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

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Stonehenge -- process and purpose

Silbury Hill and Stonehenge -- powerful religious symbols?  Or just strange places built by engineers having fun?

The latest book on Silbury Hill -- being sold flat out by EH on the Today programme, and no doubt to the rest of the media as well -- seems to make the point that the famous mound went through so many different phases of building that there may not have been any coordinated or deliberate "purpose" to it at all.  It sort of just grew....... with every generation having a go at it, and making it a bit bigger than it was before.  So the PROCESS became more important than the purpose.  If there was a purpose (and people don't build things without a purpose) it may have varied with each generation -- and I like to think that the builders had no religious or symbolic purpose at all, but maybe wanted to build something which would simply impress neighbouring tribal groups.  "Yah boo sucks -- our mound is bigger than yours.  So there!"  Children and grandchildren all continued in the grand tradition of showing off, and maybe there was a sort of resigned sigh that went up from the tribe every decade or so, when mound-building time came around, as they carried on something started by great-great grandfather.  Maybe they groaned:  "God knows why we are doing this, but in honour of his memory, we'd better just carry on with it."  So they concentrated on the techniques or the processes of transporting loads of rubble onto the mound, stabilising slopes, maintaining a pleasing conical shape etc etc... just because they wanted to demonstrate that they were capable of doing it.

For a long time I have had a similar idea about Stonehenge.  The builders were so short of stones, and so indecisive, that they moved stones around all the time, with one temporary stone setting following another.  Then, when they ran out of stones completely, ran out of energy, and started to lose interest in the Stonehenge project (if it could ever have been called that) the whole thing ground to a halt.  It's not at all outrageous to suggest that during all these phases of pottering about, the builders were more obsessed with processes than they were with purposes.  How do we set very large stones in the ground, and how do we stabilise them? How do we extrapolate from woodworking techniques (with mortise and tenon joints, tongue and groove fittings etc) into working with very hard stones?  How do we get the lintels up onto the sarsens?  How do we get them to stay there once they are up and roughly in position?

OK -- the builders of both Silbury Hill and Stonehenge may well have been mathematical geniuses, and spiritual to boot, but that doesn't alter my view that these monuments have more to do with engineering experimentation than with the worship of ancestors or with planetary alignments.

Sunday 24 October 2010

Who owns Stonehenge images?

This is a photo of Stonehenge.  It's mine.  If EH wants it, they can have it, for a small fee to be negotiated........

Who owns images of Stonehenge?  Simple question -- and a simple answer:  "It's a free world.  If I take a picture, even of something owned by somebody else,  the picture is mine -- and I may do with it what I will."  But no, says English Heritage, we own Stonehenge, and if you make money out of a picture taken of the ancient ruin, we want a royalty from you." 

That's what they told a picture agency, and when the press got hold of the story and made a bit of a fuss, they made matters worse by issuing the following:

Email from English Heritage...
Ms R L McKellar
English Heritage
Customer Services
Po Box 569

Thank you for your email regarding photography at Stonehenge.
English Heritage looks after Stonehenge on behalf of the nation. But we do not control the copyright of all images of Stonehenge. And we have never tried to do so. We have no problem with photographers sharing images of Stonehenge on Flickr and similar not-for-profit image websites. We encourage visitors to the monument to take their own photographs.
If a commercial photographer enters the land within our care with the intention of taking a photograph of the monument for financial gain, we ask that they pay a fee and abide by certain conditions. English Heritage is a non-profit making organisation and this fee helps preserve and protect Stonehenge for the benefit of future generations. The majority of commercial photographers respect this position and normally request permission in advance of visiting.
I am sorry for any confusion caused by a recent email sent to a picture library.
Yours sincerely
Rae Mckellar
Correspondence Team Manager


Naturally enough, the forums and blogs are now full of extremely rude comments about EH, which is apparently trying to ape what the National Trust does with its properties.  The whole thing is insane.   For a start, how do you define a "commercial photographer" -- and then what about "intention"?  If a commercial photographer visits the site to have a nice picnic in the sun, and takes a few photos while he is there, and then sells them, is that OK?  And what about "financial gain" -- if a photographer sells some pics just in order to cover his costs, is that OK?

The whole thing is a PR disaster, and if EH does have a cunning scheme, it will be impossible to police, with almost a million visitors coming onto the site each year.  Anyway, Stonehenge is owned by the public.  That means ME.  It's my monument, and I hereby give permission to all and sundry to make as many images as they like and to sell them to whoever might be happy to part with a few quid, or a few pence, or even something they want to barter.  That's my contribution to the national economy in these straightened times.  So that's all right then.

