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Thursday, 5 January 2012

Stonehenge -- a breeding ground for pseudoarchaeology?


I was rambling about, looking something else up, when I was taken to this page on Wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudoarchaeology 

It struck a chord with me -- especially in the light of my recent post called "Does Stonehenge make all men mad?" and many earlier posts on the scientific method. What struck me is that the article's authors have clearly considered that most pseudoarchaeology is outside of academia, with its disciples or practitioners considering that they are being victimised and marginalised by an archaeological establishment that is complacent and which blocks alternative or radical views. It seems to me that within the Stonehenge debate, at any rate, the pseudoarchaeology is INSIDE academia, with the radicals and the subversives who are arguing for scientific rectitude all being on the outside. How dangerous is that?
 

From the Wikipedia article:
Pseudoarchaeology: Lack of scientific method

Academic critics have pointed out that pseudoarchaeologists typically neglect to use the scientific method. Instead of testing the evidence to see what hypotheses it fits, pseudoarchaeologists "press-gang" the archaeological data to fit a "favored conclusion" that is often arrived at through hunches, intuition, or religious or nationalist dogma.[17][18]

Comment: the Rhosyfelin "quarry mania" is absolutely typical of this. See my previous posts on the Newport lecture evening and all the hype surrounding it -- with reference to a group of archaeologists who had decided what they were looking at well before they even turned up to look at the evidence on the ground. That's classic pseudoarchaeology, and when it starts within academia, we should not be surprised when the media makes matters worse.

Different pseudoarchaeological groups hold a variety of basic assumptions which are typically unscientific: the Nazi pseudoarchaeologists for instance took the cultural superiority of the ancient Aryan race as a basic assumption, whilst Judeo-Christian Fundamentalist pseudoarchaeologists conceive of the Earth as only being 10,000 years old and Hindu Fundamentalist pseudoarchaeologists believe that the Homo sapiens species is much older than the 100,000 years old it has been shown to be by archaeologists.[19] Despite this, many of pseudoarchaeology's proponents claim that they reached their conclusions using scientific techniques and methods, even when it is demonstratable that they have not.[20][21]

Comment: This is interesting too -- as a number of authors have noted, HH Thomas's original hypothesis about the human transport of the bluestones was motivated at least in part by the desire to show the world that "our British Neolithic ancestors were at least as smart as the German Neolithic ancestors, and were probably even smarter...." Nationalistic hogwash, of course, but understandable when seen in the context of the First World War. And that sort of nationalistic jingoism and pride may well explain why the archaeological establishment never properly examined the HHT theory when it was first propounded. In effect, there was lack of scrutiny.

Academic archaeologist John R. Cole believed that most pseudoarchaeologists do not understand how scientific investigation works, and that they instead believe it to be a "simple, catastrophic right versus wrong battle" between contesting theories.[22] It was because of this failure to understand the scientific method, he argued, that the entire pseudoarchaeological approach to their arguments was faulty. He went on to argue that most pseudoarchaeologists do not consider alternate explanations to that which they want to propagate, and that their "theories" were typically just "notions", not having sufficient supporting evidence to allow them to be considered "theories" in the scientific, academic meaning of the word.[23]

Comment: I can understand what Cole is getting at here. As I have argued on this blog many times before, archaeologists are nowadays very good at using archaeological techniques but they are not always good at understanding how science works. Some of them might be called technologists rather than scientists. They promote ideas that are essentially faulty, they do not test their hypotheses properly, and they concentrate on the propagation and promotion of their theories rather than on falsification and balanced debate.

 ----------------------

See also my previous post from 2010, which attracted no comments at the time!

http://brian-mountainman.blogspot.com/2010/09/pseudoarchaeology-at-stonehenge.html

43 comments:

Jon Morris said...

"He went on to argue that most pseudoarchaeologists do not consider alternate explanations to that which they want to propagate, and that their "theories" were typically just "notions", not having sufficient supporting evidence to allow them to be considered "theories" in the scientific, academic meaning of the word"

It's an interesting point: At what stage does a 'notion' become a 'theory'?

For example, it could have been argued that Einstein's special theory of relativity was just a notion; one which happened by chance to provide an explanation (with no counter-indications) for a world in which the aether had been shown not to exist (the michelson morkley experiments).

Being a patent clerk, perhaps Einstein was argued to be a pseudo physicist.

At the point when Eddington tested general relativity against ecliptic ray changes, did the notion become a theory or was it already a theory?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Agree -- good point, Jon. I would have thought a theory should arise from a considerable body of evidence and should be testable against other evidence -- and maybe reinforced or falsified. I suppose that certain theories then go on to become accepted as physical laws.

