THE BOOK
Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my book called "The Bluestone Enigma" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
To order, click
HERE

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Dancing with the Dartmoor fairies

Coverage in the media today -- fed by a British Archaeology press release -- about "nine megaliths" on Dartmoor -- including sites at Cut Hill and Drizzlecombe. Apparently the stones "are aligned to mark the rising of the midsummer sun and the setting of the midwinter sun." They (the stones) have all now fallen over, but the settings date from around 3,500 BC -- ie older than Stonehenge and about the same age as Boles Barrow and other long barrows in southern England.

So far so good -- but in his comments, journal Editor Mike Pitts then goes off on a bizarre tangent to talk about feasting and barbequed pigs near Stonehenge. One might wonder what this has to do with fallen-over monoliths on Dartmoor -- but there is no stopping our esteemed Editor. He continues: "At Stonehenge,the dark navy-colored bluestones may themselves represent ancestors or spirits from the underworld, while the big orangey-pink (before weathering) sarsens could reflect summer and light." Hmmm. Oh yes? But there's no stopping him once he is in his stride! He claims that several standing stone monuments (where? he doesn't say) held ritualistic meaning. He then likens their construction to the building of cathedrals and pyramids, and to the carving of the giant heads on Easter Island. All, he says, are involved in the "defining of ritual spaces, giving ceremony and power distinctive physical presences, engaging large numbers by employing them in the construction processes, ceremonializing places beyond the mere moment of the rituals."

And all this from a few fallen-down monoliths on Dartmoor! Not so long ago a very senior archaeologist accused Wainwright and Darvill of being "out with the fairies." Who's out with the fairies this time?

5 comments:

Kostas said...

I enjoyed your post, Brian! Very funny.

Brian said...

Funny in a grotesque sort of way, I suppose. But the word "sad" might be more appropriate! As Stephen Briggs has pointed out, senior archaeologists are so obsessed with "investing stones with significance" these days that their stories appear to be getting more and more fanciful, and to hell with that bothersome thing called "evidence." They have learned long since that wacky stories make good headlines and grab media attention -- so one might ask whether archaeologists are nowadays more interested in communication with journalists than they are in communicating with their peers......

Kostas said...

I completely agree! Makes my arguments disputing the evidence mild in comparison!

Kostas said...

Brian, I just came across this web site that tries to make a “statistical argument” in favor of the “human transport” theory for the Bluestones. I don't know if you are already aware of this but I just wanted your take on this. To me, this is a perfect example of how statistics can be used to prove anything.
http://standingstones.tv/theories-thoughts-essays/bluestones-bell-curves/

Brian said...

Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Kostas. It's an interesting piece -- and I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand. It does raise some interesting points about stone frequencies etc -- but of course, like all statistical or mathematical analyses, it is only as good as its assumptions. And some of the assumptions that underpin the analysis seem to me to be pretty dodgy. I'll come back to this in another post.

It's worth pointing out that in another statistical analysis a few years ago, Prof Chris Jones came down strongly on the side of the glacial transport theory. That was in an article called "Don't mention Stonehenge!" published in "Significance" magazine, March 2008.
That was also quite limited in its scope, and looked particularly at stone axe provenances.