Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
To order, click

Monday 30 November 2015

Talus (scree) cones, Isfjord, Svalbard

Found this fabulous photo from Svalbard, showing how talus cones coalesce beneath high gullied cliffs.  This is a real temple to the frost gods........

Click to see the photo in high definition.

Sunday 29 November 2015

Quarry face degradation

These two photos from Phil Morgan are interesting, since they show not only two of the key attributes of a modern quarry (a clean and preferably vertical rock face and a clean and tidy working floor) but also the beginnings of quarry face degradation.

The photos are from a Pennant Sandstone quarry in the Merthyr Valley.  The face is about 15m high.  Phil thinks that working stopped here in the 1800's -- so after maybe 150 years things are beginning to degrade.  The top photo was taken in September 2010, and the lower one in April 2011.  During the course of a very cold winter the boulder with the yellow line around it had been loosened by frost action at the top of the quarry face and had come crashing down.  It now rests about 4 ft from the rock wall, and its long axis is more or less at right angles to the face.  Effectively, of course, long axis alignment will be pretty random. 

Given enough time, with frost and biological processes operating intermittently over many thousands of years, this rock face will be gradually buried by an accumulating bank of rockfall debris and scree.  There have been many studies of natural rock cliffs (such as might be found on an abandoned sea cliff, or on the flank of a fresh glacial trough or on the outside bend of a meltwater channel) and the manner in which they are transformed by scree or talus accumulation.  The interesting thing is that the rock floor beneath the talus cone will survive because it is protected;  but the cliff will gradually be converted into a convex slope as the lower part is protected and the upper part continues to be degraded and retreats.  the physics are pretty simple.  I'll do another post on this in due course........

Here in the Merthys Valley we have a very simple situation, since this is high on a valley side with a long downward slope beneath the quarry -- so there is nowhere else for sediments to come from that might flood of transform the quarry.  At Rhosyfelin things are very different indeed, since slope accumulations can, and indeed have, come from various other directions and have got mixed up with the rockfall debris coming form from the crags above the rock face.

The Rhosyfelin Quarrymen

Thanks again to Phil M for this photo -- it might be from 2013, and it shows a group of quarrymen beavering away at Rhosyfelin.  I think these are the first quarrymen ever to have worked at this particular site.

What the chaps are doing is selectively taking away certain materials (the fines) and leaving the rest behind.   The abundant blue buckets tell the story.  I suppose that is what quarrymen do -- they target the stuff that is most desirable -- or in this case, the least desirable -- and take it away. 

The archaeologists had already decided, of course, that the "monoliths" or "orthostats" were at the centre of attention, and that the rubble and finer sediments were not all that interesting.  That's precisely the opposite of the attitude that a geomorphologist would have taken here -- since the finer sediments, their sequence and the arrangements of particles within them, are really where the key clues lie as to the history of this site.  This is what Dyfed, John and I homed in on when we wrote our recent article for Quaternary Newsletter:

Gateposts near Carn Gyfrwy

Thanks to Phil Morgan for this excellent pic of a pair of spotted dolerite (?) gateposts on the southern flank of the Preseli ridge, in rough country near Carn Gyfrwy.

How old are they?  Could they be prehistoric standing stones that have simply been incorporated into a hedge line, or are they relatively modern?  And if they are modern, why didn't the people responsible use timber instead, which must have been in abundant supply?  Again, the only thing I can think of is that the stones were handily lying around, and that they were valued because they were long enough and heavy enough to give the stability needed for hanging a gate........

Saturday 28 November 2015

Stone Age Quarrying

 Ladybird Series, Adventures from History, No 561, Adventures from History – Stone Age Man in Britain (first published in 1961)

Thanks to Dave M for this, sent with a recent letter.  Some will have happy memories of this --the old Ladybird book first published in 1961.  Not at all sure how many editions it went through, or how much the text and the illustrations changed over the years.  Anyway, above we see a wonderful picture and some splendid stuff about 30 tonne rocks being transported from Pembrokeshire to Stonehenge.  Wedges, water, hammers and wooden levers feature.  Fair enough...... the quarrymen would have had access to all of these.

In his letter, Dave raises these points:

As part of the recent spat about quarrying, has anyone suggested a list of attributes that a man made quarry would have, that could be tested by observation in a scientific process?  I guess though that the nature of broken rock and later natural processes would probably conceal or destroy any such evidence.  The list of attributes indicating  natural process would probably be much greater.

Out of interest, can any of the stones fallen on the ground at Rhos y felin be matched to spaces in the outcrop above, or are they all of such variable shape that it would be very difficult to attempt to analyse?  The upper surface of the outcrop is also too heavily weathered and suffered from multiple rock falls to reconstruct with any conviction.

These are perfectly sensible things for discussion.  I'm not aware of a list of attributes which might feature in a genuine man-made quarry.  Does anybody know of a list in a sort of quarry-hunter's manual?  I agree that evidence is incredibly hard to describe or define -- and that is why we have a group of archaeologists looking at Rhosyfelin and describing with great conviction a whole range of so-called "engineering features" that are completely invisible to a group of geomorphologists.  Clearly you need the eye of faith to see them -- and that seems to some to be a good enough substitute for visible hard evidence.

I'm not sure that any of the stones on the rockfall bank at Rhosyfelin can be accurately "fitted" to existing "spaces" on the rock face.  The trouble is that as they fall many of them break, and the broken bits become separated and buried beneath other debris.  If I was an archaeologist I would probably argue that if there are no stones which match spaces, that means they they have been taken away by the quarrymen and used somewhere else!  I made a start on some work on this, having recognised that you can see on many of the large rocks those faces which were uppermost, or outward-facing, since they are more weathered than those on the inward-facing sides or on the flanks -- but that exercise would be rather time-consuming.  Maybe something like this will be done when samples are taken for cosmogenic dating in the future -- because exposure times on different rock faces are quite critical to sorting out a reliable chronology for the site.

Thursday 26 November 2015

Was there a proto-Stonehenge near Heytesbury?

