Waun Mawn stone circle: the Welsh origins of Stonehenge
Interim report of the 2018 season
By Mike Parker Pearson, Josh Pollard, Colin Richards, Kate Welham, Dave Shaw, Ellen Simmons and Adam Stanford
This is a strange interim report — with some bits pasted in from a 2017 Report, and other bits clearly inserted just to please the funding organisations and selected parts of the archaeological establishment. The whole thing is delivered with a degree of certainty that borders on arrogance — and as in the other publications from this team, there is no mention of the fact that there is a major dispute going on with regard to the “bluestone quarrying” issue, which is of course crucial to the matter of the supposed Waun Mawn “great stone circle.” (Readers of this blog will recall that the discovery of a circle of bluestones became necessary because the radiocarbon evidence from Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog was so confusing and inconclusive that nobody could make head or tail of it. As far as most of us are concerned, the quarrying hypothesis was actually falsified by the radiocarbon evidence produced from the two sites by the diggers themselves — but they steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that……. So on they plough, in the hope that somebody out there still believes them.)
Here is the summary:
One of the great mysteries of prehistory is why Stonehenge’s ‘bluestones’ came from over 140 miles away in west Wales. While Stonehenge’s sarsen stones are thought to be local to the Avebury area, 20 miles to the north, the smaller bluestones (mostly weighing 1-3 tons) came from the Preseli hills of west Wales. Our aim is to find out why Stonehenge was built of stones from such distant sources.
Over the last seven years, the Stones of Stonehenge project has identified and excavated two of the outcrops from which bluestones were quarried in c.3300-3000BC, before these megaliths were erected at Stonehenge in its first stage in c.3000-2920 BC. Archaeologists and geologists have hypothesised that Stonehenge’s bluestones might have first been erected as a stone circle in west Wales, that was later dismantled and moved to Salisbury Plain, rather than being brought directly from their quarries.
Archaeological excavations at the partial stone circle at Waun Mawn uncovered stone holes of two of its four remaining monoliths and revealed 12 further features extending beyond the ends of the arc of monoliths. Six of these features were holes for standing stones removed in antiquity. Radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dates are awaited for samples taken from these features at Waun Mawn.
Together with the four remaining monoliths at Waun Mawn, the six stone sockets excavated in 2018 form part of a former stone circle with a diameter of c.110m. This makes Waun Mawn the third largest stone circle known in Britain.
The empty sockets contained the imprint of the monoliths that had each stood in these holes. They range in size from 0.2m across to 0.6m across and were mostly held in place with packing stones before their removal at some point in antiquity before the growth of peat. The largest of these stones had an unusual pentagonal-shaped base which can be matched with Stone 62 at Stonehenge. A large flake of dolerite that appears to have become detached from the Waun Mawn monolith during its erection or removal, is of the same type of rock as that of Stone 62 at Stonehenge.
Further links with Stonehenge are provided by the discovery that one of the former standing stones on the northeast sector of the circle, singled out by its construction on a mound, is potentially aligned from the circle’s centre towards either midsummer solstice sunrise or northern major moonrise. The stone’s location is enhanced by its placement on top of a low artificial mound. Secondly, the diameter of Waun Mawn circle is the same as the diameter of Stonehenge’s perimeter ditch; no other Neolithic monuments in Britain are known to share this diameter.
Like the other great stone circles of Britain, Waun Mawn is expected to date to the Neolithic around 3000 BC. Together with a Neolithic causewayed enclosure at Banc Du, a Neolithic palisaded enclosure at Dryslwyn, and seven Neolithic tombs, it forms a major ceremonial complex within the Preseli hills and their environs. This provides a new insight into the significance of the source of Stonehenge’s bluestones, and raises interesting new questions about the relationship of this complex with that on Salisbury Plain, such as why Stonehenge was built out of one or more second-hand monuments.
Let’s ignore that for the moment and concentrate on the meat of the report.
