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, 14 June 2016

The rise of mythomania?

I learned a new word today -- mythomania.  I was reading an article in The Observer, about this chap called Chappell, who bought BHS for £1 from Philip Green.  He was described by a former BHS consultant as a mythomaniac -- apparently a term describing someone with "a tendency to lie, exaggerate or relate incredible imaginary adventures as if they had really happened."  The article observed that Walter Mitty was rather like that.........  but it occurs to me that there might me a lot of mythomaniacs in the archaeological establishment as well, given that storytelling and media impact are now more important than scientific methods and respect for scholarship.


chris johnson said...

Welcome to modern Britain, says he after writing umpteen pieces about the Brexit mess in recent weeks.

Particularly worrying in the Brexit narrative is the facility with which one side has suddenly declared all data points invalid and all experts incompetent, AND that this point of view seems to be accepted by a media preoccupied with "balance" and by an electorate determine to express their feelings . Is this the Age of Reason?

The BHS saga is incredible too. Is nobody looking after our chickens?

TonyH said...

Walter Mitty, whom you mention as being referred to in comparison to this purchaser of BHS named Chappell,was brilliantly played by Danny Kaye in the film all those years ago.

By coincidence, Danny Kaye went on to record that song which well describes quite a few over - enthusiastic fanatasists "The King Was In The Altogether" - much played in the 1950's by Uncle Mac on BBC Children's Radio, perhaps as a salutary warning!

TonyH said...

As probably the only contributor to this Blog who subscribes to both the leading popular British Archaeology magazines and is also a fee - paying member of, and participant within the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, I disagree with Brian's last sentence "...storytelling and media impact are now more important than scientific methods and respect for scholarship".

I reckon the vast majority of those working in British archaeology are much more scrupulous in their approach to their Discipline than we seem to be experiencing amongst the rather inward - looking Team investigating and promulgating the so - called Bluestone quarries of Preseli.

Mable of Monmouth, i.e. Geoff's wife. said...

Doesn't the blog leader write stories in book form, and avoid all posts that go out-of-line with the glaciation theory which has less of a foundation in truth than Popeye the Sailor Man.

When it comes to the movement of stones from Preseli to Stonehenge, the best anyone can manage is a theory.

BRIAN JOHN said...

You are probably right, Tony. Yes, there are many good honest archaeologists at work, meticulously recording things and deserving credit and congratulation. But many of those archaeologists to whom I chat are themselves very worried about what is going on in their subject. Not just archaeology either -- my ex-colleagues in geography departments are saying the same thing. Negative results are of no interest to anybody, so you have to be positive and create positive stories, ignoring the fact that much scientific research turns up negatives. And impact is everything, even in geomorphology!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Dearest Mable

You have clearly not read this blog...... it is full of arguments and theories which do not accord with my own. Read it and then try to say something useful.

Mable said...

I must of read this blog somewhere along the line, and in the words of Hugh Pugh from Fishguard "I do know what I'm not talking about".

Nevertheless, 'Full of arguments and theories' is correct, but it is noticeable that all points of view that disagree with the glaciation theory are either ridiculed or swept aside, usually by the starting of a flurry of new topics; the greater the number of sidelines, the farther down the list goes the unwanted views. If the 'problem person' doesn't give in and continues to argue the point, then the discussion is conveniently closed.
But I don't suppose things will change much, which is a shame, for there were some interesting arguments put forward; come back Kostas, Robert John Langdon, GeoCur et al.
Best wishes,
Mrs. Monmouth, (only my friends call me Mable).

BRIAN JOHN said...

Dear Mrs Monmouth

Sorry to hear about the extent of your suffering. The only solution I can think of is for you to start your own blog (it's very easy to do) and then you can encourage as many experts, pseudo experts, nutters, trolls and shills to rant and rave on all sorts of topics, and you will all have enormous fun together.

Myris of Alexandria said...

Ah some (what is a shill??)readers of this blog are regular constant contributors to both Archy magazines and indeed to the Ferret club mag and a reluctant listener to gossip.
Both sides of the CRyf debate are in print and have been read and thought about by many interested archy and snowmen professionals and there is a consensus.
Sadly the world and its lustrous denizens are not going to beat a path to Brian's door. The various data are out there, excellent and well done but we all hate it when it is our turn to be a prophet (false or otherwise) in our own land, time to move on, generate more data (even look for an erratic - just one on the Druidical Plains). The "MPP is a money-grabbing myth-maker" farrow is now so deep and well worn that it is counter-productive to repeat it. Move on to something positive.
SH studies apart from the loopy ones (calendars are back this seem to be an annular event) are now centred on reworking the wonderful Northern Circles book and seeing the domestic in the transcendental.
The pet rock boys new Ferret Club paper is out soon sadly just good quality facts, it completes the igneous debitage papers after nearly 10 years.

chris johnson said...

Dear Ms Monmouth,
I do not buy the glaciation theory 100% and continue to post here. Fact is we do not know and should keep an open mind.

I regret that GeoCur no longer posts here. He had much information and wisdom to impart.
Kostas was trolling imho and has been banned from several blogs. No regrets.
RJL is doing his own thing to promote his own books and is easy to find if you want to learn from him

Unfair of you to make the allegations you make. Just saying ...

BRIAN JOHN said...

Myris -- there is a consensus? As usual, you cannot be serious, man! And what might that consensus be, and who are the people who supposedly sign up to it?

TonyH said...

Myris, welcome back to these parts, at least we KNOW it's you when you use THAT moniker.

Moniker or Mabel, whatever.....

The true legend, Clapton, performed "Badge" when George Harrison had written "Bridge" on a blank sheet as they wrote the lyrics together:-

".....Then I told you ' bout our kid, now he's married to Mabel...."

You think you're cryptic, Myris?....... eat your heart out!

As for there being a consensus?

Of course there's likely to be a consensus............ amongst like - minded, inward - looking, rather inbred ghetto dwellers who can't see beyond their own closed, so - called "ruling" hypothesis! Where are your University - employed glacial geomorphologists? That's right, isn't it, "I see no ships".

Your world is flat, or at best, two - dimensional. Come into the real world, where Geographers live.

TonyH said...

Myris, now you say you have finished your debitage debate, how do you, and your archaeological side - kicks, explain the very wide geographical distribution of the provenances of those rocks back on Preseli? Were our prehistoric predecessors searching "Here, There, & Everywhere" for those rocks, some of which may turn out to be very, VERY small within the wider Stonehenge landscape?

Let's face it, you adherents to the Human Transportation Theory just want to dig your heels in, adhere to the Century - old rhubarb, and simultaneously bury your heads in the sand (or whatever soil composition is closest). Face it, you all want to be POPULAR and LAUDED.....never mind any pecuniary benefits that may accrue.

M of Mon said...

Just to confirm, ----- I'm not suffering from mythomania, and I don't need looneys or nutters to have a laugh.
Once again you've side-stepped the point of my post i.e.changin the subject when the going gets awkward.

Mr Johnson, your thoughts have been noted, but not necessarily agreed with.
Try having a lengthy disagreement with Dr John, you'll find that we are then treated to several rapid posts on the theories of glaciation, ice on Dartmoor, or giant erratics around the world.

Dear Myris, your mention of Calendars is interesting, could you expand please?

Mable the translator.

Jon Morris said...

SH studies apart from the loopy ones .. are now centred on reworking the wonderful Northern Circles book and seeing the domestic in the transcendental.

Who do you believe is responsible for directing non-loopy Stonehenge Studies Myris? A book on Northern Circles and the transcendental seems very specific.

