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Friday, 10 April 2015

Rhosyfelin: there are fairies at the bottom of my shrubbery

I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry.  They say that Stonehenge makes men mad, and I'm beginning to feel that Rhosyfelin does as well.

To start with, let's put the record straight.  For the last four years, on this blog, I have urged the archaeologists not to leap to conclusions on what went on at Rhosyfelin, and to have nothing to do with ruling hypotheses about Neolithic quarries. (They are, apparently, undeterred....)  I have similarly tried to urge caution at public meetings addressed by Mike Parker Pearson and others, starting with the public meeting in 2011.  Over and again I have pleaded with them to bring in geomorphologists who know the area, so as to avoid silly mistakes on the interpretation of sediments.  In Emails I have offered to help -- and all my offers have been ignored.  Twice I have arranged to meet the archaeologists at the dig site to assess the evidence on the ground, and twice, having turned up, I found nobody there.  One might be forgiven for thinking that geomorphology / glacial geology has no place at all in the great scheme of things........  and yet we can be quite sure that at least some of the Rhosyfelin diggers follow this blog quite carefully.

There have been no site reports or interim findings published relating to the digs of 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.  Nothing on the web and nothing on paper.  But after a great deal of frustration, and a great deal of urging on all sides, it seems that a paper containing a comprehensive description of the dig discoveries, with radiocarbon dates included alongside sediment and organic analyses and some more petrography from the geologists, is in the process of publication.  Those involved are sworn to secrecy.  It will be a multi-author cooperative project. It sounds as if it has been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication. 

Now we come to the surreal bit.  We are reminded by our good and mysterious friend Myris (who seems to know what is going on) that if the "news" of Pleistocene sediments at Rhosyfelin is to be discussed, let alone accepted by archaeologists, it needs to be published, preferably in a peer-reviewed journal.  I get a distinct impression that the article will be so obsessed with the so-called quarry and the pseudo-proto-orthostat that it will not even mention Devensian till and fluvio-glacial sediments, or Holocene slope deposits and rockfalls.   But the interpretation of the deposits at Rhosyfelin is so absurdly simple that it could have been done in the course of a 30-minute visit by an A level student or first-year geography undergraduate, by reference to any one of a multitude of text-books and on the basis of just a little field experience.  By the same token, a description of the site written by me or anybody else would also be so absurdly simple that no self-respecting geomorphology research journal would waste space by publishing it.  I have, as readers of this blog will know, already put a brief description of Rhosyfelin onto the web site called SCRIBD.  So when people say "put up or shut up" or "publish and be damned" my answer is that it is already done.  I have had enough peer review already from people whose opinions I respect.  We do not need a battery of whizzo techniques to show that a till is a till, and that a rockfall is a rockfall.  What we do have, if you will allow me to blow a trumpet here, is a considered view from somebody who was joint author of the UK's best-selling glacial geomorphology textbook of all time.  One might have thought that would be worth something.......

So yes, a number of us will produce a joint note on what is to be seen at Rhosyfelin.   It remains to be seen whether anybody will want to publish it.   Before long there will be a RIGS designation too.  I'll keep you posted on that.

But I have a really bad feeling here -- on the basis that a big article on the Rhosyfelin dig will be published, with an enormous media fanfare, with a number of geologists involved in it, but without any input at all from anybody familiar with the glacial and periglacial deposits of West Wales.  The authors will take joint responsibility for the contents of the article -- they will all have seen it in draft form, and they will all (I sincerely hope!) have been given opportunities for changing phraseology or addressing defects or omissions.  The referees -- whoever they were -- will also be culpable if they have failed to give the article proper scrutiny, and if they have failed to ask hard and obvious questions about the glacial history of the area.  So they sink or swim together.

Lifejackets, anybody?


Alex Gee said...

The importance and significance of the paper will depend on whether or not the Archeo's and the geologists involved, made a careful stratigraphic record of the pleistocene sediments as they excavated them!