Research goals as identified by the team:
"The project’s overall goals are:
1. To investigate the source area of Stonehenge’s bluestone monoliths in the Preseli hills, identifying megalith quarries and locating other Neolithic sites and monuments associated with bluestones.
2. To discover whether the bluestones were incorporated initially into one or more Pembrokeshire monuments before being transported to Wiltshire.
3. To explore the quarrying of the bluestones in Preseli and their subsequent use, including their journey to Stonehenge, to clarify the purpose of Stonehenge.
In 2017 our specific goal was:
1. To establish whether an arc of four standing stones (Waun Mawn) forms the remains of a dismantled Neolithic stone circle where bluestones were first erected before being moved to Stonehenge."
At the outset there is a bland statement that certain of the Stonehenge bluestones have been accurately provenances to the Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog; that is a falsehood — the geologists have made certain claims, but the provenancing is not at all certain. Then they say: "Remains of megalith-quarrying at these two outcrops have been dated to the period shortly before 3000 BC.” As pointed out above, this is also a falsehood — the dating points to intermittent occupation of the sites over a long period of time, but it does NOT point to megalith quarrying.
There follows a description of the geographical setting of Waun Mawn, carefully engineered to demonstrate a likelihood that something of Neolithic significance should be sited here! There is an assumption that Waun Mawn was once covered by blanket bog — I doubt that. There is reference to the underlying bedrock of Aber Mawr shales or meta-mudstones, but no mention is made of the immediately adjacent outcrops of dolerite — presumably because it is the intention of the research team to demonstrate that all of the large stones on this site were carried in from a long way off, rather than simply being picked up from a few metres away. What is the point of this strange and unscientific obsession? I have been very critical of this “induced blindness” before, here:
This is interesting:
"Magnetometer and earth resistance surveys at Waun Mawn in 2011 failed to identify any sub-surface features that might be stone sockets extending the length of the arc, and these negative results were put down to the problems created by podzolisation. Further surveys in 2018, employing electro-magnetic induction, ground-penetrating radar and earth resistance, also failed to identify any significant anomalies that could be interpreted as stone holes of a dismantled stone circle.”
It does not seem to have occurred to the team that the failure to find a stone circle may have simply been down to the fact that there isn’t one now and that there never was one…………..
Nonetheless, they battle on with utter conviction. and in the following section. Under “Findings” they make no attempt to present their evidence or to interpret it in a scientific or empirical fashion. That’s not their style. Instead, they say that in addition to the holes belonging to two recumbent monoliths, they have found 12 new “features” which are described with complete conviction thus:
"Six of these features were holes for standing stones removed in antiquity. Together with the four remaining monoliths, they were part of a former stone circle with a diameter of 110m. This makes Waun Mawn the third largest stone circle known in Britain."
The “features” are described in turn, with no discussion or analysis of the “evidence”. There are copious references to sockets, ramps, packing stones, infills, imprints and so on, with particular emphasis concentrated on stoneholes 007, 015, 021, 030, 017, 037 and 091. I have examined all of these, and have found them singularly unconvincing — and no attempt is made by the authors to show us that the “sockets” and associated features are in any substantial way different from a multitude of other slight pits and depressions across this moorland — and indeed others exposed during the 2017 and 2018 digs. Where are the controls? And where is the reasoned argument pointing to these features being man-made? As the authors admit, they have discovered no artefacts in the pits and there is no clear archaeology which might help their arguments.
With regard to two of the recumbent stones, Richard Bevins has stated that the largest one (of unspotted dolerite) is likely to have come from Cerrigmarchogion. He then says that the smallest recumbent stone (of speckled or spotted dolerite) might have come from Mynydd-bach. Are these simply opinions or has Richard actually undertaken sampling and petrographic analyses? It remains to be seen how strong the evidence might be for these two bits of speculative provenancing.
