So now the quarry hunters have given up on Craig Rhosyfelin (having decided that there is nothing much more of interest to discover) and have determined that Carn Goedog is the site of the Holy Grail. The logic seems to be:
1. The geologists have said that Carn Goedog is probably the major source of spotted dolerite orthostats at Stonehenge.
2. Glacial transport or erratics from here to there was impossible.
3. Therefore there must have been a major Neolithic quarry at Carn Goedog.
All perfectly simple. Last year two (or was it three?) pits were opened on the upslope flank of the tor, and there was much talk of finding "proto-orthostats", but nothing of any great interest was discovered. There was also much talk of the settlement site on the downslope (northern) side of the tor being a "quarryman's village" in spite of hints from the Dyfed Archaeological Trust that the stone walls there appeared to come from many different occupational phases. But what the hell? A good story is what we need, and that is what we will get...... so there is really no alternative to the view that Carn Goedog was a major Neolithic quarry.
At this point, dear reader, please pause a while and take a look at previous posts on Carn Goedog by putting "Carn Goedog" into the search box. I know the site very well indeed, having been there probably scores of times over many years. One of my favourite places, examined in detail during my investigations of glacial processes in the Preseli hills.
So, back to Prof MPP's lecture of the other evening at Castell Henllys. He started his section on Carn Goedog with unrestrained excitement, announcing that this was the place where there had been orthostat extraction "on an industrial scale." He showed slides of some of the crags on the extensive tor, with a variety of elongated slabs and columns, attributable of course to the jointing or fracture patterns which are in some cases almost like the columnar jointing sometimes seen in basalts. Carn Goedog is not unique in this respect. We see the same thing in Carn Meini and in many other Preseli tors. (They are very special craggy outcrops, made of dolerite rather than granite, and they give Preseli its rather special character.) I have crawled all over these crags for many years, and have never seen anything which can be interpreted as unnatural or man-made, apart from one drill hole in the rock probably made by a geophysicist. We know that stones have been taken from here by local farmers (and maybe by the chapel-builders of Felindre Farchog) but their "quarrying" has been very opportunistic, and I reckon that pillar-shaped rocks have been taken from here and there on the accessible part of the crag adjacent to the col or old drover's route, and then taken away by horse and cart (or maybe using horse-drawn sledges, which were popular in Preseli in the nineteenth century because wheels were a nuisance in boggy terrain). Most of those pillars were intended to be used as gate-posts.
Prof MPP likes his "Eureka!" moments, and we got one in this talk too, when he explained that he suddenly realised that from one particular spot (I know it well) there had been a group of pillars from which several had been removed, leaving three behind in a sort of "pillar depot", and ready to go......... (I love the way in which "the ones that got away" theme returns to all these Neloithic quarry narratives. We have seen it at Carn Meini with Profs GW and TD, and at Rhosyfelin with the Neolithic "proto-orthostat" which turned out not to be Neolithic at all.....) The whole idea is of course pure fantasy. This is a heavily glaciated ancient tor made of densely jointed spotted dolerite, from which many blocks and pillars have been removed by ice entrainment, and in which there have been massive alterations of crag morphologies by freeze-thaw processes and block settlement under the influence of gravity, over a very long period of time.
Next, we heard about a soil that had been developed in a place from which a pillar had supposedly been removed, and in which a piece of charcoal from c 4,000 BP had been found. That is probably based on one of the Carn Goedog radiocarbon dates. That's very interesting, but it tells us precisely nothing about how the supposedly missing pillar had been removed, or when. MPP tells us it was taken away in the Neolithic -- and presumably carried off to Stonehenge -- but that is complete speculation.
Next, we heard about the results of the 2015 excavation on the site, extending out from the crags and into the boggy "col" which was used as the old drover's route in the 1700's and early 1800's. MPP announced that the diggers had discovered a "pavement" of slabs laid flat on the ground, a band of smaller stones that had "clearly" been laid in a ditch of some sort, a "ramp" used for moving stones away from the quarry, and then finally some elongated stones that had been laid on edge, suggesting that they had been used as trestles for some reason as yet unknown.
From where I sat, this was no more convincing than any of the stuff about props, revetments, pivots and railway lines at Rhosyfelin. The "pavement" seemed to consist of one or two flattish rocks lying flat, which is what flattish rocks generally do. The line of stones in a ditch simply looked like smaller stones deemed to be in a line -- maybe because all the stones on either side had been removed. The ramp seemed to be an artifice, just like the "quarry face" at Rhosyfelin. And the extraordinary idea that stones lying on edge had maybe been used as trestles left even the most gullible members of the audience looking a bit gobsmacked...... As ever, the impression comes over that Prof MPP and his colleagues have arrived at a site determined to describe what they expected to see, and not what is actually there. Anything that might possibly have had some "engineering" function is given a function, no matter how far-fetched that might be. The engineering glossary gets larger and larger. Amazing -- and very worrying.
The Prof claimed that he could see where the later quarrying of the Carn Goedog crag had been undertaken by local 18th C and 19th C farmers towards the western end, and that the Neolithic quarry could be clearly seen at the eastern end, around the area of the 2015 dig.
He mentioned that various other radiocarbon dates had been obtained on bits of charcoal, one giving a date of 5,200 yrs BP and dating from the Mid-Neolithic. I got a bit confused by his arguments about dating, but the message seemed to be that the main quarry here was in operation several centuries BEFORE the stones were taken to Stonehenge to be used in the bluestone horseshoe, indicating that the stones were used initially in some Mid-Neolithic (before 5,000 yrs BP) structures in the neighbourhood -- and that probably means in large tombs or long barrows. So the hunt is now on -- those tombs have to exist somewhere in the area, and they have to be found. Tally Ho! Several more years of hunting for the archaeologists. In their view the quarry problem is sorted, and now the tomb hunt is on. Indiana Jones to the rescue, as ever.......... and one day the tomb of doom will assuredly be found.
But don't the radiocarbon dates confirm the presence of a Neolithic Quarry? No, they don't. We have not thus far been given any stratigraphic or locational contexts for the dates that have been mentioned, and as with all research projects of this type we don't know how many age determinations have been reported and how many have been withheld. We have to reserve judgment until we see the full published results, but until then the default position has to be this. Some dated bits of charcoal in the soil in a location like this tell us that there were fires at various times, and that bits of wood were burnt, suggesting human presence -- but they do not tell us anything at all about why people were here, whether they had a permanent or ephemeral presence, or whether they were hunters, travellers, traders or quarrymen.
I'm not surprised that an audience of people who do not know the site will tend to accept almost everything at face value, and indeed to get rather excited because a learned professor has chosen to share with them some brand new discoveries that have not yet been divulged even to the scientific community. But what I am surprised by is the apparent acceptance of MPP's narrative by all the people he is working with. There are lots of them, all with their special skills. No doubt most of them are rather intelligent. Some are even professors. But have they all become infected by a sort of mass hysteria? Are there no restraining voices? And don't any of them know anything about Occam's Razor or the scientific method?
PS. Apologies, dear readers! It's been pointed out to me that the wording of the final paragraph above was not very clever. Point accepted. I referred to "relatively ill-informed" members of the audience without qualifying that to mean "relatively ill-informed about the site in question". That's what I actually meant. Of course I also accept that those who take the trouble to attend lectures on local archaeological matters are on the whole wonderfully intelligent, with at least some background knowledge of the Neolithic and the Ice Age! Anyway, I have now changed the wording appropriately.