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Saturday, 20 October 2012

Trefael -- a very foreign erratic?

There are some excellent photos  on the Welsh Rock Art Organization site, together with stunning pics.  Some of them have been taken from an "aerial cam" from vertically above the site.  There has been a lot going on there over the past three seasons -- with George Nash and various others looking at not just the cupmarks but a lot else besides.  The latest developments are that the "standing stone" has been reclassified as the capstone of a very early (5500 BP) portal dolmen; that there seems to have been a very long history of use of this site; that there is a burial here, next to the dolmen itself, maybe dating from the Bronze Age (bones have been collected and sent off for dating); and that there may even be traces of Mesolithic use of the site.

http://www.rock-art-in-wales.co.uk/database/welsh-rock-art-trefeol-excavation.html

From my point of view, the most interesting thing about Trefael is the very strange shape of this cup-marked stone.  Doesn't look very local to me -- and indeed from its shape it looks as if it might be rather far-travelled.  It is also rather badly fractured - see the top photo.  Must get over there and have a serious look at it.  Has the rock come from the Fishguard Volcanics?  My guess from the high degree of erosion on the stone is to say "probably not....."



31 comments:

Georcur said...

You were probably wondering about why I should have mentioned getting a laugh at the cup mark interpretation when there is nothing mentioned in the link .
It looks like criticisms of the original interpretation were sensibly accepted and have been quietly forgotten about .Fwiw here is part of it "“it is now considered by several astronomers that the distribution of the cupmarks may represent a section of the night sky that includes the star constellations of Cassiopeia, Orion, Sirius and of course the North Star. " . The several astronomers were never named and the nonsense in relation to the relationship between markings and the constellations easily refuted .If anyone wants the detail I'll be happy to post . At least now the emphasis is on what could turn out to be a interesting project .

chris johnson said...

Fascinating post, including the link. Do we know anything about the provenance of this stone?

I am very happy that the archaeology of the site is being done so thoughtfully.

As you know, I am extremely irritated by the blundering work being done nearby on Nevern "Castle" which is seemingly intended to create a quasi-mediaeval kiddies playground, despite the complete lack of any suitable infrastructure like parking and safe road access.

My instinct tells me that this is a valuable area for careful exploration and it should be designated as a heritage zone before more damage is done.

Now I really should do some gardening!

TonyH said...

The chap who did the overhead photography was, I believe, Adam Stamford (from memory), who was present with his equipment at the very end of proceedings at this Season's dig near Marlborough (Clatford) where MPP and Josh Pollard think there might have been shaped sarsen stones still waiting for transportation in the direction of Stonehenge, when William Stukeley sketched the scene in the early 18th Century.

TonyH said...

Correction: Adam StaNford, not Stamford.

Anonymous said...

Geo,

About these cup marks ... are they natural or man-made?

Kostas

Myris of Alexandria said...

See the lecture at this site.

Review of Trefael Stone Excavations in 2010 and 2011
http://www.pasthorizons.tv/review-of-trefael-stone-excavations-in-2010-and-2011/
14 Oct 2012 ... Dr George Nash presents to the Welsh Rock Art Organisation's 2012 excavation
team the work conducted in the first two seasons at the site of .

M..

Geocur said...

When asked for an opinion on engravings from a pic I always say it is unfair to judge , particularly negatively although 90% are ultimately negative . What looks like a perfectly smooth unmarked surface in one light could be shown to have multiple ornate markings in another but usually it is natural physical processes mistaken for human engravings .
I've never seen the Trefael stone so only have the word of those who accept it as being cup marked , having said that I can sympathise with the view that the markings do look natural , they do, but see caveat above . Interesting that the markings have been described as cup marks /depressions suggesting that at least some are natural . It is not uncommon to find rocks with natural markings chosen in prominent places architecturally and some are also used as a basis for additional human engravings or enhancement , which begs the question about the the engravers view of the natural markings , did they realise they were natural or believe them the work of earlier engravers ?

chris johnson said...

@Myris. Fascinating link and thanks for sharing this.

It takes an hour to view and listen but well worth the effort. It confirms my opinion that the powers that be should be very careful with this environment.

Anonymous said...