Like Brian above, I wondered who you think these people are.

BRIAN JOHN said...

M of Mon -- when does the going get awkward? I'm not aware of any occasions when anybody has come up with anything that really challenges my working hypothesis. What does happen occasionally (inevitable after more than 850,000 hits on the site) is that we get repetition -- and when the repetition becomes tiresome, I stop it. I do not add new posts in order to avoid awkwardness, but to introduce news and new papers etc that might be of interest to readers. I though that was what blogs are for...... if you are dissatisfied, feel free to wander off to somewhere else. If you want to stay, you could give us your name instead of hiding behind a cloak of anonymity.

TonyH said...


You may well realise that Myris's mention of a book on Northern Circles is probably one partially penned by Colin Richards, MPP's close companion regarding their joint archaeological work over a decade or two not only within the Stonehenge Riverside Project of the Noughties, but also those north of Inverness and, more particularly, on the northern Scottish islands such as Lewis and Orkney.

"Seeing the domestic in the transcendental" may relate to those Stonehenge researchers who have identified the copying of basic Neolithic house shapes within the architecture of Stonehenge and other stone circles e.g Darvill et al.

TonyH said...

I think Brian is right in what he's written above, at 21.35, with regard to his techniques and choices and decisions as to deciding on new Posts and/ or ceasing Comments on existing ones.

I have a lot of experience in information work when it comes to getting the favour of on - going news items and discussions via newspaper letters, comments etc and seeing what the general flow is.

Myris of Alexandria said...

Do you mean the super minds from the nth dimension that operate us like marionettes so buffeted by capricious whims?
Or do you mean Colin Richards' highly influential book "Building the Great Stone Circles of the North"
required reading for anyone seriously interested in our SH 'journey'(sick). Read it, then MPP et al recent SH book,(bookies favourite for winning archy book 2016)and then Dar's paper recent SH paper in 'time out of mind' Houses of the Holy.
A distinctly domestic theme emerges hovering up the evidence into one large (initially hearth-shaped)bag.

The MPP Antiquity paper and the BJ papers were sent as bundles to a range of geomorphologsts, independant ice men in the first few months of this year and commented upon. No one wished to comment publically but there was no universal endorsement most wanted more data.

Read what is written SIGH the initial descriptions of the igneous debitage is finished there is other debitage (the cast of thousands invoked by Brian is rightly ignored) to describe. The pet rock boys have much to do still - results are rarely as expected.
Only then can the debitage be discussed far from over it is yet to be seriously addressed by those who have the data.

The glacial myth that ice moved the blocks towards SH is more fantastic than CRyf being a quarry. Were Brian not a serious ,if not academically derailed by SH 80 misc rocks dumped on the Druidical Plains in a convenient pile, he would be there with the water world sprites and Venusian tractor beam wallahs chopping the Aubrey Holes in to lunar stand still.
CRyf came from nowhere just good careful science and MUCH luck. No overarching theory led to the discovery.
For fun read Brian's attacks on MPP et al and substitute BJ for MPP, they read just as well and are equally valid. I have smiled a couple of times at how apposite the comments are.

Mable said...

Dear Dr John,
At the risk of being accused of repitition, the 'going gets awkward' when the topic under discussion introduces such things as:
1. the lack of evidence for glaciers encroaching on an area within reasonable stone-dragging distance of Stonehenge;
2. the absence of relevant erratics in an area within reasonable stone-dragging distance of Stonehenge, but I forget, they are all now conveniently submerged in the Bristol Channel;
3. The number of samples removed, and thin-sectioned, from Craig Rhos-y-Felin and Carn Goedog failing to meet the total that you would accept as a representative coverage. However, no one is stopping you taking as many samples as you deem necessary to prove that other locations exist that would provide an exact match for the Stonehenge bluestone debitage. Unfortunately, you would then have to fund an extremely costly and time consuming operation, so let those who disagree with geological results, submit their own samples for examination.

I fear the 'cloak of anonymity' isn't required for my name is Mable, my husband's name is Geoffrey and we live in Monmouth, I could supply my National Instance Number and phone numbers, but that could invite criminal activities .

I doubt whether this post will be published, or if it is then it will be pushed down the list by a new series of topics, so I'll leave it at that.
Best wishes.

BRIAN JOHN said...


I have never shied away from the fact that we know of no "loose" erratics from West Wales on Salisbury Plain. That fact has been discussed ad infinitum on this blog -- read it carefully, and you will see what I mean. My response to that, as ever, is that there is no evidence for long-distance stone-dragging activities either, so the stone transport issue remains unresolved.

As far as the Bristol Channel is concerned, you are up the creek. There are plenty of erratics in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. Go away and read the literature.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. OK?

As I have said often, the conclusions drawn from the analyses of thin sections from Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog are interesting, and tell us a lot about where some of the debitage at Stonehenge might have come from. The matches are not exact, and the provenancing is not definitive. Look at the geological papers closely, and you will have to agree with that. The Rhosyfelin work does NOT tell us where any of the monoliths have come from, and the geologists accept that. Nor does the geological work relating to Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog tell us anything about quarrying.

By the way, I do not disagree with the geological results -- I do disagree with certain of the interpretations placed upon them. In that respect, I am doing behaving just as any other careful academic would do.

TonyH said...

The Mmmmms on this Post are rather like've waited for what seems like ages, then at least two come along at once, in fact, they queue up to offer their opinions again and again........coincidence, or a split - personality? (that's not trolling by the way, it's a reasonable guess - both seem to be preoccupied with Geology, including knowledge of the costs of rock sections sampling).

Anyway, welcome back, Myris.

As to the other M, settle yourself,, calm down,deep breath, and use the Search facility to remind yourself of preceding Posts, e.g. about the Anglian and later ice sheets and whether, for example, evidence for the Anglian sheet is necessarily easy to spot in the landscape, or has it been virtually deleted in most places by later glacial activity. And by the way, what is a reasonable distance from Stonehenge for erratics to have been deposited (and then moved by humans) south of the Severn Estuary? Preseli is a minimum of 170 miles from Stonehenge overland.

BRIAN JOHN said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BRIAN JOHN said...

Well, this is fun. I'm out in Sweden just now, looking out at a very soggy landscape. Pouring rain all day........

As to the geomorphological consensus about Rhosyfelin, can I remind Myris that Rhosyfelin is now a Quaternary RIGS site, duly vetted by the great and the good of the geological / geomorphological establishment, some of whom have visited the site on their own or in the company of MPP. None of them seems to have any doubts about the glacial, fluvioglacial and periglacial features as we have described them.

Mable said...

Germain should have read 'Germane', bloody predictive text, apologies to Myris.

It's all too much for this elderly person.

Jon Morris said...

Colin Richards' highly influential book "Building the Great Stone Circles of the North" required reading for anyone seriously interested in our SH 'journey'(sick).

A good direction Myris. Though perhaps another magnitude of luck will be needed up there? Nevertheless, the book is now on my Christmas list and am hoping that the minds from n are going to steer someone to buy it for me.

When our ex colonial friend gets himself over here, I'm hoping to go over to take a look at the places that in the West that luck will take the professors next. Would be nice to see a bit more data from the places that the lady has gifted so far.

Alex Gee said...

As usual the dissenters still lack the balls to affix a real name or identity to their opinions!

Even if Brian and other contributors to this blog are ultimately proved to be wrong?

At least they're not cowards!

I presume that such were the supporters of Lysenko!

BRIAN JOHN said...

