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Thursday, 19 September 2013

MPP on the 2013 Rhosyfelin Dig

 My friends Suleyman and Felix showing due respect to the "quarried monolith" way back in 2011.  You have to agree that Felix's wellies are quite splendid. No railway track, no sign of "propping up" stones......... just debris

I have a number of posts in mind on the subject of the 2013 Rhosyfelin dig, but in this one I'll just give a brief report on what MPP (full of cold, poor fellow) actually said in his presentation last night in Moylgrove Village Hall.  Great occasion, first event in the newly refurbished building, tea and biscuits afterwards, gullible audience.  Perfect!

It was quite a brief talk, lacking in detail.  He gave a quick introduction to the main prehistoric phases, and said there was now an increasing acceptance of the "Copper Age" around 2,500-2,200 BC.  His concern, however, was with the Neolithic (2,500 - 4,000 BC) insofar as it affected West Wales and the Stonehenge area.  He then homed in on Rhosyfelin and talked about the Bevins / Ixer geological work which had revealed the presence of four types of foliated rhyolite along the exposed rock face.  He mentioned the precise matches with the rhyolitic debitage from Stonehenge in a somewhat oversimplified way, but that's fair enough, since the subtleties of interpretation are a bit too complex for a popular presentation.

I had hoped that at this stage he would have presented the evidence from the last three seasons of digging and asked the question: "How do we best explain the features we see?  Could it be that we have a quarry here?"  But that isn't MPP's style.  Right from the outset this was "the quarry."  All the evidence shown on the screen and in what he said was designed / selected to reinforce the thesis.  So there was reference to to the big "orthostat" or monolith being "propped up on a pile of stones" or "jacked up" by the quarrymen -- and no consideration at all of the idea that the jumbled stones under the big one were there naturally, because that was the way they had fallen.  To me, from the pictures, there was not the slightest hint of any organization or arrangement in the stones. 

Then he referred to the scratches or striations on a smaller transverse stone just beyond the downslope tip of the big monolith, jokingly dismissed the thought that they might have had anything to do with ice action, and said that the scratches must have been made by one or more big orthostats being dragged across it from the inner depths of the quarry, further upslope.  (He may be right, he may be wrong -- one needs to look at the striae properly, and that's something I haven't done.)  Interestingly enough, there was no mention in this talk of the "railway tracks" that he referred to last year.  Those long stones aren't there any more -- the diggers have removed them.

There was then a reference to the "abundant hammer stones" at the site, lying around on what he calls the "Neolithic quarry floor."  We can see some of them in Chris's photos which I published in a recent post and here:

He showed photos of some of these being held up for display.  One did seem to have percussion marks on it, but the others seemed to be just conveniently sized rounded stones which might have come from the glacial or fluvio-glacial deposits anywhere in North Pembs.  I'm pretty convinced that we are looking at glacial debris here -- we do not just see a few rounded cobbles, but a large number of rounded, elongated and sub-rounded stones of  a number of different lithologies, scattered about all over the place.  I pressed MPP afterwards about this -- and he said "No no -- the till is much deeper down -- this is a Neolithic floor."  It is of course perfectly possible to have a Neolithic floor on a till surface, or even at some depth beneath the top of a till layer, but we'll let that pass........ I just hope he has somebody in his team who knows a glacial deposit when he or she sees it.)

MPP also failed to mention that a large number of the local rhyolite stones that have presumably come from the crag have rounded edges on them.  I pointed this out last year, and in the document called "A Long History of Rhosyfelin" which I published on Scribd.  You would NOT find those rounded edges on broken stones in a quarry.  Very inconvenient -- so completely ignored.

Mike then made a rather complicated point which I didn't fully grasp about a "carbon copy" of one of the Rhosyfelin stones being seen in the cliff face above the digging area, and another "carbon copy" fitted into a cross section of one of the bluestone sockets at Stonehenge.  He seemed to be suggesting that they had dug out a socket at Stonehenge with precisely the dimensions of a stone which they then went off to Rhosyfelin in order to find.  Made to measure, as it were........  I may have got it wrong on this -- maybe Chris or somebody else who was there will correct me.

