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Monday, 11 March 2013

Skeletons, Secrets, Stonehenge and Skulduggery



I have been taking another look at the Channel 4 programme called "Secrets of the Stonehenge Skeletons" and have paused it in the middle because I am now seriously confused.

MPP says that the bluestones were in position around 5,000 years ago, set into the 56 holes which we call the Aubrey Holes.  His thesis is that the stones were put into position to "seal in" the cremated bones of men, women and children who belonged to high-status families or aristocracy.  The bones confirm this, having come apparently from 63 different individuals, C14 dated to 3000 BC to 2800 BC.  So far so good.

Then it gets confusing.  The commentary of the film says "amongst the cremated bones of the bodies at Stonehenge, his team has unearthed two ancient clues."  One of them was a beautiful mace head, and the other was a pottery incense burner with traces of burning on its rim.  MPP is shown examining them, together with a highly ornamented mace staff or shaft with zig-zag bone features affixed.  These are all referred to as "Stonehenge grave goods".  MPP then says to camera:  "The presence of a mace head in one of the burials at Stonehenge indicates that that man was a person of authority."





But hang on a bit -- don't we have a problem here?  I thought that all these items were supposed to be Bronze Age?   So I did a bit of googling, and found that the mace head and bits and pieces of the staff did indeed come from Bush Barrow, where they were discovered by Cunnington and his colleagues in 1808.  They were not unearthed by MPP and his team at all.   These items were indeed Bronze Age, and are normally associated with the Beaker culture on Salisbury Plain, which did not make an impact until about 2,500 BC -- about 500 years later than the placing of the cremated bones in the Aubrey Holes.

I am not sure where the pottery incense burner came from, but I'm pretty sure I have never seen a mention of such a thing in connection with either the cremated bones or the Aubrey Holes.  Does anybody recognize it?

So in arguing for his hypothesis of aristocratic families being cremated and being buried beneath bluestones in the Aubrey holes, MPP has apparently used artifacts that are at least 500 years too young to have any bearing on the cremations; and he has also used artifacts that have not even come from the Stonehenge site.  Very naughty indeed -- and as far as I am concerned, this illustrates that (like various other professors who shall be nameless) he is not averse to inventing evidence or misrepresenting evidence in order to support a favourite hypothesis.  Academic fraud?  I leave it to others to decide........

And if there is serious misrepresentation here, MPP cannot blame the producers of the programme.  Some of the misleading statements have come from the spoken commentary (which he must have seen and approved) and some of them come from his own mouth, on film.


43 comments:

geocur said...

Both came from burials at Stonehenge . The mace head came from a cremation burial near the south entrance and typically Neolithic .
"Incense burners " are more often associated with the beaker package but there was a similar find dated to the Neolithic from Flagstones ,the sister monument of Stonehenge .

TonyH said...

As Terry Wogan might say, steady on,Brian! Turn to pages 204 - 206 of your esteemed copy of MPP'S recent magnum opus, "Stonehenge...", and all will be revealed. Read on, MacDuff. Our early 20th Century friend, Colonel William Hawley, did indeed discover a polished stone macehead with one of the Aubrey Hole cremation burials; and a ceramic item interpreted as an "incense burner". Both are illustrated: on pages 205 and 207. Yes, perhaps he did use the Bush Barrow objects to illustrate similar, better conserved artefacts which are also on display in Wiltshire Museums for all to see. Perhaps he could have told us this in his one - hour time slot. To err is human.....

BRIAN JOHN said...

Geo -- there might have been mace heads and incense burners at Stonehenge, but the items handled by MPP in the film were not those. These appear to be Bronze Age objects housed in Salisbury Museum?

TonyH said...

We seem to be maintaining our brave literary tradition on Brian's blog once more, with skulduggery, Macduff, and their inferences of the Scottish Play, eh, GeoCur? Now where is Neil Oliver and his eyebrows when we need him most? Sorry, I've just been watching Billy Connolly in Northern Canada amongst the Inuit and the glaciers and he's catching.

TonyH said...