 The chalk escarpment, with the Westbury white horse in the distance.  Could the Anglian Irish Sea Glacier have skidded to a halt at this position, and could there subsequently have been a litter of erratics in the Heytesbury area, available for collection and use in stone settings?

In Rodney Castleden's book called "The Making of Stonehenge", on page 111, there is a suggestion that the simplest explanation of the presence of a bluestone boulder in the Boles Barrow long barrow is that the "bluestone expeditions" all took pace before 5,000 yrs BP and that a tribal group in occupation of the Heytesbury area (c 20 km WNW of Stonehenge) was responsible for the enterprise.  His theory is that the stone moving people then built the bluestones into long barrows like Boles Barrow (Heytesbury 1) and maybe also into a simple stone setting.  Several centuries later the inhabitants of Stonehenge and Durrington (maybe after one of their giant raves) decided that they rather liked the look of it, and either went off and pinched it, or else encouraged their neighbours near the chalk scarp to make a generous donation of the bluestones as a political gesture of solidarity.

So the bluestones were moved in two stages, first to the Heytesbury area and then maybe a thousand years later from there to Stonehenge.

It's rather a wacky idea, but I suppose no more wacky than the idea that there might have been a proto-Stonehenge near Waun Mawn, or at Castell Mawr, or near Cilymaenllwyd, or near Whitland in West Wales.  Nobody has ever found any evidence to support the idea, but I dare say bluestone hunters are looking for signs as we speak.........

Whether or not one likes the human transport hypothesis, the link to the Heytesbury / Boles Barrow / Chitterne area is an intriguing one, since the western edge of Salisbury Plain, and the chalk escarpment, is a natural obstacle to the ingress of Irish Sea ice moving from the west and north-west.  Forget human transport for a moment.  Could it be that the glacier during the Anglian glacial episode did indeed skid to a halt against the scarp?  If it did, could there have been a litter of erratics in the area around Heytesbury, Warminster and Westbury readily available for collection by those Early or Middle Neolithic enthusiasts who liked picking up monoliths and doing interesting things with them?

It's rather an intriguing idea, which might lead to a compromise between the glacial transport proponents and the human transport proponents, with both groups being (maybe) partly right.......

I'm not putting a lot of money on this hypothesis at the moment, since there does not seem to be any hard evidence in support of it, but it's worth devoting some thought to it..........

Boles Barrow Bluestone -- coming in from the cold?

 West Kennet long barrow, Wiltshire.  It now appears to be perfectly OK for long barrows to have bluestones in them..........

My thanks to Phil, who has been looking through the pages of Prof MPP's new book, and who reports the following:

"Radiocarbon dates indicate that  the quarrying of megaliths took place at Craig Rhos-y-Felin c 3400-3300 BC and later on in the Bronze Age after 2000 BC. Intriguingly, the quarrying activity took place directly on top of a sequence of hearths that date back much further - to just before 8000 BC."

 "The same may be said for Carn Goedog, visited by Mesolithic hunters long before its dolerite pillars were quarried c 3300-3200 BC."

We are not going to budge the good professor from his unshakeable belief that we have Early-Middle Neolithic quarries at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog -- but what is interesting about this is that he is now apparently arguing for the extraction and transport of monoliths much earlier than has ever been proposed before.  So if the earliest stone transporting expeditions really took place around 5400 - 5300 years ago, in his view, that pushes things back into the period of long barrow building -- and that in turn may mean that the Boles Barrow bluestone comes in from the cold.........

For many years archaeologists have argued that the stone parked in Heytesbury House garden for many years could not possibly have come from the heart of a long barrow, because Boles Barrow was built 500 years too early -- well before the earliest assumed use of bluestones at Stonehenge.  Some of the long barrows date to c 6000 years BP.  But now, if Prof MPP and his colleagues are arguing that the Early or Middle Neolithic tribal groups were the ones who started all this bluestone haulage business, it would have been perfectly acceptable not only for these stones to be used at Bluestonehenge and in the Aubrey Hole settings, but also in long barrows as well.

It all gets very convoluted, and very interesting!  One might as well argue that the stones were all glacial erratics, lying around on Salisbury Plain well before the start of the Neolithic period, as some of us have been saying for many years........

PS.  We have coverd this topic -- relating to the DEBU (date of earliest bluestone use) several times before, including this entry:

Eight fundamental problems with the bluestone human transport hypothesis

I'm the first one to admit that the glacial transport hypothesis does not currently have much evidence going for it, when we look at the landforms and known sediments on Salisbury Plain.   I remain optimistic that such evidence will be forthcoming, when more detailed studies are done.  However, we do know that the bluestone assemblage could have been carried at least as far as the Somerset Levels,  because there are glacial deposits there, and glacier modelling suggests that at some stage the ice of the Irish Sea Glacier could have reached Salisbury Plain.  So that's a start.......

By contrast, I suggest there is NOTHING in the way of evidence to support the idea of human transport -- just an assumption that if Neolithic tribesmen were able to move big stones over short distances, they could also have moved them over long distances, if they had been sufficiently motivated.  That's either reasonable speculation, or wild fantasy, depending on where you are coming from........ 

The fact that assorted bluestone fragments from Stonehenge have been provenanced quite accurately to parts of the Preseli Hills area is of course irrelevant as far as the transport debate is concerned.

There are extremely serious problems with the human transport hypothesis, as pointed out by many authors over the years.  I have posted these points before, but here they are again.

1.  There is no sound evidence from anywhere in the British Neolithic / Bronze Age record of large stones being hauled over long distances (more than 5 km or so) for incorporation in a megalithic monument.  In contrast, abundant evidence shows that the builders of Neolithic monuments across the UK simply used whatever large stones were at hand.

2. If ancestor or tribute stones were being transported to Stonehenge, why have all of the known bluestones come from the west, and not from any other points of the compass?  Were belief systems and "local politics" quite different to the north, east and south?