There were some spelling mistakes in my riposte to Myris. Now corrected. Here it is again:

Myris, we will take much of what you say with a pinch of salt, because your views are seriously tainted by the fact that you signed up for the quarrying thesis prematurely, on the basis of completely unsatisfactory evidence. So you cannot change your mind now without a serious loss of face. We all know that your comments are not exactly objective. (Richard Bevins has, I think, been rather more circumspect, at least in print........but to your credit, you do at least communicate!)

1. I am mystified as to why you think that assorted tomes on northern stone circles or on Stonehenge have anything to do with the interpretation of field evidence relating to the quarrying -- or lack of it -- at Carn Goedog or Rhosyfelin. Field evidence needs to be interpreted on its merits, by people who know what they are talking about.

2. This is interesting. "The MPP Antiquity paper and the BJ papers were sent as bundles to a range of geomorphologists, independant ice men in the first few months of this year and commented upon. No one wished to comment publically but there was no universal endorsement most wanted more data." Who were these geomorphologists who were consulted? A natural response might be that more evidence is needed -- but very conveniently, the dig sites at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog have been filled in without any proper access being afforded to glacial geomorphologists. I have named all the glacial geomorphologists who have been to the Rhosyfelin dig site in my company, and I have reported accurately that none of them has seen anything that makes them think of human quarrying. They have all interpreted the site as entirely natural, apart from the evidence of camp site occupation. That says it all....... so I would argue that the points made in our two papers represent a geomorphological consensus, until somebody comes along and argues otherwise.

3. Carry on the analysis of the debitage -- that's great. Just remember that it tells us something about provenances and nothing about quarrying.

4. "The glacial myth that ice moved the blocks towards SH is more fantastic than CRyf being a quarry. Were Brian not a serious ,if not academically derailed by SH 80 misc rocks dumped on the Druidical Plains in a convenient pile, he would be there with the water world sprites and Venusian tractor beam wallahs chopping the Aubrey Holes in to lunar stand still. CRyf came from nowhere just good careful science and MUCH luck. No overarching theory led to the discovery. For fun read Brian's attacks on MPP et al and substitute BJ for MPP, they read just as well and are equally valid. I have smiled a couple of times at how apposite the comments are." That's a bit of a mean-spirited rant, if I may say so, from somebody who is now so signed up to the quarrying thesis that he will defend it at all costs. We will disagree over whether the glacial transport hypothesis is more fantastical than the quarrying thesis. I suggest that there is a great deal more evidence for the former than the latter. I will ignore your snide comment about me being academically derailed -- that was not worthy of you. What are you saying about CRyF? Wonderful as your work may be, it has nothing to do with quarrying. And you may compare me with MPP if you like -- but please give me some credit for examining MPP's work carefully, for commenting on it with due respect for academic rigour, and for giving him the opportunity to respond on innumerable occasions. In contrast, he as completely ignored the work of Dyfed, John and myself, let alone entered into a dialogue about our interpretations of the features we have described. Instead, he simply repeats his heroic story ad infinitum, making it ever more picturesque and fantastical in public lectures and press releases. So who is the deranged and derailed academic around here?

Neil Wiseman said...

(I prefer 'Former Colonial Friend', Jon ...)

It is with great interest that I previously perused the preceding posts, within which are some worthy words indeed. The root of it Is, after all is said, (to my thinking anyway) the source and provenance of the Stonehenge Bluestones.

I happen to believe that there Were a few erratics out on Myris's Druidical Plains, in that we see the Cuckoo Stone and most likely, even the Heelstone. There are also several instances of them on private estates over in West Amesbury, and a couple to the west of the site at Berwick St. James.
Others piles have almost certainly been robbed out. Most were sarsen, but perhaps a few may have been blues. I guess we'll never know.

But the point is that it's become pretty clear that the source of the blues is certainly Wales and that at least 3 locations are likely. I'm no geomorphologist, but I'm having trouble imagining how one specific spot can have produced a particular stone, when the area around it was left untouched by a glacier.

Can we move on to the Altar Stone? I'm dying to know where it might have come from.


BRIAN JOHN said...

Neil, I agree that here might well have been a scatter of erratics on Salisbury Plain -- at least on the western part. And it's pretty clear that they came for the most part from the Preseli area. There are certainly more than 3 sources, as shown by the recent geological work -- I HAVE ARGUED ABOUT THIS WITH MYRIS FOR AGES, AND IT ALL COMES DOWN TO WHETHER ONE TALKS ABOUT JUST MONOLITHS OR INCLUDES DEBITAGE, OR WHETHER ONE IS A LUMPER OR A SPLITTER.

Re your point: "I'm having trouble imagining how one specific spot can have produced a particular stone, when the area around it was left untouched by a glacier." That is one of the great (and still puzzling) features of glaciation. It happens in every glaciated area. In all of the glaciated zones where I have done research, we find intensive signs of glaciation in some places and then nearby places where virtually nothing can be picked up. It's true of West Wales, the Isles of Scilly, Devon, Cornwall, Norway, Greenland, Sweden, Iceland, Antarctica etc etc. I have dealt with this apparent anomaly on this blog many times. It has something to do with the nature of glaciological conditions on the bed. It is not that certain areas are untouched -- a better way to express it is to say that in certain glaciated areas the traces left by the ice are so subtle that they are often missed.

As for the Altar Stone and those strange Palaeozoic sandstones, watch this space. Myris has assured us that something is coming soon.......

Midas of Alexandria said...

Brian you colour me all too black, I was gently pointing out that you are at your best when giving us new data on all matters glacial and indeed add icing to the cake when commenting on others data. But your fixation on assigning tawdry malicious motives to those of us who disagree with you wins you little favour with the non-dead dog scrumpy literate readers. It diminished your bluestone book and was a large reason why it was so difficult to get it reviewed or even opened (not MPP but D and W in that case), it is the reason why most people that were contacted with the bundle insisted that their names be kept quiet. It has become Kostas-like in its predictability stop it, it adds nothing new.
MPP et al and BJ et al are published, you can do no more. But this instance on trashing the other side is wasteful of your talents and time(and the Grimme Reaper is ever present)that was, and is, my point.
I really do not have a serious dog in this fight (my Pekes fight amongst themselves. I do think the orthostats were quarried, (I wish the proto-orthostat were of a different age), I did not 10 years ago, and were the Gods kind to me I may not in 10 years time.
Dear fellow workers in the Vineyard we should, I feel, restrict the use of erratic to those lithics carried by ice. The sarsens at the Cuckoo Stone and Heelstone may well have been there prior to SH or even the Meso flint ducks but they are mini-outliers.
The Berwick St James lithics may be mini-inliers. They are not Sarsens however despite Olaf Swarbrick but are Mesozoic limestone, similarly the private rocks in the homesteads of the West Amesbury worthies.
Yes I hear the sandstones will twist this tail. Cannot wait to find out, why.

Jon Morris said...

As for the Altar Stone and those strange Palaeozoic sandstones, watch this space. Myris has assured us that something is coming soon.......

Like Neil, I would be very interested to know where this comes from. I would be fascinated if it turns out to come from a location other than Wales. But given that there is only one rock (the Altar stone) and that it is not easily accessible, would it be possible to provenance the source location if the lady smiled and the researchers happened to stumble across samples taken from, say, within a few hundred yards?

TonyH said...

Myris/Midas, will you please explain in a more straightforward manner what you mean towards the end of your comment today of 10.07 regarding the terms "mini - inliers" and "mini - outliers"? I would be most grateful.

You say: "The sarsens at the Cuckoo Stone and the Heelstone may well have been there prior to SH or even the Meso flint ducks but they are mini - outliers".

