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Saturday, 30 May 2015

Deeply symbolic......


One of my favourite images of Pentre Ifan.  To the right of the cromlech, two people having a jovial scientific discussion about the origins of megalithic monuments (or some such thing) and on the left a man with his head inside a cardboard box......

63 comments:

Hugh Thomas said...

When arriving at Pentre Ifan once there was a coach parked in the parking area. I went into find the place rather busy with Americans ,who , it turned out were killing time waiting for a delayed ferry to Ireland. The theories flying around as to how old, how modern , how it was built were quite prolific and being a local tried to help as best I could. A few of them had concluded that it was a fake and modern as no way could it be done without a crane or heavy lift helicopter. I tried to explain they had no cranes and helicopters during the Neolithic, to which the reply was " Whatever,they must have had a Neolithic crane,but I cannot see how they got through the gate"

BRIAN JOHN said...

It is reputed that there are fairies at Pentre Ifan. I may have met one once -- I turned up there one evening and there was a strange fellow there, playing a didgeridoo....

Helen said...

"a man with his head inside a cardboard box" - that'll be one of them trustafarian gap-year anarchist types, just gettin' in tune with the cosmic vibes maaan, before treating the other poor unsuspecting vistors to a 20-minute rendition of Hawkwind's greatest hit on the didj.

...and a saucer of milk for table 5...

TonyH said...

Perhaps he's got a proto - box camera - expect MPP would buy that idea......

BRIAN JOHN said...

I cannot tell a lie. The cardboard box was mine, and had a little pinhole in it. My friend had borrowed it from me for watching the solar eclipse a little while back. He enjoyed it so much that he was reluctant to return my piece of valuable scientific equipment to me afterwards.

TonyH said...

Pentre Ifan's ethereal horizontal capstone looks amazing, doesn't it? Elevated into mid - air, I wonder what made the original assemblers of the burial chamber choose that particular shape for the top - piece: is it pure "accident", or was it to some extent shaped, and was the local Shaman consulted?

Probably one of the top three most popular images of the British Prehistoric.

TonyH said...

Whilst casually dipping further into Pentre Ifan's architectural construction after my last comment contribution, I have now, by pure serendipity, discovered that, within the Wikipedia entry for self - same monument, we have an EXTREMELY RECENT UPDATE, taking the form of a paragraph headed "ALTERNATIVE THEORY", added on May 22nd, 2015.

This refers to a theory propounded by non other Colin Richards, sidekick of MPP, and Vicki Cummings, contained within their Paper:-

"The Essence of the Dolmen: the Architecture of megalithic construction.....[Cologne, 2014]" Wikipedia's Bibliography entry states that this was "Retrieved 22 May, 2015....text is in English"

I think this may stir up some interest on this Blog.

TonyH said...

V.Cummings and C. Richards' Paper I previously referred to makes mention of the on - going "Building The Great Dolmens" project in its conclusion. They appear to be suggesting that megalith - construction and design links between communities in NW France and Cornwall in particular, may go back well before 4000 B.C.

GeoCur referred to this project on 01.01.2014 in a comment about Brian's Post on The Garne Turne Dolmen/ Cromlech. So perhaps we should watch this space for future publications on this same project.

chris johnson said...

This is a super paper. Tony, thanks for the link. It is good to see people from the establishment challenge the long held assumption that these monuments were primarily built as tombs, pointing out the similarities with Brittany and challenging the timelines too.

My interest in megalithic times started in Brittany and I am always surprised that more is not written about the rather obvious connections.

chris johnson said...

I shall also pay more attention to the underside of capstones in future - e.g. the hunnebedden in Holland, or the galleries down in Belgium around Weris..

TonyH said...

Thanks, Chris. I find that Vicki Cummings has also written and researched with eminent and respected Neolithic Archaeologist Alisdair Whittle, amongst others. She is based at the University of Central Lancashire, close to Colin Richards at Manchester University. She has excavated at dolmen in North Wales as recently as 2013, where a hole for an earlier standing stone was identified.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes -- interesting paper. I must have a proper look at it. A few things strike me --

1. Nice to see that archaeologists are accepting that capstones can be glacial erratics. Far be it from me to put a damper on that sort of thinking, but in the case of Pentre Ifan maybe we shouldn't use the term "glacial erratic" because although the capstone might well have been moved by ice, it has been moved so little that essentially this is a chunk of local bedrock.

