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Saturday, 5 November 2011

Beware -- quarry hunter on the prowl!

When you hire in a dowser to find water, both you and he are disappointed if he fails to find you a source.  When you hire in an ornithologist to find you an osprey nest, both you and he are disappointed if all he finds are a few twigs.  When you hire in a quarry hunter......

Here endeth the lesson for today.  Well, not quite.

As scientists, we all base our interpretations on what we know, and what we have seen in other -- maybe parallel - situations.  And we only see what we are trained to see.  There is nothing dishonest about that -- it is a matter of observation, perception and interpretation.  I am perfectly aware of the fact that when an archaeologist walks across a landscape he sees, but does not actually notice the things that I consider important.  And vice versa.

In a number of posts in September (search for "Craig Rhosyfelin" in the search box) I expressed wonderment that Mike Parker Pearson, Josh Pollard and Colin Richards had zoomed in on Craig Rhosyfelin, having widely advertised the fact that it was a Neolithic Quarry before any of them had set foot anywhere near it.  Dodgy science?  OK -- let that pass for now.  But I was also very intrigued when what appeared to me and many others to be a perfectly natural assortment of angular and frost-shattered stones beneath a natural outcrop of rather flaky rhyolite was interpreted in terms of quarried monoliths, wedges, masonry trestles, techniques for wooden sledge insertion, stone manoevres etc etc etc.  Fanciful in the extreme, as I said at the time.

Well, all is revealed.  This morning I was browsing on the web, as one does, when I came across this:

The 2002 excavations centred on two monoliths of similar shape and size to stones forming the two stone circles that lay in a hollow on the hillside. Overall, it seemed that the two large monoliths had been quarried upslope and dragged down to the level ground within the hollow.
The eastern monolith had then been pulled over a rock-cut pit onto two masonry trestle supports located at each end of the stone.
Unfortunately, during the manoeuvre the masonry trestles had collapsed and the stone slipped sideways effectively flattening both trestles. What does the pit and trestle supports represent in terms of the process of removing large monoliths from Vestra Fiold?
In the past many authors have addressed the question of the practicalities involved in dragging the large monoliths used for megalithic construction. All agree that the most likely method of transport would have been for the stone to be supported by a wooden sled that would run over wooden rollers.
As to manoeuvring the sled beneath the stone, Garfitt suggests that this task would have involved "mounting the stone on the sledge, by means of levers probably aided by partial cutting away of the earth below…" (1979, 190).
Given that the position of the monoliths at Vestra Fold are on a slope it would have been relatively easy to push the stone directly onto wooden rollers. Mounting the monolith onto a wooden sled without damage would be more difficult.
Here Garfitt's (ibid.) suggestion of the need to cut some form of pit or depression so that the sled can be placed beneath the stone in the correct position has direct relevance to the features encountered at Vestra Fiold.
Although evidence was obtained of how megalithic stones were raised ready for transportation, at Vestra a calamity had struck and although undamaged, the stone had simply been left where it fell and abandoned.

Rethinking the great stone circles of Northwest Britain
Colin Richards (2004)

More here:
The Ring o' Brodgar, Stenness
Building the stone circles

Colin used virtually the same words in the 15 September lecture in Newport Memorial Hall, with respect to the Craig Rhosyfelin "Quarry". Same ideas about a big stone being moved to a convenient place, same ideas about masonry trestles, same ideas about space being made for the insertion of a sledge, and even the same ideas about a big stone being "prepared" for transport to some distant location.  Even the same ideas about some extraordinary calamity (of which we can see no trace) intervening to prevent the stone from actually being carried away.

How very convenient........


And here is another picture of the Vestrafiold recumbent monolith -- kindly provided by Anon.....  nice flat stone resting in the ground.  Still doesn't look much like a quarry to me....


Anonymous said...

It would have been nice to see more pics of the general area of the second image.There didn't seem to be any at the website.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Haven't seen many myself -- but there is an aerial photo on my post about the Vestrafiold "Quarry"..... doesn't look like a quarry to me!

Anonymous said...

I find it difficult to understand how these stones may have been placed onto rollers to be transported, the rollers would have to be in a hole?

Looks like the 2 stones formed a sort of bridge, maybe to get other stones into a better position to be placed on rollers!

BRIAN JOHN said...

You'd better ask Colin Richards and Josh Pollard -- I suspect that they want the big stones to be levered up at one end and then the other, with more "support stones" put under each end, until the monolith is high enough off the ground to get the rollers pushed through underneath. Then the "stone trestles" get knocked away? Just speculating........

Anonymous said...

Not sure how to post images but he is a link to what appears to be the stone before the excavation .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Anon -- I'll add that as a postscript to the original post...