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Thursday, 29 November 2012

Stone haulage and the diffusion of innovations



Now here's an interesting thought.  Last night I gave a talk to the Haverfordwest Civic Society about the "Bluestone Wars" and I had a very interesting chat with members of the audience afterwards about the diffusion of culture and technical innovations.  I had made the point in my talk that if (as TD, GW and MPP insist) Neolithic tribesmen collected up and transported 82 stones from west Wales to Stonehenge, we should assume that this would have been a technical peak in a history of long-distance stone haulage.  This would have been a massive technical (and maybe cultural) innovation -- we would expect to find in the archaeological record traces of the early introduction of the innovation, then a peak of some sort, and then a decline.  Instead of that, we find nothing -- no history of long-distance stone transport beyond maybe a few miles (there are some examples that seem to be well founded) -- and indeed, as we have argued before on this blog, in Wales the megalithic rule that seems to apply is this:  big stones are used more or less where they are found.

I remember from my days as a student that we had assorted lectures relating to cultural diffusion.  But that was a VERY long time ago, and things have moved on.   So I did a bit of digging, and came across this interesting entry on Wikipedia:

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

There are other entries on cultural diffusion and trans-cultural diffusion. No doubt there are vast archaeology tomes devoted to this topic.   If you look at the graph above, and apply it to long-distance stone haulage, you see that -- according to the model -- there should be an innovation phase, with early adopters catching on; and then a sort of critical mass phase where the majority adopt the new technique; and then a late majority, coinciding with a peak or a plateau; and finally a period during which the laggards (most remote or backward communities) eventually catch on......

If you look at the market share you eventually reach saturation, when 100% of the population has adopted the technique.  In reality, of course, you do not get isolated episodes like this, because once you have a new technique it does not just rise and fall, but it is improved and modified, and gives rise to better and newer techniques. So there are lots of overlapping curves.

Back to Stonehenge, and long-distance stone haulage.  Why is it that when we look at the archaeological record we see no evidence of innovators, early adopters, majority adoption, and laggardly adoption in remote areas?  It is a total aberration, with no development phase and no phase of decline.  So instead of a "normal" curve as on the graph above we have just an incredibly short episode (a few hundred years) during which (according to our archaeological friends) 82 very large stones were hauled over a very long distance across incredibly hostile terrain and/or water.  Nothing before, nothing after.  That's what these eminent professors want us to believe.

Apply the same test to the GW/TD idea that the stones were sacred or magical, and were revered for their healing power.   Nothing --  no evidence on the ground, no evidence of innovation, adoption, or decline in beliefs of this type.

Apply the same test to the MPP idea that the stones were revered because they embodied the spirits of the ancestors, and needed to be transported to a specially sacred site (Stonehenge) as an act of tribute or respect or reverence.  Again, nothing --  no evidence on the ground, no evidence of innovation, adoption, or decline in a culture of ancestor worship.

Sorry chaps -- it just doesn't make sense.....  It all defies logic, as it defies the evidence on the ground.  So forget it, and move on.

38 comments:

chris johnson said...

This classic marketing model was modified in 1991 via Geoffrey Moore's book "Crossing the Chasm". Moore notes that new technologies often do not make it to the Early Majority and the new idea/company falls into the chasm. Many marketeers like myself find Moore's vision very appropriate for disruptive ideas and exercise our brains to bridge the gap.

Put simply the early innovators are technology enthusiasts, while the early majority are pragmatists. If you want your bright idea to catch on and go into the mainstream then it has to have clear utility value for the pragmatists.

I see Stonehenge as conforming to Moore's model for a failed new technology product. Whatever they were trying to do did not work and thus was never reproduced. Today's venture capital scene is littered with follies that consumed truly massive amounts of investment and never crossed the chasm.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Chris -- interesting. It makes good sense that disruptive or damaging (or just plain silly) ideas or technologies "do not make it" and simply get abandoned after being tried out by the innovators. The Sinclair C5 for example?

You seem to be close to my idea here -- that the builders of Stonehenge (or at least those who built in stone) were probably nutters intent on doing something rather spectacular as a statement about personal power or prestige. Stonehenge as a folly -- been there before.

But even for those nutters or visionaries, some sort of cost-benefit equation must come into play. I still do not see how or why a group of fanatics could even have contemplated a feat of such incredible dimensions as to justify 82 stone moving expeditions to assorted parts of West Wales and elsewhere.

