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Monday, 21 April 2014

Craig Rhosyfelin -- order or chaos?


This is a more or less vertical image of the Rhosyfelin dig as it was in 2012 or 2013  - reproduced by Prof MPP in one of his articles.

I was talking recently to a lady who has been involved in the dig, and I mentioned my feeling of sadness about all the thousands of hours or meticulous work -- not to mention thousands of pounds -- expended in measuring and recording every single stone, bit by bit, as the "working surface" goes deeper and deeper, with the purpose of finding some sort of pattern which will confirm the quarry hypotheses.  I said that as far as I could see the distribution of stones, large and small, is pretty chaotic, with NO pattern visible that might be attributed to human agency.  (The distribution of stones might appear from the above photo to be more or less random; but it's best not to use the word "random" since falling and sliding stones beneath a rock face do follow certain physical laws -- the law of gravity and movements related to the sliding coefficient, for example -- which determine where they finally end up on the scree or rockfall bank.) 

The lady agreed that the work was very careful and time-consuming, and agreed that there was as yet no obvious pattern to the stones which might be seized upon by MPP and his colleagues as indicating human involvement.  But she also said that careful work was a key requirement of the digging team, and one has to respect that.  After all, at some stage something important might turn up, and the context has to be accurately recorded if it is to be sensibly interpreted. 

All that having been said, the longer the work goes on, the more desperate the search for meaning becomes, and the greater the likelihood of patterns being seen that do not actually exist, or even of artifices created by the diggers (such as the "props" supposedly supporting the "abandoned orthostat") being given profound meaning. 

From the point of view of a geomorphologist, the dig over the last three years has given a fascinating insight into the internal arrangement of stones on a Devensian rockfall bank on the flank of a meltwater channel probably cut at the end of the Anglian glaciation.  One doesn't often get such a detailed cleaning up of an entirely natural phenomenon.

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