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....
To order, click
HERE

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Ploughing in West Kennet Avenue?



More thanks to Pete G for yet another pic -- this time a painting from 1895, showing plouging furrows running along the line of the Avenue.  According to Pete, the alignments exposed in the current dig run across the Avenue at an angle -- so this might rule out the ploughing hypothesis, unless these deep marks date from medieval or even earlier ploughing......  after all, many parts of rural Britain were transformed by ridge and furrow farming practices in the Middle Ages.

20 comments:

Dave Maynard said...

Many different types of ploughing leave different plough marks. I assume this painting of 1895 shows the results of single furrow horse drawn ploughs, do we expect them to leave deep marks that pull up the subsoil? Farmers don't tend to want to bring up the subsoil anyway, even if it is easy to do with modern horesepower.

In my experience of big open area excavations on chalk, it was very apparent that different types of marks could be seen, ranging from small parallel marks to more widely spaced deeper marks (sometimes with allusions to 'Victorian steam ploughs').

Usually a close examination can indicate if they are recent (the last couple of seasons) by looser fill, or older with a more compact fill. It does take experience and the ability to see the pattern over a large area, smaller trenches may make it more difficult to be sure of the origin of a feature.

There is also perhaps a problem that the archaeologist may dismiss them as 'not interesting, or not why we're here' and neglect to record them adequately (not something I'm accusing any of the sites under discussion here!).

In Cambridgeshire on clay, I've seen Romano British settlements with ridge and furrow through them. Every 5 metres or so, there was a 2-3m zone of deposits completely removed by the furrow and normal preservation on the line of the ridge. I've never seen anything like that on chalk subsoil, I don't know about the clay vales in those areas, possibly ridge and furrow cultivation was used, but certainly not on the scale of the Midlands.

Dave

TonyH said...

I would hazard a guess that the "geologist" that Pete has been told is 'very impressed' with the alleged periglacial stripes here is in fact ubiquitous Environmental specialist and 'snail man' Mike Allen ( who, incidentally, had been a student of Wales' John Evans at Cardiff). Mike Allen has his own company called Allen Envronmental Archaeology based near Warminster, and is a member of MPP's Stonehenge Riverside Project. He is also frequently involved in matters Avebury e.g the WAM article vol 105, 2012 pp 1-20 entitled "East of Avebury:tracing prehistoric activity and environmental change in the environs of Avebury henge" [Pollard, Allen, Cleal, Snashall, Gunter, Roberts and Robinson].

I have mentioned Mike Allen and his so-called 'geomorphological' colleague, Charly French (another product of tuition by Cardiff-based archaeologist, the late John Evans), many times previously on this Blog, often in relation to alleged periglacial stripes.

What is most striking to me in all of this is that it is not the stripes themselves that are so striking, but the absence of a genuine geomorphologist consultant in the analysis of what they are seeing, and then publishing or speaking about to the media at the first opportunity. People are being far too "trigger happy" and are jumping to conclusions without sufficient specialist analysis. In that regard, they may be compared to 19th Century Antiquarians attributing so much to The Romans, for instance.

Not good Science, really, is it?

TonyH said...

Avebury, along with Stonehenge, forms one composite World Heritage Site, despite the geographical separation of these two iconic locations.

Given that Avebury is, rightly, in a prestigious World Heritage Site, it, along with the Stonehenge wider landscape, should have specialists drawn from ALL quarters drawing up comments and recommendations, and not what we seem to have i.e. a rather closed inward-looking group, exclusively made up of archaeological specialists, who tend to "already know" what to expect to unearth.

Insufficient allowance is made for non-man-made features, i.e. features of the natural landscape. I do not believe this is always so of other archaeological World Heritage Sites, e.g. the Boyne Valley in Ireland., where I have seen the word "geomorphology" used in a recent piece of research. Balance is everything. The taxpayer should expect it.

TonyH said...

I would liken the behaviour of the archaeological fraternity at the Avebury & Stonehenge World Heritage Site to that of an economic cartel.Check the meaning of this out via Google or your own Search Engine and you will get my drift. The result of an economic cartel is fixing of prices, supply, etc. What we have in our own context is the fixing of intellectual ideas within too narrow parameters - not good, is it? Whom does it serve?

Anonymous said...

there is a dig blog here
PeteG

http://ntarchaeostonehengeaveburywhs.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/avebury-dig-day-9-and-a-bit/

BRIAN JOHN said...

This is what Nick Snashall says on her blog: "Charly and Mike are also rather fond of our periglacial stripes in Trench 2. These chalk stripes, which formed when areas further north were glaciated, are really well preserved. In fact Charly and Mike have rarely seen their like before on the chalk. What does this mean? Well for a start it means that the area we’re looking at hasn’t been ploughed for centuries. And that’s very good news when it comes to being able to trust the spatial resolution of the finds in this area. We’ve noticed that even the finds that don’t appear to be within features have been popping up in clusters so this will help us work out what activities people were carrying out where here during the Neolithic."