It was fanatical enough just to have tried to put up the stone monument from the stones that were available, lying around that area of interest on Salisbury Plain. And as I have argued many times, they over-reached themselves, and eventually ran out of energy, motivation, and stones.

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Brian,

I am in complete agreement with everything you said and said so often in the past.

Kostas

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Chris you write,

“Whatever they were trying to do [at Stonehenge] did not work and thus was never reproduced.”

Certainly Stonehenge “was never reproduced”. That is a fact. But wouldn't the knowledge and technology of building Stonehenge be reproduced in many other more practical ways?

The same argument also applies to Brian's contention of “opportunistic scavenging” of regional sarsens. Since this also would involve technology and socio-political-economic organization with no evidence of such ever existing anywhere in prehistoric UK.

Kostas

BRIAN JOHN said...

I disagree with you about the sarsens, Kostas. There is a lot of evidence of "opportunistic scavenging" at Avebury, Stonehenge, Carnac and many other places. So there we have a "cultural tradition" or a technological fashion that was reproduced, and used here and there and not quite everywhere. The moving of stones from within a limited area (cost/benefit analysis again) was not exactly universal, but it was widespread -- maybe happening in places where a surface clutter of big stones was a noticeable feature of the landscape.

Geocur said...

As the wiki entry mentions the evidence to support the concept came from from agricultural methods and medical practice . When applied to to the British Neolithic it is pretty useless . All the evidence in relation to monument building does not support the model . All the major types of monuments in the period and the earliest monuments in the Isles e.g. , Cursuses ,Long barrows , the earliest stone circles Passage Graves etc were much bigger and involved far greater man hours to build than the later monuments of the Bronze Age .The started off big with no smaller less sophisticated prototypes as basis to work on .The simpler smaller less sophisticated stuff came later .

BRIAN JOHN said...

I thought we could expect something from you on this, Geo! I am aware that the model referred to by Wiki is from other disciplines, but having looked into this a bit more there are many who refer to this pattern of innovation diffusion as being applicable in many disciplines. After all, it is pretty well common sense. So I disagree with you that it is "pretty useless" with respect to the British Neolithic.

We all know that burial traditions changed at the end of the big "megalithic" period, when dolmens and barrows and other big features were suddenly abandoned, and much smaller burials came along, with a more conservative approach to putting up standing stones as well. That does not invalidate the model.

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Brian,

The technology of 'stone joining', for example, is very advanced and sophisticated. It can be used in many practical constructions. Yet we do not see this anywhere else but Stonehenge!!! Need I say more?

Kostas

Geocur said...

The model has detractors even where it is most likely to be applicable . More importantly it doesn't apply to the British Neolithic .These major monuments listed earlier do not have “traces of the early introduction of the innovation,” you may expect to find that “ there should be an innovation phase, with early adopters catching on; and then a sort of critical mass phase where the majority adopt the new technique; and then a late majority, coinciding with a peak or a plateau; and finally a period during which the laggards (most remote or backward communities) eventually catch on “ but that is simply not what happened , business models or cost benefit analysis are hardly ideal for calculating contemporary non -utilitarian circumstances ,not only must the evaluator have some understanding of  the value of the benefit but how  can they actually estimate the value of something that is immeasurable i.e.  symphony / sympathy/relic, when the subject is from prehistory then the problems and lack of applicability are even greater
 

Phil M said...

Brian,
Interesting thoughts.
You often refer to the cost/benefit ratio in your proposals, but could it not be that, in the Neolithic mind, the benefit outweighed the cost in manpower, effort, and time.

Present day values do not atomatically equate with prehistoric ideals, and far from being a failed technology project, Stonehenge could be classed as the pinnacle of Neolithic enterprise.

I wonder what cost/benefit can be applied to Silbury Hill; hell of a mound just for a good view, but they must have thought it worthwhile.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Kostas -- stone joining is not unique to Stonehenge. If you look at some of the barrows in the UK and Brittany you can see some very careful "joining" or fitting of large stone slabs supported on pillars or sidewalls. You are referring to the tongue and groove technique and the mortise and tenon technique?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Phil -- even the most ancient of people must have used cost/benefit analyses, without actually referring to it with those words. Catching mammoths, trapping fish, building sledges of=r boats or houses -- these must all have involved calculations about whether the effort was worth it. In all cases, if the efforts were too great to justify the benefits, the projects would be abandoned. Agree about Silbury Hill -- there must have been some extraordinary "benefit" to be derived from it to justify such an expenditure of effort and time...

