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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Friday 29 January 2016

Our Neolithic ancestors -- too smart to take stones from stupid places...

 Garn Turne -- a Neolithic site predetermined by the position of the chosen capstone.

Earlier this month I put up a post on this blog which asked this question:  why would anybody in their right mind, back in the Neolithic, go to the trouble of quarrying large slabs of rock from stupid places like Carn Goedog or Craig Rhosyfelin when they could have picked up all the stones they needed from almost anywhere in the landscape?

This came up in my seminar in the Swansea Geography Department the other day, in the context of a discussion about the collection of stones to be incorporated into cromlechs and other stone settings.  We talked quite a bit about cost / benefit ratios and agreed that as far as any of us knew, all of the big capstones used in Welsh cromlechs were probably used exactly where found (many were glacial erratics), and were maybe levered upwards or propped up in some cases, whereas the vertical or supporting stones, which tend to be smaller, might have been brought in from within the neighbourhood, with a search extending outwards from the building site until the costs of the exercise outweighed the benefits.  I'm increasingly convinced that the LOCATIONS OF DESIRABLE CAPSTONES is what has determined the location of cromlechs across Wales -- and this of course is what Steve Burrow has said quite forcefully in his book "The Tomb Builders."

So the signs are that the Neolithic tomb builders knew all about costs and benefits, and were far more concerned about economy of effort than they were about aesthetics, or astronomical alignments, or the magical or healing properties of the stones they were using. 

The consensus in our discussion was that the Neolithic tribesmen of North Pembrokeshire would have been completely stupid to have actually quarried monoliths at Carn Goedog or Craig Rhosyfelin, given the superabundance of convenient stones already littering the landscape following the events of the Devensian glacial episode.    And the signs are that they were not stupid at all, if the arrangements and characteristics of West Wales stone settings is anything to go by.

So who were, or are, the people behaving obsessively or irrationally in this whole business?  Sadly, we have to conclude that the ones who appear to have taken leave of their senses are the quarry hunters themselves, who appear to have set themselves upon a course of action where the minimalist returns are out of all proportion to the effort and cash expended, and who appear to have learned nothing at all about cost-benefit considerations from their Neolithic ancestors.

Rhosyfelin.  Diggers and buckets galore, and a vast expenditure of time and money. But did anybody actually do a cost-benefit analysis before it all started? 

Thursday 28 January 2016

That hilarious exchange......

Here are screenshots from that 1972 BBC TV programme introduced by Alice Roberts and shown on BBC4 last night.  It's worth watching just for the exchange between Richard Atkinson and Geoffrey Kellaway.  Atkinson is resplendent with bow tie under his chin and with spectacles perched precariously on the end of his nose, pontificating like some insufferable patriarch, behaving as if it was really beneath his dignity to be meeting riff-raff like Kellaway, let alone sharing valuable TV air time with him on matters that have long since been determined as the truth.   His speaking style is really quite wonderful.......  Then we have Kellaway, sitting uncomfortably in his Sunday best suit, trying, as a humble field geologist, to explain things about glaciers to a group of senior and very smooth operators from the archaeology establishment who clearly considered him to be an idiot........ Actually he was not the greatest public speaker, but he was a smart fellow who knew the evidence very well, and who got some things wrong but a great many things right.

Lost Stones

I had to reproduce this splendid portrait of the eastern Preseli Hills, from the "Lost Stones" web site.  Click to enlarge.  On the matter of people plundering stones from "authentic locations" on Preseli, the people who run "Lost Stones" are making a business of selling shaped and polished stones from the area, but to their credit they say that all of their stones are taken  from the jumble of bluestone and other erratics found on their own land, in fields and hedgerows.  I don't have any problem with that, and wish the best of luck to anybody who starts a little business and has the persistence to run with it and make a success of it.  Here is a link to their site:

Tim Darvill on glaciation

Just been watching part of the latest BBC programme about Stonehenge, introduced by Alice Roberts.  (Stonehenge: a Timewatch Guide.  BBC4, 27 Jan 2016.) It's actually quite well balanced, with some classic footage from 1972 of an exchange between Richard Atkinson and Geoffrey Kellaway, in which they both talk rubbish.

But then we have Tim Darvill telling us about the glaciation of the Bristol Channel region.  It was asking for trouble, was it not, to have an archaeologist explaining about glaciers ?  Was there no glacial geomorphologist near at hand who could have talked authoritatively on the issue?  Hmmm.........

Anyway, this is what Tim had to say, as a senior academic explaining things to the ignorant masses:  "There was glaciation in West Wales -- but nobody has yet come up with a satisfactory arrangement of glaciers which could have transported the stones eastwards from the Preseli Hills across to Salisbury Plain.  The furthest that glaciers could reasonably carry them would be to South Wales ..........  we have now come to understand that there is no material on Salisbury Plain that's been carried from west to east by glacial action."

As readers of this blog, and as every past and present student of glacial geomorphology will know, that is complete nonsense.  The "arrangement" of glaciers during two glacial phases in the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary area is  pretty well known, with ice from the South Wales valleys and Irish Sea ice coming into contact in the south Wales coastal zone.  And it has been known for more than 35 years that there are glacial deposits in Somerset that can only have been carried there by the ice of the Irish Sea Glacier, travelling broadly west to east.