Erratic speculations

Three pictures from at area that might be expected to supply erratic material into the Irish Sea Glacier as it flowed across this area on its way towards Salisbury Plain.  Top:  one of the tors on the ridge crest.
Middle: a perched block (locally derived) on the same tor.  Below:  rocky outcrop (one of many) in among the gnarled oak trees of Tycanol Wood.  In the lower part of the wood, the rocks are partly rhyolites.  The tors are made of dolerite.

Tycanol and Carnedd Meibion Owen

Thinking about the cave in Tycanol Wood, not far from Newport (Pembs), I got to wondering why no erratic material from this area has yet been discovered on Salisbury Plain.  Material has been found from near Brynberian (Pont Saeson) and from Carn Alw and Carn Goedog on the north flank of the main Preseli ridge.  These are classic entrainment environments for ice moving from NW to SE, as I have explained previously on this blog.  Ice which is moving upslope in order to cross a barrier which is transverse to the direction of movement would be expected to shear over the summit, with erratic material entrained and then sheared high into the heart of the glacier.  Lionel Jackson and I explored this idea in our EARTH magazine article in 2008:

Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins (and maybe others as well) are examining some of the other "erratic litter" material from the Stonehenge environs, concentrating on the rhyolites which the OU team long ago identified as having potentially great importance.  Where did these rhyolites and other complex igneous / metamorphic fragments come from?  It's already been suggested by geologists in print that they might have come from the outcrops of the Fishguard Volcanic series which outcrop on the N Pembs coast from the Pen Caer Peninsula to the Dinas area.  But there are also igneous inclusions (including ash beds) in the Ordovician sedimentary rocks on the coast between Dinas and Newport.  Those rocks also extend well inland, and indeed the vast igneous province in this area (with intrusions and extrusions, and lots of sediments as well) incorporate the dolerite and other outcrops on the eastern parts of the Presely Hills.  It's these outcrops (seen best in the tors on the ridge) which have attracted most attention in the past.

Right in the heart of the perfect entrainment area is the ridge which is now partly clothed by Tycanol Wood and which has the splendid tors of Carnedd Meibion Owen on its summit.  There are  craggy outcrops of rhyolite in among the trees as well, and some exposed rock faces on the hill slopes.

I would't mind betting that sooner or later, erratic material will be found from these rhyolite outcrops somewhere on Salisbury Plain.

Monday 18 October 2010

The Druid's Cave

What with all the recent talk about Druidism being recognized as a religion, it's worth reminding ourselves of the strong link which the Druids have with Carningli and the neighbourhood.  Laurence Main, who visits Carningli often, is a practising Druid, and he looks on the mountain as a special and sacred place.  Another place which has a tradition of Druidic connections is the cave in the upper part of Tycanol Wood;  according to local legends (mostly invented by small boys) Druidic ceremonies were conducted there in the days when the Iron Age was on its way out and the Age of the Saints was on the way in.  It's not much of a cave really, but it is just about habitable, I suppose, and here is a charming story about it:

The Man in the Cave

Simon Hughes was a member of a large family living at Fachongle Ganol in the early years of the twentieth century.  He was conscripted into the Army during the First World War and undertook military training, but he became a conscientious objector and “escaped” from his barracks.  He made his way back to Cilgwyn and went into hiding.  Army officers and the police hunted for him, but he moved from house to house and the community closed ranks in order to protect him.  On one occasion he was having dinner in the cottage called Fachongle Ganol when an Army sergeant with a troop of soldiers tracked him down and hammered on the front door.  Mr and Mrs Hughes kept the soldiers talking while Simon escaped through the back door.  For much of the time he was reputed to have lived in the “Druid’s Cave” in Tycanol Wood.  The local police made a great show of hunting for him, but always contrived to fail in their endeavours.  At the end of the war he came out of hiding and left the district.  He became a shop-keeper, ending his days as manager of the Co-operative Store in Tonypandy.

From the sublime to the ... erm, utilitarian.....

Water and Ice

Click to enlarge.

An amazing picture widely circulated by the National Geographic Magazine as a piece of wallpaper.  It's not just a fantastic photo -- but much more.  It shows an extraordinary relationship between water and ice.  It's very unusual to find standing water in a meandering stream channel like this.  The water has been much higher -- you can see the "strandlines" on the flanks of the channel.  Meltwater on a big glacier or ice sheet margin usually dives down through deep pits called moulins.

