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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Friday, 17 September 2021

Stonehenge for the Ancestors -- Vol 1

I have drawn attention to this book before:

I have also flagged up the fact that the excellent people at Sidestone Press have made the book available for free online, so that we can all delve into it at our leisure. You can get at it via this link:

For those of us who ponder on the matter of the bluestones, Chapter 4 (p 165) by Mike Parker Pearson and Colin Richards is the place to go to. The gorgeous map (duly acknowledged) which I have reproduced at the head of this post tells us where the bluestones are, and which types of rock they are known -- or assumed -- to be.

This book chapter is quite responsibly written, and is not as seriously damaged by speculations and assumptions as the articles on Rhosyfelin, Carn Goedog and Waun Mawn that have been written by the MPP team. Nonetheless, there are plenty of questionable assumptions lurking in the undergrowth.

The authors are very insistent that the Aubrey Holes held bluestones, and that the bluestones arrived on Salisbury Plain at the beginning of the third millennium BC -- in plain English, that means about 5,000 years ago, in Stonehenge Stage 1. Keep that date in mind..... They think that this first stone setting was in position even before the creation of the ditch and bank, which followed around 4.900 years ago. They say the stones were used in an undressed state, since no stone chippings from this earliest phase have been identified in material excavated from the primary or secondary fill of the ditch. (see Cleal et al, 1995 -- of which more anon......) They also say that the large quantities of chippings in later fills and contexts at Stonehenge point to dressing on site, or even to the destruction of bluestones in post-Neolithic times.

As pointed out before on this blog, they look at the "Boles Barrow bluestone" on p 176, and say it was "erroneously attributed" to the Barrow. That matter is by no means open and shut........

They also claim that the bluestones were taken from the Aubrey Holes and stored somewhere before being re-used in the Q and R holes around 4,700 - 4,500 yrs BP.

Section 4.1.4 on p 177 is an interesting summary of the other bluestone fragments found in the Stonehyenge landscape. We have covered this in a previous post. Then there is a section on Aubrey Hole 7, and the material found at its base. There has been much discussion on the cremated remains and on the significance of the "crushed chalk".......... On p 191 the authors refer to 15 geological groups found in the bluestone assemblage at Stonehenge, and emphasise the abundance of foliated rhyolite, spotted dolerite and unspotted dolerite, pretending that the collections of fragments obtained from past digs are fully representative of the bluestone litter or scatter across the whole site.  This assumption was not accepted by Cleal et al in 1995, and it should not be accepted by anybody else either.  We will ignore the strong bias relating to monolith quarrying on p 192.

The investigation into the origins and dating of the bluestone fragments (mostly rhyolite) around Fargo Plantation is worth reading (see p 193).  

On p 213 there is speculation about the round undressed stones  -- boulders and slabs for the most part, although the authors cannot bring themselves to admit this.  They suggest that the stones of the outer circle had a longer life in the Stonehenge landscape than the shaped bluestones of the horseshoe -- and they are inclined to think that the rough bluestones (clearly not quarried) came to Stonehenge earlier than the horseshoe bluestones, which might have come from the "bluestone quarries" like Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog.  Having investigated the possibility that there was an old bluestone setting near Fargo Plantation, and having decided against that, they suggest that bluestone monoliths might have been used in other settings in the landscape, and maybe not always at Stonehenge itself.  This is where "Bluestonehenge" comes into the frame -- but we won't go there today.

And this is interesting: on P 215:   " our analysis the impression given is one of near-disorder.  In this final form, the arrangement of the Stonehenge bluestones, particularly the outer circle, appears more as a collection of stones with little regard to the creation of a megalithic architecture predicated on lithology, biography or source."

At last, something we can all agree on!!!  The use and the settings of bluestones within the Stonehenge landscape was little short of chaotic, indicative either of indecision or frequent changes of strategy, or (as I have been arguing for years) determined by the simple fact that there never were enough stones.

