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Saturday, 14 January 2012

That 99% -- the National Museum Press release

 This is the original National Museum of Wales press release which was picked up, chewed over,  regurgitated,  and generally abused by the media.  On the whole it is pretty straightforward, but it's now clear that the nonsense about 99% of the rhyolite debitage at Stonehenge coming from Craig Rhosyfelin can be traced straight back to the press release: 

 "Their recent discovery confirms that the Stonehenge rhyolite debitage originates from a specific 70m long area namely Craig Rhos-y-felin near Pont Saeson. Using petrographical techniques, Ixer and Bevins found that 99% of these rhyolites could be matched to rocks found in this particular set of outcrops."

The authors should have insisted that this form of wording was not used -- because ultimately they are the only people whose reputations suffer  from slapdash phraseology.  They should have referred to "99% of the rhyolite fragments collected from the debitage at specified excavation sites."  That, my dear Doctor Watson, is a very different thing.


News  19 December 2011

New geological discovery paves the way for further insight into the transport of Stonehenge rocks

A new paper in Archaeology in Wales, produced by Dr Rob Ixer of Leicester University and Dr Richard Bevins of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales confirms, for the first time, the exact origin of some the rhyolite debitage found at Stonehenge. This work could now lead to important conclusions about how stones were transported from Pembrokeshire to Stonehenge.
Over a period of nine months, Bevins and Ixer have been carefully collecting and identifying samples from rock outcrops in Pembrokeshire to try and locate the provenance of rocks that can be found at what is today, one of the world’s most iconic archaeological sites.
Their recent discovery confirms that the Stonehenge rhyolite debitage originates from a specific 70m long area namely Craig Rhos-y-felin near Pont Saeson. Using petrographical techniques, Ixer and Bevins found that 99% of these rhyolites could be matched to rocks found in this particular set of outcrops. Rhyolitic rocks at Rhos-y-felin are distinctly different from all others in South Wales, which gives almost all of Stonehenge rhyolites a provenance of just hundreds of square metres.   
Yet, the story progresses. Along the Rhos-y-felin crags, the rhyolites are distinctly different on a scale of metres or tens of metres. This has enabled Bevins and Ixer to match some Stonehenge debitage samples to an even more precise locality at the extreme northeastern end of the area.
What this means is that the area is now small enough for archaeologists to excavate to try and uncover evidence for associated human activity so providing another strand of the story of how the stones from Pembrokeshire reached Stonehenge.
Dr Richard Bevins of Amgueddfa Cymru said:
“Many have asked the question over the years, how the stones got from Pembrokeshire to Stonehenge. Was it human transport? Was it due to ice transport? Thanks to geological research, we now have a specific source for the rhyolite stones from which to work and an opportunity for archaeologists to answer the question that has been widely debated. It is important now that the research continues.”
In addition the level of work carried out at Rhos-y-felin confirms that the four remaining above surface rhyolite and dacite orthostats at Stonehenge do not come from Rhos-y-felin and work is in hand to determine if their source can be identified.
Dr Rob Ixer of Leicester University added:
“Being able to provenance any archaeologically significant rock so precisely is remarkable, to do it for Stonehenge was quite unexpected and exciting. However, given continued perseverance, we are determined that we shall uncover the origins of most, if not all of the Stonehenge bluestones so allowing archaeologists to continue their speculations well into a third century.”
Date: 19 December 2011


chris johnson said...

This is becoming a case study for a course in advanced media studies. The authors should have thought more about making a bridge between themselves and the public. I suspect the average Stonehenge punter thinks that all the stones are Bluestones and were carried from Wales, including the sarsens. People don't know about geology so one person's dolerite is another person's rhyolite - if you get my drift. Expecting people to understand that there are several types of rhyolite is definitely a bridge too far.

Same goes for the glacier theory. When one talks about a stream, people immediately associate with a stream of water and expect a neat trail of pebbles from A to B. Hardly anyone understands anything about glaciers. One can expect that they ought to know, or only engage with people who should know, but I fear one will be regularly misunderstood.

The reason the human transport brigade have so much traction is that they tell a story that is easily understood and, who knows, it could even be true.

It is perhaps unfair that scientists have to think ahead about a sensible communication strategy but this is the modern world. When people misunderstand the blame is 99% with the originator of the story.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Sound points, Chris. I agree that it is down to those of us who call ourselves scientists to generate respect for science and to communicate our results in an interesting and reliable fashion.

The main purpose of this blog is "educational" -- and I hope that those who visit the site regularly will by now know a bit more about glaciers and glacial processes than they did before....

chris johnson said...

Absolutely, I am learning that glaciers are rather amazing and beautiful.