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Tuesday, 1 March 2011

More on HH Thomas

 I have always been intrigued at the manner in which one man, Herbert Henry Thomas, managed single-handedly to change the world-view of what Stonehenge is and how it was made -- with his  famous 1921 lecture and his even more famous 1923 paper in the Antiquaries Journal.  He is mentioned in many of my blog entries (to find them you can use the search facility).  I discovered this Wikipedia entry on him -- and although I had read a lot about him before, I had forgotten that at the end of the First World War he was very much a member of the archaeological establishment, as well as being a very senior and respected geologist.  That may explain why his radical and dogmatic theory of human bluestone transport was not subjected to proper scientific scrutiny, apart from a few mild and respectful (even deferential) questions from people who should have been MUCH more sceptical.  And of course, once his theory was out there, and accepted by the scientific community, it did his career no harm at all -- awarded the Murchison Medal in 1925 and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1927.

What he was like as a person I do not know -- but I have met a fair number of senior academics in my time, and it's frightening to see what power they can wield, not only over their junior colleagues, but also over the development (or ossification) of ideas and scientific theory.    In the case of the "bluestone heresy" it was adopted and developed for a whole variety of reasons by many academics in the fifty years after 1923 -- and I sometimes wonder what happened to genuine scientific enquiry during that period.  Then it was pushed very hard by another very powerful professor -- Richard Atkinson.  The rest, as they say, is history.....

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This is the Wikipedia entry on our friend HHT:

Herbert Henry Thomas FRS (13 March 1876 - 12 May 1935 ) was a British geologist who linked the bluestones at Stonehenge with rocks in South West Wales. He won the Murchison Medal.
 

Thomas was born at Exeter.  The son of Frederick Thomas, a hatter and councillor, and his wife Louisa.  He was educated at Exeter School under W. A. Cunningham and was admitted to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge on 1 October 1894. He was a Harkness Scholar and was awarded a 1st class BA degree in Natural Sciences. He won the Sedgwick prize in 1903 and was also assistant to Professor Sollas at Oxford earning B.A. and B.Sc. at Oxford. From 1901 to 1911, he was geologist to the Geological Survey of Great Britain and was a petrographer from 1911 to 1935 working for the Geological Survey Department. He was a leading paleobiologist and carried out some work on carboniferous palaeobotany. At Cambridge at this time he was influential on Lucy Wills and was awarded Sc.D. in 1914.  Thomas was an archaeologist, and an expert on how rock were used primitive people for weapons and monuments.  In 1923, he was the first to propose that the bluestones used in the construction of Stonehenge were identical to rocks in the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Thomas was secretary of the Geological Society of London from 1912 to 1922 and its vice-president from 1922 to 1924.  He won the Murchison Medal of the Geological Society in 1925 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 12 May 1927.  Thomas married Anna Maria Mosley, the daughter of Rev. Oswald Mosley, late vicar of Prickwillow in 1904. They lived at Surbiton and had a son and daughter.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Was H.H. Thomas' wife, Anna Maria Mosley, daughter of the Rev Oswald Mosley, related to THE Oswald Mosley, notorious in the 1930s & 1940s?

BRIAN JOHN said...

I must say I did wonder that myself -- a little more research might be interesting!!