I'm not sure what's going on here -- maybe the whole of the base of the glacier is saturated, and the water level represents a water-table within the glacier.  That's seriously bad news.  A very unhealthy glacier indeed, and definitely on the way out.

Sunday 17 October 2010

Darvill and Wainwright assist with crashed Stonehenge UFO

No idea where this came from, but I came across it in "Stonehenge News and Information", to whom full acknowledgement is made.....

Stonehenge, Wiltshire – (TinFoilHat Mess): 

 Archaeologists excavating Stonehenge have found the remains of a pre-Atlanis era UFO which may have crashed during a flight from the Lunar base discovered by the moon-walking astronuts of the Apollo mission.
Stonehenge Quarantined
Much of the craft is believed to be intact with little corrosion to the mystery amalgam which makes up 90% of its structure.
Professor Tim Darvill of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) team that made the discovery said today that the next stage of the tricky operation would be entering the ancient craft and locating its cryogenic freezer units. “
At this stage we don’t know if anything actually works inside,” Darvill commented, “but fingers crossed – we might be able to do a bit of thawing. “Without this intervention we’d have to wait for the natural phenomenon known as Global Warming to dictate the delicate process of unfreezing these alien remains.
 ”Unfortunately we can’t wait that long. So our plan is to gently resurrect some of this advanced species – no blowtorches, microwaves or thermic lances, please chaps! – as well as any embryos and/or frozen infant offspring who clearly came here to seed our planet.” If the operation is successful the next stage will involve specialist scientists who are familiar with alien parenting techniques.
Professor Geoff Wainwright of the Yearling Extraterrestrial Intelligence (YETI) team in London’s Royal Freak Hospital will then take over while the Stonehenge site is quarantined.
Operation Homo erectus is being hailed as a triumph.

Saturday 16 October 2010

Oxford Gletscher

It's not often that one gets the chance to name a sizeable piece of Planet Earth, but was reminded that my colleagues and I once got to name a glacier in East Greenland.  It was previously unnamed, and we were the first to explore it.

This is another Google Earth image -- amazing quality.  Click on it to enlarge.  When we were there in 1962, the snout extended almost as far as the southern end of the trough -- there has been a phenomenal retreat since then.  This is a surging glacier, so behaviour is somewhat erratic, but the retreat is certainly down to global warming.

Look at the trimline running down the western side of the valley -- it shows with perfect clarity where the ice edge used to be, with moraine (greyish) below it and frost-shattered scree (brown) above it.  Here endeth the glaciology lesson for today.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Glacial action on limestone hills

Above, Cheddar Gorge.  Below, Revdal in the Karstryggen, East Greenland.  Thje big limestone gorge is in deep shadow.  NB that the scale is twenty times smaller in the case of Cheddar Gorge -- so the Revdal Gorge is truly enormous.  Note also how much more "jagged" Cheddar Gorge is.....

I've been thinking about the glaciation of the Mendips -- having touched on it before on a number of occasions.  Because limestone (like chalk) acts a bit like a sponge when it is wetted, it has a number of interesting effects when it is overridden by ice.  If a glacier is warm-based, it flows partly by sliding on its bed, lubricated by a film of water.  If the temperature at the ice-rock interface is above the pressure melting point, then water should be present -- but what happens if that water then sinks into the limestone, creating what is in effect a DRY glacier bed similar to that of polar or cold-based glaciers?  This is still imperfectly understood, and there has been much speculation too about whether permafrost which is present at the time of glacier advance across a limestone area will create an impermeable bed.....

One of the interesting things about some glaciated limestone pavements is the relative absence of till and other traces of ice activity, with the limestone scraped clean and left maybe with a litter of erratics.   But what about the effects of meltwater floods either subglacially or beyond the ice edge during deglaciation?  Is Cheddar Gorge truly a glacial meltwater channel?  There are similarities with an area called Karstryggen in East Greenland -- a bare limestone plateau across which I walked with colleagues in 1962.  There is remarkably little there in the way of glacial features -- but it has certainly been glaciated several times in the past.

Must look into this a bit further......

Wednesday 13 October 2010

On Ritual Landscapes

Bronze Age Ritual Cairn on the flank of Carningli?  Erm -- actually, no.  It's a clearance cairn dating from around 1840, when somebody tried (unsuccessfully) to clear a piece of rough land on the edge of the common for agriculture.....

