Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my book called "The Bluestone Enigma" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Friday, 25 February 2011

Now for some self-defence

A couple of posts ago I posted Rob Ixer's review published in Wiltshire Studies 2011.  I'm grateful for any review that might come along......

But just a few comments:

"Dr John, however, suggests this dearth of sarsens in Salisbury Plain around Stonehenge is due to their incorporation into the monument as “a truly motley collection of all shapes and sizes” or as ”simply a collection of stones from the neighbourhood.”"  I'm not the first to suggest this -- Prof Andrew Goudie and various others who have done intensive research on Salisbury Plain have suggested it before -- so I lay no claim to originality here.

Re glacial theory and the explanations of entrainment, transport and deposition by ice:  "Both his expertise and experience in this very specialised  field (that has very little to do with geomorphology!) means that this chapter deserves careful reading."  Actually this all has a great deal to do with geomorphology.  I'm a geomorphologist by training, and almost everything I say about glaciers comes from my knowledge of glaciated landscapes and how they were formed.

"........ this independently-produced and excellently-illustrated little book has problems. There is too much 19th century-style political tract and not enough nice Victorian scholarship."  Fair enough, Rob, but if I had wanted to write a learned paper I would have done that (and I have one in draft form right now). I wanted to write a popular book for the layman, and I also wanted to address the question of why it is that "establishment" views and ruling hypotheses are so remarkably difficult to shift.  So I thought -- and still think -- that a certain amount of politics and polemics was in order!

"Being partisan does not mean taking pot shots at the enemy; Profs. Darvill and Wainwright especially, must feel peppered, and this is a dis-service to them and to Dr John. It is a great pity when the lasting impression of this book is not its salutary nod to the power of glaciers but its grimace at archaeologists."  This is a fair point, and we can debate it at length.  But if I had concentrated on the glaciers and the geology, would anybody have bought the book?  I doubt it.  And it would have been dismissed by certain influential individuals as irrelevant and naive, in that it had not got stuck in to the meat of the ARCHAEOLOGICAL debate.  A book on the bluestones, without any consideration of current archaeological ideas, would have been a cop-out.  OK -- Profs D&W might feel a bit peppered, but I feel no responsibility to protect them from the real world, and in any case they are probably quite thick-skinned after the welter of criticism their healing stones / sacred springs / Neolithic hospital ideas attracted in the media -- particularly in discussion forums and Stonehenge blogs other than mine.  Those gentlemen have done a fair bit of peppering in their time -- and they have done no credit to their cause by ignoring or dismissing out of hand the ideas of Kellaway, Williams-Thorpe and others.    If they want to dish it out, they must also be prepared to take it.

"Thomas (who first realised the ultimate origin of the spotted dolerites from Stonehenge was the Preseli Hills) was not ‘distasteful of Judd’s (petrographical) work of 1902’ --  indeed he called the work  ‘excellent’."  That isn't what I said on p 96.  Thomas may well have said that Judd's petrography was excellent, but he still treated it with disdain by ignoring or dismissing his conclusions about glacial transport.

"The recent history of the Boles Barrow spotted dolerite, an important dolerite found in Wessex outside of Stonehenge and its environs and a cornerstone in the man versus ice argument is not as Dr John’s (p140) and almost all the post 1980 literature suggest, secure in its Boles Barrow provenance -- the primary literature is ambiguous."  What the hell -- I'll defend myself here as well!  Yes, the provenance of the Boles Barrow bluestone is ambiguous -- but only because archaeologists refuse to believe that it can have been in place well before the stone settings at Stonehenge were created.  It is the ultimate "inconvenient" piece of evidence.  And the post-1980 literature is all bandwaggon stuff -- written by people who are intent in holding the party line.

"Despite web-based assertions, Drs Ixer and Turner have not suggested the Altar Stone came from the Brecon Beacons, they merely state it is not from Milford Haven."  That's a bit unfair, Rob --  I don't say that at all.  On pp 104-5 I report faithfully what you guys said -- that the stone was probably from the Senni Beds, somewhere to the east.

"Almost every sentence about the Great Cursus and its associated lithics (pp 68, 69, 77, 103, 108) is incorrect --- once again these errors, missing from the original papers, are found on-line."  Hang on a bit -- I was reporting as accurately as I could on what MPP and others had put into their early field reports and statements to the press.  I think I'm right in saying that in 2008 (when the book was written) the detailed petrography had not been published --  it's not very fair to expect me to have known about stuff that was not yet in print!

"..........there are dozens of different rock-types recorded, granite, gabbro, slate and limestone; brick, cement and burned coal and these days sacred crystals and ‘magnetic haematite’ (look anytime beneath the Altar Stone to see a selection of these) but have they any (non-sociological) significance?"  I would agree with that word of caution.  Extraneous or adventitious stones brought in by accident must always be looked for -- I have been used to doing that on the Pembrokeshire coast, where ballast brought in by ships is often found in close vicinity to glacial deposits!

"The meaning of ‘bluestone’ already endlessly argued over should be re-defined once more as ‘any non-sarsen lithology employed as a Stonehenge orthostat’."  I don't think I would agree with that.  If we just concentrate on the  standing and fallen bluestones, and maybe the stumps, we lose sight of maybe hugely significant "debitage" or debris and smaller stones that might well have a glacial origin -- and we could end up no closer to the truth.  Erratics are not all large -- very many of them are very small.

Apart from those small points I'm happy to accept Rob's points in what I thought was a perfectly fair review.  If you write things and get them into print, you have to accept both the kind words and those that are not so kind!


Oswald said...

The book certainly has the feel it was researched from internet sources rather than scientific papers, leaving the impression it was put together by an armchair geologist. If you have prepared a fully referenced paper you should publish it!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Snide comment, Oswald! Try not to be so patronising. I never claimed to be a geologist. Call in some day and I will show you the pile of scientific papers which I have consulted -- I am perfectly capable of reading them and interpreting them. As for our draft paper -- give us time. I am partly dependent on inputs from my co-author, which is slower than I would like. We are all busy fellows!

Oswald said...

Sorry, wasn't meant to be a a "snide comment", Mr John, and no offense meant, please forgive my rashness. Should I have said, that I feel you have further, more in depth data, that you could have included in your book. Let me re-phrase it as such; that by pitching your book at the layman, i.e. the non-specialist, to no doubt maximise sales potential, perhaps you targeted the wrong audience?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Oswald -- appreciated. Moving on, it's always difficult with "popular" science to know where to pitch things. The paper on which I am working with a colleague is specialized glaciology / geomorphology, and would have to go to an appropriate journal -- which would reach one audience but leave the public cold. I'm a writer and publisher, and of course I want to maximise sales potential! But I want to do that in a responsible way, with due regard for the facts. The book is actually proving to be very popular -- so I suppose I am reaching the "right" audience, even if certain archaeologists choose to ignore the points I'm making!!