Then Mike moved on to talk about the latest discoveries associated with C14 dating.  He gave no actual dates, did not tell us where they had come from, and gave us no idea how many dates there are from the past and present excavations. Secrecy prevails.  So we were forced to take everything on trust.  Anyway, he claimed to have a sequence of dates ranging from the Neolithic to the Iron Age, some of which were associated with a series of hearths near the position of the Iron Age hearth discovered last year.  I assume that they have found charcoal or other organic materials that have been dated.  It looked as if the hearths were in more or less the same place, in a nice sheltered position beneath the crag, just above the grassy floor of the valley.  Perfect camping places for hunting groups, or for quarrymen, or for jolly family barbeques on a summers evening, depending on your preferences........  That was all quite interesting.  There was no mention of the big pit or stone hole which got so much attention last year.  Wonder why?

Then I got lost again when MPP showed a slide of a small vertical stone embedded in the ground.  It looked perfectly natural to me, given that when rocks fall off cliffs some of them end up vertically embedded anyway -- but no -- this stone and others were deliberately placed there as pivots so that bigger stones could be moved across them by the use of levers.  Sounds like a perfectly daft idea to me -- but MPP was quite unabashed, and he said that the movement of big stones with the use of pivots and levers had been shown to be feasible -- and he went on the suggest that rollers and sledges were out, and that all of the stones from here and other places in West Wales had been taken to Stonehenge along the A40 road by splendid fellows armed with nothing more than pivots and levers.  So there we are then.  They were clever fellows in those days.

The final part of the talk was about other sites in North Pembs, including Ty Canol Wood, which now appears to be in the frame as another possible quarry site.  (I have been suggesting for years that the crags in the woods there, or maybe the tors of Carnedd Meibion Owen, would be perfect places for the entrainment of erratics by an over-riding ice sheet...........)  There was also mention that Carn Meini has now been dismissed by Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins as a source for Stonehenge spotted dolerite, and that the two leading candidates for spotted dolerite quarries are Carn Goedog and Cerrig Marchogion.  We knew that already. 

MPP rounded off by straying into prehistoric politics, as is his wont -- and said that there were strong stylistic links between the Pembrokeshire cromlechs and the dolmens of Brittany, suggesting that the Preseli area might have been a power centre capable of exporting its influence (and its stones) to the Salisbury Plain area.  He now seems to be convinced that a complete stone circle of about 80 stones was erected somewhere not far from Rhosyfelin -- maybe at Castell Mawr, where excavations have also gone on this summer.  The idea that Castell Mawr was a great population centre now seems to have been ditched, and it is simply thought of as a henge monument, maybe with something older (a settlement site) inside it and beneath it.  Some interesting traces of palisades have been found this summer near the centre of the site. 

Final point -- the North Pembrokeshire stone monument was exported intact -- or rather in 80 pieces -- all the way to Stonehenge, along the A40 route, in an act which MPP refers to as the first invasion of England by the Welsh.  That idea is not new -- HH Thomas was quite attracted by it almost a century ago, although he thought that the "local stone circle" was probably at Cilymaenllwyd, on the SOUTH side of Preseli.

And that's it, folks.  As much as I was able to jot down.


TonyH said...

Thank you for this useful summary. The absence of any earlier comments so far appearing on-screen by 17.06 hours leads me to think you have other Fish to Fry, correct? Or has it been Wild Geese Season?

chris johnson said...

Good summary.

A few quick remarks.

MPP is convinced an orthostat is taken from Rhosyfelin from the spot matched with debitage at Stonehenge. There is a gap and a break at the foot. These dimensions were measured and compared with SH records, particularly Atkinson. The team think there is a good match with, from memory, 32e and MPP showed an overlay drawing which was very convincing. Final confirmation will need permission from EH to do a little dig.

The series of hearths is reportedly a sequence of hearths built on top of each other and therefore providing a good context for dating. "Rumour" has it that this sequence goes back to the Mesolithic. I was surprised MPP chose to leave this out of his presentation after mentioning Vespasians Camp and the growing belief that there was a very long period of continuity at the major monument sites.

The weakest part of his story is the method of transportation. He used a standard slide from his set and feel he was a tad embarrassed how out of date it was. Taking one or two stones over the A40 route would have been an incredible feat, taking 80 in one go beggars belief.

MPP touched on recent work indicating that communication was more advanced than previously thought. He showed an Eastern Britain and a Western Britain and a border running down the Chalk Ridge in England from Avebury to the coast. Orkney and the Boyne need to be fitted in better for his unification theory to really make sense - at least in my opinion. They were missing in this slides although Orkney (not Boyne) were touched on in the voice over.