Came across this sentence in a report of the latest Stonehenge-like discovery in the Caucasus:
"Russian and Soviet historians have found several Bronze Age structures in Russia and Central Asia that were used as calendars and were surrounded by ritual landscapes".  The discoveries are "unique and unparallelled" etc etc..... and they seem to have only one thing in common with Stonehenge, namely a circular arrangement of stones in the ground.  So seen in that way,  I suppose every stone circle in Europe is "Stonehenge-like".  And of course, using the word "Stonehenge" guarantees media coverage that the poor archaeologists might otherwise not have got.

But on to "ritual landscapes" -- the author John Robb says this: "The early 1980s saw the emergence of the term 'ritual landscape' in British archaeology. This concept departs from more conventional studies of monuments and sites concerned with classification, dating and political territories. It concerns extensive 'sacred' tracts which were seemingly dedicated to ceremonial purposes by an ascendant ritual authority in the Neolithic and early Bronze Age (roughly 3500-1800 BC). In these 'ritual landscapes' the evidence for contemporary settlement is often sparse or absent, but that for non-utilitarian structures and deposits is abundant."  As we all know, Stonehenge is renowned across the world for being a focal point in an extensive "ritual landscape" in which things like the Cursus and the Avenue are deemed to be ritual features because there is no apparent utilitarian purpose for them.  But where do utilitarian purposes end and where to ritual purposes begin?  Is a burial mound a utilitarian or a ritual feature?

On the flanks of Carningli there is an extensive area of small stone cairns which I have seen labelled as "ritual features" -- thereby allowing the whole landscape to be labelled as a ritual landscape.  But to me these piles of stones are strictly utilitarian -- made by families trying to clear stony ground so as to make animal grazing and maybe cultivation easier.  Exactly the same thing happened on the other side of the mountain in the 1830's, in a short-lived attempt to colonise the edges of the common, on land that was really too stony and exposed for successful agriculture.

It would be nice if the term "ritual landscape" could be banned -- I suspect it has led archaeologists up a vast number of blind alleys,  and because of the popularity of the concept it has encouraged a fashion for fanciful and even crazy explanations for quite simple things, when  utilitarian explanations will probably do.

Monday 4 October 2010

Garbage in, garbage out......

More breathless codswallop and purple prose from a gorgeous-looking new web site.  Fantastic images, but as for the editing, page assembly and text -- oh dear oh dear.....  Our heroic author says "..... the facts of Stonehenge cannot be disclaimed (sic)......" and then goes on to trot out a sequence of pseudo-facts and bits of sheer speculation.  It's all to do with the marketing of Camelot Castle, where apparently King Arthur was born.  All credit to them for working hard on their marketing!

 Even if the conclusions are amiss, the facts of Stonehenge cannot be disclaimed. And in a scattered, rural culture where bronze-age tools were just emerging, the thirst for true knowledge—even just a hope of it—evidently galvanized men to assemble their wits and brawn sufficiently to move stones which would daunt mechanized Man today. Not to mention cutting and shaping them. To even quiver one of the great stones is conjectured to have required the strength of 600 men. How they organized and managed the task without steel cables, pulleys, winches and tackle is a matter of sheer wonder. Even the “small” stones traveled some 100 miles over open terrain.
If it is nothing else, it is indeed a measure of Man’s devotion to knowledge and freedom: hundreds or thousands of men, enduring grueling labor for months or years on end, managing provisions, devising ingenious solutions to each new obstacle and losing their friends where genius was wanting, struggling through to the last yard to deliver a single stone to a final position, all driven by the imperishable hope that through lifetimes of the same, perhaps there is a chance for a handhold, even a glimpse, of truth and freedom.
Total freedom is now a wide-open road.
All you need do is walk.

Sunday 3 October 2010

Stonehenge -- Prehistoric Tourist Attraction

 Here we go again -- following hot on the trail of the Neolithic hospital, the Neolithic mausoleum and the Neolithic concert hall, we have the Neolithic tourist attraction.  Below is an extract from Discovery News --  Stonehenge Drew Prehistoric Tourists -- Analysis by Rossella Lorenzi. 
And Andrew Fitzpatrick of Wessex Archaeology attempts, naturally enough, to flag up just how magnificent it must have been to the grockles pouring in on their holidays towards Salisbury Plain from all points of the compass and indeed from the continent.    Maybe they came for the Neolithic barbeques which Jane Evans and MPP described so enthusiastically some time ago?  I would like to know how AF knows that Stonehenge was "awesome" rather than just a ruinous partly-finished project, and how he knows that there were more Neolithic tourists in the Stonehenge area than there were at exactly the same time everywhere else in Britain.......


