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

Sunday 29 May 2011

Express does a puff for Robert's Great Mesolithic Inundation

It's interesting that the Express refused to do a review of "The Bluestone Enigma," presumably on the grounds that it was not wacky enough.  Now they have gone to town with an extended puff for RL's book about the mighty inundation that supposedly allowed stone-laden boats to deliver their valuable cargoes directly to Stonehenge.  They have even gone to the trouble of stocking it in the Express's on-line bookshop.  Best of luck to Robert -- he is just trying to make a living, just like the rest of us.  But what does this tell us about the quality of British journalism?  Answers on a postcard please...........

Stonehenge exerts an extraordinary power over the people of Britain.

Sunday Express,  May 29,2011

By Graham Ball
As the summer solstice will soon see thousands gather at Stonehenge, an archaeologist discusses his belief that the Wiltshire monument is evidence of a great civilisation which once thrived there

IN three weeks’ time, thousands of devotees will gather in the dark in a field in Wiltshire. They do this every year and each time their number grows.

They are there to celebrate the midsummer Solstice, the longest day of the year, and will wait until daybreak when the sun sends a piercing ray of light through Stonehenge, the ancient ruin they have come to venerate.

This primordial circle of stones, eight miles north of Salisbury in Wiltshire, exerts an extraordinary power over the people of Britain.

Some, like the Druids, claim it is the source of a mystical power while others, curious but sceptical, believe it to be the site of an ancient monument that has no relevance to the way we live today.

Whatever their conviction they are all missing the point according to one man who has studied the location for 30 years and believes he knows the real reason why Stonehenge is so special.

“Stonehenge is unique; it is already recognised as a World Heritage Site but it’s more than just an ancient curiosity, it is the place where civilisation began,” says writer and archaeologist Robert John Langdon.

“It’s simply the most amazing place in the world and we should all be celebrating the meaning of this incredible place.”

Robert fell under the spell of Stonehenge as a boy. He explored the massive stone monoliths and was intrigued by the official explanation of their origin. As the years passed and he learned more he was puzzled by contradictions in official explanation of its origins.

“The carbon dating of the stones is not consistent. I have discovered that stone post holes in what is now the car park for the site predate the accepted date for Stonehenge by 5,000 years. If this evidence is accepted, and it has been denied for years, it turns the conventional history of Stonehenge, and the rest of the world for that matter, on its head.”

If Robert is right, and he says he has the scientific evidence to prove he is, Stonehenge is the most important archaeological site in the world. It would mean Salisbury Plain is home to the first and most significant civilisation on earth. So how could this have happened?

“The geography and landscape of the site would have been very different. Britain would have been emerging from the last Ice Age, so much of the country we now recognise would have been under water. Stonehenge would have been on an estuary that led to the open sea. Too many important facts have been ignored,” says Robert.

“There is evidence that water was close, but that has been classified as a moat which I believe is wrong. It is also believed the stones were dragged over land from Wales which is misleading.

“The large sarsen stones came from an area close to Avebury which is not far from Stonehenge.  To have brought them overland all the way from Wales takes no account of the fact that according to the official time scale Salisbury Plain at that time would have been heavily forested which would have made that access all but impossible. The bluestones, which are the key to the secret of Stonehenge, were smaller and did come from Wales but they were brought there by boat.”

Robert’s hypothesis is based on his conviction that the men who built Stonehenge were much more skilled and sophisticated than is currently believed. In 10,000 BC, the Mesolithic period, he believes that men in ancient Britain developed the first recognisable civilisation and that Stonehenge was their greatest achievement.

“These were extremely capable people who found a way of drilling into stone and used sophisticated mortice and tenon joints to erect Stonehenge but most importantly they mastered the seas. These boat people, as we can call them, travelled widely and traded and these are the people I believe that Plato referred to in his writings on the origins of civilisation.”

So why did these people make such an effort to build Stonehenge? what was it intended to do?

“Stonehenge was accessible to boat people from  all over Europe and Mesolithic men and women came there to be cured of their ailments and to depart from this world. The alignment of the site to the sun and the moon is immensely significant but so is the presence of the bluestones in the circle.

“Bluestone turns blue in water, and was believed to have incredible powers of healing. Evidence from bones found close to Stonehenge suggests that the original inhabitants practised sophisticated medical procedures which included dentistry, limb removal and even brain surgery.

“These were not the fur-clad hunter gatherers living in mud huts that many mistakenly believe were the builders of Stonehenge. They were instead members of a great civilisation that moved out, leaving Stonehenge as the only surviving physical evidence of their genius.”

If Robert Langdon is right Stonehenge is much older than the Pyramids and there is a surprising connection between the two ancient stone monuments.

“Over the centuries the climate and landscape in Britain changed. Mesolithic men used their seafaring skills to move to a more sympathetic environment. They traded widely and sailed south to what is now the Mediterranean and moved in along the coast from Egypt to Greece and Italy. The ancient Egyptians’ skill at engineering and building with stone had its roots in the lessons learnt by the men who built Stonehenge.”

It is not only archaeologists with a theory about the significance of Stonehenge. The Druids regard it as a sacred place where they perform spiritual rituals.

Robert says: “I don’t have any disputes with the Druids and they don’t seem to mind me. I’ll be rubbing shoulders with lots of them at the midsummer solstice. The Druids may well have their beliefs but they came on the Stonehenge scene very late in the day.

“They would have discovered the site as an ancient and abandoned temple and taken it over but that’s all right. I get on pretty well with other archaeologists too although they do tend to dismiss my work, but that’s their loss. Stonehenge has a special hold on me and the more I learn about it the more fascinated I become. I’m already working on a new book which I think will ruffle quite a lot of feathers.

“In a sense what we know as Stonehenge is almost the foundations of a much bigger edifice. Stonehenge is, despite all the myths that have been fostered, a very special place. It is, I believe, the birthplace of civilisation and we all ought to give it the respect that it really deserves.”

To order a copy of Prehistoric Britain – The Stonehenge Enigma by Robert John Langdon (ABC Publishing Group, £14.99) with free UK delivery, please send a cheque or PO made payable to the Sunday Express Bookshop to: PO Box 200, Falmouth TR11 4W J, or telephone 0871 988 8366 with credit/debit card details or order online at Calls cost 10p per minute from BT landlines.

Saturday 28 May 2011

The Russia stones (again)

Today I had another look at the Russia Stones, referred to by Robin Heath as a prehistoric megalithic alignment, precisely aligned east - west.  This photo shows the biggest of the stones, and it is indeed pretty spectacular.  But as we now know, this one was put in place in 1977 by the local farmers while they were clearing their fields.  Not far away is another massive stone, with a chain still wrapped round it -- they obviously gave up on that one, since it was TOO heavy.  But this vertical stone is covered with gouges and scratches made by the JCBs and other vehicles used to move it -- I'm surprised that Robin never noticed these surface markings, which are still very fresh..........  If he had done, he would have realized that this stone has NOT been in position since the Neolithic or the Bronze age.

And by the way, the three stones that are supposed to be aligned are not aligned at all.  And the other two, used as gateposts just along the lane, close to the ruined cottage called Russia, are also covered with fresh machinery markings made when the stones were manoevred into position and pressed into service as gateposts.

