Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- due for publication on June 1st 2018. After that, it will be available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Saturday, 21 December 2013

MPP's lunchtime lecture

This is one of the slides Prof MPP used in his lecture.  He claimed that the provenance of one of the rhyolite monoliths at Stonehenge had been fixed to an accuracy of 1 m by Richard Bevins and Rob Ixer, and he claimed that the white dot on the photo shows a recess from which the stone came.  Well, I see a fissure, that's for sure -- but I am afraid I see no recess from which a 2-tonne or 4-tonne monolith might have been taken.  Neither do I accept, from the evidence presented, that the foliated rhyolite fragments in the debitage at Stonehenge have been provenanced with that level of accuracy.

Prof MPP's lunchtime lecture at UCL was put onto YouTube on 10th December.  Here is the link:

Unravelling the mysteries of Stonehenge

All credit to him for covering a lot of territory in about 30 mins.  Not a lot in the talk that was new -- and MPP employed his usual technique of making it appear that all sorts of things are self-evident when in reality they are highly contentious.  Thus it was presented as self-evident that Stonehenge was a "place for the ancestors"; that Durrington Walls contained the settlement camp for the builders of Stonehenge; that the bluestones were in the Aubrey Holes before they were taken and used in other settings; that the so-called "periglacial fissures" determined the alignment of the Avenue and the precise positioning of the stone monument; that Neolithic monuments were preferentially built in concordance with natural features or astronomical alignments;  that if there was a religion in the Neolithic it was a "religion of place"; that Craig Rhosyfelin was the site of a Neolithic bluestone quarry; and that the catchment of the River Nevern was so special that it encouraged the collecting of monoliths for the building of a revered stone circle at Castell Mawr which was then transported lock stock and barrel to Stonehenge shortly after 5,000 years ago.  All of those things are worthy of debate -- but MPP is a man who likes to decide what his story is on the basis of very thin evidence indeed.

That all having been said, there were a few interesting snippets in the talk:

1.   A very comprehensive set of data from the teeth and bones of animals in the Durrington Walls "barbeque middens" (more than 70 samples) suggests that the animals (mostly cattle and pigs) came from all over the UK -- including Scotland, Cornwall and the Midlands -- but not from Pembrokeshire.  Prof MPP made one rather spurious connection between one pig tooth and South Wales generally, but that was not convincing.  One does need to ask why, if Pembrokeshire was so special that people carted 82 bluestones from there to Stonehenge, there are apparently no animal remains that have come from the same area as the stones?  After all, by this theory hundreds if not thousands of men must have made the journey with the precious stones -- if people travelled with their animals from everywhere else, why did the Pembrokeshire travellers not do the same?

2.  The organic samples from Craig Rhosyfelin which are going to be used for radiocarbon dating were sent off to the laboratory on the very day of the lunchtime lecture.  So they will be available in 2014.  They may tell us if and when there might have been human activity at Rhosyfelin -- but whether they tell us anything about "quarrying activities" is another matter entirely.  Human occupation of the site does not indicate that there was any quarrying going on; in my view it is much more likely that this sheltered location was a favoured camping / hunting site, maybe over many centuries.

3.  It is now apparent, according to the good Prof, that the bluestones were not dragged or rolled or trundled, or even taken by boat, from Castell Mawr to Stonehenge.  They were CARRIED by large groups of men using long poles on either side and a sort of sling holding the stone in the centre.  In answer to a question, MPP said that 50 men -- 25 on each side -- could easily carry a monolith weighing 2 tonnes across country, on the land route that he now favours.  If you have enough replacement gangs to take over when one group tires, there is logistically no problem.  That is apparently all perfectly fine in India, and therefore it is fine in Neolithic Britain as well.

So there we are then.


Timothy Daw said...