And: "The Berwick St James lithics may be mini-inliers".

Keep working in the Vineyard.

TonyH said...

Agree with Brian in his points made at 07.21 back to Neil about there being probably many, probably geographically well distributed, Preseli {AND beyond, potentially!] sources for all those geographically distinct rocks of very varying size that have been identified by Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins.

This, in my opinion, is a very significant chink in the armour of the human transport theoreticians. If we are to believe their ruling hypothesis theory, we appear to me to have to accept that the prehistoric rock - collecting Boyos scrabbled about ALL OVER THE GEOGRAPHICAL SHOP to obtain their liquorice - allsort collection OF specimens, seemingly just for the sheer haphazard hell of it!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Ah, Myris, I see that you are now Midas. Delusions of grandeur? Do the things that you touch turn to gold? I hope not, since in my vague recollection poor old Midas came to a rather sticky end.........

I fear that I am not going to devote my time to inserting interesting bits of harmless glacial geomorphology designed to educate and inform. The purpose of this blog is to talk about Stonehenge and the Ice Age -- even if my points may be upsetting for some.

In a word, I am not going to back off on my criticisms of the quarrying and human transport hypotheses, since in my view both are deeply defective. That might upset you and those with whom you have written assorted papers, but there is too often these days a tendency to forget that science advances through peer group scrutiny and a process of falsification. Think Popper.

It has always been the tactic of those whose ideas are threatened to pretend that they are part of a consensus, and that those who present alternatives are obsessed or fixated. So heretics who dared to challenge accepted wisdom (no matter how absurd) were burned at the stake in the bad old days. Now they are told, ever so politely by people like you, to back off and let matters lie. That makes for a nice easy life for those who want to build elaborate stories on the flimsiest of evidence, but does nothing for science or for the pursuit of the truth.

Further, I am not impressed when people like MPP choose to completely ignore two scientific peer-reviewed papers that challenge his own work, and does not apparently even accept that there is a dispute going on. That is in itself deeply disrespectful, and goes against all scientific norms.

I'll discuss the extremely dodgy use of anonymous earth science experts in another post. What you say about them, and what you report as their opinions, are completely inadmissable as evidence, M'Lud. Your comments should be struck from the record. If said "experts" are not prepared to be named and quoted, they are not the sort of earth scientists I want to be associated with.

As for erratics, you cannot rewrite the geological dictionary. For better or for worse, an erratic boulder or stone is simply a lump of rock that has been removed from its place of origin by some process or another, so that it now appears in the "wrong" place.

TonyH said...

It's all a bit of a mythstery to me, even though I'm very intelligent.

Chris Eubank

Jon Morris said...

Out of general interest and related to the provenancing work that Ixer and Bevans have done so far for the blue-stones of Stonehenge: Could similar experts in the same field be paid to do a similar standard of work or is the information on what the Stones are restricted in some way?

BRIAN JOHN said...

The biggest problem of all is that EH will not allow any sampling of the actual standing bluestones. So Bevins and Ixer have to work with samples already collected by others from assorted places where digs have taken place. They also have to depend on the goodwill of those who have the fragments in their collections. Not at all easy. Other geologists would face exactly the same problems. I'm sure Myris will agree with me on this.

Jon Morris said...

Other geologists would face exactly the same problems.

Thanks Brian. Are there any other geologists who have had experience looking at the provenancing of the stones at Stonehenge or is it restricted to just Bevans & Ixer?

BRIAN JOHN said...

I get the impression that Rob and Richard have homed in on the Stonehenge issue and have developed good working relations with assorted archaeologists who already had an interest in Stonehenge and the bluestones -- especially MPP, Wainwright and Darvill. So they have made a bit of a niche for themselves. That's great -- without the interest and some small funding from archaeo research pots the work might never have been done. As far as I am aware, there are no other geologists interested in doing independent work.

One problem arising from this scenario is that the majority of the papers published have been in archaeological, rather than geological, journals. That means that in all probability the referees for those papers have been archaeologists rather than geologists. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether the refereeing process has been as tight as it might have been........... perhaps Myris can reassure us that all the referees for the bluestone papers have been geologists.

I must not complain, since one of our papers (by Dyfed, John and me) was also in an archaeological journal! Rob suggested we should submit a paper, and the Editor was happy to accept one from us. We asked for geomorphologists to do the refereeing, but don't know who they were. The other paper, in Quaternary News, was definitely refereed by glacial geomorphologists, and when it was accepted in modified form that gave us a lot of confidence that our case was soundly based enough to withstand specialist scrutiny.

Jon Morris said...

Thanks again Brian

That's great -- without the interest and some small funding from archaeo research pots the work might never have been done. As far as I am aware, there are no other geologists interested in doing independent work.

It's marvellous that they have taken on that mantle Brian. But are you saying that nobody else could properly check the work of Bevins and Ixer, or for example do alternative research on provenancing, because they are the only ones who have had access to the fragments?

TonyH said...

Amazing what reading an article in The Observer containing the previously - unseen term "mythomania" and then doing a Post on it last Tuesday has led to, Brian: 40 comments and counting!

And at least it brought Myris "out of the woodwork and into the daylight". It is nice that he has re - emerged...... at least someone with direct links to the human transportation theory is not too afraid to communicate with us! He is our equivalent of L.P Hartley's 'Go - Between'. And he was clearly helpful to BJ, see Brian's last paragraph of his 21.59 Post tonight.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Jon -- I don't know the answer to that query. Myris will no doubt be able to tell us what the score is. I assume that others can examine the Stonehenge bluestone fragments if they want to, and if they ask nicely -- and there is certainly nothing to stop geologists from taking samples at the Preseli end if they want to and if they have the right research consents in place. What I would like to see now is not necessarily a repeat of the Bevins / Ixer work, but a new programme of sampling at Rhosyfelin, Carn Goedog and elsewhere with cosmogenic dating in mind. We really need that if we are to move forward on the entrainment / quarrying debate.

Mordred of Alexanadria said...

Geologists have little interest in provenancing the bluestones indeed they consider such an interest aberrant. There has been not been a single request to look at the material.
The pet rock boys are ? fortunate that their scientific reputations are good enough that they have been able to persuade other sorts of geologists to assist them. If you read the bloody papers you will see a variety of other top quality geochemists and geochronologers and now micro-palaeontologists have been invited to join and to confirm/elucidate the initial pet rock boys (petrographer and geochemist)findings.
The publishing rational is simple the 20 or so papers are divided into
the Ferret club-this excellent magazine is the magazine of record especially for the initial petrography of the dozen or so bluestones (ditch the rest as New Age rubbish)This is so that in 100 years time the classes of debitage can be referred to saving some other person having to start again. No archy referees the data have been checked by geologists/geochemists or by geologically trained archaeogeologists.
Archaeology in Wales is for more expansive papers relating the lithologies to SH. Geology and probably archaeology reviewers. Certainly the first Arch in Wales paper was sent to 8/9 people before being submitted.
The JAS papers refereed by geologists and by geologically trained archaeologists.
The pet rock boys have no books to sell but just want to get it right and enjoy the process of seeing the data unfold.
It is depressing when the papers are not read and facile questions are asked.
Anyone bearing gifts is welcome to my office and three microscopes and 100s of SH slides as long as they know what they are doing.
Brian is correct new sampling is needed see the next pet rock boys final paragraph and the paper after that for their say on new samples.
I suspect museum access to material might be difficult, there are still museums who have refused to lend their prepared material. Destructive sampling is now very very difficult.
Read the bloody papers that is the whole point of writing them. Thank the Gods the public are not my paymaster I forget how lazy they can be, it is death by a thousand facile questions. "are we nearly there yet" No we bloody are not.


