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Monday, 12 September 2016

New online paper: Rhosyfelin is NOT a quarry

As readers of this blog will know, the debate about Rhosyfelin has been going on mostly off the record, or in press releases, or on this blog, with very little in the way of discussion in peer-reviewed articles in learned journals.  Well, some journals are more learned than others......  there have been a number of articles and editorial comments in Current Archaeology and British Archaeology, but those articles are not peer-reviewed, and we can forget about them on the basis that they are written to promote new research findings and pet theories to a readership of non-specialists.  So they are by definition neither balanced nor independently scrutinised.  As far as I can gather, they are largely written by invitation.  So what are we left with?  Three papers, as follows:

1.  Brian John, Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downes (2015). OBSERVATIONS ON THE SUPPOSED “NEOLITHIC BLUESTONE QUARRY” AT CRAIG RHOSYFELIN, PEMBROKESHIRE". Archaeology in Wales 54, pp 139-148. (Publication 14th December 2015)

2.  Brian John, Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downes (2015).  "Quaternary Events at Craig Rhosyfelin, Pembrokeshire."  Quaternary Newsletter, October 2015 (No 137), pp 16-32. (November 2015)

3. Mike Parker Pearson, Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer, Joshua Pollard, Colin Richards, Kate Welham, Ben Chan, Kevan Edinborough, Derek Hamilton, Richard Macphail, Duncan Schlee, Jean-LucSchwenninger, Ellen Simmons and Martin Smith (2015). Craig Rhos-y-felin: a Welsh bluestone megalith quarry for Stonehenge. Antiquity, 89, pp 1331-1352 (7th December 2015)


The three papers were published within the space of a month, so they were all in the publishing pipeline at the same time, and there was no possibility of cross-citations and no opportunity for the authors to assess the reliability of opposing arguments or indeed the reliability of cited evidence.  As every reader realises, there is not much common ground between the geomorphological interpretation of Rhosyfelin and that of the archaeologists.  At some stage, each of the two teams needs to assess the reliability of what the other team is saying -- you cannot simply potter on by ignoring the "inconvenient" views of other specialists.  On this blog I gave a thorough assessment of the paper from the Parker Pearson team back in December 2015:

In my summary, I said:  I am mystified that this paper (by Parker Pearson et al) has found its way into print in a prestigious journal, since it comprehensively ignores all the protocols of scientific publishing and since it is simply an exercise in ruling hypothesis confirmation.   I still think that.  Anyway, some of the contributors to the blog suggested I should write an article for submission to Antiquity in which I expressed my reservations in diplomatic language!  Anyway, in the spring of 2016 I wrote a short article with a few added illustrations and submitted it to the journal for consideration,  not really expecting it to be accepted, for reasons that are not too difficult to discern!  I made some substantial alterations to the text on the basis of one peer review, and then the revised text was reviewed by at least two other reviewers (not of my choosing) and by the editor before being formally rejected.

The grounds for the rejection were that the article contained too much material which was already published in other articles.  That's true -- some of the information is of course contained in our articles published in Quaternary Newsletter and  Archaeology in Wales.  But I had included it, in summarised form, because if I had failed to produce any hard evidence I would most certainly have had the article rejected on the grounds that it was entirely negative and that it failed to provide any data or arguments to back up my criticisms of the paper from the MPP team.  Anyway, I did not want it just to be a tirade directed at another piece of work, and I wanted an archaeological readership to encounter just a little geomorphology............

I am still rather bemused by this "no repeat publication" ruling by the editor, since the first part of the MPP group's paper (the first four pages were clearly written by Richard Bevins and Rob Ixer) consists entirely of geological material already in print.  So repetition and citation are apparently OK for some, but not for others.

What to do next?  Well, the editor has now invited me to submit something brief that can be used to stimulate a debate -- with very serious limits on the number of words available.  MPP and his colleagues can then come back at me with whatever points they want to raise.  That's OK -- I may well go along with that suggestion.

But in the meantime, what to do with the paper as submitted and rejected?  There would be no point in sending it to another journal, since it was written FOR the journal Antiquity and would make little sense anywhere else.  For better or for worse, I have now published it online as a "working paper."  This means it becomes available for people too see and to comment on, and I can alter it if anybody points out mistakes or pieces of unfortunate phraseology.  Does it have any "status" or "academic value"?  I leave that for others to judge, but I quite like the "democratic publishing" process that is now possible, thanks to the web and online publishing platforms like ResearchGate.  In the process of making revisions I have taken on board all of the comments from the Antiquity editor and my own referees and those chosen by him -- and I thank all of them for their help in improving the manuscript.  It is now as reliable, I think, as anything you are likely to read in a learned journal anywhere.

If anybody wants to cite it, please use the following format:

Brian John (2016).  Craig Rhos-y-felin is NOT shown to be a Welsh bluestone megalith quarry for Stonehenge.  Greencroft Working Paper No 2, August 2016.  Online ResearchGate publication.
DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.11635.12322


TonyH said...

Is MORE necessarily more magnificently authentic and accurate? MPP may believe this. He has no fewer than 13 [THIRTEEN] other contributors to his Antiquity Paper. When we compare this to Brian's magnificent 3 [THREE], we realise MPP has many human resources to call upon, who are willing to nail their colours to the mast.

