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....
To order, click

Friday, 15 August 2014

More rubbish about Stonehenge and glaciers

 Craig Rhosyfelin.  No peer review, no reports, and everything shrouded in secrecy.......

It's funny, isn't it, the way that total rubbish, if repeated often enough, becomes accepted as the truth, at least by those of us who have a gullible disposition?   I'm not suggesting that everything in Mike Pitts's latest article on Stonehenge (in Focus magazine, July 2014) is total rubbish, but some of it is, and you get my drift.....

The article purports to bring us up to date on the latest developments, and there is a strong emphasis on the geological work centred on Craig Rhosyfelin. But let's get two things straight here.  

(1)  The geologists have published several papers on Craig Rhosyfelin and the Stonehenge debitage in recent years, in peer-reviewed journals.  

(2)  As far as the archaeologists are concerned, they have worked for three field seasons at Rhosyfelin (2011, 2012, 2013) and there has not been a single peer-reviewed article relating to their findings, and as far as I know, not a single field report or any other description of the work done or the interim findings.  As we are reminded often enough on this blog, none of the radiocarbon dates from the site has been reported, and neither have any of the other technical findings.  So all we have is MPP's description of some of the Rhosyfelin "discoveries" in Ch 17 of his latest book, flagged up as being definitive evidence of quarrying activity and a link with Stonehenge, and presumably not peer-reviewed by anybody.  And then a number of popular articles in glossy magazines, lectures and talks, designed to cement the "quarry" hypothesis but not actually subjected to any critical scrutiny by anybody.........

I'm not saying that the "quarry hypothesis" is wrong.  I'm just saying that it has never been subjected to proper scientific scrutiny or peer review, or demonstrated to be anything other than a fantasy. 

People like Mike Pitts should know better than to simply trot out all this unsupported nonsense and pretend that it is all true.  He is perpetrating the myth, and he knows exactly what he is doing.  I don't want to go through the whole paper with a toothcomb, but I'll give you a flavour:

1.  Pitts says this:  "But what if the bluestones, key to this interpretation, were not brought to Salisbury Plain by people at all, but millennia before, by glaciers? It’s an old idea, dismissed by mainstream science but still championed by a few."  That is complacent, condescending nonsense.  There is no other way to describe it.  The glacial transport hypothesis has NOT been dismissed by "mainstream science" -- whatever that is.  A few geologists and geomorphologists  (for example Scourse, Green and Bowen) have expressed their doubts about the glacial hypothesis in print, and others (for example Williams-Thorpe, Kellaway, Jackson, and yours truly) have written in support of it.  The debate goes on.

2.  Pitts says this:  "........the team found a further precise source at Carn Goedog for Stonehenge’s famed ‘spotted dolerite’.  Significantly, these new sources are on slopes facing north, towards the Irish Sea. The discredited sources faced south, towards the Bristol Channel - which they would need to do if the stones had been carried towards Wiltshire by glaciers."  Oh dear -- fundamentally wrong.  Carngoedog is indeed the preferred source for some of the spotted dolerites at Stonehenge, but the geologists have never said that it is THE place where all the spotted dolerites have come from, and other sites are still in the frame.  And where on earth does the nonsense come from regarding the "discredited sources" facing south, where they would need to be located in order to be picked up by glaciers?  Our esteemed author has this totally screwed up, as he would know if he had bothered to read my article written with Lionel Jackson a few years ago, or if he had just searched this blog for the term "entrainment", or if he had read any geomorphology text book.  Just to put it on the record again:  the preferred locations for the deep glacial quarrying and entrainment of bedrock slabs, monoliths and other debris when the Preseli Hills were deeply inundated by ice would have been the NORTH SLOPES, and not the south-facing ones.  Plucking does take place on the down-glacier slopes of roches moutonnees of various sizes, and indeed we cannot discount the possibility that erratics from these southern slopes will be identified at Stonehenge -- but where a mountain barrier is transverse to glacier flow, that flow becomes compressive,  shearing happens, and the dynamics operating on the glacier bed change quite dramatically.  Thrust planes are one consequence.  It's a bit complicated, and it has everything to do with glaciological theory, but don't blame me for the laws of physics........

