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Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Six digging seasons and what have we learned? Nothing at all.....



After six digging seasons (2011-2016) by the archaeologists involved in the Great Bluestone Quarry Hunt, what have we learned about the Neolithic and the Bronze Age that we didn't already know?  I can't actually think of anything.......

If anybody can think of something, please let us know.

The best we can say about the so-called quarries at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog is that no undisputed evidence of quarrying has been found at either site, and that the interpretations placed upon things by the archaeologists are hotly disputed.  The radiocarbon dates do nothing to support the idea of Neolithic quarrying, either at Carn Goedog or at Rhosyfelin.    So let's leave those "quarries"to one side, and look at what else has been discovered.  Organic remains and traces of human occupation have been found at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog, but all that is entirely predictable, since there are abundant nearby traces of Neolithic burial sites and Bronze Age features too -- and it has been known for many decades that hunting parties involved in a hunting and gathering economy over many thousands of years moved about, camped in sheltered places, and used those sheltered "favoured places" over and again.  They caught fish, hunted wild animals, and ate berries and hazel nuts.  They used hearths for their fires.  They needed cutting tools and other weapons, and needed to manufacture them or trade them.  There is nothing about the occupational or sedimentological/stratigraphic evidence either at Carn Goedog or Rhosyfelin that can be lebelled as "exceptional" or "significant".

In parallel with this particular wild goose chase, we have had others.  The search for a Neolithic quarryman's village took the diggers to the settlement site beneath the crags at Carn Goedog -- and drew a blank.  The search for a Neolithic ceremonial centre somewhere in the Nevern valley has taken the diggers to Castell Mawr and to Felindre Farchog -- and drew a blank in both cases.  The search for a proto-Stonehenge circle of standing stones took the diggers to Waun Mawn -- and drew a blank.  There was talk of something at Bayvil, something else at Felin y Gigfran, and those sites may or may not have been investigated.  Then there was going to be "something big" at Pensarn, and the current dig has revealed a Bronze Age burial site to add to the fifty or so that we know about already in the Preseli area.  In advance of each of these investigations, there have been heavy hints of exciting work and monumental discoveries to come, as we have pointed out before:

http://brian-mountainman.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/are-archaeologists-especially-prone-to.html

Each summer, in his annual lectures here in Pembrokeshire, Prof MPP announces where the next giant leap forward will be, thus keeping public interest simmering along nicely over the dark winter months, during which the grant aid for the next dig is secured.  It's called news management and public relations, combined with commercial awareness.

The only interesting new information to come out of this whole quarrying fiasco is the news that some of the foliated rhyolite debris at Stonehenge is quite closely matched to the rock type identified around Rhosyfelin and Pont Saeson.  That is a piece of noteworthy provenancing news -- but the research was done by geologists Richard Bevins and Rob Ixer, and not by archaeologists.

How much has this wild goose chase cost the taxpayer, and how much harm has it done to the reputation of archaeology and the reputations of those involved in the quarry hunt?  Only time will tell.  But the time has come, I think, to stop the flow of public funds into this particular research project and to spend the money on something more sensible.  No doubt all those involved in these six seasons of digging are all perfectly competent archaeologists -- but it's sad to see so many people involved in the meticulous observation and "signification" of insignificant things (such as the precise positioning of stones in glacial till and rockfall deposits) and swept along by something that is best described as corporate delusion.

33 comments:

chris johnson said...

Seems like Mr Jones has taken his post down - talking out of turn perhaps?

It is disappointing that the digs have not discovered much if anything. It is also disappointing that few if any dig reports have been published - just seems to be an end of summer jaunt.

David H. Jones said...

It is fair to say that Professor Parker Pearson's team have extensively searched, and propose to continue to search, the Preseli area for evidence of quarrying which would then support the human transport of bluestones to Stonehenge.
Perhaps those supporters of glacial extraction, and transport, should invest a similar amount of effort and time in searching for bluestone erratics in the vicinity of Stonehenge.
Criticism from the armchair is a poor substitute for hard evidence from the field.

BRIAN JOHN said...

