Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Tuesday 25 February 2014

Neolithic arrow heads

One of the Neolithic arrow-heads found in Norway.  The three close-ups -- front, back and side -- have the tips chopped off.

Those Neolithic Norwegian arrows found beneath a melting snow-patch up in the mountains:

I don't know anything about Neolithic arrow heads, but these seem to be very crude, and much larger than the delicate arrow-heads assumed to have been made in the UK -- normally from flint.  But in an area in which there was no flint, might not the arrow heads have been made from whatever handy rock happened to be lying around the place -- rhyolite, slate, shale, or indeed any other fine-grained or glassy rock capable of giving a sharp edge? 

Craig Rhosyfelin, maybe?  Would it be too outrageous a suggestion to say that the so-called "quarry" might have been used for the manufacture of knives, cutting edges and arrow heads?  Does the stratigraphy in the dig give us any clue on this?  Is there a debitage which might be explained as the debris from tool working?  No doubt all will be revealed when MPP deems the time to be right...

It's on the NBC -- so it must be true.....

That same old stuff has now been repeated on the august NBC news site.  In the report on the Carn Goedog findings, the same nonsense is repeated.

"For example, if we could determine with confidence that the stones had been worked by humans in Neolithic times, then the ice-transport theory would be refuted," Bevins said.

Come on now, Richard -- you surely didn't say that, did you?   If not, what DID you say to the media?

Carn Godfrwy?  Never heard of it -- Carn Gyfrwy maybe........

Monday 24 February 2014

Breaking news -- bluestone source was less than 2 miles from Stonehenge

Wonderful stuff!  This is the most garbled video yet -- what it seems to be suggesting is that the long-distance transport of the bluestones by human beings all the way from Wales to Salisbury Plain is inherently unlikely, and that Bevins and Ixer have been beavering away to find a source for those old blue rocks rather closer to Stonehenge.  And bingo!  They have found one at Carn Goedog, only 2 miles away from the old monument.  Remember -- you read it here first........

On the other hand, the reliability of the source cannot be guaranteed.......

Mind you, I do like the bit about the general public being unable to differentiate between sarsens and bluestones, when shown samples of assorted rock types.  The geologists have been conducting some tests on this.  No great surprise -- this is what Pete G and I have been saying for years.  The stones that were outside the old Visitor Centre illustrated this perfectly.  The sarsen was bluish, and the bluestone was greyish.  Very confusing.   So did our ancestors "value" bluestones because of their colour or some other physical properties?  In all probability, no, since not only are many of them not blue, but since there are up to 30 different rock types represented.

By the way, whatever happened to those boulders?

Sunday 23 February 2014

The endless stream of Stonehenge nonsense...

It's amazing how the endless stream of nonsense about Stonehenge goes on and on .... endlessly.  Here is another article -- derived from something which was itself derived from something derivative.  Maybe in the circumstances we should not be surprised -- there is an insatiable appetite for articles which say "Stonehenge mystery solved."  Read on, dear friends, and be entertained.  I love the bit about "miniature bluestones that surround Stonehenge" -- is our learned reporter referring to the bluestone orthostats or to the flakes in the debitage?

Then we have this wonderful bit:  "......... if we could determine with confidence that the stones had been worked by humans in Neolithic times, then the ice-transport theory would be refuted," Bevins said, according to Live Science."  I hope Richard didn't actually say that, since it is of course total nonsense.  Neolithic working of the stones at Stonehenge is something that is entirely irrelevant to the mode of transport from Wales to Salisbury Plain.  On the other hand, if it can be shown that the stones had been worked or shaped at or near their source and prior to long-distance transport, that would be a different matter.  As far as I can see, there is not a shred of evidence that the stones (rhyolite, dolerite or any of the others) WERE worked prior to arrival on Salisbury Plain;  if there is any such evidence, it would be good to hear of it.