3.  There is no evidence either from West Wales or from anywhere else of bluestones (or spotted dolerite or Rhosyfelin rhyolite in particular) being used preferentially in megalithic monuments, or revered in any way.  The builders always used whatever was available to them in the vicinity, and it cam be argued that stone availability was a prime locational determinant for stone settings.

4.  If long-distance stone haulage was "the great thing" for the builders of Stonehenge, why is there no 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.

5. The evidence for Neolithic quarrying activity in key locations like Rhosyfelin and Carngoedog is questionable, to put it mildly.  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.  At Rhosyfelin the so-called engineering features are all, in my view,  archaeological artifices or figments of the imagination.

6.  The sheer variety of bluestone types  (near 30 when one includes packing stones and debris) argues against selection and human transport.  There cannot possibly have been ten or more "bluestone quarries" scattered across West Wales.

7.  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. Neither has it been shown that they had the geographical awareness and navigational ability to undertake long and highly complex journeys with very heavy loads. 
8.  And if there was a "proto-Stonehenge" somewhere, built of assorted local stones and then dismantled and taken off to Stonehenge, where was it?   The mooted "Preselite" axe factory has never been found, and neither has the mythical Stonehenge precursor.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

So there we are then......

Take a look at this then.  I trust you will find it enlightening, coming as it does from Dave, an expert digger.  Maybe he is the guy who operated the JCB?  Stone D34?  Where on earth did that come from?  Presumably he means 32d............  Note that beneath the video on YouTube there is an interesting comment on timber levers.

Although this is a very short video, note the complete certainty of the speaker on everything he says, even when he is completely up the creek.  This is the TRUTH, folks, as established by the digging tribe, because I tell you it is......

This date of 3,300 BC (5,300 yrs BP) pops up over and again.  Apparently there is a date from around that time from some charcoal close to where some stone or other was supposed to have been quarried, as pointed out by our friend Dave.  So the thesis seems to be that that was when the "quarry" was operating -- and when all those handy monoliths were being carted off to Stonehenge.  That of course is part of the long-standing MPP hypothesis, since he has said frequently that the stones were taken to Stonehenge early enough to have been incorporated into the "Aubrey Hole" stone setting -- if there ever was such a thing.

The Darvill / Wainwright thesis is that the bluestones were taken to Stonehenge somewhat later, to be used directly in the earliest actual bluestone setting.

On the other hand, of course, the stones might have been there all the time, lying about on Salisbury Plain, long before anybody had the bright idea of using them in a grand stone monument.

I'm not sure how you extrapolate from a piece of radiocarbon dated charcoal in a hearth or camp site and assume that it tells you that there was a quarry here, and that the quarry was operating at the same time as the charcoal was deposited.  How many other dates are there for the site, before and after 5,300 BP?  We know that there are some back to the Mesolithic, and at least one date (from beneath the "proto-orthostat") from the Bronze Age.  And from which parts of the stratigraphy have they come?  All will no doubt be revealed when those learned papers appear........

WB Wright's wonderful map

According to Jamie Woodward's Ice Age Twitter site, it's 101 years since this wonderful map was first published by WB Wright.  It's incredibly accurate, and has not changed all that much over all the years that have passed........

Boles Barrow -- photo from Pete G

Here is a splendid photo of Boles Barrow -- kindly sent by Pete Glastonbury.  He says:  "Here is a recent photos of Boles Barrow. it is now protected from the military and has chicken wire covering it to stop the badgers.  I am looking into getting permission to photograph it from a drone sometime soon."  I assume that's chalk rather than slow that we can see.  Anyway, glad it's now being better protected, and we look forward to seeing some new photos from the air........

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Weathered and unweathered bluestones at Stonehenge

 Typical weathering crust on a dolerite boulder on Carningli, N Pembrokeshire

 Tim Daw's excellent plan of the stone monument, showing the main stone types.  (Very generalised -- not all of the dolerites are spotted....)

In 2002 Geoffrey Kellaway argued that the bluestones at Stonehenge were dumped on Salisbury Plain during a very ancient glaciation -- even earlier than the Anglian Glaciation which we frequently talk about on this blog.  That's a possibility that we cannot dismiss.

"Glacial and tectonic factors in the emplacement of the bluestones of Salisbury Plain",  Survey of Bath and District 17 (Nov 2002), pp 57-72.

But leaving the dating issue on one side, he does make some interesting points in his article.  He claims that the abundant chips and flakes of bluestones (of various types) found in the debitage at and around Stonehenge are partly the result of the stone-masons' attempts to remove the brown weathered layer from favoured stones -- presumably to enhance their "blueness" and make them more attractive for placing in the bluestone horseshoe.  This is an interesting point in itself, and I don't know the answer to it.  Are most of the chips and flakes in the debitage fresh and blue, or are they brown and weathered?  Perhaps Rob can answer that one, since he knows the debitage rather well!

So we have the possibility that the dolerites used in the horseshoe have been fashioned and "enhanced" whereas the rougher boulders and slabs in the bluestone circle might have been used as found. (There are apparently just two exceptions, which are assumed to have been shaped and used at one time as lintels.)

 Some of the "natural" bluestones in the circle, overshadowed by the sarsens.  Are there weathering differences on the faces we can see today?

Of course, if you are a megalith builder wandering around on Salisbury Plain looking for interesting stones, you would find them bedded into the turf with one (weathered) face upwards and with other faces relatively fresh, depending on their precise positioning on or in the soil layer.  A boulder lying on the ground surface might have three weathered faces and one fresh face; a boulder deeply embedded might have just one weathered face and three faces protected and unweathered.  Cosmetic work on the collected stones might well be partly for shaping purposes, and partly for the purpose of removing weathered crusts.

So here we have another question:  as far as the standing and leaning dolerite bluestones in the horseshoe are concerned, are all faces equally weathered, or are some more weathered than others?

And another question:  for the bluestones of various types in the bluestone circle, are all faces on these stones equally weathered?

This would make a nice little project for somebody -- and it would be essential if ever a proper programme of cosmogenic dating should come into play, since different surfaces on different stones will have very different "exposure ages."