3.  Here we go again on the periglacial stripes.......... Quote:  "Such ‘periglacial stripes’, as
they are known, usually form a branching network.  What might account for the long, straight lines?
Again for reasons that are not yet clear, but probably due to the local geology, there are three
barely visible parallel ridges in the chalk at just this site. These, suggests Allen, would have channelled water to flow straight downhill, eroding the grooves. When people first returned to Britain after the Ice Age, the stripes would have been visible on the barely vegetated ground, and later remained so, as plants grew thicker and darker over the silt-filled grooves.  The significance of this, says Allen, is the “astonishing, coincidental” fact that the banks and stripes are aligned on the solstice axis....."    Nobody has ever provided any convincing evidence that they are periglacial or that they have anything to do with permafrost conditions.  Where we do see periglacial stripes in the cold regions, they do not form branching networks.  Just three stripes and ridges?  There are hundreds of them, all over the Stonehenge landscape.  But at least Mike Allen refers to the work of water -- so maybe he is coming round to the idea that they are solutional rills, as I have suggested over and again on this blog.  But as for the "uniqueness" of these features, I fear that I am not convinced.  And as for that word "astonishing" -- shall we say that I am less than astonished........

For those who are suckers for punishment, here is an extract:

Secrets of the stones
Archaeologists think they have
finally solved the mystery of
why Stonehenge is where it
is, reveals Mike Pitts

Focus, July 2014, pp 48-52


So Stonehenge is in the centre of Wessex because
that is where, over many generations, a local group
grew to be more powerful and ambitious than its
neighbours. But what if the bluestones, key to this
interpretation, were not brought to Salisbury Plain
by people at all, but millennia before, by glaciers?
It’s an old idea, dismissed by mainstream science but
still championed by a few. To prove this wasn’t the
case, someone needed to confirm not only that the
stones really did come from the Preselis, but
also that they had been moved by people. It was
a challenge that Richard Bevins, a geologist at
the National Museum of Wales, and Rob Ixer,
a petrographer at UCL, took up with gusto.
In the 1980s an Open University project had
sampled many of the standing stones, and
matched some to Preseli sources; the scientists
concluded that the bluestones reached
Wiltshire in glaciers.

Bevins and Ixer wanted more detail. Over the past
decade they have been analysing the different rock
types at Stonehenge, including pieces from new
excavations, and in Pembrokeshire. The outcome
was a surprise. “Almost everything we believed
about the bluestones has been shown to be partially
or completely incorrect,” said Ixer.

Aided by Bevins’s expertise in the local geology,
they have identified precise bluestone outcrops,
some just a few metres across. This encouraged
Parker Pearson to seek prehistoric quarries, and in
excavations at Craig Rhos-y-felin, a small rhyolite
outcrop, he believes he has found just that - complete
with an unfinished megalith. Working with Nick
Pearce, a geology professor at Aberystwyth University,
the team found a further precise source at Carn
Goedog for Stonehenge’s famed ‘spotted dolerite’.
Significantly, these new sources are on slopes
facing north, towards the Irish Sea. The discredited
sources faced south, towards the Bristol Channel
- which they would need to do if the stones had
been carried towards Wiltshire by glaciers. The new
geology also questioned two further recent claims
about bluestones, that they had been selected either
for their imagined healing powers, or their ability to
ring musically when struck with stone hammers.
The supposed healing springs, and the outcrops
that had been tested for ringing, are at places now
seen not to have supplied Stonehenge megaliths.
I f Parker Pearson’s confidence in his quarry, as yet
undated, proves correct, then his bluestone theory is
currently the most convincing. A “powerful polity”
in southwest Wales, he argues, already raising
impressive stone circles, forged links with another
in Wiltshire, through the strongest medium at their
disposal - they shared their ancestral monuments.


TonyH said...

Mike Pitts left his Post of Curator of the Alexander Keiller Museum, Avebury, for the mouth - watering role of restaurant manager, also at Avebury. Not a particularly big step up the academic ladder, but now he edits "British Archaeology", lives at Marlborough, takes nice photographs and appears on occasional debates with Parker Pearson, Darvill and Julian Richards: a cosy quartet, a ghetto of "experts" on All Things Stonehenge, which they insist includes matters glaciological and geomorphological. Their Ace up their collective Sleeve, Mike Allen, is a snails and soil expert, NOT a glaciologist NOR a geomorphologist. However, it seems, for MPP, Tim, Julian and Pitts, Mike Allen is the best, and all [along with Charly French] they can produce on the Periglacial Stripes front.

"Focus" sells very well, within its end of the market, i.e. pushing Science at a very popular level in the U.K.

Rob Ixer said...

Shame on you. Even poor lowly Myris, a mere librarian that he is (albeit in the greatest library in the known world) was saddened by the unprovoked attack.
I have published with Mike Pitts and been published by him and had an article redesigned by him. He is honest, exacting and very, very careful and rather rewarding to work alongside. (He may be a great cook, that I do not know). Indeed running a restaurant is not bar to greatness (even Ivan the Terrible knew how to roast).
The article is Mike’s (it is not one I would have written) and represents his researched views, it is not some confection whisked up to please a jaded apatite ((ah Timur-e-lenk also cooked, but just boiled horse(pampered jades of Asia perhaps?)) but one based on, I think, mainly, primary with some secondary literature.
An unworthy a rather strange comment.
Rob Ixer

BRIAN JOHN said...