Jon Morris said...

It is depressing when the papers are not read and facile questions are asked.

I've read some of the papers, but here's a facile question anyway: If the pet rock boys happened to be asked to look at a specific location (give or take a few hundred yards) where there apparently exists an unmetamorphosed, carbonate-cemented sandstone, devonian, slightly green but old red: Would the pet rock boys have enough data to be able to either discount or provenance the Altar Stone to that specific location?

A second question, possibly also of a facile nature, concerns the use of "most probably" when describing the likelihood of that being Devonian (Old Red Sandstone) Senni Beds of South Wales: Have locations outside Wales been excluded by their analysis?

TonyH said...

Myris knows b****y well that reading the geological analysis Papers is pretty heavy going, probably for most of the Senior Archaeologists on board his Stonehenge Riverside Project, and similar. By its very nature, his analytical findings are very esoteric. That is why he tends to off into Ancient Greece analogies, just for the sheer cryptic fun of it. He even calls Wiltshire Museum's WANHS annual magazine the product of the "Ferret Club"! Why??? Less cryptic, more simple explanation = fewer paddies, fewer strops.

It's of no help getting all cross with us for not reading your Papers line by line. By the way, I've worked out what Myris meant by " mini -inliers" and "mini = outliers" but still asked him to clarify his words for the sake of the average interested Blogger here, in my comment of 15.10 on 19th June, but got no reply!! So a fair few other people who are interested in the whole general debate about Stonehenge and its bluestones are none the wiser! We don't HAVE to be a cryptic clique! More Plain English would do.

Peter Dunn said...

Thanks to Myris and Mable for their comments I agree with all they have said. No ferrets on the cover of ferret club mag though.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Hi Peter,
intriqued to know that you agree with absolutely everything uttered by those worthy contributors, even if I do not. By the way, I really like your illustrations and your imagination. Have you ever thought of doing a series showing ice edge conditions on Salisbury Plain? Now that could be REALLY interesting!

Mable the Mystery Lady said...

Sorry to fellow bloggers but I've been out in the field ferreting about, was that a pun perhaps?

Thanks to Peter D for his supportive words re Myris and me.

I find it both interesting and predictable that my reply to Dr John and Tony H, posted at 16:49 on 18/6/16, was blocked by Dr John at 19:33, a shame, for some may have found it interesting.
So, it seems that the pen is mightier than the sword, but the block is mightier than the pen.

Alex Gee says "As usual the dissenters still lack the balls to affix a real name or identity to their opinions", that's a good one, for ultimately we have no idea of the identity of the ones who use names; Mr Gee I wouldn't know you if I tripped over you.
It's the opinion that counts not the person.

Altar Stone ------- I shall have to contact Myris telepathically regarding fresh information, (Celts can do that), for in addition to what he correctly says, that the bedding and jointing of the strata have to be of sufficient dimensions to produce the Altar Stone, it would also be helpful if the area sampled had strong evidence of prehistoric habitation, associated prehistoric burials, and perhaps an enhanced spring-head in support; there's also the mica problem when comparing samples with H.H.Thomas's views.
Additionally, if the source of the Altar Stone is outside Wales, would that cause a conflict between Dr Bevins and the National Museum of Wales, I hope not.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Mable -- you are a sensitive soul I have no reason to block any of your entertaining comments. Is this the one you refer to? I found it in the trash -- sometimes things go there automatically if my spam filter deems them to be anonymous. Or I may have hit the wrong button instead of the "publish" one, not for the first time when one is in a hurry. Sorry about that. Now come down off your high horse.

Dear Mr H.
I can assure you that Myris, a knowledgeable chap whose views are germain, and I are two different people, and you don't need to be a geologist, geomorphologist or hold a PhD in any 'ology' to have an interest in rocks, or the cost of having thin sections manufactured and scrutinised, perhaps you should try it sometime.
Your mention of the Anglian evidence being erased by later events is interesting and possible, but no one knows if that was the case, similarly, the evidence for the human movement of stones could have been erased by later events, i.e. farming, road building etc., but once again no one knows. Stalemate.

Dear Dr John,
If I'm up the creek in the Bristol Channel then it was Geoffrey Kellaway, who you often quote in support of your theory, who said during a programme on the BBC many years ago, that the bluestone trail is in the Bristol Channel; in my opinion Professor Atkinson came out on top in that debate.
These erratics in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, do they include any West Wales Rhyolite's, Dolerites,tuff or anything from the Fishguard Volcanic Group?
Absence of evidence may not be evidence of absence, but it's a bloody good indicator.

I have to go now to read through all the past blog posts to see what I've obviously missed.

Poor Kellaway -- as a humble field geologist, he had a hard time of it in that famous TV prog, facing those smooth members of the archaeological establishment. But he talked perfectly good sense. Since most of the route followed by the Irish Sea Glacier between Pembrokeshire and Somerset is now beneath sea level, of course it is perfectly natural for Kellaway to say that that is where most of the Pembrokeshire erratics are likely to be. Do you have a problem with that?

There are certainly Pembrokeshire erratics in the Vale of Glamorgan, and we suspect that some of the material on Flat Holm is from Ramsey Island (see the Flat Holm posts), but as far as I know, no Pembrokeshire material has been identified in Somerset thus far. Very little provenancing work has been done on the Somerset glacial materials. Kellaway suggested that most of the erratic material reaching the coasts of Devon and Cornwall was from another part of the ice stream carrying boulders from the Lake District and Scotland. That idea needs to be tested.

M of Mon said...

Dear Dr. John,
Many thanks for publishing my meandering thoughts, and it's always a pleasure to disagree with you.

Best wishes from Geoffrey and me.

TonyH said...

The curious sway that the human transportation notion holds with the general public, Mr Joe & Mrs Jo Punter and their offspring, Jack & Jill, is that it is poetic and romantic, and readily marketable.

By contrast, the Glacial notion is heavily prosaic and far, far less marketable than that of their wealthier opponents: English Heritage, film makers, book publishers and illustrators, riding upon their gravy trains to and from their would - be quarries:-

"We are riding upon a railroad
Singing someone else's song [sing along]"

TonyH said...

Morag/ Mavis/Maestro/ Maelstrom/ Matt Monro/ Legion

Mr Kellaway's TV appearance along with Mr Atkinson, was over half a Century ago. Rather a long time back, surely, and BJ has come up with plenty more facts on this Blog you should be addressing.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Mable -- on the matter of anonymity I give no respect whatsoever to those who send in anonymous comments. Most of those comments are spam, or from trolls. In fact I do not even see them -- they go straight into the trash without any involvement on my part. Posts from those who use pseudonyms may be posted because those involved do not want their friends and neighbours to know who they are and what they are saying -- or because they fear retribution from their peer groups! So I accord a moderate amount of respect to them, so long as their comments are not insulting or obscene. The people whom I respect most are those who use their real names, for the obvious reason that they are being accountable and honest. As a matter of interest, why do you hide behind a pseudonym?

Mable said...

Going from memory, I recall the sketch map that Dr John uses to illustrate the extent of the ice-travel into England from Wales, this map is labeled 'after Kellaway'. However, a supplementary paper by Kellaway indicates the 'Stonehenge' ice as approaching from the north, not the west.
So Kellaway's thoughts may be old, and perhaps improved on, but they still say the ice came from the north which is a bit of a bugger for the glaciation theory.

