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Monday, 20 August 2012

The Neolithic Quarry Obsession

Above: the site of the Pike of Stickle "greenstone" quarry, reputedly used for the extraction of chunks of stone which could be traded for the manufacture of Neolithic axes.  It's in Langdale in the Lake District.  The long trail of debris running down the slope from the gully to the right of the highest peak is reputed to be the debris trail created during the quarrying operations.  It looks as if it could be natural, but in this case I'll bow to the knowledge and conclusions of those who have investigated the site in detail.  I've never been there.

All that having been said, I do find it quite remarkable that if a cromlech or a recumbent stone setting has a large stone present on the site (normally termed a capstone) then it must have been quarried somewhere else, and transported to place where it is used.  It's almost as if the archaeologists NEED to believe that large stones were moved rather than used in situ.  Why is this?  Do they NEED to demonstrate to themselves and the rest of society that our Neolithic ancestors were sophisticated civil engineers, simply so that we can have a heightened sense of awe and wonderment -- and in turn have a heightened sense of respect for those who make a living from excavating prehistoric sites?

It's all very strange.  So we have the crazy hunt for quarries on and around Carn Meini in the Preseli area -- with an ongoing assumption by senior archaeologists that the "spotted dolerite quarry" which only they can see (the rest of us are probably not clever enough)  must have been a rather sacred site in itself.  Now we have the "quarry" at Rhosyfelin, another "quarry" at Carn Goedog, and now one at Garn Turne as well -- mentioned by MPP in his latest book.

It is a source of constant irritation that these places are simply called quarries without any evidence being presented of quarrying activity of any sort.  Indeed, these "quarries" are simply not needed anyway, for as many archaeologists (including Steve Burrow) have pointed out, burial chambers were almost always built simply where suitable stones were to be found in the landscape.  Pentre Ifan and Carreg Samson in Pembrokeshire are classic examples -- and many other sites have been mentioned on this blog over the past couple of years.  But that explanation is less than satisfactory for other archaeologists, since they apparently need to believe that burial sites were chosen in order to be auspicious in some way, and located to the nearest metre (or Neolithic yard) on the ground -- and this meant that stones then had to be moved to the site from wherever they could be found and no matter how difficult that might have been.  Those heroic civil engineers again -- and round and round goes the circular argument...........

Let's look at the Garn Turne recumbent stone, currently being excavated by Colin Richards and his colleagues.


Garn Turne rocky outcrops and "earthfast" cromlech with large (60 tonnes) recumbent capstone.  The hill summit is where the largest cluster of bushes is seen, N of the centre of the photo.  The capstone can be seen next to a single tree, SW of the centre of the photo.  The whole area is one of typical glacial / periglacial litter -- like many other ruined tors and rocky outcrops in north Pembrokeshire.


An oblique aerial photo showing the capstone, the tree and the surrounding litter of boulders and rock outcrops.


Another photo, at ground level, taken at a time of much higher vegetation.  In the background we can see the rocky outcrops at the top of the hill.  Did the capstone come from that outcrop?  It might have done, and the large stone could have moved downslope either as a result of glacial or periglacial processes.

I will be very interested indeed to see what evidence is adduced by Colin Richards in support of the idea that there was a "quarry" at the top of the hill at Garn Turne.  Is the big stone different geologically from the bedrock on which it rests?  If not, we might as well assume that it is a big rock more or less in situ.  If it is different, and matches the geology of the rocky outcrops at the hill summit, then it is most likely to have moved downslope by natural processes.

Back to a point I have made over and again on this blog.  So far as I can see, the builders of the Pembrokeshire cromlechs were pragmatic and utilitarian fellows, and opportunists to boot,  who knew all about costs and benefits, and who built their burial chambers at locations where large stones were conveniently at hand.  In exactly the same way, burial grounds today (and back into the Middle Ages) are preferentially located in areas of sandy and gravelly soil, for those are the locations in which it is easiest to dig large holes in the ground which are six feet deep.  This rule is so well established in Pembrokeshire that when I was doing the fieldwork for my doctorate thesis, looking for fluvio-glacial sands and gravels, my first fieldwork locations were always the parish graveyards and even the nonconformist chapel burial grounds............

On the other point -- covered in one of our recent discussions -- about Neolithic quarries being sacred sites.  Tosh.  First, show me the evidence of quarrying activities.  Second, show me that the site was revered in some way.  Once you've done all of that, I might be prepared to think again.



58 comments:

Tony H said...

Very well argued, by a man with over 50 years experience in the Pembrokeshire and Preseli glaciated landscapes.

