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Thursday, 22 December 2011

Is the Glacial Theory now frozen out?



In the recent "exclusive" report of the Pont Saeson (Rhosyfelin) work, the Times reporter Norman Hammond quoted Rob Ixer as follows:

“The glacial theory is frozen out by this new evidence,” Dr Rob Ixer of Leicester University told The Times. If the stones had been transported east of the Bristol Channel by glacial action, a much wider range of sources would be expected. The pinpoint sourcing that has now been done argues strongly for human quarrying and transport of the bluestones.........."

That particular line has been used in headlines and as the underpinning of other media reports all over the world -- in the press, on TV and on radio, and in countless articles on the internet.   Rob has not denied the quote attributed to him, and it's clear that this position is shared by Richard Bevins, who continues to speculate about the "Newport Bay route" for bluestone transport, and by other commentators like Mike Pitts, Mike Parker Pearson and Geoff Wainwright.  On the telly the other night Mike Pitts more of less quoted the Times piece word for word -- and he has taken the same line on his own blog.

OK -- let's accept that the publication of an article like this will be trumpeted from the battlements by the authors and by their departmental media people.  That's accepted -- everybody wants to be loved and famous!  And of course the word "breakthrough" is over-used in such circumstances -- to demonstrate the value of a piece of work you have to "overturn" or "destroy" some pre-existing theory.  And the handy theory that is supposedly destroyed in this case is the glacial transport theory -- add some nice metaphors, and away you go!

But let's stand back and look at this in the cold light of day.  What has the new work actually done, with respect to the glacial transport theory?  If anything, it enhances the theory rather than damaging or destroying it.  My reasoning is as follows:

1.  As I have said before, this is not a piece of archaeological work.  It is a piece of straight geology -- an interesting and detailed exercise in provenancing.  It's not a breakthrough at all, in the sense that since Herbert Thomas made the initial identification that many (not all) of the Stonehenge bluestones came from the Carn Meini area, there has been a gradual homing in on the precise locations from which the stones were taken, either by ice or human agency.  The biggest leap forward was by the big Open University team project in the late 1980's, involving Olwen Williams-Thorpe, Rob Ixer and many others who used much more sophisticated techniques than were ever available to HHT around 1920.  Geologists have been getting closer and closer to matching individual stones to individual outcrops in the field -- such is the way with science.  There is a sort of continuum.   And now we have the claim that much of the rhyolite debitage (NB --  not the TOTAL debitage) at Stonehenge can be traced to Rhosyfelin.  No single stone has been provenanced with this accuracy -- we are just talking about lumps and chips found in the ground.  The fact that the work is now reported in an archaeological journal is neither here nor there -- the work tells us NOTHING about how the stones were moved.

2.  Some commentators on the new research (including senior academics) have suggested that the provenancing (or "pinpoint sourcing") of some fragments of Stonehenge bluestone to a POINT rather than a district somehow enhances the human transport theory and diminishes the glacial transport theory.  That of course is utter nonsense, for the reasons given above.

3.  While not diminishing or questioning the quality of the research  by Rob and Richard,  I have to say that I have read the paper carefully, and still have a few matters that cause me to feel uneasy.  Because the paper was published in an archaeology journal, was it refereed by archaeologists rather then geologists?  Perhaps the Editor will tell us -- because a paper like this should very clearly have been refereed by specialists in the same field as the authors.  There are some other things that need to be said too.  The "rhyolite debitage" referred to by the authors can only be the debitage that happens to have been examined (and collected) in assorted digs over the years -- the authors cannot know what lies beneath the surface in those parts of Stonehenge that have not been excavated.  So there could be a strong bias at the Stonehenge end of this research.  There could also be a strong bias at the Rhosyfelin end of the research.  The authors claim to have tied down the "source area" for the foliated rhyolites to within a few metres -- but you can only make a statement like that if you can demonstrate that there is no chance that identical rocks are found elsewhere in the district.  There are rhyolite outcrops in many different places in the Pont Saeson - Brynberian - Felin y Gigfran - Crosswell area.  Some of them appear to be roughly on the same alignment as the sampled Rhosyfelin outcrop.  Have ALL of those outcrops been sampled and eliminated as possible sources?  Perhaps Richard can tell us. 