Friday 27 May 2011

On the trail of Bluestone Erratics (2) Entrainment

 The process of entrainment where thickening ice (during the waxing phase of a glacial episode) encounters a large obstacle which hinders or blocks its progress.  It is inevitable that entrainment will be concentrated on the up-glacier side of the obstacle, and that as the ice thickens the erosive / entrainment episode will come to an end, as the entrained boulders are carried away towards the glacier snout, wherever that may be. Thus there is an entrainment "pulse" similar to that which occurs when avalanches or rockfalls introduce depris onto the glacier surface -- cf The Foothills Erratic Train, and the Darwin Boulders in Tierra Del Fuego.  The entrained erratics may also be carried tens or hundreds of kilometres away from their source area, with no erratic dumping in the intervening area -- as seen in the case of the Darwin Boulders.

 I have covered this topic at length before -- please type in "entrainment" into the search box, and you will find many entries.  Sadly, my entries are not being read by the right people -- or, if they ARE the right people, they just don't like what they read, and choose to ignore it.........

This is not the place for a treatise on glacial erosion -- that is well covered in thousands of papers and scores of text-books, including some of mine!  Suffice to say that there are many different erosional processes at work beneath ice, including abrasion (in which the base of a glacier, armed with abundant stones and other debris, acts like sandpaper on overridden rock surfaces) and plastic scouring (which produces smoothed and moulded forms where the till at the base of the glacier is saturated, or where large volumes of meltwater may be flowing along the glacier bed).  The effect of abrasion, when relatively large tools are involved, is the creation of deep, parallel, long striations (striae) and grooves in the rock surface.

Another process is gouging, in which large, heavy "tools" on a glacier bed are used effectively like chisels on a rock surface that is being over-ridden, creating friction cracks, chatter-marks and gouges that can be tens of centimetres deep.  Many of these cracks or fractures are transverse to the direction of ice movement.  Anybody who has wandered about in the Stockholm Atchipelago (as I have) will know exactly what I am talking about!  The physics of these processes are complex, and are best left for another day and another geomorphologist.

What we are especially concerned about here is QUARRYING, by which large blocks of bedrock are broken away from rock surfaces or are picked up from old scree slopes or other accumulations of blocky debris that happen to be overridden by ice.  Without becoming too complicated or too mathematical, we can refer to the summary below by Prof David Evans.

Essentially, what he is saying is that pressure variations on the bed of a glacier favour the breaking off of slabs or blocks of bedrock, on the basis that rock under compression (on the up-glacier sides of obstacles) is quite strong, but is much weaker -- and therefore susceptible to entrainment -- when it is under tension (on the down-glacier sides of obstacles).  Where glacier ice is relatively thin, and where cavities can be created on the glacier bed, quarrying is enhanced.  The process is essentially one of spalling, sheeting or pressure release -- something which geologists are familiar with, and which can sometimes lead to solid rock shattering or "bursting" with near-explosive force.

The role of water is important too ---  on the compression side of obstacles, water remains in a liquid state, but on the tension side pressure is reduced, and water often freezes back onto the sole of the glacier, and in doing so incorporates or "entrains" any large blocks that have been loosened.  So blocks can be dragged away and incorporated into the glacier.  If the glacier is flowing smoothly, and if the glacier bed is still melting here and there, and lubricating the basal ice, the entrained boulders will remain close to the glacier bed and may not be carried very far;  but if the ice thickens over time, because of a deteriorating climate or because of topographic controls, then the ice may freeze onto its bed.  In other words, the glacier will change from being "warm-based" to being "cold-based."  When that happens, the only way for the glacier to continue its forward momentum -- because it is being forced by accumulating ice upstream -- is by processes of internal deformation, including shearing.  Thrust planes can carry big slabs and pillars of broken rock up into the body of the glacier -- and in some circumstances even up onto the glacier surface.  The extent to which these blocks will be modified or smoothed during transport will vary according to the potential that there may be for abrasion or further breakages -- but now we are straying into the territory of the next chapter in this treatise.....

There now -- that wasn't so painful, was it?

Entrainment territory.  Ice-smoothed slabs near Garnfawr on Dinas Mountain, North Pembrokeshire

The implications of all this for the Stonhenge Bluestone debate?  Well, that I would not be at all surprised to find "bluestone erratics" turning up on Salisbury Plain which have come from either the north Pembrokeshire coast between Dinas and Newport, or from Carnedd Meibion Owen and Tycanol Wood, or from the northern slope of Preseli (where we find the tors of Carn Alw and Carn Goedog).  I would find it very surprising indeed if erratics were to turn up from the southern slopes of Preseli.  As for erratics from Carn Breseb, Carn Gyfrwy, Carn Sian, Carn Meini, and Carn Dafad-las,  I would expect some to turn up on Salisbury Plain, although the circumstances for entrainment would not have been quite so favourable.

What I would expect is that erratics derived from the southern slopes of Preseli or from the crest of the ridge might be quite extensively spread across the landscape of mid- and south Pembrokeshire, after entrainment and transport during later and less extensive phases of glacial activity.  We don't know how many "pulses" of late-glacial activity there might have been at the end of the Anglian glaciation, but if the Devensian Glaciation can be taken as a reasonable model, there may well have been one or more coolings equivalent of those we refer to as the Younger and Older Dryas phases in Western Europe.  These coolings just MIGHT have been associated with short-lived regional glacial advances.

Quarrying (Prof David Evans)
Prog in Phys Geog 2004

Quarrying involves two separate processes: (1) the fracturing or crushing of bedrock
beneath the glacier;  and (2) the entrainment of this fractured or crushed rock.  Fracturing
of bedrock may take place where a glacier flowing over bedrock creates pressure
differences in the underlying rock, causing stress fields that may be sufficient to induce
rock fracture (Morland and Boulton, 1975; Morland and Morris, 1977). Fluctuations in
basal water pressure may also help to propagate bedrock fractures beneath a glacier
(Röthlisberger and Iken, 1981; Walder and Hallet, 1985; Iverson,1991a). Brepson(1979)
has successfully simulated the sliding of temperate ice over an obstacle in the
laboratory, and noted that large cavities form in the lee of obstacles, aiding quarrying.
Evacuation of rock fragments along joints in the bed is possible where localized basal
freezing occurs, for example as the result of the heat-pump effect proposed by Robin
(1976). Although Holmes (1944) originally argued that quarrying could occur beneath
both thick and thin ice, and outlined a theory based on pressure-controlled freezing of
meltwater in joints in bedrock, there is now general agreement that quarrying is
favoured beneath thin, fast-flowing ice (Hallet, 1996). Modelling studies indicate that
low effective basal pressures (0.1–1MPa) and high sliding velocities are the dominant
glaciological conditions required for quarrying because these conditions favour
extensive ice/bed separation (subglacial cavity formation)and also concentrate stresses
at points, such as the corners of bedrock ledges, where ice is in contact with the bed
(Iverson, 1991a; Hallet, 1996).

Thursday 26 May 2011

More about Darwin's Boulders

 The two locations where erratic trains of granite are found, on the south shores of the Magellan Straits.  The source area of the erratics is shown in red on the top map.  Locations A and B are about 80 km apart, and there are no granite erratics in this intervening area.

