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Monday, 22 August 2016

Are archaeologists especially prone to premature ejaculation?

 Source:  Darren Dalcher

There now.  I knew you would read this post.  The power of the seductive headline.......

Anyway, this is a serious matter.  From my very limited knowledge of the matter in hand, I have gathered a certain amount of evidence, and all I can do is to present it for public perusal, and we shall see where it all leads.  Much of what follows is based upon the content of public lectures by famous archaeologists who must remain anonymous -- other information has come from their publications.

In a previous post I dealt with the premature ejaculations of the archaeologists who told the world, very loudly, that there was a giant row of  monoliths at Durrington Walls. Which, as it now seems, there was not......

So they have all slipped rapidly into damage limitation mode, with gushing reports about the wondrous things found in the recent Durrington dig.  Interestingly, they seem to be not at all concerned about the fact that they have lost most of their credibility as serious researchers.......... and that in itself tells us quite a lot about the bizarre world of archaeology.

But let's concentrate on the hunt for the Welsh Neolithic bluestone quarries, since this is something I know rather too much about.    When the geologists announced in 2011 that they had narrowed down the provenance of a certain foliated rhyolite found in the Stonehenge "debitage" to the Pont Saeson - Rhosyfelin area in the Brynberian Valley, the archaeologists decided, with rather too much enthusiasm, that there had to be a Neolithic bluestone quarry there, just waiting to be explored.  So off they rushed, and lo and behold, they found a rather large (8 tonne) block of foliated rhyolite which was immediately labelled as a "proto-orthostat."

"Woohoo!" ejaculated a famous archaeologist, somewhat prematurely.  "We have found the Pompeii of prehistoric quarries!"  After that, he and his digging colleagues got REALLY excited, and said famous archaeologist, in the year 2012, started to develop the bluestone quarrying story.  Others did the same. They were completely unfazed by the fact that there was no sustainable evidence of quarrying, and they have carried on digging to this day, at considerable expense to the taxpayer, developing their Rhosyfelin quarrying narrative with every passing year.  We won't repeat our criticisms of that process, or the findings of the archaeologists; we have covered it all before.

Then the geologists Richard Bevins and Rob Ixer told the world that the spotted dolerite monoliths at Stonehenge -- and some of the dolerite debitage -- had probably come from Carn Goedog.  "Woohoo!" ejaculated the archaeologists, rushing off up the hill with their tools in hand.  "Another bluestone quarry!  There was clearly a fantastic Neolithic quarrying industry going on in these parts!"  So they dug there too, and pontificated that they had found clear evidence of quarrying, in spite of assorted party-poopers commenting that they had done nothing of the sort.  They have maintained the Carn Goedog quarrying story to this day, unwisely supported by geologists Bevins and Ixer, but unfortunately there is not a single excavation report or peer-reviewed paper about Carn Goedog that others can scrutinize.

There have been other premature ejaculations too, enumerated as follows:

1.  It was announced that Castell Mawr, not very far from Rhosyfelin, was possibly the Neolithic tribal centre from which the quarrymen came.  After a couple of years of digging in the site, the idea was quietly dropped.

2.  It was announced that there must have been a great circle of bluestones somewhere in the vicinity of Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog (I still fail to see any logic in that), and that there were promising signs of this spectacular feature on Waun Mawn, near Tafarn y Bwlch.  After some preliminary work, that idea was dropped too.

3.  Then it was suggested that a site down in the Nevern Valley near Felindre Farchog needed to be investigated, since it was a likely candidate for the missing village of Neolithic quarrymen.  After a short dig, that one was abandoned too.

4.  It was also flagged up to the eager followers of this fantastical myth that there was a village of Neolithic quarrymen beneath the north-facing slope of Carn Goedog.  I'm not sure that there has been any actual excavation work there, but that idea has also been quietly dropped.

They don't give up.  The latest premature ejaculation relates to another mysterious site where there are supposedly indications of "something big" -- to be announced to the world during and after the September dig -- presumably at the site called Pensarn, near Crosswell.

It's almost too much, what with all this excitement.  Why don't the quarrying archaeologists follow the much more prosaic and mundane practice followed by many of their peers -- such as the professionals working for the Dyfed Archaeological Trust -- by quietly going about their work and quietly reporting on it afterwards either in published reports or in peer-reviewed journals? Instead, we see an obsession with "impact" and public relations, to the extent that it all becomes somewhat embarrassing.

Don't let's forget that after five years expended on this crazy quarry hunt in Pembrokeshire, there are no published excavation reports and only one peer-reviewed paper. (I don't count articles in "British Archaeology" and "Current Archaeology" since those are clearly not refereed and are aimed at a general readership.)  The published paper, in "Antiquity", should never have been published in its present form.  I'm not the only one saying that.  A senior geomorphologist who has visited Rhosyfelin has read it too, and says it is one of the worst papers it has ever been his misfortune to read, since it is simply made up of a string of unsupported assertions which do nothing to demonstrate any quarrying activity in prehistoric times.

What other metaphors shall we use here?  Wild goose chase, red herrings, damp squibs, snake oil, cash cows........?  I grow weary.  I must go out and do some more work in the garden.


TonyH said...

There's a good article on this problem which afflicts a lot of otherwise robustly healthy, red - blooded male (and, surprisingly, the occasional female!) archaeologists at the very end of the current issue of British Archaeology magazine. It is well worth reading, as it does offer a number of helpful suggestions. Surprisingly, none of them involve Brian's love of glacial porn.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Must take a look at that. The main problem, as I see it, is that wildly irresponsible press releases have now taken the place of peer-reviewed publications at the top of the list of academic priorities. Very sad. The academics cannot blame their university press officers -- they sign off the content of nonsense press releases, and they can stop the nonsense if they really want to.

TonyH said...

Look at the article in B.A. Magazine, Sept/Oct 2016, Number 150 page 66, entitled Let Us Celebrate What Archaeology Can Do. It is the 'Spoilheap' Column. Includes one of Bill Tidy's regular cartoons.