Scientists Crack Mystery Of Stonehenge Rock Source

By Oulimata Ba | Feb 22, 2014

Scientists have discovered the source of miniature bluestones that surround Stonehenge, bringing the archaeological world one step closer to cracking the mystery of how the ancient structure was created, Live Science reported.

Stonehenge, located in Wiltshire, England, is comprised of massive, 30-ton sarsen stones made of sandstone, and smaller bluestones. The smaller rocks were named bluestones due to their blue tinge when wet.

By studying the bluestones' composition, scientists found they originated from an outcropping not far from Stonehenge. The outcropping is also 1.8 miles from another site that was originally thought to be the source of the bluestones almost 100 years ago, Live Science reported.

The discovery "locates the exact sources of the stones, which highlight areas where archaeologists can search for evidence of the human working of the stones," said National Museum of Wales geologist Richard Bevins, who co-authored the study, Live Science reported.

The discovery was published in the February issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Stonehenge is a prehistoric structure that dates back to 5,000 years ago. Construction of the structure, a large circle of vertical stones with horizontal stones on top, was altered by several ancient civilizations over the course of 1,000 years, Live Science reported.

The reason for the structure, or how the stones were raised, is still unknown.

Though the discovery may make solving the mystery easier, it still raises new questions about how they got there in the first place.

Scientists hope that finding out where the rocks originated will lead to evidence humans left behind in the area, Bevins said, Live Science reported. The evidence left by humans could then confirm or deny other theories of how the stones were moved. One theory says that glaciers transported the bluestones to the Stonehenge location during an ancient ice age, Live Science reported.

"For example, if we could determine with confidence that the stones had been worked by humans in Neolithic times, then the ice-transport theory would be refuted," Bevins said, according to Live Science.

Saturday 22 February 2014

Did our ancient ancestors have chain saws?

There are some more wonderful photos from Ynyslas on the Wales Online web site:

One interesting feature is the clear evidence of sawing across some of the biggest trunks.  So does this mean that our Neolithic or Bronze Age ancestors were in possession of metal saws or even chain saws?  Nice thought!  But don't get too excited...... 

These submerged forests have been used as a resource for the local community for many centuries, whenever they have been exposed.  Some of the peat bed exposures actually have peat cuttings on them, showing that local people (maybe in the Middle Ages) used the foreshore for collecting their fuel. And they have also used the best tree trunks for timber -- well weathered and incredibly hard.  There is a myth that some of the oak timber used in the wonderful roof of the nave in St David's Cathedral was collected from the submerged forest -- but I have never been able to verify that.

Thursday 20 February 2014

More from Ynyslas

More nice pics from the submerged forest site at Ynyslas -- near Borth on the Cardigan Bay coast.  I'm not sure of the dates here, but I think the lower photo shows the "normal" exposures of the tree stumps etc -- with just their tips above the sand.  The top photo shows the forest remnants after the sand has been stripped away during the recent storms.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

Planet Earth -- still more interested in myth than reality?

 At the end of this piece I have posted  the new report on the NERC web site of the latest research by Bevins, Ixer and Pearce on the Carn Goedog rock identifications: 

"Carn Goedog is the likely major source of Stonehenge doleritic bluestones: evidence based on compatible element geochemistry and Principal Component Analysis"
Richard E. Bevins, Rob A. Ixer, Nick J.G. Pearce