David -- hard evidence from the field is what you have, in the form of two peer-reviewed papers. You can find them on Researchgate. Please read them, and if they don't withstand your scrutiny, tell us why. That's how progress is made in research.

It is a perfectly valid exercise to concentrate on how the stones were entrained or picked up from this end. The transport issue is different, and the emplacement issue (at Stonehenge) is yet another.

We three jolly cavaliers are all retired, and have no resources of scouring Salisbury Plain. Somebody will do it in due course. Maybe somebody else will also scour the countryside of Britain to see if they can find any evidence of long-distance stone transport by Neolithic tribesmen.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Chris -- not sure he's taken his post down -- Facebook seems to remove material now and then for reasons known only to them..... too early, maybe, to thank about a conspiracy.....??

BRIAN JOHN said...

Hmmm -- yes, the post has gone from his site, and the 9 photos have also gone from his photo gallery. The shared post that was also on my Facebook page (with a couple of photis) has also disappeared. Interesting. Maybe there has been a protest from the digging team. Does Emyr own his own photos, or does he not? Weird.....

chris johnson said...

Dear David H Jones,
Some public funding to research bluestone debris in Wiltshire/Somerset would be very welcome. Personally I would enjoy a nice two week jaunt at the end of summer, bountiful fresh air and cosy evenings in the snug with a few pints of best bitter. It beats working for a living....
Any idea who is paying?

Dave Maynard said...

I'd better point out how I came across this post. It was from following another archaeologist, who commented on it, perhaps a little negatively. I'm all for it, as it appears to be a big piece of work very well carried out and going to be a major feature in the understanding of the Prehistoric in this area. I'm sure it's all in the research design for work on this site.

I'm only concerned that such a large piece of work seems to have been carried out with no reference to other interested archaeologists, or members of the public who may wish to have a look for themselves. We do spend a lot of time working on sites that have big restrictions on public access because of safety on construction sites, or working on things that are not very exciting to look at anyway. So when something that appears pretty inspiring, why not make a story about it? Even in Azerbaijan, I've had school parties come out to look at what we are doing. That will be a couple of scrappy Bronze Age burial features for the next couple of weeks. We might organise visitors if they turn out to be good things to look at, although they will be discretely invited rather than advertised to one and all.

Dave

BRIAN JOHN said...

Those pics are not on my Facebook page, or Emyr's. I can only assume that they have been taken down by Facebook at the request of somebody who has a vested interest in keeping the site away from public scrutiny. Somebody maybe feels that the dig may not be photographed and that he or she somehow owns the copyright of images taken by private individuals. Should I now claim the copyright of any photographs anybody might take of our garden? Could be a nice little earner. ......

I have now put two of the images back onto Facebook, as an experiment. Let's see if they survive....

Dave Maynard said...

interesting concept if someone (crowd sourcing?) funded the 'three retired cavaliers' to spend six seasons searching for evidence in Somerset/Wiltshire, say a month at a time. Looking up all the various possibilities and some limited fieldwork might balance out the emphasis.

On a related note, do large scale developments in the area have a selection and identification process for 'foreign stones' within their development approval. Any studies on the material that might be exposed at Hinckley Point?

Dave

Jon Morris said...

Did they survive?

BRIAN JOHN said...

No -- they have been wiped off Facebook too -- but I have posted them in my photo album as well, and they are still on my timeline. Somebody is behaving in a very childish and petulant fashion here..... it's all rather ludicrous.

David H. Jones said...

There is no need to be defensive for I was not questioning the validity of the geomorphologists findings at Craig Rhos-y-Felin, and Dr.John's reply is correct with regard to there being three fundamental questions relating to the blustones, namely:
(a) the means of extraction at Preseli;
(b) the mode of transport between Preseli and Stonehenge, and
(c) the construction at the final location.

Nevertheless, the following is correct:

(A) currently, there is no definitive proof for either human quarrying or glacial entrainment at Preseli;
(B) currently, there is no definitive proof for either human or glacial transportation between Preseli and Stonehenge, however,
(C) there is definitive proof of human activity in the construction of the monument which is supported by a total lack of evidence for glacial activity in the Salisbury Plain area.