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- every model has detractors. they get improved or rejected, or refined and made better. I don't accept your rather confident statement that the idea of innovation diffusion "doesn't apply to the British Neolithic" -- you cannot demonstrate that. The fact that we have different tomb-building traditions in different areas, and multi-phase burial sites, show that there was diffusion, innovation and evolution going on. It would be absurd to pretend otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Brian,

“You are referring to the tongue and groove technique and the mortise and tenon technique?”

YES!

Kostas

Geocur said...

The “innovation diffusion “ model and the comments which I highlighted in the blog entry demonstrably do not apply to those major monuments of the British Neolithic which I mentioned and which were the basis of the blog entry . It may apply to everyday utilitarian activities but we don’t need Everett Rogers for us to understand that and is not what was being discussed .

Phil M. said...

Brian,
I doubt if the ancients made any comparisons between the costs and benefits of catching mammoths, trapping fish, building sledges, boats or houses. The benefits would have been all to clear. If they didn't do it they would die of starvation, or freeze to death, or strip their current locality of food, which would ultimately end in death.
Do it or die, costs and benefits would not have entered into the equation.

Perhaps the object of the exercise was purely prestige; having achieved the unbeatable, whether it be Stonehenge or Silbury Hill, the opposition simply succumbed. Would this account for the disparity with the Rogers graph, I don't know?

Anonymous said...

Geo you write,

The “innovation diffusion “ model ... demonstrably do not apply to those major monuments of the British Neolithic.

Two possible reasons for this. Either our understanding of 'innovation diffusion' is wrong or our understanding of these monuments is wrong.

Kostas

chris johnson said...

Another way of looking at Stonehenge is to compare with the Large Hadron Collider. This is a massive communal scientific project built to find the so-called god particle. It will not be replicated because it will have served its purpose whether the experiment succeeds or fails.

Silbury Hill might well fall into the same category.

BRIAN JOHN said...

The Hadron Collider didn't come out of nowhere -- there have been other machines leading up to that, and probably there will be others (maybe smaller ones?) when that becomes defunct...... unless, of course, they inadvertently destroy the world.....

chris johnson said...

Stonehenge did not come out of nowhere There seems to have been a continuity of interest in the neolithic for subjects like astronomy/astrology, connecting with ancestors, and community. Other subjects too. The evidence is plentiful to my eyes, both before and after.

We can also observe this continuity in the early stages of Stonehenge.

It has been observed many times that the technology involved in building Stonehenge III was not particularly innovative - it is the amount of labour involved that is impressive and the big puzzle is WHY not HOW.

In five thousand years, after a few dark ages, any people remaining will marvel at the Hadron Collider and ask WHY. Highly unlikely they will realise that we did all this to find the Higgs Boson.

Geocur said...

The hadron collider has a clear history , the original Cern was a particle accelerator not a hadron collider and prior to Cern was the Stanford accelerator , the Cavendish Lab in Cambridge and so on back to Faraday a clear line of innovation/progress as is typical of science standing on the shoulders etc.

Where is the precedent for the architecture and use of of carpentry techniques in stone on the scale and sophistication at Stonehenge ? I'm not sure where astronomy comes in , prior to building the monument it would have been necessary to work out where the solstice sun rose and set if the axis of the monument was going to be aligned on them . That's not difficult but it doesn't make Stonehenge an observatory simply a monument that is aligned to a solar event .

Stonehenge aside the point is that there were major innovations that had no precedents in the British Neolithic ,making the use of Evertett Roger's concept inapplicable to help our understanding of monument building . If his model is applicable then where is the evidence for “traces of the early introduction of the innovation,” for the major cursuses , Long Barrows , the earliest and biggest stone circles and the slightly later henge monuments , these are the monuments I listed and surely closer to what was being discussed than everyday objects like pottery or arrow heads .
If “ there should be an innovation phase, with early adopters catching on; and then a sort of critical mass phase where the majority adopt the new technique; and then a late majority, coinciding with a peak or a plateau; and finally a period during which the laggards (most remote or backward communities) eventually catch on “ then where are the earlier smaller cursuses , stone circles , Long Barrows ,Henges etc and in what way does that description fit in with what we understand about the history and sequence of these major monuments ? The sequence was from nothing to the biggest most architecturally sophisticated in all these examples , followed by either abandonment of the type or much smaller less time consuming and less sophisticated monuments , nothing like what is predicted in the model , even down to the final period where laggards catch up , the monuments covered the Isles from Orkney to Wessex and there were no late Long Barrows or massive cursus in “backward areas “ much later than the original floruit .

chris johnson said...