True, there is a debate about whether  the Boles Barrow bluestone boulder and other materials (for example 43 Stonehenge bluestones) on Salisbury Plain are remnants of old glacial deposits -- but why do senior archaeologists consistently seek to misrepresent the situation relating to the events of the Ice Age, when they must be aware that what they say is completely at odds with what is in the literature?

Wednesday 27 January 2016

The bluestone quarrying debate: marketing versus science?

Today I had a pleasant expedition to the Geography Department at Swansea University, in spite of the disgusting weather.    Anyway, I got there safely and gave a seminar on the above topic to an audience of geographers, geomorphologists, glaciologists and geologists -- and at least one archaeologist.......  some very interesting points came up in discussion, and I'll do posts on a couple of them when I find a moment.

It's also worth mentioning that I sent off to assorted archaeological journals these two press releases relating to the papers written by Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd, John Downes and myself.  Thus far, there has been no sign of them being used -- and no request from editors for further information.  Surely it could not be the case that the archaeology establishment is closing ranks for the protection of certain well-known archaeologists?  Heaven forbid..........


Press Notice
10th November 2015

New research undermines Welsh 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 Craig 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 very 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 rhyolite rock exposed in a crag at Rhosyfelin.  The archaeologists also discovered an eight-tonne elongated slab of rhyolite not far from 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, but they suggest that it 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 features referred to by the archaeologists as evidence of human quarrying activity (pivots, props, scratches, "railway lines", hammer stones, platforms, revetments and so forth) are entirely natural.  There are no artefacts, bones or tools.  We are also increasingly convinced that the rhyolite debris at Stonehenge comes 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."


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

Dr Brian John
Tel: 01239-820470


Press Notice
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

Sunday 24 January 2016

Anglian Irish Sea Glacier limits

This is the BGS map of Welsh ice limits, compiled from various sources.  On it, I have modified the Devensian Irish Sea ice limit in western Pembrokeshire, since it was clearly wrong as published in the Welsh Regional Geology book (2007).

Of much more interest, from the point of view of Stonehenge studies, are the Anglian ice limits as shown by the orange arrows beyond the Devensian ice edge.  We are talking here about an event around 450,000 years ago.  On the map below I have transposed the ice direction arrows on a map which takes an oblique look at SW Britain, showing how the ice might have been channelled or directed by topography.  The yellow arrows show postulated ice movement directions (pretty well supported now by abundant studies) and the extent of Welsh ice at the time.  I have also added postulated isolated small ice caps over Dartmoor, Bodmin Moor, Mendip and Exmoor.  There may have been other perennial ice masses and snowfields as well.

Note that I have refrained from showing ice margins in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, since this is still a matter of some debate.  But since there are presumed glacial deposits at Greylake, it would have been a very strange matter indeed if the lobe of Irish Sea Ice which pressed into the depression now occupied by the Somerset Levels had not pressed at least as far eastwards as Glastonbury.  What we need now is some hard evidence in place of speculation.....

It's possible that the Welsh Ice Cap of Anglian times was larger than that of Devensian times.  It is also possible that the Anglian ice pushed well inland from the present north coast of Devon and Cornwall -- indeed this is suggested by the erratic distributions which have been described by Paul Madgett.  Just put "Paul Madgett" into the search box if you want to see the relevant posts.

Thursday 21 January 2016

Danger -- magic stone collectors at work.........

I have sent this statement to Phil Bennett at Pembs Coast National Park, in response to a note from him about concerns expressed by the PCNPA Rangers who keep an eye on Preseli.  Phil plans to use this and other statements from interested parties (including Geoff Wainwright) in order to try and stop the stone collecting activities of people who should know better........

It appears that in recent months more and more walkers who have been following the "Golden Road" route along the crest of Mynydd Preseli have been stopping off at Carn Menyn (Carn Meini) and chipping off bits of spotted dolerite as keepsakes or momentos of their visit.  Personally, I am also concerned that some people might have been taking away samples of rock for use in the manufacture of jewellery which is then sold via web sites on the grounds that the bluestones have magical or healing properties.  One web site advertises "Preseli bluestone" as having "a powerfully magic aura, giving focus, stability and anchoring into the Earth's energy"  -- and it claims that its stones have all come from "the type locality" on Preseli.  Another site says: "Now you can own a piece of genuine Stonehenge stone taken from its original source in the Preseli Hills."  Yet another site sells small broken lumps of spotted dolerite for £50 on the basis that they have healing properties.  Spotted dolerite jewellery is even sold in the gift shop of the Stonehenge Visitor Centre!  So it appears that there is quite deliberate commercial exploitation going on, with esoteric web sites directing people towards Carn Menyn and entrepreneurs actually taking away stones from the crags for use in their business enterprises.  This is illegal, since the crags lie within an SSSI.