Therefore, with (A) we have a draw game; with (B) we also have a draw game; but with (C) we have an outright win on points for the humans.

It is fair to say that the question of 'extraction versus entrainment' is currently being addressed by both camps, whereas the transportation issue is more difficult to resolve. Nevertheless, a possible way of solving the human transport problem may well lie in finding the source of the sedimentary Altar Stone rather than the source of the igneous rocks, for if, as Dr Ixer suggests, the source of the Altar Stone is far to the East, (perhaps in the Herefordshire area), then the source could well be beyond the recognised limit of ice travel from both the North and the West.

As a disinterested person I am suggesting that the members of the 'Ice Camp' are concentrating their efforts at the wrong end of the journey, what is required is evidence of bluestone erratics in the Stonehenge area, or beyond, to show that ice may have provided the bluestone lithics for scavenging by the people.
I regret that I'm unable to provide the necessary funding for the search for I am also retired.

BRIAN JOHN said...

David

I don't think anybody is doubting that people were probably involved in the building of Stonehenge. I would not agree with you that there is a "total lack of evidence for glacial activity in the Salisbury Plain area." If one is being objective, one could say with complete honesty that the assemblage of 43 bluestones has many of the characteristics of a glacial erratic assemblage. I suggested as much on one of my slides of all those boulders. They happen to be on Salisbury Plain, and it is not unreasonable to say that they were carried there by ice. That is just as strong as evidence of glaciation as the presence of large erratic boulders on the coasts of Devon and Cornwall, or erratics in the coastal deposits of the Scilly Isles.

Re the Altar Stone, we have discussed it at great length, and it looks as if it has come from one of the South Wales outcrops of the ORS. It was probably carried southwards by Welsh ice before being moved eastwards by Irish Sea ice. That's not special pleading -- the zig-zag movement of erratics happens quite often.

Myris of Alexandria said...

You say the bluestones look like a glacial erratic assemblage despite all other recognised workers disagreeing with you. We are asked to accept your authority despite lack of evidence. Is there another recognised/well-published ice warrior who will put his name to your erratic beliefs ? .

MPP and his recognised Prehistoric quarry colleagues say CRyf and CG are quarries despite one worker with a good track record disagreeing with that.

You constantly play double standards I know you cannot see it. It is why good people eventually stay away from the board. Luckily for balance I am 'not good people'.

On balance and it is slim the evidence suggests procurement of bluestones from Wales and their movement by man to Stonehenge. It is fantastical, but magical piles of bluestone appearing just in the right place is just tooo Arthurian. Sells books though I expect.
Shades of pink-coloured flint ducks.
M



TonyH said...

No, no, Myris, you are having "magical piles of bluestones appearing just in the right PLACE". Not so, as you know.............

................................. The Bluestones may well have been naything up to or beyo 0 to 20 miles of The Old Ruin when the glacier deposited them. Just because we haven't found any other large pieces of bluestone of Pembrokeshire origin within that radius, doesn't mean they aren't there. After all, your "alter ego", or very best friend, Dr Ixer, has examined bits of bluestone FOUND BY JFS STONE long ago NEAR THE GREAT CURSUS in the Greater Stonehenge Landscape.

TonyH said...

DAVID MAYNARD

You raise a very pertinent point above (23rd September at 17.03 hrs), regarding the Chinese and the French investmant at Hinckley Point for the nuclear plant.

I would have thought the Chinese and French would be WELL ADVISED to put some investment into the scouring of that area for any exotic foreign erratics - think of the indirect TOURIST INTEREST in this as a side - effect, at Stonehenge! And all the Chinese tourists flocking in, in Cameron - like "swarms"!

Mrs Theresa May, Prime Minister, YOU possess an Oxford Geography Degree (like Brian, incidentally), I suggest you consider the wider benefits of an geological erratic search.

chris johnson said...

David Jones summarises the state of knowledge quite well. Were Salisbury Plain littered with erratics of various types, then nobody have ever have looked at Pembrokeshire for any kind of connection. It is the "fact" that the Stonehenge area is considered free of serious glacial action that created the mystery, and long before anybody had heard of Mike Parker Pearson. Surely this "fact" may be challenged, preferably by searching on the ground.

