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, 30 November 2022

Kaldalon and Drangajökull

The nunataks of Hrolleifsbjorg and Reydarbunga

 Kaldalon glacier -- spring snow cover.  This photo from 2007 was taken shortly after the 1995-2005 surge, during which the glacier advanced and thickened by about 85m.

There's a nice gallery here -- photos taken on a skiing trip from Kaldalon and up onto Drangajokull in good weather at the end of April 2007.  The snowcover is still quite extensive -- and since 2007 there has been very rapid melting on Kaldalonsjökull and on the ice cap itself.

Mountain refuge hut

Hrolleifsbjorg (I think)

Monday, 28 November 2022

Basalt dyke, Hornstrandir



How's this for a basalt dyke? Under the cliffs of Hornstrandir, NW Iceland.  Here almost all of the rocks are layered basalts, but every now and then we have to encounter a feeder dyke or a dyke that has simply exploited a long fissure without necessarily reaching the surface .  This is a particularly splendid example.......

The Preseli ice cap


I found the above reconstruction in an old (2014) article in "Current Archaeology" by Tim Darvill and Geoff Wainwright.  They were not, of course, at all interested in the past existence of  Preseli ice cap -- but it happens to show pretty well what its dimensions might have been on several occasions during the Ice Age.  I suspect that there might have been more extensive ice on the north flank of the main upland ridge, and more in Cwm Cerwyn, close to the summit called Foelcwmcerwyn -- but you get the general idea.

Ignore the marked sites -- they simply show archaeological sites that were of interest to the authors of the article.

The small ice cap (which MUST have existed) is still somewhat mysterious -- and I am still trying to work out whether it had a role in carrying spotted and unspotted dolerite erratics NORTHWARDS down towards the valley of the Afon Nyfer.  There are too many of them dotted about in the landscape  -- mostly big irregular shaped boulders of no use as monoliths or gateposts -- to suggest that they have been carried by human beings.  I am still on the case....... and as readers might recall, I have been changing my mind rather often on the matter of the erratic "cluster" near Glan yr Afon!

Sunday, 27 November 2022

Kaldalonsjökull and the Drangajökull ice cap


Winter satellite image, showing the ice cap and the main outlet glacier troughs.  The Kaldalon valley runs towards the bottom left corner of the image.  Note that the ice cap is asymmetrical -- the highest part is towards the eastern edge.

My old friend Dave Sugden has produced a little booklet based on his diary of the Oxford Icelandic Expedition 1960, which we jointly led and organized.  (It was not exactly a gigantic undertaking.  There were only 4 of us, but one has to start somewhere.......)  We were in the field for a month, and the total cost was £360!!  Anyway, very pleasant and nostalgic reading.

We worked hard while we were in the field, and our mapping (plane table and no theodolite) and observations led to our first ever publication, in the journal Geografiska Annaler.  It was very descriptive and naive, but as I said, one has to start somewhere.......

I had forgotten the details of our trip onto the ice cap on 18 July 1960 -- our first experience of working with ropes and ice axes in crevassed terrain.  We encountered no great hazards, but close to one of the summits on the ice cap we encountered a vast crevasse which we were not equipped to deal with. We were in thick cloud and working off compass bearings, with visibility around 20m.   So then we had no option but to turn back.  That was an 18-hour day, and we were all exhausted at the end of it. 

The three nunataks near the eastern edge of the icecap, seen from Reykjarfjordur.

The present extent of the ice cap, showing the outlet glaciers, nunataks and surface contours. The whitish area shown beyond the current ice cap limits shows the extent of the ice during the Little Ice Age.  At that time the three outlet glaciers pushed several km along their troughs towards the coast.

Bing satellite image of Kaldalonsjökull -- early summer, when the upper part of the glacier is 
still snow covered.

Bing satellite image of the Kaldalon Valley, where we worked intensively for a month in 1960.

Our 1960 map of the main features of the valley

Saturday, 26 November 2022

Kjove Land and the 134m marine limit


I have been doing a lot of reading recently on the glacial chronology of East Greenland, and I'm staggered to find that the 134 m marine limit in Kjove land (near the exit of Nordvestfjord into the wider gulf of Scoresby Sund) has survived the passage of time and is still accepted as accurate.  As is the 101 m shoreline associated with a short-lived glacier advance.