This whole issue calls for a mature, sensible debate, chaired by someone like Sir David Attenborough. We have,after all, a U.K. population which is better educated, percentage-wise, than any preceding generation. THEY deserve a decent standard of debate.

Tony H said...

It will, indeed, be VERY interesting to hear precisely WHAT evidence Colin Richards has to back the notion that there was a quarry at the top of the hill at Garn Turne, AFTER his dig/investigations thereabouts currently taking place.

Of course, this could all turn out to be a red herring or a wild goose chase, based more on hope and faith than upon hard evidence. After all, Colin is only now conducting his excavations etc. Perhaps his optimism has been fuelled by the preceding Darvill/ Wainwright SPACES [Strumble & Preseli] project?

Incidentally, MPP is now referring to the overall project, taking in Stonehenge,'quarries',Sarsens and bluestones, as The Stones Of Stonehenge Project.

Tony H said...

I believe Mark Edmonds (University of York?) in the main man with respect to that Pike Of Stickle "greenstone" quarry, at Langdale in The Lake District, and in particular what hard evidence there is of man's prehistoric activities there.

Probably Geo & Myris know more about him than the rest of us. Care to shed any light, gents?

He co-authored a book on the Peak District I have. Believe he featured on one of those BBC long-haired Neil from "Coast" archaeology progs, and they spoke in situ at said Langdale "quarry".

chris johnson said...

Many years ago I liked to walk in the Pennines in the early part of the year. Some of the outcrops marked down for the neolithic were too scary to approach even when I was super fit. I was left with the abiding impression that neolithic people sometimes cared deeply about the rocks they would quarry.

I don't see anything similar in Pembrokeshire. Almost everything in Pembrokeshire is accessible for an ageing hill walker, at least until someone provenances something to a sea cliff.

The word quarry is misleading in Pembrokeshire. There are rocks all over the place and crags where separating a new slab is not rocket science. I would think that there are "quarries" everywhere unless Dr Ixer proves otherwise.

It is also disingenuous to mix the early dolmens with stones for stonehenge and similar monuments. Several hundred years intervened. We cannot conclude that an opportunistic dolmen from 4th century BC tells us much about the capabilities of people in the 3rd century BC

geocur said...

Tony , there is no problem about the provenance of axes from Great Langdale (group V1 ) axes . The site(s) is not difficult to access , a hands in pockets walk up to 700m OD on a path .The scree in the pic is mostly natural and as not as arduous as say the great stone chute on Sgurr Alasdair , there is no suggestion that is solely the remnants of the quarry /factory /source (what do you suggest as the most appropriate term ?) of the axes which have been well provenanced .Their distribution is throughout Britain with an emphasis in East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire ,often found in areas where the local material is of equal quality .
Mark Edmonds & Richard Bradley :Interpreting the Axe Trade . Is recommended if interested .
Mark's Phd was on the exchange and production of axes and he is now a prof .Yep I remember the scene from the Oliver prog all “ precipitous , scary and a view to die for “ romance .

geocur said...

I can't think of any archaeologist who has suggested that any capstone for a portal tomb has had to have been transported more than 200 metres . If you question the likelihood or possibility of humans transporting a 60 ton capstones 100 metres by invoking nature , explaining the erection of a 160 ton capstone onto orthostats should be interesting . The sites where the capstones may have been lifted directly from the ground are two of the most interesting archaeologically , simply because of that possibility or the fact that the builders may have made it appear so , and not for the effort /logistics involved in the lifting of the capstone creating a monument that was built for ??.The finds from in and around Pentre Ifan were charcoal , a few flint flakes some pottery and a bit of carinated bowl hardly opportunism to mark the site of these finds with all that effort . We don't even know the function of the big to medium engineering project monuments like stone circles , chambered cairns , portal tombs , cursus , henges etc , there is no obvious reason for building them in the first place . In some cases there are burial associations but that hardly explains the unnecessary huge scale , out of all proportion to the task of burying or commemorating some of the dead , opportunism or principle of least effort and pragmatism are typically human attributes but hardly appropriate in relation to these monuments which are clearly making a visual statement with conspicuous construction one important component of the
build .

These sites are not comparable with medieval burial grounds where all the dead of the parish were disposed of six feet under with no cremations and one elderly grave digger was all that was needed for manpower . We do not know how the vast majority of the prehistoric cadavers were treated , the numbers from monuments are only a small fraction of the population .Not all prehistoric “tombs “ have burial deposits and some only token amounts .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- " I was left with the abiding impression that neolithic people sometimes cared deeply about the rocks they would quarry." Sorry, but that sounds a bit too much like fantasy to me -- who marked those rock outcrops as "Neolithic", and on what basis?