... very, very careful? Mike may well be a perfectly splendid fellow, but when you pontificate you need to be VERY sure of your ground. And he sure ain't sure of his ground on some of the issues covered in this article.

PeteG said...


You are cordially invited to attend either of two screenings of the final 46 min. version 02 of my 4k Fulldome film ANCIENT SKIES - visually re-vamped and newly script edited.

They’re being held at the Winchester Science Centre (formerly ‘Intech’).

The first showing is a press preview on Tuesday 2nd Sept. @ 4:00 pm.

The second is the official public ‘world premiere’ on Wednesday 17th Sept. @ 7:00pm.

WSC have done me so many favours with the project over the years that I’m afraid there’s no freebies available. Both are ticket-only, and first-come-first-served events.

Screenings are prompt at times shown, and no entry thereafter.

Directions from Devizes: it’s A303 > Andover, then A34 south > Winchester, with a very brief bit of M3, then left on A31 > Alton (towards A272 > Petersfield). Follow the brown road signs to theatre.

Other details here:

Please spread the word / links and I hope to see you there. Film is kid-friendly, for all ages 10+.

Winchester Science Centre - Planetarium Special: Ancient Skies
Winchester Science Centre is proud to announce the first screenings of this beautiful 46 minute fulldome film.

TonyH said...

Enjoyed reading Mike Pitts' "Hengeworld", and also in general his editorship of 'British Archaeology'.

But I agree with Brian. I haven't read the Focus article, but based upon Brian's extracts, Mike Pitts does appear to be perpetrating the myth.

I was basically saying I was disappointed that Mike Pitts wasn't more rigorous in his preparation of the Focus article.

But most of my criticism in my previous comment was about how the Inner Sanctum of Stonehenge archaeologists have closed ranks, continued to spread the time - honoured myth that the Glacial Hypothesis is a non - starter, and regularly congratulated each other on their own collective superior wisdom.

The Pen (and the spoken word) may be mightier than the Sword, but the Pen has to take account of ALL branches of investigation from ALL academics, ESPECIALLY when writing for a generalist audience like that of "Focus", largely aimed at the younger, up - and - coming reader, whdeserves better.

Moreover, on a more general, academic point there are plenty of geomorphologists and glaciologists available to their own academic locations or origins, such as Southampton, Bristol, Reading and London, who should obviously be consulted, as a matter of academic rigour and courtesy, when continuing researching issues pertaining to, for example, the "quarry hypothesis" and the "periglacial stripes" hypothesis.

Hence my 'ghetto' remark.

Myris of Alexandria said...

Brian you should write to BA and point out the error about where glaciers pluck. I think it widespread.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Myris -- glaciers do pluck rocks from the down-glacier sides of roche moutonnees. That is not an error -- it accords with one part of glaciology theory. The problem is that glaciological theory is rather complex, and that the "downglacier plucking" scenario does not always apply -- and in the case of transverse barriers or mountain ridges, shearing or thrusting comes into play when compressive stresses occur in the ice. Exactly the same principle as with rocks and faulting -- you know it makes sense.....

And who, by the way, are the BA?

TonyH said...

I think Myris is,in my opinion,
very thoughtfully and helpfully recommending you write to the Letters Page of British Archaeology vis a vis roches moutonnes and glacial plucking.

You could add any other comments there you have about the Ixer/ Bevins "vexed question of the Stonehenge stones" Brit. Arch. article recently discussed by us.

I agree!! Please do not hide your light under a bushel/ Blogsite!


BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks folks -- but I can't complain to one magazine about a point made in another magazine. But maybe I'll write to both ----- will check out the process of getting letters published.

Myris of Alexandria said...

Indeed I was but confused magazines. However there is a vague reference to glaciers and man plucking the same well jointed rocks. This should be qualified,especially as initial direction of movement northwards or southward is critical.
I could dash off a suitable epistle to Brutish Archaeology (is that not a wonderful typo). Like found art I collect found typos. OR
Why not write 500 - 1000 word article with pics have it lightly refereed, and offer it to CA or BA.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Myris

I have it in mind to offer BA an article with the title "The vexed Question of Bluestone Transport." I have already written a short letter to the mag assuring the Editor that glaciological theory does NOT rule out glacial transport, and that the precise provenancing of bluestones has no bearing on the matter.