2. No idea where the idea came from that the original rock has been sliced open to reveal a nice flat underside. As far as I am concerned, the stone looks natural, both top and bottom.

3. The idea that Pentre Ifan was "created" as an object of beauty, or as some sort of artistic statement, rather than as a tomb to be covered by earth, is interesting. Sure, it looks delicately balanced, and is a very "graceful" landscape feature, but if we are to follow this line of thinking, are we to believe that Carreg Coetan was deliberately created to be ugly and chunky, or that Carreg Samson was created to be strong and masterful, or that Llech y Dribedd was created to be old and heavy? Are we to believe that there was some deliberate attempt to design or create "statements" with adjectives attached? All far too fanciful, in my opinion. I think the builders of these monuments used what was to hand, and sometimes the result was impressive, and sometimes less so......

TonyH said...

Vicki Cummings and Alistair Whittle's book "Places of Special Virtue", 2004, is to my knowledge available through the Pembrokeshire Library system, having used a copy borrowed by my brother resident there. It concentrates upon Wales.

I don't think Colin Richards and Vicki Cummings are "following this line of thinking", as you put it, in their conclusions, Brian, as regards Welsh dolmens other than Pentre Ifan being deliberately created as some kind of - very varying - artistic statement. But I agree that the idea that Pentre Ifan was "created" as an object of beauty/ some kind of artistic statement, rather than as a tomb covered by earth and thus rendered invisible to the local communities, is very interesting. Of course, for well over a Century, comparisons have been made between the suspended capstone of Pentre Ifan, and the unique trilithons and lintels of "The Old Ruin" in Wiltshire.

BRIAN JOHN said...

It would be a bit dodgy to argue that Pentre Ifan was created as a thing of beauty, but that the "aesthetic imperative" did not apply in other cases. But I would accept that the technique of putting big capstones on top of supporting pillars might well have contributed to the overall concept at Stonehenge. Where was that technique imported from? Wales or SW England, or Brittany? Interesting question.....

Phil Morgan said...

Perhaps of no value, but what isn't clear in photos of Pentre Ifan is just how finely balanced the capstone is on three small points.
This is replicated at the Maes-y-Felin Long Barrow at St Lythans, south Glamorgan, where the c8 tonne capstone is also finely supported on three points, however, it is only apparent under close examination.
A mile from Maes-y-Felin is the c50 tonne capstone of the Tinkinswood Long Barrow which appears to have been originally supported by just the two end uprights.
There, I feel better now.

Phil Morgan said...

Forgot to say that it is clearly shown in Brian's photo.
I'm losing it see.

Evergreen said...

I've only scanned that paper (some of us have to pretend to work during the day) but I'm surprised to find no mention of one of the most obvious characteristics of a dolmen, that being the angle/slope of the capstone.

TonyH said...

Didn't we have a Post illustrated by a very aesthetically pleasing set of sculptures, somewhere outdoors in the Republic of Ireland, involving very slim - line human - like figures holding up a horizontal orthostat? In the last couple of years, methinks.

chris johnson said...

On Dolmen slopes, we discussed that at length here quite recently. As I recall we could not say anything definite.

TonyH said...

When I visited Pentre Ifan, I perceived that the capstone slope mirrored that of Carn Ingli: what do others think?

BRIAN JOHN said...

There are many who say that, Tony. It has almost become a bit of dogma....... I have dealt with it before. In short, I think it is yet another fantasy. The shape of the top of the capstone doesn't look anything like the summit of Carningli.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Tony, that nice Irish sculpture is here:

Brian-mountainman.blogspot.de/2015/02/blackrock-dolmen.html

Suddenly realised that because I'm in Germany at the moment, en route for Sweden, blogspot.de has taken over from blogspot.uk.......

Hope the link works anyway!

PS Bremen is a very pleasant city....

Evergreen said...

Brian, seems my last post has gone missing. Can you see it?

Myris of Alexandria said...

It will be your towels and lounger next.
They always know where your towel is.
M

Myris of Alexandria said...

