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Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my book called "The Bluestone Enigma" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Strange suggestion from "Current Archaeology".......



 One of Rodney Castleden's illustrations from his book.  Message to archaeologists: go forth into the countryside and find us some evidence of such a fine waggon train, and we might start to take you seriously.......


I'm just an occasional reader of "Current Archaeology", and I have not seen the piece from its columnist (Chris Catling?)  about the bluestone 'battle' in CA 312.  Somebody kindly sent me an extract, in which Chris says:  "Choosing his words with care, Dr John described the archaeological work at Craig Rhosyfelin and Stonehenge as an interesting piece of 'rock provenancing' that 'tells us nothing at all about how monoliths or smaller rock fragments found their way to Stonehenge from west Wales'.  He then goes on to assert that there is 'substantial evidence in favour of glacial transport and zero evidence in support of the human transport theory'."

I assume he is referring to the two articles by Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd, John Downes and myself, and our accompanying press releases, in which we do indeed make statements like that.  And we stand by them.  There is zero evidence in support of the human transport theory:  no sledges, ropes, rollers, tracks, rafts, boats, abandoned orthostats or anything else that might be considered "archaeological evidence" has ever been found between West Wales and Salisbury Plain to suggest any sort of human enterprise involving the long-distance transport of bluestones.  So there is no smoking gun.  Even if traces of quarrying were to be found in Rhosyfelin or Carn Goedog, that would not tell us anything about long-distance stone transport.

As for our statement that there is  "substantial evidence in favour of glacial transport", we stand by that too.  Much of this blog has been devoted to analysing the evidence, in the form of erratics and glacial deposits in Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and the Scilly Isles.  We are claiming that there is substantial evidence on the record to support the thesis that the ice of the Irish Sea glacier over-rode Preseli, flowed up the Bristol Channel and pressed well into Somerset.  We are not saying that the ice edge pushed as far east as Stonehenge, although we do think that is a possibility.  Is the bluestone assemblage at Stonehenge an assemblage of locally collected erratics?  From the shapes, lithologies and sizes of the stones, we think that's a distinct possibility.......

So on the glacial transport side, there is limited evidence on the ground to support it.  On the human transport side, there is nothing.  So the balance of possibilities is clearly in favour of glacial transport, for at least part of the bluestone journey from source to destination.

That having been said, I gather that Chris then "throws down the gauntlet" by saying that to clarify matters perhaps we three earth scientists could point to an unexploited glacial erratic in the vicinity of Stonehenge, while Mike Parker Pearson could send a team of students to haul a bluestone from west Wales.  With all due respect to Chris, that's rather a cockeyed way of looking at things. Are we looking for evidence here, or are we not?  If we are expected to find an "unexploited glacial erratic" in order to make our case, would it not be entirely reasonable to expect MPP and his colleagues to find an equivalent piece of hard evidence somewhere, in the form of a dressed and abandoned orthostat, or a sledge, or a stone-carrying boat preserved in the mud of the Severn Estuary? 

A bit of experimental archaeology involving the hauling of a stone would tell us precisely nothing about what actually happened.  Atkinson and his tame schoolboys did some jolly stone-moving back in the 1950's and many people have had fun doing similar experiments since then, but it gets none of us anywhere simply to carry on saying "We have shown that stones could probably have been moved by doing this, that or the other, and therefore that's what actually happened."  That's not field evidence, and it's not science.  That's fantasy.

3 comments:

TonyH said...

It's now St David's Day, Brian. Are you still on the Marrakesh Express, or are you back in Cymru, with a daffodil in your lapel, butty? I'll send you photocopies of Chris Catling's piece in the last issue of Current Archaeology shortly. Incidentally, Catling's article has produced no letters in response in the latest C.A., received yesterday.

And, yes, he was referring to one or other of the articles written by you and your two like - minded colleagues. HIS whole article comprised comments on various issues to do with Stonehenge at this moment in time.

Tony

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, safely back, thank you. Interesting experience rather than relaxing holiday! Marrakeh is pretty full-on, and not for the faint hearted, especially if you stay in one of the riads in the Medina or old city. We were there for 2 weeks, and sadly we both suffered from a horrible cold and cough for a week or so, so that made us feel a bit sorry for ourselves. But much to remember......

look forward to reading the comments -- but I assume I have the gist of them already, from assorted sources.

AG said...

Rather than get MPP and his students to haul a blue stone from West Wales to Stonehenge, It would add something to the debate if they could find a bluestone quarry in West Wales; as none have been found to date!