ABSTRACT:  The Stonehenge bluestones were first sourced to outcrops in the high parts of the eastern Mynydd Preseli in SW Wales by H.H. Thomas in the early 1920s. He recognised the distinctive ‘spotted dolerite’ from his fieldwork in that area and suggested that the tors of Carn Meini (also known as Carn Menyn) and Cerrigmarchogion were the most likely sources. In the early 1990s, in a major contribution to our understanding of the Stonehenge bluestones, the geochemistry of a set of samples from Stonehenge monoliths and debitage was determined and compared against the geochemistry of dolerites from the eastern Mynydd Preseli by a team from the Open University led by R.S. Thorpe. They argued that the majority of the Stonehenge dolerites could be sourced from outcrops in the Carn Meini-Carn Gyfrwy area, based on the concentrations of the so-called ‘immobile’ elements (elements which are not affected by rock alteration processes), in particular TiO2, Y, and Zr. However, these elements are incompatible during crystallization of mineral phases in basaltic systems (that is they do not enter into the mineral phases which are crystallizing but are concentrated in the residual liquid) which severely hampers their use in discriminating between different pulses of an evolving magma (as is the case of the doleritic sills emplaced high in the crust and now exposed in the Mynydd Preseli). An alternative strategy in this study re-examines the data set of Thorpe's team but investigates the concentration of elements which are compatible in such basaltic systems (that is elements which do enter into the crystallizing mineral phases), namely MgO, Ni, Cr and Fe2O3. On the basis of the abundances of these elements on bivariate plots and also by using Principal Component Analysis on the dataset available and various sub-sets we identify three compositional groupings for the Stonehenge doleritic monolith and debitage samples and conclude that the majority of them (Group 1 of this paper) can be sourced to the prominent outcrop in the eastern Mynydd Preseli known as Carn Goedog. We also offer potential sources (with one exception) for those Stonehenge dolerites which appear not to relate to Carn Goedog.

We have looked at this paper before, so there is no need to analyse it again.  What's interesting is the article, published in a journal (web based) devoted to the Earth Sciences.  Look at the heading -- totally absurd, since presumably the author is an earth scientist herself.  Could she not bring herself to say " New evidence brings bluestone human transport theory into question" or something similar?  That shows us just how far the human transport myth has penetrated deep into the souls of people who should know better.......  even within the Earth Sciences research community.  How sad.

As for the article, it's pretty straightforward, and it's good to see that HH Thomas's science and his motivation are at last being questioned by professional geologists -- as I have done often before on this blog.  Just put "HH Thomas" into the search box to uncover some of my past comments.....

Assuming that Richard Bevins is being quoted correctly, he does seem to be getting much more critical and questioning of the archaeological orthodoxy.  At last!!

This is the key para:  "If Carn Goedog is the true origin of the dolerites, and Craig Rhos-y-felin is a source of the rhyolitic bluestones then it does bring into question the stones being transported by rafts down to the Bristol Channel, because both of these outcrops lie on the northern side of the Preseli Hills. The rocks would have had to be dragged up the hills, across the summits and back down again before they even reached the waterways. It's just not likely," Bevins concludes.

Welcome to the club. But if Richard was prepared to go this far, why could he not just have added:  "The locations of these possible source areas on the north -- or up-glacier - flank of Preseli is entirely in tune with glacial theory, and increases the likelihood that the stones are glacial erratics picked up by over-riding ice and transported at least part of the way towards Stonehenge."

Now if he had said that, and if it had been reported in this short article, we might have an indication of  earth scientists actually taking seriously the comments of their own colleagues, instead of going with the archaeological orthodoxy.  And if you think that indicates a degree of frustration on my part, you would be quite right.......


Did humans transport Stonehenge rocks further than previously thought?

17 February 2014, by Harriet Jarlett

Scientists have pinpointed the exact source of many of the rocks used to build Stonehenge.

A new study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, suggests that the site researchers had previously thought was the starting place of many of Stonehenge's rocks may not have been the source after all. Instead, it looks like the rocks actually come from a different site three kilometres away.

The findings, bring into question the long-standing theory that people transported the rocks from Wales to Wiltshire in order to build the monument.
The research focused on the smaller stones at Stonehenge, called bluestones. The chemistry of these rocks varies, but they all originate from the Preseli Hills in Wales and are thought to have been transported to the Stonehenge site over 4000 years ago.