Reflections on a lecture/link (Myris, 21 October 2012 09:36 )

The clip was hard to follow. Too much fluff, too little fact. I was specifically seeking evidence the Trefael Stone cupmarks are man-made. Much discussion on these at the end. No discussion these are men-made. From what I could determine, these were assumed to have been men-made. If I am wrong, Geo, please correct me.

Kostas

BRIAN JOHN said...

I have a certain amount of sympathy with Kostas and others here, in wondering about these "man made" cupmarks.

How do you actually make pits in the flattish surface of a very hard boulder when you have only stone tools to do it with? You might use a sharpish point on a very hard tool, and you might get somewhere if the tool is very much harder than the boulder being struck, but if the boulder is very hard indeed, it seems to me that more damage would be done to the tool than the boulder. Metal tools would be a different matter -- after all, a cold chisel struck repeatedly with a hammer and directed at one spot could be expected to get out a few chips at a time and to eventually give you quite a deep round hole.

If these cup marks are really man-made, is it not much more likely that they were made in the age of metal than in the age of stone?

chris johnson said...

My assumption is grinding paste with a pestle.

We also saw the shale necklace in which holes were bored.

Geocur said...

I have already commented on the Trefael cups ,see above . Cups are made with a stone as hard or harder on the mohs scale than the surface being engraved ,either with direct percussion or indirect where the engraving tool is hit by a hammerstone . Quartz is often found at prehistoric sites and in those rare examples where marked rocks have been excavated shattered quartz (second most common mineral ?) is found to a much greater extent than around control rocks of similar size without engravings . Quartz is also found rammed into cracks and fissures at some rock art sites , whether this indicates that quartz was the engraving material I'm not entirely convinced . Cup marks are on found on hard surfaces like granite and quartz but sandstone is favoured all over all others . It is not difficult to engrave a cup ,10-15 minutes unskilled effort .

Geocur said...


Brian ,we can't date the markings on the stone so the only way we can date Atlantic rock art is by context .We find that there are secure examples from passage graves (as described previously e.g. often sealed monuments with multiple markings on orthostats , that must have been engraved in some cases before erection , with a commonality of motifs throughout the Atlantic tradition ) and associations with burials e.g. that provide a date for the marked rock prior or contemporaneous with the construction of the monument , sometimes the engravings are obviously worn meaning the they pre date the deposition/erection of the marked rock and construction of the monument . Putting a date on the end of the tradition is more difficult but even older marked rocks are not found in Iron Age burial contexts but when found in later monumental contexts they are clearly worn and re-used e.g. souterrains and hillforts . There is the interesting possibility that the tradition stopped about the time of the introduction of Iron .

When pick marks from the hammerstone are seen on the same motif they can be seen to vary as the engraving point has become blunted or a new tool used , this would not happen with a metal chisel which would continue to produce the same pick markings . More importantly the impact of the hammerstone is usually far less efficient than metal and the result is a much more uniform interior surface .There was also the differences mentioned previously .
Try it yourself ,most rock art researchers have or ask the pros . Andy McFetters is a sculptor who gets commissions for his work all over the country , some of the commissions are for “new” examples of rock art , he will be the first to tell you that you that using metal would be immediately noticeable and only hammerstones can produce convincing results .
In those examples that we have from ethnography cup marks are still produced by stone tools despite the availability of metals .

If there are any doubts we have long been able to distinguish between stone and metal tools simply by the use of microscopy and Francesco D'errico has revolutionised the study by using SEM “scanning electron microscopy ) which will do much more than differentiate between stone and metal but will detail the number of tools used , angle of percussion and amount of pressure used etc . When metals were finally used to engrave stones cup marks were avoided .I can't think of one cup mark made by metal tools from the historical period ,e.g. on a Pictish stone , yet there are cup marks on Pictish stones ( usually on the non Pictish engraved side ), probably why the particular stone was used in the first place , but the cup marks were not made by metal tools .

chris johnson said...

Thanks Geo,
Seems to me that cup marks are smooth. So finishing by grinding with hard sand was the final phase,

I don't see any need for metals.

Am I wrong?

Geocur said...