Whatever one might think about the healing or magical properties of spotted dolerite, I am mystified by the focus on Carn Menyn.  It has been claimed in the past as the site of a "Stonehenge bluestone quarry" -- although that claim is now hotly disputed in academic circles.  The spotted dolerite at Carn Menyn is no more beautiful and exotic than the spotted dolerite seen in scores of other sites throughout eastern Preseli.  As far as I am concerned, we have at Carn Menyn  a group of very beautiful dolerite crags, affected by ice and frost action, which tell us a good deal about the landscape history of the area and which contribute hugely to the beauty and special character of the mountain landscape.  There is no reason at all why anybody would wish to chip off lumps of rock from these crags and take them away, doing severe damage to the landscape, since identical spotted dolerites are found abundantly in all of the hedgerows and gardens of the countryside to the south of the hills.  There are a good many to the north as well.  So my message to those who want to go rock-hunting at Carn Menyn is this: "Please leave the rocks alone and leave the landscape as you found it.  And if you are really desperate for a piece of spotted dolerite, get it (with permission) from a farmed landscape well away from the hills, from a location where boulders and stones are being cleared from fields."

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Gatepost evolution......

Specially for our friends in Russia who love all this gatepost stuff, here is a nice photo taken today -- from a roadside near Cwm Gwaun in Pembrokeshire.  An old dolerite gatepost complete with hole and rusty hinge, and a new wooden one which has taken its place -- with the old stone one still used for extra stability.

Monday 18 January 2016

A giant among gateposts

I think I know why so many people from Russia are interested in gateposts -- probably it is because Google is leading them to the site, to posts dealing with the "Russia Stones" which I have discusseed on several occasions........  use the search box to find those posts that are relevant.

The Russia Stones are indeed magnificent -- named after a cottage in the vicinity, which is now in ruins.  The biggest stone is over 4m long, and it weighs more than 8 tonnes.  Here is a pic which I took a few years ago.

Dolerite Gateposts near Garnffoi

For the gate post lovers of the world (and Russia in particular) here is a picture of a pair of standing stones / gate posts at the roadside near Garnffoi, about a mile from Newport.  These stones are about 2m high, and they are very stable indeed -- so each one might well be about 3m long.  Note the twin holes drilled in each one -- rather too close together, one would have thought, for gate hinges.  Could it be that there was a sort of hooking mechanism, from which a detachable hurdle or gate could be easily removed and replaced again?  Advice from some old rural codgers would be appreciated....

While I am about it, I discovered this splendid gate today, up on the edge of Carningli Common.  Sadly, it was not hung onto bluestone pillars.......

Sunday 17 January 2016

Bluestone shapes: the Stonehenge builders did NOT hunt for elongated pillars

 "Typical" bluestones at Stonehenge -- the most common stone shapes are (1) boulders, (2) slabs, and (3) stumpy pillars.  The "ideal" elongated pillars are actually very rare at Stonehenge, possibly because not many stones of this shape were able to survive glacial transport..

Following on from yet another statement (in the latest edition of "Current Archaeology") that the builders of Neolithic stone monuments such as Stonehenge (and the putative "proto-Stonehenge" which will no doubt be traced to Bedd Arthur) actually had a preference for elongated pillars of dolerite, it's worth pointing out that this is nonsense.  In the "Current Archaeology" article, Mike Parker Pearson suggests that his imaginary bluestone quarrymen were targetting "tall, thin, natural pillars" at Carn Goedog in particular, which were "perfect raw material for standing stones".  He even suggests that a tall pillar of foliated rhyolite was extracted from  a wondrous recess near the tip of the Rhosyfelin "quarry" as well. 

However, out of 43 known bluestones at Stonehenge, there are only six elongated pillars -- all in the remnants of the bluestone horseshoe.  They are numbered 150, 61, 62, 63, 69 and 70.  There are a couple of other bluestones in the bluestone circle that might optimistically be referred to as "stumpy pillars" -- but the rest are simply boulders or slabs of various shapes and sizes. 

I have done a lot on this blog already on the subject of bluestone shapes.  Just type in "bluestone shapes" or "bluestone erratics"  to pick up on some of the posts.  See also this:

and the "Stones of Stonehenge" website:

On the latter site you can see many illustrations of the stones, from all sorts of different angles. It is often assumed that the bluestone stumps found in both the bluestone circle and bluestone horseshoe settings were elongated pillars; but there is no logic in this thinking, and they are more likely to have been slabs or boulders like most of the remaining standing and fallen stones.

Clearly there was a degree of selection of "elongated" bluestones for the final stone setting at Stonehenge -- but that is best interpreted as a "design" decision made by the builders at the time, based on an assessment of the resources that they had available.  And those resources -- as we have said many times before -- were really rather limited:  namely a mottley collection of glacial erratics of all shapes and sizes, collected up from somewhere in the Salisbury Plain landscape.  They gathered up as many stones as they could find, and then gave up on the enterprise, and had to make the best use of what they had,

The idea that the Neolithic builders of Stonehenge actually went to West Wales with a view to finding splendid elongated pillars  -- or that they or some subordinate or superior tribe brought in such pillars from a preexisting stone monument in Wales -- is pure fantasy, and is best forgotten about.

Saturday 16 January 2016

Neolithic Quarrying: conflating the issues

One of the reasons why the archaeologists at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog have gone so seriously astray is that they have conflated, in a manner which is scientifically indefensible, three very different issues.  

In the "Stonehenge bluestone debate" there are three essential problems that have to be addressed:

1.  In the bluestone source areas: what were the mechanisms of entrainment / quarrying / stone collection?
2.  En route:  what were the transport mechanisms?
3.  At the bluestone destination area around Stonehenge:  how were the monoliths and other stones deposited and then used?