I agree that the word "quarry" is a nuisance -- as others have pointed out too. Maybe we should all just use the word "source" -- please suggest that to the senior archaeologists of this world.....

And I don't agree that the dolmen / cromlech builders may have been less capable than the Bronze Age buikdsers of the later stages of Stonehenge. Remember that there was a bluestone boulder in Boles Barrow -- and the technologies and motivations of the builders of that structure would not have been that different from those of the builders of Pentre Ifan.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- re the analogy with graveyards being located in places where fluvioglacial sands and gravels are thick, it's a perfectly valid thing to be talking about. The point I'm making is that in choosing a location for a burial site, the character of the ground or the availability of suitable resources is the primary determinant. Then and now. The sites chosen were not auspicious or sacred beforehand -- reverence for the site comes later, once it has been established and developed, and invested with special qualities as a result of oft-performed rituals etc.

geocur said...

Brian , I agree that choosing the spot for burying the dead needs consideration of available depth of earth/sand and the site becomes sanctified through it's history of ritual .The implication was that portal tombs are similar . The difference is that christian burials consist of the internment of individual bodies into the earth . Portal tombs rarely have internments and when they do they are disarticulated and not buried at any great depth , the more common cremations are usually fragmentary and token deposits also at no great depth so the depth problem is not really a consideration and as lithics and pottery are just as common as bone and often there are no remains at all it is questionable to even refer to them as burial sites . In some cases there is evidence of deposits occurring over a period of centuries which might provide a history of ritual affording some sanctity like christian burial sites but there are some pointers suggesting that the choice of site was important before any history of deposition .They are nearly always aligned along a valley with their long axis parallel to a stream with the portals facing the source of a water course ,the view obscured to one side , usually below 150 m OD and rarely above 300m .

Tony H said...

Geo: Neil Oliver & Great Langdale.

This chap has written books on his Heroes and seems to have cornered the market in Sir Walter Scott-type romantic 21st Century whimsey; combining it with his carefully choreographed commentaries whilst scurrying away from the cameraman on precipitous ridges on Skye and the like. Reminds me of that Island Of Dreams the Monty Python boys found, inhabited entirely with Alan Whickers! Presumably there is a Training School for Neil Olivers and Alice Roberts' somewhere - possibly at the old Pinewood Studios?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- of course I'm not suggesting that depth of soil or ease of excavation was a factor in determining the locations of dolmens or burial mounds. Christian churchmen looked for ground that was easy to dig deep holes in -- I suggest that Neolithic tribal elders (were there such things?) looked for clusters of big stones close together and maybe even for abundant smaller stones which could be used as wedges and packing. Same principle -- different materials.

Anonymous said...

173Geocur you write,

We don't even know the function of the big to medium engineering project monuments like stone circles , chambered cairns , portal tombs , cursus , henges etc , there is no obvious reason for building them in the first place . In some cases there are burial associations but that hardly explains the unnecessary huge scale , out of all proportion to the task of burying or commemorating some of the dead


I fully agree with your assessment! And the answer is … more myth making?

Kostas

geocur said...

Brian , I would suggest that the reasons for choosing the location of megalithic monuments were more varied and complex than simply immediate local availability of materials . On a basic level we know that many large scale monuments like chambered cairns , long barrows and stone circles were located at sites that had seen earlier activity that did not involve any megaliths but were places where there had been depositions in pits , fires , possible cremations or middens . The availability of local megaliths would not have had any impact on the choice of these sites but they were reason for the later choice of the site . Stonehenge also fits into this scenario , the megalithic monument was sited on a much earlier monument , the enclosed cremation cemetery , whether there was any local available megaliths we do not know for sure but it would not have been the reason for siting the earlier earthwork . Another example is recumbent stone circles those that have been excavated to modern standards show that the ring cairns found in about half the monuments or sites of fires/pyres pre -date the erection of the megaliths .

geocur said...



Sorry Kostas , I don't understand .

Myris of Alexandria said...

One very well-known Archy prof told me (after a day with Neil Oliver)cannot tell you which site as it would reveal said prof
"......!! "if he could, he would eat himself!!"
I am unable to watch him, still marginally better than that chavvy Lorraine Chase look-alike that ran through the streets of London in high heels - she appeared once and is now lost.
Prof Mary Beard for me -a real mensch.
M

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Geo -- yes, all that makes sense. I quite see that in some cases a pre-megalithic site might have been established, and that there then might have been a motivation to move stones to the site when big stone things became fashionable! Then we get onto the problem of why the original earthworks / pits might have been established here rather than there. Ease of excavation and availability of nice thick soil?!!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Poor Neil -- he is a better communicator than he used to be, and I admit to watching his programmes out of a grotesque fascination with his mode of presentation -- prattling away whilst talking over his right shoulder to a camera which is one foot behind him and slightly to the right. Or left. How can he see where he is going while he is in this mode? Surely he will one day walk straight over the edge of one of those beetling cliffs which he is so fond of? (Or maybe he HAS walked over the edge of one of them, since he no longer appears to be on that Coast programme? Now we have that splendid fellow with an umbrella as presenter instead.....)

geocur said...