Mr. Tony(pseudonym?)H,
There's nothing romantic or poetic about shifting large stones around the countryside, give it a try sometime.
Dr John has said that there are gaps in the understanding of what goes on beneath present day glaciers, so what chance have we of understanding the activities of glaciers in extremely ancient history.
I agree that glaciers move stones, but people do so as well, and in the case of Stonehenge the indications favour humans.

Anonymity ------ My name is Mable, I live in Monmouth, and I don't intend altering either my name or domicile in the foreseeable future.
Do you ask other bloggers for proof of identity? Also, I don't possess a high horse, only a little mini.

I will be out of Internet coverage for the next few days, so I'm not shying away from the discussion, just busy.

Best wishes from me.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Mable, academic tradition encourages us to say "after somebody" if a map is based on somebody else's. I have given Kellaway due respect for the work he did, but that was a long time ago, and your obsession with Kellaway is a little absurd -- there are many other geomorphologists and geologists who have produced maps of ice extent since his day. A little searching through this blog will bring you rich dividends. the ice came from the west. It also came from the north, approaching the Cotswolds and coming into the Thames valley. Its all in the primary literature -- I encourage you to take Mrris's advice and read it. Ice coming from the north is not "a bit of a bugger for the glaciation theory" -- maybe a bit of a bugger for those who are talking without really knowing what they are talking about.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Mable, you are revealing yourself as being rather ill-informed. Glaciers behave now as they did throughout the Quaternary -- physical laws operate now as they did then. The fact that we do not fully understand glacier behaviour should not come as a surprise -- do we fully understand anything? I suggest you do yet another search on this blog, this time for "Uniformitarianism" or "James Hutton" or "Occam's Razor." You will learn a lot.

You say "I agree that glaciers move stones, but people do so as well, and in the case of Stonehenge the indications favour humans." Sure, people have moved stones over very short distances in the British Isles, but what are the "indications" of long distance transport to which you refer? Give us your evidence. It is the ultimate circular argument to say "People moved large stones on Easter Island, or in the Nile Valley, and therefore they probably did it here too." Less fantasy and more facts please.

Jon Morris said...

Mable, you are revealing yourself as being rather ill-informed.

Turns out I'm rather ill informed as well: One of the facile questions I asked was whether the pet rock boys have enough data to be able to either discount or provenance the Altar Stone to a specific location.

It turns out that it really was a facile question as I'm informed that the information in the Ixer/Bevin paper is so good that all a geologist needs is access to a suitable comparison sample and the right kit. However, nobody was sure about the second question.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Fair question, Jon. As I understand it, the assigning of the Altar Stone to the Senni Beds is interesting and even exciting, but there is no way that the stone can be provenanced to a specific location. At the moment, the source could be anywhere where these beds outcrop. Myris will correct me if I am wrong, but the key seems to be the extent of metamorphism in the sandstone as well as the precise geochemistry and petrography. It would take a massive amount of sampling to work out how these characteristics change both vertically within the sedimentary sequence and laterally across related beds. Maybe one day......

BRIAN JOHN said...

The Altar stone paper is by Ixer and Turner. We have a lot about it on the blog already.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Latest message from Mable is deleted. I am not going to tolerate cheap abuse or trolling behaviour. My latest posts are of interest to others, even if not to you. I am not going to flatter you by spending all my time dealing with your points to the exclusion of all else. Go off somewhere else, Mable, for your amusement.

Jon Morris said...

Fair question, Jon. As I understand it, the assigning of the Altar Stone to the Senni Beds is interesting and even exciting, but there is no way that the stone can be provenanced to a specific location.

Thanks Brian. Now I'm not sure it it was a facile question or not: So if you had a sample of the source rock from which the Altar Stone was taken, it wouldn't be possible to give a reasonable stab at whether or not it is the source (based on the Ixer/Turner paper)?

The Altar stone paper is by Ixer and Turner.

Ah.. you're right. So it is. I've downloaded so many of Ixer's papers in the last 24 hours that I got them mixed up.

BRIAN JOHN said...

"So if you had a sample of the source rock from which the Altar Stone was taken, it wouldn't be possible to give a reasonable stab at whether or not it is the source (based on the Ixer/Turner paper)?" Sorry -- don't quite follow what you are getting at here...... do you mean "If you had a sample from the Senni Beds...." ???

Jon Morris said...

"If you had a sample from the Senni Beds...." ???

Yes; that's it. If you has a sample from the Senni Beds.and that sample happened to be taken from the same place that the Altar Stone was taken from: Would it be possible to provenance the Altar Stone to that location in the same way that it appears that the Preseli stones have been provenanced to specific locations?

BRIAN JOHN said...

The Preseli stones have been provenanced to approximate locations, and not (in my view) to within a few square metres. Myris will disagree with me on that! All the geomorphologists who have visited Rhosyfelin were highly sceptical about the "few square metres" claim on the grounds that the sampling density in the area was nothing like tight enough to sustain it. For sandstones in the Senni Beds, without a really tight sampling density to establish the extent of internal variation you would, I think, be very hard pressed to claim that "this is exactly where the Altar Stone came from...." Again, Myris may disagree!

Jon Morris said...

Thanks Brian, much appreciated.

It does sound as if it's going to be rather difficult to find an exact spot for the Altar stone. But it also looks as if you might be able to determine an approximate location, with reasonable certainty, if you had a huge amount of luck on your side (and assuming that a glacier or other natural mechanism hasn't covered up the location). From what I understand (and that's not really saying much) the information in Ixer/Turner's paper could allow locations to be definitively ruled out and, if luck were on their side, might allow a location to be given a probability of being the likely spot that the stone came from.

Fair summary or is it more complex than that?

Dave Weston said...

A considerable amount of sampling across the length, and depth, of the Senni Beds has shown that the colour, grain size, mica content, and maturity of the strata can vary over quite short distances, both horizontally and vertically.
Add to this that some say there may have been two 'Altar' stones, which were not necessarily from the same location in the Senni Beds, and you need good fortune on your side for a successful search, although, for saying that, the problem isn't surmountable.

Alex Gee said...

Mable:I wouldn't know who tripped over me either! Which on a normal internet blog would be fair enough!

In this case however it would appear that academics and other professionals, who have a vested personal or financial interest in keeping the debate heading in the direction they wish, use anonymity on this blog to undermine perfectly valid scientific research;such as the recent papers on Rhosyfelin!

No doubt they are exerting similar energy to stifling this debate behind the scenes as well!

As Brian says, The place to do this is within the literature! Not with cowardly anonymous attacks!

"Its opinion that counts not the person" Horseshit! It's evidence that counts!

Jon Morris said...

Thanks Dave

Out of interest, how much is short distances in very rough terms? For example, if we were to sample the whole of the Senni beds in a grid (assumes cost is no object), would the grid need to be 10mx10m horizontal (and modified locally to pick up changes of strata) to get all the likely areas. If not, should an initial sample grid be smaller/larger?

I've heard rumours of the second stone (are you thinking of the one that King James 1st is alleged to have taken?). Not sure how much stock I put in the idea though!

BRIAN JOHN said...

TWO Altar stones, Dave? What is the evidence for that? I know there are other bits of sandstone (the latest Ixer / Bevins paper awaited) and that those bits are Palaeozoic, and not from the Senni Beds, but that does not mean they came from another Altar Stone. They might have come from a destroyed orthostat (or several) or they might just be glacial debris.......

Alex Gee said...

Just a quick query! Could any of the geology experts on this blog tell me if fossils of bivalves would be more likely to occur in the Senni Beds, or the Pennant Sandstone?