For many years now, bits and pieces of progress on one or another of these issues have been used to inform or influence opinions and pronouncements on one or another of the other issues.  One can understand how and why this has happened,  but one can, I hope, also see the dangers.  For example, right through the literature on Stonehenge we see this sort of argument:  "Since the builders of Stonehenge were clearly very clever at measuring things and aligning things and moving very heavy stones into and onto complex structures, they were clearly also smart enough to quarry the stones from West Wales if they had wanted to, and smart enough to carry 80 large monoliths on rafts or rollers from Pembrokeshire to Stonehenge, if they had wanted to......" There is a certain logic in all of that, but none of it is based on actual scientific evidence, and it is based upon speculation rather than observation.

Similarly we see this sort of argument -- from geologists as well as from archaeologists:  "Because there are no known moraines or scattered bluestone erratics on Salisbury plain, this shows that the glacial transport hypothesis is indefensible, and this shows that there must have been human transport of the stones, and this in turn shows that the stones must have been quarried in their source areas."  Now that is a pretty convoluted and cockeyed piece of twisted logic -- but it has been subscribed to with all seriousness by scores of researchers and writers ever since the days of HH Thomas.  All of the recent work at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog is predicated upon the assumption that glacial transport of the bluestones was impossible, and that the human transport hypothesis (being the only alternative hypothesis in town) must be true and verifiable.  So the hypothesis has turned into a ruling hypothesis, and the field research programme by Mike Parker Pearson and his colleagues has turned into an exercise in ruling hypothesis validation or confirmation.

So opinions relating to bluestone transport and deposition / use have been been called up in aid of an answer to a quite different question -- namely that of "how were the stones removed from their source or provenance sites?"  So instead of moving in on these sites with a view to describing what is there to be seen, the archaeologists have moved in on them with the express purpose of finding "engineering installations" and other traces of quarrying -- in other words, with the purpose of finding and describing what they wanted to find.  Biased, unscientific, unprofessional, irrational, naive -- or deliberately manipulative and designed to misrepresent the features on the ground?  Take your pick as to the words you want to use.   John, Dyfed and myself have already accused the archaeologists of creating "archaeological artifices" in the pursuit of their dream.

Let's not forget that as soon as the archaeologists had started digging at Rhosyfelin they were describing it in the most colourful terms as a "Neolithic bluestone quarry".   The process of reinforcing the myth has continued, at an accelerating pace, ever since, culminating in the publication of three highly contentious and poorly presented papers in recent months, in "Antiquity", "British Archaeology" and "Current Archaeology".  No doubt the big "National Geographic" feature article is still to come.........

It was because of our concerns about the cockeyed logic and the inbuilt bias in the archaeological digs that we three earth scientists decided to look very carefully at what was on the ground and to describe it as dispassionately as we could, without any assumptions relating to the likelihood of human or glacial transport of the stones.  (Question number two, in my list of three, deserves separate consideration, in a separate paper currently in the pipeline.)  Our conclusions, as described in two peer-reviewed papers, are that the landforms and deposits at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog are entirely natural and unspectacular, and that they owe nothing whatsoever to prehistoric human quarrying activities.

In conclusion, let's look at these three questions in reverse order.

3.  At the bluestone destination area around Stonehenge:  how were the monoliths and other stones deposited and then used?   

There is really no disagreement about this -- we are all agreed that the stones were gathered up from a larger or smaller area on Salisbury Plain, moved into position by human agency, and then placed into various settings a over a long history of occupation in the Late Neolithic / Bronze Age period.  Nobody knows how many stones were used, either sarsens or bluestones.  As far as the bluestone monoliths are concerned, there were at least 43 of them, of many shapes, sizes and lithologies.  So -- essentially, abundant evidence and broad agreement.


2.  En route:  what were the transport mechanisms? 

On this, we know that the ice of the Irish Sea Glacier flowed across West Wales, up the Bristol Channel and into Somerset on at least one occasion.  The evidence is on the ground, and is described in the peer-reviewed literature, so there is really no dispute about it.  The dispute relates to a different question:  how far to the east did the glacier ice progress?  In other words, did it reach Salisbury Plain?  On that one, the jury is still out.  But only the most foolhardy of glaciologists or geomorphologists would use the word "impossible" as part of an answer.  On the human transport mechanism, we know even less, since no evidence on the ground has ever been found to reinforce the assumptions made about trackways, rafts, rollers, sledges, ropes and a host of other issues -- including motivations.  I have highlighted the problems associated with the human transport hypothesis on many occasions, as follows:  

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.  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 can 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 is questionable.  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. 
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.
8.  Neither has it been shown that the Stonehenge builders had the geographical awareness and navigational ability to undertake long and highly complex journeys with very heavy loads. 
9.  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.
10.  Analyses of bluestone monolith stone shapes does not suggest that elongated “pillars” were preferred.  Slabs, stumps and boulders of all shapes and sizes are highly suggestive of a glacial erratic assemblage.

At the end of all of this, let's be charitable and say that the jury is still out on how an ill-assorted  collection of stones of all shapes and sizes travelled from West Wales to Salisbury Plain.