By confirming the source of the rocks, the researchers hope to help answer the long standing question of how around 80 of these bluestones, weighing up to three tonnes each, were transported 250 kilometres from southwest Wales to Wiltshire.

'The Holy Grail question is how were the stones moved and why,' explains Dr Richard Bevins of National Museum of Wales who led the research. 'Many people think humans transported the stones south, down from the Preseli Hills and then up the Bristol Channel on rafts. But a second school of thought says these rocks are glacial erratics that were transported by ice to Salisbury Plain and so were available in the local environment.

'We're trying to discover the source of the stones so archaeologists can excavate sites in order to see if they can find evidence for people working the source stones,' he continues.
Scientists have known the bluestones originated from the Preseli Hills since 1923, when H. H. Thomas from NERC's British Geological Survey recognised the distinctive dark grey spotty rocks, known as spotted dolerites, during fieldwork. Further work in the early 1990s then tried to tie down the specific locations of the rocks' origin by matching the chemistry of the Stonehenge bluestones with those at the proposed origin site.

'The earlier research looked at the source of one of the spotted dolerites and tied it down to a specific outcrop, Carn Meini. It seems Thomas wanted all of the bluestones to also come from that same small area so he argued the rhyolites came from a nearby outcrop, Carn Alw. When we looked at it again we realised the descriptions of the rhyolites from Carn Alw and those at Stonehenge didn't look the same at all,' says Bevins.

The team took images showing the rocks at Stonehenge and the rocks at Carn Alw. They then asked members of the public with no geological background whether they looked the same.
'We asked people "does A look like B?" and everyone said no,' Bevins continues. 'This is astonishing because this has not been questioned since the original publication by Thomas in 1923.'

The team used a new method of identifying the chemical makeup of the rocks, to match the rocks with their origin. They believe that they have now identified Carn Goedog as the source of at least 55 per cent of the spotted dolerite bluestones at Stonehenge.

'If Carn Goedog is the true origin of the dolerites, and Craig Rhos-y-felin is a source of the rhyolitic bluestones then it does bring into question the stones being transported by rafts down to the Bristol Channel, because both of these outcrops lie on the northern side of the Preseli Hills. The rocks would have had to be dragged up the hills, across the summits and back down again before they even reached the waterways. It's just not likely,' Bevins concludes.

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Submerged Forest -- Ynyslas

This is a great photo of the submerged forest at Ynyslas -- the buildings of Borth are in the background to the right.  The photo has a rather spooky quality to it....... probably due to the spirits of the ancestors.

This is quite an old photo -- I wonder what changes there have been as a result of the recent storms?

Monday 17 February 2014

Refusal to Engage.......

Phil Bennett is the Manager of the Castell Henllys, the key archaeological site run by the Pembs Coast National park.  The site is an Iron Age fortified site, well excavated and now used to inform visitors and schoolchildren about the Iron Age.  There are several splendid reconstructed Iron Age roundhouses on the site.  Following a talk by Phil in the autumn, I wrote to him as follows.  In spite of reminders, Phil has steadfastly refused to reply.  Sad when archaeologists simply refuse to engage or to face up to the fact that their "archaeological orthodoxy" maybe does more harm than good.....

Dear Phil

Thank you very much for your talk to PTA last night.  It was a pity it was curtailed by those technical glitsches -- I was similarly afflicted when I spoke to the PTA about Rhosyfelin etc in a quite different venue, over a year ago.  The Rhosyfelin goblins at work again........

I enjoyed most of what you said, and would like to have raised a number of issues with you if you had stayed a bit longer!  So I'll do it now.  My points relate to Rhosyfelin.

1.  You are really rather careless in referring to the site with 100% confidence as a Neolithic Quarry.  If I may say so, that's not good practice for an experienced archaeologist -- because no matter what MPP may say about his discoveries, what he seems to have discovered is a camp site used over a long period of time, with a pile of broken scree in the vicinity.  I have seen NO convincing evidence that this is a Neolithic quarry site, let alone one that has something to do with Stonehenge, and at the very least you should reflect this uncertainty and ongoing debate in what you say to uninformed (and often very gullible) audiences.......