I've been reading a string of recent articles about the marine features, glacial succession and climate changes in the area, written by researchers with helicopter backup and access to the full range of modern surveying instruments, GPS gadgets and up to date digital maps ---  and all the checks done by them have shown that we were pretty well spot on. When Dave Sugden and I were at work in 1962 all our equipment had to be man-hauled,  and the only equipment at our disposal was a theodolite, a long tape and a surveying measuring staff  -- and a pencil and notebook.  We didn't even have an electronic calculator for working out our measurements.  Neither did we know where msl was located -- we had to do our own tidal observations and work that out for ourselves.

I'm not sure that we can say that "the old ways are best" -- because we spent hundreds of hours just walking and humping heavy gear around the place in very rough terrain -- but in terms of "job satisfaction", looking back on it, it  was not too bad.......

Archaeology, hypocrisy and double standards

The myth makers.  What's good for the goose is good for the gander

This is all quite entertaining. There is a huge fuss going on right now about a charlatan who has been involved in a rather spectacular and controversial TV programme promoting "pseudo-archaeology" and "pseudo-history" in pursuit of personal glory and personal profit. He is accused of the following crimes:

1. Wildly misinterpreting or "over-interpreting" evidence in the field

2. Maintaining a pretence that he is an expert while writing in a field in which he is spectacularly under-qualified

3. Developing a ruling hypothesis and turning it into an over-arching myth

4. Cherry picking his evidence and his sites

5. Withholding or ignoring countervailing data and inconvenient evidence brought to his attention by others

6. Choosing to ignore context

7. Pandering to the public desire to believe in heroic ancestors and lost wisdom

8. Pandering to the media demand for spectacular stories and dramatic headlines

9. Failing to give due respect to the inconvenient opinions of experts in related fields

10. Failing to subject the evidence and the arguments to unbiased scholarly peer review.

11. Misrepresenting the current state of understanding in certain fields

12. Highlighting expert disagreements and using those to "demonstrate" that a certain discipline is of dubious value, being filled with "pseudo-experts"

13. Destroying respect for the truth and for science, by impairing the ability of viewers and readers to discern the true from the biased, and the credible from the false.

14.  Basing a whole narrative on a strictly personal conviction of what reality and the truth are, and framing it in such a way that people think he’s presenting something scientific.

So who are we talking about here?  Well, Graham Hancock, of course, since the newspapers and social media are full of him.  He no doubt thoroughly enjoys the notoriety, and  Netflix enjoys the polarised debate and the extensive press coverage too, because the more furious the archaeologists and historians become, the more viewers they get for their infamous TV series.

But hang on a bit.  The words "hypocrisy" and "double standards" spring to mind, because the very archaeologists who are now getting into a lather about somebody who has the temerity to promote a wildly exotic narrative or myth which is unsupported by the facts are the very same people who have turned their academic discipline into a "story telling" paradise in which facts are of only secondary importance. Post-processualism reigns, does it not?  Well, maybe not everywhere, but it has certainly been behind the development of the extraordinary bluestone myth promoted over the last decade by MPP and his team.   What was a rather sterile and admittedly speculative tale (invented by Herbert Thomas) of some bluestones being moved over a long distance by our Neolithic ancestors has turned into something far more elaborate,  presented as fact. Now we have bluestone quarries, stone trans-shipments and overland transport, lost stone circles, solsticial alignments, ancestor worship, tributes and political unification, and a lot else besides.

And take a look at those 14 criticisms levelled towards Hancock by the outraged archaeological establishment. Most if not all of them can be levelled at Parker Pearson and his team, who have been utterly dedicated to the proving and expansion of a ruling hypothesis which is still, after ten years or more,  unsupported by any evidence that withstands scrutiny.  In the process they have disguised speculations as facts and conflated technology with science.

Metaphors abound.  Red herrings, wild geese, edifices built on sinky sand, black pots and kettles....... just take your pick.  

More to the point, archaeologists should refrain from going after somewhat deranged journalists and their wacky stories without first putting their own house in order.  In other words, since we are enjoying our metaphors today, people in glasshouses shouldn't throw stones.


PS. Let's end on a positive note.  Academically dodgy narratives and modern myths never survive for very long, since they are eventually undermined by science.  New research relating to Waun Mawn and the "bluestone quarries" has now shown that there never was a "lost bluestone circle" at Waun Mawn, that there are no Neolithic bluestone quarries at Carn Goedog and Rhosyfelin, that there are no links between these sites and Waun Mawn, and that the "lost circle" site has nothing to do with Stonehenge.  It's all in the literature.  The sad thing is that the perpetrators of the myth will probably be the last people to accept that it is dead and buried.

