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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

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