THE BOOK
Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my book called "The Bluestone Enigma" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
To order, click
HERE

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Erratics and packing stones.......


I have been looking again at Colin Richards's article called: "Rethinking the great stone circles of Northwest Britain" and am struck once again by his willingness to interpret large stones with other (smaller) stones beneath them as monoliths intended for use in standing stone settings.  The following is one example, from Na Dromannan (Callanish X):
 

Figure 7. The monolith wedged on its side for later removal. (Colin Richards's words, not mine)

Quote:  "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)."

Once again we see the tendency of archaeologists to interpret entirely natural phenomena as man-made.  In some cases, I accept that a leaning or recumbent monolith may be found with packing stones around its base.  But if Colin was to wander about in the Callanish area,  as I did, he would discover in the course of a single afternoon twenty or thirty beautiful glacial erratics with stones wedged underneath them, just as they were dumped by the ice at the end of the last glaciation.  In most cases the fine material -- till and fluvio-glacial sediments -- has been washed away during the ice wastage process.  But sometimes patches of sediments remain beneath the erratics which can be the size of houses.  See previous Callanish posts.

This "packing stone" idea involves very sloppy thinking -- and we see it too at Rhosyfelin, where the presence of "packing stones" beneath the famous "forgotten monolith" has been interpreted as unequivocal evidence of human quarrying at the site.  If I may be so bold, that is total nonsense.  In the case of Rhosyfelin, the monolith has fallen onto a bank of rockfall debris and scree.  Perhaps a course in geomorphology should be compulsory for all archaeologists?



8 comments:

TonyH said...

"Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest."

The ?prophetic words of our old friend, Paul Simon, from "The Boxer".

Keep slugging it out, Brian! (in the nicest possible way)

TonyH said...

Colin Richards'lack of proper geomorphological understanding should be compared with what was going on inside Tony Blair's head in the early years of his Premiership. Tony Blair was nicknamed "Bambi" by the Westminster press, because of his wide - eyed naivety when proclaiming how Things Have Got To Get Better.

Richards betrays a common tendency amongst some archaeologists, especially when let loose on World Heritage Site - status archaeological monuments - let's let our imaginations run riot: Giants (or at any rate folk with stupendous abilities) must have been involved!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Another thing which allows fertile imaginations to run riot in the archaeological community is the shift towards process and away from form. So both Colin R and Mike PP now argue that the final form of Stonehenge, or Callanish, or whatever, was not the important thing. THE REALLY IMPORTANT THING WAS THE PROCESS OF BUILDING, INVOLVING STONE SOURCING, QUARRYING, HAULAGE ETC -- WITH GREAT SIGNIFICANCE FOR THE STATUS OF THE LEADERS, SOCIAL COHERENCE, POLITICAL SYMBOLISM ETC. Brilliant!! At least, in the old days you had a monument of sorts to look at, measure, and analyse. And to argue over with your peers. Now you don't need any physical evidence at all -- the only requirement is a vivid imagination. In such a fashion has archaeology gone to the dogs.

chris johnson said...

You are both being a bit hard on Richards and MPP, I think. Without a hypothesis we would not know where to look next, and with so little hard data we need imagination to form hypotheses from which to work.

There is an obvious danger of "hearing what he wants to hear" but these are intelligent people and well aware of the pitfall. Anything they do present will be scrutinised rigorously, eventually.

I am very curious about the Cardigan announcement. It should be possible to predict where the missing link is in Prescelly based on hypothesis - I have my own view which I shared here a while back. MPP is capable to garner resources to follow his hunches but we should not criticise him for this way of working - I don't know how else to do it.

Brian might argue that there is no missing link but then that is a hypothesis too.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Premature hypotheses are the curse of science -- always have been. Maybe these are more prevalent in archaeology than in other subjects, because evidence is thin on the ground. Even more of a curse are ruling hypotheses, and I see too many of these around, where "evidence" is twisted and even invented, in order to fit a pre-existing thesis about what went on in the distant past. MPP and CR are by no means the only people to get sucked into this -- and I have had a real go at Profs GW and TD in the past on this blog, as older followers might remember!

Cardigan announcement? Missing link? Explain please...

chris johnson said...

I was referring to Robin Heath's book announcement in Cardigan on 22 June.

The missing link is the original location of the stone circle MPP thinks was moved to Stonehenge. My feeling is that it is most likely to be between the known stone sources - following the principle of looking for stones close to where you want to build. The area also looks like it might be a good observatory with big horizons. Of course it might not exist at all.

TonyH said...

"But if Colin was to wander about in the Callanish area, as I did, he would discover in the course of a single afternoon 20 or 30 beautiful GLACIAL ERRATICS [my capitals!] with stones wedged between them, just as they were dumped by the ice at the end of the last glaciation......"

Surely the basib problem with Colin is, he has no - one to illucidate these glacial geomorphological features in his team of assistants. He [and also his side - kick MPP] have indulged in many Seasons of excavations on Lewis and nearby islands since the 1990's, To put it bluntly [and I am entitled to, for I am a Yorkshireman] Colin has fundamentally kept too much of his own counsel, or shared it only with fellow archaeologists, up there off N Scotland.

I shudder to think how folk like CR & MPP would do if we sent them up to Mars (for the sake of argument).
Presumably they'd come up with all sorts of weird, wild and wonderful theories about how features on the Martian surface MUST only be explicable in terms of a human, or at any rate, an intelligent alien, presence there!! And' of course, National Geographic and its broadly American readership would simply lap it up!

TonyH said...

There must be a few tame glacial geomorphologists available and willing for Colin Richards, Professor of World Geography at the University of Manchester, to call upon AT MANCHESTER UNIVERSITY, surely?! But would he ever ASK them for THEIR OPINION, based upon their INSIGHT resulting from their specialist knowledge and know - how?? Hmmm...
We could go over the same ground [metaphorically speaking!] I've been over previously over the Years. I thought, basically, that those within our Great Universities were there to SHARE INFORMATION across their artificial Departmental structures.Surely, that is what the advancement of science and knowledge is all about.

But, basically I think I'd much prefer to place the great Melvyn Bragg, of "In Our Time" and "South Bank Show" fame, in charge of ensuring we had a proper, soul - searching debate on all the issues surrounding The Great Stone Circles of North Britain, to get to the bottom of the disputed areas....