Brian ,the earlier sites vary from domestic midden , site of a fire , scoops /pits of charcoal to the less utilitarian and usually later , deposits of remains , timber circles etc .So it's likely that there were different reasons for choosing the original location .The imporatnt thing is that what we see today had a past in prehistory and the mound or megaliths are often the final act of closure by the erectors although that would not deter future generations also adding to the history .

geocur said...

Nick Crane , the other (Coast )presenter has written some enjoyable walking/cycling/travel books usually with at twist .I have to say his reliance on the brolly rather than goretex and his unwillingness to carry a tent seems to be a case of eccentricity for the sake of it and does get annoying .

Anonymous said...

Brian,
Your obsession that Neolithic monuments were sited primarily on the basis of utilitarian assessments is a classic case of projecting 21st century perceptions of the environment back over many thousands of years into prehistory.

Your comparison with medieval burial grounds is frankly ridiculous and demonstrates a complete lack of knowledge about the about stratified archaeology of the monument sites.

The choice to quarry stone from the very top of the Great Langdale deposits when an equally durable source material was more easily accessible lower down suggests that, unsurprisingly, the choices made in Neolithic relating to material procurement, monument siting and even settlement location were governed by many more factors than economics alone.

B

chris johnson said...

"Sorry, but that sounds a bit too much like fantasy to me -- who marked those rock outcrops as "Neolithic", and on what basis?"

You are right of course. I remember the trip vividly because it was the day after surviving Cross Fell in a snowstorm. We camped near Dufton before starting the climb back across the Northern Pennines to Middleton-in-Teesdale. There was a tale in our guide book about making dolerite axes and a mark on the map - I think at High Cup Nick. I had no reason to be suspicious, but you are right that it is not science and not everything marked on maps or printed in a guide is necessarily true.

Anonymous said...

Geo let me rephrase,

When incontrovertible evidence is lacking how we fill-in explanations for the evidence?

Kostas

Anonymous said...

Brian prefers "that splendid fellow with an umbrella" chiefly because he happens to be a Geographer, rather than N.O....another b****y archy-type!!!

I believe Neil Oliver has gone away, to the Kenneth Williams School for ActORs, as he has always wanted to play a fantasy hunched-backed version of Richard III. The Globe awaits. I hope it rains.

Kenny Branagh

Tony H said...

I find I must retract all the flippant remarks I've made about Mr Neil Oliver, as I have learnt that he has spoken up in favour of The Scottish Library Service:a noble institution, as are all public libraries.You're no a bad lad, Neill!

John H said...

Just to confuse the issue, there can be no doubt that in Brittany great stones (300 tons and more) were carefully erected at Locmariacquer, then cut into three pieces and reused for tomb building, one at some considerable distance (Gavrinis). If need be, they were prepared to perform Herculean feats to move stones about.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Anon (Mr B?) -- you say: "Your obsession that Neolithic monuments were sited primarily on the basis of utilitarian assessments is a classic case of projecting 21st century perceptions of the environment back over many thousands of years into prehistory." Ah, so you presumably belong to the "superior wisdom" school of thought - or one of them? If you think that our ancestors were brilliant mathematicians / sophisticated astronomers / highly developed religious or spiritual practitioners, you are clearly not alone. Just show me the evidence that megalithic sites were established on the basis of whatever priorities you want to assume on their behalf. I'm fed up with statements such as this: "Pentre Ifan was located where it is so that the profile of the capstone would mirror the silhouette of Carningli on the skyline...."" Romantic tosh. As for my "obsession" with utilitarian considerations, can I just remind you that I am not alone? This is exactly what Steve Burrow says in his book -- and I believe he is an archaeologist. I think I'm right in saying that many other archaeologists have said the same things.

I'm happy to accept Geo's point that in some cases there is evidence of pre-existing ritual or even earth moving operations on a site that later became a megalithic site -- but many sites seem to have been built from scratch by the stone erectors in places with no previous history.

Tony H said...

On the previously-argued theme of continuity of site useage, which GeoCur began and others have taken up, I'd just add two more examples.

