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....
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Thursday, 29 January 2015

Testing to destruction

Carngoedog, Carnmeini and Craig Rhosyfelin -- wonderful spots for picnics and maybe a bit of hunting.... but are they quarry sites?  Hmmm....

We all enjoy a bit of knockabout fun on this blog, and I like to think we are testing the glacial transport hypothesis to destruction.  If it stands up, fine, and if in the end it falls, that's fine too, since the truth will out........

But I don't see much evidence from anywhere of the archaeologists testing the human transport hypothesis to destruction.   Is that debate going on, somewhere behind the scenes?  Or is there a sort of orthodoxy that prevails, and woe betide anybody who strays into the realms of blasphemy?  One has heard rather sad tales of diggers at Rhosyfelin being hauled over the coals  by the powers that be, for daring to question some of the tenets of belief of the high priesthood -- are those tales true or false?

Let's help the process along by asking the archaeologists to address these particular issues and to do a little testing to destruction on this blog, or maybe somewhere else........

Why the obsession with quarry hunting, in the light of all this:

1.  There is no sound evidence from anywhere in the British Neolithic / Bronze Age record of large stones being hauled over long distances for incorporation in a megalithic monument.

2.  The builders of Neolithic monuments across the UK, as a general rule, used whatever large stones were at hand.

3. If ancestor stones were being transported to Stonehenge, why have all of the known bluestone orthostats come from the west, and not from any other points of the compass?

4.  There is no known evidence either from West Wales or from anywhere else of bluestones (for example, spotted dolerite or rhyolite) being used preferentially in megalithic monuments, or revered in any way.

5.  If long-distance stone haulage was "the great thing" for the builders of Stonehenge, why is there no known evidence of the development of the appropriate haulage technology leading up to the late Neolithic, and a decline afterwards?  It is a complete technological aberration.

6. The evidence for quarrying activity in key locations is questionable, to put it mildly.  The Carn Meini "quarry" has now effectively been ruled out by the geologists.  Rhosyfelin next?

7.  The sheer variety of bluestone types  (I still insist the figure is somewhere near 30) argues against selection and human transport.  There cannot possibly have been more than ten "bluestone quarries" scattered about West Wales.

8.  No physical evidence has ever been found of ropes, rollers, trackways, sledges, abandoned stones, quarrymen's camps, or anything else that might bolster the hypothesis.

9.  Bits and pieces of experimental archaeology on stone haulage techniques (normally in "ideal" conditions) have done nothing to show that our ancestors could cope with the sheer physical difficulty of stone haulage across the heavily-wooded Neolithic terrain of West Wales (characterised by bogs, cataracts, steep slopes and very few clearings) or around the rocky coast.  Aubrey Burl made this point forcefully many years ago, and it remains forceful today.

10.  And if there was a "proto-Stonehenge" somewhere, built of assorted local stones and then dismantled and taken off to Stonehenge, where was it?  Herbert Thomas thought it might have been near Cilymaenllwyd (south of Preseli) and now MPP thinks it might have been north of Preseli, either at Waun Mawn or Castell Mawr).  Again, no known evidence.......


PS. I am trying to avoid the use of that horrible expression "There is no evidence......."  That phrase is the curse of the scientific literature.  It is used as a throwaway line by scientists of all descriptions just to make them sound authoritative and to bolster their arguments.  No doubt I have done it myself, very often.  How many people who have used the phrase have found it returning to haunt them or to bite them on the backside, when somebody comes along and shows that the evidence was there all the time, unnoticed?

What we should actually say is "There is no known evidence......"  or  "There is nothing in the literature to suggest this or that......." or even "There is no unequivocal evidence...."  or  "There is no sound evidence....."  That would all be rather more honest, and would avoid future embarrassment!


chris johnson said...

The pictures you show are rather typical for the locations. Presumably in the past many "orthostats" would have broken away naturally and lain on the surface. Even today stones lie on the hillsides and could be erected should one be inclined.

The search for a neolithic quarry is ambitious. My suspicion is that the amount of quarrying required 4-5000 years ago would have been minimal. Why take the trouble to extract rocks when so many would have been lying around? How would you identify a "quarry"?

No, the real work would have been in the shaping and dressing of the rocks rather than the quarrying. The Stonehenge evidence tells of the debitage left by modifying stones from Wales in Wiltshire. Similar debitage is not reported from Wales as far as I know. So if the stones were moved by humans to Wiltshire it is likely they were picked up where they were lying and were moved as is.

BRIAN JOHN said...

You make some sound points, Chris. I agree with you that if there was any "quarrying" the actual signs of it would be minimal if not actually zero. And yes, these places are places where stones are lying around in a great litter, waiting to be picked up if one was so inclined. ((Within the last 200 years, many farmers looking for gateposts etc have done just that -- come up onto the Preseli Hills with horses and carts, and picked up pillars, and carted them away.))

That's one of the reasons why I am so entertained by the phenomenal amount of effort going into the desperate search for "engineering traces" at Rhosyfelin -- railway tracks, pivots, levers, wedges, supporting pillars etc etc. All more than faintly ludicrous.... but these guys are determined to find them, and find them they will, even if they are not there.

Rather sad, really....... if only they had had a geomorphologist or two on site, they could have saved themselves a great deal of bother.