Chris, cup marks are often smooth and no doubt weathering plays a part in this , however cup marks that have been well protected ,i.e. under turf inside monumnets are also snmoth as are recently engraved cups It would be difficult to find evidence for grinding if it had taken place but i suggest there is no need for it . Some markings usually aboriginal , but also Atlantic tradition , have been abraded but once again no need to for the sand although it may have been used .

Anonymous said...

Geo,

Thanks for the detailed info re: cupmarks making. But Chris's method of grinding paste with a pestel makes more sense to me.

I am now convinced such cupmarks can be man-made using stone tools. But I am not convinced cupmarks were man-made. And you have already stated many of these cupmarks found on other stones are natural. While you maintain others are not. And have in your post described some evidence to support this view. Such as 'pick marks from the hammerstone'.

Here are my issues with all this:

1)Consider stone A with cupmarks determined to be natural; while stone B has cupmarks determined to be man-made. Are the cupmarks of stone A different (in look, size, design etc.) from the cupmarks of stone B?

2)If the cupmarks are man-made, why we don't have a greater variety of markings besides random? Like maybe cupmarks all in a straight line, or in rows, or in triangular pyles or forming circles -- since circles we are told were such important geometric figures? Clearly these would indicate 'human agency'. The cupmarks of stones I've seen have perfectly natural random distribution. And excepting for a microscopic examination for 'pick marks', to a casual observer these would not look any different than those determined to be natural.

3)There may be other more natural explanations to the 'pick marks' . Here are two that quickly come to mind: a) if each pit once contained hard round pebbles which were extracted by men using stone tools and leaving such 'pick marks'. b) if each pit contained softer material (like perhaps chalk) which either weathered away or was 'picked clean' by people using stone tools and leaving behind 'pick marks'.

4)If these cupmarks were entirely man-made what were their purpose? If we argue these signified and symbolized some commemoration for the dead, or animals killed or owned, or any other such like 'recording of events', we would have evidence of 'symbol making'. And this would be the start of 'hierogliphics and writing'. But if this civilization of prehistoric people had invented the idea of symbols, wont they have also invented writing? We just have the same meaningless cupmarks left behind instead!

5)What was most disturbing to me in the video lecture clip on the Trefael excavation is there was no questioning these cupmarks were man-made. And for me this reveals a mind set which would not allow a broader examination of the evidence. It is a blindly accepted belief! Prehistoric people did all this. And all explanations start with this belief and conclude with it. Thus my accussation of a cyclical reasoning to the archeologists narrative.

Kostas

Geocur said...

If making cup marks in the mortar and pestle manner seems more “sensible “ than the direct/indirect percussion method , which has been explained as being the most likely method from the evidence , experiment and ethnography , it might be worth considering comparing attempting the two methods oneself (it won't take long to get an answer ) or considering that one's idea of “sensible “ is either inappropriate or in need of refining .
“I am now convinced such cupmarks can be man-made using stone tools. “ Lol . Some people will believe anything ,what's next , Neolithic pottery ? Why should you have thought otherwise ?,it is hardly difficult you could have even tried it yourself .

There seems to be an expectation from some people that findings from prehistory should fit some template that suits late 20 th C western ideas of what is “sensible “ as opposed to simply accepting what is there and attempting to understand it . The patterns found among cup mark bearing rocks vary from the what appears random (they may be random but our failure to understand might also make the term seem more reasonable ) to more organised geometric shapes like lines and rosettes with both the random and the organised found on the same surface . Sticking to simple cup marks and avoiding more ornate markings some eg's
A recent find from last month with straight lines .http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/15141/connachan.html
A rosette . http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/11600/corrody_burn.html
Gridlike (scroll to 9th pic ) http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/12549/cloichran.html
Apparently random but including the quite common feature of cups along the edge of the rock .
http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/11603/tullich_hill.html
Some 1st year geology students , after learning some of the natural physical processes that can produce similar markings , think that they have found the explanation , but soon learn otherwise Others just find it difficult to accept that they can't find an explanation and produce a variety of ideas that usually tells us more about the interpreter than the problem .

chris johnson said...

Kostas, thanks for sharing your ideas.

I interpret the lack of discussion around the man-made nature of the cup-marks as an indication that it is no longer a question for the assembly of specialists in the room. There was a free atmosphere in which people felt confident to advance wild ideas and ask "stupid" questions. Still, I agree it would be nice to know.

