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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.

http://forum.pembrokeshireu3a.org.uk/index.php?topic=1413.0

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

Brian

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7 comments:

TonyH said...

I commend your eloquent and entirely commonsensical comments in your letter to Phil Bennett.

Let us hope that, when Phil has had sufficient time to properly reflect upon what you have expressed, he will form his OWN opinion, and, if necessary, consult you and other glacial geomorphologists, for further information.

North Pembrokeshire has been shaped so much by glacial processes, it is incumbent upon those employed by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park to properly acknowledge those glacial processes when examining sites where prehistoric man may have also had a small amount of interaction with the physical landscape.

As Brian alluded to in the Headline of a Post about the Pembs. coast before Christmas, it is rather incredible that Nature, "Red in Tooth and Nail", is so often completely overlooked by those so keen to explain and communicate to the rest of us how things have been formed in the landscape.

chris johnson said...

The Pembrokeshire national park of which Bennett is a director has taken a simplistic approach to our heritage for many years. It aims at families killing time on rainy days. So Nevern Castle is to be a Norman theme park, Henlys is the Iron Age, Pentre Ifan is the Stone Age, etc. The bluestone link with Stonehenge will be presented with a similar childish simplicity.

Presumably the tourist people know their business but surely the days of Pembrokeshire as a general family beach holiday destination have passed? I suspect the kind of holiday maker with an interest in Pembrokeshire history is capable of absorbing a more complex message.

TonyH said...

I note with interest that Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority possesses a Media and Communications Centre, which welcomes comments from visitors and residents alike about the way the Park is presented.

TonyH said...

The Post I was alluding to above, last paragraph, was the one [on Newgale about a BBC reporter] on January 7th - so just after Christmas - titled "This Obsession With Man-made Things".

chris johnson said...

I would agree Tony, if you mean that the geology of Pembrokeshire tells dramatic stories that do not get due attention from tourist industry or national park.

Still one can hardly expect Bennett to promote this agenda.

TonyH said...

Perhaps not, Chris, but I WOULD expect the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, as a corporate entity interested in properly interpreting all features, geological as well as archaeological, etc, on behalf of us all, to be thus interested. Phil Bennett may have his own "axe to grind",so to speak, at Henllys iron age hill fort, but even that axe involves geological constituents. As John Donne said, "No man is an island".

chris johnson said...

As Bennett led the Nevern Castle vandalism I don't expect anything much from his direction. I am just glad he is not leading work at Rhosyfelin or Castell Mawr.

Not responding to Brian's reasoned letter is arrogance of a high degree from someone supposedly acting on behalf of the public interest.