The other thing I'm entertained by is the apparent importance of finding "the orthostat they left behind." Profs D and W have to have a few of those at Carn Meini, there is the famous "proto-orthostat" at Rhosyfelin, and now Prof MPP has had to find one or more forgotten or abandoned stones at Carngoedog as well. All quite bizarre.

BRIAN JOHN said...

To continue -- would somebody please explain to me the mental process by which you look at a site somewhere in the wilderness, find a stone that is roughly the right shape or size to be called a bluestone orthostat, deduce from its presence that there must have been lots of others that have long since been taken away, and that for some reason one was left behind. And then, on the basis of all that, you come to the conclusion that you are looking at a bluestone quarry? As I said, quite bizarre.

TonyH said...

I am reminded of Mark's Gospel. The so - called Gerasene demoniac is mentioned in Chapter 5, verses 1 to 20.

"Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones........Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" My name is Legion", he replied, for we are many".

On Carn Meini, we might look at the "orthostats" to be found on the hillside, and, instead say "They are Legion, and certain Senior Archaeologists still insist, despite state - of - the - art Geological evidence to the contrary, that they are MENHIR".

TonyH said...

"Why the obsession with quarry hunting, in the light of all this:" [Points 1 to 10 follow]

I reckon you/we should despatch the contents of this Post to one of the main protagonists of quarry hunting, namely:-

Professor Colin Richards, Professor of World Prehistory,and Professor of Archaeology, University of Manchester. EMAIL:-

As we mostly know, Prof Richards has been active in Pembrokeshire in recent years and is a leading member of MPP's Stonehenge Riverside Project over its seven - year excavation period and continuing researches. He also worked/ works in cooperation with MPP in various locations in Northern Scotland's Highlands & Islands.He might be described as THE leading advocate for Neolithic quarrying sites and related long - distance hauling.

Alex Gee said...

There's more evidence for the giant xylophone hypothesis (see post "ding dong Dolerite" 02/12/13) than exists to support the quarrying or human transport hypothesis!

If I remember correctly. The Late, Great, Sir Patrick Moore was one of the early proponents of Stonehenge Xlophenism?

Surely its the evidence trail to follow?

Ruth Powers said...

I found your blog while I was searching for information on bluestones feeling warm to the touch. Would you please email me?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Ruth -- send me a message -- brianjohn4"at"



Simon Kidner said...

Brian - I've found something for you to spend your savings on. See:

This 1770 medal shows the transportation of a megalith to St Petersburg, first overland and then by barge. I can't make out the detail, but if you made a successful bid then perhaps we could all have a better look.

Good luck!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Simon -- that's very interesting. The Thunder Stone apparently weighed 1500 tonnes -- amazing what you can shift when you have thousands of disposable serfs.......

Found this bit of text:

"One of the medals, measuring 6.5cm diameter, is dated 1770 and shows the transportation of the granite monolith for the monument of Catherine’s husband, Philip I. The block of granite used as a pedestal for the monument was called “the Thunder Stone” and is considered the largest stone to be moved by man alone, approximately 1500 tons. It was moved 6km overland to the Gulf of Finland and then by barge to St. Petersburg."

Dave Maynard said...

Wait a minute, there were rails and ball bearings to move the rock on. Haven't I heard something like that somewhere else?

TonyH said...

Simon/Brian. Talking of thousands of disposable (Russian) serfs: found this in Paul Lyle's "Between Rocks & Hard Places: discovering Ireland's Northern Landscapes", Geological Survey of Northern Ireland, 2010.

"As recently as 1999 the muscle power of 1,000 young people erected the Strangford Stone in County Down,, now the tallest single standing stone, or monolith, in Ireland, to mark the new Millenium."

It is a slab of Mourne granite is more than 10 metres high, and is also the highest megalith in Britain or Ireland.

TonyH said...

Here's another quote from Paul Lyle's Ireland book just referred to, which is worth considering regarding the alleged MOTIVES in orthostat selection:-

It concerns the burial monuments of Carrowmore, County Sligo, "a visually dominant cluster of some 40 megaliths...The tombs are arranged in the form of an oval, usualyy facing and surrounding a central monument, which is a large cairn called Listogil.

The surrounding stone monuments are predominantly metamorphic rocks - similar to the schist and gneiss of the Ox Mountains. The only apparent exception is Listogil. It consistes of a square - shaped chamber and the remains of a cairn, with a large roof slab. The roof slab is unusual in that it is limestone, probably from the immediate area around Carrowmore."

"The metamorphic material used to form the upright stones and caprocks at Carrowmore may well have been present in the area in Neolithic times as glacial erratics....."

"But this does not quite explain why the Neolithic people chose gneiss for the uprights at Carrowmore". Lyle suggests that the glitter of the quartz within the gniss may have clinched it, along with its being convenient and plentiful. "Perhaps they used limestone for the capstone on the biggest tomb for engineering reasons - the nearby limestone is capable of supplying a much larger bock of stone than provided by the gneiss erratics used elsewhere on the site".

"Whatever the motives for the selections made by the people who constructed these monuments, it is clear they had a very good grasp of the differences in texture, appearance, properties and locationbs of the main rock types in their area."