2.  You said that two of the standing stones at Stonehenge had been provenanced back to Rhosyfelin by the geological detective work of Richard Bevins and Rob Ixer.  NOT TRUE.    None of the Stonehenge orthostats has been traced to Rhosyfelin.  What the two geologists have done is trace some of the rhyolite debris in the Stonehenge Layer to localities in and around Craig Rhosyfelin.

3.  You referred to the big "orthostat"  as being self-evidently quarried because of the position in which it is lying.  NOT TRUE.   It is not aligned parallel with the rock face, and it is simply a large stone that has fallen from the face just like all the others above it, beside it and below it.

4.  You mentioned the fact that the orthostat had been broken and had therefore been abandoned by the quarrymen. That's an unsupportable speculation -- ALL of the stones that have come from the rock face and from the crags above it are broken, to a greater or lesser degree!  You could probably put many of them back together again if you were determined enough...........  There's nothing unusual about the big one.

5.  You referred to the big stone as being supported or underpinned by other stones, deliberately placed there by the quarrymen. That again is an unsupported assertion.  As far as I can see, the stones beneath the big "orthostat" are lying in perfectly natural -- almost random -- positions, exactly where they fell.  They appear prominent today because the archaeologists have taken away all the debris surrounding them -- in other words, what we see now is an "archaeological artifice."

6.  You referred to the scratches or striations on that stone near the lower end of the "orthostat" -- and asserted that they were not natural, but were caused by big stones being dragged across them.  NOT TRUE.  Those apparent "striations" are in my view nothing more complicated or significant than outcropping foliations,  just like the ones we see on the surfaces of many other stones in the bank of scree and rock debris.  Those "striations" run in all sorts of different directions, right round the compass, as you would expect in a jumble of fallen rocks.

I could go on, but will resist.  I know you mean well, and that you have picked up on most of the things you have said directly from MPP and the other archaeologists involved in this dig, but it really does nobody any good when mythology is perpetrated in this way.  I appreciate that you are trying to encourage people to take an interest in archaeology and to value Pembrokeshire's rich heritage, and that's entirely laudable -- but when myth is turned into "fact" with the willing assistance of you and many other professionals, it does a profound disservice to archaeology -- which comes over as being unscientific and driven by fantasies and ruling hypotheses.    Archaeology should be accessible and popular, but it should also be truthful -- and it should accord due respect to the views of people from other disciplines including glacial geomorphology.  What is going on at Rhosyfelin is much too incestuous for anybody's comfort.......  I get the impression that everybody who turns up there has come to worship at the shrine, and not to ask hard questions.

So please, when you have your sold-out big archaeology day in November, will you please encourage MPP to be rather more nuanced in his presentation than he has been in the past, and to allow for a degree of uncertainty in this business of the "Neolithic Quarry"?

All good wishes



Even more exposures at Newgale

This is a splendid photo from Barrie Foster, showing the foreshore at Newgale as it is at the moment.  Thousands of tonnes of sand have been stripped off the beach and taken out into deep water -- and the result is an extraordinary expanse of pebbly substrate with considerable expanses of peat with some tree remains.

A good time to go and see it.  Before too long -- if we now get some calmer weather -- it will be covered up again with sand.

NB  The "submerged forest" is not necessarily composed of trees and branches.  in most of the exposures I have seen, there is more peat than forest.  Age -- probably for the most part Mesolithic.  That was when the inundation around the coast occurred.  That having been said,  beneath the surface peat there are Palaeolithic materials -- going back to the Devensian glacial deposits that can be seen in some bays and in Nevern Estuary in Newport.

Thursday 13 February 2014

Bronze Age Footprints on Gower?