I have blogged about these famous granite boulders before.  They are located in Tierra del Fuego, not far from the Straits of Magellan.  There are two erratic trains, made of boulders up to 16m long and apparently scattered across the landscape close to the coast.  They rest in a till sheet, but where they are found on the shore all of the other sediments have been washed away, leaving the boulders in glorious isolation, washed by the waves.
Evenson and colleagues have interpreted the erratic trains as resulting from localised and short-lived rockfalls or avalanches in the high mountains which were the collecting grounds for the glaciers that flowed northwards and north-eastwards towards the lowlands.  The erratics are very rough and angular -- which means they have been transorted on, rather than within, the glacier ice.  So the interpretation is very like that for the Foothills Erratic Train in Canada.

There are several noteworthy things here.  First, note that the two erratic trains are very narrow -- up to about 500m wide, with very few boulders outside the "train".  In case B, there are some anomalous boulders to the north of the main train, explained by the authors as being due to lateral spreading in the terminal ice zone of the glacier as it reached the coastal plain.  Both trains were laid down by the same glacier lobe, but during different glacial phases.  The other thing of considerable interest is the manner in which these two lobes are physically separate from one another, with a large belt of country between them which is quite free of these granite erratics.  This "empty zone" is about 80 km wide.

This study reinforces the idea that erratics are input (sometimes, not always) into glaciers during short-lived "pulses" which can then result in erratic trains of limited length being transported from source area to dumping area, with no tail or trail being left behind in the area traversed by the ice.

I keep on trying to explain this to the archaeologists, who simply refuse to listen.......

GSA Today
Article, pp. 4-10 | Volume 19 Issue 12 (December 2009)
Enigmatic boulder trains, supraglacial rock avalanches, and the origin of “Darwin's boulders,” Tierra del Fuego Edward B. Evenson et al

The Foothills Erratic Train

Two new maps of the Foothills Erratic Train, which is over 600 km long.  Note how narrow it is, and note how there are a number of changes in direction, some of them quite sharp.  In some areas the trail is discontinuous, and in some areas there are "clusters" of erratics.

The famous Foothills Erratic Train in Canada is the most famous example of a "train" or trail of erratics -- as distinct from an erratic "fan" where boulders from one source are spread widely across an arc of countryside.  Both types are well documented -- but it should be borne in mind that a fan is nothing more than a collection of erratic trains which are quite close together, arising from changes in ice directions during the course of a glacial episode.  There is no mechanism for erratics to "spread sideways" in a glacier of ice sheet -- they have to move in the direction of ice movement, up or down, but always forward and never laterally.

The interesting thing about the Foothills erratic Train, as pointed out by Lionel Jackson and many others, is that the string of erratics was created by the parallel streaming of two very large ice masses -- the Cordilleran Ice Sheet to the west, and the Laurentide Ice Sheet to the east.  With very good reason, Lionel and I proposed that this was a close parallel to the situation than occurred in the Bristol Channel area at the peak of the (Anglian?) glacial episode:

Wednesday 25 May 2011

The Dalsetter Erratic

 The Dalsetter Erratic (about 1m across) near Boddam, near the southern tip of the 
main island of Shetland

Those who expect to see erratic trails or erratic fans between source point and dumping point conveniently forget that there are well-known examples (from all glaciated areas)  of erratics that are so extremely erratic that they are almost anomalous.  One such is the Dalsetter Erratic on Shetland -- a large boulder made of a rock called "tonsbergite" which has come from the Oslo district in Norway.  Luckily it has a very distinctive colour and texture -- so identification was made a long time ago, and did not have to depend upon modern geochemistry techniques etc.

So how did this erratic boulder get from A to B?  It has to be the result of glacial transport, at a time when ice from the Scandinavian Ice Sheet was so extensive that it crossed the Norwegian Trench and invaded the Orkney and Shetland island groups.  There is no great doubt about that, since there is other evidence that can be adduced -- but in spite of a thorough search across 7 km of terrain near this erratic, no other erratic of similar type has ever been found.  In fact (please correct me if I'm wrong!) no other erratic from Norway has been found on the Shetlands.......

So because the Dalsetter Erratic is "anomalous" do we have to discount ice action and hypothesise that it was actually carried by human beings?  Well, that has been proposed, on the grounds that the erratic might have been carried ashore as ships ballast by the Vikings -- but there is no way that they would carry boulders of this size as ballast.  In any case, there is quite convincing evidence that the erratic was dug out of a local deposit of glacial till -- and that seems to put an end to the discussion.

So where is the erratic train, if there is one?  Simple answer -- under the sea.  Not so different from the Preseli / Stonehenge scenario, when you think about it.

On the trail of Bluestone Erratics (1) Principles

A huge erratic on the plains of Patagonia.  Where did it come from?  How did it get here?

The question I am most frequently asked about the Stonehenge bluestones is this:  "If the bluestones really were carried from West Wales to Salisbury Plain by a glacier, where is the trail of erratics that we should find in the landscape between Carn Meini and Stonehenge?"  Another form of the question is this:  "Where is the moraine that should be near Stonehenge, and where are the till formations and other glacial deposits that should be well mapped by now, given the many years of intensive research in the area?"

These questions are fair enough if they are put by laymen, or even by professional archaeologists who cannot be expected to know much about glacial geomorphology.  But it does tend to irritate me when they are put by senior academics who teach and research in various fields of geomorphology, especially when they then conclude, having considered the matter, that glacial transport from the Mynydd Preseli area to Salisbury Plain was "impossible."  To the best of my knowledge, that word has actually been used in this context in discussions and in print by James Scourse, Chris Green and David Bowen.  As I have said before, they should know better;  anybody who says that something is "impossible" is asking for trouble......... especially when there is abundant evidence on the table that glacier ice has indeed crossed the Pembrokeshire Peninsula and extended into the Somerset lowlands, on at least one occasion (and possibly several) during the Quaternary.  These three learned gentlemen know that, but they have still chosen to turn a blind eye to the evidence presented long ago by Judd and later by Geoffrey Kellaway -- and to sign up with precipitate enthusiasm to the human transport myth peddled by the archaeology establishment.  Why?  Better ask them that......

Interestingly enough, the reasoning of these three gentlemen appears to run as follows:  "if the route followed by the Irish Sea Glacier up the Bristol Channel was indeed as suggested, there should be a continuous trail or fan of spotted dolerite and rhyolite boulders roughly the same size as those of Stonehenge stretching from the eastern Preseli Hills and onto the chalklands of Salisbury Plain.  There isn't, and therefore the glacial transport didn't happen."

And it's also quite intriguing that since these senior academics have been selected as "THE authorities" on glacial transport, their pronouncements have also been taken on board by geologists who should know better.  Why?  Better ask them that too........

Part of the problem is that none of those who have been chosen as "expert geologists" or "expert glaciologists" is actually a glacial geomorphologist.  I am (or was, a long time ago!) and I think I can claim to know what I am talking about.

The other part of the problem is that "the experts" have never seriously considered the factors that are involved in getting large stones from A to B.  They tend, in a very simplistic way, to look at an erratic on the ground, and say "Ah yes, this came from location A -- therefore the ice crossed that location and then dumped it here, at location B."  But that may be only a very small part of the story, and it is now my mission to educate the world about glacial erratics.

In even the simplest glacial erratic story there are three (at least!) factors to be considered: entrainment, transport, and emplacement.  In other words, the picking up of the stone, the transport of it, and finally its dumping in a location where it is out of place, and therefore "erratic."  It seldom happens that a stone (or a collection of stones) has one simple glacial journey over a measurable amount of time;  I suspect that most erratics in the UK have been moved several times and have followed wildly erratic courses.    I'll come back to this in a later post.

Watch this space.........

