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....
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Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Memo to archaeologists: glacial transport theory is alive and well

After years of being disparaged and dismissed by archaeologists as "moribund" and "discredited", the glacial transport theory is actually alive and well -- and even appears to be undergoing something of a resurgence..........

A few things have intrigued me since the appearance of the article in "Archaeology in Wales" journal 3 days ago:

1.  In less than 3 days the article has been read almost 250 times on Researchgate;  that's an amazing response to something that one would have thought would be of very marginal interest.  I can only assume that the majority of readers will be archaeologists -- and for many of them this will have been their first realistic encounter with geomorphologists who have something to say on an archaeological topic.  It follows that they will also be forced to confront the weakness of the human transport theory and the relative strength of its competitor!

2.  While the press release which we put out has had nothing like the exposure of the media pack out out by university press offices on behalf of the MPP research team, with extremely expensive press agency assistance, it has nonetheless been picked up by all the main UK newspapers and by the BBC (two BBC World Service interviews so far).  That's quite unusual for something sent out "cold" with no advance briefings, from a totally unknown source.  To some extent the media are feeding off one another, with copycat reporting going on.  But that does indicate that journalists and editors find the story interesting.

3.  Most interesting of all, the quarrying spat is featuring in all the media coverage, but the thing that they are all seriously excited about is the GLACIAL TRANSPORT THEORY.  I keep on telling journalists that this is not a novel idea at all, and that it's been around for more than a century, but as far as they are concerned it is new, challenging and even rather wacky............ and who am I to disabuse them?  On the two interviews I did for the BBC World Service, the interviewers were not really interested in quarries at all (that was what I wanted to talk about), but they wanted to know all about how glaciers work.

So I sense that the tide is turning -- and that it will not be possible in the future for archaeologists simply to dismiss the workings of glaciers as irrelevant to the bluestone debate.


chris johnson said...

Interesting reactions.

I always thought your ideas were stronger when you left out the piece about human transportation. After all, everybody agrees the stones were transported some distance by people and this is amazing. The focus at the moment should be that glaciers moving the stones some of the way is quite amazing too. Most people have no idea that Wales was in the grip of earth moving glaciers quite recently and it IS amazing.

Personally I think that stone age people would have recognised the rare stones from Pembrokeshire. Special significance would have been attributed without needing to physically carry them to Wiltshire. To discover what that special significance might have been justifies further explorations in Pembrokeshire even if one accepts a major role for glaciers.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Sound points, Chris. Yes, the glacial transport theory is strong enough to promote in a positive way -- regardless of where the ice edge actually was located. I have always assumed that in the end the truth will be revealed as "ice did most of the work, leaving some of the work to be done by the Stonehenge builders....."

Yes, the bluestones may have been picked up somewhere within striking distance of Stonehenge and recognised as being unusual / special in some way -- although I have my doubts that they were valued as being "healing stones" or "magical stones" or even "ancestor stones". I see no sign of any stones being used preferentially over other stones in the Pembrokeshire Neolithic, and assume this utilitarian and pragmatic approach will also have applied elsewhere.

But I disagree that more money should be spent on wild goose chases in Pembrokeshire. Throwing good money after bad is never a good idea.