It's not that difficult to differentiate between heavily weathered and fresh faces -- for example, the differences between the "old" and the "new" faces on the big "proto-orthostat" at Rhosyfelin are very obvious.

Monday 23 November 2015

The Boles Barrow Bluestone -- again

We have had much discussion about the Boles Barrow Bluestone on this blog -- do a search if you want to look at earlier posts and discussions.  There are those who believe that the bluestone (spotted dolerite) boulder found in a long barrow near Heytesbury (20 kms WNW of Stonehenge) was taken to Heytesbury House and eventually found its way to the Museum to Salisbury, where it still resides.  But others are disinclined to believe this very inconvenient story, since any bluestone embedded in a long barrow must have been placed there well before the Stonehenge bluestones were supposedly fetched from Wales and incorporated into the Stonehenge bluestone settings.  Therefore they have declared themselves sceptical about Cunnington's account and have claimed that the provenance is "disputed" or "unproven";  their version of events is that the boulder was taken by Cunnington from Stonehenge to Heytesbury as a trophy,  before being moved to Salisbury.  It is suggested that this happened in 1798 or shortly thereafter, following the completion of Cunnington's work on the old stone monument.

Probably everything has been said that can be said about this, since there is no absolute proof of the boulder's real provenance.  However, I have discovered this little-known article by Geoffrey Kellaway, written in 2002:

"Glacial and tectonic factors in the emplacement of the bluestones of Salisbury Plain",  Survey of Bath and District 17 (Nov 2002), pp 57-72.

In it, he argues that at least some of the bluestones used at Stonehenge were taken from older Neolithic monuments in order to be incorporated in either the bluestone horseshoe or the bluestone circle.  He claims that there is evidence from some of the other long barrows, at Normanton and elsewhere, for this sort of grave desecration and stone robbing; and then he argues that Boles Barrow was too far away for this to have happened there, so the boulder remained in place until it was discovered by Cunnington in 1801.

Kellaway further argues that following his work at Stonehenge, Cunnington would never have dreamed of taking away a whole bluestone boulder simply because he wanted the garden of his house at Heytesbury to look more interesting.  The signs are that he had great respect for the monument, and would not have desecrated it.  And if he really had not discovered and removed the stone from Boles Barrow, why would he have written in such haste to his patron, Mr HP Wyndham, to tell him about the discovery?

The most important point is this -- and it is frequently overlooked.  If Cunnington had removed a bluestone boulder from Stonehenge, he must have done it between 1798 and 1810.  Any yet the surveys of the Stonehenge stone settings do not reveal any such stone "disappearance."  The plan made by John Wood in 1747 showed the positions of all the standing, leaning and half-buried bluestones.  When Flanders Petrie published his plan in 1877 all of the bluestones were still there.  Not one of them was missing.

It's interesting that Kellaway (writing in 2002) completely ignores the points made by James Scourse and Christopher Green in their chapters in the big Science and Stonehenge book published in 1997.  It appears that he was not very impressed by their arguments relating to the bluestone boulder's provenance -- which had already been dealt with by Dr Olwen Williams-Thorpe in correspondence.


Note:  Siegfried Sassoon, who was living in Heytesbury House in 1934, gave the stone to the Salisbury Museum, probably because it was known at that time as "The Stonehenge Stone" on grounds of  its physical similarity to some of the bluestones at Stonehenge.

Sunday 22 November 2015

Pembrokeshire stone gateposts

Volcanic ash (?) near Pentregalar

Volcanic ash (?) in Tycanol Wood

Huge dolerite standing stone / gatepost, one of the Russia Stones, above Cwm Gwaun

 Dolerite gatepost near Gelli-fawr, Cwm Gwaun

Volcanic ash gatepost, near Gernos Fach, Mynydd Preseli

I am moved to build up a little catalogue of stone gateposts in north Pembrokeshire -- they are quite striking parts of the landscape.  They are not unique, of course, since stone gateposts occur in Yorkshire, Ireland, the Lake District, Scotland and probably anywhere where abundant elongated stones are to be found.  I am not aware of any that are made of rhyolite -- the preferred stone types in Pembrokeshire seem to be dolerite and volcanic ash.  I shall examine the hypothesis and report back........

Saturday 21 November 2015

The Anglian ice sheet base

This is a reconstruction of the position of the NW European shoreline at various times following the breakup of the Devensian British / Irish ice sheet.  The outermost shoreline represents the situation c 18,000 years ago, by which time the ice sheet had reduced greatly in size.

Not much time and effort has gone into reconstructions of environment at the time of the Anglian glaciation, around 450,000 years ago.  Was the sedimentary makeup of the North Sea and the Celtic Sea very different from that of the present day?  In some places there are great thicknesses of glacial sediments, with a rock floor which is well beneath the position of the present sea bed. So the Anglian shoreline may have been closer to the position of the present British / Irish shoreline.  On the other hand there may, at the time, have been thick sea-floor sediments derived from even earlier glacial episodes.

It's probably best to assume that the Anglian shoreline was not too far removed from that shown in the map, and that the ice sheet was able to grow as a land-based system, without any interference from ice flotation and assorted other interactions -- except, maybe, for the far NW near the Hebrides, where the sea floor plunges steeply out into the Atlantic.

Stone collecting on Preseli

Simple vehicles like these were used for the transport of heavy materials in the uplands of Pembrokeshire.  They were common in Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  They are generally referred to as "slide cars" or "drag carts".  Some of them, as in the lower illustration, had small wheels; others had sliding "shoes" towards the front and wheels towards the back.  They were simple to build, and were very durable when used in rough terrain.

I have been doing some more research into the distribution of glacial erratics on and around Preseli, and this has led me to look at the locations of stones and the uses made of them over the years.

One of the great local historians, ET Lewis, mentions scattered boulders in several of his books, and says that they were more abundant on the south side of the upland ridge (as you would expect, given the directions of movement of the Irish Sea Glacier) than to the north.  Where they were present in abundance, they were often considered a nuisance, since they had to be cleared from fields, and they were of course often used in the construction of walls, houses and farm buildings.