But Leubeck has marzipan so wins hands down.
Do enjoy midsummer night.
M

BRIAN JOHN said...

Evergreen -- without knowing which post you are talking about, I don't know if it is missing! Things do go astray occasionally -- suggest you send it again....

BRIAN JOHN said...

Lubeck has ace marzipan?! Now you tell me -- we zoomed past there today at about 120 mph. This speed thing is crazy in Germany... God knows how fast the locals drive...

Evergreen said...

Hi Brian, it was a (naturally) thoughtful piece about portal dolmens in relation, or perhaps not, to the SH trilithons. Cannot send again, I didn't keep it!

The archaeology world weeps.

TonyH said...

Passed through Bremen via Bremerhaven in 1967, just pre - Durham, after what was I suppose a proto - Gap Year, on way to Harz mountains, East German border guards on towers at al.

I said the SLOPE of the Pentre Ifan capstone broadly mirrors that of the Angel Mountain of your novels, Brian. The slope, NOT the entire silhouette - in any event, Carn Ingli's silhouette will have altered over 5,000 years plus, having been subjected to geomorphological alteration and erosion.

As for anything becoming a "dogma", I only report what I saw with my own eyes, and was unaware of the opinion of others. I form my own opinions. Happy holidays.

Myris of Alexandria said...

And Thomas Mann's house, the marzipan is less heavy and far more tempting.
M

Alex Gee said...


Insanely fast.

Many moons ago, when weaving through the carnage on our annual pilgramage to the deep caves of the Dachstein Massif in Austria. Our motto became "beware the Porsche/merc in the sun"!

Germany is a very pleasant place full stop.As is Austria.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Tony -- still don't agree with you about the slope of the top surface of the Pentre Ifan capstone. Just look at hundreds of Google images -- the slope of Carningli is broadly concave, and the slope of the Pentre Ifan capstone is broadly convex. I suppose you could say, if you wanted to, that any broadly sloping capstone surface broadly matches any other natural hillside which is visible and which is broadly sloping!!

Safely established in Sweden at the summer cottage -- peace at last, after all that rushing about!

TonyH said...

Brian, to paraphrase Rogers and Hammerstein's Song in South Pacific:

"There is nothing like a broad(ly sloping capstone and a broadly sloping natural hillside feature)
Nothing in the world.......
There is nothing that can claim
To be anything like a dame, sorry, broad....
Nothing's built like a broad, etc, etc"

Myris of Alexandria said...

You have got to be taught to be afraid
Of circles whose shapes are oddly made
And bluestones whose skin is a different shade
You have got to be carefully taught.
You got to be carefully taught.

After Showboat,(b and w version) South Pacific is the best musical on film, Hon mentions for West Side Story and Hair of course.

M

AG said...

Alex Gee

"I see what I was taught to see" March or Die, Motorhead 1992.

An apt lyric for MPP's Cohorts and flunkies.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Some sympathy with that, Alex. There are teachers and teachers -- we had a wonderful tutor in Oxford, who taught his pupils to question everything, to think for themselves, and to sort out dogma from hard evidence. The old adage is still sound, I think: Show, don't tell. I'd like rather more showing and rather less telling from the diggers at Rhosyfelin.......

TonyH said...

"I wanna tell you a stor-ree...."

Max Bygraves, London - born storyteller and entertainer, never at the UCL in his entire career, but had legions of fans, and 2 toothbrushes, one of which was BLUE...

Myris of Alexandria said...

Really really ghastly man, almost as talented as Winnie Atwell. I don't suppose he was her love-child.


Brian have you ever thought, may the heavens forfend, that yours is not the truth and here are no glacial erratics east of the Mendips.

Dr Ixer thanks you for your erratics that he looked at, as they may be turning up in BA pots from east of Haverford West. Welsh old potters liked ig rocks as temper, oh and a bit of grog.

M

BRIAN JOHN said...

Myris, nothing is certain in this life except death. I don't claim to be in unique possession of the truth -- but it does seem to me that there is a pretty fine collection of glacial erratics around that old place called Stonehenge. They look like erratics, feel like erratics and probably taste like erratics as well. And there's that nice lump of spotted dolerite from Boles Barrow as well, which is extremely inconvenient from an archaeologocal point of view. Yes, yes, I know -- we will argue about its provenance till the cows come home!

