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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Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Waun Mawn and the search for "Proto-Stonehenge"

This is just a notification that I have today updated my article on Researchgate to incorporate some of my latest observations on the site of the imaginary "giant stone circle".  The article continues to attract a lot of reading traffic -- the number of reads has now reached 2,477.  That's gratifying, and it shows that not everybody is being swept along by the media hype and by the extraordinary claims being made by MPP and his team, on the telly and on the internet.

Monday, 1 March 2021

Parc Mawr hut circle

Satellite image of the hut circle

Every time I go for a walk up on the mountain (or one of the mountains) I seem to find something new.  I don't know whether this one has been recorded before, but at Grid Ref SN03461 36952 there is a beautiful little hut circle on the south side of a prominent small tor.  It's quite easy to pick up on the satellite imagery, and it's located about 150m west of the prominent "flat" tor just outside the enclosed farming area.  It's about 500m from the Bedd Morris standing stone, and is best approached from the Bedd Morris road by the footpath across the common.

There is a prominent circular bank made of large boulders and cobbles and now almost completely covered with turf.  It's about 1m high, and the diameter of the circle is about 7m.  There is no obvious entrance, but there are signs of a gap (currently plugged with boulders) on the west flank of the rock outcrop, and on the north side of the circle circumference.

There is another enclosure on the eastern side of the "big flat tor" a little closer to the Bedd Morris road.  So this part of the Carningli - Mynydd Dinas upland was occupied in prehistoric times; virtually no part seems to have escaped the attention of these early settlers........

The hut circle tucked up against the flank of a small dolerite tor.

Waun Mawn -- the monoliths that got away

The western "recumbent monolith" at Waun Mawn, surrounded by disturbed turf from the archaeological dig.  A huge pit would have been required to stabilise this stone in an upright position.

The eastern "recumbent monolith" at Waun Mawn, which would also have required a massive stone socket  if it ever was a standing stone.....

I'm sure I'm not the only one to have noticed that in the recent 'Antiquity" article about Waun Mawn, Parker Pearson and his colleagues provide no evidence whatsoever that the two big "recumbent stones" reputed to lie in the "surviving" portion of the "giant stone circle" were ever standing.  They are big and bulky stones, each one weighing in at around 6 tonnes -- and far bigger than any of the standing or fallen unspotted dolerite bluestones at Stonehenge.  I think it can be argued that both stones are simply lying where they were at the end of the last glacial episode.  I shall continue to believe this, so long as nobody comes up with any evidence to convince me otherwise.......

The large recumbent stone on the dolerite plateau to the west of the Cnwc yr Hydd summit.  It's difficult to assess the precise dimensions, but it appears to be about 3m long, and almost 2m wide on one face.  It probably weighs about 6 tonnes.

On the dolerite plateau to the west of the Cnwc yr Hydd summit there is an extensive area of dolerite boulders and stone settings, with some rock outcrops, and a number of deep pits and small mounds and ridges.  It's difficult to assess what might be natural and what might be fashioned by Neolithic or Bronze Age tribal groups.  But one stone stands out -- a very large recumbent stone deeply embedded in the turf which is strikingly similar to the two large recumbent stones at the "circle" site about 450m away.  If the people who supposedly had grand designs for building a giant stone circle using unspotted dolerite pillars, and if they were supposedly capable of carrying stones from 4 km away, why did they ignore this one, which could easily have been transported 450m downhill across a relatively dry surface?  

And since the supposed stone-holes or sockets at Waun Mawn look as if they might have held stones no taller than 2m,  why did they also ignore the two small pillar stones that still lie in the turf no more than 50m away from the "circle"?  Nothing about this site makes any sense at all.......

The two small monoliths which would surely have been used in a stone circle at Waun Mawn 
if ever there had been one........ 

Finally, when I was up in "them thar hills" yesterday, I took a close look at the "slight mound" that is assumed by MPP and his colleagues to have some significance, associated with the western of the two recumbent stones.  I am convinced that this "mound" is entirely natural, since it is no more prominent and no more extensive than innumerable other small grassy mounds or undulations across the local landscape.  As I have mentioned before, the landscape of Waun Mawn and Cnwc yr Hydd is also pitted with innumerable hollows, some holding water and rushes, which are much more prominent that those at the "circle" site thatv are supposed to have held standing stones.