Notions, I suppose, are intuitive leaps which are made mostly by geniuses? ie they have very little actual evidence to go on, but they have a gut feeling that this "notion" is going somewhere profound -- and so they put it out there for testing.

BRIAN JOHN said...

..... I suppose I should have said "geniuses or fools." And there is I suppose a very fine line between the one and the other. The problem is that if a notion dreamed up by a fool is then tested within a community of fools, we have a problem.

Jon Morris said...

..... I suppose I should have said "geniuses or fools."

Agreed, there's a very fine line. Interesting for me because I've stumbled across an unusual set of circumstances which appear to produce a precise duplicate of "Stonehenge": It seems that some independent predictions of the notion are now being discovered (I understand from the grapevine that another corresponding new discovery is due out soon regarding the South West sarsens; again a prediction of the notion).

But, particularly regarding Stonehenge, at what point do you announce that a notion has become a theory?

And who would it interest?

BRIAN JOHN said...

I suppose it's a matter of perception whether something is a notion or a theory -- maybe it's the peer group, rather than the proposer, who decides?

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Jon Morris you write,

“I've stumbled across an unusual set of circumstances which appear to produce a precise duplicate of "Stonehenge": It seems that some independent predictions of the notion are now being discovered (I understand from the grapevine that another corresponding new discovery is due out soon regarding the South West sarsens; again a prediction of the notion).”


In a blog devoted to Stonehenge and how the stones got there, you just can't make statements like this without elaborating! This is very interesting and intriguing! Please tells us more!

Kostas

Jon Morris said...

"maybe it's the peer group, rather than the proposer, who decides?"

That seems to be the nub of it. It seems to me that the peer group surrounding Stonehenge is very expert, moreso than physicists in their fields of expertise for example, on what constitutes a reasonable Stonehenge theory. (in engineering and physics, experts at the patent office decide on what makes an advancement more often than not)

If a notion is presented with reasonably full evidence, and the peer group do not claim it as a theory, then it remains a notion, not a theory.

Does that sound a fair summary?

Jon Morris said...

"This is very interesting and intriguing! Please tells us more!"

Apologies, I only just noticed your post. I think you can find a reasonable summary of it by clicking on my blog link. I'm not sure that it's suitable material to be discussed in detail on Brian's site.

Though this'll sound odd, rather than discussing my notion, I'm very interested in people's experiences of who is responsible for determining when a 'notion' becomes a 'theory'.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Jon -- how expert is the Stonehenge peer group? Members of the group would probably claim to be very expert, and capable of determining which ideas are sound and which ones are fanciful. The problem is that they are themselves divided -- cf my posts on the TD/WW tribe and the MPP tribe, slugging it out and competing with what seem to be ever wackier ideas about what Stonehenge was for. Personally, I wouldn't trust any of them to decide whether a notion or a theory is sound or not.

Anonymous said...

A 'theory' is a 'formulated notion'.

These (notion, theory) having intrinsic meaning of their own. We do not need 'certificates of use' to use them.

Kostas

Jon Morris said...

"The problem is that they are themselves divided --!

Perhaps; I have been, for example, to a neolithic studies group meeting to see for myself: They appear to be divided on only minor issues. From society's perspective, it appears to me that the peer group is sufficiently expert to effectively determine if a 'notion' is just a 'notion'.

There's an unusual instance in intellectual property law where this become of great importance. From a legal perspective, a lack of interest in a notion by a peer group of experts, providing the notion is sufficiently publicised, determines it to be a 'notion' at any specific point in time. (the real wording is much more dreary)

I think the peer group surrounding the Stonehenge monument is sufficiently expert: If they lack interest, an idea is effectively determined to be a notion rather than theory.

Any reason to disagree?

Chris Johnson said...

Hey Jon, I was curious enough to look up your theory and it is a fascinating piece of work - your youtube videos are wonderful too.

I suppose your theory re stonehenge (it is definitely further along than a notion) should become accepted when you can answer some of the common sense objections raised on the various blog sites. Until then it remains a fascinating series of coincidences, perhaps not that surprising for people with a shared interest in following the sun.

In my work I do a lot with scientific research institutes. There is an abundance of notions, theories are needed to get funding, and practical descriptions of use are needed to get patents - generally speaking. In your case it looks like you might be in trouble when it comes to proving originality - maybe the SH people got there first, but there are definitely a lot of fringe folk jumping in to say "how obvious" or "I got there before you'. I hope your patents are strongly formulated around the real application and cannot be circumvented easily. It looks like your best bet is to get your product to market with a strong partner - this is the best way to monetize any patent.

