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Monday, 28 February 2011

The latest D/W article -- key points

Since the article by Profs Darvill and Wainwright was not refereed, here are a few points that would most probably have been raised by any referee worth his or her salt:

P 31 "... it was the bluestones that gave potency and importance to Stonehenge."  Unsupported assumption.

P 32  "The surveys and excavations we have carried out there since 2001 ......have emphasised the connections between source outcrops and water in a way that mirrors the link between Stonehenge and the Avon, formalised by the route of the Stonehenge Avenue."    What on earth is all that supposed to mean?

P 32:  "...... elaborated springheads, some associated with rock art..."  Where are the signs of elaboration, and where is the rock art?

P 32.  "....... the arrangement of bluestones at Stonehenge in the early 2nd millennium BC broadly matches the arrangement of stone outcrops in the Preseli landscape...."  That statement is so vague as to be mystical -- what are the authors trying to say?

P 32:  "Quite literally, the physical landscape of Preseli is reproduced in microcosm at Stonehenge in the disposition of a rich and varied selection of different stones..."  What are the authors trying to say here?  Are they saying that the builders of Stonehenge did not set out to collect stones from one magical place (namely Carn Meini), but actually set out to collect as many different rock types as possible so as to mimic the geology of North Pembrokeshire?  Are the authors simply trying to keep all their options open, in anticipation of further embarrassing geology?

P 33:  "The spotted dolerites occupy pride of place in the centre, and these are the largest blocks and the most intensively worked.  These in particular we argue were revered for their magic healing properties when linked with water, just as the springs and wells that issue from the Preseli Hills have been in later times."   Agreed that there is a predominance of spotted dolerites in the bluestone horseshoe, but it can be argued, perfectly reasonably, that this is because the spotted dolerite stones in the assemblage were harder and more "useful" than many of the other softer stones which were relegated to the outer circle at the time of the final adjustment of stone settings.  There is no evidence of magic healing properties associated with bluestones,  and the point about the springs and wells of the Preseli Hills is not supported either on the ground or in local folklore.

P 33:  "Ar Carn Alw... a huge block of rhyolite has been lifted out of the ground and enclosed by a low bank."  There is no evidence that the stone has been LIFTED.  Debris appears to have been excavated from around its flanks.

P 33:  "... the selection of material to be shipped across to Salisbury Plain to give meaning to Stonehenge."  That is a totally unsupportable statement, based on unproven assumptions.  It should not have got past the Editor!

P 34:  "... there are about a dozen quarries where a kind of meta-mudstone was extracrted and worked."  No evidence is provided that these are quarries rather than natural outcrops of slaty and flaky bedrock.

P 34:  ".... suggestive of an essentially ceremonial landscape south of the Preseli Ridge, around the headwaters of the Eastern Cleddau.  By contrast, the area north of the ridge contains extensive field systems and associated round-house settlements that, on visual inspection, look typically Bronze Age."   This idea -- apparently very popular in archaeology just now -- of a ceremonial landscape somehow separated from a utilitarian landscape, is not supported on the ground.  Utilitarian and "ceremonial" features are in fact mingled in the landscape.

All that having been said, the article is quite stimulating in that it brings out some things worthy of discussion -- and it is well illustrated and attractively laid out. 

I'll return to the "sacred geography" theme on another occasion.


mubashar said...

Thanks for this informative post.

BRIAN JOHN said...

My pleasure. It may sound rather negative, but these are exactly the sort of points, I'm sure, that any intelligent reader would want to raise. I always tried to encourage my students to avoid woolly thinking and vague assumptions, and to concentrate on what is observable on the ground, and capable of a "natural" explanation, before even starting to think about the involvement of any human agency in fashioning the landscape.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Have you considered from whom Messrs Profs Wainwright & Darvill are getting their GEOLOGICAL knowledge from, to back up some of their statements you highlight in your Post? In particular, your first point about page 34 of the Current Archaeology article (which I too have), where it is stated there are a dozen or so quarries where "a kind of meta-mudstone was extracted and worked"; and, more generally, their insistence (eg page 33, the huge block of rhyolite claimed to have been "lifted") that blocks have been shaped and prepared for removal thousands of years ago. We know that both these Professors have been for many years involved in the Strumble & Preseli S.P.A.C.E.S.
research. Presumably, they have geological advisors, otherwise their pronouncements do not have specialist support, in these days of multi-disciplinary teams (as at, say, the Stonehenge Riverside Project of the past decade).I believe Darvill is at Bournemouth University, and Wainwright has connections still with English Heritage & Wessex Archaeology.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I know that Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins have been examining and identifying many of the rock samples collected by Profs D & W during the course of their work.

But I have no idea whether they, or any other geologists, have been consulted on the geological matters contained in this article. It would be nice to think that some cooperative geologist or other has been to look at these "enhanced springheads" and "quarries" and has been able to offer advice as to whether they are natural or man-made. Maybe Rob or Richard can enlighten us on this?

Tony Hinchliffe said...

As you say, the article by the two Profs has not been refereed, and so is not peer-reviewed. One would hope that their S.P.A.C.E.S. Research did have someone in the field to assist with geological/geomorphological interpretation of landscape features. This is common practice.

Anonymous said...

Why is there no mention of the biggest bluestone namely the Altar Stone. What SPRINGS to mind is that
that Devonian sst is the room-filling elephant in the Stonehenge mirrors the geology of the Presli Hills theory.
It just does not hold water.
I am pretty sure no geologist saw this article before publication as they surely would have corrected the factual errorsor returned their degree certificates.
GCU In two minds.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

What is the magnetic attraction of Carn Meini that has drawn such a procession of BBC Producers and seemingly psychic Presenters so long as to make any self-respecting Stonehenge Avenue Shaman bow in obeisance? Or is it Something in the water?

What a shame Neil Oliver followed that same badly-eroded path. Just hope his grandchildren will forgive his badly-worn cliches, despite his small footprints.Science should lead the way, now, surely. This IS the Twenty-First Century. Or am I in a time-warp?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Agree, Anon. The "Sacred Geography" theory does indeed look a bit silly if one includes the Altar Stone which came from the Senni Beds.

And if you are right about no geologist seeing this article prior to publication, or having any input into the field interpretations of natural phenomena, we do indeed have serious cause for concern about the research protocols being used here.

Anonymous said...

Could it be that the summit of Carn Meini is in fact the location of Eric Thompson's Magic Roundabout?? That would simply explain its lure for BBC Producers. No need for fancy helicopter shots of presenters being circled: the mountain moves itself! As Marshall McLuhan might have said - 'the mountain IS the message'!
(With apologies to geologists & geomorphologists everywhere)

BRIAN JOHN said...

So why was Carn Meini chosen as the focal point for almost a century of obsessive attention? In the beginning, probably because HH Thomas thought it had a spectacular skyline profile on the Preseli ridge. Once he had discovered the geological link and the occurrence of spotted dolerites there, fantasy kicked in -- and the rest is history.

Type in "Herbert Thomas" in the search box on the blog -- you'll see that I have devoted a lot of space to this question over the years!