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Sunday, 13 December 2015

"Bluestone quarry" archaeologists are accused of creating their own evidence

Press Notice
Embargoed till 0100 on Monday 14th December 2015

"Bluestone quarry" archaeologists are accused of creating their own evidence

Earth scientists who have worked at a "bluestone monolith quarry" site at Craig Rhosyfelin in Pembrokeshire have suggested that the archaeologists have got it all wrong, and that  the so-called "engineering features" on the flank of the crag are entirely natural.  Further, it is suggested that members of the digging team have unconsciously created the very features that they have cited in support of their quarrying hypothesis.

In a peer-reviewed paper published today in "Archaeology in Wales" journal (1)  Dr Brian John, Dr Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downes have described a set of  Ice Age deposits and landforms at the site of an archaeological dig that was started in 2011, and have determined that there are no traces of human intervention in any of the features that have made the archaeologists so excited (2).  These include features described by the diggers as a quarry face, a quarry spoil bank, a storage platform, props and pillars, stone rails, a "proto-orthostat", a revetment, and an export pathway.  Most of these are now dismissed as "archaeological artifices" unconsciously created by the archaeologists themselves during five years of highly selective sediment removal. In other words, the authors of the new article suggest that the  archaeologists have created what they wanted to find, instead of describing what was there (3).

This site has been described by lead archaeologist Prof Mike Parker Pearson as "the Pompeii of prehistoric stone quarries" and has caused great excitement in archaeological circles.  The selection of this rocky crag near the village of Brynberian for excavation in 2011- 2015 was triggered by the discovery by geologists Richard Bevins and Rob Ixer that some of the stone fragments in the soil at Stonehenge were quite precisely matched to an unusual type of foliated rhyolite found in the crag.  This led the archaeologists to conclude that there must have been a Neolithic quarry here, worked for the specific purpose of cutting out monoliths for the bluestone settings at Stonehenge.

Commenting on the new research paper, Dr Brian John says:  "The new geological work at Rhosyfelin and Stonehenge is an interesting piece of "rock provenencing" -- but it tells us nothing at all about how monoliths or smaller rock fragments from West Wales found their way to Stonehenge.  We are sure that the archaeologists have convinced themselves that the glacial transport of erratics was impossible.  We are not sure where they got that idea from.  On the contrary, there is substantial evidence in favour of glacial transport and zero evidence in support of the human transport theory.  We accept that there might have been a camp site at Rhosyfelin, used intermittently by hunters over several millennia.  But there is no quarry.  We think the archaeologists have been so keen on telling a good story here that they have ignored or misinterpreted the evidence in front of them.  That's very careless.  They now need to undertake a complete reassessment of the material they have collected."

The three authors of the new paper suggest that this fundamental error in interpretation might have been avoided if there had been greater cooperation in the Rhosyfelin dig between archaeologists and specialists from related disciplines.



(1)  The article reference is as follows:
Brian John, Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downes.  2015. OBSERVATIONS ON THE SUPPOSED “NEOLITHIC BLUESTONE QUARRY” AT CRAIG RHOSYFELIN, PEMBROKESHIRE".  Archaeology in Wales 54, pp 139-148. (Publication 14th December 2015)

(2)  Mike Parker Pearson, Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer, Joshua Pollard, Colin Richards, Kate Welham, Ben Chan, Kevan Edinborough, Derek Hamilton, Richard Macphail, Duncan Schlee, Jean-Luc Schwenninger, Ellen Simmons and Martin Smith (2015). Craig Rhos-y-felin: a Welsh bluestone megalith quarry for Stonehenge.   Antiquity, 89 (348) (Dec 2015), pp 1331-1352.

(3)  Quote from the Conclusions of the new paper:  "It is suggested, on the basis of careful examinations of this site, that certain of the “man made features” described have been created by the archaeologists themselves through a process of selective sediment and clast removal. An expectation or conviction that “engineering features” would be found has perhaps led to the unconscious fashioning of archaeological artifices."

Contact:  Dr Brian John
Tel: 01239-820470

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