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Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The Rhosyfelin "Quarry" -- is common sense breaking out?


One of the AerialCam images of the Rhosyfelin dig site, 2015.

It appears that common sense might be breaking out.  In the new edition of "British Archaeology" (March / April 2016), on pages 12-13, there is a letter from John Sorrell with the title "Where are the Mauls?" it is a response to the article by Mike Parker Pearson et al in the last issue of the magazine, which we have already discussed at length:
http://brian-mountainman.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/the-new-britarch-article-by-mpp-et-al.html
It appears that we have at least one archaeologist who shares the view that there is no quarry at Rhosyfelin; probably the one who speaks out represents the views of a good many more......

I reproduce the letter below, with thanks to the magazine. It's worth looking at some of the points JS makes.

" I read the feature through straight away expecting to have my ideas reversed. But is seems as if pre-held ideas drive the interpretation." So it appears that John Sorrell, too, thinks that the quarry "discovery" is a non-event, based upon the over-zealous use of a ruling hypothesis.......

"As Craig Rhos-y-Felin is a perfect place to make a summer camp, some prehistoric activity should be expected."  Quite so -- exactly what Dyfed, John and I have been saying.

"Two important items were missing from the excavation:  mauls and chippings." Agreed.

"You would expect many tens (or hundreds) of mauls and huge amounts of chipped stone. Without these there is no case for quarrying."  Agreed.

"The occupation was dated to at least 300 years before bluestones appeared at Stonehenge: the statement that the stones loitered around in a local circle seems like special pleading."  Agreed.

 In making his "balancing" argument that the glacial transport hypothesis also has problems, JS says:
"It is not feasible that the “stone hunters” took every stone, and that they were all of the desired size and shape.  Somewhere there must be a moraine, now buried, from which the bluestones were obtained."   We will part company on this.  As I have said before, I think that the Stonehenge builders were looking for stones of some "desired size and shape" is not supported by the evidence.  The bluestones are a mottley collection of boulders, slabs and pillars that suggest that ALL the stones they could find, no matter what their characteristics might have been, were collected up, until there were no more left to gather.  And you do not need a "lost moraine" either.  As I have tried to explain many times on this blog, glacier snouts are not always marked by moraines.
 
"Although questioning the interpretation of these claims (by MPP and his team), I applaud the time and money going into this exercise."  I think I would disagree with that.  If vast budgets are being spent on archaeological research, on topics that are entirely fanciful with no secure underpinning in the form of preparatory work, God help us all.....

Where are the mauls?

Having had a long-time interest in the
origin of the Stonehenge bluestones,
I read the feature about quarries with
great enthusiasm (Jan/Feb 2016/146).
It is a story that always has had a
fascination for me.

I have come down on the side of the
glacial transport theory, having read
Brian John’s book (Books Nov/Dec
2009/109). Possessing a logic-driven
scientific mind, however, I am
perfectly willing to change my view
when confronted with sufficient
evidence. I read the feature through
straight away expecting to have my ideas
reversed. But is seems as if pre-held
ideas drive the interpretation.
As Craig Rhos-y-Felin is a perfect
place to make a summer camp, some
prehistoric activity should be expected.
The fireplace, orthostat and platform
are exactly what anyone living there
would do for themselves. There seems
to be no clear evidence that stones were
quarried from the rock face.
Why quarry at all when all around there
are shattered dolerite outcrops of all
sizes of stone ready to hand (look at
Carn Goedog)?

Two important items were missing from
the excavation:  mauls and chippings.  Stones
would most likely have been dressed on site to
reduce the weight for transport.  You
would expect many tens (or hundreds)
of mauls and huge amounts of chipped
stone. Without these there is no case
for quarrying. The “monolith” is a
product of glaciation; it is also, at 4m,
too big. The “threshold” stone is just
debris. The “lever point” stone is most
probably associated with household
living by the hut shelter occupants. The
“wedge” marks are more likely natural.
In my explorations over the Black
Mountains and Brecon Beacons of
many years, corners missing at fractures
in boulders are commonplace. The
occupation was dated to at least 300
years before bluestones appeared at
Stonehenge: the statement that the
stones loitered around in a local circle
seems like special pleading.