1.  In the bluestone source areas: what were the mechanisms of entrainment / quarrying / stone collection?

If we are trying to employ any sort of scientific logic in finding an answer to this question, we need to undertake research in those areas which seem to be the source areas of some of the Stonehenge monoliths, and describe what we see.   Dyfed, John and I have done just that, and have discovered some interesting things which incline us towards the suggestion that glacial entrainment of stones of all shapes and sizes would have been possible during at least two different glacial episodes.  We would put things no more strongly than that.

As an interesting aside, one of the referees who reported on one of our papers (we assume he/she must have been an archaeologist) submitted to the editor a set of comments that had nothing whatsoever to do with our paper as written, but concentrated entirely on the perceived shortcomings of the glacial transport thesis.  Naturally enough, both the journal editor and we three authors entirely ignored the comments.

In contrast to the earth science approach, the archaeologists have moved in on two sites with all trumpets blaring, with the intention of describing what they wanted to see, predicated upon unreliable answers to questions that were irrelevant to the matter in hand.  How on earth did they manage to ditch so comprehensively the scientific method and to leave themselves so vulnerable to scientific scrutiny?  Answers on a postcard please.......

Tuesday 12 January 2016

CBA pitches in to culture debate

Thanks to Tony for flagging this up in one of our discussion threads.  Interesting.  The CBA has pitched in to the Government's culture debate:

Quote:  CBA Director Mike Heyworth said:
"The Culture White Paper has the potential to be a positive, high level, statement on how Government perceives the value of culture and heritage to our society. We hope that it will provide a strong indication that the Government is committed to tackling current issues and outline a plan for how we should protect and enhance culture and heritage in the context of the challenges of public spending reform."

On the  web page link above, you can find the PDF of the CBA letter.  It's quite long and detailed,  and as one might expect, it flags up the social and cultural importance of archaeology in creating national pride and "heritage awareness"  and in what is referred to over and again as "place making."  As a geographer, I can appreciate that -- and a sense of place has to be an important component of any happy society.  There's a lot about public engagement, heritage management, planning issues and so forth -- and references to "historic environment advisers" and other officers who may for the most part work within the local authority network.

Quote:  "Britain has a reputation as one of the pioneers in the field of archaeology and has, in the past, led the world in the development of regulatory protections for cultural heritage. As a point of national pride, Britain should be stepping up in the international arena to ensure that it maintains this reputation and can take a leadership role in the 21st century exploration of themes of cultural heritage, identity, and cultural property protection; developing the role, remit, and significance of archaeology, and cultural heritage in the European Union, Commonwealth, and the wider world."

What interests me here is that the letter focusses on the reputation of Britain as a place having a fine historical heritage and having good regulations in place for protection, management -- and, dare I say it, promotion and marketing.  There is virtually nothing in the letter about the reputation of archaeology itself, about its status as an an academic discipline, or about the reliability and status of the archaeological research community.  This is the point at which I begin to worry.  Of course I want archaeology to thrive as a discipline, since there is a vast fund of goodwill towards it among the members of the public -- but for how long will that goodwill survive if archaeology loses its reputation for scholarship and academic rigour; decides that storytelling, media exposure and marketing become more important than careful research and peer-reviewed publishing; and operates inside a bubble, ignoring the contributions to research that can come from related science-based disciplines?

If the Neolithic quarry pantomime is anything to go by,  archaeology really needs to get its house in order before trying to convince the government that it deserves respect as a serious academic discipline and that it should have a substantial level of funding from the public purse.

New video on the "Quarry" digs

A new video has been placed onto the Vimeo (Heritage Daily) web site by Adam Stanford and Aerial-Cam, promoting the work of the MPP team at Craig Rhosyfelin and carn Goedog.  Luckily there is no commentary, so we can just enjoy the pictures, which have presumably been acquired from drone cameras.

The title is of course unfortunate, since there is no hard evidence that shows that any of the bluestone monoliths at Stonehenge have actually come from Craig Rhosyfelin.  But why let the truth get in the way of a jolly video?

The video sequences from the two sites show the extent of the digs, the archaeologists beavering away, and the complete lack of any prehistoric "arrangements" or "installations" that might reasonably be considered as having been man-made.

The only quarrying ever to have gone on at these sites is the quarrying you see in the video.

Monday 11 January 2016

Geologists and Neolithic Quarries

Back in the bad old days, there was no such thing as geomorphology.  Around 1900 the people who were interested in the shape of the land and the nature of landforms were for the most part geologists;  but by 1950 a new science had emerged, following the lead of giants like WM Davies, Wooldridge and Linton, and after that the subject evolved with a strong emphasis on spatial relationships and the quantification of the links between process, space and form. More and more geographers were attracted by the subject as it emerged, and by 2000 it's probably due to say that there was a strong emphasis on the horizontal, with the understanding of landscape in all its complexity as the ultimate goal.  In contrast, "physical geology" -- popularised by texts such as those of John Allen and Arthur Holmes -- had, as its justification, a more sophisticated understanding of the nature of rocks.  In other words, the emphasis was on the vertical -- on stratigraphy and environmental / sedimentological / igneous / metamorphic changes through time. 