Saturday 21 May 2011

Led astray by the fairies

I have this theory that we are all -- occasionally -- led astray by the fairies.  Some years ago I came across this interesting feature on the edge of the common, not far from Carn Alw.  The nearest farm is Mirianog Ganol. "Wonderful!" I thought.  "This has to be a previously unrecorded burial mound -- maybe Neolithic, maybe Bronze Age -- in which the burial chamber in the middle has collapsed, maybe through the action of Victorian antiquarians, and maybe because of the digging of grave robbers".  It had all the right elements -- right sort of location, constructed with very large stones, etc etc.

When I got home I did some research, and discovered that it is a medieval corn drying kiln, well known to the local Archaeological Trust.

Mind you, I still have this sneaking feeling that they might be wrong, and that my instinct might be right..........

By the way, Carn Alw (just up the hill a little distance away) is well known as a place where fairies are likely to take you away to Fairyland.

Bluestone Magic -- book review (2)

Finally, dear reader, I got to the end of Robin Heath's new book.  At the beginning of chapter 5 (on the (Bluestones and Stonehenge) (which is where I left off) there is the statement "from the melting of the last Ice Age" -- and when I read it, my heart sank.  Ice Ages don't melt -- glaciers do.  But I carried on manfully, and actually Robin's chapter is pretty well balanced and quite informative, in spite of a large number of inaccuracies and geological and other misunderstandings.  He talks about Merlin and Ireland, and the glacial transport and human transport theories, and it appears that he is not terribly worried how the bluestones got from west Wales to Stonehenge -- he dips out of that argument and stresses over and again that the bluestones were USED at Stonehenge because its precise location was highly auspicious.  And that's where the trouble starts, in Chapter 6.  From this point on, Robin is preoccupied with circles, triangles, rectangles and points. The text becomes a strange mixture of numerology, astronomy, and "beautiful geometry."  Not content with fixing the "astonishingly accurate" Preseli - Lundy - Stonehenge "lunation triangle" (which turns out not to be very accurate at all), he goes on to connect up assorted other points such as Arbor Low, Bry Celli Ddu, and Morte Point, with straight lines running on many different compass orientations, adding points to these lines wherever it is convenient, even if the points actually lie some way off to the right or left.  Where sacred points like old churches or convenient place-names fall off the lines by too great a distance, he invents a few circles instead, and miraculously finds that some of them lie on the circumferences of those.  He has right-angles triangles and equilateral triangles, joining up places which are "almost exactly" where they ought to be.  Then he moves on to intersecting circles and "vesicas" and finds that there are auspicious points on those too -- conveniently forgetting that there are also thousands of other auspicious points in the landscape that don't conveniently fit onto anything.  Some of his auspicious points look to me (as somebody who lives locally and knows all of them) as extremely inauspicious -- but there you go.....

After a while he gets so enthusiastic about vesicas (there's one at Glastonbury too, apparently) that he starts relating them to male/female issues, universal consciousness, and even the local "alternative movement" in the Cilgwyn - Newport area, where I happen to live.   There are intersecting triangles and circles everywhere, and even inscribed stones from the Christian era are said to have been designed according to the impulses of "sacred geometry."

Robin's reference list says quite a lot about the author and his expected readership.  Robin HAS obviously read quite widely, but the only things he points his reader towards, in his "bibliography" are those designed to reinforce the myth that he himself is creating and developing.  It's almost as if he is rather frightened of his readers ever encountering anything inconvenient -- for example, written by the "archaeology establishment" (for whom he has no respect at all) or for sceptics like me.

Worth reading?  Well, yes, because it's actually quite fascinating to see how different people view the landscape and the manner in which it is organized.  Robin's training is in engineering and mathematics, and he is also a very accomplished musician -- so he sees beauty and spirituality in things that others might find mundane.  That's fine by me.  But his central thesis -- that the landscape is full of sacred points which are organized according to strict astronomical and geometric principles -- falls flat on its face because he never, at any stage in the book, tries to explain HOW human beings (whether in the Neolithic or in the Age of the Saints, or at any other time) placed their megaliths, cromlechs and Celtic crosses on all these supposedly predetermined or predestined sacred sites that pepper the pages of the book.  Did they all have surveying or map-making skills which were far in excess of those of the early Ordnance Survey surveyors?  Did they do it all by reading the stars, the sun and the moon?    Did they do it all by mental arithmetic, long before the invention of writing or mathematics?  Did they "just know" about aligned points tens or even hundreds of miles away, beyond mountain ranges or across seas?  Or did they just "know" that some points were auspicious and others not, and were somehow just guided by some Ancient Wisdom to put up their stones, or build their churches, here rather than there?  And if they put up their erections slightly away from where Ancient Wisdom intended, does that mean they were not sufficiently attuned, having not reached the required high level of intuition or enlightenment?

Oh dear -- this is all getting too much for me.  I'd better go and do some weeding in the garden.

New facility added

I've added a new facility to this blog.  If you look on the sidebar, you should see a small Email notification box.  If you want to receive Email notifications of new posts as they appear, just fill in the box and await developments.....

I think this is limited to one notification per day, even if I put up two or more posts in a day.  As ever, all feedback and comments are gratefully received, so long as they are civil and relevant.

Thursday 19 May 2011

From Russia with love.....

 Two of the Russia Stones near Pontfaen, Pembrokeshire.  Now used as gateposts, but supposed by Robin Heath to be part of a prehistoric alignment.  The stone farthest from the camera looks as if it is freshly broken, which is not surprising, since the stones have only been there for about 30 years, having been put in place by a JCB....

Now here's a funny thing for you.  Last night, before I nodded off in bed, I was reading the latest exciting episode in Robin's book called "Bluestone Magic" -- and was intrigued by his references to an alignment of very large stones which he called "The Russia Stones."  They are not far from the Parc y Meirw alignment, which is well known and which has been discussed for many years by antiquarians.  It even has a ghostly tale attached to it.  But I have never before seen any reference to The Russia Stones (so named because there was a cottage called "Russia"nearby) -- and Robin seems to be the first person to have described them......  so I was intrigued.

Robin says there are three spectacular standing stones, and one recumbent stone in a hedge, aligned precisely on the east-west line, and used by the Neolithic or Bronze Age builders to predict precisely the sunrise at the equinox.  All three of the stones are currently used as gateposts.   He also says the stones are aligned precisely with the St Davids alignment, and by reference to the three standing stones he analyses in depth assorted sights, azimuths and sighting positions for sunsets and sunrises.  All very mathematical and impressive.....

Anyway, I thought I should amble over and have a look at them again, although I have walked past them many times before.  As I approached the biggest of the three stones after crossing a field full of sheep, I encountered two local farmers, leaning on a hedge and putting the world to rights.  We got to chatting, as one does, and we got to talking about the standing stones.

"Very impressive indeed," said I.

"I suppose so," said Farmer Number One.

"Very ancient, they are," said I.  "They are supposed to date from prehistoric times, are they not?"

"Funny, that!" said Farmer Number Two.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, see that really big one there?" said Farmer Number One. "I put it there as a gatepost in 1977.  It used to be over there, in the field.  See that hollow?  That's where we took it from..."

They left me in no doubt that the other two stones in the "alignment" had also been dragged out of the fields and put up as gateposts in recent times, since stone gateposts were much better than wooden ones.