4.  Then there is this point:  "If the stones had been transported east of the Bristol Channel by glacial action, a much wider range of sources would be expected."  Come along now, chaps, let's get real.  How many sources would you like?  We are up to 32, at the moment, I think, and still counting....... and a point which is not often made is that all of the foreign stones that we know about in the "Stonehenge total assemblage" appear to have come from the west.  That in itself is a persuasive argument for glacial transport.

5.  Finally, let's look at the location from which the "destroyed foliated rhyolite orthostat" is supposed to have come. (One or more?  It doesn't really matter.)  It is in a river gorge, on the flank of a rocky spur where a smaller channel runs down into a larger one.  A very difficult and constrained location.  Why would anybody want to quarry large orthostats from a place like this, either from a practical standpoint or from a ritual one?  You are just making enormous trouble for yourself -- since before you can do anything with your stones you have to get them up and away from this wretched river valley -- which would, by the way, also have been densely wooded during the Neolithic.  The large hole in the ground which MPP and his team kindly opened up showed one large stone and many smaller stones, in exactly the positions where we would expect them to have accumulated over many years of rockfalls and scree development.  But according to glacial theory this is one of many locations where, during the Ice Age, basal shearing could have occurred at the base of the Irish Sea Glacier as it flowed across the area.  If there was shearing, there could also have been entrainment.  I have gone over this many times before, so I'm not going to repeat it all again!

All in all, I cannot see any logical basis for the idea that the glacial transport theory has now been "frozen out" -- but I don't suppose that anything I say will halt or slow down the mad Quarry Hunt, since rational thought seems to be a thing of the past.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

Brian
I have no problem with anything that you say.
Sometimes the style borders on the Kostas-esque as I have said in print before but your arguments are valid.
I must repeat I have received not ONE penny in grant monies for the 20 years I have been identifying and provenencing SH lithics so have no financial master/institution (other than the precepts of The Lord Buddha)to consider and I do NOT care how the stones were moved to SH I can honestly say I have not spent a minute (nor do I intend to)agonising over the movement mechanism-it does not interest me at all any more than train spotting or tram-ticket collecting I just want to know from whence and in as much detail as possible they came and I want to be the first. Let others make of it what they will.
Now were I to write a book on SH I might..........
speedy

Anonymous said...

Brian,
Great post! Your analysis exposes the many logical and factual flaws with the latest 'proof' of 'human transport'.

What is most critical for me is how the exact provenance of rhyolite fragments found at Stonehenge – which do not match any of the orthostats at Stonehenge – pin point the provenance and transport of these megalithic orthostats?

If Dr Ixer and others are serious about solving this mystery why don't they try to trace Stonehenge orthostats instead of meddling with Stonehenge chips?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Anon -- In defence of the geologists I think I'm right in saying that they would dearly love to do a proper study of the orthostats -- and that means a programme of sampling, above ground on the stones still standing, and below ground on the stumps. (Actually all of the sampling could be below ground, where there would be no "cosmetic" damage.) But I recall Olwen W-T telling me a long time ago that even the big OU project had a nightmare, trying to convince EH to give consent even for very limited and small-scale sampling. Perhaps EH prefers us all not to know the full truth about bluestone origins?

Anonymous said...

Brian

You need to accept that you have little to no evidence of your theory and most experts have studied and dismissed your analysis to such an extent that the BBC 'buffoned' you last month.

Frozen out? More like 'dead in the water'.

The 'Ice Man' Cometh

Anonymous said...

http://www.peteglastonbury.plus.com/CoreStonehenge.jpg

a lot of the sarsens have been core sampled and replaced with plugs.
Next time I'm there I'll check the Bluestones as well.
PeteG

BRIAN JOHN said...

Anon -- I'm not sure I need to worry too much about being buffooned by people like Graham Norton and Dan Snow. Who are these "experts" and what do they know about glaciation? Names please.

And if you think that any other theory has any more evidence to support it, I'd be pleased to hear about it.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Pete -- some of the bluestones were certainly cored. Olwen W-T refers to a small sampling programme by the OU team. But I suspect most are untouched......

Anonymous said...

