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Monday, 16 August 2010

Carn Meini / Carn Menyn stone shapes

Above: the famous bluestone pillar at Carn Meini that was supposedly left behind. Below: the litter of stones of all shapes and sizes at Carn Meini. True pillars are not entirely absent, but they are extremely rare.

Yesterday I did a 17 km trek along the ridge of Mynydd Preseli (an absolutely wonderful day!) and spent a fair while pottering around Carn Meini, Carn Breseb, Carn Bica and other tors. I got to thinking about the myth (one of many!) that THE REASON WHY CARN MEINI WAS CHOSEN AS THE QUARRY SITE FOR BLUESTONES WAS THAT IT WAS LITTERED WITH PILLARS OR COLUMNS OF SPOTTED DOLERITE BEDROCK, BROKEN OFF FROM THE NATURAL ROCK OUTCROPS. In other words, the frequency of "ideal" stones was a key factor.

To quote from a 2005 Bournmouth University press release: "The enclosure is small (less than half a hectare) but according to Professor Darvill it provides a veritable 'Aladdin's Cave' of made-to-measure pillars for aspiring circle builders". (This refers to the small "enclosure" excavated some years ago.)

Made-to-measure pillars? Well, I hunted around over quite a large area, and in a sea of blocks and stones of all shapes and sizes, I found maybe 5 or 6 that might fit the bill as ideal Stonehenge bluestones. One of them is the famous bluestone shown above, described ad nauseam as "the bluestone that they left behind." Without doing a statistical analysis of Carn Meini stone shapes, I would argue that pillars or columns are incredibly rare at Carn Meini, and are just as frequent at other tors including Carn Breseb and Carn Goedog. The most common stone shape is roughly rectangular or box-shaped, with the long axis maybe up to twice the width or depth of the stone. (For a real pillar you need proportions of maybe 5x1x1.)

I also observed that where columns or pillars ARE present in the bedrock outcrops, when they are released and fall onto the scree they almost inevitably break across, because of transverse fractures or other weaknesses related to quartz veins etc.

So away with that particular piece of nonsense. I am quite convinced that there would have been NO reason for Neolithic tribesmen to "target" Carn Meini as an ideal quarry site. There was nothing special about the spotted dolerites (they outcrop over a very wide area), or about the stone shapes, or about the ease of access or stone extraction (other sites would have been easier).

For the best part of a century archaeologists have been indulging in special pleading with respect to Carn Meini. Once HH Thomas announced that that was where the spotted dolerites came from, one generation after another has sought to find justifications or reasons for the "choice" of the site. It's all there, in the literature......


Chris R said...

While you were on holiday I was on holiday in Pembrokeshire and did this same walk. Last year I managed to walk from Newport, over Carningli, across the Gwaun valley up to the Preseli "ridge" an along to Crymych - a fantastic walk.

While I was there this year I looked around Carn Meini and like you couldn't see what all the fuss was about. There seems to be nothing different about that group of rocks than any other in the Preselis. As you say, no real columns. I couldn't even find the stones in your photos - are they lower down, I remained quite high up?
I also had a look around foel drygarn which was interesting. As a hillwalker I was quite disappointed when the trig points started vanishing from peaks but to discover one on foel drygarn was quite a shock and is wholely inappropriate, it needs to be taken down.
I also examined Bedd Arthur on my walk. Clearly it has been aligned NE:SW like many monuments including stonehenge - quite sensible if you want to know what part of the year you are in, but the suggestion in British Archeology that the layout of the stones mirrors a previous layout of bluestones at stonehenge is pushing it a bit I think, I'm not convinced.

BRIAN JOHN said...

It is indeed a great walk -- especially the early and late bits! I fully agree that there is nothing special about Carn Meini -- there are other tors that are more spectacular / prominent / accessible for stone collection. Carn Goedog has been one of the favoured "quarrying" sites among farmers within the last three hundred years. Many gateposts, slabs and sills on North Pembrokeshire farms have come from here.

Yes, the trig point concrete lump should be removed. It no longer serves a purpose. But some people now look on them as "historic features"!
Far worse to my mind is the incredible amount of stone rearrangement done by people digging shelters from the wind and rain. The three Bronze Age cairns have effectively been destroyed.

A lot of nonsense has been written about Bedd Arthur -- like the Gors Fawr circle, it is really rather a pathetic little feature. It is certainly not a circle. Personally I think it might have been an oval burial mound at one time -- the stones mark the perimeter, and they lean inwards, as if they were once set onto a sloping surface. There is even a trace of a portal -- Pentre Ifan comes to mind. I wouldn't mind betting that there was a group of stones in the centre once, marking the site of a small burial chamber. I reckon they have been "quarried" and taken away by the locals -- or maybe they are still there, beneath the turf.....

BRIAN JOHN said...
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