Alex Gee said...

Myris: Brian doesn't rely on divine inspiration for his data,he relies on the good offices of the British Geological Survey; amongst other reputable scientific sources. They've mapped glacial erratics, in close proximity to the eastern end of the Mendip Hills.

Is it not more likely, that the quarry hypothesis scryed by MPP and his haruspices is a load of chickens' gizzards.

As I'm in the midst of revisiting the bands of my youth. Another wonderfully apt lyric from Mr Lemmy Kilminster.

"let the pious vanish for all time" or at least from scientific debate!

"God was never on your side" Motorhead 2006



"For there is no heaven, in the sky, Hell does not wait for our downfall!"

Alex Gee said...

Sorry Brian forgot the full quote

"let the voice of reason shine, let the pious vanish for all time"

Myris of Alexandria said...

You have the gall to talk to me of stones. Stab m'vitals.

There is only one saying of worth Wait by the river long enough......

So far this year the view has been grand.

Both arguments are implausible, but for me detailed matching petrography, precise geographical location, quarry-like features, long detached proto-orthostat, ancient activity ......worth a shot.

Dr Ixer is haunted by his divination of the 1990s, he said more elegantly than this,
The transport mechanisms for the stones may never be known but find a quarry and the game is over. He sometimes wonders if he has the balls to take his ball and leave.
M

BRIAN JOHN said...

Myris, all we know is that quite a lot of foliated rhyolite fragments from some parts of the Stonehenge landscape (total weight of all analysed fragments?) have apparently come from the vicinity of Craig Rhosyfelin. That's interesting and clever provenancing, and all credit to you guys for it. But I am not convinced from the evidence you have given that the provenancing is to within a few metres, for reasons already enumerated. So how detailed the maching petrography is, and how precise the geographical location is, is still a matter of debate. Quarry like features? I am completely unconvinced by any of the "quarry like features" described thus far -- and so are the geomorphologists who have looked at the site. The "long detached proto-orthostat"? As I have said, it's too big and too fractured to be of any use to anybody or to be moved anywhere. Ancient activity? OK -- let's see the colour of the evidence and then we'll decide what it adds up to. Everything else is just as much fantasy as it was four years ago.

"The transport mechanisms for the stones may never be known but find a quarry and the game is over." Sorry, but I disagree with that too. Find a quarry -- and prove that it is a quarry -- and all that it tells us logically is that this might have been a tool-making site and that some of the tools might have been traded to Stonehenge and later destroyed. Everything else is still fantasy.

If you find that one or more of the bluestone stumps in the ground at Stonehenge are precisely matched with the Rhosyfelin foliated rhyolite, then we might have the basis for an interesting discussion.....



Myris of Alexandria said...

Given permission and the pet rock boys would be there with spade and drill, and camera crew and book deal and crazed New Age Druioids sampling all the stones.
But gentle blogger be careful what you wish for. If it were shown the stones were man-nandled what would you do for kicks.
What's the weather like, cold and too dry here(but that is Alexandria for you).
M

BRIAN JOHN said...

I'd love those stumps to be analysed, and have always said so. If they are then proved to be from Rhosyfelin, and some firm evidence of MONOLITH quarrying emerges at the site, and if some evidence emerges that supports the human transport hypothesis, so be it. No skin off my nose. I try to look at evidence and think in terms of probabilities. I have changed my mind about hypotheses before, and will probably do it again -- new solid evidence always emerges in science and causes hypotheses to be adapted or rejected. Popper, falsification and all that......

One problem we have here is that this is not really about science and the scientific method at all -- since the days of Herbert Thomas there have always been too many fantasies flying about.

Myris of Alexandria said...

I have always said never trust any Welshman called Geoffrey when discussing Stonehenge.
M

BRIAN JOHN said...

Personally, I have a problem with Englishmen called Mike -- but maybe we are all prejudiced.

Gorgeous day here in Sweden -- now I'm off for a trip in the kayak round the island!

Alex Gee said...

Or someone called Olwyn Williams apparently. Another untrustworthy Welshman apparently?

As a caver I shared many a tight spot with my Welsh friends! Untrustworthy I found them not!
Tough, brave, loyal, and great fun, Is my experience of the Welsh.