Lewis, in his many mentions of cromlechs, standing stone settings and circles, does not mention a single case of stones having been transported from some "special" place.  He simply assumes that the stones were always used where they were found, and there is no sign that spotted dolerite, for example, was more valued than local volcanic ash, or unspotted dolerite, or slate or shale.  Utilitarianism and opportunism ruled, as it does in the vast majority of building projects today.  So the most famous prehistoric monuments, including Bedd Arthur and the Gors Fawr circle, are made with unspectacular stones collected up in the immediate vicinity.  That having been said, of course, we cannot disprove the possibility that at some stage some builder was obsessed enough with a particular stone type to go to great trouble to go off and get it, with considerable expenditure of time and effort.  All we can say is that there is no evidence, as far as we know,  to support that theory.

In his book on Mynachlogddu, Lewis mentions that in the period 1800-1920, when heavy gates were being installed and used on a large scale, big stone pillars were needed as gateposts.  He says they may now be found "by the hundreds over a radius of about ten miles."  A favourite place for collecting them in the early twentieth century was Carn Goedog, where they were picked up or levered away from the rock outcrops and taken away on sledges.  It's clear from his description that although Carn Goedog is on the north flank of the mountain, stones were dragged up over the ridge and down to the farms on the south side, in Mynachlogddu and neighbouring communities.  Carn Goedog provided the stone for the facing of the Congregational Chapel in Felindre, and stone from"the lower slopes of Carnmeini" were used for the bulding of Bethel Baptist Chapel in Mynachlogddu.

 Carn Goedog -- a great place for a picnic.  Perched blocks, glaciated rock surfaces, and plenty of nice gateposts waiting to be picked up and taken away.

We have mentioned some of this before, with a reproduction of an article by my colleague Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd:

 ET Lewis also mentions a number of named tracks over the mountain, which can still be seen.  However, we should not assume that these were used primarily for the "stone trade" -- some of the greatest impacts on the landscape were made by the thousands of animals which were moved across the mountain ridge during the droving era, and Lewis says that he talked to old residents who could remember (prior to 1913) "a dozen carts at a time" going to the Carn Goedog district to collect peat from the traditions peat-cutting areas.

Here are some descriptions of the old farm vehicles:

1796 Near Tavernspite, Pembrokeshire

The women join more in the labours of the field than in England, a man holds the plough drawn by four horses, but oftener by six oxen, and a girl drives them, sometimes riding upon one of them ; the men more commonly drive the carts, and Weanes (in a wain the weight of the fore part rests by a pole upon the yoke of the oxen) but the girls and women usually ride a horse dragging a kind of sledge, also used in Scotland, it consists of two long sides (rather shorter than in Scotland) one end of which serves for the shafts, the other rests upon the ground, it has cross bars, and two uprights are fixed near the bottom, on which is laid whatever is meant to be conveyed.

Lady Sykes, typescript copy of a tour of Wales, University of Hull, DDSY(3)/10/11, p. 151


1803 Llanstephan

A farming party also appeared at this instant, proceeding with goods for Carmarthen market. …  A sledge loaded with sacks of grain followed; … But a word on the sledge, the common farming carriage in Wales. This is a most simple contrivance, consisting of two rude poles between which the horse is placed; their ends trail on the ground, towards which extremity there are two or three cross bars; a few upright sticks from these complete the carriage. A comely dame, seated on horseback, and accommodated with a sort of side saddle made with cross rails, was probably the mistress; she closed the rear; and her superior condition was evident, in her dark blue worsted stockings, ponderous shore and small brass buckles.

Barber, J.T., (1774-1841), Tour Throughout South Wales and Monmouthshire, Comprehending a General Survey of the Picturesque Scenery, Remains of Antiquity, Historical Events, Peculiar Manners, and Commercial Situations of That Interesting Portion of the British Empire. (1803), p. 40-41


1815 (about), south Wales

Original vehicles for corn and hay are still used in some parts of the uplands.
(1) Wheeled cars, having one part sliding on the ground and the other mounted on a pair of low wheels
(2) drag car
(3) dorsal car, the sliding part as in the two former vehicles shod with thick wooden slippers, and shafts suspended from the horses back. …
Wagons are partially used on more level lands, but the Scottish cart is growing into common use.

Evans, Thomas, Walks through Wales, (post 1816), pp. 56-57; Evans, T., Cooke, G.A., (editor); Topographical and statistical description of North Wales [1830s], pp. 56-57


On the basis of the foregoing we can suggest the following:

1.  Stones that were suitable for building into prehistoric or historic structures were simply collected and used close to the places where they were found.

2.  Carn Goedog was a major source of elongated pillars during the nineteenth century (and probably not before and not much afterwards) when there was a strong demand for heavy gateposts capable of supporting heavy gates.

3.  The network of trackways on Preseli is partly related to stone collecting, but most tracks are the result of peat-collecting activities and droving traffic.

4.  Historical references suggest that stones were collected from the lower slopes of Carn Meini, and not from the highest crags.

5.  The term "quarrying" should not be used here at all.  The term "stone gathering" or "stone collecting" is much more appropriate.  There is nothing to suggest that explosives or any mechanical devices were ever used to take monoliths from rock faces.

6.  There is no reason to think that Carn Goedog was ever used as a prehistoric quarry or "supply point" for monoliths intended for long-distance transport.  It will naturally have been used as a source for small stones needed for the huts, embankments, circles and enclosures found within a short distance of the outcrop.



Here is a nice illustration of the various Irish slipes and slide-cars known from the rural districts where land was rough. Note that different models were used for different loads.  I assume that the Welsh versions will have been similar......

None of these had anything to do with transport over snow and ice.  They were used throughout the year.

Thursday 19 November 2015

Recreating The Neolithic Toolkit

This is fun -- it's over a year old, but  some might not have seen it. ......

The inability to see what isn't there

 It goes something like this:  "Even though there are no signs  of a quarry here, we have reason to believe that there was one, so therefore this is a quarry site....."