Brian - I reckon the macehead mght even be one from Devizes Museum, note Mike appears to be in a Society Library in your illustration from the programme. David Dawson, Director of said museum, are you out there?

TonyH said...

The Mace Head could be from Upton Lovell, west of Stonehenge, if so it is from the so - called 'Shaman's Barrow'. Incidentally, this is in one prime location you have suggested, along with Aubrey Burls, for the bluestones to have been deposited naturally, not so far from the Wylye river, and also Boles Barrow.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I think you might be right, Tony. There is a picture of said mace head on the Devizes Museum web site. Maybe the polished stone one found by Hawley was not available for filming? Whatever the truth of the matter, this is pretty slovenly film making -- and in his book MPP says that the Bush Barrow mace head is dated to about 1900 BC, or 500 years later than the one found by Hawley.

Where did Hawley find his mace head? Was it in an Aubrey Hole?

geocur said...

"The mace head came from a cremation burial near the south entrance and typically Neolithic ." I'm pretty sure it was found in a shallow hole not an Aubrey hole associated with a child's cremation .
The "incense burner " on the prog is the same ,the mace is different .

Anonymous said...

the Mace head and Cup are from the Devizes museum. Mike was filmed in the long room there talking about the objects. sorry not to have commented earlier but I have been crying with laughter since watching the program yesterday,
PeteG

Anonymous said...

the Mace head and Cup are from the Devizes museum. Mike was filmed in the long room there talking about the objects. sorry not to have commented earlier but I have been crying with laughter since watching the program yesterday,
PeteG

Anonymous said...

BTW these objects come from the BA Bush Barrow,
PeteG

Wiltshire Heritage Museum said...

The macehead shown in the programme is indeed from Bush Barrow and is in the Wiltshire Heritage Museum (we haven't been called Devizes Museum for 12 years now).

The problem came in the editing. When MPP was filming (and I was there) he was talking about the macehead found at Stonehenge was important and that Bush Barrow, with its gold, emphasised how much of a status symbol maceheads were.

All this went onto the cutting room floor, and we were left with something that didn't make any sense if you recognised the finds.

Wiltshire Heritage Museum said...

btw - thanks for TonyH for asking me to help clarify this!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thank you all! So the objects used in the film actually came from the Bronze Age Bush Barrow, not from Stonehenge. They are now in the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes, which is where the relevant piece of filming was done. A polished stone mace head was found by Hawley in one of the cremation burials (not in an Aubrey Hole) -- this is the one shown on p 205 of MPP's book. The "drum shaped pottery object" shown on p 207 of MPP's book may have come from the same cremation burial site? But again that was not from an Aubrey Hole. Was it from Flagstones, as Geo suggests?

In the film, it is quite clear that MPP was using objects that are 500 years too young to demonstrate the supposed sophistication of the Neolithic people whose cremated remains are in the Aubrey Holes. It suited his purpose very well -- he was after all pushing a certain hypothesis.

Very dodgy indeed -- whose fault was it? Even if the Editor did nasty things in the cutting room, MPP (as the technical and specialist advisor on the programme) should not have allowed that highly miseading sequence to be broadcast.

Will we now see a statement or press release correcting the nonsense contained in this part of the programme? I somehow doubt it......

BRIAN JOHN said...

Re this comment from our WHM friend: "we were left with something that didn't make any sense if you recognised the finds." Hmmm -- were they hoping than nobody WOULD recognize the finds used in the film?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Re Pete G's comment that he has crying with laughter since watching the programme, maybe that's the best reaction -- to treat it as an archaeological spoof, not intended to be watched by anybody who knows anything about Stonehenge.

TonyH said...

Perhaps The Butler did it?! Jim Carter was the butler in the recent ITV smash hit, Downton Abbey, which, of course, is ENTIRELY factual. It was his calm, reassuring, mellow tones we heard on the voiceover on MPP's "Secrets" show. Perhaps he was used to add extra gravitas, particularly bearing in mind the huge, naive American audience. Still, let's hope it all stimulates the Wiltshire [and UK] Economy!

Jon Morris said...

Here's the UCL take:

UCL

Anyone know where the "Durrington only lasted 45 years" idea came from?

geocur said...

