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Friday, 26 September 2014

How to manufacture a Neolithic quarry

Somebody said to me the other day, with respect to Craig Rhosyfelin: "Well, there's that lovely smooth rock face.  It looks like a quarry, doesn't it?  So probably the archaeologists are quite correct......"

That got me thinking about the "archaeological artifice."  We have encountered it already, with respect to many of the small details in the archaeological dig.  If you dig under the big "proto-orthostat" and take away all the fine sediments but leave the bigger stones behind, you can then say to yourself (and to the world): "Hey!  Look! The quarrymen here have put props and pillars under this stone in order to hold it up or to help move it......."  Totally illogical, of course, but when you have a ruling hypothesis to guide you, every little scrap of evidence comes in handy in helping you to convince yourself that you are in possession of the truth.

The same thing applies to the "quarry" rock face at Rhosyfelin.  When the excavations started in 2011 there was no rock face here.  There was an overgrown jumble of fallen rocks with a few jagged outcrops projecting through the trees, gorse and bracken.  Gradually, over four years of digging, all of that material has been taken away.  The trees and shrubs have gone, and much of the shattered rock debris has been taken away with the aid of a digger and by many pairs of willing hands.  In a few places the debris has been left behind:

But where the clearing work has gone on to an advanced stage, we can pick out the old ground level and the rock exposures that were covered in vegetation -- sometimes halfway up the face.  Consciously or unconsciously, the face has been "tidied up" in order to confirm the idea that there was a genuine worked quarry face here.  This is a 2012 photo, and below it is one from 2014:

The technique, in the creation of this artifice,  seems to have been to take away the finer sediments and the rock rubble and to leave many of the larger stones behind, with their positions mapped meticulously.  The archaeologists will of course say, if asked, that they are simply revealing a pre-existing rock face and bringing it back to its pristine condition -- as it was in the Neolithic.  That's what they do, and that's what they undoubtedly believe. 

But from where I stand, they are revealing a rather fine fracture plane in a complex rhyolite crag which has been subjected at various times to glacial, fluvio-glacial and periglacial processes.  The rock face that we see today is no different in essence from thousands of other joint- or fracture-controlled rock faces all over the British Isles which are partly covered in rockfall debris.

So the rock face at Rhosyfelin is an entirely natural feature, which has been subjected to careful cosmetic surgery because the archaeologists didn't like the look of it as it was when they found it.


TonyH said...

"Ignorance is bliss" is an old time - honoured saying that is particularly appropriate to Craig Rhosyfelin and the Wild Goose Hunters with their Heads in the Rocksand Undergrowth.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I'm not prepared to be too rude with these guys -- after all, they may actually be right. But what makes me rather angry is that frequently- stated assertions have completely taken the place of evidence presentation, and that is not good academic practice.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Another thing to make clear. I don't think that this fracture plane or rock face has ever, in the past, even if entirely natural, looked as it looks in the 2014 photos. Blocks and rubble have been falling off this face for more than 20,000 years, at different rates on different parts of the face -- and in some places it may have taken big blocks falling down to dislodge and move slabs on the face that were previously "connected". All sorts of processes have combined to create the face as we see it today. So the face as it is now has not been "exposed" or "revealed" -- it has been created by the archaeologists.

Myris of Alexandria said...

It has just occurred to me.
Slickensides May be the answer.

BRIAN JOHN said...

So are you suggesting that this is actually a fault plane? Any evidence of displacement?

Myris of Alexandria said...

No what I am saying they should be searched for.
I have only seen the face for 20 mins.
Were they to be found it would suggest movement.
The planar surface is unusual
I do not know.

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Why not torrents of meltwater? Why could't these have created such smooth rock face?


Alex Gee said...

As a lover of the great outdoors, Climber,Mountaineer,cave diver,caver Walker etc.

It disgusts me to see a government agency, funding such environmental vandalism by the practioners of pseudo scientific nonsense!