So there we are then.  Now we know why there are no old records of The Russia Stones.  When the old records were written, they weren't there.  They were lying in the ground somewhere else, until farmer Number One and his brother decided to drag them away and use them as gateposts.

Bang goes another of Robin's theories, and the Bluestone Magic appears a bit less magical than it did yesterday.

Lesson for tonight:  things are not always what they seem, although if things look like gateposts they probably are gateposts.  Here endeth the lesson.  Amen and goodnight.

The Ogham key

With reference to the strange marks at Carn Enoch, here is a key for some (but not all) of the letters of the Ogham alphabet.  there are just 10 here  -- there were about 20 altogether, but the others were for the most part diagonal or angled marks, which appear to be missing here.  So can we use this key, and the simple sample below, to make sense of what we see on the rock surface?

Well, this is fun!

Calling all Ogham Readers

Rob Ixer thinks these marks on the rock surface at Carn Enoch are entirely natural, and I'm inclining that way too........  but just for fun, I had the idea that maybe there is somebody out there who reads Ogham stories at bedtime, and who is totally familiar with the earliest forms of the script.  So here\s a challenge -- do these marks mean anything or say anything?

Here are two old stones (taken from the Babelstone web site) which have just perpendicular marks along the central line -- ie no angled marks.

These might be as early as 400 AD -- and the thinking is now that these old scripts didn't use angled cuts, but simply groups of perpendicular ones.  If you look at the Carn Enoch photos, you can see (with the eye of faith) some groups of three, four or five notches.  Meaning?

This may all be far too fancilful, but let's see where we go with this one!

Wednesday 18 May 2011

More on the Lunation Triangle

Thanks to Tony H for reminding me of this contribution from the late Alex Down on the Eternal Idol site.  I had read it back in 20090 but had forgotten about it.  Alex's comments are eminently sensible, as usual.  Read on, dear reader.........
With acknowledgement to Dennis Price's ETERNAL IDOL site:
Alex Down April 28, 2009 at 12:06 am
The Stonehenge Lunation Triangle sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? A 5-12-13 Pythagorean triangle, poised perfectly between Stonehenge, Lundy and the “quarries” at Carn Meini – a triumph of long-range Megalithic geometry. Obviously I had to try it for myself. And did it work? Nope. Or at least, it only works if you select a point in Wales that is nowhere near Carn Meini. Robin Heath specifies 10,000 megalithic yards north of the centre of Lundy, which happens to be on the top of a flat-topped hill in Pembrokeshire called Carn Wen – White Cairn, a name which may, or may not, have something to do with quartz. There’s none there now. And indeed, Stonehenge – Lundy – Carn Wen makes a pretty good 5-12-13 triangle. Unfortunately, Carn Wen is about 3km away from Carn Meini, which completely blows the accuracy of the Pythagorean set. It seems it’s just another case of a numerologist picking his points to fit his conception of a perfectly numbered world. My calculations were done using the ruler facility on Google Earth. I’d welcome anyone checking my calculations. But I’d back the accuracy of Google Earth against most other methods available to the public. It’s a shame, because it would make a very neat story if a perfect triangle could be fitted connecting the bluestone quarries, the “right angle island” and Stonehenge. But, according to Robin Heath’s book, the triangle does not include the quarries – he’s quite specific about Carn Wen. In fact, quoting from his book in Google Book Search, he says ” … Carn Meini is strongly and prominantly [sic] visible from Carn Besi, just down the modern A478 road from Carn Wen.” The two hills are not even intervisible. So in answer to Frank’s question above “This surely cannot be an accident??”, I’m afraid that it almost certainly is. Relatively close numerical coincidences abound in the real world, and this looks just like another one. The figures can’t be tortured into the shape that the numerologists would like without invoking a new entity, Carn Wen. We all have to make up our own minds about how significant this is.

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Bluestone Magic -- book review (1)

"Bluestone Magic" -- book review

This book by my old friend Robin Heath is very strange indeed. It is an attractively produced A5 paperback, with many colour illustrations and line drawings, in a format very similar to my "Bluestone Enigma."  On thumbing through it, it appears to be a somewhat scientific and objective analysis of the prehistoric monuments of West Wales, but once one settles into reading it, it becomes more and more bizarre with every page turned.

Let's start at the beginning. In his introductory section Robin complains about the inertia of conventional archaeology (I would agree with that) and introduces the idea that academics have largely ignored astronomical functions and landscape geometry in prehistory.  So far so good, although the frequent use of words like "remarkable", "phenomenally precise"and "astonishing" did make me wonder from the very beginning what sort of journey the author had mapped out for the reader.  He defines "magic" as "The right location. The right time. The right action.  The right motive."  And he cites Arthur C Clarke:  "..... any sufficiently advanced technology that is misunderstood by the current cultural order tends to become regarded as magic."  That's all very wise, so long as we do not fall into the trap of dressing up primitive societies in modern clothes.

The first 60 pages or so -- the chapters on the landscape and the sites -- are innocuous enough, but the text is scattered with rather fanciful allusions and inaccuracies.  For example, the summit of Foelcwmcerwyn is not 1600 feet above sea level; the name of the rocks above Tycanol Wood is CARNEDD Meibion Owen; and the Carningli Hillfort is Iron Age, not Bronze Age.  I'm not sure that archaeologists would be happy with some of his statements about the cromlechs or dolmens of the area, and particularly with his tendency to see "landscape mirrors" in capstone shapes, given the fact that many (if not all) capstones would have originally been incorporated into, or buried beneath, mounds of a quite different shape.  The author already appears to be intent upon finding "meaning" or "purpose" or "design" in matters that appear to others to be insignificant,  coincidental or vaguely interesting -- this is perhaps justifiable, since this is how scientific progress is made, but at an early stage one begins to harbour an uneasy suspicion that maybe we have an author here who has an outrageous hypothesis desperately in need of some manufactured facts..........

Once we get to the chapter called "A First Glimpse of the Otherworld" things start to become very eccentric indeed.  Robin mixes up prehistoric, Dark Age and Celtic folklore and belief systems in a quite grotesque way, searching for pagan and Christian associations which will reinforce his view that there were magical alignments involving Llech y Dribedd and Pentre Ifan cromlechs,  Bardsey Island, Caldey Island and Lundy on a north-south line.  He chooses to give all of these places vast significance in some ancient wisdom or cultural context of his own making -- but Bardsey is by no means a pivotal point in the Celtic tradition, and he seems to home in on Llech y Dribedd as a key location simply because it is more or less north of Pentre Ifan.  Actually, the key locations selected by the author in the text  are all over the place; there is not one line between Bardsey and Lundy, but two, separated by a distance of about five miles.  Neither the lines nor the locations are exactly right, and the author then refers to the line as a "corridor" with the "bluestone quarries" located -- very conveniently -- in the middle of it.  The text is scattered with the word "almost" so frequently that by the time one reads that "this is perhaps the oldest evidence of applied surveying yet discovered anywhere in the world" and that "precision surveying activities were being undertaken (here) in prehistory",  a healthy scepticism has already set in.

The next chapter is about solar alignments and lunar alignments, foresights and backsights, equinoxes and azimuths, with many diagrams, maps and photos (some of them digitally "adjusted") purporting to show that stones, cromlechs and alignments were used as astronomical sighting features, either singly or in groups.  On every page there are unsupported assumptions about intervisibility (with the author conveniently forgetting that in the Neolithic there were trees everywhere) and about cromlechs being "open" when they were in fact closed if not sealed.  Distant features are assumed to be visible even if they were not.  Solar or lunar significance is read into anything which is "conveniently" located; and features in the landscape that are not convenient are simply ignored.