Current Archaeology joins the media circus

This supposed stone hole does not even have a pentagonal base -- and any comparison with 
stone 62 at Stonehenge is entirely fanciful.

Here we go again.  Current Archaeology joins the media blitz by simply regurgitating the press releases and repeating all the Waun Mawn speculations without offering a shred of independent scrutiny.  Have the people in charge of magazines like this simply lost the capacity to analyse for themselves anything that is presented to them?  Have they no way of identifying archaeologists who are in pursuit of their ruling hyopotheses?  It can't be that difficult.  After all, all you have to do is to apply the standards of common sense to the reading of an article in a journal..........but maybe nobody actually reads articles any longer?  The scale of the gullibility within the archaeology community in the UK seems to me to be quite staggering.......

Here is just one of the bits of nonsense in the "Current Archaeology" write-up:

"...........the project also revealed that one of the empty holes at Waun Mawn had a pentagonal base, very similar in size and shape to Stone 62 at Stonehenge. Subsequent analysis of stone flakes recovered from the bottom of this stonehole suggests that its former occupant was made of unspotted dolerite, very likely quarried from the same location as Stone 62 and the other two unspotted dolerites that have been identified at Stonehenge."

When looking at this supposed stone hole, the average primary school pupil would probably ask why one particular stone at Stonehenge is supposed to have fitted into it, when many thousands of other stones scattered all over the UK would probably have fitted better.  Stone flakes recovered from the bottom of the stone hole are no different from the broken dolerite fragments scattered right across this landscape -- any speculation about quarrying and distant "shared sources" just does not make any sense.

And so it goes on.

I wonder if all of the articles in this journal are equally unreliable?  

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Stonehenge for the Ancestors -- Sidestone Press

 I'm happy to give a bit of promotion for this book, which I have of course mentioned before. It's a big new update on Stonehenge from MPP and his team, incorporating a lot of recent research.  The text is split up into quite short sections written by the authors and others who were invited contributors.  I haven't read everything carefully, but notice that MPP is on his usual ebullient form, throwing out hypotheses like confetti -- but hey, at least it's in print in a place where people can see what he has to say, and can disagree vehemently if they like......

It's a well presented and beautifully illustrated tome, clearly intended for libraries and museums and academic establishments -- and the price tags for the hardback and paperback versions are a bit daunting.  But I really approve of the publisher's policy of making an online PDF version available free of charge for anybody who wants to read it.  All you have to do is click on the link on the web site.........

So that's to be applauded.  Well done, Sidestone Press!



For many centuries, scholars and enthusiasts have been fascinated by Stonehenge, the world’s most famous stone circle. In 2003 a team of archaeologists commenced a long-term fieldwork project there for the first time in decades. The Stonehenge Riverside Project (2003-2009) aimed to investigate the purpose of this unique prehistoric monument by considering it within its wider archaeological context.

This is the first of four volumes which present the results of that campaign. It includes investigations of the monuments and landscape that pre-dated Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain as well as excavation at Stonehenge itself. The main discovery at Stonehenge was of cremated human remains from many individuals, allowing their demography, health and dating to be established. With a revised radiocarbon-dated chronology for Stonehenge’s five stages of construction, these burials can now be considered within the context of the monument’s development. The different types of stone from which Stonehenge is formed – bluestones from Wales and sarsen silcretes from more local sources – are investigated both at Stonehenge and in its surroundings. These surrounding monuments include single standing stones, the Cuckoo Stone and the Tor Stone, as well as the newly discovered circle of Bluestonehenge at West Amesbury beside the River Avon. The ceremonial Stonehenge Avenue, linking Stonehenge to Bluestonehenge, is also included, with a series of excavations along its length.

The working hypothesis behind the Stonehenge Riverside Project links Stonehenge with a complex of timber monuments upstream at the great henge of Durrington Walls and neighbouring Woodhenge. Whilst these other sites are covered in a later volume (Volume 3), this volume explores the role of the River Avon and its topographic and environmental evidence.
With contributions by:

Umberto Albarella, Michael Allen, Olaf Bayer, Wayne Bennett, Richard Bevins, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Chris Casswell, Andrew Chamberlain, Benjamin Chan, Rosamund Cleal, Gordon Cook, Glyn Davies, David Field, Charles French, Robert Ixer, Neil Linford, Peter Marshall, Louise Martin, Claudia Minniti, Doug Mitcham, Bob Nunn, Andy Payne, Mike Pitts, Rebecca Pullen, Julian Richards, David Robinson, Clive Ruggles, Jim Rylatt, Rob Scaife, Ellen Simmons, Charlene Steele, James Sugrue, Anne Teather, Sarah Viner, Tony Waldron, Katy Whitaker and Christie Willis

Irish Sea till and peat bed on Traeth Mawr, Newport

Surface of clay-rich sticky Irish Sea Till exposed within 5m of the northern slipway after
the removal of c 50 cms of beach sand during recent storms.