One or two occasional contributors to our blog discussions are getting hot under the collar because I have recently blocked some comments which have been so repetitive and convoluted that they have done nothing to advance our knowledge of anything apart from the obsessions of the contributors.  I have done that before, with other contributors and on widely differing topics.  The reason for this latest weird and fruitless debate -- off the record rather than on it -- is the publication of the recent article on the geomorphology and stratigraphy of Rhosyfelin.  We are accused of failing to see what is there, or what might be there, or might not be there, on the grounds that there are many things in this life which are invisible to those who are not trained to see them or who are not well tuned to the subtleties of the landscape.  That point is fair enough, and as somebody who knows the local landscape rather well I pride myself on having picked up many rather subtle things like old stone walls, embankments, circles, settlement sites and so forth that have apparently been missed by previous generations of archaeologists.  So I am neither blind nor naive.  But my default position, as a trained glacial geomorphologist, is to assume that things are natural unless there are signs that they are not.  Cwm Gwaun is natural, as is Carngoedog.  The pyramids are not natural, and neither is Silbury Hill.  Others have different default positions, and assume that a wide range of features are man-made until somebody can come along and prove conclusively that they are not........

At Rhosyfelin my colleagues Dyfed and John and I have looked at the site carefully and have honestly described what we have seen in a peer-reviewed short paper.  We have briefly examined the claims that have been made for "quarrying features" and have stated that in our view these features are all entirely natural.  In other words, the quarrying hypothesis is not supported by the evidence on the ground, and is thus superfluous.  In our press release, we have stated that our research undermines the quarrying hypothesis.  If anybody wants to come along and present contrary evidence, that's their privilege.  We'll then weigh up their evidence against ours, and independent observers can do the same. 

But when we get into arguments (from people who have not even visited the site) about things possibly being there, or possibly not, as the case may be, and about the impossibility of proving that things did happen or didn't happen because absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, and so forth, accompanied by arguments and protestations about comments being misinterpreted or misrepresented, it's time to call a halt, on the grounds that we are leaving reality and getting into a world of metaphysics, psychology and even politics.  I have better things to do with my time.

So a few comments have been dumped, and a few people have been invited to spend their time looking at other blogs instead of mine.  For that, no apologies.

Saturday 14 November 2015

Holwell Quarries, Nunney

 One of the Holwell Quarry faces.  I think I might accept that this is a quarry, since it has a number of features which look just like those of Pembrokeshire working and recent quarries!

 The quarries to the west of Nunney

Tony has been alerting is occasionally to strange things happening near Nunney -- nothing to do with my grandsons, I hope..........  but are there any glacial or other Pleistocene deposits here?

Previous posts:

And this is what Hugh Prudden has to say -- he is clearly of the view that the sediments are Triassic - Jurassic residues which have found their way into fissures.  But Kellaway talks somewhere of an actual layer around a metre thick, resting on the rock surface.

Hugh Prudden

23. HOLWELL ST 7245 5 km S W of Frome Fissures with Triassic and Jurassic infills-tectonics

There are old quarry workings down a track to the right of the pub (ST 729 452). A large multi-stage fissure runs the length of an old quarry wall at the eastern end of quarry used as a car park. Part of the fill has collapsed enabling Triassic, Rhaetian and Jurassic sediments plus the mineralisation to be examined at close quarters. The sediments appear to have entered the fissures in both a lithified and partly lithified state. Deformation of the sediments seems to have been associated with the opening of the fissure and the intrusion of the sediments. There are footpaths to the nearby village of Nunney which has a nice pub, castle ruins (Doulting and Bath Stone) and sarsen stones (Tertiary silcretes) on a wall and near castle at the bottom of the hill leading from Nunney Catch.
Park in lay-by to the east of the Bear Inn. Please first contact Mr R Bullus of Valley Sawmills, Holwell, Nunney, Frome for permission to visit the site.
A viewing platform has been built overlooking Colemans large quarry on the north side of the workings. Park in lay-by at sharp corner on the road the Whatley at ST 7231 4529 and walk some 200 m NNW along footpath. There is a fascinating view both of the quarry activity and the undulations of the same unconformity as seen at Tedbury Camp quarry. In addition the view includes the overlying Jurassic and Cretaceous terrains to the east. There are few better places where one can appreciate geological time and space.

SSSI citation:
Description and Reasons for Notification: Holwell Quarries represent an internationally important geological locality. A comprehensive assemblage of Triassic (including Rhaetic), Lower Jurassic and Middle Jurassic fissure fillings are well displayed. The Rhaetic fissure fillings have yielded the richest assemblage of vertebrate faunas known from the British Triassic. The site is famous as the site where Moore (in the 1860s), and later Kuhne (1939), collected specimens of Rhaetic mammals; occurrences of the highest scientific interest. Other mammals as well as abundant fish remains from the site have yet to be described. Fissure deposits have also yielded 8 or 9 genera of Reptiles: a Crocodilian, a Placodont (the first record in Britain of this sub-order), and the dinosaurs Thecodontosaurus and Palaeosaurus. The Lower Jurassic fissure fillings yield ammonites and brachiopods which are important in dating these remarkable deposits. Subsidiary interest is supplied by the three dimensional 'wadi-fill' of Triassic age and the regionally important sub-Inferior Oolite unconformity, both of which are very well exposed in the Holwell complex.

Some of the exposed features -- the most famous of which is the unconformity.

This is a large and complex series of quarries, and one would not know where to start in looking for undisturbed superficial deposits.  Does anybody know these quarries?  If so, any pointers?

The joy of Old Red Sandstone

Had to share these -- two of the most colourful images in my photo collection.  The top photo was taken close to the ORS / Carboniferous Limestone junction near Stackpole Quay, and the lower one is from Gateholm Island near Marloes.  (By the way, the yellow colouring is a sort of algae that grows on the rock surface....)

Wednesday 11 November 2015

The Great British Neolithic Picnic Site Project

I'm thinking of putting in for a £1 million grant from the AHRC and assorted other learned institutions, matched of course by the National Geographic, for a project designed to discover the most delightful Neolithic picnic sites in the British Isles.  The project will run for a minimum of five years, and will start with a pioneering study based in Pembrokeshire.  Recruitment of the research team will commence shortly.  Bring your own sandwiches.