That's a crude representation of the differences between geomorphology and physical geology, but to some degree it explains why very few geologists have become immersed in the problems of UK glaciation and periglaciation and in the Quaternary evolution of the British landscape.  After all, from a geological standpoint, glacial geomorphologists are just looking at the scratchings on the surface of the earth, and at a very thin layer of icing on a very thick cake.  In response, geomorphologists will argue that what is deep down is of interest for economic geology and for influencing the operation of surface processes to a variable extent, but that man lives and works in the biosphere, on a land surface which influences his operations in a multitude of ways and which therefore needs to be understood.

But if you are an archaeologist seeking to understand the nature of the landforms and sediments in an area of known Quaternary glaciation, whose advice do you seek?  That of a geologist specialising in petrology, or that of a geomorphologist?  A no-brainer, one would have thought........

Anyway, for better or for worse, no geomorphologists have been actively involved in the recent digs at Carn Goedog or Craig Rhosyfelin, and there has been no geomorphological input into the reporting of field results.  The two geologists who have been involved, Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins, are specialists in petrology and geochemistry who have made enormous contributions in recent years to our understanding of the sources for the Stonehenge bluestone orthostats and the debris found in and around Stonehenge.  We owe them a debt of gratitude on that.  Some of their articles can be read here:

For the most part, the two geologists have been very circumspect when referring to the source areas for the spotted and unspotted dolerites, rhyolites and sandstones found at Stonehenge, and they have in the past studiously avoided any references to quarrying or to the human transport of monoliths.  So academic rigour and impartiality have been maintained...........  However, in the recent "Antiquity" article they are listed as joint authors, and that means that they share corporate responsibility for the contents of the whole paper and for its conclusions.  Their inclusion in the authorship team has helped to give that team gravitas and credibility.  As readers of this blog will know, I'm less than impressed with the paper, which comprehensively ignores all the protocols of scientific publishing and reads simply as an exercise in ruling hypothesis confirmation. Involvement in it will, I suspect,  not have done the reputations of Rob and Richard any good at all:

 Their part of the paper is carefully considered and largely reports on material already in print, and I have no great problem with it apart from the over-optimistic claim that some of the foliated rhyolite fragments at Stonehenge have been provenanced to within a few square metres of the Rhosyfelin rock-face, and that the famous "monolith extraction recess" near the tip of the spur has some significance.  We have discussed all of that before, at length, so we won't go there again! 

But what I have found disappointing is the willingness of the two geologists to become involved in the promotion of the quarrying thesis via press releases and the media.  For example, we have Rob talking about IKEA (!!) and about the manner in which their research promotes the human transport thesis to the detriment of the glacial transport thesis.  These are just two of a multitude of articles which refer to the involvement of the geologists.

There are too many to list, but it's interesting that many articles refer to the research by a "team of archaeologists and geologists".  That label, of course, adds credibility and respectability to the quarry hunt, and as mentioned above it has suited the archaeologists very well indeed. But my understanding is that Rob and Richard have had hardly any involvement in the work at Craig Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog, apart from the collection of samples and some observations on the detailed geology of the foliated rhyolites and the spotted dolerites by Richard, and the detailed petrography and petrology (including thin section analysis) by Rob.  Because of that very limited output, I'm rather surprised that they allowed themselves to be talked into participation in a paper that might well come back to haunt them........

Anyway, they are almost (but not quite) back to their cautious best again in the short article which appears after the MPP article in the latest edition of "Current Archaeology."  The reference is this:

Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins, 2016.  "Go West --the search for the bluestone quarries."  Current Archaeology 311 (2016), pp 23-24.

This is the latest of a number of popular / glossy articles for non-specialist consumption that Richard and Rob have written.  We'll allow them some leeway in their phraseology, because these "pop" articles have in all cases been preceded by proper specialist articles in the peer-reviewed literature.  That is the way things should be done. (And that is why I am so disappointed that MPP and his team have by-passed that process entirely, going straight into print in "Antiquity",  "British Archaeology" and "Current Archaeology" without any prior research reports and expecting the rest of us to believe all their unsupported speculations and their fantasies.)

Back to the latest Ixer/Bevins article.  Shall we forgive them for the references to quarries and quarrying in the title and first paragraph?  Maybe.  Let's assume that they were poorly advised by the editor.  But then they refer to quarrying again......  and in the conclusion they say:  "There is clearly still much to learn here, but as work on the Preseli quarries continues, we hope that our detailed petrology will help to resolve the ongoing debate about how the bluestones arrived at Stonehenge and from exactly where."  

Sorry, but on second thoughts, forgiveness is not in order.  The geologists should be more careful about what they say and who they choose as their academic friends.


Saturday 9 January 2016

Ramsey Island Geology

When we think about erratic transport routes etc, Ramsey Island often comes into the conversation.  With good reason, since there are some quite interesting rock outcrops there.......

Previous post:

If you want to check on other discussions, you can find them on this blog just by entering "Sleek Stone" or "Flat Holm" or "Ramsey Island" into the search box.

