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Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The Archaeology Myth Machine slips into top gear


First things first.  I have taken a very careful look at the new paper in "Antiquity", and there is NOTHING in it which enhances the idea that there is a Neolithic quarry at Rhosyfelin.  There are lots of radiocarbon dates which indicate a long history of intermittent occupation of the site from the Mesolithic right through to the Iron Age and historic times, but there is not a shred of evidence which demonstrates actual quarrying activity and the removal of monoliths from this site to somewhere else.  What we see in the paper -- as expected -- is a flood of assumptions and speculations, and a cavalier disregard for the scientific process.  Those of us who have looked at the site without the benefit of rose-tinted spectacles see a set of interesting natural features and a convenient place for small hunting parties, over many millennia, to find shelter within a hunting and gathering economy.  The rest is fantasy.  I'll do another post on the contents of the article......

In the meantime, let's wonder at the apparently unstoppable momentum of the archaeological myth machine.  Over the last 24 hours there have been literally hundreds of articles appearing in the worldwide media, for the most part regurgitating the contents of the press releases put out by the press offices of  University College London, Manchester University, Southampton University and maybe other press offices as well.  The main theme has been the apparent "confirmation of Welsh bluestone quarries" and a secondary theme has been the "Welsh proto-Stonehenge" which was supposedly erected and then moved 500 years later to Salisbury Plain.  The first newspaper off the mark was The Guardian,  and in 24 hours there have been 44,000 hits on the Stonehenge / Rhosyfelin news story on that web page alone.  There have been video clips on some sites, again placed by the University College press office.  Statements from some of the lead researchers on the digging team have been given prominence, especially in the "regional" press.  I have no idea how much radio and TV coverage there has been, because that's difficult to monitor.

The purple prose contained within the press releases has gone out to a vast mailing list, and it is clear that the news agencies have been the real targets for the PR campaign; many media outlets worldwide pick up instantly on material channelled through Reuters and Associated Press, since that material is deemed to be authoritative and reliable.  The trouble is that with so much purple verbiage and hyperbole coming from the mouths of Mike Parker Pearson, Colin Richards, Kate Welham and the others, there is every encouragement to journalists to give the story even more colour and excitement.  One sometimes despairs about journalistic standards; for example, in the National Geographic coverage there is mention of "stone tools" in the context of the supposed quarries at Rhosyfelin and Carn  Goedog, even though the digging teams have said quite clearly that there are no stone tools.........

So the mighty myth machine rolls on, spreading disinformation and fantasy across the globe under the pretext that it is sound science.  Should one laugh or cry?  I'm not sure.  But it sure is entertaining, in a grotesque sort of way............

Am I disappointed?  Yes, but not because my glacial transport hypothesis has been blown out of the water or even knocked slightly out of equilibrium.  On the contrary, that hypothesis has been strengthened by this clear demonstration that there is no better thesis on offer.  No -- my disappointment arises purely from the fact that "Antiquity" has actually published a new paper by Parker Pearson et al which should never have got through the peer review process;  and that the global media have assisted in the promotion of yet another fantastical story without for a moment questioning its authenticity or scientific reliability. 

6 comments:

Paul Sambrook said...

The rate at which these stories go viral is alarming. This one is going to muddy the waters for many years to come. As an archaeologist living within a mile of Craig Rhosyfelin I am fascinated by the archaeological evidence for the use of that sheltered valley from the Mesolithic to the Iron Age, but I cannot see how it translates into a quarry from where stones were dragged to Salisbury Plain. I don't find the Antiquary paper convincing and am alarmed by the way a 500 year gap in the dating evidence has been overcome by creatively inventing "proto-Stonehenge". Its not something I would do. I would have to conclude that the evidence weighed against Craig Rhosyfelin as a site from where stone was transported to Salisbury Plain. We can but wait to see what comes in 2016, when it is promised that this "new site" will be unveiled to the world.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I agree Paul -- it is frightening to see the speed at which this fantastical story has gone viral. That was of course the intention of Prof MPP and his colleagues. When this whole thing falls flat, there are big reputations that will be destroyed. So they cannot afford for it to fall flat. The strategy seems to be that they must keep it running at all costs -- and to hell with the evidence (or lack of it) on the ground. As I have said many times before on this blog, this is not the way to do science.

BRIAN JOHN said...

As for the Pembrokeshire "Proto-Stonehenge" my spies tell me that last year the diggers were euphoric, one evening in Bessie's pub, because they had found a Rhosyfelin standing stone (or was it just a pit which was a convenient size?) at Castell Mawr. Then, I assume that somebody (a geologist?) must have looked at it and decided that it was not worth getting euphoric about, and so they have apparently walked away from the site altogether. So maybe the Holy Grail lies somewhere else. Finding it would probably be rather boring -- much more fun just to keep hunting for it....... while frequently reminding the world that it is out there somewhere!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Will the person who contacted me this morning at 0834 via this thread please contact me privately? You can get me at brianjohn4atmacdotcom..... Thanks.

Myris of Alexandria said...

Match.com has it come down to this, a dating agency.
There will be impoverished but well-endowed Russia ladies next giving us tantalising glimpses of their insights into BA or BJ stones juggling.
Shame, from gaberdine to dirty macs.
M

BRIAN JOHN said...

Ah, you'd be amazed, Myris, as to what goes on off the record, behind the scenes. But maybe you knew that already...... I just wish I knew the half of it.