A great problem will occur if they haven't, and have just removed the pleistocene sedimentary record at the site, with a 360 excavator in the interests of haste and their own convenience.

If so, it is difficult to see how any of their findings will have any scientific validity at all.

Particularly in respoect to chronostratigraphy!

Alex Gee said...

I'm sure the name of the Shrubber was Roger not Mike?

Alex Gee said...

With respect to my first post!

If they haven't made a detailed stratigraphic record of the Pleistocene sedimentary record at the site.

That's not an error, that's a crime!

Or should be!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Some of the sections are still visible, and we all have good photographic records of the sections as they were in past years as well -- but certainly most of the till layer (with abundant erratics) has just been thrown away onto a gigantic spoil heap at the edge of the dig. Maybe somebody will have taken sediment samples away for particle size analysis?

Constantinos Ragazas said...


The answer is simple! You are not playing the same tune!

Such selective orchestration is de facto conspiracy. The type intimated in my earlier comments.


TonyH said...

You tell them like it is, Brian! Perhaps the archies will unveil a new, Dutch expert called Blinker - they talk enough Double Dutch and all of them enjoy using blinkers.

TonyH said...

"So they sink or swim together"

"Lifejackets anyone?"

I sincerely hope they know how to do the CRAWL stroke, as they will eventually need to crawl back and then stand up and bow to the more prosaic, less spectacular, version of Holocene gradual glacial processes in SW Wales presented for their digestion by the gathered Geomorphological community.

chris johnson said...

I doubt anybody disputes the geomorphology on display at Rhosyfelin, or even that it is unremarkable. The unremarkable nature of the glacial action is probably why nobody did an extensive scientific study of it.

The big question is whether people in the neolithic quarried stones or a stone from Rhosyfelin. In this respect the act of quarrying could cover a wide range of human interventions; the most basic would be to select and collect a single stone lying on the ground. Disproving such a hypothesis verges on the impossible.

If there are fairies anywhere in Pembrokeshire then Rhosyfelin looks and feels like a perfect location - at least it did prior to the archaeologists arrival.

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Chris, you write

"Disproving such a hypothesis verges on the impossible."

Not really, if it can be shown Crag Rhosyfelin was engulfed in water in the Neolithic by a wider deeper river. Now having receded to just meters away from the Crag.

But you make a valid point when you argue serious scientific study needs and should be made on Rhosyfelin. Why there hasn't (of the sort Brian has been strongly advocating for so long) raises many questions about the intent of the archeologists. If "truth" is what they seek, why not have such scientific studies and expert analysis?

Sure, Dr Ixer has done an amassing job identifying the provenance of some rhyolite fragments found at Stonehenge. But such findings have been now serving the Archie's interests and not the interest of scientific truth.


Alex Gee said...


I think you'll find that the "unremarkable" nature of glacial action, Is where this blog came in?

Context is everything!

Removing the sediments the pseudo-Orthostats were buried in, without making a study of those same sediments, just leaves us with a pile of rocks, that MPP says are quarried orthostats and Brian says are natural rockfall.

Destruction or removal of the sediments has destroyed a substanial body of evidence that could support or deny either hypothesis!

Its rather shameful in my opinion!

Alex Gee said...

Although as Brian says in his post;
No doubt the independent referees will have severely criticised these serious flaws in the work, which will obviously be acknowledged in the paper?

chris johnson said...

Hi Alex, context is very relevant to establishing the sense of studying the sediments in which the rocks are found.

At Rhosyfelin the dig is less than a metre below the surface - from memory. It is on a steepish slope down to a river valley. Again from memory, there is a small stream or culvert running some 20 metres parallel to the rock face which has become the centre of interest. I think it was dry when I noticed it, but it is very likely that a lot of water runs down this slope in the wet periods which are frequent here.

The river itself is almost certain to flood the lower level of the dig regularly, although I have not seen it myself. Anyone curious about the biblical power of these little streams in wet weather should visit the museum at Cenarth a few miles away and view the photos.