At Carreg Samson fairly near Strumble, this early megalithic tomb (possibly pre-4000 B.C.) had Mesolithic flints beneath it when excavated.

And at MPP's new hillside dig near Marlborough, which happens to be fairly adjacent to a Bronze Age barrow, the diggers, myself included, have found quantities of Mesolithic microliths (and some cores) all over the excavated area.They are still trying to determine precisely what the later feature is.

geocur said...

Kostas ,appending your comment ,
“When incontrovertible evidence is lacking how we fill-in explanations for the evidence? “

To my quote;
“We don't even know the function of the big to medium engineering project monuments like stone circles , chambered cairns , portal tombs , cursus , henges etc , there is no obvious reason for building them in the first place . In some cases there are burial associations but that hardly explains the unnecessary huge scale , out of all proportion to the task of burying or commemorating some of the dead “

I still read it is a bit puzzling , neither you , I or anyone else have offered explanations and I have just said it is inexplicable behaviour .The point was that the behaviour shows that the people who built these monuments were not exhibiting the principle of least effort . To raise a fairly large capstone (in some cases over 150 tons ) resulting in visually stunning piece of sculpture /architecture to cover a few bits of pottery or cremated bones is not best described as opportunism . neither is building a mound 3m high and 100 metres long at a cost of an estimated 15,000 man hours simply to cover some bones in chambers occupying a small fraction of the area . Like all of our species throughout (pre)history we are opportunists but that characteristic is no more helpful for our understanding of these monuments or the people who built them than describing Beethoven as thirsty is to understanding sonata form .

geocur said...

It looks like B is getting the straw man treatment I have received in the past simply because of disagreeing .There was no mention in his post as in any of mine of "superior wisdom" school of thought ...brilliant mathematicians / sophisticated astronomers / highly developed religious or spiritual practitioners, …."Pentre Ifan was located where it is so that the profile of the capstone would mirror the silhouette of Carningli on the skyline.... “ etc .If you want some romantic tosh from Steve Burrow check out his Bryn Celli ddu solstice alignment . The sun shines in the passage at solstice but will also shine in the passage 28 days before and after the solstice meaning it is not aligned on the extreme northern reach of the sun . An even simpler point is that the horizon is blocked by the farm and and a copse so if passage was aligned with the rising sun you would not see it because of the blocking , as it is the sun rises moves south then shines in passage .Real solstice alignments like that at Newgrange means the sun shines in passage when it appears on the horizon not 25 minutes later as BCD , at the time of build of the monument it was even more misaligned . If anyone wants the figures do ask ?

Tony H said...

Myris

Re your (much earlier) Mary Beard mensch comment of admiration: Michael Wood is the real Daddy of The Story of England etc.Enthusiasm personified.

Anonymous said...

On the theme of continuity of place ultimately culminating in monument construction, the great henge at Durrington Walls is also known to overlay a late Neolithic village settlement too.

Anyway, Brian, once again you have most spectacularly missed the point by assuming my decision to urge you to consider a wider range of factors regarding choices in prehistory must automatically mean I'm obsessed with the super natural.

You demand evidence for the validity of any perspective which highlights the potential for a different prioritisation of such factors during prehistory when the only 'evidence' you have for your strictly functional criterion is our propensity for choosing the most economic option wherever possible today.

Even in this bizarre analogy, the reality is of course much more complex and in fact human choices about where to live, work and celebrate even today are governed by a multitude of social factors which have nothing to do with economics.

It's always going to be difficult, nigh impossible, to 'prove' such social factors were implicated in prehistoric choice because by their very nature they are based on memories, myth and contemporary relationships - though cases where the principle of least work is not adhered to at least allude to them... (your views on Langdale axe sourcing please?).

B

Anonymous said...

Geo you write,

“To raise a fairly large capstone (in some cases over 150 tons ) resulting in visually stunning piece of sculpture /architecture to cover a few bits of pottery or cremated bones is not best described as opportunism . neither is building a mound 3m high and 100 metres long at a cost of an estimated 15,000 man hours simply to cover some bones in chambers occupying a small fraction of the area .”


I agree! “...few bits of pottery or cremated bones... “ can't possibly explain these.

You write, “... it is a bit puzzling , neither you , I or anyone else have offered explanations and I have just said it is inexplicable behaviour .”

I agree again! I too find such human behavior as inexplicable!

But then you write, “The point was that the behaviour shows that the people who built these monuments were not exhibiting the principle of least effort .”

And here we disagree! What such evidence shows, in my humble opinion, is people did not built these monuments! To believe so is to admit to the inexplicable! And to more myth-making!

Kostas

Anonymous said...