Of course Gowland in 1901 suggested that the Bluestones may have been carried as well, based on his knowledge from working in Japan -

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Tim -- interesting post on your site. One thing to factor in, of course, is the weight of the carrying poles -- both the main poles holding the stone and its cradle, and also the "bearing poles" that would be transverse. Sadly, there is no bamboo in Wales. With a reasonably large bluestone weighing 4 tonnes we could probably add 500kg at least for the weight of the poles -- and with 50 men doing the carrying that would be 90 kg per man -- far too heavy. So do we go up to 100 men doing the carrying, each one taking a weight of 45 kg? The larger the number of bearers, the less flexible does the system become -- especially in complex or boggy terrain which is well vegetated. Don't see it myself, but this is certainly an interesting debate. And even if the stones were collected up within the Stonehenge region (as I still think most likely) they had to be picked up and moved for anything up to 20 km from where they were found.

ND Wiseman said...

If it can be chemically demonstrated that certain Bluestones were originally located within even a few meters of the proposed Welsh sites, how did the Ice 'select' single columns from these outcrops and leave others behind?

I'm not trying to be snide here - I really would like your thoughts on this.


BRIAN JOHN said...

Neil -- we could ask exactly the same question of every erratic ever found in an area that has been glaciated. Why was this piece of rock picked up by the glacier, and why did the glacier leave the rest of the outcrop behind? The answer lies in the mechanics of entrainment, which we understand reasonably well -- but nonetheless imperfectly, because it is incredibly difficult to observe entrainment processes in action.

As with the "foliated rhyolite" debris at Stonehenge, you can do provenancing work to try to find out where an erratic has come from -- as with the work on Whin Sill erratics that we discussed earlier on this blog. Sometimes you are lucky (if a rock type is very unusual and limited to one known outcrop like Ailsa Craig) -- but most of the time things are very difficult indeed. One of the most fascinating things about Rob and Richard's work is that we are beginning to see just how much alteration of sedimentary and igneous rocks there is post-emplacement -- and I await with interest the future work on the Stonehenge sandstones...... that holds the promise of more and more accurate provenancing in the future -- but also presupposes a very tight grid of carefully sampled bedrock sites. Expensive!

BRIAN JOHN said...

By the way, I have found plenty of Ailsa Craig erratics in the glacial deposits of Pembrokeshire -- all the way from the Firth of Clyde....

biocowman said...

Maybe some of those giant cows aurochs could handle long poles and cradle a heavy stone between them...? said...

I watched Pearson’s lecture on the Tube (thank you) and once again find that the only thing he is good at is moving goal-posts around to disguise the truth and fortify his own, very biased opinion. Unfortunately, the only person who could have, and should have stood up against him, has passed away.
"Archaeology in Britain is a shambles from top to bottom. The forces of darkness and evil are stalking the land again." Professor Mick Aston.

TonyH said...

Most of MPP's theories vis a vis Stonehenge and Pembrokeshire provenancing of its orthostats are exceedingly elementary and in all probability spurious, my dear Parker Pearson. I am of the opinion they may meet the expectations of very casually interested members of public, but not those who seek more scientific evidence.

TonyH said...

Brian, I will resubmit my very recent comment just in case it didn't reach you owing to its interception by the Forces of Cyber - Darkness, etc.

In my opinion, MPP's views vis a vis Stonehenge orthostats and Pembrokeshire provenancing are, at worst, spurious and at best, exceedingly Elementary, my dear Parker Pearson.

They may meet the needs of the more casually interested punter who is satisfied by Daily Mail level of intellectual scrutiny, but surely the more discerning person has by now seen through MPP's story - telling, surely unrivalled since the late, great Max Bygraves.

TonyH said...

Possibly Parker Pearson would be best suited to standing substantially within the [recently yet - again- moved] goalposts, as has hinted at above?

chris johnson said...

Not sure what your theory is Tony, but I suppose the news that animals were brought from far and wide is interesting and should be a surprise for those who thought that UK was an impenetrable jungle at the time.