Brian ,I wasn't suggesting the "incense burner " came from Flagstones . The ic in the prog looks like the one found at Stonehenge , a similar one from the same period was found at Flagstones . Both are uncommon as these artefacts are more usually associated with the Bronze Age package .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes Tony -- Jim Carter's voice really is rather wonderful. Deep and mellow and reassuring -- and of course everything he says MUST be true...

thothistheibis said...

I have a note here telling me that there were human bones (not a cremation) found in the SSE close to Moonrise Major 2500 BCE which was at 140.91 degrees. This person had a mace head with him. My note doesn't tell me where I got this information, but think this was mentioned on one of the Stonehenge programs that have been on lately. I have not seen the latest as yet, can't wait to see what drivel has come out of this.

The idea that Durrington Walls was only occupied for 45 years came from the analysis of the pig bones found so far, according to MPP even though very little of Durrington Walls has been excavated and there could be many more animal bones buried there which could possibly show different dates. Seems ridiculous to build a settlement just for seasonal occupation and then only for 45 years. This doesn't ring true.

TonyH said...

Does anyone know whether it is now though that the henge bank and ditch POST-DATE the so - called Durrington village, within which were found all the feasting elements? i thought I'd heard that stated by the Stonehenge Riverside Project folk.

TonyH said...

"The settlement that lasted 45 years only" could, just possibly, be compared to the post - 1945 use of temporery prefab constuctions to replace housing destroyed during WWII. But I agree that a good imagination may be required to believe this until more of the Durrington settlement area is excavated over the next 20 - 100 years.

TonyH said...

Just possibly "the settlement that lasted only 45 years" could be compared with the post - 1945 prefab concrete house building that rapidly replaced the housing bomb - damged during WWII. But I agree that such a sizeable village as MPP is suggesting needs excavation of a much larger area before his claim can be substantiated.

Anonymous said...

I am not in a position to recognise which monument a macehead came from but I can recognise a grotesque anachronism in a commentary such as this: the idea of a 'British nation', extending from the English channel to Orkney, in 3000+ BC. We had references to the 'British Isles', but a map which excluded Ireland. No explanation was given of whether the possibility of animals having come from Ireland or from across the English Channel did not need to be considered, had been considered but found not to apply, or had been ignored because of an insular 'British' mindset. Actually I found the usage of the terms Britain and Europe as mutually exclusive rather revealing.

It would be rather nice to think that Orkney cattle were in demand in Wiltshire because of their supreme quality; but I wonder if it wouldn't be more realistic to think of the transport of preserved meat rather than droving, or even shipping, cattle 1000 km or whatever.

One further comment: it seems very Anglocentric to propose that people from all over the British Isles would have looked to Stonehenge as their 'mother church'. After all it is architecturally pretty crude and in a dull landscape compared to Orkney's Neolithic monuments and the greatest of those in Ireland.

thothistheibis said...

Here's a thought, why did they have henges? Why did the Cursus and the Avenue have high banks? Why was it necessary to dig such a large ditch and create such high bank(s) at places such as Avebury, Durrington Walls and Stonehenge? There were only very narrow openings into the henges and the Cursus, easily defended, but from who or what? I suggest that this was to keep out the wild boar.None of these things were deep enough or high enough to keep out people, but wild boar might have a hard time of it with deep ditches and high banks.
There never has been a good explanation for these. Anything within a henge has always been filed under 'ritual' area, but Durrington Walls was a settlement and the Avenue a road.
Just a thought.

Jon Morris said...

"The settlement that lasted 45 years only" could, just possibly, be compared to the post - 1945 use of temporery prefab constuctions to replace housing destroyed during WWII.

Could be. Mind you, many of the pre-fabs are still in use: The problem with the wrinkly tin pre-fabs was energy efficiency and the cost of maintenance. But, like almost any form of construction, it can be made to last exceptionally long periods if it is maintained.

geocur said...

Tony , houses were found inside the western central area of the henge and also under the henge bank near the southern entrance . Houses also found outside the henge but not believed to predate the bank and ditch .