Craig Rhosyfelin is a truly delightful site with a nearby babbling brook which has already been examined in detail, and the results will be published shortly.  Picnics (and perhaps even the odd BBQ and rave) have undoubtedly been held here for many thousands of years.  All will be revealed.

But Rhosyfelin is by no means unique.  There are literally scores of other delightful picnic sites, with shadowy dappled woodlands, attractive rocky crags, whispering breezes, echoing birdsong, gushing springs or meandering rivulets.  Here are a few more candidates.

It is known already that many of these sites have prehistoric associations, with hut circles, animal enclosures, fortifications, stone walls, cromlechs and standing stones in the vicinity.   What the new project will seek to demonstrate is that starting in the Mesolithic and continuing through the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, the population of Pembrokeshire was not made up of stupid brutish warring tribes but of highly sophisticated and peaceful people who liked nothing better than a picnic out with the family, in a pleasant spot, maybe accompanied by a spot of fishing or squirrel-catching now and then.

When the details of the project are announced, we expect a veritable flood of applicants.  Holes will be dug occasionally. Film rights are in negotiation.

Steep rock faces are doomed to fail

I have long been mystified by the fact that when the archaeologists turned up at Craig Rhosyfelin in 2011 they were thinking the word "quarry" rather than accepting that the rock face was a perfectly natural one.  The rock face on the NW flank of the crag, partly covered with a bank of rockfall debris, is as natural a phenomenon as one is likely to find anywhere in the world -- simply because steep rock faces are doomed to fail.

Such things are created in the first place because certain natural processes concentrate erosional activity into very narrow bands -- for example glacial erosion on the outside bends of troughs, river bank undercutting in areas of high velocity turbulent flow, or wave erosion at the foot of cliffs in the intertidal zone.  The key fact is that the entrained debris is efficiently removed. Once these processes cease, other factors come into play, and it is the ambition of every cliff to become a gentle slope.  So once the erosional process stops, and once the process of debris removal stops, debris will start to accumulate at the foot of the cliff, building up inexorably until the whole cliff is destroyed or buried under its own debris.

Look at any part of the British coastline and you see illustrations of these principles:

Obviously high vertical cliffs are more vulnerable than others, especially if they are made of soft, fractured or jointed rocks which are susceptible to freeze-thaw processes, rainwater or groundwater rotting,  or biological processes.  If you look at any cliff, anywhere, its shape is unique -- influenced by geology and environment.  In some cases, where undercutting has created overhangs, they survive for many thousands of years -- and in other cases overhangs collapse very quickly.

The sloping face of the Rhosyfelin crag was a very little cliff made of heavily fractured foliated rhyolite bedrock where rockfalls on a considerable scale were, and are, absolutely inevitable.  The appearance of the rock face, and the characteristics of the debris bank, are entirely as any geologist or geomorphologist would expect them to be.  Occam's Razor.  Why would anybody want to look for a complicated explanation of what we are looking at, when a perfectly simple one will do?

Tuesday 10 November 2015

New paper now posted on Researchgate

The new paper is now posted onto Researchgate, from which it can also be downloaded.   Here is the link:

Press release: New research undermines Bluestone Quarry theory

This has just gone off in various directions: my guess is that the media will ignore it, since hard science is really rather boring, and since jolly fantasies are much more fun.......

Press Notice: immediate release
10th November 2015

New research undermines Bluestone Quarry theory

Research published today in the peer-reviewed journal "Quaternary Newsletter" throws serious doubt on claims that there is a Neolithic "bluestone quarry" at Rhosyfelin in Pembrokeshire.

Since 2011 archaeologist Prof Mike Parker Pearson and his colleagues have conducted annual summer digs at the site, not far from the village of Brynberian, and they have promoted the idea that some of the rhyolite bluestones at Stonehenge were quarried here and then carried all the way to Stonehenge by Neolithic tribesmen about 5,000 years ago.  In 2012 Parker Pearson referred to the site as "the Pompeii of prehistoric stone quarries."  His theory arose from some  precise "provenancing" by geologists Richard Bevins and Rob Ixer, who discovered that some of the fragments of rock in the soil layers in and around Stonehenge could be matched closely to a flinty blue foliated rhyolite rock exposed in a crag at Rhosyfelin.  The archaeologists also discovered an eight-tonne elongated slab of rhyolite close to the Rhosyfelin rock face, which they assumed had been quarried and then somehow left behind.  Many tonnes of sediments have subsequently been removed by the archaeologists in their hunt for quarrying traces.

Now geologist John Downes and geomorphologists Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and Brian John have examined the site very carefully, and have come to the conclusion that there are no traces of a Neolithic quarry here.  Instead, they interpret the rocky debris found during the archaeological dig as entirely natural accumulations resulting from intermittent rockfalls over a long period of time.  In their new article they also describe a number of different landforms and sediments which can be related to the events of the Ice Age -- and in particular to the last glaciation of this area which occurred around 20,000 years ago.  They accept that there might have been a prehistoric camp site in the sheltered valley at the foot of the Rhosyfelin rocky crag, and that this may be confirmed by radiocarbon dating, but they suggest that the site was used by hunters rather than by quarrymen.

Back to the glacial transport theory.......

Speaking about the new study, researcher Dr Brian John said:  "We have no argument with the geological work that links this site with Stonehenge.  But we cannot accept the idea of a Neolithic quarry here without firm evidence -- and in our considered opinion there is none.  The archaeologists admit that there are no artefacts, bones or tools at the site.  In a future paper we will examine the so-called "quarrying" or "engineering" features at this site, and will show that they are all natural.

"We are also increasingly convinced that the rhyolite debris at Stonehenge is derived from glacial erratics which were eroded from the Rhosyfelin rocky crag almost half a million years ago by the overriding Irish Sea Glacier (Britain's biggest ever glacier) and then transported eastwards by ice towards Salisbury Plain.  Glaciologically that was perfectly possible, if not probable.  We are confident that radiocarbon and other dating in the future will confirm the falsehood of the Neolithic quarry theory and the essential reliability of the glacial transport theory."