This piece appeared the other day on the BBC web site.  Interesting. Not sure what the evidence is for referring to these footprints as Bronze Age -- most of those found on the Gwent Levels have been dated to the Mesolithic.  Let's see what stratigraphic evidence appears....... watch this space.

9 February 2014

Bronze Age footprints found on Port Eynon, Gower, beach

Prehistoric footprints have been discovered on Gower after storms revealed an ancient mud bank.

The five likely Bronze Age footprints were found at Port Eynon beach by Dr Edith Evans, of the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust, during a walk.

She said: "They are not the clearest of things but I recognised them straightaway."

Other recent beach storm finds include two cannon in Porthcawl and 10,000-year-old tree remains in Pembrokeshire.

The trust has been monitoring the coast since 2009 after whole tree trunks started to appear in the peat bed which is being eroded by the sea.

Sand which covered the sea bed as a result of erosion was swept away by the storms to uncover the footprints for the first time since they were laid.

The footprints have not been radiocarbon dated but are estimated to be from between 2,300 BC and 700 BC.

Dr Evans said: "There are five prints, probably made by more than one person as they are of two slightly different lengths, and as two of them point towards the sea and the other three point inland.

"The peat has now become so firm that it is impossible to make an impression on it, but when it was first laid down it would have consisted of a soft mass of vegetation.

"When the footprints were made, they would have filled up with a deposit of different composition. We assume that the rough seas have washed out this deposit to leave the footprints exposed.

"They were not very clear, one reason being that they were partly covered with sand."

The trust said since 2007 its volunteers have found cattle and pony hoof prints in a peat bed on Kenfig Sands near Sker Point, Bridgend,

Last month, two Georgian-era cannon were found at Pink Bay, Porthcawl, by two dog walkers.

It took a team of around 17 lifeboat crew members, coastguards and local lifeguards to move one of the cannon from the beach.

Also in January, the remains of 10,000-year-old trees were exposed at Newgale, Pembrokeshire.

At the end of the month a ship's wheel which may date back to the 19th Century was uncovered in Swansea Bay.

A member of a heritage group found the wheel while exploring sands near Mumbles.

Friday 7 February 2014

Stonehenge -- summer chaos on the way.....

There's a lot of criticism already about the delays in getting people to the stones at this time of year, when it is about as quiet as it gets.  God only knows what it will be like when there are 30 - 40 buses all turning up at the Visitor Centre at the same time, in the middle of the summer.......  Andrew Selkirk, in the latest edition of "Current Archaeology",  has a real go at the deficient planning for handling large visitor numbers -- and he makes a good point that there seems to be hardly any provision for the "ten minute visitor."  Maybe not much provision for the "one hour visitor" either.........  Watch this space.....

Stonehenge visitor centre a £27m flop as it struggles to cope

By Western Daily Press 
Posted: January 10, 2014

Furious visitors to the new £27 million Stonehenge visitor centre have criticised English Heritage for ‘chaotic scenes’ as the venue struggles to cope with the number of people attending.

Staff and volunteers at the new centre, which opened just three weeks ago, have also voiced their concerns at how it is coping with thousands of visitors every day.

Angry visitors have taken to travel review websites such as TripAdvisor to complain of a host of logistical problems surrounding the operation of the new facility – in particular the ticketing and transportation from the centre to the stones and back again.

Many have complained of queues of more than an hour to board a ‘land train’ – three carriages pulled by a Land Rover – which carries around 45 people at a time and takes ten minutes to travel the mile-and-a-half from the centre at Airmen’s Corner to Stonehenge.

With just two land trains operating, English Heritage has been forced to lay on extra regular coaches, hired from local bus companies, to deal with numbers, and visitors labelling the system ‘a farce’ have questioned how the centre and its transport arrangements will cope when thousands visit a day during the busy summer months.

Last night English Heritage admitted there have been ‘some issues’ and asked tourists to be patient while they solve the problems.