Finally in this chapter, on p 214, there is an admission that there are other sockets and possible locations on Salisbury Plain where bluestones might have been used during the Neolithic if not in the Bronze age.  On this last page of the chapter Parker Pearson and Richards go into a convoluted explanation of the relationship between West Wales and Stonehenge, with the "quarries" featuring large. They end up in a perfectly frightful tangle.   Sadly, they are so preoccupied with their ruling hypothesis of an "arrival date" (or maybe several arrival dates) that they are completely blind to the blindingly obvious.  

The stones were there all the time, just waiting to be used here, there and all over the place, depending on the fashion of the time.  It's all explained in my book, which maybe the authors have not got round to yet.   None of their evidence contradicts this thesis.   Most of the bluestones (apart from those in the bluestone horseshoe that have been fashioned)  look like glacial erratics, feel like glacial erratics, and taste like glacial erratics, and it is quite extraordinary that this is something that the authors of this chapter cannot even bring themselves to consider.  It's enough to make one want to tear one's hair out.........

There's none so blind as them that will not see........


PS.  Looking forward to Volume 2, next year, with lots about the lithics...............  I need something to keep me entertained.

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Mission: Glacier education

As readers of this blog will know, it's one of my missions in life to ensure that members of the public are made aware of what ice can do -- and indeed has done in the past.  One does not need to be a glaciologist to have some awareness of how glaciers work and how they affect the landscape.  It's not that difficult, if you just try to steer clear of ice physics.........  

Of course, what ice CAN DO and what ice actually HAS DONE in particular circumstances are two different matters, and I don't deny that if we propose that ice has carried bluestone slabs a long way from their sources (for example)  then we must support that with hard documented evidence.

But there is a weird set of misconceptions out there, and some of them are shared by quite senior archaeologists.  Geoff Wainwright, for example, said in my hearing at a lecture that ice cannot possibly flow uphill, and cannot possibly have moved from west to east in the SW quadrant of the British Isles.  Mike Parker Pearson has said -- more than once -- that the glacial transport thesis is "dead in the water" because there are no widespread glacial deposits on Salisbury Plain.  Tim Darvill and Mike Pitts have said something similar, citing the apparent lack of a continuous erratic train from source to dumping ground........

All of the above are pieces of nonsense, of course, and those who are lucky enough to be still alive need to do some serious reading.  To help people like said archaeologists, I wrote "The Ice Age" for Collins a long time ago, containing a sort of layman's guide to glaciology.  I was reminded of this the other day when I was assembling some old book jackets for my archive, and found that exactly 25 years ago the Norwegian Glacier Museum published two small booklets (jackets above) which were based on two of the chapters from the book.   They are quite short -- 16 pp and 24 pp respectively.   The booklets are still in print, as far as I know, and I am going to try to get them onto Kindle or onto Researchgate where they can be easily accessed.

Watch this space......

PS.. Happy to relate that last night I managed to work out how to scan and get one of the booklets onto Researchgate.  So there it is, completely free at the point of use.  Enjoy!  The other will follow.........

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

The Museum -- open if you are lucky

I could sell it like this.  Visit the Bluestone Museum in your search for enlightenment!  Bluestones around you on all sides!  Lumps of bluestone available for hire for rituals and spells!  Standing bluestone monolith available for photo opps!

Hmmm -- no, I don't think I'll go down that route.  This is much more low key -- an attempt to explain the ongoing dispute about bluestone entrainment / collection and transport.  No hyperbole -- but I'm not neutral either.  Neutrality is not an option in the present circumstances.  Anyway, everybody welcome.........

A Tale of Two Narratives

Indiana Jones and the Quarry of Gloom

It's only when you dig about a bit, and pay close attention, that you discover that there are two narratives going on here, in the wilds of North Pembrokeshire.  Both of the narratives are assiduously promoted by a certain archaeologist who does not particularly wish to remain anonymous.  And they are dearly loved by the media, who can be counted on to spread the word at the drop of a hat, with banner headlines, beautiful illustrations and lashings of purple prose.