Dr Brian John
Tel: 01239-820470

Reference:  Brian John, Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downes (2015).  "Quaternary Events at Craig Rhosyfelin, Pembrokeshire."  Quaternary Newsletter, October 2015 (No 137), pp 16-32.

Reproduced on Scribd (with low definition images) here:

Relevant recent posts:

On meltwater channels:

On ice-contact environments:

On stratified slope deposits:

New Rhosyfelin paper: ice-cold water on the Neolithic Quarry theory

A new article by Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd, John Downes and myself, entitled "Quaternary Events at Craig Rhosyfelin, Pembrokeshire" is now published.  Here is the Abstract:

The Afon Brynberian valley is claimed to contain Britain’s most important Neolithic quarry, used for the extraction of bluestone orthostats destined for Stonehenge. Archaeologists argue that an exposed rock face within a meltwater channel at Craig Rhosyfelin is a quarried surface, and that an eight-tonne block found five metres away was prepared for transport but then abandoned. Site investigations have revealed scoured surfaces, faceted and abraded erratic boulders, glacial till, fluvioglacial sands and gravels, and widespread rockfall and solifluction deposits. All the features associated with the “proto-orthostat” are considered to be natural. There are currently no visible prehistoric landforms or sediments that are demonstrably anthropogenic in origin.

 The rock face at Craig Rhosyfelin -- simply a work of nature

Source:  Quaternary Newsletter No 137 (October 2015).   Articles in this journal are not published online, and so the new paper is reproduced -- with different format -- on the Scribd web site.  Unfortunately the illustrations are not high definition, because of constraints imposed by the server.  However, nearly all of them have previously been published on this blog.


A facsimile version will shortly be published on Researchgate.

The Rhosyfelin sediment sequence

The new article by Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd, John Downes and myself, entitled "Quaternary Events at Craig Rhosyfelin, Pembrokeshire" is now published in Quaternary Newsletter No 137 (October 2015).   Articles in this journal are not published online, and so it is reproduced -- with different format -- on the Scribd web site.  Link:
 A facsimile version will shortly be published on Researchgate.

Above is a stratigraphic diagram used in the new paper.  It shows the sedimentary sequence at three locations within the dig site.  As indicated in other posts, there are quite wide variations in the thicknesses of these layers, but their relative positioning is consistent.

The lowest discernible horizon (1) seems to be a layer of broken rock debris resting in hollows on an undulating rock surface, parts of which appear to be ice-smoothed.

We have shown here the till horizon (2a) as stratigraphically equivalent to the fluvioglacial horizon (2b).  This is because the archaeologists did not dig deep enough for us to claim with certainty that the till UNDERLIES the water-lain deposits.  We would fully expect this relationship to be confirmed if future digs go deeper, or if a borehole is put down as part of some future research project.

In places, near the rock face, there is rockfall material (3) on top of the till and apparently intercalated with it.  In our view, rockfalls have occurred from the overlooking crags and from the rock face intermittently ever since the onset of ice wastage at the end of the Devensian ice incursion across this site.

At the base of the post-glacial sequence there is a band of fine-grained colluvial sediment (4) with traces of involutions -- this suggests a periglacial environment.  (We do not interpret these features as loading features as found in some saturated sediments, because we cannot see how hydrological circumstances can have been suitable in this precise location.)  This band, including some clasts, was quite well exposed in the vicinity of the big stone in the first couple of years of the dig.

The stratified slope deposits (5), containing many clasts, are very prominent, and are seen in many of the photos posted on this blog.  Within this band there are four or five subtle changes in colour, texture, and stone concentrations, suggesting environmental changes. These sediments are over 2m thick in places, and they grade through to the colluvial layers seen near the end of the spur and out onto the valley floor.  We haven't had time to examine the internal variations in this colluvium, but it does contain bits of charcoal either from settlement at this site or from natural or man-made woodland fires.  There are also colour variations that seem to be associated with pedological processes.  This is a very wet and acid environment in which podsolization is normal.

Finally, close to the ground surface there is a layer of humus-rich colluvial material and modern soil (6), also with included clasts.

Note that the top of the iron-stained band does NOT mark a worked quarrying surface, "floor" or "platform."  It transgresses sedimentary boundaries and is within a metre of the ground surface in the lower part of this site.  It is in our view a pedological feature related primarily to the position of the water table.  As such, it is of no archaeological significance.

The sediments at Rhosyfelin owe nothing to human interference, and are entirely consistent with the sequences displayed at many sites around the Pembrokeshire coast.  What we see revealed here are the deposits from the deglacial / postglacial part of a glacial cycle, with sediments typical of those found during and after the wastage of a Late Devensian ice mass.  In many places (for example, Aber-mawr) there are thick head or slope deposits BENEATH the Devensian till; and indeed it is possible that such sediments do exist at Rhosyfelin and might have been revealed if the archaeologists had dug any deeper on the lower part of the site.

We have examined many features which have been described in quarrying or engineering terms by the archaeologists.  We consider all of them to be entirely natural, and our reasons will be enumerated in a forthcoming paper accepted for publication in "Archaeology in Wales."

In short, even if there are abundant radiocarbon dates from this site and even if there is evidence of a prehistoric hearth close to the rock face, we see no sign of quarrying activity for monolith removal either in the Neolithic or later in the Bronze Age or Iron Age.

Monday 9 November 2015

Still under wraps....

My colleagues Dyfed and John checking out the picnic table and its shroud.  All deeply symbolic.  As of now, our first paper on the geomorphology of Rhosyfelin is still under wraps, but rumour has it that copies of the latest edition of Quaternary Newsletter are out there, and with a bit of luck the Post Office will deliver it here in the far west tomorrow........

All will be revealed.  It doesn't contain any surprises.  As soon as I get a PDF I will put it somewhere accessible.