Impartial observers should also conclude after several years of digging in Prescelly that there is no convincing evidence found so far for the kind of organisation needed to quarry and transport stones in the period 2500-3500 BC. Actually in my own opinion there is very little activity to be seen in this time frame. Pentre Ifan, the coastal dolmans, Beddyrafanc are likely further back in time while the Bronze Age monuments evident on the hilltops and Pencarn are much more recent. The circle at Gors Fawr is generally dated to the Bronze Age and, should these dates be correct, there was considerable activity in Prescelly from the Bronze Age onwards. There is very little evidence for activity in the late stone age, neolithic period. I have walked these hills for thirty years, not intensively as Brian has, but always on the lookout for worked flints. There is basically nothing. The flint evidence from, eg, Nabs Head looks to my eye to be earlier - what we would call Mesolithic hunter gatherer in character and not neolithic.

To summarise, I don't see evidence for significant activity in the area under study in the critical period of time. Nor have the diggers presented any new evidence.

Hopefully somebody can tell me I am wrong. I would love to be proved wrong.

TonyH said...

Myris, you say....

"MPP and his recognised - Prehistoric quarry colleagues say CRhyf and CG are quarries despite one worker with a good track record disagreeing with that."

Please would you be kind enough to give us a pen - picture, if not the actual name, of this one worker? I think we all thought that MPP kept a very tight ship and it was the yardarm for any dissenter.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Myris, my dear fellow, I take umbrage! (You knew I would, so I have to oblige.....) That is a dastardly accusation about me employing double standards. let me explain, for the umpteenth time. I am an earth scientist, like you. I am also rather an experienced field glacial geomorphologist, and I have been round long enough to see rather a lot of glacial environments. (Not as many as the younger generation, since they have helicopters and vast research grants -- but enough to be going on with.) My gold standard, to which I adhere at all times, is this: if I am looking at a landscape or a landform, or a set of sediments, the assumption is that the things I am looking at are natural unless there is coherent and convincing evidence that they are not. That means I always choose the most parsimonious explanation for something, shave in the morning with Occam's razor, and treat Karl Popper as my hero. I apply exactly the same level of scrutiny to the evidence, whether I'm doing my own research or looking at somebody else's. And when somebody TELLS me that something is a Neolithic bluestone quarry, instead of SHOWING me the colour of their evidence, I greet him or her with a healthy dose of scepticism. That is why I am for the most part rather impressed with your geological articles, and singularly unimpressed with the articles written by the MPP conglomerate. You do at least show us your evidence, or at least some of it..... and like the rest of us, you concentrate on the things that are most convincing! (That's OK -- somebody will come along some day and falsify your hypotheses by showing that your inconvenient bits of evidence were rather more important than you appreciated at the time......)

Sad to hear that there may be "good people" who are no longer with us -- well, we all have to die eventually, or maybe turn into trolls or shills behaving in such a fashion that we are banished into outer darkness.

Now, those boulders that look like erratics. The 6 or so pillars are interesting, and we can debate the origins of those and the shaping of them, but the assorted boulders, slabs and lumps of rock which are in the bluestone circle sure look like glacially abraded erratics to me. I suspect that nobody much had looked at them properly until the "Stones of Stonehenge" website enabled all of us to assess their physical characteristics as well as their dimensions. Do you know any geomorphologist who has said they do NOT look like glacial erratics? Let's have names.

"......magical piles of bluestone appearing just in the right place?" Again, Myris, you misrepresent my position. I'm perfectly open to the idea that the bluestones might have been picked up from the ground surface across quite a wide area, and I have said that on many occasions.

As with all disputes, the probability is that in the end those of us approaching from opposite directions will meet somewhere in the middle!



TonyH said...

......then, Brian & Myris, we will all be able to join in the Chorus as you two sing Gerry Rafferty's classic song (which Paul Simon, no less, says is his most favourite song that he never wrote), "Stuck In The Middle With You".