Narrative one: 

This is pretty well known by now.  It explains how and why the bluestones of the Preseli district were quarried from remote locations far from the coast, and were carried or shipped (depending on which version of the narrative you are listening to) off to Stonehenge.  They were of course sacred stones, embodying the spirits of the ancestors, and they were carried during a great act of political unification, with tribes from the far west of Wales contributing their own special stones to the great monument of Stonehenge that was being built on Salisbury Plain.  The stones were of course special, but it has never been explained why they all came from the west, and not from the north, east or south.  But we'll let that pass.  Neither has it ever been explained why the monoliths (which for the most part simply look like weathered and rounded glacial erratics) had to be quarried rather than simply being picked up from the ground surface in the Preseli uplands.  We'll let that pass too.  The monoliths, made from a vast range of different rock types, were of course imbued with ritual and political significance; but of even greater importance to the tribes involved was the act of quarrying the stones in all but impossible locations and the act of carrying them cross-country through bogs and forests, uphill and downhill in very hostile terrain.  The suffering and the loss of life must have been appalling, but the bonding and the sense of triumph on the completion of the task made it all worthwhile.  Then of course, because neither the geology nor the radiocarbon dates made any sense, the idea of the "temporary bluestone parking ground" was conceived and promoted as a part of the narrative.  So it came to pass that the bluestone monoliths were parked in several stone circles (including a giant lost circle at Waun Mawn) for 500 years or so, or until such times as the radiocarbon dates could be made to fit.  You know the sort of thing -- and so it goes on, getting ever more elaborate with every successive digging season............

Narrative two:

This is much more exciting.  Once upon a time an archaeology professor (who maybe saw himself as a cross between Crocodile Dundee and Indiana Jones) decided, on the basis of some moderately interesting provenancing work by a couple of geologists, that the bluestone monoliths at Stonehenge must have been quarried from very difficult places by people who believed them to be imbued with the spirits of the ancestors.  The shapes, geological characteristics and dimensions of the Stonehenge bluestones flew in the face of this theory, and most geologists, geomorphologists and glaciologists thought that the stones could have been entrained and carried by ice for (at the very least) the greater part of their journey.  But the great professor refused to be cowed or diverted away from his quest.  He persisted, and assembled a team of willing helpers around him.  He found it hard to raise the funding he needed for his fieldwork, because it was labelled as "too speculative" -- but he persisted, and at last managed to rustle up the funds.  And lo and behold, in the years that followed he found not one bluestone quarry but two!  Still there were those who were sceptical, but he decided simply to ignore all the objections raised.  He decided that there must be other quarries too, waiting to be discovered.  Even more exciting!  Everything on the digs looked very scientific, but the radiocarbon dating evidence from the two "discovered" quarries did not fit with the required timing of the quarrying activities, so the good professor conceived the idea that the quarried stones were initially used in a giant lost circle somewhere in the vicinity of the quarries, and were then, after the passage of 500 years or so, removed lock stock and barrel off to Stonehenge as part of a corporate act of political unification and homage to a great warrior tribe resident on Salisbury Plain. He searched at Waun Mawn for this great circle, but the technical wizards found no supporting evidence.  But he persisted, and looked at eight or nine possible sites -- all to no avail.  At this point most diggers would have given up.  But this professor was made of sterner stuff, and retained his complete faith in the correctness of his hypothesis.  He decided to go back to Waun Mawn and to revert to good old-fashioned digging with spades and trowels.  And lo and behold, he found the sockets of lost standing stones, more or less neatly arranged on the periphery of a giant lost circle which had the same circumference (give or take a few metres) as something convenient at Stonehenge.  Through gales and deluges the great professor and his sturdy helpers laboured on, finding more and more titbits of information that could be passed off as evidence.  And so it continues to this day, and everybody knows about the bluestones, the quarries and the great lost circle.  And the great professor, vindicated and famous throughout the land, lived happily ever after.

