Here we go again. After the recent work by geologists Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins which suggested that the spotted dolerites at Stonehenge have probably NOT come from Carn Meini (Menyn), but from Carn Goedog and other outcrops, Profs Darvill and Wainwright have produced a new paper which suggests that the geologists have got it all wrong, and that there was indeed a quarry here. I venture to suggest that this might well cause some fun and games........
Here is the key info about the paper.
Beyond Stonehenge: Carn Menyn Quarry and the origin and date of bluestone extraction in the Preseli Hills of south-west Wales
Timothy Darvill & Geoff Wainwright
ANTIQUITY 88 (2014): 1099–1114
Recent investigations at Stonehenge have been accompanied by new research on the origin of the famous ‘bluestones’, a mixed assemblage of rhyolites and dolerites that stand among the much taller sarsens. Some of the rhyolite debitage has been traced to a quarry site at Craig Rhosyfelin near the Pembrokeshire coast; but fieldwork on the upland outcrops of Carn Menyn has also provided evidence for dolerite extraction in the later third millennium BC, and for the production of pillar-like blocks that resemble the Stonehenge bluestones in shape and size. Quarrying at Carn Menyn began much earlier, however, during the seventh millennium BC, suggesting that Mesolithic communities were the first to exploit the geology of this remote upland location.
Let's bring a little critical scrutiny to bear on the text of the paper. On a first reading, these are the things that come to mind:
1. In the very first sentence, the authors refer to the "80 or so" bluestone pillars at Stonehenge which originated over 220 km away in the Preseli Hills. How many times must we repeat that there is only evidence for 43 stones? And how many times must we repeat that not all of them have come from Preseli?
2. Quote: "In July 2012 the authors excavated a trench on the southern flanks of Carn Menyn, Mynachlog Ddu, to investigate evidence of stone quarrying and a dolerite-working area. The investigation revealed a well-preserved stratigraphic sequence spanning the period from before 5000 BC through to 1000 BC that provides secure evidence for pre-Neolithic stone quarrying in the region and absolute dates for the extraction of dolerite pillars from a source outcrop high in the Preseli Hills." Right. That's a pretty spectacular and confident claim -- let's see how well founded it is.
3. The authors cite two key findings from the SPACES project in North Pembrokeshire. First, ".......throughout the study area prehistoric communities had a close relationship with local stone, variously selecting and manipulating blocks for the construction of monuments including portal dolmens, chambered tombs, circles, standing stones, and sometimes just lifting slabs out of the ground as ‘propped rocks’. " Well, that's a statement of the obvious. Every community that used stone in megalithic structures had a close relationship with stone. Nothing special there. Second, "......within the eastern part of the study area our fieldwork supports a suggestion by Richard Bradley (2000: 92–96) that the arrangement of various bluestone lithologies used in the later stages of Stonehenge broadly replicates in microcosm the actual arrangement of stone types across the landscape of the Preseli Hills and surrounding areas. Thus, the dolerites of the Bluestone Horseshoe in the centre of Stonehenge derived from the central Preseli Ridge, while the various rhyolites and tuffs present in the Outer Bluestone Circle originated at outcrops within a wider catchment ......." We can't prove things one way or the other, but this seems to me to be fanciful twaddle. The stones that we know about -- all 43 of them -- were moved about all over the place, and they stood in a variety of settings before the one whose traces we see today. It is far more likely that the use of dolerites in the bluestone horseshoe was a practical matter related to HARDNESS, with the more crumbly and flaky (inferior) stones relegated to the bluestone circle. I find it very hard to believe that every stone at Stonehenge was known to the builders -- many generations after their first use on the site -- as having come from specific Preseli locations.
4. On the matter of dolerite / spotted dolerite origins, the authors take issue with Bevins and Ixer: "......further informed sampling is needed, and Bevin et al’s recent publication can be taken as an alternative rather than a revised interpretation of the Open University’s datasets (Bevins et al. 2014: 181, 192). Moreover, as only around 55 per cent of the 21 Stonehenge samples in the study (including unattributed debris as well as identified extant pillar-stones) can be attributed to a source at Carn Goedog (Bevins et al. 2014: 189), any claim that this was the main source for the Stonehenge bluestones must be treated with extreme caution." I will leave it to the geologists to sort out that particular issue. Plenty of other issues to examine....