Tony H you write,

“... the diggers, myself included, have found quantities of Mesolithic microliths (and some cores) all over the excavated area.”


Microliths sprawled widely in excavated areas seems to be cropping up all over these excavated areas. It should raise some enlightened query.

But not the quarries archeologists have been busy looking to find. In my thinking, such microliths may be natural deposits. As with rivers and lake bottoms, rather than chips from stonework.

Kostas

BRIAN JOHN said...

"Straw man treatment"directed at Mr B and Geo Cur? Heaven forbid! In my experience people who accuse me of being obsessed with something or other are normally obsessed with something different themselves. However, if I have been less than magnanimous with somebody who has a perfectly balanced view of the world, then I apologize...

Where were we? Of course I wouldn't deny that many megalithic monuments have been built on previously occupied sites (previously designated as sacred? maybe....) I think Geo reckoned that 50% might be on sites which were already established. Not sure where that figure came from. Plucked out of thin air? Probably impossible to come up with anything more accurate. We do not know how many of our known megalithic sites (with standing stones, dolmens, alignments etc) are in locations never previously used. We do not know how many megalithic sites have disappeared without trace -- especially in areas of intensive agriculture. We do not know how many Mesolithic sacred sites were abandoned and forgotten about when people started to get interested in moving and using big stones. it may be that those sites which were re-used were the exceptions rather than the rules. And so on.....

BRIAN JOHN said...

Mr B -- of course locational decisions are complex, and always have been. This is true of dwellings, civic buildings, religious buildings, and even follies. We can learn a lot by looking at the locations of churches and chapels in the British landscape. Many of the oldest chapels / parish churches were built on the sites of cells or hermitages used by the early Christian saints. Some of them -- I suspect for political rather than religious reasons -- were built on the sites of pagan sacred sites -- cf the circular churchyard debate. Those sites have a very long history. As the population built up, and maybe as the need for new sacred sites and burial sites became apparent, of course brand new sites had to be established. (see the example of the rise and rise of the nonconformist chapel in the landscape during the Religious Revivals). Many of the sites for nonconformist chapels were donated by benefactors. Random element there. Others were chosen by the chapel elders who needed to put up a new building. I know for a fact that very often they chose sites on mounds of fluvio-glacial sands and gravels -- which brings us back to the beginning of this discussion!

Chris Johnson said...

It is simply not true that modern man is governed solely by utilitarian concerns and cost-benefit calculations. We have seen in London recently the opening of the Shard and a multi-billion pound investment in the Olympic Games. Then there are huge investments motivated by curiosity - the hadron collider, big telescopes in space - built in the vague hope that we might learn something useful. The religious world, particularly Islamic, is still building magnificent buildings far beyond the needs of utility.

All evidence points to similarity between Neolithic people and ourselves when it comes to basic aspects of being human such as curiosity, aggrandisement, partying, interest in the stars, religion, and many other drivers of behaviour.

The idea that neolithic people would choose NOT do something because it had no guaranteed benefit or was a lot of effort is likely untrue. The evidence for such irrational behaviour is all around us.

geocur said...

Brian , I find that the straw man problem is easily solved by sticking to quotes and avoiding assumptions e.g. “ I suppose you thought Vera Lynn was avant garde “ etc . Because I disagree with you does not mean I described you as being obsessive and disagreeing with an obsessive does not entail being obsessive .
No , I didn't say 50 % or pick a figure out of thin air . I said “ many large scale monuments like chambered cairns , long barrows and stone circles “ also they need not necessarily be megalithic . We can only work with the evidence we have , usually derived from excavation and that shows that the monuments that we see today are often the end result of a history of activity .
The discussion was about the reasons for choosing a particular site for a megalithic monument . If we rely on evidence , then in situations where glaciation might account for the movement of the components of a megalithic monument those who do not accept human transport simply have to suggest that glaciation was a possibility but outwith those areas where glaciation could not be a factor human transport is the obvious explanation .We have countless examples of human transport of megaliths in prehistory but due to the possibility that glaciation may have been involved in some areas we find that you are willing to accept that bluestones may have been transported by humans the 15 miles as the crow flies from Westbury to Stonehenge but unwilling to accept that their cousins shifted a capstone 100 -200 metres in SW Wales . One obvious difference between the two is that in the first case it is a best case scenario for proximity to the monument that the present evidence provides for the glacial proponents , whilst in the second there is no evidence at all .

geocur said...

Kostas , you write
“What such evidence shows, in my humble opinion, is people did not built these monuments! “

What evidence ?

Anonymous said...

Brian that's interesting because above you write;

"The point I'm making is that in choosing a location for a burial site, the character of the ground or the availability of suitable resources is the primary determinant. Then and now."