Before the new visitors centre opened, visitor ratings on the TripAdvisor website were consistently good for Stonehenge, even though the 1960s visitors centre was deemed ‘a national disgrace’ by senior politicians. Around three-quarters of people posting reviews of their own experiences on the website rated it positively, with four or five stars, while only eight per cent gave it one or two stars.

Since the centre opened, positive reviews have plunged to 46 per cent, and negative reviews jumped to a third, with even those giving Stonehenge a good overall score complaining of the chaos surrounding accessing the stones.

One reviewer, ‘Paco G’, from Spain, said: “There are two Land Rovers towing some wagons and some mini-buses that mysteriously are stopped half of the time,” he said. “People were getting angry after one and a half hours of queuing.”

Others told English Heritage to ‘learn from Disney’ on how to manage crowds, while more slated the price rise for tickets from around £8 to £14.95 for an adult.

Staff and volunteers have also spoken of their frustrations at the new system. One volunteer, who declined to be named, said it was immediately obvious the centre would not be able to cope with the numbers of people visiting.

“The problem is the transport, getting people to and from the stones,” he said. “They have abandoned the idea of only using the Land Trains, we’ve got coaches now, which kind of defeats the object. Also, when it’s windy or raining, those in the ticket office can’t open the windows to serve people because the rain blows in, it’s been built facing the wrong direction,” he added.

Last night, Stonehenge’s general manager, Kate Davies, played down the fiercely negative reviews of the new centre, and asked people to be patient. She said English Heritage have been surprised by the numbers of people visiting the stones in the first few weeks.

“There has been huge interest in Stonehenge since the new visitor centre opened towards the end of December. On one day alone we welcomed 5,000 visitors which is along the same levels as during our peak summer season,” she said.

“This is a brand new operation, on a completely different scale to the old visitor centre, and naturally during these early days, there have been some issues. But we are solving them, we have increased our shuttle service taking people to the stones and from 1 February, our timed ticketing system will swing into place.

“The majority of feedback has been overwhelmingly positive; visitors have been fascinated by our new exhibition and love the sense that the stones are now reconnected with the wider landscape. We appreciate all the feedback we've received and we would ask people to be patient while we iron out the few remaining issues,” she added.

The view of our reporter, Tristan Cork

Stonehenge’s new visitors’ centre is a work of art, sympathetically designed like a little copse of trees and sheds, unobtrusively a mile-and-a-half from the stones themselves.

And therein lies the problem. The old concrete bunker was rightly maligned, but it was right next to the stones. That meant pretty much anyone could pitch up and wander in. Now the efforts to return Stonehenge to its natural landscape mean a Disney-esque land train ride which trundles down the now-closed road.

Yesterday, on a grey and drizzly January afternoon, there was little sign of the horrendous queues for this transport that have caused such a flood of complaints. But – and here’s the big but – yesterday Stonehenge seemed quiet, there were barely a couple of hundred people in total at the stones, on the transport or at the visitors’ centre, at any one time and yet everything was full or close to it: all the seats in the cafĂ© were taken, we didn’t have to wait more than ten minutes for the Land Train but we were jam-packed on board.

Yesterday, the visitors’ centre and transport were operating nicely – but how it stands up to four times as many people remains to be seen. English Heritage need to learn lessons quickly and invest in proper resources, or the complaints will continue.

Next month they begin a timed ticket system, rather like the London Eye, which in busy periods will effectively end the ability people have now to rock up without booking.

Such a change in the way people have accessed the nation’s most iconic landmark will take some getting used to.

Read more:

Human footprints at Happisburgh - may be 1 million years old

A very interesting discovery made in May 2013, and now published in a careful and very interesting paper......