Broken, striated and gouged sandstone erratic, just a few m from the slipway.  
Embedded in clay-rich till.

Surface of peat bed exposed near the end of the southern slipway at the top of the sandy beach. The peat exposure covers an area of approx 100 sq m.

Irregular peat bed surface projecting above the sand near the southern slipway.   The peat appears to rest directly on Irish Sea till.

I think we'll count this as another exposure of the submerged forest, although there is no sign here of treestumps, branches or root systems. There are some bits of woody material lying around, but I'm not certain they have come from the newly exposed peaty surface.

The other exposure of submerged forest material on Traeth Mawr is further out on the beach, in association with a cemented exposure of Irish Sea till.  It is always submerged at high tide, and is sometimes buried beneath the beach sand as well.

PS.  1st March 2021
Had another look at the peat exposure, and there is now a piece of a tree sticking out of the peat.  Confirms that this is indeed the submerged forest.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Enhancing the glacial transport theory

Ice flow reconstructions for the Anglian Glaciation of the Bristol Channel region. 
 After Williams-Thorpe, Kellaway and others.

The other day, on one of those endless social media discussion threads, somebody complained that I was a miserable old git unable to come to terms with the "fact" that the glacial transport theory has been comprehensively dismissed.  Assorted senior professors keep on saying the same thing:  and they have been saying it for the last 20 years.  Anyway, I asked said complainant who had done the dismissing, and he failed to reply.  Have I missed something?  The last serious attempt to dismiss the glacial transport theory, as far as I know, was in 1997, when James Scourse was having a go at Geoffrey Kellaway and citing glaciological theory.  That was 24 years ago.  Since then, nothing.  I suppose the principle is that if you keep on saying "the glacial transport theory has been comprehensively dismissed or disproven" enough times, people will come to think it's true, and you don't even have to cite any sources.

The unfortunate thing about James Scourse's 1997 book chapter was that he was seeking first and foremost to dissect Geoffrey Kellaway's ideas in detail -- some of which were unconventional to say the least. But with respect to glaciation as far east as Salisbury Plain, he did use the word "impossible" -- and that is never a good idea, as Olwen Williams-Thorpe and others have pointed out. 

Since the turning of the century a lot has changed, and a vast amount of research has been published, to transform our knowledge of what went on in the Ice Age.  I have summarised and analysed scores of important articles in this blog, dealing with the geology, geomorphology and glaciology of western Britain and its glaciers.  So what's the state of play?

1.  Evidence of erratics and coherent deposits from Flatholm, the Bristol area, the hills around Bath, the Mendip fringes and the Somerset Levels confirms that ice from the west has penetrated far inland from the Bristol Channel on at least one occasion -- and probably several times. None of this was disputed by Scourse in 1997, although he argued that all of the glacial traces to the east of the Bristol Channel coast were "ice-marginal".   We still do not know where the eastern limit of the greatest glaciation was, but glaciological theory suggests it might be somewhere near the chalk escarpment on the western edge of Salisbury Plain.

2.  Computer modelling by Alan Hubbard and colleagues, James Patton and others have indicated that it is perfectly feasible that ice from the Irish Sea Ice Stream (ISIS) actually reached the Stonehenge area.  They do NOT support Scourse's contention that this was "impossible".  

One of the glaciation models -- this is from Edwards et al, 2017.  Patton et al (2016) ran a whole series of models for the growth and decay of the LGM ice sheet.  Modelling work is still in progress.

3.  The size of the Celtic Sea ice lobe is now known to have been far greater than previously appreciated.  Not so long ago, it was thought that the ice edge rested on the Isles of Scilly, but my own fieldwork chimes with that of the BRITICE team to show that it extended far to the south at the time of maximum glaciation -- all the way out to the shelf edge.  If the ice flowed further to the south than previously thought, it must also have spread further to the east.  Again, that chimes with my own recent work in south Pembrokeshire.

