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Sunday, 12 December 2010

Pitts pours scorn on Woodhenge reconstructions

In the Daily Mail Mike Pitts has had a go at the Woodhenge story that emerged in the summer on the basis of a radar / magnetometry scan of the site -- and which led to rather fanciful reconstructions of a circle of massive posts by Prof Gaffney and colleagues.  Pitts now thinks that the "circle" of post holes was not prehistoric at all -- but simply a collection of holes maybe a hundred years old, put up for posts and a fence around the central mound, intended to protect it from cattle and human interference........

Gaffney says that post-holes for fences are never 3 ft wide and 3 feet deep, and that the pits shown up in his survey must have been for poles about the size of telegraph poles.  Nonsense.  I have very often had to dig holes over 2 ft wide for quite modest fencing posts -- and have seen the sides collapsing when the holes are filled in again with the posts installed. The "footprints" would be about the same size as the Woodhenge post holes.  

It's quite encouraging to discover that archaeologists are apparently not capable of telling whether a collection of holes in the ground is less than a century old, or 1000 years old, or 5,000, or whatever............

Long live incompetence!

Woodhenge: Is this one of the greatest discoveries of archaeology...or a simple farmer's fence?

Read more:
................ Mike Pitts, editor of the magazine British Archaeology and an acknowledged expert on Stonehenge, said he had been prompted to study maps of the area after receiving a letter from an American reader.
In the spot where Prof Gaffney had claimed to have uncovered his post holes, Mr Pitts said he and colleagues examined a Seventies Ordnance Survey map – and saw a fence marked out.
He thought it probably was an early 20th Century construction, erected by the then Government’s Office of Works or a local farmer to protect what was thought to have been the most important site in a cluster of burial mounds that were ancient but later than Stonehenge.
Mr Pitts said: ‘Vince Gaffney says his discovery encircles a burial mound within its circumference, but unless he has some unpublished material to substantiate his discovery, I am in no doubt that this was a modern fence line.
‘If I’m right then the post holes contained modern fencing stakes and they are actually in a hexagonal shape, not a circle.’
He added: ‘I think that perhaps what has happened is that the professor’s field workers have presented him with the wrong picture and he’s shot from the hip and made an over-hasty announcement. He’s generally known for the high quality of his work and his enthusiasm which, on this occasion, may have let him down.
‘The full publication of his results and small-scale excavations of the site would clinch the matter.’


TONY said...

Mike Pitts has also remarked on Professor Gaffney's gaff in "British Archaeology", January/ February 2011 (but already available), page 13.Mike has printed the American reader's letter you refer to.

Mike says: "what concerns the archaeologists is the way the postholes (dark marks in the geophysics survey) are not arranged on a circle, but on a hexagon, heptagon or possibly an octagon (see for Birmingham University's original report, with an image of the plot). While posthole circles are common in the British Neolithic, such straight-sided rings are unknown. The large-scale 1970s Ordnance Survey map of the field shows a barrow close to the location of the geophysics site, ringed by an eight-sided fence. Is the new site "the first major ceremonial monument that has been found [at Stonehenge] in the past 50 years or so"? or an over-hasty PR embarrassment (at an early stage in what is undoubtedly an important archaeological project)? Full publication and small-scale excavation would clinch the matter. EDITOR

Anonymous said...

Reading about Prof Vince Gaffney, who perhaps was over-enthusiastic and none too reflective in rushing into print (and all other media) back in July with his new "Woodhenge" "discovery", has somehow brought to mind ANOTHER Vince, from an earlier age -
prehistoric? - certainly not! - but of a certain 1950s vintage.

I recall, of course, that late'50s pop star, Mr Vince EAGER.

Vince, however, was apparently so disgusted with his then manager, Mr Larry Parnes, over his blatant publicity-seeking following the death in a car crash of singer Eddie Cochran, that he left Parnes' stable and became a cabaret singer.

THAT Vince seems to have been, perhaps, more reflective than his stage name might suggest!

Robert Langdon said...

Actually the problem is Archaeologist don't understand the difference from a post hole and a stake hole.

A Post Hole is dug to support a post which holds weight and is therefore back filled with a flat stone at the bottom of the pit (as seen at the real woodhenge) - a stake hole is a piece of wood forced/hammered down to give minimal movement horizontally like a fence post.

Their size and consequently profiles look totally different on radar-imaging.

Woodhenge(2) was a publicity stunt to justify two years of funding - every 'knowledgeable' archaeologist knew it was the site of an old barrow as its aligned with other barrows in the area.


TONY said...

Mike Pitts has posted a "Final Comment on Geophysics Survey" (i.e. the survey which allegedly revealed this "new 'Woodhenge'"). I am sure you will find this worthy of comment.

Go to:-

Vince Gaffney is said to have been distressed by comments attributed to Mike Pitts in the Sunday Daily Mail.