Stonehenge’s circle of large standing stones was a top international tourist attraction already in prehistoric times, according to chemical analysis of the teeth of individuals found buried near the mysterious megaliths.
Presented this week at a science symposium in London to mark the 175th anniversary of the British Geological Survey (BGS), the study involved a technique known as isotope analysis, which measures the ratio of strontium and oxygen isotopes in tooth enamel.
Strontium isotopes provide information on the geological setting of a person’s childhood, while the oxygen isotopes can pinpoint the climate in which the subject was raised.
The researchers tested the teeth from two males. One, known as the “Amesbury Archer,” was found in 2002, buried three miles from Stonehenge.
The other, dubbed “the Boy with the Amber necklace,” was found more recently on Boscombe Down, some three miles south-east of Stonehenge.
“Isotope analysis of tooth enamel from both these people shows that the two individuals provide a contrast in origin, and highlights the diversity of people who came to Stonehenge from across Europe,” Jane Evans, head of archaeological science at the British Geological Survey, said.

The Bronze Age boy had traveled to Britain from “the heat of the Mediterranean,” said a BGS statement.
Radiocarbon dated to around 1550 B.C. -- a time when the monument was already more than 1,500 years old -- the boy’s virtually intact skeleton was found wearing a necklace of around 90 amber beads.
“He’s about 14 to 15 years old and he’s buried with this beautiful necklace. From the position of his burial, his age, and this necklace, it suggests he’s a person of significant status and importance,” Evans said.
The young age suggests he might have traveled with a wealthy family group.
Chemical analysis on the teeth of the other individual, the so-called "Amesbury Archer," showed that he came from the Alpine foothills of Germany.
He was buried some 800 years earlier than the boy, with a treasure trove of copper and gold. His grave, which included a pair of gold hair clasps and three copper daggers, is the richest Copper Age (2450–2300 B.C.) burial found in Britain.
Human remains indicate that other long distance travelers had visited Stonehenge. The archaeologists believe that the Boscombe Bowmen -- a group of seven men, women and children found in 2003 -- came from Wales or Brittany.
It is not known what drew these elite travelers to Stonehenge. The mysterious circle of large standing stones built between 3000 and 1600 B.C. has long baffled archaeologists, who still argue over its original purpose.
Two main theories took shape in recent years. One implies that the site was a healing space, a sort of "Neolithic Lourdes" to which the sick traveled from around Europe to be healed by its magical powers.
The other theory is that it was a place of the dead -- a cemetery or memorial.
According to Andrew Fitzpatrick, of Wessex Archaeology, Stonehenge would have been well known across Europe, and foreign visitors would have stared in amazement at the megaliths.
"They may have come to trade but visited Stonehenge a long the way. It would have been an awesome sight. It would have been one of the greatest temples of its time," Fitzpatrick told London’s Daily Telegraph.

Flimston and Stonehenge

In the top image, from Google, you can pick up the line of big erratics north of the church.

I have always been intrigued by the fact that a collection of erratics at Flimston Church (in South Pembrokeshire, on the coastal limestone plateau near the Green Bridge of Wales) has always been interpreted -- even by Herbert Thomas -- as a clear indication of glacial transport across the area.  There are not many other traces of glaciation on the wide expanses of the Castlemartin Tank Range, since the area probably lay beyond the ice limit of the last (Devensian) Glaciation.  But the erratics are there, in a little cluster in the churchyard, and nobody (as far as I am aware) has ever questioned the idea that they have simply been gathered up in the neighbourhood and conveniently put to good use as headstones for graves.  The erratics appear to have come from the NW, since some of them are made of rock types recognizeable in the St David's area.  The local people who made use of the stones were "scavengers and opportunists" in exactly the same sense as the local people who built the Neolithic passage graves / portal dolmens that we find dotted around Pembrokeshire today.  As Steve Burrow and many other authors have pointed out, ALL of those were made of raw materials which were immediately at hand; nobody went to the bother of fetching stones from a long way off for his pet religious or secular megalithic project. 

