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Thursday, 9 May 2013

How significant is Rhosyfelin?



Above: Bedd yr Afanc passage grave (what's left of it)
Below: the fortified "settlement platform" at Carn Alw

In the midst of all the hype about Rhosyfelin (and its assumed bluestone "quarry") in the last year or two, it's easy to forget that the area around it is actually quite rich in archaeological remains.  Most of those are far more important than Rhosyfelin.  Here are some of them:

Castell Mawr hillfort / enclosure.  An Iron Age settlement site with origins in the Neolithic?
Bedd yr Afanc passage grave
Castell Llwyd promontory fort (Iron Age?) on a spur above the Nevern river
Small unnamed fort on a spur above the river near Felin y Gigfran (Penybenglog group)
Castell Henllys Iron Age "village" (National Park visitor site)
Waun Mawn standing stones -- Bronze Age?
Carn Alw complex settlement traces -- Bronze Age and Iron Age
Carn Goedog -- traces of Bronze Age (and Neolithic?) settlements on the slope beneath the crags
Pentre Ifan cromlech -- Neolithic
Tycanol Wood -- assumed Iron Age fortified site
Foel Drygarn Bronze Age cairns inside an Iron Age fortified site
Carn Ingli Iron Age hillfort and abundant traces of Bronze Age / Iron Age settlement on the common
Nevern Castle -- Iron Age and maybe earlier traces beneath the medieval fortifications
Assorted standing stones -- assumed Bronze Age
Carreg Coetan cromlech, Newport.  Neolithic.
Eglwyswrw motte and bailey -- on an Iron Age site?
Settlement near Cwmgloyne -- Iron Age?
Caer, Bayvil -- Iron Age fortified site?
Trafael cup-marked stone -- Neolithic cromlech?
Crugiau Cemaes barrow cemetery -- Bronze Age

There is more info about some of these sites here:
www.dyfedarchaeology.org.uk/projects/schedulepembroke2010.pdf‎

and much, much more in Neil Figgis's excellent guide called "Prehistoric Preseli".

What we see across this landscape is a long history of continuous settlement, with many sites modified from one archaeological era and into the next.  Some sites have been used off and on for maybe 5,000 years, and they show that the landscape and its resources were capable of maintaining a small population which had some unique characteristics (for example, there is much debate about the "Nevern Valley" group of chambered tombs and their cultural associations....)

I know most of these sites pretty well, and I am not aware of any site to which stones have been hauled from somewhere else.  The stones used are ALWAYS local -- and while there is some doubt about the origin of the Trefael Stone, that is almost certainly an erratic picked up and used more or less where it was found.  Nor is there any evidence of stone colour or texture mattering in the least -- I cannot see any evidence of some stones being preferred above others.  The message is that the people who built all these monuments -- ranging across the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age -- were entirely disinterested in both the origins of the stones used, and the nature of those stones.

The second key point is that in a moderately well settled community such as that of the Nevern Valley and its tributaries,  there must have been considerable seasonal movement between the woodlands in the valleys and the open pastures of the Preseli Hills and Mynydd Carningli -- and even the spurs of Carnedd Meibion Owen, Waun Mawn and Frenni Fawr.  That means that people were travelling, hunting and camping -- and later on moving about with domesticated animals as well.  Trade, raiding expeditions, and transhumance would all have played a part.   In that context, it would not be at all surprising that traces of temporary encampments would have been found at Rhosyfelin -- it is a perfect sheltered location with a handy ford across the river, probably grazing for animals on the meadows of the flood plain, and maybe even hunting to be had in the wooded valley itself.  Fish traps and animal traps might well have featured.  I would hazard a guess that Rhosyfelin Camp -- and maybe scores of other river valley locations in the area -- were used from Mesolithic times right through to the Roman period.

So was Rhosyfelin an important place?  I doubt it.  Was it a site for a bluestone quarry, linked to Stonehenge?  You must be joking.......

13 comments:

chris johnson said...

I was left with the impression that the dig would continue this year and go down to older levels.

What do you think Brian? Is this site silted up by the last five thousand years with a combination of river and hill deposits? Or has it been scoured away?

Maybe there is more to find ...

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Chris,

The soil level that is relevant here is the level the “lying orthostat” at Rhosyfelin is. Digging deeper for older soils is totally irrelevant to that. But the need to dig deeper tells us the RC-dates MPP got for Rhosyfelin do not fit his “bluestone quarry” theory for Rhosyfelin. And that is why MPP is not releasing these RC-dates to the world!

Kostas

chris johnson said...

Kostas,
You are jumping to conclusions. The only fact we are sure about is that science points strongly to a link between the Rhosyfelin outcrop and some broken stones at Stonehenge. On this blog at least there is no consensus that the big stone was prepared by humans to be an orthostat.

According to reports some stone implements were found last season but there is no inevitable link to neolithic quarrymen. This area would have been used for thousands of years in the normal course of life in the Nevern valley - it would have been remarkable had NO stone tools been found at this location.