In addition is there any possibility whatsoever they could be found in the "Sarsen Stones"?

Thank You

Alex Gee said...

The ubiquitous presence of root holes in the Sarsens would appear to preclude the presence of Bivalves so ignore that!

BRIAN JOHN said...

I would have thought that bivalve fossils would be extremely unlikely, but there are some deepwater deposits and there are traces of fish. Mostly the fossils are plant spores.

Extra info:

The Senni Beds are interesting because they contain some early vascular plants - plants with stems and leaves - the fossils of which (fig 1.2. fossils from the Senni quarry) you can see in rubble on the floor of the Senni quarry ●1 (this is a protected site so please don’t break rocks or remove samples). More than fifty different plants have been identified by spores preserved in these rocks.


Hoel Senni Quarry on the northeastern face of the Fan Bwlch Clwyth, Powys, exposes the Senni
Beds, largely green sandstones with subordinate red or green mudstones, nodular mudstones,
and intraformational conglomerates. Plant remains, which are abundant at this site,
include Drepanophycus, Gosslingia, and Zosterophyllum (Edwards, 1968, 1969, 1970; Loeffler
and Thomas, 1980). A well-preserved and distinctive miospore assemblage found in association
with the fossil fish specimen is of great stratigraphical significance (Loeffler and Thomas,
1980). Emphanisporites and Api-culiretispora and over 50 taxa of miospores suggest
correlation with the Cosheston Group of south-west Wales. Spores higher in the Senni Beds
suggest a Pragian–Emsian age, the latter half of the Early Devonian (White, 1956; Allen,
inHouse et al., 1977).
Hoel Senni Quarry is the type and only locality of Althaspis senniensis Loeffler and Thomas,
1980 (Figure 4.21), the only vertebrate species found here, which is a typical pteraspid of the
Ditton Group and is very similar, and possibly conspecific with Althaspis leachi, which occurs
throughout north-west Europe at the top of the Lochkovian stage. The type specimen was
found in a large fallen block of unlaminated blue-grey mudstone on the floor of the quarry in
1978. Althaspis senniensis is based on several plates from one individual found together, and is
the best preserved and most complete recovered from the Senni beds. It shows similarities
both to forms from Podolia and France, as well as Britain, and it can be considered to be a
pteraspid of Dittonian aspect. Its presence in the Senni Beds indicates a level between the
Dittonian and Breconian stages.

Extracted from the Geological Conservation Review

© JNCC 1980–2007

BRIAN JOHN said...

I should have thought that fossils are possible in sarsen stones, but I am not sure what happens to the parent rock when silcretes or duricrusts are formed.

Alex Gee said...

Brian: The reason I ask is that I know you're familiar with the archaeological/geological work of my caving chum Vince Simmonds with the Bath and Camerton Archaeological Society.

Their report on Hautville's Quoit

States that the Quoit lies unconformably on Triassic Mercia Mudstone and that it contains a possible marker bed of bivalves the dimensions of which are 10-6mm; I would suggest that this would preclude its identification as sarsen stone;a possibility that Simmonds does not dismiss!

The Historical section of the report is also most interesting. It states that The Rev John Collinson (1791)reported that the Quoit was once an immense stone weighing over 30 tons in weight and that waggon loads of fragments had been broken off for road building!

This reminds me of the supposedly apocryphal reports of the "Upping Stock"

The historical section also highlights the probable former existence of another equally large quoit in close proximity! Named the Tollhouse stone by the Archaeologist Jodie Lewis (2005)!She states that it is no longer extant having been broken up for road mending.

The pertinent question would appear to be! How did two extremely large boulders of fossiliferous siliclastic sandstone(Both with a possible mass of more than 30 tons)
;of most probably welsh origin! Happen to be lying unconformably on Triassic Mercia Mudstone rocks?

In a location that coincides with the postulated route of lobes of an Anglian or earlier Pleistocene glacier?

Over to the experts!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Alex -- very interesting. But the report is locked and inaccessible. Is it available anywhere else?

TonyH said...

Perhaps Alex or Brian might find John Oswin, the geophysics expert in the Bath & Camerton Archaeological Society, a helpful contact who may be able to provide access to said report. I have met him on a number of occasions in BACAS - related contexts.

Dave Weston said...

I've seen changes occur in the Senni Beds horizontally over a distance of 0.5km, and vertically over 10m, in an area of approximately 2.5 square kilometres, but that's not a hard and fast rulefor, it seems to change at each place where the beds crop out.

As you rightly say, the existence of a second Altar Stone is probably just a rumour, although I've seen it in print somewhere, and occasionally rumours are based on fact, who knows?

Neil Wiseman said...

Gents and Lady,

We interrupt this august blogcast with a bit of back-story ...

I believe the search for a "Second Altar Stone" is a red herring.

My research tends to indicate that there's only one reference to such a stone, and this is apocryphal. It's remotely possible that one of the fallen Bluestones of the outer ring was presented to Charles I, who was breathlessly informed that it was no less than "The Altar Stone from Stonehenge!"

If there's a lick of truth to this, I suspect that its more about either presenting the King of England with some rock of no provenance, or one from among the most famous pile of stones in the world. Pick one.

I think it's safe to say that there's only One Altar Stone, it's in-situ, and nobody has a clue where it came from ...

We now return you to the silky flow of this riveting narrative.


BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Neil -- re the Altar Stone, we do seem to know now that it came from the Senni Beds, from an outcrop probably somewhere in Carmarthenshire or Powys. Agreed that that is a rather large area! But at least the Cosheston Beds of the Milford Haven area now do not seem to be in the frame.

Jon Morris said...

Many thanks Dave, very interesting: I had imagined that the variation between beds would change more rapidly than that and that the variation within the bed layers would be higher. Makes sense that it would not vary that much though. Thanks again!

Hi Brian

"we do seem to know now that it came from the Senni Beds"

The Ixer/Turner paper appears to be a bit vague on that Point Brian. They say it 'most likely' came from that location. Earlier in the paper they contrast the Devonian (Old Red Sandstone) Cosheston Group and the Senni Beds in South Wales (as possible parent lithologies). However, with the wording that has been used, they do not appear to rule out other locations. It would be useful to know whether or not other locations are possible and also why these two locations are considered to be the most likely.

As I read it, there are two likely guides to their thinking on probabilities:
1) That the stone has the features which are unique to the groups considered
2) That the rest of the 'non-sarsen' stones are known to have originated nearby in geographical terms

It would be interesting to know how much the latter influenced their thinking on probability (if at all)

BRIAN JOHN said...

The Senni Beds are very extensive -- so we are not talking of one location, but a very big outcrop or set of outcrops. The main achievement of the Ixer / Turner paper was to demonstrate that the Altar Stone did not come from the Cosheston Sandstones near Milford Haven -- I provided Rob with some samples taken from where the bluestone was supposed (by the archaeologists) to have come from. So the Altar Stone source is geographically quite a long way off (or a very long way off if we are talking about a Powys provenance!) from the other bluestone source areas around Mynydd Preseli.

alex gee said...

Hi Brian
Perhaps try accessing it direct from the site. It wasn't locked when I opened it.

Goggle Mendipgeoarch, and visit the site direct. It is one of a number of papers in the


That should work.

Dave Weston said...