So this makes it all the more intriguing that a similar collection of erratics on Salisbury Plain, in the neighbourhood of Stonehenge, should not be interpreted in the same way.  The setting is actually rather similar -- a wide plain of calcareous bedrock (in this case chalk rather than Carboniferous Limestone), a lack of any obvious morainic features or even till deposits in the vicinity, and even a friendly neighbourhood military training range!  And yet Herbert Thomas, Richard Atkinson and their successors have set their faces against the glacial transport theory for reasons that have more to do with pig-headedness than with science.  And that's rather sad....

Saturday 2 October 2010

New portal dolmen discovery near Nevern?

This is not strictly to do with Stonehenge, but interesting nonetheless.....

2 October 2010

Portal dolmen may lie hidden in South West Wales
Acknowledgement:  Archaeo News

Throughout western Britain there are a few lucky sites that have escaped the wandering eye of the antiquarian. One of these sites is the Trefael Stone, located north of the Nevern valley, comprising a single flat monolith that stands around 130m above mean sea level. The site is on land belonging to Coedfryn Farm and was first recorded in the late 1920s by W.F.Grimes, the then inspector of ancient monuments for Wales.
     At this time, the stone had recorded on one of its sides up to 45 shallow cupmarks, the average cupmark measuring c. 0.05cm in diameter. According to archaeologist Frances Lynch, this now tilted stone may have once been a capstone belonging to a Neolithic burial-ritual monument. In the recent past the stones appear to have been severely damaged from possibly the plough, resulting in the removal of a large stone flake that may have contained further rock-art.
     Curiously and possibly associated with the Trefael Stone was a nearby standing stone that was located within an adjacent field. The provenance, age and use of this stone is unknown, however, one cannot ignore the fact that standing stones have an association with Neolithic and Later prehistoric burial-ritual monuments within this corner of Wales.
     A geophysical survey undertaken by members of the Welsh Rock-art Organisation around the Trefael monument in September this year has revealed the probability of the shallow remains of a kidney-shaped mound around the stone. The survival of this important architectural feature, along with the stone itself - probably Lynch's capstone, suggests Trefael was once a Portal Dolmen, one of Western Britain's earliest Neolithic burial-ritual monuments types.
     The national monitoring authority - CADW have given permission for the team to excavate over a period of only 5 days a 4m square area around the stone in order to ascertain the upper extent of the probable cairn that was identified during the recent geophysical survey. Following excavation the team will also record the cupmarked surface and include any further rock-art that may lie below the present ground level.
Edited from Dr George Nash press release (30 September 2010)
More info here:

Friday 1 October 2010

Omniscience -- and the need for human explanations

Just came across the extract below -- from a talk by Colin Tudge in 2007.  It struck me as having relevance for the  Stonehenge / bluestone transport debate.  As I have indicated several times in this Blog, it's intriguing that Herbert Thomas, and most archaeologists since then, have been intent upon looking for HUMAN explanations  as to how the bluestones got from A to B.  The very idea that nature could have had something to do with it seems to be outrageous to some people -- it's almost as if the natural / glacial explanation demeans mankind in some way, or questions man's ingenuity and capacity for innovation.  Hmmm.......

So that's why I have been trying to express my own sense of wonderment about the incredible, extraordinary, beautiful world of ice -- and why I have been trying to impress upon readers who might not be geomorphologists or glaciologists that glaciers have been, and are, capable of removing mountains, and redistributing them in ways that we still do not fully understand.

" ............ some scientists seem to think that if only they do enough research, they will understand it all one day. Omniscience is just over the next hill. Politicians and industrialists are happy to take them at their word, and continue to knock the world about, felling forests and draining marshes and re-directing rivers in the cause of economic growth, as if they knew what they were doing.

They should take note, first of all, of John Stuart Mill, who pointed out 150 years ago that however much we know, there might always be something around the next corner that we haven't thought of. All we can be sure of at any one time is that we don't know it all. Furthermore, we can never know how much we don't know. It's Catch 22. It would be logically impossible to gauge the extent of our own ignorance unless we were already omniscient.

They should also take note—we should all take note—of the core morality of all the great religions. All their great founders stressed that morality rests on attitude; and the attitudes that really matter, on which all else is founded, are those of personal humility, respect for other creatures, and reverence for nature as a whole.

Science is wonderful and it is necessary, but it has not brought us omniscience and it never can. In fact its greatest lesson has been that nature is beyond our ken. To approach nature with humility and to treat it with respect and reverence isn't just a matter of piety. It is the only sensible survival strategy."

Colin Tudge, 2007