This becomes an exercise in selective citation of facts, and we soon reach the point where -- in the midst of something that looks terribly learned and scientific -- we cannot work out any longer which things are facts and which are the inventions of the author. 

Such is the way with pseudo-science.  And we haven't even got to the bit about the bluestones yet........ but we'll keep that for another day.

Robin Heath. "Bluestone Magic – A Guide to the Prehistoric Monuments of West Wales".
UK Price £9.90 (plus £2 P&P UK)
ISBN 978-0-9526151-0-1. Paperback, 184 pages
Published by Bluestone Press, Cardigan, Wales.

Monday 16 May 2011

The Irish connection

I have speculated before on these strange markings on a smooth slab of rock on Carn Enoch, on Dinas mountain, at the western end of the Carningli upland ridge.  I have sent photos to Cadw and Dyfed Archaeology, but nobody seems to be interested.  Tonight I was watching Fergal Keane's first programme about the history of Ireland, and I was struck by the examples shown of the earliest Ogham script, dating from the period around the breakup of the Roman Empire and the earliest phases of Christian missionary activity.  The key thing in these early scripts is a vertical line with shorter lines or notches created perpendicular to it; later on, as far as I can gather, angled notches were introduced, and messages became increasingly sophisticated.

So is this really something created as a message by an Irish settler in North Pembrokeshire?  Quite possibly.  It is located on a rock slab which would have been contained within a simple shelter -- there is a semi-circular wall (with an entrance on the lee side) which possibly supported a simple domed roof of latticed branches supported by wooden struts and by the back rock slope and the front wall.

We know that there were many Irish tribal groups marauding this area and even settling -- Carn Ffoi, not far away, has an Iron Age fort reputed to have been occupied by "Irish brigands."  There are also legends of St Brynach having confrontations with "an Irish chieftain" and his hungry and violent followers.

Can anybody read the inscription?  At any rate, I now incline to the view that this is not a set of tally marks or some random doodling by a shepherd, but a message inscribed by an Irishman in the period around 300 - 400 AD.

What has this to do with Stonehenge?  Not a lot........

Sunday 15 May 2011

Could the Stonehenge builders count up to 21?

I was interested, in looking at the Clive Ruggles chapter in "Science and Stonehenge", to discover his thoughts on the counting ability of the Stonehenge builders.  Not a bad thing, you might think, to examine the hypothesis (very widely accepted) that Neolithic man was capable not only of counting very large numbers but also of making complex mathematical calculations, making precise measurements, dividing and multiplying, and predicting outcomes, all before the invention of writing.......... so did they use tallymarks and sticks and stones?  Counting up to 20 was probably quite easy, because those old fellows had ten fingers and ten toes, making 20 digits which could be matched up visually with 20 trees, or stones, or whatever.  But above 20, they would have needed some system of data storage or recording.  Just brilliant mental agility and brilliant memory, maybe?

Clive says that counting above 180 is not inherently implausible, if prehistoric people were duly motivated -- and then he adds this interesting bit:  "....... after all, someone was evidently capable of careful planning in order to calculate the number of bluestones and sarsens needing to be transported from afar so as to build Stonehenge ......"

Oh dear.  Now that's a major let-down from somebody subjecting some rather wacky ideas to careful scrutiny.  Who says there was careful planning?  Who says that the builders set out to collect 80 or 82 bluestones from "afar"?  Pure speculation, Clive!  Give me some evidence, and I might believe you.  In the meantime, I continue to think that the builders of Stonehenge used whatever stones they could find within the vicinity, that they eventually ran out of stones, and that Stonehenge was never completed.

Sacred geometry or playschool games?

Not long ago I came across this extraordinary web site:

and I have had some interesting Email exchanges with Geoff, the originator.  I was interested to discover the amount of effort which is put in by some mathematicians and "astroarchaeology" or "archaeoastronomy" researchers into understanding alignments, orientations, lunar and solar observations and predictions etc, with respect to Stonehenge and other sites.  I don't have a problem with Neolithic man lining up stones with horizon positions for summer solstice sunrises or midwinter sunsets, or even for lunar positions -- or even for the Pole Star in the heavens.  And I quite like the idea of Stonehenge and other monuments being astronomical observatories, calendars or maybe even calculators related to seasonal rhythms -- so long as these ideas are not stretched ad absurdam.  But I do have major problems with this strange thing called "sacred geometry" -- as preached by Gerald Hawkins, Alexander Thom, John Michell and Robin Heath, among others.  Richard Atkinson was VERY sceptical about all this sort of stuff, as was Aubrey Burl, and this scepticism is shared by many modern archaeologists like Clive Ruggles who have studied STONEHENGE.

Let's quote Matt Parker and refer to my previous post about Woolworths stores.  " any sufficiently large set of random data it is possible to find meaningless patterns of any required accuracy.”

In any set of points plotted on a map (such as a map of Neolithic or megalithic sites in the UK) you can simply skip over the vast majority of the sites that happen to be inconvenient, and home in on the few that happen to coincide with the lines or corners of whatever triangle or other shape that you choose to demonstrate as "meaningful."  The more data or plotted points you have, the greater is your ability to pull meaningless patterns from them.

Matt Parker had the locations of 800 Woolworth stores to work with.  He was still able to find close "fits" with his chosen lines, distances, and geometric shapes, just as Robin Heath and others have done with their maps.  The more random or precisely positioned points you have on the map, the greater the chance of finding "meaningful" patterns.  If you just plot standing stones, or Neolithic henges, on a map, some geometric patterns will be found; but if you then add long barrows, round barrows, causeways, etc, your data set is greatly enlarged, and more and more "patterns" can be "discovered." If you want to increase your prospects of finding patterns even further, you can add in ALL prehistoric features, or "meaningful points in the landscape", such as Carn Meini, Glastonbury Tor, Lundy Island, Bardsey island, Caldey Island, or the tips of peninsulas or river mouths.  You end up with hundreds if not thousands of points in the landscape, enabling you to find patterns everywhere, with close matches for triangles of various shapes and sizes, circles, straight lines, and curves.

You can play little games, just as they do in Playgroups and primary schools with very small children, by creating predetermined shapes (such as triangles of circles) and moving them around on your map with thousands of random points in it, and finding "fits."  If the points of your triangle do not EXACTLY coincide with the "meaningful places" on your map, you can explain this away by using some pseudo-scientific phrase relating to degrees of confidence, or by saying "the fit is accurate to within 0.5%" or "the fit is almost perfect" -- or even by saying that the map itself is inaccurate, or that coastal erosion since the Neolithic has moved your crucial point from A to B.  This is quite wonderful!  You can do almost anything, and find "meaning" and "ancient wisdom" or "sacred geometry" in almost anything, as Matt Parker has pointed out.

This is not science.  It is pseudo-science, pure and simple. Put another way, it is a little game that one might play with one's grandchildren.  What is amazing is that some people actually write books about this sort of stuff, and that people buy them and read them, and are apparently swept away into a state of wonderment.  What does it tell us about the human condition?  Well, it tells us, I suppose, that the yearning for a rediscovery of "ancient wisdom" is still as strong as ever, that people have a strong sense of spatial awareness, and want to find patterns or "sacred geometry" in landscapes, or order where there is chaos.  It also tells us that people are remarkably poorly educated and that they are just as gullible as our ancestors were in the Middle Ages.