The sampled bluestone number is simple just count those bluestones sampled by Williams Thorpe-et al in 1991 and add two more sampled in Ixer and Bevins 2011a plus the Altar Stone described by Ixer and Turner 2006? and you will have the answer; so much better than trying to see on the ground-the 1991 OU samples were taken below the soil line I think so as not to be visible.
Ixer and Bevins 2011 describes in enormous detail the four remaining rhyolite and dacite orthostats so far we have no match on the ground. All of the sampled spotted dolerites are described by Ixer from 1996 onwards.
Anon read the literature and live in the real world.
Were it possible to hire a couple of navvies and dig holes above the stumps think it would not have been done.
English Heritage will go into purple fits just reading that sentance.
Meddling speedy

Anonymous said...

That's very interesting that some bluestones have been cored - is this what Brian has discovered from PeteG's web-link?

English Heritage should be less of the Guardian of our heritage and more of the Official Scientist on behalf of a fascinated U.K. & worldwide population. Stonehenge's landscape shouldn't be frozen in time in perpetuity, like a fossil. Like the Turin Shroud, Stonehenge World Heritage Site should - and that means the entirety of the landscape, stones, debitage and all - be subject to scientific scrutiny, for the greater understanding of its totality.

Darvill & Wainwright were let loose in 2008 - within the 'Inner Sanctum' of the Circle. Soil, debitage, charcoal, pottery etc, were removed to 21st Century laboratories. It's essentially no different to take flakes of bluestone to examine crystalline structure, thereby discovering its geological provenance.

Tony H

BRIAN JOHN said...

It would be great to get all 43 known bluestones sampled -- beneath ground level -- and analysed to the same standards and with the same techniques. That would give the "reference collection" for all future work in the field -- trying to pinpoint provenances to the same accuracy as for the foliated rhyolite.

And my really serious wish list for 2012? A proper sampling of the exposed surfaces of all the bluestones (and the sarsens)-- with the samples to be subjected to cosmogenic dating. Two or three different methods to be employed. The work to be designed and conducted by people who really know what they are doing -- unlike the rather shambolic and over-hyped bit of cosmogenic dating done a few years ago, which told us nothing about anything.

Anonymous said...

Brian,

We are now certain (thanks to Rob Ixer) these rhyolite fragments trace to the Rhosyfelin outcrop. But we have no known rhyolite megaliths at Stonehenge. The picture is therefore incomplete.

Without rhyolite megaliths at Stonehenge, hard to explain the rhyolite fragments at Stonehenge.

The key question is “how did the rhyolite fragments get to Stonehenge?” The answer? Silence .....

Anonymous said...

Brian you write,

“Perhaps EH prefers us all not to know the full truth about bluestone origins? “

The thought crossed my mind! Hard to explain their position. Could they be keeping state secrets?

BRIAN JOHN said...

What's your problem, Anon? Any suggestions?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Well, there are some things that have been kept under wraps -- such as the famous bluestone fragments from Silbury Hill which Atkinson is accused of covering up.......

But before we sign up too solidly to conspiracy theory on this, let's be sure that somebody HAS asked for a comprehensive sampling programme, and that EH HAS turned them down. Do we actually have evidence of non-cooperation on their part?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Sorry folks -- confusing with all these Anons -- hope it's obvious which Anons my replies relate to!

Anonymous said...

My problem, Brian?

What about the foliated rhyolite fragments from Wales found at SH that do not match any known stones at SH? What humanly purpose brought these to SH by humans?

And why did Prof Atkinson cover up the presence of bluestone fragments at Silbury Hill? These also do not fit the human transport theology.

Of course, as you argue, all this contravercy can go away if EH allowed a proper geological classification and provenancing of stones at SH. Why don't they?

Anonymous said...

Meddling Speedy,

What puzzles me is your acquiescence in letting archeologists use your scientific work for their purpose of perpetuating a false narrative – the human transport of the bluestones.

In the interest of scientific truth, why don't you insist on doing a thorough research of classification and provenance of the stones at SH next time you're asked to provenance select stones by archeologists? Let's settle this question once and for all. I agree with Brian on this.

For all the talk in the media about pin pointing the source of the rhyolite fragments at Stonehenge, no one has raised the more telling question. What are these fragments doing at Stonehenge and how they got there? Any thoughts on that? Oh I forgot. It's not your expertise!

In what 'real world' you would have me live? The one that believes in the human transport of the bluestones?

