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Sunday, 29 August 2010

HH Thomas -- a geologist seduced by dreams of glory?




Geikie 1894, Hicks 1891, Jehu 1904 -- all three of these excellent fellows demonstrated that glacier ice had flowed across Pembrokeshire and affected the coasts of the Bristol Channel. The latter two demonstrated that the ice had come from the NW, and had been driven eastwards up the Bristol Channel to affect the coasts of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. So why did HH Thomas dismiss their ideas (and their field evidence) out of hand in his famous 1921 lecture and in his subsequent published paper?

I guess we will never know, unless somebody has access to all his personal papers. I have suggested before on this blog that Thomas may not have been a terribly good geologist -- and even that he might have "aggregated" his data and drawn generalized conclusions with respect to his rock samples when more a careful scientist might have emphasised DIFFERENCES instead. He knew that the bluestones at Stonehenge had come from a wide variety of places -- but started the myth that Carn Meini was the place where a bluestone quarry was located. Atkinson was the man who finally put that absurd idea firmly in front of the public -- and essentially the man who fed the myth into British history. The rest, as they say, is history.

We have to conclude that Thomas was either a very bad geomorphologist, or a very bad reader -- because he seems to have had a total mental blockage relating to the work of ice and to the evidence of erratics, striae and landforms on the ground.

I have another theory. Thomas was simply seduced by the thought that he could become FAMOUS by proposing an idea (ie the human transport idea) that would be instantly popular and would indeed go some way towards establishing the credentials of our Neolithic ancestors as being a pretty smart bunch of fellows. (Far smarter than your Continental Neolithics, anyway.....)

If Thomas had been a careful and respectful worker, fully aware of the work of fellow geologists, he would have said: "There are certain stones at Stonehenge which appear to have come from Pembrokeshire. How did they get to Salisbury Plain? Well, the evidence of ice flows suggests that they may be glacial erratics -- but more research is needed to establish where, and when, these stones were deposited by the ice."

There would have been NO mention of this daft human transport idea, and we would all have been spared a great deal of hassle.......

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