Yet you concede to a variety of social / non-functional factors affecting the locations of various 'places' throughout history - why is it that you cannot conceive of this occurring in the Neolithic?

Whether there is evidence for it or not, the key thing to remember is that if we base our interpretations of the past purely on what is materially represented its very likely we'll end up with artificially skewed perspective. Therefore it's important to remain at least open to the idea that things 'under our radar' so to speak are likely to have influenced choices in the past. It's not superior wisdom, more like common sense.

Some would of course argue that these functional factors were in fact less important than subjective experiences of the landscape, which leads to statements like your Carningly skyline comment (which is a bit soppy by the way!)

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- I don't think I have ever said that modern man is only motivated by utilitarian concerns in making locational choices for buildings. Of course I admit to erratic or quirky behaviousr occasionally. But don't forget that prestige / self esteem and even religious priorities can be factored into a cost-benefit analysis. You don't just feed in economic or political considerations. We started off talking about quarries and then burial grounds -- and I will still hold to the belief that the nature of the terrain and the availability of resources are primary determinants. Once you have determined that a building (or a megalithic structure) is FEASIBLE at a site -- or at a range of sites -- then other factors can come in when you work out whether to use site A or site B.

Geo -- you mentioned that in about half of the excavated recumbent stone sites a history of earlier occupation has been discovered. that means that in the other half no history of prior occupation has been discovered. No matter how convoluted your arguments may get about glacial transport and the dumping of erratics, it still appears to be the case in Wales that all of the main cromlechs in Wales were built where the stones were. Is that a problem for you?

Anonymous said...

You can tell your not an archaeologist Brian. I believe the old maxim, "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" is pertinent here.

B

BRIAN JOHN said...

Now there's a funny thing. That's exactly what I keep on telling all these archaeologists when they complain about the "absence of evidence" for glaciation on Salisbury Plain.......

geocur said...

Brian , as mentioned earlier I didn't say 50% or half of excavated sites . As I also mentioned earlier what I said ,for the third time was ,” many large scale monuments like chambered cairns , long barrows and stone circles were located at sites that had seen earlier activity that did not involve any megaliths ….“ .That does not mean half of these sites did not have prior activity . What was convoluted about my argument about glacial transport ? In those cases where glaciation is a possibility we can't say for certain whether it was human or natural transport , that is a problem for us all in that we can't say for sure either way . In neither case is there any direct evidence ,but human transport is the most likely explanation out with glaciated areas . It seems you are the one with a problem about accepting the possibility that the people of south Wales moved a medium sized rock 200 metres whilst accepting that their cousins managed more difficult feats .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- this is getting tiresome. You said: "Another example is recumbent stone circles those that have been excavated to modern standards show that the ring cairns found in about half the monuments or sites of fires/pyres pre -date the erection of the megaliths.' That means that according to you about the other half of the ring cairns do NOT pre-date the setting up of the stones -- ie they are the same age or maybe later.

Anonymous said...

Geo,

The evidence is the same whether we use human agency or natural agency. What is different is the interpretation and explanation of the evidence. Whereas human agency makes the evidence inexplicable of sensible behavior, natural agency makes sense.

Brian,

I have made a reference to you and your blog in my latest essay. Check it out. Here is the link:

http://fqxi.org/data/essay-contest-files/Ragazas_TheMetaphysicsOfPhy_1.pdf

Kostas

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- or, reading your words another way, about half of the monuments did not have ring cairns at all, and were presumably therefore built "fresh" on previously unused sites.

geocur said...

Brian , the recumbent stone circle quote was earlier than the other about monuments being sited on sites of earlier activity and I assumed that you were referring to the later comment as there was no mention of recumbent stone circles . It still doesn't mean what you suggest . “ring cairns found in about half the monuments “ means that the other half of the monuments do not have ring cairns .

geocur said...

Kostas ,Earlier you said “what such evidence shows “ how can I discuss if you won't say what this evidence is . “Sensible behaviour “ what has that got to do with anything worthwhile and who is to say what might be sensible .

geocur said...

Kostas ,Earlier you said “what such evidence shows “ how can I discuss if you won't say what this evidence is . “Sensible behaviour “ what has that got to do with anything worthwhile and who is to say what might be sensible .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo, with all due respect, I think the same might be said of you. You keep on making these apparently authoritative statements (for example relating to the recumbent stone sites, of which "about half" are linked with ring cairns that might be older) -- but I really don't have a clue about how reliable your assertions may be, since you give no supporting info or references. I think that in the circumstances a healthy scepticism is in order.

geocur said...