The second narrative is much the more important of the two, and of course it has captured the public imagination.  It is an architypal quest narrative.  Those who are familiar with mythology -- and with TV screenplay formats -- will recognize all the essential components.  This is a typical summary of the quest format:

The Quest is the plot type most likely to have a group of main characters rather than one protagonist in the main eye of the story. The rest of the party generally takes one of four appearances:
A close friend who is loyal to our hero, but doesn’t have much else going for him or her;
An assistant who is the polar opposite of the hero mentally, physically, and emotionally;
A generic mass of identity-less colleagues who don’t get names because they’re not alive long enough to matter; or
A balanced party of brains, heart, and strength who support the hero, or who count the hero as one of their own.

The Call
This is what  kickstarts the plot and gives the hero and the rest of the party a mission to accomplish.

The Journey
Obviously our heroes are not going to get to their end goal that easily. Most of the journey is over enemy territory or hostile land, and obstacles pop up left and right, like dandelions in the spring. Obstacles come in several flavours, like monsters (kill/escape, rinse, repeat), temptations (see a good portion of the Odyssey for examples), a rock and a hard place (Scylla and Charybdis being the classic example), or a journey to the underworld. Amid these tests come periods of rest where the party can regain their strength (or count the bodies, if the party is the third type).

Arrival and Frustration
They’re so close! Our heroes can see the Emerald City! They’re almost there! Oh, wait, the Wizard won’t actually help them until they kill the Wicked Witch of the West. Damn. Well, that’s annoying. Our heroes still have some work to do before they actually complete their Quest.

The Final Ordeals
Now come the final tests of our heroes. Often these come in sets of three, like in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Usually our main hero is the only one who can complete the final test. Success! And then our intrepid band of heroes (or just one hero, in case everyone else is dead) makes an amazing escape from death, either by running away or by killing whatever bad guys are left.

The Goal
Hurrah! Our hero(es) have completed their quest, and get their treasure/kingdom/princess/trip home.

Most stories involving the Holy Grail are Quests, as is the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Princess Bride, and Finding Nemo. If information is considered to be the sought-after item in the Quest, most police/legal procedurals could be considered miniature quests. By varying the elements of the Quest story, the plot type can still stay fresh.

As indicated above, the quest narrative is used all over the world, and I remember a brilliant Irish storyteller telling the tale of the unlikely hero who, over and again, "should have went home", but decided instead to press on towards his goal.  There is no doubt at all that Tomos TV, the makers of the BBC TV programme featuring MPP and Alice Roberts, in February 2021, were perfectly clear about the mechanisms they wanted to use to tell the story, not about Waun Mawn and Rhosyfelin, but about MPP -- his persistence in the face of innumerable setbacks, his professional skills,  his leadership, and his clarity of vision.  This was picked up by various reviewers.  In short, MPP is the HERO in the drama, and we are told about HIS quest and sucked into HIS personal narrative.  Alice is the sidekick or the facilitator, used to draw the complexity of the story out of him for the edification of the viewers.  If you missed it, here is the programme in all its glory, on YouTube:

Just read the comments on the YouTube page -- they are far more revealing than the video itself........... 


So there we are then.  This isn't about bluestones, quarries or stone circles.  It has been distorted by the media so that it is now really about one man and his quest.  His quest for the truth?  The truth doesn't matter in the post-processual world.  The quest is one with fame and fortune as its ultimate objective, and not much else really matters.  As Wagner and many others told us a long time ago, the gold ring is a very dangerous thing.

On Pseudoscience


Thanks to Flint Dibble for sharing this on Twitter.  He was referring, I think, to "science" as it is found on Facebook -- but sad to say it is also found in the pages of learned journals like "Antiquity", as we know only too well.......

Monday, 13 September 2021

The glorification of Waun Mawn -- with the help of 23 lies

Tomorrow night MPP will be giving his annual lecture at the Bluestone Brewery, reporting on the latest "discoveries" from up there on the mountainside.  This year the excavators have been blessed with pretty good weather, so the digging and sample collecting should have gone smoothly.  I hope he has something interesting to tell to the faithful, and will hazard a guess that there will be much more about the Bronze Age than about the Neolithic..........