My point is that the sediments have been washing in and out of the dig site for thousands of years. When material for dating is found it will be amazing when the time of deposition at the site can be established with certainty.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris, that small valley is a dry valley -- typical of the small looped subglacial meltwater channels that we see all over west Wales. No stream in it. The flood plain probably floods during periods of flood -- statement of the obvious! As far as the sediments in the dig site are concerned, dated organic materials will always be older than the sedimentary context in which they are found -- by days, week, years, decades, centuries, millennia. Depends how much recycling has been going on. The interpretation of dates for "dated layers" can be a rather sophisticated business.....

BRIAN JOHN said...

Alex -- independent referees? Corruption is widespread in the refereeing process -- I have experienced it myself, as have most other academics. If a journal editor wants a controversial article published, he will ask the "right" referees, who can be counted upon to give positive reports and feedback. If he wants an article turned down, again he can find the "right" referees for that purpose. The effectiveness of peer review depends on the skill-set of the referees, and their inclinations!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Alex -- "Destruction or removal of the sediments has destroyed a substanial body of evidence that could support or deny either hypothesis!" Yes, but in a dig you have to go down to find out what;s below. All we can hope is that the sediments (including the rockfall debris, the till and the slope deposits) are accurately described and quantified. as I have said often, my big concern is the manner in which the fines have been preferentially removed, leaving behind the larger fragments (slabs and boulders) on the assumption that they were there before the fines arrived. The hoary old problem of the archaeological artifice again......

Alex Gee said...

Chris; your comments are all very eloquent, but my main point is still valid. One mtr depth 100 mtrs depth or 1cm depth! If a careful scientific record of the startigraphy of the pleistocene sediments has not been made during the excavation, then it makes the chronological (if not other aspects)context of the work complete "Horse Shit"

Alex Gee said...

Apologies for banging on about this. I present the following example, to demonstrate the importance and relevance of detailed studies of Pleistocene sediments, and the sheer vandalism that their wholesale removal by mechanical excavator represents!

In our cave dig on the south flank of the Mendip Hills, the following information was gleaned from detailed and careful study of one small boulder, and the sediment that it was buried in.

The boulder consisted of a stalagmite covered by a later deposit of flowstone. Both were dated. The flowstone gave a date of 50-60ka the stalagmite it covered gave a date of 420-560ka.

Study of the older stalagmite, showed that it had grown in an open fossil cave passage and had been broken off and transported along the currently full cave passage, by a vast volume of melt water, Its envelopment by the later flowstone showed that once the flood melt waters had subsided, the passage had remained open between c. 420ka until 50-60ka. With no further floods during subsequent glaciations!

This suggests, that there was one catastrophic flood event in the Mendip Hills at around the time of, or prior to the Anglian glaciation but none between 420ka and the Devensian.

Study of the sediments surrounding the boulder, showed that they are most probably a mud flow deposited during the Devensian.

From particle size analysis of the sediments and measurement of the cross sectional area of the passage, it was possible to make fairly precise estimates of the volume and velocity of the water that deposited the various layers of post Devensian sediments.

All this from a deposit of pleistocene sediment <1m2

That is why I'm saying the wholesale removal of the unstudied sediments surrounding the pseudo orthostats by mechanical excavator, is nothing more than criminal vandalism!

Constantinos Ragazas said...

Alex, you write

"That is why I'm saying the wholesale removal of the unstudied sediments surrounding the pseudo orthostats by mechanical excavator, is nothing more than criminal vandalism!"

I completely agree! This blatant disregard for scientific evidence that does not fit the aims of the researchers can only be explained by the need to establishing a narrative at any cost.


chris johnson said...

sorry for the late reply but I had stopped following this thread.

You are very correct in principle that all potentially highly significant sites should be examined every which way.

When talking with MPP at Rhosyfelin I remarked that there seems to be ancient writings on the rock face. Most likely scratchings from a mechanical digger. The enthusiasm with which he turned his head convinced me that we (especially he) should be super-careful with sites of significance.

Hey Kostas, go troll somewhere else for a while. Your inputs are becoming tedious to me at least...