I am reminded of the '60's book, "Small is Beautiful", however. Also, David v Goliath. We will see who is right, EVENTUALLY, when proper Science gives up its secrets.This, inevitably, may not be in 15 minutes, so I doubt very much whether MPP will be famous after his September delvings in Preseli.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Hmm -- yes, I had not seriously considered the implications of having 14 authors involved in a single paper. Maybe that explains why it is -- shall we say -- lacking in coherence? I'm still waiting for the basic description of the site and its stratigraphy, which I was hoping was on the way, but which (Myris now informs us) will apparently never be written. Pity.

TonyH said...

Too many cooks spoil the broth? Perhaps the other THIRTEEN co - contributors are now signed up to perform animatedly and more profitably for Channel 4, in the light of "Bake Off's" demise on the Beeb, who simply cannot afford to expenses.

BRIAN JOHN said...

More to the point, there are 14 co-authors who may or may not have signed up to everything said in the article, or even to the manner in which it was written. Some of them will only have contributed a small amount of expertise in something or other. Now they are all tarred with the same brush -- they have all become members of the quarrying tribe. Dangerous for their individual reputations, and dangerous for science, since they are now all signed up to the the defending of the indefensible........

Alex Gee said...

How come the basic description of the site and stratigraphy will never be written? Is it because the "Team" can't be bothered? or is it as we initially feared , no proper recording of the sediments and stratigraphy has been made and the excavation was little more than disorganised vandalism and destruction of a unique, irreplaceable Pleistocene sedimentary sequence?

A sequence that could have conceivably contained evidence to support the "glacial
transport" hypothesis!

Are there no ethical standards in Archaeology? when conducting such excavations?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Hi Alex

As you may remember, not long ago I expressed my appreciation of the fact that a paper doing just that -- describing the stratigraphy and tying it into the occupation phases -- was on the way. Apparently I has misunderstood a message from our dearly beloved friend Myris, and he wrote to disabuse us, saying that he and his colleagues have been working on no such thing. If such a document is being worked on, I dare say that the geologists would be a part of it, since they do at least understand stratigraphy......

So the dig pit is filled in, and if it had not been for the fact that a number of us were able to look at it outside working hours, and describe our findings in print, the world would by now have accepted all that guff in the Antiquity paper as the gospel truth. Scary thought!

TonyH said...

Hear, hear, Alex!

When it comes to British Archaeology and its archaeologists, I tend to still think there ARE ethical standards, and things ARE Wwrittten up in an authentic trustworthy way.

My problem is that the MPP & Company (Preseli) Ruling Hypothesis Ltd Group seems to have no ethical standards. I have had a lifetime's active interest in British Archaeology and possess an Honours Degree in Geography as well. This included studying geomorphology, and I am gravely concerned that we are all being taken for a ride.

Ever since the Geologists assisted MPP & Co at Rhosyfelin with rock analysis, various people involved have been economical with the truth, what little truth there was to actually state, regarding Stonehenge's bluestone debitage [N.B. NOT its bluestone vertical magaliths] and their provenance in Preseli. Overstatement has been followed by, quote, MPP "milking it for all it is worth" (comment by one of the Geologists privately to me, several
years ago). And I agree with all the related points Alex Gee has made to do with lack of recording of sediments and stratigraphy.

Unless proved otherwise, I state that MPP & Co are insisting we believe a Load of Balloney. and, sooner or later, the General Public will see through all this, Michael Parker Pearson - you, Sir, are standing on very shakey ground.

Myris of Alexandria said...

"U-Pb zircon age constraints for the Ordovician Fishguard Volcanic Group and further evidence for the provenance of the Stonehenge bluestones"

Richard Bevins, Nicola Atkinson, Rob Ixer & Jane Evans

This I believe is the paper that I was discussing nothing to do with gardening calendars but mainstream, basic, good quality, if rather expensive, data. I am unsure how this U-Pb work was mis-interpreted by Brian

Out about now in Geol Soc somewhere. Not an easy read but once again demonstrates how powerful (and cheap) petrography is in competent hands. Plus helps narrow down the exact age of the FVG (the more important results).

Gardening dates are for others to ponder, I have no knowledge of them. I guess Dr Ixer cares little of them, as there are quarries to find and bluestone to provenance.


BRIAN JOHN said...

Where will it be published, Myris, and when? This will be helpful if it matches the AGE of Stonehenge fragments with the AGE of various parts (different intrusions or volcanic events) of the Fishguard Volcanic Croup and hence to work out where some of the Stonehenge fragments are likely to have come from..... So yes, petrography and dating together can be very useful.

Myris of Alexandria said...

Abstract of dating paper.

New U-Pb zircon ages from rhyolite samples of the Fishguard Volcanic Group (FVG), southwest Wales, confirm a Middle Ordovician (Darriwilian) age for the group. One of the samples is from Craig Rhos-y-felin which has recently been identified on petrological and geochemical grounds as the source of much of the debitage at Stonehenge. Analysis of a Stonehenge rhyolite fragment yields an age comparable to the Craig Rhos-y-felin sample. Another Stonehenge fragment, thought to come from orthostat 48 and on petrographical grounds to be derived from the FVG (but not Craig Rhos-y-felin), yields an age also consistent with a FVG source.

Geol Soc next few days??