Six months ago I reported on the infamous press release issued in association with the publication of the February 2021 Antiquity article about Waun Mawn, and the banal BBC TV documentary featuring MPP and Alice Roberts.  I make no apologies for reproducing my comments below, in the hope that this year might be one in which solid science comes to the fore, taking the place of distortions, speculations and assumptions.  Here is the original link:

How many lies can you pack into a single press release? As it happens, quite a few. This is the highest achiever I have ever seen — and I’ve seen quite a few in my time, in many different fields……..

There are 23 lies packed into a single press release. That’s quite an achievement. Here is a little list:

1. The headline is seriously misleading. Not even Mike Parker Pearson claims that Stonehenge was a dismantled stone circle — he claims that SOME of the bluestones in the bluestone settings at Stonehenge have probably come from a stone circle at a a place called Waun Mawn.

2. “The stunning discovery” ? This is not a "discovery” at all. It is a speculation, pure and simple. It is arguable that there ever was a stone circle at Waun Mawn, and there is NO evidence of any sort that links Stonehenge with Waun Mawn.

3. The bluestones are “already known to have come from the Preseli Hills”.  Really? Some of them probably have, but others have not — and possible sources are still being searched for.

4. The MPP team “has identified megalith quarries” ? No it hasn’t. It has claimed to have done so, but the evidence is hotly disputed in two peer papers published in 2015 which the MPP team has steadfastly refused to acknowledge or cite. That “refusal to cite” has been widely seen as academic malpractice.

5. “The dismantled stone circle nearby” ? No link of any sort has been established between Waun Mawn and the supposed quarry sites, and the evidence all suggests that if there ever were standing stones at Waun Mawn that have gone missing, they were small monoliths sourced locally.

6. Professor Parker Pearson said: “I have been leading projects at Stonehenge since 2003 and this is the culmination of twenty years of research. It’s one of the most important discoveries I’ve ever made.” Alarm bells should be ringing straight away when the archaeology becomes a minor issue and the main focus becomes a quest in the style of King Arthur and Indiana Jones. I note that the press release makes reference to the TV programme on “the lost circle” — which did not have science or even archaeology as its focus, but the obsessive quest of one man against all the odds, fashioned quite deliberately into a three-act drama. Let's be clear — this is NOT an important discovery.

7. "The find goes a long way to solving the mystery of why the Stonehenge bluestones were brought from so far away…” No it doesn’t. This is not a “find” but a speculation, and it has never been shown through evidence that the bluestones were “brought” from anywhere distant.

8. “………. all other stone circles were erected within a short distance of their quarries.” False. Most stone circles did not need quarries at all — they were made with whatever stones happened to be handy in the neighbourhood.

9. "Only four stones remain at Waun Mawn…” There are abundant substantial stones lying around, as revealed in the excavations. Others have simply been ignored by the MPP team. Some of those are bigger than those postulated to have fitted into sockets.

10. “…… revealed as having been the third biggest stone circle in Britain, after Avebury in Wiltshire and Stanton Drew in Somerset, and also one of the earliest.” False. This is a speculation, not a revelation. And the dating is also highly speculative, and unsupported by the evidence.

11. "Archaeological excavations in 2018 revealed empty stoneholes at Waun Mawn…” That again is a highly questionable assumption. I have examined all of the “stoneholes” and think that most of them are simply natural depressions in a till surface, far too small and shallow to have held substantial stone pillars. Mike Pitts and Prof Tim Darvill agree with me on that.

12. "Scientific dating of charcoal and sediments in the holes confirmed that it was put up around 3400 BC.” That is not true. There was a wide range of dates (as at the two “quarry” sites) and they are across such a wide range that no conclusions can be drawn. You cannot just cherry-pick the dates that suit you, as the MPP team has done.