You never know if a patent, or a copyright, stands up until you go to court. Then weird things can happen - it has been argued that subconscious knowledge can be used to establish a prior right. In the case of Stonehenge obsessives this could become a minefield; I can see the validity of "dreamtime" being discussed in the Supreme Court, assuming you are successful enough!

Jon Morris said...

Hi Chris

I'd be very interested to know which common sense objections you've picked up as being unanswered? We worked through a lot of the Stonehenge coincidences on the Megalithic Forum (and in private correspondence elsewhere): I don't think there are any objections left.

I don't see the idea, that my invention was used at Stonehenge, as a full theory because I'm not aware of any qualified experts who support it as a potential theory. There has been a huge amount of effort put into making qualified experts aware of the concept together with the extent of the supporting evidence (and lack of any counter-indication) at Stonehenge.

I understand what you're saying about patents, but I'm exceptionally relaxed about how the bases are covered. What you see in the way of patentable ideas isn't all there is to it.

This provides a seriously interesting ethical dilemma. Let's say, for the sake or argument, that my invention was first done at Stonehenge: If so, I should release more information so that the archaeological profession, and society in general, can find out what else there is in our past (there is at least one other major set of coincidences, not related to the use of tin, within other monuments). On the other hand, if it wasn't done at Stonehenge, this type of information release would be pointless and could be highly counter-productive.

So I've structured the information release in such a way that the peer group of experts surrounding Stonehenge make the above ethical decision on my behalf.

Thanks for the comments, seriously appreciated!


Jon

chris johnson said...

In the growth of a theory it has to pass the test of "rational plausibility", preferably backed up by hard evidence.

I like the glaciation theory because it does pass the "rational plausibility" test. It explains how it COULD have happened with plenty of indirect evidence of how similar things happened elsewhere. It just does not (yet) explain when.

Brian focusses a lot on the most recent glaciation, but there have been many others - the Anglian for instance. It could be that one of these ancient episodes did pick up a massive piece of Rhos-y-felin rock and dropped it right on target at Stonehenge. Hundreds of thousands, even millions of years later, it was a thing of wonder to the folk of "henge world". They proceeded to quarry it in situ to make as many bluestone monoliths as they could - thus explaining the large amount of chippings and it explains why they came up a few too short. Perhaps the first people to carve off their piece were the folks from Boles Barrow. You see, with this theory a lot of puzzles are getting explained in a rational and plausible way. All we need to do now is prove which glaciation was responsible.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I have speculated a bit on "super-erratics" on this blog already. Not beyond the bounds of possibility......

The reason why I have concentrated on the Devensian is that is the glaciation for which we have most evidence. If we can worked out what happened in the Devensian, then we have a reasonable model for what might have happened in the other glaciations as well....

chris johnson said...

Jon,
I forgot to respond to your question about your notion/theory. The main thing I do not like about it is that the more you dig deeper the more problematic it gets. The glacier theory is elegant, like the Higgs Boson, because when you can prove it many other things fall into place easily like finishing a jigsaw.

Your theory implies that Stonehenge is incredibly over-engineered. I don't know what they did with the power (potentially) generated - wood was apparently abundant for cooking and cremation and there are no scorch marks on the altar stone... A roof seems unlikely, and it becomes a real stretch to explain the bluestones and several other things. As a light show it seems too much like a party trick, and a trick that would not work well in the prevalent cloudy conditions. It would have been a relatively simply idea to copy in the pre-patent era and there are no copies. I have only minor credentials as an engineer, being a member of IEEE, but this does not look like something an engineer would have made, at least not in this way. You are an engineer so I am sure you know what I mean. It does not fit my idea for "rational plausibility" - although it probably would work.

Nevertheless I think you have a brilliant idea that contributes to our understanding of Stonehenge and its solar alignment. Your gut feel is different, and who knows, maybe you will prove me wrong. I DO think you have an interesting notion but the application to Stonehenge is not there yet. Still, my opinion is worth nothing. I think you got some good feedback on the megalithic forum and we should take the discussion further in that context. This blog is about glaciation.

Jon Morris said...

Some great comments Chris. I think it's fair to say that whatever Stonehenge was built for, it was over-engineered?

I'll transfer your other comments (with the relevant responses) over to the blog over the next few months: I've been looking at this type of system for so long that I sometimes forget that the reasons would not be obvious.

Why would you want a roof and why would the altar stone be scorched? (please feel free to comment on my blog)

Cheers

Jon

Anonymous said...

Brian,

I am very curious to know your views on Jon's 'heaven henge' device and its connection with Stonehenge!

Kostas

Jon Morris said...