Ashton N, Lewis SG, De Groote I, Duffy SM, Bates M, et al. (2014)
Hominin Footprints from Early Pleistocene Deposits at Happisburgh, UK.
PLoS ONE 9(2): e88329. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0088329


Investigations at Happisburgh, UK, have revealed the oldest known hominin footprint surface outside Africa at between ca. 1 million and 0.78 million years ago. The site has long been recognised for the preservation of sediments containing Early Pleistocene fauna and flora, but since 2005 has also yielded humanly made flint artefacts, extending the record of human occupation of northern Europe by at least 350,000 years. The sediments consist of sands, gravels and laminated silts laid down by a large river within the upper reaches of its estuary. In May 2013 extensive areas of the laminated sediments were exposed on the foreshore. On the surface of one of the laminated silt horizons a series of hollows was revealed in an area of ca. 12 m2. The surface was recorded using multi-image photogrammetry which showed that the hollows are distinctly elongated and the majority fall within the range of juvenile to adult hominin foot sizes. In many cases the arch and front/back of the foot can be identified and in one case the impression of toes can be seen. Using foot length to stature ratios, the hominins are estimated to have been between ca. 0.93 and 1.73 m in height, suggestive of a group of mixed ages. The orientation of the prints indicates movement in a southerly direction on mud-flats along the river edge. Early Pleistocene human fossils are extremely rare in Europe, with no evidence from the UK. The only known species in western Europe of a similar age is Homo antecessor, whose fossil remains have been found at Atapuerca, Spain. The foot sizes and estimated stature of the hominins from Happisburgh fall within the range derived from the fossil evidence of Homo antecessor.

BBC coverage:

Ring of Brodgar again

 The ring of Brodgar, looking NW.  The supposed quarry for the stones used here is away in the distance, at a location referred to as Vestra Fiold.

Here are the links to our previous discussions:

I've now been in correspondence with Dr John Flett Brown, a geologist who knows the area well.  He says this:

"The standing stones at Brodgar and Stenness cannot be erratics or derived from the cutting of the trench.  Structural strength would not allow transport as bedload in ice sheet. Weathering pattern shows two stages one side while in the quarry area and both sides while in present location. Folk
Memory and place names chart the route of the stones from undoubted source at Vestra Fiold downhill all the way to Loch and beyond."

With all due respect to John, I defer to nobody and disagree with him when he says: "The standing stones at Brodgar and Stenness cannot be erratics or derived from the cutting of the trench."  They could indeed -- and if John wishes to support his statement, let's see the colour of his evidence.  Allan Hall suggests there are seven different rock types represented in the standing stones group -- and so they cannot all have come from one quarry.

Then he says:  "Structural strength would not allow transport as bedload in ice sheet."  Again I disagree.  The stones are indeed flat, thin and fragile, but their survival in an ice sheet depends upon all sorts of factors -- including the mode of transport and the distance travelled.  So let's hear the arguments......

Then he says: "Weathering pattern shows two stages one side while in the quarry area and both sides while in present location."  Now this gets seriously interesting, and potentially much more persuasive.  Weathering evidence, if carefully collected and documented, might well convince me that the stones might have been quarried -- but I need more than a statement.  I need the evidence -- and I have not seen it anywhere in print.  So John -- or anybody else -- please let us have it properly documented.

Then he says:  "Folk Memory and place names chart the route of the stones from undoubted source at Vestra Fiold downhill all the way to Loch and beyond."  I don't accept that folk memories can go back as far as the Neolithic, even on Orkney -- and I'd like to see the evidence in support of that statement -- and what is the place name evidence?

The stones have an "undoubted source at Vestra Fiold........"  Again, let's see the colour of the evidence. 

I'm not prepared just to accept the definitive statements of geologists any more than I am when considering the definitive statements of archaeologists.......

Sunday 2 February 2014

Back from the hols

Sorry I have been unable to put up posts sent in by assorted colleagues over the past fortnight  -- two excellent weeks on La Gomera, with intermittent access to wifi and BLOGGER....... and with some strange Spanish Blogger outfit refusing to accept my password!

I'll try to get at all the messages received and post them by the middle of the week.....