For balance, the major objection to
the glacial transport theory is the fact
that no relevant glacial debris has been
found anywhere between the Bristol
Avon area and the start of Salisbury
Plain. It is not feasible that the “stone
hunters” took every stone, and that they
were all of the desired size and shape.
Somewhere there must be a moraine,
now buried, from which the bluestones
were obtained. One day spotted dolerite
may turn up on a building site, but the
discovery will probably go unrecorded.

Although questioning the
interpretation of these claims, I
applaud the time and money going
into this exercise. It is only by finding
proof at the origin quarry or the glacial
moraine that the human transport
theory can be proved, so I look forward
to future excavations.

John Sorrell, Caerleon

11 comments:

TonyH said...

PeteG told us here a while back that he's been scouring the Amesbury urban area for signs of bluestone incorporated into buildings. Isn't that right, Pete?

Jon Morris said...

“I have come down on the side of the glacial transport theory, having read Brian John’s book (Books Nov/Dec 2009/109). Possessing a logic-driven scientific mind, however, I am perfectly willing to change my view when confronted with sufficient evidence.”

I have to admit that I did not have a leaning towards the 'long distance' glacial transport hypothesis (the 'short distance' glacial transport idea onto local rock-litter fields, followed by human transport, seems equally reasonable). A concern with the quarry paper is that is not entirely convincing, so may polarise opinion into “Quarry” versus “Long distance glacial” camps: It is not a logical necessity that one being wrong makes the other one true.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Of course the theories are not mutually exclusive -- the stones must have been picked up by human beings at some stage and moved to their present positions. The real question is how far were they moved? And from where?

Dave Maynard said...

Are mauls necessary at Rhosfelin? The inference from all the graphics with fingers pointing out the shape where the stone came from, is that it popped out ready formed and in the perfect shape for presentation at SH.

Economy of effort, don't waste time bashing the stone to shape, just carry it off to SH!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Tend to agree, Dave. I have always had doubts about the practicality of using large boulders for bashing even larger boulders into shape. Hammer stones I can understand -- they are manageable. But there is a serious limit to the size and useability of a maul, unless we are talking about Neolithic superhumans. Something weighing 10 kg would really be too heavy to use effectively, I would have thought.....

TonyH said...

John Sorrell seems to run a graphic design company at Caerleon called Isca Graphics. Incidentally, I lived there briefly in the 1970's.

Alex Gee said...

I remember viewing a programme (and have a book) about pre-Columbian Art in the

Caribean, central South America.

The focus was on the Olmecs and the "Olmec Heads" they produced.

A Professor of sculpture from one of the main London Art Schools did some

experiments using mauls to see if he could reproduce one of these "Olmec Heads"

using mauls. The rock was a hard /igneous/metamorphic rock; I forget which? But I

do recall that he came to a similar conclusion about the most efficient weight of

maul; <10kg.

Alex Gee said...

Alex Gee Said: This may have nothing to do with Stonehenge and the Ice age, but

perhaps my fellow commenters may wish to assist a genuine hero in the distribution

of scientific knowledge. Visit the page and contribute if you agree with this

philosophy. http://www.sciencealert.com/this-woman-has-illegally-uploaded-millions-

of-journal

I know that this philosophy causes Myris a fit of the vapours: He's already been

caught wandering around Alexandria sans drawers. Surely this is a step too far?

Free access to current scientific knowledge for poor working class scum? where will

it end? I can hear him scurrying around behind the scenes as I speak.

anxious to stamp this poisonous idea out before it spreads!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Alex -- that link is a dud. Can you send a correct link and then we can see what you are talking about......

AG said...

Sorry Brian
Was a link Henry Patton put on his twitter feed. I'll try again https://t.co/kySPPCxv2R

Cheers

Alex

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Alex -- tried it and got nowhere.......