When the Sublime Apollo sent this message (on the record) this morning I was more than a little intrigued:
This has just been accepted: "Carn Alw as a source of the rhyolitic component of the Stonehenge bluestones: a critical reappraisal of the petrographical account of H.H. Thomas". Bevins and Ixer. (Apparently it will be in the Journal of Archaeological Science). When this is out, read and weep. It looks like he was a bit economical with the evidence - naughty man.
I keep my ear to the ground, and I have no intention of weeping. Of course I was aware that Rob and Richard were working on the rhyolites at Stonehenge and on Preseli, and also on the spotted dolerites which are at the core of the "bluestone myth." On the spotted dolerites, we await developments -- but of course there have been earlier suggestions that Carn Goedog (and not Carn Meini) was the real source of the spotted dolerite orthostats found at Stonehenge. If that is proved by new research to be correct, that would be the end of the 'bluestone quarry" idea at Carn Meini, so beloved of Profs Darvill and Wainwright.
Back to the rhyolites. HH Thomas was very keen on the idea that Carn Alw was the source of the main rhyolites at Stonehenge, because it is geographically quite close to Carn Meini. But in the analysis of his thin sections, his selection of samples, and his reporting of research results, how selective was he with the truth? It looks as if Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins are now going to suggest that he was indeed a "naughty man" who does not quite deserve the reverence which he is given by those who do not know much about geology.
This brings to mind two posts I pasted onto this blog in 2010:
Did HH Thomas cook the books?
Two great hoaxes: Piltdown Skull and Bluestone Quarry?
I paste these below, for convenience. As things stand, it looks increasingly likely that the bluestone myth is based upon faulty or even fraudulent science. Is this the REAL Stonehenge story of the century?
I have come across a lot of fraudulent science lately, in other contexts, and this got me thinking about whether HH Thomas deliberately "cooked the books" when it came to his original stunning revelations about the link between Stonehenge and Preseli. Increasingly, I think that he did distort and select his evidence in order to prove his point. For example, we still do not know how many samples he took, and we do not know how many "inconvenient" stones he chose simply not to report on..........
This is an extract from THE BLUESTONE ENIGMA:
It was Herbert Thomas who speculated on a Preseli origin for the Stonehenge bluestones in 1908 and then went on to propose, in his famous 1921 lecture, that the bluestones were identical to rocks cropping out within one small area around Carn Meini. These bluestones, located within the bluestone circle and the bluestone horseshoe, comprise 43 stones, give or take a few. The best estimate is that there are 27 spotted dolerites (including at least two that are broken in half), three unspotted dolerites, five altered volcanic ashes, five rhyolites (of which two are ignimbrites and two are lavas), two micaceous sandstones and a greenish sandstone called the Altar Stone. The spotted dolerites are more variable than one might think; some of them have obvious and large spots of whitish or pinkish feldspar, and others have spots that are almost too small to see with the naked eye. The two micaceous sandstones and five volcanic ashes are just left as stumps, buried beneath the turf.
Most people believe that Herbert Thomas actually sampled the bluestones in the stone settings at Stonehenge. He did not do that. Instead, his work was based upon a visual examination of 34 in situ stones and an analysis of fragments and samples from assorted collections made by William Cunnington, Nevil Maskelyne and William Judd. His analytical method was called “standard transmitted light petrography” which involved a detailed examination of thin sections made from his samples. He also looked at thin sections made from samples taken from the tors in the Preseli Hills, although it is unclear whether any of the samples were his own. Again he seems to have depended largely upon samples collected by other geologists. Some of the samples came from bluestone fragments found in the soil during excavations.
His paper was remarkably vague and unsatisfactory in many respects; we have no idea, to this day, how many samples he looked at and whether he reported on ALL of his analyses. He was driven by the belief that all of the stones must have come from one small source area, as suggested initially by Sir Jethro Teall. So although some of his rock identifications were anomalous, he seemed unprepared to consider the possibility that they had come from other far distant sources. For example, he rejected the possibility of some dolerite samples having come from the Cader Idris district on the grounds that “this locality may be disregarded as a possible source.” There was no explanation for this curt dismissal. He was far too hasty in assigning a Preseli origin to some of the rhyolite samples to which he had access. He also avoided a proper discussion of the source of the Altar Stone, and he made no mention at all of the “inconvenient” micaceous sandstone bluestones (numbered 40g and 42c) or the equally inconvenient fragments of sandstones, grits, quartzites, greywackes, argillaceous flagstones and slates, and of the glauconitic sandstone listed by Judd in 1902. He was familiar with Judd’s work, but treated it with disdain, largely because Judd was convinced that the Stonehenge bluestones were erratics of glacial origin! Thomas’s results were not tabulated or itemised anywhere, and it is impossible to tell which of his assumptions and conclusions are based on which samples. In the grand tradition of Stonehenge studies, confidence and bluster were sufficient to overcome any shortcomings on the data front. The five pairs of thin sections which illustrated his article were obviously selected to give the best “matches” possible; but that is fair enough, since he, as an author, was seeking to make a case! And let’s not be too critical here. Thomas was writing in 1923 when the science of geology was anything but mature, and there is no doubt at all that his work was of great importance.