Geo,
The cosmological interest over a few thousand years is well described in books like "Avebury Cosmos" by Nicholas Mann. He makes a very plausible case for a continuing interest in the heavens and evolution in emphasis from stars, towards lunar and eventually to solar monuments like Stonehenge. This interest is reflected in the orientation of the Long Barrows, the evolution of Avebury from the time of Windmill Hill to Silbury Hill. And at Stonehenge there would seem to be an obvious link with the 56 Aubrey Holes and the lunar cycle, while in the monument we see today there is a greater interest in the solar solstices.

The use of carpentry techniques to erect the lintels at Stonehenge seems to be a clear case of using known techniques for working with wood to achieve a result with a different material - stone. I presume the intention was to create a flat horizon or platform that would neither warp nor decay. Had they wanted to repeat the exercise subsequently they might have used metal and on a much smaller scale - we are at the very end of the stone age here. Alternatively the experiment was not worth repeating or even completing.

Roger's concept (and Moore's improvement) is applicable to the past because it seems to tell something true about our behaviour in groups. The curve is influenced by factors like social organisation and communications but the basic truth is evident and useful.

geocur said...

Chris , I never suggested that there was no cosmological interest prior to the building of Stonehenge ,quite the opposite , I was saying that it would have been necessary to align the monument , but there is no need to suggest that the monument itself was part of some astronomical observations after construction . The lunar connection with the Aubrey holes has been around a long time ,from an incredibly complex and unlikely eclipse prediction idea that would work just as easily with a different number of pits to the fact that the number 56 has a connection with the lunar cycle , if so where are the other monuments with a similar number or is it not just more likely that ,as at other monuments with pits which don't number 56 it was the number that came out from the spacing .
I did read a chapter of “Avebury Cosmos “ and was far from convinced , there were problems with some of the calculations particularly with the Alpha centauri observations .Comments like “It seems entirely plausible that the Crux –Centaurus stars inspired the Windmill hill people to locate WKLB  according to the rising position of the group’s greatest star .” didn't help . I would have liked to have read more and have a feeling that the basic premise could be undermined . Long Barrows or more importantly the passages are aligned to many points on the horizon and there is nothing to suggest a particular interest in a certain section of the sky unlike say Wedge tombs which have a much narrower range of orientations .
Roger's theory or something even simpler may be applicable to many human endeavours in the past and present but it is not to the major monuments built in the British Neolithic , for the reasons I outlined , if it is applicable where is the evidence I have asked for to support it ?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Well, this is fun -- of no great importance really......

I suppose that where this leads us to is a realisation that there will always be innovators and leaders and visionaries who will come up with brilliant epoch-changing ideas and who will have the power and the will-power to translate their visions into reality. Of course, many ideas will fail -- as with Stonehenge, where aspirations ran too far ahead of stone supply and the amount of human energy available.

On the other hand, even the most brilliant ideas do not come out of NOWHERE -- they are always rather smart deductions or leaps of imagination, based on accumulated experience and acquired or inherited information.

If you look at the history of pyramid building in Egypt, for example, I reckon its fits this little model rather well. Same thing with defensive fortifications in the UK in the Iron Age. Same thing with the development of iron works. Same thing with the development of coal mining methods. And so on and so on -- I will not accept that matters were any different in the Neolithic....

chris johnson said...

Brian, no reason to think things were any different in the neolithic.

Visionaries/innovators are part of human kind and they can inspire people towards extraordinary effort - like Stonehenge. Before their ideas are taken up in the mainstream they need to demonstrate utility and appeal to the pragmatists - what you call cost/benefit.

Failure does not necessarily mean that it does not work - C5 beubg a case.

Constantinos Ragazas said...

“even the most brilliant ideas do not come out of NOWHERE”

Well said, Brian! And though Stonehenge may not have been duplicated, the knowledge and technology used certainly had to be in many other smaller and more practical ways.

Kostas

Geocur said...

Brian ,there is a clear path of innovation in most human endeavours . pyramid building ,the earlier collapsed filures , car manufacture ,model T etc , we can see and provide the evidence .That is not the case with the major monuments of the Britsh Neolithic . Where is the evidence for the smaller earlier cursus that was the basis for the Stonehenge cursus . Ascott under Wychwood is the earliest Long Barrow that we are aware of in Britain where is the evidence for the smaller earlier prototype or even collapsed examples predicted by the model ? etc .

Anonymous said...