13. “……..both Waun Mawn and Stonehenge were aligned on the midsummer solstice sunrise.” Not true. The two postulated “sighting stones” at Waun Mawn have been chosen simply because they are "convenient”. They are widely separated, and the arc between them is so wide that it has no significance in terms of alignment.

14. "One of the bluestones at Stonehenge has an unusual cross-section that matches one of the holes left at Waun Mawn.” That is fanciful in the extreme, and as I see it, having also seen the pit concerned, there is no match between socket and stone.

15. "Chippings in that hole are of the same rock type as the Stonehenge stone.” That is false. No match has been demonstrated in the “Antiquity” paper. This is yet another rather wild speculation.

16. “……..the Welsh circle had a diameter of 110 metres, the same as that of the ditch that encloses Stonehenge.” False. The proposed diameter of the Waun Mawn “circle” is entirely speculative, and the idea that a ditch diameter in one place has a significant connection with a stone circle diameter somewhere else, and of a different age, is bizarre.

17. "Waun Mawn is further evidence that the Preseli region of Wales was an important and densely settled place in Neolithic Britain, within a concentration of megalithic tombs, or dolmens, and large enclosures.” This is another unsupported assertion. Certainly there are many prehistoric features in the Preseli region, but maps do not show a greater concentration here than anywhere else, and it is irresponsible to suggest otherwise.

18. “………...evidence of activity in the thousand years after 3000 BC is almost non-existent.” False. Darvill and Wainwright have shown that there were changes going on in West Wales around the Neolithic - Bronze Age transition, but there is abundant evidence of continuity of settlement.

19. Parker Pearson is quoted as saying with respect to a stone-carrying migration: "This extraordinary event may also have served to unite the peoples of east and west Britain…” There was no extraordinary event. What is extraordinary is the speculation, based upon no evidence.

20. "Recent isotopic analysis of people buried at Stonehenge when the bluestones are thought to have arrived reveals that the first people to be buried there came from western Britain, very possibly west Wales.” This is another falsehood. The isotope evidence does not show this or suggest this at all.

21. “…… the Altar Stone, recently confirmed as sourced from the Brecon Beacons in South Wales.” This is a lie. It has been suggested that he Altar Stone probably came from somewhere along the eastern outcrop of the Senni Beds in South Wales. The provenancing is no tighter than that.

22. “…… estimated 80 bluestones put up on Salisbury Plain at Stonehenge and nearby Bluestonehenge…” There is no foundation for that statement. It is speculation that there may have been 80 bluestones on Salisbury Plain, and no evidence has ever been produced to show that “Bluestonehenge” actually contained any monoliths from West Wales.

23. “…… guess is that Waun Mawn was not the only stone circle that contributed to Stonehenge.” Maybe just a guess, but it is irresponsible and misleading to pretend that any bluestone monoliths found at Stonehenge have come from a single stone circle in West Wales, let alone several.


PS.  Because I was so concerned about the appalling nonsense in the press release and in the Antiquity article on Waun Mawn, I wrote to Prof Sue Hamilton, the Director of the UCL Institute of Archaeology, to complain about the decline in academic standards in that institution and more specifically about the manner in which the gigantic Waun Mawn myth had been fabricated.  She replied that she had no concerns whatsoever about the activities of MPP or anybody else.  Are we surprised?

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Buarth Brynach -- in the wrong place?


Many people are interested in the matter of the "lost well" of St Brynach, not far from the tors of Carnedd Meibion Owen.  Having been up there to check it out, and to look at the circle (which is probably of not much significance), I think that the marked position of Buarth Brynach is not very convincing.  Yes, there is a small ditch or drainage route running downslope, but where the well is supposed to have been it is quite dry, with a gap in the hedge and a big patch of nettles.  But about 60m away, to the NE, there is a distinct mound in the field, with very prolific grass growth around it and a cluster of rushes as well.   The surface is quite irregular.  I wonder if this is a pile of rubble that might  mark the position of an old well or enclosed spring?  Grid ref:  SN 09198 35746.

"Buarth" means an enclosure or fold, so this might be further confirmation.  The mound needs to be explored!