This is interesting, with respect to “stonehole 091”: "Its extraction hole was then filled with a sequence of secondary fills containing over 40 struck dolerite flakes. One of these was a large stone flake (22.9cm x 8.4cm) aligned longitudinally along the eastern side of the extraction ramp. With its weathered cortex on its exterior face, it may have been an unintentional removal, detached from the standing stone as it was pulled out of the hole. As with all the other flakes from stonehole 091, it is of unspotted dolerite…….” Are these genuine struck flakes, or are they simply dolerite fragments contained within the local till that covers the whole site? Having seen some of the things referred to as “artefacts” at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog, I admit to a degree of scepticism! It would not be at all surprising to find dolerite fragments and cobbles within the local till. We may or may not ever get to see the evidence.
This is also interesting: "Artefacts found in close proximity (within 2–3m) of stonehole 091 consist of a flint scraper (SF40), a piece of worked flint (SF1) and a trimmed circular mudstone disc (SF3). The mudstone disc is very similar to three such artefacts found in Neolithic levels at Carn Goedog megalith quarry.” Two bits of flint and a “mudstone disc” may or not be artefacts — let’s see how strong the evidence is when and if it is published.
Other attempts to demonstrate human involvement in the creation of micro-features include reference to an “artificial mound” and a “sunken trackway” which seem no less fanciful than the "engineering features” described at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog.
Later, in the discussion, we get another gigantic leap of the imagination: "The pentagonal-sided imprint of the standing stone (BJ: presumably that means the one stone still standing) is highly unusual and can be matched in size and shape by just two bluestones at Stonehenge. One of these, Stone 62, is also of unspotted dolerite. Quite possibly, Stone 62 is the stone that stood originally in stonehole 091 at Waun Mawn.”
Then this: "The fact that Waun Mawn stone circle has the same diameter as the perimeter ditch of Stonehenge is also highly suggestive of a close link between these two monuments. No other Neolithic monument in Britain shares this same diameter.” Well, yes and no — there are many approximate concentric rings at Stonehenge, and many stone settings from other parts of the UK can be “matched” with one or another of them. The Waun Mawn circle — if there was one —was substantially larger than the largest stone setting at Stonehenge.
The conclusion is typical of the MPP team:
"The confirmation of Waun Mawn as one of Britain’s former great stone circles changes our understanding of the considerable significance of the Preseli region during the Middle–Late Neolithic. The importance of north Pembrokeshire in the Early Neolithic has long been recognised on the basis of the extraordinary concentration of portal dolmens and other megalithic tombs in this area (Lynch 1972; Barker 1992), recently enhanced by Darvill and Wainwright’s excavations of a causewayed enclosure at Banc Du (Darvill et al. 2005: 22–3; 2007; Darvill and Wainwright 2016: 75–6) and a palisaded enclosure at Dryslwyn (Darvill and Wainwright 2016: 76).
"Around 3000 BC, there was further activity both at the bluestone megalith quarries of Craig Rhos-y-felin and Carn Goedog (Parker Pearson et al. in press) as well as at the Banc Du causewayed enclosure where its ditch was re-cut in 3105–2915 cal BC (Darvill et al. 2005: 22–3; 2007; Darvill & Wainwright 2016: 75–6; Whittle et al. 2011: 526–7), coinciding with the ending of megalith-quarrying at Carn Goedog and with the erection of bluestones in the Aubrey Holes at Stonehenge. The recognition that Britain’s third largest stone circle was built here in Preseli, a stone’s pull from two bluestone quarries, leaves us in no doubt that this was one of the great religious and political centres of Neolithic Britain when the bluestones were taken to Stonehenge. Whether Waun Mawn stone circle was left unfinished may give us a major clue to the social circumstances that led to the remarkable decision to move up to 80 bluestones to Stonehenge.”
Every sentence in there deserves to be carved up or ripped to shreds — but now I’m fed up. Suffice to say that there may have been a more extensive stone setting at Waun Mawn, a bit like that at Castlerigg or Swinside. Then again, maybe not. The evidence presented thus far is, to put it mildly, less than convincing. And there is NOTHING at Waun Mawn to suggest any link at all with Stonehenge.