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Saturday, 24 September 2011

The Quarryman's tale



I forgot to give an account of Josh Pollard's interpretaton of the Craig Rhosyfelin dig -- he was one of the three presenters at the Newport lecture session on 15 September.

Josh was in no doubt whatsoever that the site of the dig was indeed a Neolithic quarrying site.  (I think he even suggested that quarrying might have been going on here since the Mesolithic.....)  He suggested that the big stone -- assumed to be a "proto-orthostat" or a big stone intended to be placed upright in the ground -- was levered from the quarrying face above and fell onto the ground, where it was then prepared to be taken away on a sledge.  He suggested that its resting angle on the ground was "unnatural" and that it had been levered round to a position where it could be taken away more easily.  I'm not sure whether he thought this big stone had been shaped or modified in any way, but he certainly suggested that the excavation pit was full of man-made debris -- sharp-edged fragments and also rounded hammerstones brought from elsewhere -- he suggested that some of them were so round in shape that they probably came from the beach at Newport.

We were shown a couple of photos of the "hammerstones" -- and he claimed that one at least was a "waisted hammerstone".  One of them was certainly very well rounded, but the others didn't look very convincing to me -- and we didn't see pictures of any of them in situ.  As I said in a previous post, I wouldn't mind betting that there are fluvioglacial gravels -- incorporating well rounded stones -- under the jumbled rockfall debris exposed at the bottom of the excavation pit.  So how many "hammerstones" were collected, and where were they in the stratigraphy?  That's an interesting question, since if they were found lower down in the sequence than the big stone, or higher up, then logic dictates that they can't have anything to do with the claimed "quarrying" of the stone...........

Josh also said that the big stone was "propped up" on two big supporting stones that had been inserted beneath it to take its weight and make it ready for placing on a sledge.  I searched for these stones, and have to admit that I didn't see anything that looked as if it was in an "unnatural" position.

So why, according to the MPP / JP / CR story, was the stone left there instead of being carted away?  I got a bit lost at this point, although Colin Richards came in on this too -- there was something about the site being magical or sacred, but not necessarily the stones.  So the act of quarrying was the sacred duty, investing the quarrymen with great power -- but the stone itself, once taken from the rock face, was then deemed to be less sacred.  There was something, too, about stones starting off as coming from the abode of the ancestors, then becoming female, and then becoming male. (Or was it the other way round?)   The stones were intended for use in sacred stone circles -- but the circles were the sacred features, and not the stones of which they were composed.  I think there was a hint that the stones were intended for the Waun Mawn "circle"  -- but no evidence was provided to support that contention.  So why was this stone -- if it was deemed so splendidly magical -- left here instead of being taken away to wherever it was supposed to be used?  Still no answer to that........... in spite of lots of fine words about duty, honour, ancestors and symbolism.

I suggest we take this whole story with a pinch of salt, for the following reasons:

1.  There appears to be nowhere on the rock face above the big stone from which it might have been levered. (One might expect some less weathered rock surface, if not a "gap" in the face, if there had been quarrying here.)

2.  There don't appear to be enough hammerstones -- at the right level in the stratigraphy -- to demonstrate that quarrying went on here.

3.  Any rounded stones found in the excavated debris are more likely to have come from neighbouring fluvio-glacial or morainic deposits than from human intervention.

4.  There don't appear to be any arrow heads, axe heads, antler picks or organic materials, or even pottery fragments, which might give an independent "fix" on what went on here, and when.

5.  The sharp rock fragments which are supposed to be fragments "split off the rock by the quarrymen" look to me like perfectly normal bits and pieces of frost-shattered debris and rockfall scree.

6.  The rocky debris exposed in the bottom of the pit seems to me to be perfectly natural, as you would expect beneath a series of rocky crags.  There doesn't seem to be any trace of a hard-packed "working floor" such as you might expect if many men were working here over a long period of time.

4 comments:

Tony H said...

Brian, have I remembered this incorrectly, or did you mention in one of your reports about the Newport September 15th archaeologists' talk, that SOME soil/ organic samples were taken from ONE or more of their digs?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, I know samples were taken from Garn Turne, and the big dig at Rhosyfelin was all labelled up -- I imagine that they must be trying to date the horizons in the slope deposits accumulated above the big stone. If you look at some of my pics you can see the labels on the side of the pit.

Alex Gee said...

We excavated a couple of unaturally sic, flat lying boulders, in our cave dig. We'd always presumed that the cave was formed by natural processes and the boulders were blockfall from the roof.

Using Pollard's reasoning, we were obviously wrong, The cave was mined in solid rock by Neolithic quarry men.

The implications for Cave and Karst Science are breathtaking.

I have noticed other unaturally flat lying rock slabs on scree slopes in numerous locations.

Were these quarries too?

Alex Gee said...

Brian
I suppose that the stone is a Proto-orthostat, in that one day by random chance, someone may dig it up and decide to stand it upright.

Some may find my tone sarcastic and offensive, but this is meant to be serious scientific research.

Whilst Brian is much more polite, I share his view that such quackery should be held up to the ridicule it deserves.