The above map and key come from the excellent -- but rather specialised -- British Regional Geology volume for Wales.  The igneous rocks here are approx the same age (around 463 million years old) as those belonging to the Fishguard Volcanic series (Llanvirn: Ordovician) on the northern flank of Mynydd Preseli.  Of particular interest are the igneous tocks from the southern part of the island -- including porphyritic rhyolites, turbiditic tuffs, ash fall tuffs, ash flow tuffs, and brecciated lavas.  Then there is a big microtonalite mass on the NW flank of the island.

For many years it has been known that these rock outcrops have provided entrained material for the overriding Irish Sea Glacier -- on at least two occasions -- and that erratics from Ramsey are widespread.  The super-erratics near the Sleek Stone, Broad Haven, have almost certainly come from Ramsey, and from our 2014 trip to Flat Holm we have strong suspicions that there is a lot of Ramsey material there too.  Sid Howells is hoping to take a careful look at the collected samples this spring -- so watch this space!

 A fabulous "Visit Wales" image of Ramsey Island -- view from the SE.  The igneous rocks are concentrated in the southern (nearest) part of the island, and on the west (left) side of the island, where the hills of Carnllundain and Carnysgubor are located.  Click to enlarge.

Friday 8 January 2016

800,000 page views.........

While I was watching the rugby on the telly this evening we went through the 800,000 barrier.  It's good to see that so many people visit the blog on a regular basis.  Glad to have your company, folks!

Page views are coming from all over the world, but I notice from the stats that most page views in the last week were from Russia (almost 1200), followed by USA (about 1100) and then UK (about 950).  Why are so many people in Russia interested in the blog?  Very mysterious.......

Thursday 7 January 2016

The Emperor marches on.......

The latest article from Mike Parker Pearson:
Parker Pearson, M. 2016.  "Secondhand Stonehenge?  Welsh Origins of a Wiltshire monument."  Current Archaeology 311 (2016), pp 18-22.

Sorry folks -- but if you don't like polemics, look away now.  In my defence, somebody who knows the territory has to do it...........

Even before we get to the article, the header says "Bluestone Quarries" -- so we know we are in for the same treatment as we got in the case of the "British Archaeology" article.  And of course we get it -- with no attempt at boring things like the presentation and analysis of evidence, this is another exercise in ruling hypothesis confirmation. 

Quote:  "Although a Pembrokeshire origin for the bluestones was first proposed almost a century ago, only recently have geologists Richard Bevins and Rob Ixer definitively pinned down three areas on and around the Preseli hills where they were quarried (see p.23)."    Wrong.  They have pinned down three areas from which some of the bluestones and some of the fragments in the debitage might have come -- mo more than that.

Quote:  "...we have excavated two of these (quarries), at Craig Rhos-y-Felin (where the rhyolites come from).........."  Wrong.  No rhyolite orthostats have been provenanced to Rhosyfelin -- only some fragments in the Stonehenge debitage.

Quote:  "........We began our excavations at Carn Goedog in 2014, digging three test trenches along its southern edge where tall, thin, natural pillars in the rock face – perfect raw material for standing stones – were accessible through the surrounding scree."  That is a highly misleading statement -- there are elongated slabs and pillars everywhere, no more or no less accessible than  those which the archaeologists seek to invest with significance.  To suggest that there were designated "routes" through the scree is mischievous and designed to mislead.

Quote:  ".......Much of this surface had been subjected to early modern quarrying, we quickly found, as evidenced by drill holes in the shattered rock, and the discovery of a late 18th century coin........."    I remain to be convinced that these drill holes have anything to do with quarrying in historical times, since I cannot see what purpose these holes might have had.  The holes were certainly not designed to take explosive charges, but were they designed to take expanding metal bolts to assist with transport?  That's a possibility, but I still prefer the hypothesis that they have been drilled by geologists or geophysicists in the process of taking samples or affixing instruments....... or maybe they date from WW2, when lookout posts and radio installations were located on many Preseli tors.  As for the coin, that does nothing to demonstrate quarrying here.  A major drovers' route ran right through the gap between the tor and the hillside above, in the late 1700's and early 1800's, and I would expect a systematic search to reveal quite a few traces of this activity.  Maybe even a dead ox or two............

Quote:  " area seems to have escaped this later disturbance, and it is here that we found traces of much earlier stone extraction. In this spot we could see where whole pillars had been removed from the rock face, a technique completely different to that used by the post-medieval quarrymen, who tended to break up the rock into blocks. It was evidence for prehistoric activity on a remarkable scale."   Sorry, but that is all speculation, and having examined the site carefully, on many occasions, I don't accept any of it.  There is no convincing evidence for either this prehistoric removal of "whole pillars"  or for the supposed quarrying techniques of later quarrymen.

Quote:  ".....At Carn Goedog, there were several recesses in the rock face where we could clearly see that multiple pillars had been extracted, and one in particular caught our attention, where four or five pillars had already been harvested from this spot, and four more were still in situ, ready to be removed."  Again, this is all fantasy -- nothing worthy of being called "evidence" is provided in support of any of it. 

From this point on, we are on familiar territory -- the points made are very similar to those in the "British Archaeology" article and the "Antiquity" article which I have already scrutinised:

There are unsupported assertions on almost every line of the text, and it is really not worth the effort of going over all of it again.  There is even a fantastical description of the techniques that the "quarrymen" used, with their ropes and platforms, stone props and trestles, sledges, levers and pivots, wedge holes and "pick-shaped flakes of dolerite" (what on earth are these supposed to be, and what makes them unique on a tor subjected to millennia of frost-shattering processes?).  It's all very reminiscent of the speculations applied to Rhosyfelin in the "British Archaeology" and "Antiquity" articles -- and just as unconvincing.