It's difficult for anyone to comment, but given that the science has been witnessed as working (by journalists) and published as such, the only people with an appropriate skill set to evaluate the coincidences of the science against Stonehenge would be the Stonehenge peer group (primarily archaeologists)?

Anonymous said...

Jon,

Correct me if I am wrong. But does your device demonstrate anything more than making manifest the 'solar plane' at a locality?

Kostas

Jon Morris said...

The device has a few other potential functions Kostas (I'll list them on the site if it's of interest), but the job that it does really well is to demonstrate the movement of the Sun relative to a 'fixed world' belief system.

My guess would be that this would make it a concept suited to an overwhelming interest in Apollo?

Chris johnson said...

Jon, great response. I think the implicit confirmation of a "fixed world" view is important to understanding the decline and fall of their culture. Your work gives more insight.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I'll take another look shortly -- I have been concentrating just on "facilitating the debate" thus far. I have a new novel to get out, and the screws are on....

Anonymous said...

Jon,

Thanks for your response. May I thus assume the answer to my question is “qualified yes”. Your device makes manifest the 'solar plane' and some other potential functions. With Brian's permission, I think it would be useful to have a discussion on this.

You write,
“ demonstrate the movement of the Sun relative to a 'fixed world' belief system”

But isn't such geocentric world already evident in seeing daily the sun rise in the east and traversing the sky setting in the west?

In my view, what your device does effectively is to show the 'solar plane' which ordinarily is not evident in our experience.

But your reference to Apollo loses me! Apollo was a Greek god associated among other things with the moon.

Chris: I don't quite see how a 'fixed world' belief system by primitive people could lead to their decline and fall! I would argue the opposite is true. Unless you mean holding on to a fixed world while unable to adapt to an emerging world. In which case, I agree!

In a larger sense, every fixed and absolute belief system (as for example Stonehenge and human agency) IS a 'fixed world' belief system! Decline and corruption (of data) sets in when the 'other' cannot be accounted within the established view and conversation.

Kostas

Jon Morris said...

Hi Kostas

"But isn't such geocentric world already evident in seeing daily the sun rise in the east and traversing the sky setting in the west?"

At some point, someone must have realised this? Before that point, it is unlikely to have been self evident: To a casual observer at ground level, our world has the appearance of being flat.

A casual observer could not, for instance, make the connection between gravity and celestial movement to propose a solar system with the Sun at its centre. It's obvious to us, but only because we already know.

It was (still?) the subject of a great deal of discussion in 500BC. This page gives an overview of the state of recorded science at about that time:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geocentric_model

The general belief seems to be that a geocentric world was not obvious prior to the concept's invention (Greek records state that Hyperion discovered that the Universe was Geoentric). If my system was used at Stonehenge, this implies that, perhaps, Britain was the place where this discovery was first made?

Apollo: Agreed, that needs a bit of explanation and is a bit of a red herring without elaboration.

Chris Johnson said...

Kostas,
I'll keep this short because I suspect next time Brian makes a new post this discussion will drop off my radar. At least, I have a notion why this will happen, but 5000 years ago when stars and even constellations dropped off the radar it must have been disturbing.

Without knowing about precession, a 26000 year cycle, they could not have known that if they waited long enough the stars would return.

I think the old astronomer priests at Stonehenge/Avebury started by trying to map the big picture and ended up focussing on the solar cycle. Presumably they applied an early version of "Occam's Razor" when the observable data did not fit the theory after several centuries of watching.

Anonymous said...

Jon,

If you could confirm a curiosity re: your device.

Are you demonstrating that the 'solar plane' at the center of Stonehenge aligns with The Avenue? Is this the primary connection your 'heaven henge' makes with Stonehenge?

Kostas

Jon Morris said...

Hi Kostas

"Are you demonstrating that the 'solar plane' at the center of Stonehenge aligns with The Avenue? Is this the primary connection your 'heaven henge' makes with Stonehenge?"

If you are standing on a real fixed world, the heavens revolve around you. A picture of that Universe as seen side-on from the west is identical to Stonehenge's general layout and the markers that surround it: The pillars where the heavens rotate is along the line of the Avenue. If you want the location of the North Pole line to be very accurate, its line also happens to coincide with the Heelstone. Everything else at Stonehenge appears to represent something: For instance, the Station stones are in the correct location to represent the solar planes.

So one possible primary coincidence is that the entire layout of Stonehenge appears to represent an accurate and detailed description of a worldview where our planet is at the centre.