Constantinos Ragazas said...

thothistheibis you write,

“There never has been a good explanation for these [henges, ditches, high banks, avenues, settlements, etc.]”


I agree with you and empathize with your bewilderment. But your explanation “this was to keep out the wild boar” is more grasping for straw! Seen many wild boar? They can climb over any embankment made of mud!

We need to look elsewhere for sensible explanations for all of these prehistoric enigmas. I suggest we look to Nature and not Man.

Kostas

Anonymous said...

"Even if the Editor did nasty things in the cutting room, MPP (as the technical and specialist advisor on the programme) should not have allowed that highly miseading sequence to be broadcast."
You haven't had experience of this I take it - if MPP owned CH4 and the production company he wouldn't have any say on what went out. One didn't have to know very much for this prog to come over as pretty awful, but it wasn't made for the informed - it's teletainment.

BRIAN JOHN said...

As it happens, I do have experience of being involved in TV docs -- including The One Show! That was pretty awful dumming down too! But I think that if my views had been distorted or misrepresented on the programme. I would have chosen to go on the record to put things straight. As far as I know, MPP has not done that.

geocur said...

" I would have chosen to go on the record to put things straight. As far as I know, MPP has not done that."

He has ,as mentioned yesterday .

"Mpp in a talk in leicester last night accepted that the impression given on the prog about cattle from Orkney was wrong ."

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Geo -- yes, quite right. That's progress. I wonder what else he said in his talk? Did anybody hear it?

TonyH said...

Yet, Geo, he chose to use map of the [modern] British Isles which clearly identified Orkney, using a large circle......this drew our eyes to Orkney, even if it was not even mentioned!

I wonder if Myris has any knowledge of what was said at the Leicester MPP talk.I believe he has contacts at the University there.

Geocur said...

Tony , Yes , Orkney was circled on the GE type map but I was more concerned with the strontium signatures map used by Jane Evans and then the cut to Orkney . MPP did say "may have come from Orkney too .

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Tony,

MPP can pleasantly wiggle out of any tight corner and still stick to his story.

Kostas

myris of alexandia said...

Sadly Myris cannot help re MPP
The Sr map is a modified geological map of Britain and hence is broad brush. It is 25 miles to the inch. I think. Through the aether Jane told me some of their Sr data match Sr data from the Orkney Islands but until sampling is 100 per cent ....
Also the data are only for Britain not for the near continent.
C14 dating at Cryf is on going.
A J at last in power bring back the Tridentine Mass for everyday use then think about the masses.
M.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, I'm intrigued by the strontium isotope map used in the programme. it's different from the one used by Sarah Viner in her podcast. That one showed that there were several small areas (in Wales and Cornwall, as I recall) which were coloured red, and which could have been the areas of origin for the cattle teeth with the highest strontium traces in them. Has that map now been abandoned in favour of a different one that allows a more "convenient" interpretation to be made by MPP and his colleagues?

Does anybody out there know the history of the strontium isotope map of the UK?

BRIAN JOHN said...

You can sometimes manipulate a map simply by changing the range covered by each colour in the key -- so the map will look quite different depending on the number of colours you choose to use.

myris of Alexandria said...

Whoops
I think that Jane said some data were the same as the very old rocks in Scotland.
I am not sure she mentioned the Orkney Islands. I did.
Compare the two maps. Sr and geology.
M

geocur said...

The Sarah Viner map was created by Jane Evans and has 5 colours whilst the NERC (also Jane Evans ) map on the prog has 8 .
The 5 colour map shows Scotland in much broader brush strokes with the mainland highlands wit the one exception of the Cairngorms /Grampians SE of the Great Glen giving values of >0.7100-0.713 .Whereas the 8 colour map shows the area N and W of the Great Glen giving values closer to that found in middle England . There is a red on the guide that is for values >0.720 but nothing of that value is found on the map or at Durrington .

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thank you, Geo -- useful information. Myris also asked about the maps -- I'll put them up on a post.

geocur said...

ooops I missed out a question mark after "Jane Evans " in the NERC map comment . I was only guessing that she was the creator for that one .