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Monday, 16 June 2014

Colin Richards -- can we please have some evidence?

 Two young ladies placing themselves in extreme danger by sitting on the sacred knoll at the southern end of the ridge on which Callanish One was built.  The knoll has been smoothed by overriding ice, and on its western flank there are visible fractures and overhangs where Lewisian gneiss slabs have broken off -- ready for gathering up by the builders of the stone settings.

Now that I have been to Callanish and taken a quick look at three of the stone settings (Callanish 1, 2 and 3) I have taken another look at Colin's paper on the "great stone circles" of NW Britain.

See my previous post, dated 28 May:

I am a good deal less impressed now than I was when I first read the article in question.  Statement after statement needs careful scrutiny.  For example, with reference to Na Dromannan: 

"After initial inspection of the 'ruined circle' there remained a possibility that the angled stones projecting through the peat were actually stones propped up for removal after being quarried from outcropping on the spine and southern end of the ridge. Also a monolith designated as a 'standing stone' lying on a parallel ridge, 150 metres east of Na Dromannan, was clearly a monolith wedged on its side; presumably for future transportation that never occurred (Fig. 7)."

THE ruined circle?  Which ruined circle?  Colin tells us that there is one, without giving us any evidence on which we can either agree with him or disagree. Stones propped up conveniently by human beings?  Don't believe a word of it.  Please show us the colour of your evidence if you want to convince us that these are not just broken bedrock slabs resting on stony glacial detritus.  The monolith designated as a standing stone?  Show us, don't tell us -- it looks like a perfectly normal erratic to me.  And why would a monolith be "wedged on its side"?  It is what it is -- a largish stone left behind by the ice, and still there, where it came to rest.

Then this:

"When the peat was removed it immediately became clear that the reason for the tilt of the recumbent monoliths was that each stone rested on the slope of a pile of large packing-stones which resembled small cairns.  While some stone blocks were clearly displaced others resembled the packing stones commonly seen surrounding the bases of standing monoliths; supporting and stabilizing the standing stones within their sockets (Fig. 8).  The interpretation that the stones had all originally stood upright was quickly confirmed when a number of broken upper sections of the monoliths were revealed beneath the peat. Clearly, these had snapped when the stones had fallen onto the hard bedrock."

Recumbent monoliths?  Packing stones?  Some stone blocks were clearly displaced?  Broken upper sections of monoliths?  Now some of this may be reliable, but it may equally well all be nonsense -- and I think the reader should be entrusted with some evidence, and not just interpretations and conclusions.

Then this:

".........each circle assumes an intermediate position in relation to a large glacial knoll at the end of the ridge. "  

What is a glacial knoll?  As indicated in my other posts about Callanish, the whole landscape is made up of heavily eroded and streamlined rock knolls and depressions -- there is nothing special about any of the knolls close to Callanish 1,2 and 3, and Na Dromannan, with a common factor being the availability of broken slabs for use by the builders of the monuments.  Intermediate position?  Intermediate between what objects?

Then this:

"In Lewis it seems as if the actual location of each circle is paramount in its understanding. In being positioned at an intermediate point along a narrow ridge, with a large natural knoll at the end, each circle constitutes an 'in-between' or transitional point within a pathway leading to the knoll (Fig. 9).
This passage along the spine of the ridge is formalised within the main Callanish circle by the presence of an impressive avenue (Fig. 5). Under these circumstances it is the natural knoll that provides the main focus of attention and to which the monumentality will constantly be referenced.

Now we are seriously into fantasy land.  So this is all about locations, not stone monuments, about ridges and knolls being special, about "transitional points" and "monumentality"?  Forget the rather pretentious language for the moment.  Colin seems to be suggesting that the key activities here at Callanish and Na Dromannan were the quarrying and transport of the stones, and the procession of people along ridge pathways towards the sacred knolls -- and in the case of Callanish One a procession along the Avenue.  I wonder what went on at the sacred knolls?  Sacrifices of virgins? Maybe that's all in Colin's latest book.....

Fantasy, fantasy and more fantasy, and virtually no EVIDENCE on which we, the humble readers of these sacred words, can come to an informed view of our own........

Colin, if you read this, and if the hard evidence is written down somewhere, please point us towards it, and if I have to eat my words, I'll gladly do so.


chris johnson said...

I hope Colin engages but I doubt it - maybe if you had stopped half way through the post but then maybe not ....

Thank for taking an rational look at this in-situ. I do think the archaeologists might move further and faster in your company than without.

He seems to think the knoll is a critical feature for the design of the monument. Was this your opinion too?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Short answer, Chris. No.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Re critical scrutiny, it's rather sad, methinks, that there is so little of it about....... you don't have to be a trained geomorphologist to point out that much that is written by certain well-known archaeologists is based upon fantasies rather than evidence. Maybe intelligent people nowadays don't have the time to scrutinise, in this frenetic modern world, thereby allowing charlatans to get away with the most extraordinary nonsense? (Not that I'm calling anybody a charlatan here .... but I'm sure you get the point.....) Other factors are short attention spans and a compliant and complacent media which just trots out what is fed to it, thereby increasing the tendency to develop spectacular narratives designed not for the peer review of the research community, but for public consumption as "pop science". Things were, no doubt, better in the good old days!

TonyH said...

At Machrie Moor, Isle of Arran, broadly west of Glasgow,famously many stone circles and stone settings have been retrieved from the overlying peaty deposits, facing the Mull of Kintyre. But those were more clearly discernible, perhaps, than what seems to be under discussion here at Callanish. I have been to Machrie, but not to Lewis or Orkney.

BRIAN JOHN said...

According to the things I have read, the Callanish stones were perfectly visible even when 5 ft of peat covered their lower sections. In fact, the peat might have helped to stabilise them and stop them from falling over....

TonyH said...

What I meant to communicate, in my last comment, was that CR's alleged stone settings arranged by humans in the distant past, be they circles, rows, pairs or whatever, perhaps were less clearly discernible AS HUMANLY CREATED ARRANGEMENTS, than those discovered at Machrie Moor on the west side of Arran.

Constantinos Ragazas said...


How are the stones at Machrie Moor more ”clearly discernible AS HUMANLY CREATED ARRANGEMENTS”?