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Sunday 14 February 2010

Did HH Thomas cook the books?

I have come across a lot of fraudulent science lately, in other contexts, and this got me thinking about whether HH Thomas deliberately "cooked the books" when it came to his original stunning revelations about the link between Stonehenge and Preseli. Increasingly, I think that he did distort and select his evidence in order to prove his point. For example, we still do not know how many samples he took, and we do not know how many "inconvenient" stones he chose simply not to report on..........

This is an extract from THE BLUESTONE ENIGMA:

It was Herbert Thomas who speculated on a Preseli origin for the Stonehenge bluestones in 1908 and then went on to propose, in his famous 1921 lecture, that the bluestones were identical to rocks cropping out within one small area around Carn Meini. These bluestones, located within the bluestone circle and the bluestone horseshoe, comprise 43 stones, give or take a few. The best estimate is that there are 27 spotted dolerites (including at least two that are broken in half), three unspotted dolerites, five altered volcanic ashes, five rhyolites (of which two are ignimbrites and two are lavas), two micaceous sandstones and a greenish sandstone called the Altar Stone. The spotted dolerites are more variable than one might think; some of them have obvious and large spots of whitish or pinkish feldspar, and others have spots that are almost too small to see with the naked eye. The two micaceous sandstones and five volcanic ashes are just left as stumps, buried beneath the turf.

Most people believe that Herbert Thomas actually sampled the bluestones in the stone settings at Stonehenge. He did not do that. Instead, his work was based upon a visual examination of 34 in situ stones and an analysis of fragments and samples from assorted collections made by William Cunnington, Nevil Maskelyne and William Judd. His analytical method was called “standard transmitted light petrography” which involved a detailed examination of thin sections made from his samples. He also looked at thin sections made from samples taken from the tors in the Preseli Hills, although it is unclear whether any of the samples were his own. Again he seems to have depended largely upon samples collected by other geologists. Some of the samples came from bluestone fragments found in the soil during excavations.

His paper was remarkably vague and unsatisfactory in many respects; we have no idea, to this day, how many samples he looked at and whether he reported on ALL of his analyses. He was driven by the belief that all of the stones must have come from one small source area, as suggested initially by Sir Jethro Teall. So although some of his rock identifications were anomalous, he seemed unprepared to consider the possibility that they had come from other far distant sources. For example, he rejected the possibility of some dolerite samples having come from the Cader Idris district on the grounds that “this locality may be disregarded as a possible source.” There was no explanation for this curt dismissal. He was far too hasty in assigning a Preseli origin to some of the rhyolite samples to which he had access. He also avoided a proper discussion of the source of the Altar Stone, and he made no mention at all of the “inconvenient” micaceous sandstone bluestones (numbered 40g and 42c) or the equally inconvenient fragments of sandstones, grits, quartzites, greywackes, argillaceous flagstones and slates, and of the glauconitic sandstone listed by Judd in 1902. He was familiar with Judd’s work, but treated it with disdain, largely because Judd was convinced that the Stonehenge bluestones were erratics of glacial origin! Thomas’s results were not tabulated or itemised anywhere, and it is impossible to tell which of his assumptions and conclusions are based on which samples. In the grand tradition of Stonehenge studies, confidence and bluster were sufficient to overcome any shortcomings on the data front. The five pairs of thin sections which illustrated his article were obviously selected to give the best “matches” possible; but that is fair enough, since he, as an author, was seeking to make a case! And let’s not be too critical here. Thomas was writing in 1923 when the science of geology was anything but mature, and there is no doubt at all that his work was of great importance.

Thomas knew that his sampled stones could not all have come from one “quarry” because of the petrographic differences which his work revealed. There were at least seven different rock types. So the heterogeneity of the bluestones had to be explained. He did this by proposing that the stones were erratics gathered together in one small area (possibly around Cilymaenllwyd) and utilised there in an early and simpler version of Stonehenge.


Keith MacDonald said...

Hello Brian

Thanks for a great myth-busting article.

I should delare an interest: I live near Stonehenge and Avebury, and I'm heartily sick of the Preseli story, especially when the Marlborough Downs were (and still are) littered with megaliths. What do they think was used to make Avebury?

Anyway, re "the equally inconvenient fragments of sandstones, grits, quartzites, greywackes, argillaceous flagstones and slates, and of the glauconitic sandstone listed by Judd in 1902"

It sounds like whatever Judd had done is worthy of more attention. Are there any sources we should look at?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Keith -- I haven'y personally dug into Judd's writings, but that sounds like a worthwhile task for somebody in a university department who has free access to all those ancient journals........