Thinking of which, I have been dipping into Robin Heath's book called "Bluestone Magic" -- I am amazed, and I will shortly post a review.

In the meantime, and returning to the "Lunation Triangle" illustrated above, I discovered this in the field of "Geomantics":

Robin Heath -- "The Marriage of the Sun and Moon"


"The large Lunation Triangle, shown incorporated into a huge cardinally aligned 5:12 rectangle, includes the location of the bluestone site, and the exact north-south and east-west lines complete a right angled triangle via Lundy and Caldey Island. In Old Welsh, Lundy is called Ynys Elen, the 'island of the elbow, or right-angle'. I suggest that this may be the reason why Stonehenge is located where it is - as the only man-made construction in this geomantic message about calendar wisdom? (Figure 5.2, Sun, Moon & Stonehenge, page 76)"

Now what is all that about?  What on earth is this "Lunation Triangle" with sides 5:12:13?  We can remind ourselves that exactly this same triangle can be located in an almost infinite number of positions, with Stonehenge at one of its points.  It can be flipped and swivelled all over the map of Southern Britain, and fitted to an almost infinite number of other points on the map. Some of those points will be north, west, south or east of Stonehenge.  Amazing!

Robin is actually suggesting that Stonehenge was built where it is because it was the only point which exactly fitted this triangle, in exactly the position where he chooses to place it.  So he assumes that the builders knew what they were doing, or did something unconsciously, driven by some irresistible urge or geomantic guidance.  From whom or what?  All very strange.  Let's look at the triangle. I tried the same exercise, and the "Lundy point" is not on the island at all, but in the sea to the north-west.  And what about Carn Meini?  You can play silly games in the eastern Preseli, and put your point wherever you want it.  We know that the stones did not all come from Carn Meini anyway, but from at least 30 different places, including Pont Saeson.  If there was sacred guidance here, how come the source of all this esoteric guidance and wisdom got the geology all wrong? 

To quote Geoff:  "But how did they (the builders of Stonehenge) do it, if they actually did?  When was it possible to know you were on a Lat. as specific as 51 53 00?  The problem here is that the ability to have that kind of exactitude seems to postdate some apparent model activity - if there ever actually was any such model.  Things, names and people turn up at precise model points before the precision to do it existed.  And that's a puzzle.  It's almost worth conjecturing a pre-OS survey/mapping here, perhaps?  OS only really gets going after 1800 AD, but our model will find accurate activity from the 1750s and earlier - but then, as the investigation developed, I found some things that looked old were actually fairly recent in situ - and the more recent the placement, of course, the easier the explaining any accuracy - were such, of course, intentional."

Elsewhere in his writings, Geoff (in spite of being predisposed to accept much of this "sacred geometry" system of belief) finds things that don't quite fit -- with points not quite where they are supposed to be, angles just slightly awry from those cited with certainty, and other associations which sound very learned until you explore them in detail and find that they are just plain wrong...........

So what's going on here with all this geomantic / sacred geometry literature?  It is certainly packed with pseudo-science and mumbo-jumbo.  Are those who write it all down and flog it to a gullible readership just deluded themselves, or are they charlatans?  I couldn't possibly comment......

Saturday 14 May 2011

Another bluestone boost for the tourist industry

The Great Stones Way

Another example of how the tourist industry just LOVES the traditional bluestone myth, and indeed pushes out press releases flagging it up all the time.  The author of this piece is fairly well informed, and he has clearly done some research, while keeping his mind as closed as possible to anything inconvenient.  He has tuned in on the latest nonsense about the stones from Preseli having been brought to the Cardigan Bay coast and then right round the Pembrokeshire Peninsula and right round Land's End, before being brought ashore at Christchurch.  I wonder why he has homed in on this version?  No doubt he has been reading the press release put out by the group promoting the new trail called the Great Stones Way.  And yes, the more spectacular the better -- thus enhancing the value of the myth and the status of the British Neolithic tribes.  Not so much has changed since the 1920's, when archaeologists were intent upon proving that OUR Neolithic ancestors were a good deal cleverer than their rather stupid cousins on the continent......

Magic circles: walking from Avebury to Stonehenge

A new walking path links Britain's two greatest prehistoric sites, Avebury and Stonehenge, and is as epic as the Inca Trail

"The trail curves below to cross and then follow the Avon, a river that loomed large in the affairs of Neolithic man. It was along the Avon that the bluestones of the Preseli hills in Wales are thought to have been transported by boat to Stonehenge, after being moved an almost unimaginable distance around both the Pembrokeshire and Cornish peninsulas to the river mouth at Christchurch".

More evidence for lost civilization in Cardigan Bay?

 No sooner had I posted up than nice picture of the Parrog, Newport, than I came across this other "photo" taken a short distance away, just outside the mouth of the estuary.  Bearing in mind that there might have been a bit of Photoshopping involved, and bearing in mind that this was probably originally published on April 1st 2006, here it is, to brighten up our day.  As ever, there is a grain of truth in this splendid tale -- sea-level in Cardigan Bay WAS much lower 11,000 years ago than it is today, and people did indeed live and die on the extensive lowlands now covered by the sea.  Maybe we can refer to this lost land as Cantre'r Gwaelod, and maybe as Atlantis.......

This is from the Atlantis Atchives, 2006:

Atlantis washes up at Newport Parrog
By Alistair Langston on August 4, 2006

Residents of Newport received something of a surprise this afternoon, as the lost city of Atlantis washed up at the Parrog.

The city, believed by many to exist only in fables, was taken by the ocean over 11,000 years ago.

Local potter Emrys Daniels was the first to spot the long-dead settlement at quarter past one this afternoon, whilst walking his dog Baxter.

“Baxter started barking,” explained Emrys; “So I assumed he had spotted a squirrel or a rabbit. The last thing I was expecting to see was an ancient socialist utopia!”

The earliest historical references to Atlantis are to be found in the works of the classical Greek philosopher, Plato.

“To be honest, most people thought that Atlantis was a literary construct,” said local historian, Maureen Tweed; “Myself included. But the proof of its existence is right there, as plain as the nose on your face.”

“This incredible discovery now lends credence to the claim that much of the west of Europe and Africa was conquered by the Atlantians thousands upon thousands of years ago. It is very exciting.”

A full examination of the city will be conducted by subaquatic archaeologists over the course of the next few months. According to project co-ordinator and head frogman Edward Vessel : “It is occurrences like this that really make our job worthwhile. I certainly wasn’t expecting to see something like this in my lifetime.

“It is like something out of a film. Like an Indiana Jones movie. Only underwater. Like ‘The Abyss’. Or ’20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’. Or something like that. I don’t really know. I don’t watch movies, to be honest.”


*Atlantis Archives believe that this one may have been due to be published around 1st April and for one reason or another got a little delayed. However, it should be noted that this is not the first time, and we expect it won’t be the last, that the country of Wales makes a claim to being the lost island of Atlantis.

Friday 13 May 2011

30,000 hits

Checked my Blogger records, and found that we have just gone past 30,000 hits on the site, excluding the hits from my own computer.  That's rather pleasing -- it means that there are some readers / users out there in the big wide world who make quite regular visits and apparently get something from the site.  So thank you all for your contributions -- much appreciated.  And keep them coming!