So let's have your evidence, guys. Why do you think these features are periglacial?

Jon Morris said...

What we have in our own context is the fixing of intellectual ideas within too narrow parameters - not good, is it? Whom does it serve?

Perhaps there aren't funds available to employ the necessary specialists? I don't know anything about how the WHS arrangement works but imagine that they rely on goodwill to get a lot of their specialist input.

Funds seem to be drying up, so I can't imagine that things will get better. Perhaps this is just the result of the field as a whole being seen by the public to have delivered little of consequence for the effort so far? Some recent press releases have seemed to be a little too desperate to find something that will interest the public.

BRIAN JOHN said...

With ref to Jon's point about the distortion of research, here is a short extract from a recent article:

"Not sufficiently understood by outsiders is the fact that most of science is essentially now a top-down project. There persists a romantic notion (retained by many scientists) that science is a process of free enquiry. In this view, the endless grant applications and the requests for applications are merely quality control measures, or irritants imposed by bureaucrats.

But free enquiry in science is all but extinct. In reality, only a tiny proportion of research in biology gets done outside of straightjackets imposed by funding agencies. Researchers design their projects around funding programs; universities organize their hiring around them, and every experiment is carefully designed to bolster the next grant application.

The consequences of this dynamic are that individual scientists have negligible power within the system; but more importantly it opens a route by which powerful political or commercial forces can surreptitiously set the science agenda from above."

http://sustainablepulse.com/2013/08/01/science-as-social-control-political-paralysis-and-the-genetics-agenda/#.UfykJVOXKoC

This was written with respect to GM research, but seems to apply pretty well to archaeological funding too......

geocur said...

Archaeology has had for some time now one big advantage for provision of cheap/free information direct from excavation with no agenda set by anyone ,archaeologists included. This is the massive "Grey Literature " derived from excavations funded by developers who have to fund the excavation .

BRIAN JOHN said...

True -- the laws relating to "rescue digs" and so forth in cases where development is taking place are very good for the profession of archaeology. The reports coming out of those digs seem to me to be very competent and free of bias -- and are often written by good young archaeologists making their careers in some archaeological trust or other. What worries me -- and many others -- is the increasing tendency for the "big names" in archaeology to be more and more dependent upon a very dodgy grant-awarding system and upon media contracts. In both cases there is inexorable pressure to create premature and very wacky hypotheses and to HIT THE HEADLINES......

Jon Morris said...

I remember talking to one chap who was advocating a new theory: A combination of archaeology and another very specialist subject. I asked him if he'd got any input from that discipline (because there were big problems with the part of his theory; which happens to be my specialism but I didn't want to be unkind so didn't mention). The response was that, because it was the specialism combined with archaeology, and because he was a trained archaeologist, his expertise would be more relevant than anyone who was an expert in the specialist subject.

That ended that particular conversation.

The consequences of this dynamic are that individual scientists have negligible power within the system; but more importantly it opens a route by which powerful political or commercial forces can surreptitiously set the science agenda from above.

The commercial forces driving GM research are looking for a way to profit. I can see an equivalent in say archaeology related to stately homes and so on: Preservation of the past for future generations makes it a public interest issue.

I can't see a commercial reason to do the Avebury type of research, so I imagine the driver behind funding must be a public interest perspective. The research is very interesting to a small minority but doesn't seem at first sight to have a preservation value. So from a public interest perspective, what is the overarching point of doing more of this type of research?

geocur said...


It's just media savvy PR people and attempts to maintain funding. The headlines are often concerned with an attention grabbing interpretation , leaving the real discoveries from the an excavation and interest in the small print . We just have to read between the lines and appreciate / highlight the differences between the "worlds oldest calender " nonsense and the recent intersting "halls of the dead " Dorstone finds .

ND Wiseman said...

The thrust of the particular dig-blog seems to indicate that they feel this location hasn't been plowed 'In Centuries' ― whereas PeteG's picture shows obvious cultivation in the last hundred years or so.
I cannot speak to what information they initially hoped to glean from the overall dig, but everyone involved seems to be newly focused on the so-called 'Periglacial Stripes' of the Dig-2 trench.
Unless they were looking specifically for these stripes it seems to me that their importance with regard to the WK Avenue is marginal. They run obliquely to the line of marking stones, so I'm not seeing any connection.

Brian, among others, rightly questions the provenance of similar stripes along the Stonehenge Avenue. I contend that, as they pre-date human activity, who cares what they are or how they were formed? They align to Solstice and point toward the monument. This becomes a pretty hefty rationale for a number of ideas associated with that specific location.