I'll report more as it strikes me.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Been out blackberry picking, Tony!! A fantastic year -- collected 3 kg in an hour. There are some things in life that are far more important than Rhosyfelin and Stonehenge -- and blackberry crumble is one of them.

TonyH said...

Yes, and, anyway, there's plenty of justified hope that these alleged 'quarries' at Rhosyfelin may metamorphose into authentic sites of glacial entrainment etc.

After all,the little - known Pop Group, "The Quarrymen" later changed their name to....The Beatles.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Chris -- yes, that was it re the carbon copy and the "missing orthostat." I found that all entirely unconvincing -- clutching at straws.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Tony -- yes, I wrote about glacial entrainment years ago, and pointed out that the north flank of Preseli is a prime candidate for blocks of rhyolite, ash and dolerite to be caught up into the Irish Sea Glacier as it flows in from NW towards SE. So I wasn't particularly surprised when some stuff from Rhosyfelin turned up at Stonehenge.

Sadly, there are certain individuals who prefer not to think about such processes, let alone understand them.

Anonymous said...

Isuppose it depends on how fast you can shift a blue stone? Let alone 80.
Averaging 60m/hr it would take 321 Days;at 500m/hr 32days.
Still sounds bonkers to me.

Myris of Alexandria said...

I also was picking and eating blackberries yesterday we cook blackberry and Apple pie. I have been eating blackberry muesli for weeks and ice cream and blackberries from my boundary hedge is enforced once twice a week. I have never seen them so large or so sweet.
I have just found a set of scrolls from the far east originally called tianshi shan but best translated as Angel Mountain written by a wise old master. I have to recommend this although I am sure much is lost from the original language.
For new insights into our esteemed blogmeister do read, not George Elliott (spelling) but certainly not Katie Price.

Jon Morris said...

Orkney and the Boyne need to be fitted in better for his unification theory to really make sense - at least in my opinion. They were missing in this slides although Orkney (not Boyne) were touched on in the voice over.

I agree. I think Mike should pursue the 'unification' angle, though possibly with a slightly different view of what that actually meant. I suspect that he will need to look at the commonalities which exist in each of these three monuments to come up with a workable theory.

Sadly, workload has meant that I haven't got round to picking blackberries yet!

TonyH said...

Shouldn't we all be looking for the elusive BLUEberries*, with their charismatic flavour, dispensing wisdom: also their extra - sensory, or ESP powers, which it has long been believed** include communicating with The Ancestor(s)?***

*or sloe

**since at least 1969

***probably from Madagascar

TonyH said...

That photo fronting this Post, of Messrs Suleyman and Felix, for some reason reminds me of the iconic Album cover for The Beatles' [aka The Quarrymen] "Abbey Road".

True, no illustrious zebra crossing, but a nice hard flat Rock [double entendre, Myris!] surface to walk along,...... AND we have Suleyman's splendid clean bare feet, quite reminiscent of McCartney's on that sleeve. Memories are made of this.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Just as a matter of interest, Felix is a direct descendant of Charles Darwin. Must be some symbolism in there somewhere.........

Myris of Alexandria said...

So is Felix dead?
Killed in a plane crash?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Good Lord no! Very much alive and kicking...... there are large numbers of Darwin descendants.....

TonyH said...

How much do the Darwin descendants know about Bioturbation, Earthworms, and large sarsen [or other geological sources] blocks, like their ancestor? I feel a dialogue coming on here beween Felix, Mike PP* and the others.....

* "Stonehenge" (2012) pages 305 - 306

Davey said...


Are you going to advertise your own talk at the Old School Hall in Moylegrove in December.

As a wanderer around the Preseli's and having an interest in the archaeology and topography of the area i was quite excited to see the talk advertised on the school hall website today. I am no expert so am not in a position really to add to the sometime interesting conversations on this blog.

I only recently discovered when i was looking through my mountain and walking books that i had a little geology booklet that you had put together. I am more indebted to you than i realised for extending my local knowledge!

Davey Hicks, Trecwn

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Davey -- yes, I'll put up a post soon about my December talk. As you might expect, my talk will include a geomorphologist's assessment of Rhosyfelin -- and there will not be a quarry anywhere in sight...... unless something very surprising turns up to make me change my mind.