THE BOOK
Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my book called "The Bluestone Enigma" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Thursday, 3 January 2013

MPP's Stupendous Erection and the Cacophonous Waters


 One of the slides studied by Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins, showing the Jovian fabric of the Rhosyfelin rhyolites.  It's amazing what you can build out of a few chips of rock, if you REALLY try.....

Continuing my look at Ch 17 -- the one about the bluestones -- in MPP's latest book.  Here we come to the Erection of a Stupendous Hypothesis, which in effect rewrites the history of the British Neolithic.

From p 287 onwards, we are seriously into the territory of the hypothetical, if not the fantastical.  On the basis of his conviction that Rhosyfelin is the site of a bluestone quarry, and that Carn Goedog is another, MPP then takes the suggestions by the geologists that Carn Breseb and Carn Ddafad-las might be the sources of some bluestones to build a theory that the preferred bluestone quarrying sites were on the northern flank of Preseli at rock outcrops in the upper part of the Nevern Valley.  (That pretty well coincides with what I have been saying about the most likely locations for glacial entrainment by a glacier flowing over the Preseli ridge, but let that pass......)  Not content with that, the Professor says that he and Colin went fighting through the jungle a bit lower down the valley (probably near Felin y Gigfran) where they identified "two likely quarry sites beside the cacophonous waters".  Indiana Jones, eat your heart out.....  before we know it, we will have a veritable multitude of quarries.

So - forget about the south side of Preseli and Done Bushell's "prehistoric Holy Land", and concentrate on the north.  Castell Mawr is the site which attracts MPP's attention, and before he has even started serious excavations there, he is flagging it up as "the largest henge in Wales, a fitting social and political centre for the people of the bluestones."  He wants a big stone circle there, or maybe two, supplied from all these local quarries  -- reinforcing the idea that this was a local "ritual centre".  He even decides that the stone-movers would have carried their stones along the flattish valley floor until they reached the "gentle incline that leads out of the Nevern valley towards Castell Mawr a mile away."  Next, we move to the idea of a "powerful polity" in and around the valley, a people whose earliest ancestors had brought a megalithic tradition with them into west Wales when they came in from the sea -- and who then celebrated their power and their ancestry by building stone circles supplied from nearby quarries.  Then, later on, for some reason or other, the momentous decision was made to dismantle these circles and to transport them overland over a distance of 180 miles to Stonehenge...........

Wonderful, stirring stuff, based on no evidence whatsoever.

Next, Newport comes into the frame as a possible embarkation or dispatch point for the bluestone cargoes.  But no -- Colin Richards has apparently convinced MPP that sea transport was not challenging enough for our Neolithic ancestors, and that it would have been far more thrilling for thousands of people to have worked together in "great social spectacles" by laboriously hauling the stones overland.  Time would not have mattered to the stone pulling crews -- the important thing was status or renown!  And there would have been good food and few excellent raves along the way.  (And a Mother of all Raves waiting for you at Durrington Walls when you reached your destination....)  So vast numbers of eager volunteers would have pulled the stones along "an established network of routeways leading eastwards from Preseli."  These routeways would have followed the flat-bottomed glacial valleys so as to avoid the thickly-wooded valley sides.  (MPP does not explain why these valley floors are supposed to have been less thickly wooded than the valley slopes, but let that pass.)  So the preferred route seems to be the Nevern Valley travelling eastwards, over the watershed to the Taf valley, then on to Carmarthen, up the Towy Valley into the Brecon Beacons (collecting the Altar Stone on the way), over into the Usk Valley, and onwards towards a Severn crossing point and into England.  It is no coincidence, says MPP, that much of this route is today followed by the A40 road, since that too was based upon the principle of minimising transport costs.

The final bits of the epic saga relate to the nature of the societies which developed in Britain during the neolithic.  MPP thinks that migrating Continental farmers may have come in from the sea into West Wales and North Wales around 6,000 BP, creating two very wealthy and powerful societies based upon farming and animal husbandry.  He claims that the archaeological evidence of tomb types and enclosures supports this idea.  Then for some reason there was a mass migration from Pembrokeshire to Salisbury Plain around 5,500 - 5,000 years BP.  Did they ALL set off on this epic exodus?  MPP thinks that they might well have done.  Later on, after 30 generations or so, Preseli might have been remembered as a place of "ancestral significance" -- so in a mighty gesture of corporate solidarity and sacred significance, the whole of the Neolithic society of the day was moved to fetch all those stones from the Nevern Valley and to carry them to Stonehenge, thereby linking the ancient sacred centre with the new one at Stonehenge.  So Stonehenge became "a monument of unification, bringing together groups with different ancestries in a coalition that encompassed the entirety of Southern Britain, if not the entire island."  Hmmmmm....

MPP thinks that it might not have been all sweetness and light as far as the gigantic corporate stone-shifting enterprise was concerned, since there is evidence of some conflict at the time in the Welsh Borders -- but he won't let that spoil a good story.  Stonehenge remains in his mind as the great centre of political unification, mobilizing an entire society in its creation at the navel of the cosmos, bringing together the people of the sarsens and the people of the bluestones, the people who were pastoralists and the people who were farmers.

So this complex and stirring tale is the gigantic edifice which MPP and his colleagues have created, based largely (but not entirely) upon the supposition that Rhosyfelin is a Neolithic bluestone quarry from which stones were taken to Stonehenge.  Without Rhosyfelin, the whole story falls to pieces.  We might refer to the whole elaborate saga as MPP's Stupendous Erection, supported thus far by a strange consortium of sychophantic archaeologists, well-meaning but ill-informed volunteer field assistants, gullible media people, enthusiastic university press officers and TV producers thinking about the next archaeology block-buster.  Are none of these people capable of asking serious questions and insisting on rational replies?

I wonder if Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins imagined what the consequences might be when they did that rather neat bit of geological provenancing a few years ago? That was, after all, just a refinement or a continuation of a lot of work done by many other geologists over many years.  On very small foundations, mighty edifices are constructed.

More to the point, I wonder how long it will be before MPP's Stupendous Erection begins to collapse under its own weight?  I had better stop this post here, before I get carried away by my own metaphor........

3 comments:

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Brian,

I am struck by the style of MPP's writing! Quoting, for example, “... sites beside the cacophonous waters". Reminds me a little of newspaper photos of Mao swimming in deep water in the Yangtze River during the Cultural Revolution.

Is MPP's latest book political or archeological?

Kostas

Teabag said...

Not all the volunteer field assistants were ill informed, or all the archaeologists sycophantic..and what but a sheet of ice moves a hillside-full of rocks up slope ?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Well, that's reassuring, Teabag. Please tell me that there was plenty of good rational debate on the site, with natural processes (glacial and periglacial) duly considered alongside human agency. There are a number of natural processes that can move rocks upslope, including overriding ice, volcanic eruptions,tsunamis and even snow avalanches. For the purposes of this exercise, we'll stick to the good old Irish Sea Glacier...