Well, I turned up last evening to the packed village hall in Bynberian to hear the presentations from Colin Richards and Mike PP. Very jolly fellows, both of them - and I say that without a hint of sarcasm. The presentations were interesting and informative -- and they were pretty up-front about everything. And I refrained from making any comments at all in public, having been exhorted on all sides to be on my best behaviour. I was very proud of myself. And that was in spite of the speakers steadfastly refusing even to utter the words "glacial erratics" -- almost as if they might have caused grave offence among the members of the audience....... Of course, most of the audience turned up hoping to get a jolly good story, and that was what they got -- with the borders between fact and fantasy very blurred indeed. That having been said, I found that both Colin and Mike were a good deal more circumspect than they were last year in the language that they used. On this occasion, my blood did not boil. So maybe we are making a little progress.......
I also visited the site at Rhosyfelin, and had a long chat with Colin, whom I found very straightforward and open.
First of all, the site. The dig is now ENORMOUS -- they have extended in all directions, although I don't think they have gone any deeper than last year, since I'm keen to see if there are fluvioglacial gravels (or even till) beneath the slope deposits which they have been investigating. They have been carefully removing all of the fine material around the broken rock debris that litters the "floor" of the excavation, as seen in the old pic above and in the other pic (from this year) below.
The key features which MPP is using in support of his quarry hypothesis are as follows:
1. An elongated stone perpendicular to the lower end of the big recumbent stone which has a damaged upper surface. MPP argued that this damage is the result of other big stones being dragged over it before the current big one was left where it is. My view? The stone certainly does have a broken upper surface, and it is conceivable that the damage was done by a big stone -- or several -- being dragged across it. But I'm intrigued by how rounded and moulded it is -- and I am pondering on whether quite a lot of the stones exposed at the bottom of the dig have actually been moulded by over-riding ice. I was really struck by this moulding when I looked at the dig -- but it has not been commented on by the archaeologists. Human versus natural? 50:50
2. The hammer stones and mauls found here and there in the dig. I haven't examined them myself, and I 'm not sure where they have come from, but a photo was shown purporting to be of one of them insitu, embedded in the midst of a litter of angular stones. The other archaeologists to whom I spoke said that these stones are fractured and damaged by percussion -- and for the moment I'm prepared to accept that they know what they are talking about. Not sure what rock types they are made of -- but if they are genuinely foreign, that would strengthen the MPP case. Human versus natural? 75:25
3. There is an Iron Age date (around 500 BC?) from charcoal (?) somewhere on the site, which I suppose shows that at that time there were people around here, making fires. Date obtained in 2011?
4. The elongated "railway lines" or "sliding stones" shown in the photo in MPP's book, and along which big stones were supposedly slid sideways down the slope from the cliff face. I couldn't see them last year, and I couldn't see them this year either. More fantasy than fact? Human versus natural? 20:80
5. A huge stone pit or socket, reputed to have held a big standing stone held in place with packing stones. You can glimpse the edge of this pit at the extreme L edge of Linda's photo. I have to accept that this is real, rather than just an artifact created by the diggers -- but it is quite an anomaly. Nobody seems to know what to make of it. It's a very strange place for people to have put up a standing stone -- down near the floor of a wooded valley, close to a rocky crag. MPP thinks that a big standing stone or monolith was in position here until the Iron Age, when it was removed or smashed up. No trace of it today -- unless the stones found in the pit are the remnants of it. Human versus natural? 90:10
6. A strange "activity surface" in the flattish area behind the people in Linda's photo. MPP seemed to suggest that this was another Iron Age feature -- with flints, chips, flakes, charcoal and burnt stone in a quite extensive spread of debris. Then, after 500 AD, the site was covered with hillwash and slope deposits. So -- traces of human activity, certainly -- but quite the wrong age to be used in support of the "Neolithic Quarry" hypothesis. MPP argues, of course, that the standing stone and this evidence of Iron Age occupation (even if for a very short time, in a seasonal winter camp, maybe) shows that the site was revered as a quarry site from which sacred stones had been taken long ago ---- and hence that there must have been USE of this site over many thousands of years. Hmmm -- that sounds pretty fantastical to me -- and I wouldn't mind having a bit of evidence to support the idea.
That seems to be the essence of the "case for the Quarry" -- although the geology evidence is jumbled up in the argument too. Richard Bevins was at the lecture, and I had a good chat with him about provenancing etc. I'll cover that in another post. But for the moment I'll say that the geological evidence is neutral -- it is nothing more and nothing less than an interesting piece of geological detective work, and it does nothing to support the Quarry Hypothesis.
In summary, there is clear evidence of human occupation of this site -- I have no wish to deny that. But whether there was NEOLITHIC occupation is quite another matter. There do not as yet seem to be any radiocarbon dates to support occupation around 3,500 BC -- which is the date which MPP now speaks of as the date for the "first known presence of bluestones in the Stonehenge area." That's a very long time ago -- 5,500 years ago. Is it really likely that Iron Age tribes in this area would have continued to revere a site first used 4,000 years earlier?
Far more questions than answers. Currently, my thinking is that this site has nothing whatsoever to do with the human transport of big stones to Stonehenge -- but that it might have been used intermittently for the fabrication of implements, given the lovely sharp edges which this rhyolite gives. so in that sense, it might have been a quarry or a factory. Later on, some Iron Age people used this sheltered site against a craggy rock face in a wooded valley as an encampment -- maybe over the winter months.
Finally, a word about artificial significance. Archaeologists don't think about it often enough. We could also call it sampling bias. I am pretty convinced that MPP and his colleagues have invested this site with significance because they have decided in advance that it is a Neolithic quarry site. It is perfectly reasonable to think that if they had visited almost any sheltered craggy site in a north Pembrokeshire valley (and there are many of them) and subjected that site to this level of scrutiny, they would have found virtually the same assortment of features -- including a litter of large blocks and slabs, and even traces of temporary encampments in the Iron Age.
To be continued......