Amon

BRIAN JOHN said...

Anon -- re your problem -- yes, I agree with you that there is no logical reason why a rather flaky rock like the Craigyfelin foliated rhyolite should have been carted from Pembrokeshire to Stonehenge by human beings. But I think the human transport thesis falls because there are just so many rock types (32 or more) represented at Stonehenge, including some that were clearly lousy for building megalithic structures with.....

Why did Atkinson keep quiet about bluestone fragments on Silbury Hill? We will probably never know, but I agree that he probably took the view that spotted dolerite fragments scattered about here and there on Salisbury Plain would seriously damage his thesis about the heroic bluestone expeditions.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I can see where Amon is coming from here -- the geologists' protestations about sublime indifference (re transport mechanisms) are all very well, but are undermined by certain statements made in the articles and to the media, either on or off the record.

Also the fact that you are "in bed" with the archaeologists makes indifference or impartiality very difficult. That's why I was commenting on "geology in the service of archaeology" rather than seeing "geology in the service of science."

I agree with Rob that it's not easy to be impartial when you are being bombarded with questions from the media. But no point in complaining about that -- remember that all this media attention is of your own making, Richard and Rob, and is all arising from press releases issued with your approval.

Anonymous said...

who are all these anonymous people - are you making it all up Brian?
Catweazle

BRIAN JOHN said...

Honest, Guvnor -- I haven't got a clue who any of them are -- got too much to do as it is, without inventing anonymous personalities. So I have to assume that all of them actually exist. And a very happy Christmas to them all.....

Anonymous said...

Brian I have no book to flog, I have no grant to try for I just have myself to please and the Constantine XI Palaeologos Research Fund-they control me.
So I do what is correct and if that upset your views this week it will upset the archies next, that is the nature of evolving truth.
For me it is just a game with fixed rules -tell the truth and read and respect the bloody primary literature and ignore amateurs.
Most of the stupid comments on this blog are because the 'knowledge' is fifth-hand written often by untalented amateurs who make trivial effort to understand what is going on and have forgotten about the printed word.
There are no hidden Silbury Hill bluestones I have almost all of them sitting in my hand. Brian you know that as I sent you the photo of the four.
The myth of the thousands of hidden bluestones is partly of your making because I sent you a scrabled email- you have known that for years.

JUST READ THE BLOODY LITERATURE OR SEARCH FOR ELVIS ON THE MOON.


No I do not care about being misreported by people I do not know or will ever meet it is their Karma.

If you did not like Ixer and Bevins 2011b you certainly are not going to enjoy Bevins et al Jan 2012.in JAS.
There are not 32 different bluestone lthologies or anything like it.

Speedy

BRIAN JOHN said...

Read my words more carefully, Rob. I have never claimed that there are lots of unreported bluestone fragments on Silbury Hill -- all I was doing was reporting on the Atkinson find of many years ago and the speculation that has ensued subsequently.

You and I have different views of what constitutes a "bluestone". So be it. I look forward to seeing Bevins et al 2012 -- everything that comes into print is of course welcome.

You do yourself a disservice by referring to "untalented amateurs" in that way -- I happen to think that there are some very intelligent and well-informed amateurs out there, who make real contributions to the debate on this blog and many others. Are your students in Leicester all "untalented amateurs"?

You seem to think that we should only trust the opinions and the findings of professionals --- Hmmm. I wish I shared your faith in those who claim to be experts -- some of them know what they are talking about, some of the time, but it is the karma of all experts to stray beyond the boundaries of what they really know about, onto adjacent territory where they are quite likely to sink into the mire.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Speedy Anon,
Where can we read this literature first hand?
Catweazle

BRIAN JOHN said...

Rob -- I just had a terrifying thought -- are you controlled by Kostas?

You said: ".........Constantine XI Palaeologos Research Fund-they control me."

The Stonehenge Enigma said...

Oh speedy - shame on you!

Academic snobbery taken to its ultimate conclusion that every one else is a 'untalented amateur'.

Your logic suggests that 'professionals' are always correct and beyond questioning - this kind of dated ideology has placed the 'sciences' of Geology and Archaeology trailing far behind other progressive sciences like Physics, Chemistry and Biology.

Michael Faraday - Thomas Edison -Gregor Mendel - Robert Evans are all so called 'untalented amateurs' but other disciplines are sensible enough respect their ideas.