"Random" is a word we assign to a pattern the meaning of which we do not yet perceive - there is surprisingly little that is random in nature. The very randomness of these marks inclines me to think they are probably man-made.

My working hypothesis is that the central meaning of the cup mark is likely related to the material removed - the stone dust. If this is indeed the capstone of a monument then perhaps people were taking away some of the symbolic meaning when they made their mark. When you made a big mark you were intending to share with many people, a smaller mark might even be an individual act or on behalf of a family group.

As to the intent of making a cup mark, the Baltic theories point towards crop fertility - and the Trefael site looks to be a prime farming location. My hunch would be that they were not made very often, otherwise there would be many more and they would overlap. Perhaps they were made following a serious crop failure or a rare natural event when the spirits of the ancestors would be engaged - say the start of a new 18 year lunar cycle.

All very fanciful!

Geocur said...

Chris ,the connection between Pica
http://www.bing.com/search?q=pica+&form=MOZSBR&pc=MOZI and rock art is well attested in ethnography .
Like other ethnographic examples ,boredom , vision quests ,apotropaism it is not a unversal explanation .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Don't have a problem with man-made cupmarks, personally, so long as we have a pretty good idea how they were made. People have always made marks and patterns on rock surfaces, just as they do on trees, and I suppose they always will. Being an old romantic at heart, I prefer to think of them as doodles or simply pretty patterns, made to while away those dark winter days -- rather than as designs with some profound significance.

Geocur said...



Whilst the barabrians here were busy bashing out rough old random cup marks , those sophisticated slave driving Elamites (present day Iran ) had better things to do with their doodlings ,maybe they were “ sensible “ and more concerned with the real world of commerce ,looking after their families and writing things down like real civilised peoples . Looks like we might be getting a clearer insight in the near future . http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19964786

Constantinos Ragazas said...

aah Geo! … you don't miss an opportunity to point out my “faults”! A sure sign you care about my intellectual well being! Consider my evolving views as a sure sign also of an open and intellectually honest “seeking after truth”.

But before you get too lost in your questionable elusive “triumph”, let me point out some “markings” in my thinking! And they are not random!

1)The “grinding paste and pestle” appeals to me as it provides an effective method of making perfectly round and spherical cupmarks – using the same method as making fire. Something that is difficult to achieve with stone chisels.

2)The 'pick marks' evidence is not conclusive of the cupmaking method used, in my humble opinion. I have given you two scenarios, 3a) and 3b) in my previous post, as alternative explanations of these. You have not responded to either.

3)What distinguishes stone A and stone B in 1) of my previous post? If we need to put these under a microscope to tell the difference, than I argue there is no difference in purpose and significance.

4)We do not need to debate what is “random” and what is “sensible”. Simply have a comparison test between “man-made” and “natural”. And if we cannot tell these appart, then both can be thought as “random” (purposeless). As for “sensible”, the way I use the term has nothing to do with cultural (western) biases! Rather, I consider the physical conditions prehistoric people lived under and ask “what would be sensible”. And clearly, I find it more sensible they would be totally preoccupied with survival. For them and their families. Any other instinct (like beliefs) would only develop once the basic necessities for survival are met and there is liesure time to fill. That is my opinion. That is what I would have done. That is what I witness my grandmother doing living and surviving very hard winters in very primitive villages in the mountains of Western Macedonia in Greece just 60 years ago.

5)You realize, of course, none of this has anything to do with my theory on Stonehenge! Which continues to be the only theory to consistently and sensibly explain all the 'facts on the ground'. And all the new evidence that is now emerging. I am looking forward to the release of the scientific 'facts in the ground' contained in the Stonehenge Layer. Collected four years ago in the 2008 Darvile excavations and yet to be made public!

Kostas

Geocur said...

