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Sunday, 13 December 2015

Rhosyfelin -- new research says "no quarry"

This research is published on 14th December 2015 in the peer-reviewed journal "Archaeology in Wales."  It can be freely downloaded from Researchgate, and is also available from the journal office in hard copy.

JOHN, B.S., ELIS-GRUFFYDD, D. & DOWNES, J. (2015b). Observations on the supposed ‘Neolithic Bluestone Quarry’ at Craig Rhosyfelin, Pembrokeshire. Archaeology in Wales 54, pp 139-148.

There is no abstract, but here are the conclusions:


It has been reported by Parker Pearson (2015) that no antler picks, bones, flakes, axes or other artifacts which might confirm Neolithic quarrying activity have been discovered at this site. The 8-tonne “proto-orthostat” is now shown from radiocarbon dating not to have been emplaced in the Neolithic, but in the Bronze Age; so it cannot have been “destined” for Stonehenge, even if it had been robust enough to survive long-distance overland transport. There are no signs of working on its surface. It is more than twice the weight of the Stonehenge bluestones. Furthermore, there is no evidence of any preferential use of Rhosyfelin foliated rhyolite in standing stones or cromlechs in West Wales, and no evidence that it was deemed to be “desirable” or valued in any way.
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.

While there appears to be no landform, rock mechanics or sedimentary evidence that this was a Neolithic quarry site devoted to the extraction of bluestone orthostats destined for use at Stonehenge, or for any other purpose, we would accept the possibility that there may have been temporary Mesolithic, Neolithic or later camp sites here over a very long period of time, as in many other sheltered and wooded locations in north Pembrokeshire. Parker Pearson has reported (in public lectures) that a hearth and other occupation traces have been found near the tip of the spur, and it is anticipated that this will be confirmed by radiocarbon dating in future published reports. Sites such as this may have been used in the context of a hunting, fishing and gathering economy involving seasonal migrations (Bell and Walker, 1992). It is also possible that rhyolitic raw materials from this site may have been used in the manufacture of blades and other cutting implements which changed hands during tribal trading activities (Pitts, 2013). It is beyond the scope of this short paper to speculate as to how some small fragments of foliated rhyolite from this neighbourhood might have reached Stonehenge.

Finally, it is a cause for regret that there has apparently been no geomorphological input into the fieldwork and assessment of the naturally-formed features and sediments at Rhosyfelin. It is recommended that in future there should be much greater cooperation between archaeologists and specialists from related disciplines. Also, it is suggested that great care should henceforth be exercised in the attempts by archaeologists to identify Neolithic quarries in the British landscape.


Note:  This article was written some months ago, prior to the publication of the recent article published in the journal "Antiquity" by Parker Pearson et al:

PARKER-PEARSON, M., BEVINS, R, E., IXER, R. A.; POLLARD, J.; RICHARDS, C.; WELHAM, K.; CHAN, B.; EDINBOROUGH, K.; HAMILTON, D.; MACPHAIL, R.; SCHLEE, D.; SCHWENNINGER, J.; SIMMONS, E.; & SMITH, M.  (2015). Craig Rhos-y-felin: a Welsh bluestone megalith quarry for Stonehenge.   Antiquity, 89 (348) Dec 2015, pp 1331-1352.

This "Antiquity" paper contains nothing which contradicts any of our observations or interpretations of this site, but the abundant radiocarbon and OSL dates reported do, as expected, confirm a long history of intermittent occupation.

1 comment:

BRIAN JOHN said...

It's intereswting that this paper on Researchgate is getting a lot of reads -- 126 already in less than 2 days. I suspect that a lot of the readers will be archaeologists.........