Thomas knew that his sampled stones could not all have come from one “quarry” because of the petrographic differences which his work revealed. There were at least seven different rock types. So the heterogeneity of the bluestones had to be explained. He did this by proposing that the stones were erratics gathered together in one small area (possibly around Cilymaenllwyd) and utilised there in an early and simpler version of Stonehenge.
27 March 2012
Two great hoaxes: Piltdown Skull and Bluestone Quarry?
Some see a Missing Link -- others see a hoax.
There was a piece on the telly the other day about the Piltdown Man hoax of 1912. One thing struck me in the commentary -- namely the "fertile ground" which existed in Britain at the time, providing perfect conditions for the hoax to take root, to flourish and eventually (in spite of the reservations of some experts) to become part of mainstream thinking. This is what one web site says about the hoax:
"Perhaps the most famous hoax was Piltdown man. In 1912, at a time when Darwin's evolutionary theory was new, and people were looking for missing links between humans and apes, someone planted two fake skulls which came to be known as Piltdown Man.
The part medieval man, part Orang-utang fossil was found, in the very English village of Piltdown in Sussex. Piltdown man's scientific name, Eoanthropus dawsoni, reflected its finder's name Dawson. To get a flavour of those times, the British Empire was still riding high, and Germany had their Heidelberg man fossil, Britain was desperate for a more important ' missing link' between man and monkey."
The key to this is national pride, and a desire in Britain to demonstrate that whatever important discoveries there were in Germany, Britain had even better ones, showing the world what wonderful ancient civilizations we had here, and what brilliant archaeologists we had to uncover them and to expound new theories of evolution to the world...... OK, petty, nationalistic, xenophobic and even absurd, but that was the world around the time of the First World War. Germany had Neanderthal Man, and now Britain had the "Missing Link" -- even more important.
So what about HH Thomas and the bluestones? Well, I have suspected for some time that Thomas might have been guilty of simplification and selective citation of his samples and his rock identifications, in order to flag up the Carn Meini area as the source of the bluestones. I have also expressed my amazement in earlier posts that he "got away with murder" in that NOBODY seems to have seriously examined his evidence or questioned his wacky idea that the stones had been hauled by tribesmen all the way from Presely to Stonehenge in a totally unique feat of Stone Age long-distance transport. And why did people not scrutinize his theory more closely? Why, because there had been great discoveries about megalithic structures in Germany, and because British archaeologists were desperate to show that in these islands we had even more advanced prehistoric civilisations and even cleverer engineers and technicians.
Sounds absurd? I don't think so -- and a number of other authors have suggested that Thomas's idea was carefully put together around the time of the First World War as part of a national "feel good" strategy, and that the whole nation (and not just the archaeologists) just loved the idea when he announced it, and were disinclined to examine it carefully.
So Thomas became famous, then the bluestones became famous, and the "bluestone transport story" entered the mythology of Britain. It is still trotted out ad infinitum, even though there is even less evidence for it now than there was in 1920. And anybody who dares to question it, or to undermine our cosy assumptions about the extraordinary skills of our Neolithic ancestors, is likely to get short shrift from the archaeology establishment. Look at what happened to poor Geoffrey Kellaway.......
So was the Carn Meini / bluestone quarry / human transport story all a hoax? I think it's a distinct possibility. How much longer will it be before the whole mad idea about human transport is finally consigned to the scrapheap? Not long, I suspect, since the new geology being done by Rob Ixer and colleagues in the Stonehenge area is revealing so many new sources for the stones and fragments at Stonehenge that we are going to have to talk about 20 quarries all over western Britain, rather than one. And that would be to stretch things to a rather extraordinary degree......
All hoaxes have their day, and eventually bite the dust, leaving senior academics looking very foolish.