5. Quote: "Archaeologically, our surveys show that Carn Menyn was the focus of a great deal of activity in the later Neolithic and early Bronze Age. Burial cairns have been recorded at either end, standing stones on the outcrops, a walled enclosure around the highest point, and natural springheads elaborated through the creation of pools and the occasional application of rock art on the southern side." As I have said before on this blog, I disagree with all of that. Carn Menyn (Meini) was not a focus of any sort, and there is nothing in the landscape to suggest that it was. There are scattered megalithic and other archaeological features right across this landscape in eastern Preseli, and in all compass directions away from Carn Meini. The springheads and "pools" are equally fanciful, and I have seen no convincing evidence that they were either fashioned or modified by human beings, or revered........
6. Quote: "The surveys found that on the southern flanks of Carn Menyn there was a scatter of broken or abandoned dolerite pillar-stones of the same size and proportion as the stones present in the two visible structures at Stonehenge today (see Figure 2), as well as occasional hammer stones." There is an extraordinary diagram -- Figure 2 -- purporting to support this hypothesis, on which stone widths and thicknesses are plotted, but not stone lengths. There is, as you would expect, a wide scatter -- but the most extraordinary feature of the diagram is the plotting of the dimensions of abandoned pillar-stones (some broken) on the slopes of Carn Menyn. This is about as unscientific as you can get. Who chose these stones? Where were they? How many were sampled and how many others were ignored because they were "inconvenient"? As far as I am concerned, this whole exercise is nonsensical.
7. Now we come to the "Carn Menyn Quarry Sequence" -- on page 1103. Note that it is designated as being a quarry before we have even looked at any evidence which might inform our opinions. That appears to be common fault among quarry hunters -- including our friends from the rival tribe who have been digging at Rhosyfelin.
8. With reference to the key "quarrying" site at SN 143324, the authors claim that "....shallow hollows suggestive of quarry pits were also recognised and, on the basis of surface evidence, seemed to be for the extraction of a fine, light-grey coloured meta-mudstone (Darvill et al. 2008). Surface evidence including a broken pillar-stone, intercutting quarry pits and indications of dolerite extraction on a terrace on the southern slopes of Carn Menyn at an altitude of 310m asl........" A 30 sq m pit across the terrace is claimed to show three main periods of activity associated with the working of meta-mudstones and spotted dolerites. It is claimed that the first workings on the site were for the extraction of meta-mudstones, and that there are at least a dozen pits along the edge of a dolerite dyke which are associated with this phase. Darvill and Wainwright claim that fire-setting was a part of the extraction process, and they present four radiocarbon dates on the "abundant charcoal from oak stick-wood" found in the holes. There are two radiocarbon dates from the deepest part of the pit -- 7987 yrs BP and 7711 yrs BP -- which are surprisingly old, and two others, one from 6170 yrs BP and the other from 6396 yrs BP. The authors also claim to have discovered hammer stones and flakes from the quarrying operations, although we are not shown any evidence in support of this contention. On the plan of the site, the authors show stone piles / small cairns (?) and also a spread of meta-mudstone knapping waste and two low-walled huts or shelters (?). They also show three broken dolerite pillar stones and two complete dolerite pillar stones, in an area where scores of stones could have been represented if they had chosen to do so. What should one make of all this "evidence"? Personally, I am not convinced that we are looking at any evidence of quarrying activity in the period 8,000 - 6,000 yrs BP. There are undulations and pits everywhere in this landscape -- as far as I am concerned, they are not noteworthy. We know that parts of these uplands were wooded during the early part of the Holocene, before climate change and grazing caused the woodland edge to retreat downslope. The name "Carn Goedog" means "Woodland Crag" -- and that's rather suggestive of quite a late woodland survival. Could the charcoal have come from natural fires or man-made clearance fires in the woodlands on the ridge crest? Perfectly feasible. Alternatively, we may be looking at charcoal left in fire pits which were used at Mesolithic or early Neolithic camp sites established here in the vicinity of the Carn Meini crags. Why would anybody want to use fire to extract slabs of meta-mudstone when it is so broken and shattered anyway in this area that you just have to walk along and pick it up......?