To demonstrate that the heavens rotate and show solar planes, a system can be installed using fixed pieces of polished tin or other reflector. This system can be oriented almost any way you want, but happens to work rather well if it is oriented towards the same direction as the Avenue. The mechanism of this system also has to point to the North Star and has to have it's base point in a locating line. This location happens to coincide with Stone 54. The best location line is formed of 3 holes. By coincidence there are three holes, each in the ideal location, within Stone 54. By coincidence, every one of each and all of the other detailed features of the monument happen to be fairly perfect for setting up such an arrangement (apart from the South West outer sarsen ring, which would be unnecessary and does not currently exist)

So another possible primary coincidence is that the monument of Stonehenge happens to precisely coincide with an ideal substructure of a system which demonstrates and helps to show that the world is at the centre of the Universe.

Is that any help>?

Jon

Anonymous said...

Jon,

Too much here for me to completely digest at one time. But more directly to the one point I ask in my previous commend: Does the solar plane at the summer solstice (as a line traced on a level ground) at the center of Stonehenge aligns with The Avenue?

Kostas

Jon Morris said...

Hi Kostas

This explains it:

http://heavenshenge.blogspot.com/2011/12/of-hyperion-we-are-told.html

Does that help?

Jon

Anonymous said...

Jon,

The question was: “Does the solar plane at the center of Stonehenge during the summer solstice (as a line traced on a level ground) aligns with The Avenue?”

It is a simple question directed to the inventor of the 'heaven henge' device. For the record, could you answer it? A simple “yes” or “no” will suffice.

Kostas

Jon Morris said...

Please feel free to look at the links I've given if the subject is of interest.

Anonymous said...

Jon,

Since you refuse to answer my question, I'll answer it for you. You, of course, have the opportunity to correct me if this is not your position!

“The solar plane at the center of Stonehenge during the summer solstice (as a line traced on a level ground) aligns with The Avenue.”


Kostas

chris johnson said...

This is what I read too... so I guess the answer is "Yes". Jon?

Jon Morris said...

I don't understand the question Chris.

A solar plane is the flat surface within which the ecliptic resides. It is not possible for a plane to align with a vector because a plane is not a distinct point. Perhaps the question is about the ecliptic at a specific time of day?

The solar plane is only at or near the centre of Stonehenge (or any other object on the Earth's surface) for an instant at equinox. At solstice, by definition, the solar plane is about 40 million miles away.

What did you read the question to mean?

Jon

Anonymous said...

(Brian the post below answers questions Jon has on my previous post. Please don't block!)

Jon,

By 'solar plane' I mean the idealized 'orbital plane' of the Earth around the Sun. By the 'solar plane at a locality' I mean the parallel displacement of this 'solar plane' at the 'point of location'. Such 'solar plane' will intersect the 'geographic plane' at the point of location in a straight line.

My question is whether this line at the center of Stonehenge will align with The Avenue.

Perhaps now you can answer my question?

Kostas

Jon Morris said...

Sorry Kostas, I still have no clue why this is relevant: In a geocentric system, the sun is seen to orbit the earth, not vice versa.

However, your earlier post, and especially Chris's comment, did inspire me to write the second in the series of experiments for schools that I've been meaning to do:

To draw the Universe

I think I can get about 7 easy to do scientific experiments for schools, each with an interesting ending, out of Stonehenge.

What do you think? (I was worried that this one is a bit too dry)

Jon

Anonymous said...

Jon,

It's a factual question. It can be answered regardless if you feel the question is relevant or not! So why not for the record answer “yes” or “no”? There! I made it into a True/False question!

Kostas

Jon Morris said...

So why not for the record answer “yes” or “no”?

That's a much easier question to answer now that you have defined what you think you mean: Some initial thoughts on reasons for not answering it are that the question appears to be badly phrased, meaningless and irrelevant to the work I'm doing.

My "drawing the Universe" is far too dry on reflection. I think I should try to make it much easier for children to understand and relate to. Perhaps make the initial introduction into very simple concepts (look, see and then draw type ideas) and then chuck all the technical stuff at the bottom as notes for teachers?

Jon

Jon Morris said...

I've updated it to make it far less dry (the old version was far too technical to interest teachers)

http://heavenshenge.blogspot.com/2012/01/to-draw-universe.html

I'd be interested if any teachers are reading this and think that this sort of experiment might be a bit of fun for their school to try (it does work)

jon

Jon Morris said...

Here's a couple more showing further Sonehenge experiments and coincidences:

Part 3: The Number of the Sun

Part 4: Before the Sun

Jon

Jon Morris said...

Also put up a test google earth 3-D model to show the base configuration:

Test Google Earth CAD model of Stonehenge

Jon

Jon Morris said...

And to close it up, here's the hypothesis:

Stonehenge: New Geocentric Hypothesis