Maybe information has been published in the meantime of which I am unaware. My belief currently is that the Rhosyfelin dig is a work in progress.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I share Kostas's frustration that we appear to have a "news blackout" relating to Rhosyfelin, with 2 digging seasons gone and the approach of a third. All we have to show for it is a rather fanciful "spin" in MPP's Stonehenge book -- no excavation reports, no release of C14 dates, no peer-reviewed science of any sort. Even if Nat Geog Mag is putting up most of the money, presumably there is also public money involved, and we might be justified in asking what we are getting in exchange for our investment..... can anybody enlighten us and reassure us that we, as taxpayers, are not just throwing good money after bad?

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Chris,

You write, “You are jumping to conclusions. The only fact we are sure about is that science points strongly to a link between the Rhosyfelin outcrop and some broken stones at Stonehenge.”

Tell that to MPP who out of nothing created single-handedly a “bluestone quarry” at Rhosyfelin. But still is keeping the RC-dates to himself!

Kostas

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Brian,

We have often in the past debated the question “how capable were prehistoric people? And what significant role culture and organized society had in the building of great public works?”.

Those (like Geo and Chris and others) who believe prehistoric people were capable of doing great works point to Gobekli Tepe as a prime example. In the paper I link below, I argue Gobekli Tepe is the site of The “Hanging Gardens” of Babylon. It was built around 600BC by a well known Civilization that has left ample other evidence of its existence.

I think this is an important topic in any discussion on Stonehenge! Since this example has been brought up repeatedly by Geo and others. Please read and perhaps create a new post in your blog for a good discussion on this all-important question.
The "Hanging Gardens" of Gobekli Tepe

Kostas

TonyH said...

In "Current Archaeology" magazine, the most popular (widely-read) mag. of its kind in Britain, late last year 'the Stones Of Stonehenge' MPP project was publicised to its readers as a serious contender for the title (based on reader's votes) of Project of the Year, or words to that effect. But, as Brian says above in a comment, there appears to have been a "News Blackout" on Rhosyfelin, and, similarly, on what I've just described. I've heard/seen nothing but a deafening SILENCE from Current Archaeology Magazine. Others here may have more luck, but I find no mention so far of the 'Stones of Stonehenge' Project that was well publicised late-2012. That, incidentally, is meant to include the attempts to find the hypothetical route of sarsens from Marlboro' Downs/ Avebury vicinity to Stonehenge by brawny motivated or threatened locals.

TonyH said...

I wonder how highly Geoff Wainwright now ranks Rhosyfelin amongst your list of local North Pembrokeshire prehistoric features? He is, after all, living locally, and has worked for many years on the SPACES project with Tim Darvill, and seems to bravely place his professional reputation on there being a link between Preseli and Stonehenge involving spectacular human efforts. Does anyone have any knowledge of how Geoffrey feels?

chris johnson said...

Brian, you don't want to speculate it seems on my question about Rhosyfelin site. It would be easy to be proved wrong when the dig reports are published but I would value your opinion nevertheless.

It seems to me that this is an incredibly difficult location to date, due to the proximity between the river and the eroding hillside. It has likely been used for millenia as a convenient camping site next to the ford - so plenty of human and natural interference.

MPP is being very careful, as well he might. This could turn out to be a very important site.

By the way, George Nash mentioned that a dig was planned around Bedd yr Afanc. Did anyone hear anything more about this?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- re your question. Sorry not to have responded -- been rather busy lately with assorted building repair projects! Yes, the Rhosyfelin dig site is very well "silted up" with a long accumulation of slope deposits. This can be seen clearly in many of the photos which I have posted. There is more to be discovered. As I have said on a number of occasions, I think they have got down already to the top of a layer which looks to me like till -- and when they dig down this year I will be happy to offer my services if they want somebody to look at it who knows a bit about glacial deposits!

My bet is that the till is Devensian. That means that everything above it is likely to be from the period 20,000 BP to the present. All those layers and labels in the photos suggest that samples have been taken and that C14 dating has been done, but what with the news blackout we have no idea what has been found. This is why Kostas is so upset -- he wants the TRUTH!!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Bedd yr Afanc? haven't heard anything of a new dig, but it would make good sense -- it's an interesting and rather unusual site, and it would be good to know more....

TonyH said...

It seems, from word of mouth here in Wiltshire, that MPP and his diggers will be back at Rhosyfelin this September. I wonder what will be their eventual contribution to the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre at Airman's Corner, near Stonehenge, which is due to be opened in late 2014. And will that Visitor Centre present a BALANCED, UP-TO-DATE view of the Bluestone debate. It IS still a debate: no foregone conclusions are acceptable for presentation to the visiting world. English Heritage, it's over to you.

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Tony,

MPP can't say anything relevant about Rhosyfelin without releasing the RC-dates he is holding. And I seriously doubt if he will do that. If he needs to dig deeper at Rhosyfelin, that can only mean he has not found the dates he needs for his "quarry theory". And contrary to Brian, I believe the RC-dates MPP is concealing are too early (say 2000BP) and not too late (say 20,000BP) as Brian argues.

This would make sense for a couple of reasons. By digging deeper MPP hopes to get to soil levels closer to his "target date" of say 4000BP (which would indicate the RC-dates he now has are much younger than that). And secondly, the "orthostat" he has uncovered at Rhosyfelin does not show signs of wear had it been exposed or buried for 20,000 years. Flaky foliated rhyolites would show much more errosion over such a long span of time, I think.

Brian, one way or another the truth will come out. And it will become the mirror for all to see what you are.

Kostas