Myris: as Brian suggests why not give your prejudice full reign!

Why not lead the singing in a chorus of "Taffy was a welshman, Taffy was a ?....

BRIAN JOHN said...

Assume you are a bit confused here, Alex. Olwen Williams-Thorpe is not, as far as I know, a Welsh lady......

Myris of Alexandria. said...

No it is specific Welshman called Geoffrey and but I am prejudiced against the ignorant of course especially the self righteous.
This was a reference to G.of Monmouth and some others.
It really is dull to have to explain.
Gladly I can say the Taffy song I have never heard.
Try to keep up.

M

Evergreen said...

I would have thought that anybody with a smidgen of interest in archaeology or SH would have encountered the writing of jones the cleric at some point. He "revealed" that the (healing) stones were transported to SH from Ireland by Merlin. But they came from Africa originally, of course. Obviously it was the Giants that did the Africa to Ireland leg. Merlin did a bit of magic to get them to Sailsbury plain.
It's not recorded by Geoffrey but I believe Merlin said "You'll like this, not a lot" just beforehand.

Geo Cur said...

The Pentre Ifan capstone does look a bit like as if it mirrors Carn Ingli but it is unlikely to be intentional or the primary reason for the similar slope , given that the majority of capstones don’t mirror the most obvious hills on the horizon and the slope is more than likely part of an attempt at creating a visual impression in much the same manner as the use of bulky capstones . Plenty other capstones are at even more acute angles but with no mirroring hills on the horizon e.g. Kilclooney , Poulnabrone , Leggananny ,Ballykeel , Drumanone , similarly some capstones are simply horizontal with no table mountain/hill in view . Simply fortuitous , just as the odd stone in a stone circle may mirror the angle of a local hill . Or for that matter , hill slopes and "sun rolls " , they are everywhere , to be expected , and have just gone unnoticed .

Alex Gee said...

Oh dear:
I suppose the lesson to be drawn is never come on the internet with a bottle of aqua vitae on board!

As for Olwyn Williams, I can only apologise to the fair lady, and acknowledge that it's not been a good week for sexual equality in science!

I was just trying; despite being a born an bred Englishmen,to say what splendid people I've always found the Welsh to be. Despite what some of my compatriots may imply!

Alex Gee said...

Where would Merlin have been; or for that matter MPP and his cohorts, without magic or the lovely Debbie Mcgee?

Tip to MPP To make a fool of yourself convincingly; al la Tommy Cooper, takes real talent.
You've certainly got it.

"jus like that"

Alex Gee said...

Myris: I still don't understand what Geoffrey of Monmouth's nationality has to do with anything? please free me from my ignorance!

Nigel Smith said...

That capstone of Pentre Ifan looks more like the mirror image of Dinas head which is visible from the site

Geo Cur said...



Clues : "some others" ,i.e. not of Monmouth . Welsh .
Subject :Stonehenge .

Evergreen said...

2 Geoffs, 2 healing stones hypothesis, 1 thousand years apart. If that's not a Hollywood blockbuster, I don't know what is. Geoff travels back in time to investigate Geoffs healing stones. But Geoff has already travelled forward in time and changes his ideas after dowsing with Kevin. Geoff is stuck in 1000AD and Geoff has to leave Kevin to rescue him and return him to EH. "A thrilling romp across the ages. Five stars" - The Daily Mail.

Myris of Alexandria said...

Sounds like a Grimme fairy story to me.
M

Geo Cur said...

Mention of Kevin has reminded me of the wonderful potential if he and the two recently banished should meet , it would make “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti “ seem like a reasonbale chat .

Evergreen said...

I had to look that one up. Blimey. I wonder if they compared carpentry skills? That surely would have settled the matter.

There would be implosions, explosions and a hell of a lot of links.

Myris of Alexandria said...

Lordy, lordy lordy Ms Scarlett.
Not so much The flight into Egypt as a charabang tour.
Is the book a good read?
M

Geo Cur said...



Yes , recommended .
A book of it’s time (late 50’s early 60’s , re-issued c. 2011) and if judged by today’s standards completely unethical .But fascinating ,insightful and arguably about 4 not 3 .