9. Next, the authors claim to have evidence for "the working of dolerite" in the later third millennium BC. They claim to have found a shallow socket once used for a standing stone, which lies "fallen to the south." They also claim to have exposed packing-stones around the base of the stone, and illustrate this in Figure 7. The base of this stone also supposedly shows a "half-sectioned socket" -- whatever that may be. I find none of this convincing. The "socket" appears to be entirely natural, and the "packing stones" -- carefully left in place while other stones have been removed -- seem to be in quite the wrong positions to have been packed into a socket holding a standing stone. I think we are looking here at yet another archaeological artifice, like those created by Prof MPP and colleagues at Rhosyfelin. "Oak stick-wood charcoal" from the fill of the socket gave three radiocarbon dates of 4188 yrs BP, 3797 yrs BP, and 3724 yrs BP. (Note that these dates are generalised -- the margins of error are cited in the paper.) So what does this tell us? Not a lot, except that there seems to have been a pit here with occasional fires over a few centuries around 4,000 years ago.
10. Next, we have the so-called evidence of dolerite quarrying. Quote: "An area of preserved old ground surface towards the southern end of the trench (see Figure 4 for position) contained a scatter of spotted dolerite flakes and hammer stones with evidence of burning directly associated with it." Once again, we are not shown the evidence -- we are just told that it exists. Not good enough. There are three more dates from this area from oak charcoal, namely 3685 yrs BP, 3673 yrs BP, and 3567 yrs BP. The authors say: "These are the first secure dates for prehistoric dolerite working in the Preseli Hills and clearly indicate that Carn Menyn was being actively exploited in the late third millennium BC." I'm sorry, but I see no evidence at all which supports that contention. All I see -- in the evidence on the ground and in the photos figured in the paper -- is a chaotic jumble of dolerite fragments and "meta-mudstones" dramatically affected by frost shattering and other natural processes, with occasional evidence for the use of fire -- possibly in association with camp sites. We do not know whether the evidence of fires in pits is unique to this area, or whether it occurs in close proximity to all the other rocky outcrops in eastern Preseli.
11. Quote: "The third and final period of activity represented in the Carn Menyn Quarry sequence again relates to the extraction of meta-mudstone. The earlier quarry was more or less silted- up by the end of the second millennium BC, but a new pit appears to have been dug to the south, partly overlapping its ancient predecessor." No evidence is provided by the authors as to the characteristics of these layers, and it is impossible to ascertain whether they are natural or man-made. The assumption seems to be that they are man-made because they are on top of other layers that are also deemed to be man-made -- and we end up in a classic circular argument. There are two charcoal dates from this supposed late phase of meta-mudstone working: 2979 yrs BP and 2871 yrs BP. These are deemed to be related to two other dates -- one from the "large cairn" investigated at the western extremity of Carn Meini (3073 yrs BP) and a date from Croesmihangel not far from Foel Drigarn (3509 yrs BP).
12. In their discussion of the results (p 1109) the authors demonstrate that they have several problems to cope with. They state: "The main stratigraphically determined periods of activity described above appear to be more or less discrete episodes spatially connected by the power of place." Excuse me, but what is that supposed to mean? The assumption is that there were two very early phases of meta-mudstone extraction -- around 9000-8000 years ago and 7800-6000 years ago. Quote: "These early dates make the Carn Menyn Quarry the earliest-recorded securely dated stone extraction site in Britain." I think we will beg to differ on that one, pending the presentation of some convincing evidence. Quote: "On a wider front, the discovery of formal quarrying in the British late Mesolithic adds significantly to the growing list of monuments and structures from this period." A rather grandiose claim based upon the flimsiest of evidence. The authors then seek to link these early dates with similar dates from the Stonehenge landscape: "The extension of the cultural sequence at Carn Menyn back into the sixth and fifth millennia BC brings the pattern of activity there into close accord with what is known of the Stonehenge area, and begins to flesh out the bare bones of parallel but connected developments in the two areas."