As we have said before, the radiocarbon dates cited in this article simply demonstrate a long history of intermittent occupation.  There is no way of linking any of the dates to actual prehistoric quarrying activity.

The section of the article headed "Rolling Stones?" contains nothing new.  We see the usual unsupported assertions and assumptions, and again the radiocarbon dates cited do nothing to demonstrate a chronology for supposed quarrying activity. 

The final section of the article is again unsurprising, and flags up (once again) the exciting news that 2016 will be the year for the great search for a proto-Stonehenge "on a plateau between the two quarries."  The archaeologists have to find somewhere for 80 or so bluestones to have been parked for 400 years before being taken off to Stonehenge and placed in the Aubrey Holes.  Are we, the taxpayers of this beleaguered land, supposed to finance all of this?

It really is quite wearisome, having to scrutinise yet another glossy magazine article devoid of any scholarly rigour, which is nothing more than a beautifully presented "quarry promotion exercise".  

Why do I need to make the above points, when they should have been made by referees during a proper peer review process?  Why do magazine editors not insist on minimal academic standards in articles such as this?  So the prehistoric bluestone quarrying myth is promoted with ever-increasing vigour, even though there is no hard evidence in support of it either at Rhosyfelin or at Carn Goedog.

Are there no archaeologists in the UK who are prepared to stand up and point out that the Emperor is wearing no clothes?

Wednesday 6 January 2016

The joys of dereliction

I've been enjoying my time browsing through an amazing collection of photos taken by Paul White -- who has made it a life's work to document derelict buildings in Wales -- and in Ceredigion in particular.  You can look at his galleries here:

They are all in there -- chapels and churches, farmhouses, woollen mills, slate mines, grand country houses, schools, cottages, and even garages and sheds.  This is clearly where the inspiration for the BBC crime drama "Hinterland" came from......

More about Bayvil

One of the strange things about the blogging business is that you never know which blog posts are going to be popular.  I noticed that this rather innocuous post has had 115 views already:

I thought it was entirely unremarkable, but it has had far more views than many much more contentious items -- so do the viewers know more that we think they know?  I wonder what the source of the interest is?

Anyway, at the head of this post I have put a couple of photos of the old Bayvil Church, not far from that gatepost / standing stone, since it is one of the most wonderful (de-sanctified) churches in Pembrokeshire.  On the outside it just looks like a Victorian rebuild, but inside it's quite splendid.  "Minimalist" is the word that springs to mind.  There is no internal decoration at all.  It's complete with box pews for the commoners, an old flagstone floor, a private box pew for the local lord of the manor, a raised pulpit and a medieval stone font.  If anybody from the local area has not visited the church, please do so -- you will be delighted!

In the upper photo the strange thing that looks like a ladder is the bier that was used to carry coffins and corpses into the church from the lane at the edge of the churchyard........

Tuesday 5 January 2016

Neolithic bluestone quarries -- why would anybody bother?

Yesterday I was wandering around in the Llanychaer - Dinas area, and I was struck (not for the first time) by the sheer abundance of large boulders of several rock types and of all shapes and sizes that are still littering the landscape. In some places this litter is present because beneath the turf there is a periglacial blockfield.  In other cases we are looking at the surface of a Devensian till spread, or even the remnants of morainic features.   Admittedly the area south of Dinas is a rather remote upland area that has been recently enclosed -- so not everything has been removed from the fields -- but even where enclosures date back to the 1700's or beyond, the boulder "litter" is still impressive.  The hedgerows and boundary walls are full of stones, and pillar-shaped stones are abundant.  Most of them are recumbent, but some have been erected as standing stones or used more recently as gateposts.

So why, in a landscape littered with thousands of potential monoliths or orthostats, would anybody (in the Neolithic or at any other time) want to go to difficult locations like Carn Meini, Carn Goedog or Rhosyfelin, and wedge and lever large stones out of a rock face just in order to take them away and use them somewhere else in stone settings?  You might argue that the stones from those places were somehow superior in shape, or size, or colour, or texture, to stones from other places -- but that does not stack up.  As I have repeatedly said on this blog, there is no record anywhere of stones from specific locations being preferentially used in Pembrokeshire or anywhere else, or even targetted as quarries because of their "pillar shape".  OK -- so maybe the "quarry sites" themselves were deemed sacred by the local Neolithic tribesmen?  That doesn't stack up either -- as many observers have noted (Burl, Figgis and Burrow included) the Neolithic "monument builders" everywhere in Wales simply used what was at hand for the building of their cromlechs and other monuments.

In other words, quarrying in difficult places would have been a complete waste of time and effort, and in any case there is no evidence at all that it actually happened.  When our Neolithic ancestors needed stones, they simply picked them up from wherever it was convenient, within a landscape littered with big elongated stones. Economy of effort.  End of story.

The photos (from top to bottom):  Brynberian Moor; hillside above Newport; Carningli Common to the west of the crags; around Garn Turne; near Carn Edward.