From work done in my region of Netherlands on mesolithic flints it seems that some were sourced over 200 kilometres away (Ginkel/Theunissen) and, I emphasise, in the mesolithic.

I accept it is common practice in this blog to criticise MPP but I think you could be more specific. Firstly, there is nothing spurious about the provenance of the bluestones in Pembrokeshire. Secondly, MPP also endorses some degree of astronomical sensitivity in the design of the monuments.

I am curious what has gotten your goat? Please excuse the Americanism :) - it is Christmas.

geocur said...

The “ impenetrable jungle “ is a due to Cyril Fox and his “Personality of Britain “ (1932) Childe didn’t help either with his impenetrable forests and bog . This went unquestioned and had little supporting evidence until rc dating proved that settlements were much earlier than previously believed , then palynology and malacology showed that a squirrel couldn’t have travelled from John o’ Groats to Lands End without touching the ground ,there were in fact huge tracts of unforested land , and clearance of what was previously wooded had begun much earlier .

TonyH said...

Chris, my main irritation with MPP and his Team is similar to Brian's, that is, that he has put forward a completely Closed Hypothesis with respect to the means of movement and arrival of the bluestones at Stonehenge, viz that it it is an entirely human endeavour. He insists he has found a "quarry" at Rhosyfelin when those of us with some amount of geomorphological understanding of glacial processes prefer to also include the possibility it could equally be the remnant of a roche moutonnee. It is a long time since I studied glacial processes under Brian's teaching at Durham University and no doubt he will give his own thoughts on whether Rhosyfelin may have been formed in
such a manner.

Dean said...

Is MPP standing on the rock-face gap the living stand-in for the Stonehenge 'proto-orthostat' laying exposed on the ground? I see no fit!

Further, if Dr Ixer et al have sourced Stonehenge rhyolite debris to just this very spot (as they claim) shouldn't we expect the 'proto-orthostat' laying be also sourced by them to this gap or some other gap? Has it?

chris johnson said...

Tony, thanks for clarifying. It is frustrating when you believe something strongly and can't prove it to the unbelievers.

Nobody doubts that Northern Prescelli was shaped into its current form in large measure by the ice and by the consequences of its melting. Or, for that matter, that glaciers are in general capable of quarrying and transporting erratic stones.

MPP and the archaeological establishment have closed the door on glacial transport of the SH bluestones because there is no evidence that glaciers reached the vicinity of stonehenge, and no evidence that Prescelli stone was carried any substantial distance in any direction by glaciers. The only bluestones within many miles of stonehenge are at stonehenge - nowhere else. It would appear that the stones were brought there deliberately.

Until some new evidence emerges I suppose the official theorists will be keeping the door closed to glaciation as a transport mechanism.

Anonymous said...

Tony -- not sure I would call Craig Rhosyfelin a roche moutonnee, since it does not have the ideal shape. But I would argue that it is an entrainment site considerably affected by overflowing ice. I have put in quite a bit on the mechanics and on the Rhosyfelin details in that little piece I did for Scribd called "A long history of Rhosyfelin."

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- I shall (as you expected) take issue with you on this: "MPP and the archaeological establishment have closed the door on glacial transport of the SH bluestones because there is no evidence that glaciers reached the vicinity of stonehenge, and no evidence that Prescelli stone was carried any substantial distance in any direction by glaciers. The only bluestones within many miles of stonehenge are at Stonehenge - nowhere else. It would appear that the stones were brought there deliberately."

I don't like people who close doors on things -- that is not the way that science works. As ever, we find too little science and too many hunches and wild speculations in the work of the archaeologists in this debate. You claim there is "no evidence" of glacial transport. Equally, it can be said that there is "no evidence" of human transport of monoliths across a great distance -- either at Stonehenge or anywhere else in the UK.

