesterday -- gradually nature is taking over again after being 
so rudely interrupted.......

It should not really a surprise to anybody who reads this blog to discover that there is a dispute going on over the interpretation of Rhosyfelin, but there are apparently some who are blissfully unaware of it.  In the three years since Rhosyfelin was formally adopted as a RIGS (Regionally Important Geodiversity Site) many articles have been published by MPP and his team, and by geologists Ixer and Bevins, without any mention of the fact that there are some people who do not accept their assertions.  Nor do they make any mention of the fact that there are two peer-reviewed papers in print which question the "anthropogenic" nature of the features at the site which are interpreted by the quarrying enthusiasts as "engineering features."  They all insist, when asked about differing views, that "there is a consensus" on the matter of quarrying,  and that they have it on good authority from their friends who are glaciologists that nobody takes glaciation and glacial processes (including entrainment and block transport) in West Wales seriously any more.......

This is a truly bizarre state of affairs.  It is more than a little concerning that academics from two separate disciplines -- archaeology and geology -- have continued to write articles on this site without checking on the basic local authority record.  They could have simply written to the PCNPA and asked for the RIGS record, if they were not already in possession of it.  The full record is quite long, and includes references, but this is the key bit:

Site Name: Rhosyfelin

RIGS (Regionally Important Geodiversity Sites) Number: 564
Grid Reference: SN117362

RIGS Statement of Interest:

Craig Rhosyfelin is a craggy outcrop of Ordovician rhyolite in the valley of the Afon Brynberian. The rhyolite belongs to the Fishguard Volcanic Group which outcrops along the northern margin of Mynydd Preseli. This site is of particular interest since the rocks are exposed on a series of fracture planes and rhyolite samples from the rock face have recently been matched to “bluestone” fragments in the "debitage" at Stonehenge (See also Carn Menyn RIGS 555). Rhosyfelin is also significant in that it offers an opportunity to examine some of the geomorphological processes and landforms typical of the Pleistocene period in the area. There are examples of scoured surfaces, frost shattered crags and scree, glacial till, fluvioglacial gravels and solifluction deposits. With regard to the rock face, from a geomorphological perspective there is ample evidence that glacial, periglacial and biological processes have all contributed to the widening of joints and the accumulation of rock debris at the foot of the Rhosyfelin crag.


Recent archaeological excavations (Parker Pearson et al, 2015), however, have led to the assertion that part of the Craig Rhosyfelin outcrop and some of the stone debris at its base (including a large, roughly rectangular block) are the result of prehistoric quarrying. This suggestion has been strongly refuted by John, Elis-Gruffydd & Downes (2015a, 2015b) who have argued that the features of the site constitute an association of natural geomorphological landforms and Quaternary sediments. Continued research at the site, both geomorphological and archaeological, including the possible application of Terrestrial Cosmogenic Nuclide (surface exposure) dating, may help resolve the relative contributions of natural and anthropogenic processes at the site.

What more does it take for our learned academic friends to accept that not everybody agrees with the story that they feed endlessly to the media?  And when will they acknowledge in print that there is an academic dispute going on?  Where I come from, in the field of geomorphology, there are disputes all the time, welcomed by all as the means by which scientific progress is made.  When a dozen or more academics seem to exist in a state of denial, do they really think that their intransigence and refusal to acknowledge alternative explanations to their pet theories does any good to their academic reputations?

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Waun Mawn updates 2018

Couldn't resist sharing this great pic, from Hugh's Preseli360 Facebook page.  It's up on Waun Mawn for the convenience of MPP and his diggers, and it appears to be known as the TURDIS.  It also has the letters ABBA on the side -- where Sweden comes into the picture, I am unsure.

When I was up on the mountain today the diggers were hard at work, with a tent and what seems to be a little hut up in the vicinity of the standing stone and the pits that were opened last year.  Work seemed to be concentrated in a pit near stone 3 or 4.

I didn't interfere -- I got on with my work and I let them get on with theirs.  No doubt all will be revealed when MPP gives his latest talk on three separate occasions next week.

It seems that work is planned to finish by Tuesday evening.  That means the pits will be filled in on Monday and Tuesday.

Another bit of feedback is that in investigations of the rest of the circumference of the supposed stone circle, some recumbent stones have been found, some sockets have been found, but  some stones and some sockets are missing!  That sounds somewhat garbled to me -- probably misinterpreted pub talk!  Is sounds like less than a ringing endorsement of the proto-Stonehenge hypothesis -- but let's just wait and see what transpires.

Other news is that there is no digging this year at Rhosyfelin,  Carn Goedog, the Bronze Age site at Pensarn or the possible Roman site a few fields away.    Apparently research cash was tight, and work on the possible Roman site, while desirable, will have to be deferred.

If I have got any of this wrong, somebody will no doubt correct me -- and if anybody wants to share extra info, I will be happy to pass it on to readers.