13. Quote: "The second main period of activity at the Carn Menyn Quarry also divides into two phases: the erection of a standing stone and dolerite-working. Modelling suggests that the standing stone was set up before the dolerite-working took place....". The modelled date for the assumed erection of the standing stone is between 6,000 yrs BP and 4640 yrs BP -- far too wide a span to be meaningful. The modelled date for dolerite working is between 4,000 yrs BP and 3,800 yrs BP, also with much uncertainty. It will not go unnoticed that this very late date for dolerite working does nothing whatsoever to support the thesis that this was a quarry used for spotted dolerites destined for Stonehenge. While there are subtle differences in interpretation, it now seems to be widely accepted that the bluestones were present in the Stonehenge landscape before 5,000 years BP.
14. Quote: "These findings finally lay to rest the theory that the bluestones arrived on Salisbury Plain through glacial action (Kellaway 1971), an idea that has been remarkably persistent and periodically revived (e.g. John 2008) despite being comprehensively discredited by geologists, geomorphologists and glaciologists more than a decade ago (Green 1997: 264; Scourse 1997; Clark et al 2004; Bowen 2005: 147–48)." Excuse me, chaps, but that is utter nonsense. Which geologists and glaciologists have "comprehensively discredited" the idea of glacial transport? Not one, that I can think of. The only glaciologists who have expressed a view have come down with a statement that glacial transport would have been perfectly feasible. The cited authors are all geomorphologists, and with the best will in the world they have not done any comprehensive discrediting of anything. They have expressed their views, and I respect them, but in my view their arguments are not well supported. Trust me -- I'm a geomorphologist too.
15. The authors argue that there is some significance in the "re-working" of the Carn Menyn site, and in the construction of the Carn Menyn cairn and the Croesmihangel round barrow at the western and eastern ends of the dolerite outcrops. Another extraordinary flight of fancy.......
16. I'll quote the whole of the final paragraph of the paper:
"Many explanations as to why the bluestones were considered sufficiently important and meaningful to move from Wales to Wiltshire can be proposed, and there may be more than one reason. The demonstrable antiquity of stone extraction on Carn Menyn, long before the building of Stonehenge began, tells us something about the ancestral significance and power of the landscape from which the bluestones were taken. Perhaps Mynydd Preseli was the home of the gods: the Mount Olympus of Neolithic Britain. But we also believe that the association between bluestones and healing springs in the Preseli Hills was important (cf. Jones 1992), and something that resonates with long-standing oral traditions that were first written down in the thirteenth century AD (Piggott 1941). Springs were a significant and persistent feature of the Stonehenge landscape, as the recent work at Blick Mead shows (Jacques et al. 2012). Soon after the bluestones were installed at Stonehenge (Stage 2) the central structure was linked by an Avenue to Stonehenge Bottom and the River Avon (Stage 3), thereby fixing and formalising the relationship to water (Darvill et al. 2012a: 1035). The idea that powerful stones were moved from their source outcrops on a special, ancestral or sacred place to ‘franchise’ distant shrines and temples finds parallels in West African societies and elsewhere (Insoll 2006). We propose that, after the earthwork enclosure at Stonehenge ceased to be a major cremation cemetery sometime about 2500 BC, bluestones from Carn Menyn and other nearby outcrops in west Wales were brought to Stonehenge and set up within a temple whose structure had already been built from sarsen stones. From that time onwards, pilgrims and travellers were drawn to Stonehenge because of the special properties that had empowered Stonehenge to provide pastoral and medical care of both body and soul: tending the wounded, treating the sick, calming troubled minds, promoting fecundity, assisting and celebrating births and protecting people against malevolent forces in a dangerous and uncertain world. The bluestones hold the key to the meaning of Stonehenge,
and Preseli was the special place from whence they came at a high cost to society in labour and time, as befitted such important talismans."
The authors are still wedded to the healing springs and healing stones idea, in spite of the fact that there is no evidence in local folklore or archaeology to support the hypothesis, and no evidence of spotted dolerite being specially revered and preferentially used in megalithic structures in North Pembrokeshire.
Some interesting dates, but whatever went on at Carn Meini, it certainly had nothing whatsoever to do with Stonehenge.