My attempt to portray the LGM extent of ice in the SW part of the British Isles.  In a previous glaciation, we know from the distribution of glacial deposits that the ice was more extensive than this in the inner reaches of the Bristol Channel and elsewhere.

4.  From the work of Prof Dave Evans and others, we now know that Dartmoor supported its own ice cap on at least one occasion during the Ice Age, and if there was glacier ice there, climatic conditions must have been quite suitable for glacier ice to reach Salisbury Plain.  There are abundant erratics (which must be glacial in origin) across SW England, and especially on the coasts of Devon and Cornwall, as itemised in my book "The Stonehenge Bluestones".

5.  There can be little doubt that the bulk of the 43 Stonehenge bluestones have most of the characteristics of glacial erratic boulders and slabs.  Only a few of them can be described as pillars. Apart from a few that have been worked, they are faceted and heavily abraded, and carry thick weathering crusts. They have none of the characteristics of quarried stone.  This matter was not considered by Scourse (1997) when he argued for the human transport of the bluestones.

6.  The fact that most of the Stonehenge bluestones have come from the north slope of Mynydd Preseli in Pembrokeshire chimes with glaciological theory, which predicts that there must have been a "zone of enhanced erosion and entrainment" just in those areas where bluestone provenances have been established by Ixer and Bevins. Research in northern Finland also shows that where overriding ice encounters a hill barrier such as Ounastunturi (or indeed Preseli) erosive capacity is enhanced on the up-glacier side.

7.  It is still true that no "free boulders" or monoliths classified as bluestones have been found across the Stonehenge landscape, except at Stonehenge.  However, there is the Boles Barrow bluestone anomaly which suggests that at least one bluestone boulder was present on Salisbury Plain  long before Stonehenge was built.  There are also thousands of bluestone "fragments" scattered across the landscape, and as pointed out by Olwen Williams-Thorpe and others, it is perhaps too convenient to refer to all of these as "fragments of destroyed monoliths".  Some of the fragments deserve to be referred to as pebbles, and some appear to be in Mesolithic or early Neolithic contexts.  Analyses of these fragments in the past have been bedevilled by assumptions that there was a "bluestone arrival date" ( if not several), and by dubious assignments of fragments to secondary or tertiary sediments or fills, for example in the Stonehenge ditch and in the Aubrey Holes.

8.  Ongoing research into the "clay-with-flints" and other sediments on Salisbury Plain suggests the incorporation of several different  materials, some of which have the characteristics of degraded glacial tills.

9.  Recent work on the glaciation of the Celtic Sea shelf by the Irish Sea Ice Stream has shown that the Devensian ice surface gradient was exceptionally shallow, dropping from +750m in the Irish Channel to +400m in St Georges Channel to -200m at the southernmost ice edge about 500 km away. There must have been substantial lateral spreading and gradient reduction on the ice surface once it was clear of the constriction between North Pembrokeshire and the coast of SE Ireland.  It was proposed by Prof Geoff Boulton many years ago that this was because of the soft and saturated sediment bed on what had been the sea floor, facilitating a high rate of bed deformation, lubrication and basal sliding.  This has been confirmed by subsequent work by James Scourse and the BRITICE team.  So could the ice from the west have surmounted the chalk escarpment on the edge of Salisbury Plain? Since the Plain has a surface altitude of 200m-250m, an ice front capable of surmounting the chalk scarp must have had a surface altitude of c 300m.  That could not have happened in the late Devensian glaciation, but it would have been perfectly feasible in the Anglian, at a time when the whole of Preseli must have been deeply inundated by ice, with a glacier surface at c 750m. The soft sediments of the Somerset Levels would have facilitated ice movement eastwards from the Bristol Channel.

I am not aware of any research (published or unpublished) within the last 24 years that conteracts or contradicts the above points, and I believe that the case for a glacial incursion onto Salisbury Plain (by ice carrying North Pembrokeshire erratics) is stronger now than it ever has been. 

Reproduced from "Stonehenge for the Ancestors" (2020).  The Boles Barrow boulder (or piece of it) now stored in Salisbury Museum.  The argument rages on about whether it ever was at Stonehenge, or ever was in a Neolithic long barrow near the western edge of the chalklands..........


The rhyolite pebble that may or may not have come from a Mesolithic context at Durrington