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Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Rhosyfelin roadstone quarry?

I have been pondering at some length about the characteristics of the little "cwm" at the extreme SW extremity of the Rhosyfelin rock face.  This is the intake point of one of the subsidiary channels which carried glacial meltwater along on the western flank of the Rhosyfelin ridge.


Proposed Anglian (and possibly Devensian) meltwater flow in the vicinity of Craig Rhosyfelin. The long arrow indicated the flow direction of water in the main river gorge, and the two shorter and converging arrows indicate the flow directions which led to the creation of the two smaller channels.

The meltwater which flowed over the col at the base of the Rhosyfelin rhyolite ridge has had a dramatic effect on the exposed rock outcrops -- the moulded bedrock features are quite spectacular.  But the steep drop into the little "cwm" is unusual, and on examining it in detail I really wish that the archaeologists had not smashed everything to pieces when they moved in during Sept 2013 and made further inroads in Sept 2014.  There are piles of debris lying about here and there, and even bits of timber including an old telegraph pole; and I don't think all of this is is the responsibility of the archaeologists.

Is there an twentieth-century roadstone quarry here?  I have searched the records, and there is nothing on the 1888 six-inch map:

 
But we can see that in 1888 there was a trackway here, extending first in a SW direction from the steep bend on the modern road, and then running NW along the hedge line to join the road again.

I know from experience in other parts of Pembrokeshire that in the 1920's and 1930's there was a massive road building programme, and a huge demand for hard core or road metal, as tarmac roads were built to replace the old dirt tracks.  A lot of people who had access to roadstone made small fortunes from selling hardcore to the County Council.  In some places there were even crushing plants, which did their job for a few years and were then dismantled.  This was all on a "cottage industry" scale rather than an industrial one.  So did the local landowner at Rhosyfelin take advantage of this commercial opportunity and take a few hundred tonnes of rhyolite rubble from this location?  Worth thinking about.  It would have been very easy to transport the stone out to the roadway on the hillside.  Another possibility is that the local farmer has been using this site for taking stone for his own purposes, for improving farm tracks.  This is the location:


There has certainly been a lot of messing about at this location, and in relatively recent times.  So here are a couple of recent photos which show "the cwm" and the approx shape of the bounding slopes:



I suppose one could go back to Pembs CC or Nevern parish records to see if there has ever been a planning consent or a registered quarry here -- but I have my doubts.  In Pembrokeshire a lot of things have always gone on under the radar.

Anyway, that's a little theory, for what it's worth.......

11 comments:

Myris of Alexandria said...

The PSV of the rhyolite will be very high so it would be lethal for the wearing course.
Sub base perhaps.a
You would expect some metal detritus from recent quarrying.
M

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, that's what I thought. OK maybe for a bottom layer, with more "friendly" materials on top. Or maybe just used for farm tracks. There may be metal debris up there as well -- but there is now such a mess, with mounds of debris all over the place, that it's difficult to see what is "old" and what has been created in the last couple of years by the diggers hired by the archaeologists.......

We have a large "informal" rhyolite quarry not far from where we live -- it's where we got most of the facing stone for our house when we built an extension. But we know that the finer debris has also been used for farm tracks etc.

chris johnson said...

You probably noticed that the bottom field entrance from the road - between the arrows towards the top of the first picture - has been hardened with blue stone chipping and extends some 50 metres into the site. When I first visited I was glad of this for moving my car as the ground was soft. The archaeologists had brought their rubber matting with them an their vehicles were parked on that.

My thought was that this hardening had probably been done to bring the heavy equipment on-site to clear the undergrowth but it looked a bit too old for that. I wondered why someone might want to harden a road into a water meadow. So this "roadstone quarry" is interesting. It might have been the location for a spot of rock crushing, while the rocks probably would have been taken out higher up by the bend in the road - top of the cwm. If so there should be clear signs on the hairpin but I did not look too carefully. From memory it looked too sheer to bring anything out that way, or even to walk in.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- you can see where the old trackway ran from that steep hairpin bend. There has been a lot of messing about here, with excavation into the rhyolite in association with the building of the bend as well. Steep gorge sides require drastic engineering measures -- which makes it all the more interesting that our archaeology friends think that an 8-tonne picnic table could have been hauled out of here somehow or other and sent on its way to Stonehenge......

chris johnson said...

Yes, very clear on the map. I will study closer next time I am in the area. I would anyway like to explore what is further up.

I think you have hit on something here Brian and assume MPP, professional that he is, will include this in his publication if and whenever that occurs.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Well, I'm note sure how important this little "roadstone quarry" is, but I sure hope that MPP and colleagues will get to that big publication of theirs and correct the weight of the "proto-orthostat" before it goes into print or gets released on the web. It would be a sad thing indeed if a vast readership was to come away with the impression that the stone weighs 4 tonnes, whereas it actually weighs twice as much as that........ Moving an 8-tonne monster out of a narrow river gorge is so inherently unlikely that I should have thought that the idea of the Neolithic Quarry, wobbly as it already is, becomes instead vanishingly unlikely. To move it up and take it away must have required vast manpower and technical resources and an extraordinary level of reverence, with an incredibly high value placed upon it -- and if other Pembs megalithic monuments are anything to go by, Rhosyfelin rhyolite had no value whatsoever.

TonyH said...

"...we live in a world where the pragmatic and the cost - effective are often the guiding criteria for our actions but this is a culturally specific view of the world. To understand the meaning and practices of stone - moving, we have to fight an innate prejudice that often makes us try to explain prehistoric activities in terms of what we see as 'common sense".

Stonehenge, 2012, MPP, pp 272 - 73.

MPP goes on to give examples he has observed in non - Western societies, notably Madagascar.

"The nearer [Madagascan] quarries are often used [today] but they are not the 'best'. There is nothing more important to Tandroy tomb - builders than showing off - paying the extra to get hold of a more inaccessible stone is part of social competition."

BRIAN JOHN said...

MPP is substituting one culturally specific option for another. If a particular stone was deemed to be valuable, or if a particular quarrying site was valued above another during the Welsh Neolithic, we would expect to see evidence of that in other megalithic monuments. As I keep on saying, we see NO evidence that Rhosyfelin rhyolite was accorded any veneration or given any high value. It's all pure fantasy.

Phil Morgan said...

Hello Chris,
Out of the office at the moment and relying on memory, but I believe that on the first visit I made to CRyF, which was shortly after the original excavation season had ended, there was no blue chipping hardcore strengthening the ground at the entrance to the site. The surface was natural and very difficult to cross on foot, taking a vehicle over it would have invited problems.

Davey said...

I was there a few days ago and there is a hardcore surface around the gate. I have no idea what the material this hard standing is made of although the presumption would be that it is very local rock debris.

chris johnson said...

I'll take Phil's idea that this hardcore was dropped by MPP and the team. Very probable considering the state of the meadow and I would not have ventured in with my car without the stones and matting.

The top area of the cym was a real mess. I mentioned at the time that some fires had been lit on the rock face - like a school in experimental archaeology, although I am sure MPP and crew would not have been so crass as to try and separate a pillar from the rock face. It all points to some amateur quarrying in recent time - at least upslope from the picnic table.