RJL

Anonymous said...

Meddling Speedy,

You toot too much your expertise. No one is challenging your special knowledge. But knowledge alone does not equate with wisdom. Experts do not possess extra measure of common sense. To the contrary. Too often their expertise numbs their senses to the glaring truths.

It does not take Certificates of Higher Thinking to ask the question, “how did the foliated rhyolite fragments get to Stonehenge and for what humanly purpose?” You look up to the archeologists for their latest narrative installment. I look inward to my senses. And if the explanations given do not make sense to me, my intellectual conscious moves me to say so and say why. What your intellectual conscious tell you?

Merry Christmas!

Amon

Anonymous said...

oh dear, "untalented amateur" sounds like one of my old school reports....
Think speedy needs a lie down - maybe counting bluestone chips all day is too much for him!!!
Catweazle

NON-ANONYMOUS T.H. said...

I'm on Speedy's side insofar as at least he is talking to us on this blog, however much he has been (for publication and research purposes) in the camp of the archaeologists. He may yet prove to have been a malign mole in their camp, and Truth have the victory in the long run.

Speedy is the guy who has enabled everyone to see the Primary Literature, in the form of his own published research findings. His heart is definitely in the right (or is that write?) place. Gawd bless yer, Mr Ixer: remember, Ixer fixed it for me, and you and you. Happy Christmas, Rob, if it's not too late to say so!

Tony H

Geo Cur said...

Gotta say ,in my area ,rock art , the professionals world ide have always accepted that the expert amateur are the one who find the vast majority "new" panels ,are more competent in provenacing borderline cases and have a better general understanding .

Anonymous said...

Tony H
Speedy leaks out little snippets - Where is the primary literature?
I can't find it - makes it seem like an exclusive club.
And bear in mind that just because the man is a "talented professional" it does not mean his interpretation of findings is correct - most college boys aren't capable of thinking outside the box.
Catweazle

BRIAN JOHN said...

Catweazle -- if the authors won't do it, I'll try to put up a post quite soon which summarises the main points from the article. Or send me a private message and I'll send you a PDF.

Tony H said...

Catweazle - Speedy, in coordination with Brian, and/or sometimes with myself with my lifetime interest in prehistoric archaeology (oh dear! we're all College boys, and what's worse ,all past retirement age, Alzheimer's anyone?) HAS in the past notified us of the Primary Literature's details, which have appeared in the past here, during our discussions.

For example, details of the recent(..ish) findings by Bevins & Rob Ixer on bluestone matters to be found in the Wiltshire Archaeology Magazine (WAM), from the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society (website easily found - keywords Wiltshire Heritage org).

BRIAN JOHN said...

Correct, Tony -- I suspect that there have been more details of the recent geology on this site than on any other, thanks to Rob's willingness to share info. But of course any "information about the details" will be partial -- either flagging up the key findings and importance of a published paper, or flagging up its defects. Such is the nature of academic debate.

Tony H said...

'Speedy'. for those of you who are either new to this site or who haven't realised it, only adopted the name 'Speedy' after the tragic death of Welsh footballing hero Gary Speed during November. I suggest you all reflect upon this fact.

BRIAN JOHN said...

But with respect to the Wilts Archaeology mag, I not sure I agree that it's very helpful. Where is this info? I just typed in "Ixer" into their search box, and they claim to have no knowledge of poor Rob whatsoever....... is that what happens to their faithful authors?

Tony H said...

Oh dear, oh dear!.... I shall have to check this out. But my actual intention was to get your Punters, especially the newer ones to your Blogsite, to use the Wiltshire Heritage website for their greater benefit in a general sense: not purely to look up Rob's articles that have recently appeared in the Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine.

Anyway, you can all pop into the Devizes Heritage Museum, and, after marvelling at the Bronze Age & Neolithic Collections (AND the Mesolithic too, Robert!), GO AND VISIT ITS LIBRARY, sit down, and read the W.A.M. volumes. Then, go out into the wonderful Wiltshire countryside (Avebury 10 miles, Stonehenge less than 20).

Anonymous said...

http://www.gazetteandherald.co.uk/news/9432156.Heritage_Museum_faces_ruin/

but do it soon!
PeteG