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Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Gordon Childe and the political unification theory

Thanks to Tony for pointing this out -- an MPP reference from 2013 in which he refers to Gordon Childe (1957) as the possible originator of the political unification theory as an explanation of the "fantastic feat" of removing 80 or so bluestones from west Wales to Stonehenge.

I'm not sure that what Childe was saying was all that original -- after all, Atkinson was arguing on similar lines in his famous book on "Stonehenge" in 1956 -- and HH Thomas, back in 1923, also pondered on the degree of "civilisation" that might be needed across western and southern Britain to provide a suitable context for the feats of our heroic ancestors.

The whole idea is nonsense, of course, because it is all based on circular reasoning.  The stones were indubitably moved by man, and therefore there must have been a high civilisation and a degree of political stability in order for the great project to have been completed successfully, and because a condition of "sacred peace" existed, it would therefore have been possible for people to move stones over great distances if they had wanted to.  And so on, and so on.  If, on the other hand, you have the temerity to doubt that the stones really were moved by man, the whole fantastical theory is nothing more than a damp squib, since there is nothing left to show its essential correctness.  Back to the drawing board.

Anyway, the extract is reproduced below.  Then we also have another statement (from 2013) of MPP's unshakeable conviction that Rhosyfelin is a Neolithic bluestone monolith quarry:  ".......we are currently excavating the quarry for one of the rhyolite monoliths whose debitage has been found at Stonehenge."  Talk about jumping into boiling hot water feet first ------ but some people pretend that they feel no pain!  And in the 3 years since 2013, things have moved on rather dramatically, with the quarrying hypothesis coming under unprecedented scrutiny because the "evidence" in support of it just does not hold up.

Parker Pearson, M.  2013.  Researching Stonehenge: Theories Past and Present.   Archaeology International, No. 16 (2012-2013): 72-83, DOI:
Researching Stonehenge: Theories Past and Present
Mike Parker Pearson

From p 74:  It had long been known that Stonehenge’s smaller monoliths – the bluestones – originated in the Preseli hills of west Wales and Childe theorized that their long-distance movement must have been the result of a cooperative effort that could only have taken place under special conditions: ‘This fantastic feat ... must illustrate a degree of political unification or a sacred peace ...’ (Childe, 1957: 331). This insightful observation, just like those of Petrie and Evans, was then forgotten by both archaeologists and the public at large.

MPP on p 80:  The conventional narrative about bringing the bluestones from the Preseli hills in west Wales includes their quarrying on the southern edge of those hills at Carn Meini (also known as Carn Menyn) and dragging them southwards to Milford Haven for transport by boat towards Salisbury Plain.  In contrast to this orthodox view, recent geological research by Rob Ixer (UCL Research Fellow) and Richard Bevins (National Museum of Wales) suggests that many of the bluestones came from the north side of the Preseli hills (Ixer and Bevins, 2011; Bevins et al., forthcoming). At Craig Rhos-y-felin in the Brynberian valley, a tributary of the Nevern, we are currently excavating the quarry for one of the rhyolite monoliths whose debitage has been found at Stonehenge (Fig. 7).


TonyH said...

Parker Pearson's report, in the UCL's "Discovery" series, is prefaced by this:-

"Over the years archaeologists connected with the Institute of Archaeology and UCL have made substantial contributions to the study of Stonehenge.......Two of the early researchers were Petrie and Childe...."

MPP seems to be seeking to give the unification theory an element of in - built authenticity by recalling how his UCL predecessor Gordon Childe {like MPP himself now) has made "this insightful observation" back in 1957.

It seems that, in MPP's bubble, it is of no account that geomorpholological and glaciological research OUTSIDE the Institute of Archaeology and UCL have taken place since 1957. But then he DOES operate within a closed hypothesis, where our ancestors were all heroic and swash - buckling.

Jon Morris said...

"The whole idea is nonsense, of course, because it is all based on circular reasoning."

The idea may be right, or perhaps on the right track, but the reasoning certainly does appear to be circular: He needs more evidence that is not contained within a circular argument. Will be interesting to see what happens next.