The reason I didn't reply was simply because I had already said I had given up replying .This is the last time .
The mention of microscopes and SEM was in relation to differentiating between stone and metal tooling and was prefaced with “if there is any doubt then ….“ this is nothing to do with the A&B of 1) . which concerns a man made cup marked rock and a rock that has natural markings resembling cup marks . The answer is quite long and involves describing the distinguishing characteristics of man made cup marks then all the various types of natural markings that look like cup marks , I am no longer willing to go through all that .
Not all cup marks have pick marks , any examples of natural pick marks would be taken into consideration as above but conglomerates where you are likely to find such examples are rarely used for engraving plus any surface with multiple small pebbles the size of average pick marks are also unlikely to be chosen as surface for engraving .
You also asked what was the purpose of cup marks .I don't know .

chris johnson said...

Geo motivated me to research rock dust and I found a interesting links between glaciation and volcanic rocks. Apparently the glaciers grind up the rocks, which have a high mineral content, and leave a deep and very fertile top-soil. Apparently this is noticeable in the archaeological record as producing bigger trees.

I hope Brian can confirm that this is true, and not just a tale invented by various companies trying to sell magic dust to gardeners.

It conjures up a scenario in which the Fishguard area might have been noticeably more fertile than other areas in the post glacial period, and consequently a reason for early settlement. A land of giant trees and tall grass!

I imagine too that the effect of rock dust on plants might have been noticeable to the first farmers who would have surely observed that crops grow differently in different soils.

I doubt there is a clear link to the cup mark tradition as Geo asserts these are generally sandstone and thus have no special fertilizer properties that I am aware of - but a geologist would know better!

I agree with Kostas that we need a better mental model of the way these early ancestors lived and the world they inhabited.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I fear you are barking up the wrong tree here, Chris. Yes, glaciers produce rock flour in vast quantities when they are active -- that is why glacier streams are milky, as compared with the clear water that comes from spring-fed rivers. The rock flour eventually settles out in deltas and in lakes or in the sea -- where turbulence is insufficient to maintain the transport of the sediments. And yes, these extensive spreads of sediments made of silt and clay are fertile. But there aren't any such sediments in the Fishguard area, and even if there were, they would not be specially favourable to trees as against any other types of plants. Not sure where that particular idea came from!!

Geocur said...

Chris , the re-mineralising the earth movement has been around for a few decades . The basic belief is that manuring does not replace the minerals available since the last glaciation .They are being depleted and one way of replacing them is to use rock dust from quarries . They claim bigger yields and greater uptake of minerals in their crops and animals .I am not a proponent merely reporting although I did try some rock dust (obtained freely ) on the garden for a couple of years I can't say there was a noticeable change in yields , as for mineral uptake , who knows .

chris johnson said...

Thanks. I do bark up the wrong tree on occasion.

You make me curious why these sediments are not seen in the Fishguard area. Could this be a sign that the glacier effects were not very strong in Prescelli?

The sources I found are not academic. Maybe Richard can point to some texts for further research, or I can look myself.

Anonymous said...

Geo,

… not wishing to press the point, but in the interest of clarifying my “pebbles” scenario.

You write, “any surface with multiple small pebbles the size of average pick marks are also unlikely to be chosen as surface for engraving “.

My “pebbles” scenario considers the cupmarks themselves contained pebbles (or more accurately small round rocks embedded in the sandstone) and these were 'chiseled out' leaving behind the cupmark pits and the 'pick marks' as evidence.

Kostas

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chri -- there are large quantities of glacial deposits in the Preseli area. Theseare mostly inb the form of till and fluvio-glacial sands and gravels. the finer fractions to which you refer are the silts and clays carried in very turbulent meltwater and then deposited out in calmer water some distance downstream.

There are certainly fluvio-glacial lacustrine deposits in the area -- particularly in the area affected by Glacial Lake Teifi. The trouble is that many of these fine-grained deposits are UNDERNEATH tills and fluvio-glacial sands and gravels, so they are not much good for growing things on!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Kostas -- if you are talking about conglomerates here, with quartz pebbles embedded in them, I dare say that those looking at the boulders would be smart enough to know a conglomerate when they see one.

Georcur said...

This might be of interest in relation to pick marks .
An examples of pick marks within a cup ,scroll to the 23rd pic , the 25th pic is the cup mark in context .
http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/6813/menteith.html
Pick marks marking out a ring that has been abandoned .Scroll down to pic 16
http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/10893/lurgan.html
Some examples of non rock art
http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/site/14271/non_rock_art.html