Hello Jon,
I may of mislead you slightly.
Let us say that there are 3 constituents, A, B, and C; what tends to occur is at sample point (1) A and B will be correct with C wrong, at sample point (2) A and C will be ok but B will be wrong, and so on.
This can happen over short distances,ie. in the region of 30 metres horizontally and 10 metres vertically. Additionally, there is the problem of obtaining a correlation between individual layers when they are only visible in old and current quarries, road and rail cuttings etc.
However, some indication of a possible source maybe provided by 'clusters' of large standing stones. There are good examples of such clusters in the Brecon Beacons area, particularly around Llangorse Lake, which happens to have an Afanc and a Crannog. Good standing stones examples are Mean Llia, Mash Maroc, Llwyn-y-fedwen (Google The Megalithic Portal for more information on standing stones, and Wiki for Llangorse Lake).
BW Dave.

Jon Morris said...

Many thanks Dave

You sound like you've done this before! I think I understand the general idea: So probably the detailed sampling has to be undertaken by someone with a geological eye. But to make an initial determination of whether or not it's even worth looking at one area of the Senni beds or another, could you just take a few random samples from each area?

If so, what type of lab provider do you use to get samples tested to find out what they are?

Dave Weston said...

Hello Jon,
The procedure generally adopts the following sequence:

1. a possible area is selected for examination, usually by looking at a website such as 'wheresthepath' which provides for a geological overlay on several different base maps, and also useful historical maps. Similarly the British Geological Survey website provides overlays of both bedrock and surface deposits, it's the bedrock that's of greatest interest;

2. should the area look promising then the geological map and memoir can be purchased, or sometimes downloaded from the BGS;

3. A wise step is to then download any lidar images of the area, for they may indicate prehistoric features such as enclosures, hut platforms etc., which show promising human activity in the region;

4.then permission to enter the area, and to remove samples, has to be secured from the landowner;

5. several days are then spent investigating suitable existing exposures of selected strata to confirm bed thickness and joint spacing;

6. a tame geologist then conducts a macroscopical examination and 'fizz-tests' with the application of dilute hydrochloric acid; you want it to fizz;

7. a Portable X-ray Fluorescence machine is also used for comparing the location with Altar Stone X-ray results;

8. promising samples are then dyed and thin sectioned for microscopical examination and comparison with existing Altar Stone samples and thin sections;

9. when you get an exact match everyone in the team smiles ---- I wish.

A good example of a promising area is Hay Bluff, where England meets Wales and the full sequence is exposed (SO 24453 36711), Google for photos.

Google gives a selection of laboratories that provide thin section manufacture and analysis, and some Universities also have a thin section machine and the expertise to use it.

Good huntingbut, it's costly in both time and cash.

Jon Morris said...

it's costly in both time and cash.

Many thanks Dave: Very interesting. It very much sounds as if it's something that will need a lot of thought before making any decision. Perhaps if the archaeology teams manage to narrow down the search area a bit more, it might become less cost prohibitive?

Alex Gee said...

It would appear that the cognitive dissonance displayed by the Rhos-y-Fellin quarryists merely reflects the general trend towards the corruption of science displayed by the Lysenkoist scientists employed by the World Health Authority WHO.

Who've recently overturned decades of epidemiological research by suggesting that its a good idea for hundreds of thousands of people to travel to the epicentre of the outbreak of the Zika virus!

Although there is some hope for them! Us awkward old bastards who value honesty. integrity, and scientific rigour, are on our last legs, and won't be around for ever!

Then they'll be free to publish any old horseshit and reap the personal and financial benefits.

BRIAN JOHN said...

MPP will give the latest report from the quarryists at Castell Henllys on 22 Sept, at the conclusion of the 2016 digging season. If they find nothing, I hope he will have the good grace to say so.......

That's the day after I give a short talk at the same venue as part of the Castell Henllys family talks series. I can't remember what title I gave them -- I think it was "The Myth of the Bluestone Quarries" or some such thing. For my talk, there will be no trumpet fanfares and there will be no Durrington Walls BBQ, and probably very little advertising! (My talk is not exactly in tune with the official National Park line....)

BRIAN JOHN said...

Are you on your last legs, Alex? Sorry to hear that -- as for me, I battle on, and had a wonderful kayak trip today in perfect summer weather round one of our neighbouring islands!

TonyH said...

Just a reminder for those who may have missed this news. MPP is doin' some diggin' at Durrington Walls again, soon! This time, in search of sarsen stones beneath the earth, as revealed by the Hidden Landscapes bods. There is, for example, a Members only WANHS guided tour, priced at £8, on August 11th at 2 p.m. Booking essential. See the Wiltshire Museum [Devizes] website. Or you may be able to see what they're up to informally, around that date, Suggest parking at the Woodhenge car park. No mention of a BBQ, sorry, could bring your own pig plus bow and arrows, though RSPCA Officers MAY be in the vicinity.

TonyH said...

Re my last Post about MPP, Durrington Walls and him digging there in summer 2016, some background information may be seen on the FragmeNTS site, a Blog written by National Trust Archaeologist Dr Nick Snashall. She last updated it in 2015, but it may be useful to you.

Moreover, it may well get updated - stuff on both Stonehenge AND Avebury appears periodically.

Jon Morris said...


Been giving this a bit of thought: Is there any way to cheaply rule out a location as the source of the Altar Stone? Lets say we had a load of samples from a location that looked promising, could we quickly rule out that location by surface examination of the samples? If so, how exactly would that be done?

TonyH said...


Jon Morris makes a very interesting observation. Not sure whether Dave Maynard (out in Azerbaiijan?) will realise Jon has made this comment. Are you in any kind of communication with Dave apart from this Blog? Or should we direct the question to Myris?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Dave will no doubt reply....... but if you have a hand sample from the Altar Stone, of course you can compare that with hand samples from the places you are interested in. You might then get a reasonable idea as to whether there is a match, which can be improved upon by examination with a hand lense -- and ultimately by comparing thin sections under a microscope. Myris warns us frequently that the examination of hand samples is fraught with danger, and can be very misleading. The problem is that nobody has any hand samples from the Altar Stone, as I understand it. Therein lies the biggest problem of all.

Jon Morris said...

Not sure Dave will see this, but out of interest it turns out to be not particularly difficult and the kit required is very similar to the sort of stuff have in the workshop (surprised me a bit but I guess it's not that dissimilar to materials investigations). Here's an example of how to do it (there's loads of documents on the net if you search how "to make thin sections of rock"

BRIAN JOHN said...

Looks rather complicated to me, Jon! Not sure this is the sort of thing I would want to do in my garden shed....... and the cost of the gear looks prohibitive. Not a matter for amateurs?

Jon Morris said...

Agreed with that Brian: Was thinking aloud. It's the sort of stuff that is handy in a materials investigation workshop, if you happened to have access to one that is set up for this sort of thing (for example a concrete investigations lab), but perhaps not an ordinary workshop.

I also found a link to a method of doing it by hand. Didn't keep a copy of that site link, but it's on the internet somewhere.

The difficult thing, I guess, would be getting access to someone who knew how to look at the rock to make a comparison with the written word in the published documents.

TonyH said...

The thing that is most likely to happen to most "mythomaniacs", the expression coined by The Observer as this Post informs us, is that they are likely to become Legends in their own Lunchtime, rather than Lifetime. There is a tendency for them to ultimately become notorious, rather than legendary e.g. that fellow who started the tale of Piltdown Man. We all remember Piltdown Man, how many of us recall the name of his creator? And what befalls the tale of Rhosyfelin (and other) Quarries, and its teller(s)?

TonyH said...

"Eoanthropus Dawsonii" translates as 'Dawson's Dawn Man": the name Piltdown Man was christened by his proven perpretator. Lots of archives and records in the Natural History Museum.

All this was over a century ago - and now we've reached the Century of Comments on this particular Post.