Brian ,the "with all due respect " phrase like " I don't mean to be nosy " means the opposite .The same might be said of me ,in relation to what ? .If you are referring to the Kostas discussion you have misunderstood again , I was asking what was the evidence I had provided that he had agreed with previously not asking for evidence from him . .If you want refs why don't/didn't you ask ? I don't question your assertions only point out mistakes.

Read the literature . "Great Crowns of Stone " Adam Welfare . RCAHMS 2012 ."The consistency with which traces of fires /pyres and burning have been discovered beneath the cairns of RSC 's is remarkable "”The remains of cairns within at least 40 RSC s (56%) “
For modern excavations . The Moon and he Bonfire :Richard Bradley SoSa monograph 2005 where ring cairns are shown to be the earlier monument in all cases excavated .
The earlier sites under any other monumnets are also well documented ,these are facts unlike the possibilities .You have still failed to respond to the simple question about being unable to accept the shifting of a capstone 200 metres in south Wales whislt acceptin the movement of rocks from Westbury to Stonehenge .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- thanks for those references. Now we are getting somewhere. Since when have I been unable to accept that stones might have been moved 200 metres in South Wales? You misunderstand me. I have always been perfectly happy with that idea -- all I have ever done is ask "Why would anybody bother, if there were stones in convenient places anyway?"

Anonymous said...

Yes Brian, you ask "why would anyone bother?" and then when given answers which necessarily incorporate non-utilitarian motivations you scoff at them and demand to see evidence.

You're quite clearly enchanted by the natural world why do you find it so difficult to accept that people who were immersed in it several thousand years ago might well have been too? I'm going to have to assume you believe the Neolithic was full of 'savages' with little to no social lives who always grabbed the nearest things to hand even when it came to something so important as venerating the dead.

I'm sadly coming to realise your blog is essentially a means for you to goad the archaeological community (of which you clearly have a weird fascination of / distaste for) by making condescending, unresearched statements about things of which you know little. It's great that your so interested in the field, but if you took a little more time to read the literature surrounding the subject I doubt you'd end up making such irritatingly brash statements in the first place.

Keep up the good blogging, just tone down the sweeping generalisations!

B

geocur said...

Brian ,the comment about RSC 's was made 5 days ago with more than 30 posts following on from it including some from you directed to me .I'm puzzled why you waited so long before deciding "with all due respect "to ask for refs .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Now then, Mr B (whoever you are) -- who's making sweeping generalisations here? (Give your real name if you like -- we don't burn witches here, but people in masks and cloaks tend to be slightly mistrusted.....) Sorry if I irritate you, but you don't have to read this blog if you think your time can be spent more productively elsewhere. Many senior archaeologists deserve to be irritated -- when they tell lies, fabricate evidence and refuse to even consider that their ruling hypotheses might just be wrong, what am I expected to do? Join the ranks of sycophants and fantasists who appear to be incapable of independent thought? Come off it...

By the way, i don't think that the Neolithic world was full of savages. I think the fine people of those good ol' days were sophisticated enough to know all about cost-benefit analysis and smart enough to use the Law of Minimum Effort when it suited them.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- I happen to have had other things to do, such as dealing with a leaking bath, handling an insurance claim, and swearing at BT for failing to get our phone working again after 8 days of silence. Now I'm tired and it's bed time. Goodnight and sleep well!!

geocur said...

"Why would anybody bother, if there were stones in convenient places anyway?"
The site that was being considered was for moving of the capstone was Garn Turne .
Where is there a stone of the same dimensions of the capstone closer than the outcrop at Garn Turne ?
Where are there any stones closer than the outcrop at Hanging stones ?
Furthermore it is obvious that even on small scales that people do not always take the “convenient “ option , building a portal dolmen is hardly convenient even if the flat pack is all around you .The question should be why would anybody build the monument ?

“a recumbent stone setting has a large stone present on the site (normally termed a capstone) “
Pardon the pedantry but there is a distinction between a recumbent and capstones . The former is on the deck , either fallen ,or never erected while the latter has been raised ,either onto supporting orthosats or the covering stone of a simple chamber within a mound / barrow . Morphologically , portal tombs must have or had a a capstone .

“Do they NEED to demonstrate to themselves and the rest of society that our Neolithic ancestors were sophisticated civil engineers, simply so that we can have a heightened sense of awe and wonderment “

No there is no “ need “ , we have understood some of the capabilities of Neolithic builders for decades , moving the Garn Turne capstone 100 metres hardly compares with the major efforts .

BRIAN JOHN said...

So we have 57 comments on this and assorted other matters, some slightly relevant and others not. Going round in circles now -- time to move on. Thread closed.