The stripes mentioned in the article above ― whatever they really are ― cannot be said to have the same caché.

Cross-discipline investigation is today a major contributor to accurate theories concerning Archeology in general. Astronomy, geology, biology, ethnography, dendrochronology … on & on, all create a clearer snapshot of a particular moment in time. For example: whatever we might think of MPP's published findings with regard to the Riverside Project, the fact remains that the evidence was examined by many different schools of thought. The current economic climate is a real impediment to this line of query.

In the previous thread, the article in question concerned a possible 'Moon Calendar'. Well, as mentioned, headlines are important to generate interest and therefore funding. But to declare those 12 pits a Lunar Calendar is the purest form of speculation and a bald faced attempt to direct the eye.
I don't know what they're ultimately trying to find on the WK Avenue, but I doubt it has much to do with attention-grabbing Stripes.
Neil

TonyH said...

Dr Nick Snashall has been mentioned above in relation to Avebury excavations earler [Brian 23.07hrs on 2nd August; myself at 14.30 hrs also 2nd August].

She also is a writer of historical and archaeological fiction, and has a website at:-

http://www.nicolaford.com

It is very informative about her talks, events, and books. She works for the National Trust and is based at Avebury. Some of her talks are available to listen to on-line e.g. the packed-out Avebury Society Annual Lecture. Her job also encompasses the Stonehenge half of the Avebury & Stonehenge World Heritage Site. Her particular expertise is prehistoric flintwork. I have found Nick to be friendly and objective, just as her website implies.

Jon Morris said...

This becomes a pretty hefty rationale for a number of ideas associated with that specific location.

Assuming that the alignment of the stripes has been correctly identified. Perhaps proof exists, but at the moment the proposed alignment appears to be based on local samples and the assumption that those sampled areas will eventually prove to line up?

The current economic climate is a real impediment to this line of query.

It is difficult to see why investigation will continue to be funded if there is no clear social benefit to having the work done (unless the funding ends up coming entirely from entertainment channels). For example, if the Avebury dig is being done because a small minority of people are interested, but there's no benefit to the public, this sort of proposal is less likely to be successful in the upcoming rounds: The cuts have been staged to come in gradually, so I would guess that other sectors will get priority.

I've asked this question on a number of forums: Nobody's been able to give an answer as to what public benefit there is in doing more of this sort of archaeological research! (I'd like it to be otherwise so not trying to be argumentative)

BRIAN JOHN said...

This idea of "public benefit" is a difficult one in the research field. If you had to identify a clear public benefit in advance of any field research being done, you probably wouldn't get much research done at all. Pure research has to be done in all sorts of fields -- and it may be years afterwards that applications or public benefits begin to be apparent. My own research on the glaciation of Pembrokeshire in 1962-65 looked pretty esoteric and useless at the time, and you mightv have argued that there was no public benefit to it at all. But looking back, I like to think that the discoveries I made have helped us all to understand better how glaciers work and how climate changes.

Jon Morris said...

My own research on the glaciation of Pembrokeshire in 1962-65 looked pretty esoteric and useless at the time, and you mightv have argued that there was no public benefit to it at all.

If you were asked back then, would you have said that there would be no potential benefits from your research Brian?

BRIAN JOHN said...

I thought at the time that the research was pretty self-indulgent! But there was a view at the time that "pure research" was perfectly OK, and that sound projects by well qualified students were worth funding, on the basis that you never knew where it all might lead. If I had been pressed for a "justification" I would probably have said, in 1962, that I hoped to make a contribution to the understanding of the British Pleistocene.

Jon Morris said...

I thought at the time that the research was pretty self-indulgent! But there was a view at the time that "pure research" was perfectly OK,

I think I must be marginally younger than you. One of my teachers at school, who was only perhaps ten years older than us, reminisced about how, when he was making decisions about what to study at university, it was considered unimportant for the study to be related to what you wanted to do for a job (this was a 6th form tutor group). I was never sure whether that chat was just about how things had changed between his time and our time or whether he regretted his own choice.

Still, I'm not sure that in the next stages of austerity, you will be able to easily get funding for projects for which you have no clear idea of any potential benefit to those doing the funding. Maybe there are potential benefits, but the public haven't been made aware of what they are? If so, this is a severe communication failure on the part of the archaeological profession.

TonyH said...

Nick Snashall's blogsite for this August 2013 Avebury Avenue vicinity dig is at:-

http://ntarchaeostonehengeaveburywhs.wordpress.com

-where you will find 'Avebury Dig, Days 1 to 14', with useful end-of-day comments, photos of visitors such as MPP, etc.