Bevins and Pearce on Chinese TV

An interesting piece on Chinese TV about the new geological discoveries re the zircons and the stones from Pont Saeson.  A pity about the guff at the end, about the stones being moved to the "harbours" of Cardigan Bay....... I wonder where the Chinese film crew got all that from?  Maybe all academics from Wales are following instructions from Visit Wales to promote the beauties (and the Neolithic connections) of Newport, New Quay and Cardigan?  Maybe there is something in their job descriptions that prevents them from saying anything that might upset the archaeology establishment?

Blogger problems

There have been problems at the Blogger end, which means that a number of posts and comments from the last few days have been temporarily removed.  It now appears that they are being posted back gradually, and all should soon be in their proper places again............

Not just my site.  Seems like a global problem!  Patience please...

Thursday 12 May 2011

Carry big stones a long way? Non merci, mon frere.......

This looks like a wonderful new book by Chris Scarre -- just published by OUP, at some outrageous price.  The cheapest I can find it is £65 -- so I'll give it a miss for now, while giving it some free promotion......

On trawling through the pages available on Amazon, I was struck by this:

Click on the above to make them larger.  What he is saying (and he is not alone in this) is that the stones in the Carnac alignments are very closely related to the local geology -- and in particular to the spacing of fissures in the local granite bedrock.  In turn, this influences the size and dimensions of the stones that litter (or used to, in the past) the ground surface and which are then used by the groups responsible for the alignments.  His little diagram, and the plot of stone heights, are fascinating and convincing.

The message seems to be this:  that the builders of Carnac, over quite a long period of time, used stones more or less where they found them.  Indeed, it could be argued that Carnac is where it is not because of some astronomical freak or even any great ritual or ceremonial obsession -- but simply because the stones were relatively easy to gather up and easy to erect.  Minimisation of effort, energy conservation, opportunism, rock scavenging -- call it what you will........ but the nice simple utilitarian message rather appeals to me.

And Gavrinis too

Another of the great cairns or burial mounds in Brittany is at Gavrinis -- on an island not far from Carnac.  It's also very impressive, with a megalithic slab structure in the passages and the main chamber.

Again, the date is Neolithic, but it seems that the builders here (a few centuries later than those who built Barnenez, Ile Carn and Guennoc) did not use corbelling techniques -- and they may therefore have been a bit less sophisticated as builders.  But the structure is still a sort of stepped pyramid.

The Miracle of Barnenez

Never had an opportunity to visit this one in Brittany.  But it has to be one of the Wonders of the World.  Look at the sheer scale of it -- in many ways it is more impressive than Silbury Hill, Stonehenge, Avebury and Carnac.  The engineering skills involved are mightily impressive, and show that between 7,000 and 6,000 years ago the Neolithic people in this area knew how to use corbelled vaulting techniques to make their chambered tombs.  Later they were called "beehive cells or tombs" -- and in Greece the word "thalos" is also used.  Nine of the eleven chambers have corbelled vaulting in them -- and in two the corbelling technique was used from the ground up.  I think that's cleverer than putting up big stones and placing lintels on top of them........

And these guys had also worked out how to make something that is essentially a stepped pyramid...... more than 6,000 years ago.  

From the Wikipedia entry:

The Cairn of Barnenez  is a Neolithic monument located near Plouezoc'h, on the Kernéléhen peninsula in northern Finistère, Brittany (France). It dates to the early Neolithic, about 4500 BC; it is considered one of the earliest megalithic monuments in Europe. It is also remarkable for the presence of megalithic art.

Radiocarbon dates indicate that the first phase of the monument was erected between 4850 and 4250 BC, and the second phase between 4450 and 4000 BC.

Secondary use
Pottery found in and around the monument indicates that it underwent a period of reuse in the Bronze Age, in the 3rd millennium BC.

Recognition as an ancient monument
The cairn was first mapped in 1807, in the context of the Napoleonic cadaster. Its first scientific recognition took place in the context of an academic congress in Morlaix in 1850, when it was classified as a tumulus.

Quarry damage
Privately owned until the 1950s, the cairn was used as a quarry for paving stones. This activity, which threatened to destroy the monument, was only halted after the discovery of several of its chambers in the 1950s. The local community then took control of the site.

Restoration and excavation
The cairn was restored between 1954 and 1968. At the same time, vegetation was removed from the mound and systematic excavation took place in and around the monument.

The monument

Today, the Barnenez cairn is a 72 m long, up to 25 m wide and over 8 m high. It is built of 13,000 to 14,000 tons of stone. It contains 11 chambers entered by separate passages. The mound has steep facades and a stepped profile. Several internal walls either represent earlier facades or served the stability of the structure. The cairn consists of relatively small blocks of stone, with only the chambers being truly megalithic in character. The monument overlooks the Bay of Morlaix, probably a fertile coastal plain at the time of its erection.

The monument is the result of at least two phases of building.

Cairn 1, before 4,500 BC
In a first phase, a slightly trapezoidal mound of 32 m by 9 to 13 m was erected. It contained 5 chambers and was surrounded by a double kerb. The first phase favoured the use of dolerite.

Cairn 2, circa 4,200 - 3,900 BC (?)
In a second phase, an extension with six further chambers was added in the west. At the same time, Cairn 1 was enveloped in a wider and taller structure; its passages had to be extended. More granite was used in this phase.

The chambers
The 11 chambers of the Barnenez cairn are of the type known as Dolmen à couloir in French archaeological terminology. The term translates roughly as "passage grave". They are built of large slabs of slate and granite. Originally, all the chambers were entirely enclosed by the mound. The fact that several of them are partially exposed now is the result of modern quarrying.

Each of the 11 chambers is reached from the southeast via a long narrow passage (7–12 m long). They are arranged parallel to each other. Shapes and construction techniques differ slightly.

In nine cases, narrow passages lead to corbelled chambers. Normally, the corbel vault rests on orthostats, in one chamber it actually sits on the ground, forming a true tholos. The passages have slab-built or dry stone walls and are covered with slabs. One of the chambers has a dry-stone vaulted ante-chamber.

One cubic meter of the Barnenez cairn contains 1,500 kg of stone. It is estimated that the quarrying, fashioning, transport and construction of such an amount represents about four work days for a single worker (assuming a 10-hour day). The original monument, Cairn 1, had a volume of about 2,000 cubic metres; it is built of 1,000 tons of granite and 3,000 tons of dolerite. It would thus have required 15,000 to 20,000 working days; in other words, it would have taken 200 workers three months to erect Cairn 1 alone. In its final form, the Barnenez mound is nearly three times as big as the first phase.

Engraved symbols occur in several of the chambers and passages. They depict bows, axes, wave symbols or snakes and a repeated U-shaped sign. One of the carved slabs is in secondary use was originally part of a different structure, an interesting parallel to the situation in several other such monuments, including Gavrinis. The symbols on the engraved blocks resemble those found in other megalithic monuments in Brittany; in broader terms they belong to the cultural phenomenon described as megalithic art. One of the recurring symbols is sometimes interpreted as an anthropomorphic depiction (the so-called "Dolmen Goddess").

There's an interesting article here:;col1
Antiquity / Dec, 1993

New radiocarbon dates from Bougon and the chronology of French passage-graves

by Chris Scarre, Roy Switsur, Jean-Pierre Mohen 

The authors argue that these Neolithic structures may be among the earliest major structures in the world -- and they are certainly more than 2,000 years older than the earliest Egyptian pyramid.