There are erratics or "out of context" stones all over the place to the west of Stonehenge, and can you or anybody else give me any convincing reason why the 30 or more rock types represented at Stonehenge have not been brought into the area by glacial processes? There is convincing evidence in the literature that glacier ice from the west affected Dartmoor, the Mendips, Bathampton Down near Bath, and the Somerset Levels --- and glaciology suggests that the ice probably reached at least the fringes of the chalk downs of Salisbury Plain as well.

As for this: " evidence that Prescelli stone was carried any substantial distance in any direction by glaciers." Please don't say things like that. As Myris would say -- go off and read the literature!

BRIAN JOHN said...

By the way, Google failed to realise that the "Anonymous" person was me. Not sure why.....

TonyH said...

MPP pays a considerable amount of what, in my opinion, is lip service based upon disinformation about glacial processes in relation to Preseli and the broader Stonehenge region in his 2012 best - selling book. Brian has pointed out many inaccuracies contained therein and we have been over this ground here on this Blogsite. Yet he likes to constantly claim to have a geomorphologist [presumably Charly French] assisting him and providing him with conclusions about periglacial processes occurring along the line of what became The Avenue close to Stonehenge.

chris johnson said...

Brian, I am not aware of the literature of which you speak. I am happy to read it if you point in the right direction, and take your word for it as long as it does mean believing in the Boles Barrow bluestone.

On the closing of doors I agree wholeheartedly. However it does make sense as a way of solving problems. When new evidence is presented a closed door can easily reopen.

With the glacial transport theory we are stuck thinking it might have happened this way, at least to within 30 miles but there is no proof.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- disagree with you fundamentally about the closing of doors. That is not the way you do science. People who close doors also tend to be the same people who get obsessed with ruling hypotheses, and who also involve themselves in the fabrication of evidence and the corruption of science. Whatever my faults might be in my enthusiastic support for the glacial transport theory, I would never completely close the door on the human transport theory -- and indeed I believe that the true story, if we ever get to know it, will be an amalgamation of the two.

You say: "With the glacial transport theory we are stuck thinking it might have happened this way, at least to within 30 miles but there is no proof." Is there any more proof relating to the human transport theory? No, there ain't. A good deal less, I would venture to suggest!

There is an abundant literature on the transport of erratics from Preseli -- much of it mentioned on this blog. Sadly, the search engine on many blog sites (including mine) is not working properly at the moment, because of some screw-up involving Google -- as soon as it is working again I'll give you some links.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I am also intrigued about the constant references to geomorphologists in MPP lectures etc. But actually there do not seem to be any geomorphologists at all hoofing about on his digs at Rhosyfelin or elsewhere. Those whom he most frequently refers to as geomorphologists are Charly French and Mike Allen, who NEVER (as far as I can see) refer to themselves as geomorphologists! They both have solid backgrounds within archaeology:

Charly French

Mike Allen

TonyH said...

To my knowledge, just ONE geomorphologist, from the Department of Geography, University of Southampton, has been involved in any research on archaeologically - related matters on Salisbury Plain, and, from memory, that was in the general vicinity of Amesbury. I think he was attached to a group that included Josh Pollard [also of
Southampton University and a member of MPP's Stonehenge
Riverside Project].

chris johnson said...

probably we are not far apart on this. I have done several projects in recent years for research institutes around managing innovation and "science". Science projects are changing to be much more about teamwork and then the dangers you mention are amplified. There needs to be a review process or call it sanity check. It is not wise for the team leader to be both judge and jury which seems to be the case in many archaeological projects.

TonyH said...

Broadening out the discussion on how comprehensive has been the research and results publication on "Matters Stonehenge" by the Stonehenge RP team, I see that one area of study is about to be published thoroughly:-

"The Feeding Stonehenge project...[ended in]...2013,and the results will be published in a series of
scientific papers and monographs in the coming years"

We must hope for a similarly rigorous series of research
publications on The Avenue excavations/ periglacial stripes; AND Rhosyfelin and Castell Mawr