Geocur said...
The hadron collider has a clear history , the original Cern was a particle accelerator not a hadron collider and prior to Cern was the Stanford accelerator , the Cavendish Lab in Cambridge and so on back to Faraday a clear line of innovation/progress as is typical of science standing on the shoulders etc.

Where is the precedent for the architecture and use of of carpentry techniques in stone on the scale and sophistication at Stonehenge ?

Oh the Irony!! The lack of evidence of a clear line of innovation/progress, is surely Brian's original point?? Facepalm.

Geocur said...

“though Stonehenge may not have been duplicated, the knowledge and technology used certainly had to be in many other smaller and more practical ways. “
Is it only me who was a bit taken aback by this comment ? Or was the knowledge and technology alluded to , that of dropping stones off the edge of the “circle ice rim “ ?

Anonymous said...

Geocur, Where is the evidence for the smaller earlier cursus that was the basis for the Stonehenge cursus . Ascott under Wychwood is the earliest Long Barrow that we are aware of in Britain where is the evidence for the smaller earlier prototype or even collapsed examples predicted by the model ? etc .

The Mendip Hills are acknowledged to have a particularly high density of Mesolithic, neolithic barrows, burial chambers etc. This is despite the fact that older residents can recall the existence of a far larger proportion of similar constructions that have been destroyed/removed by ploughing and other agricultural processes within living memory.

This situation probably applies to most other agricultural areas within the UK.

There go your prototypes???

Cheers
Alex Gee




Geocur said...

Alex ,There are no Mesolithic barrows in the Mendips and nothing like a prototype of the Long Barrows . What you would need to fit the bill is simply an earlier monument than Ascott under Wychwood dated 3760 BC and not something like Aveline's Hole which is nothing like a Long Barrow . There are plenty of BA barrows but as well being too late they also are not like Long barrows . We have lost many barrows over the years to agriculture and long before the older residents of the Mendips were around , even long barrows but as yet there is no earlier smaller prototype of these early major monuments .

Geocur said...

Anon, ,I'll respond to this despite my suspicions as to the source. If you are not Kostas ,then my mistake .
You seem to have mistakenly conflated two different types of statement .
Brian's original point was that the lack of evidence for an earlier phase of stone moving and failure to fit in with other categories of Roger's “diffusion of Innovation “ model makes the human agency hypothesis unlikely .
The lack of a “ precedent for the architecture and use of carpentry techniques in stone on the scale and sophistication at Stonehenge “ that I had previously pointed out as being a characteristic of the British Neolithic along with the lack of evidence for precedents for the major monuments like Cursus and Long Barrows is an entirely different type of statement . The similarity of both cases is that they do not fit into the model . In the first case Brian does not accept human agency and the failure to fit into the model is simply further cause to question the hypothesis . In the the second case failure to fit into the model does not provide cause for anyone to question the undoubted existence of Cursuses and Long Barrows or the scale and sophistication of the techniques of the Stonehenge masons .

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Geo, you miss my point! The lack of evidence for such 'knowledge and technology' is evidence such 'knowledge and technology' did not exist. Stonehenge needs another explanation! Try “natural agency” for size!

Kostas

Anonymous said...

Geo,

The Anon you question is not Kostas!

Kostas

Anonymous said...

Geo you write,

“...failure to fit into the model does not provide cause for anyone to question the undoubted existence of Cursuses and Long Barrows or the scale and sophistication of the techniques of the Stonehenge masons .”

This is a statement of Faith!

Kostas

Geocur said...


“...failure to fit into the model does not provide cause for anyone to question the undoubted existence of Cursuses and Long Barrows or the scale and sophistication of the techniques of the Stonehenge masons .”
Is not a statement of faith. Both Cursuses and Long Barrows are obviously man made structures from the British Neolithic , if you can show them to be otherwise we are all eyes and ears . Similarly , dull would he be of of many senses not to appreciate the skill and technique of the erectors of the Sarsen Trilithons and absent would he be of other senses if he imagined that they a result of anthro free forces of nature .

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Geo,

That Cursuses and Long Barrows exist is not the question. That these are man-made can be questioned, however. Those that claim they are have the burden of proof here. Saying this is “obvious” does not help answer the question. And while we can appreciate the “scale and sophistication of the techniques of the Stonehenge masons” when that actually happened is not proven.

Kostas

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Geo,

That Cursuses and Long Barrows exist is not the question. That these are man-made can be questioned, however. Those that claim they are have the burden of proof here. Saying this is “obvious” does not help answer the question. And while we can appreciate the “scale and sophistication of the techniques of the Stonehenge masons” when that actually happened is not proven.

Kostas