Craig Rhosyfelin -- an interesting site where the archaeologists have done a lot of quarrying.....

Thursday, 24 November 2022

Glacial diffluence -- Kjove land, East Greenland

The hilly summits of the Kjove Land Plateau are seen clearly here, to the right of centre.  The five highest summits, including Pythagoras Bjerg, are not seen in this photo -- they are to the right of the right edge. They have altitudes of 1150m, 1335m, 1187m, 1190m, and 1376m. 
For comparison, Snowdon summit is at 1085m asl.

This new oblique image (taken from a helicopter) shows the Kjove Land - Syd Kap area of East Greenland where I worked in 1962 with the members of the OU East Greenland Expedition.  It reminds me that there is one big diffluence trough in the area, occupied by the twin lakes of Holger Danskes Briller, and also another which has previously escaped attention, on the southern flank of the lakes trough.  I'm not sure whether this valley has a name, but it's quite spectacular, showing up particularly well in this image of a snow-covered landscape:

The last occasion on which these troughs were used by glacier ice was during the "Milne Land Stage" at the end of the last glacial episode.  In the lakes trough the ice reached a prominent moraine with a "delta top" which demonstrates that relative sea-level at the time was 101 m higher than it is today.  The smaller trough was used by ice escaping from the lakes trough -- probably "forced" by ice additions to the Nordvestfjord Glacier carried by Oxford Glacier and other glaciers flowing southwards from the Staunings Alps. The high col over which the ice spilled is about 700m asl.  The ice flowed along the east flank of Pythagoras Bjerg and then fanned out across the gently undulating Kjove Land Plateau to terminate at the scattered morainic remnants referred to as "Hjörnemoraene"  (corner moraine) at an altitude of c 100 m.

The Holger Danskes Briller terminal moraine and delta terrace, at an altitude of c 101 m

Some years ago I argued that the Kjove Land Plateau and Pythagoras Bjerg stood up as a nunatak at the time of the Milne Land Stage (c 11,000 years ago) and that the Hjornemoraene remnants were lateral moraine remnants formed on the right flank of glacier ice flowing southwards towards Syd Kap.  I don't think that's supported by the new information, and so I now think there was a local ice cap on this upland area, providing ice that flowed down into Nordvestfjord over very steep precipices in the west and down the small steep valley on the southern edge of the plateau.    The ice was supplemented by the diffluent ice stream overflowing from the lakes trough which terminated at the southern plateau edge.  This means that Hjornemoraene and the related morainic ridges extending over several km must be interpreted as terminal moraines, some of them aooarently marking a calving ice terminus.  The explains the close association with the shoreline traces around 101 m asl which David Sugden and I mapped in 1962.  This must have been a messy situation -- one day somebody will sort it all out........

The marine features and moraine remnants mapped by David Sugden and myself in 1962.

Probable directions of ice movement at the Milne Land Stage, around 11,000 years ago.

See also:

SUGDEN, D. E. and B. S. JOHN (1965) 'The raised marine features of Kjove Land, east Greenland', Geogrl. Jnl. 131, pp 235-47

Goehring, B. M., Kelly, M. A., Schaefer, J. M., Finkel, R. C. and Lowell, T. V. 2010. Dating of raised marine and lacustrine deposits in east Greenland using beryllium-10 depth profiles and implications for estimates of subglacial erosion. J. Quaternary Sci., Vol. 25 pp. 865–874. ISSN 0267-8179.

Funder, S. 1972
Deglaciation of the Scoresby Sund fjordregion, north-east GreenlandSVEND FUNDERInstitute of Historical Geology and Palaeontology, University of CopenhagenDeglaciation of the Scoresby Sund fjord region, north-east Greenland.

Helena Alexanderson & Lena Håkansson (2014) Coastal glaciers advanced onto Jameson Land, East Greenland during the late glacial–early Holocene Milne Land Stade, Polar Research, 33:1, 20313, DOI: 10.3402/polar.v33.20313

Hall, B.L., et al., Relative sea-level changes, Schuchert Dal, East Greenland, with implications for ice..., Quaternary Science Reviews (2010),