BRIAN JOHN said...

There could indeed be interesting stuff turned up if and when they start digging at Hinkley Point. Doubt that they will give me any access, though -- I'm on their black list, having given evidence across many days at the long-running Hinkley Point Inquiry all those years ago. It was an idiotic project then, and it is even more idiotic now.

TonyH said...

On the subject of Hinkley Point, there is now of serious concern that housebuilding etc in the whole of the South West of England will grind to a halt as all the engineers and builders, trained and training, are inevitably going to gravitate towards the Hinkley Point nuclear power station.

Dave Maynard said...

Red Aga, Green Aga, Hinckley Point....

We're not going to split into natural versus man-made energy are we?

David H. Jones said...

Re. 23-9-2016 above at 23:30hrs.

If the current thinking is that the Altar Stone originated in one of the south Wales Old Red Sandstone outcrops, and was then carried south by Welsh ice to then be carried eastwards by Irish Sea ice in a zig-zag manner, then logically there should also be a reasonable amount of ORS debris scattered in the Stonehenge area.

Are you aware of any evidence for ORS erratics appearing within carrying distance of Stonehenge?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Tony -- that's exactly the sort of thing I gave evidence on, under intense cross-examination, bringing in a geographer's view of the world. Costs v benefits, impacts across a whole society and a whole landscape. The proponents of vast schemes like this always overestimate the benefits and underestimate the real costs. Negative impacts hardly come into the frame at all, although they are often enormous.......

Myris of Alexandria said...

“MPP and his recognised Prehistoric quarry colleagues say CRyf and CG are quarries despite one worker with a good track record disagreeing with that” (That was a reference to a Brian John) not one of the MPP boys I was being kind and refrained from putting 'only' one worker with a good etc. Chains and weakest links.
MPP runs a tight ship I suspect but has not tried to influence the pet rock boys.
So no disharmony in the ranks coming to the ears of Alexandria.

Indeed there are bluestones (ss) within the Stonehenge Landscape –bloody few of them- and many are flaked. It is your fancy for one pile 20 or so miles away or lots of smaller piles 20 miles or so away?

Plenty of good people have searched for erratics on Salisbury Plain over the decades and found nothing. Think of Alan Vince's (RIP)work on the clays and alluvial seds of the Salisbury Plains' rivers- has was unconcerned with the origin of bluestones, but was with the origin of the fg sediments. No mention of exotica.

I agree that were Salisbury Plain littered with erratics nobody would have pondered the Preseli Hills but they have and quarries have been found.

So erratics on Salisbury Plain 0
Quarries on Preselli 2 (and counting)

Parsimony rules OK

Am reading John Wood's account of the origin of Stonehenge for the second time. I am trying to find a contemporary matching writer. He too liked the devine from Occam.

M

BRIAN JOHN said...

Come now, Myris. Only one? Three of us with good reputations have written two articles together, and there must be at least a dozen other senior geomorphologists who have looked at these sites and who agree with our interpretations. If they do not agree, they will no doubt say so by communicating their views through to Quaternary Newsletter or Archaeology in Wales.

One minute you say there are bluestone erratics and fragments on Salisbury Plain, and the next moment you say there aren't. All the evidence is in Williams-Thorpe and Thorpe 1992 -- almost 25 years ago, and the geology has moved on, but essentially a very sound paper.

Since we are into the filling in of the pools, here is my version:

Erratics on Salisbury Plain -- at least 44 big lumps and a lot of other small fragments
Quarries in Preseli -- 0

Traces of long-distance human transport of monoliths in S Britain - 0
Traces of glacial deposition in Southern Britain -- too many to count

BRIAN JOHN said...

David -- look at other big erratics such as those on the coasts of Devon and Cornwall. They can only have been deposited by glacier ice, but each one of them seems unique, without any related clusters of erratics of the same rock type. The literature is full of these isolated apparent anomalies. (When we get to know the rules, they are no longer anomalies......)

By the same token, I might ask you whether there is any evidence anywhere else in Southern England from the Neolithic and Bronze Age that demonstrates the long-distance human transport of monoliths. None that I know of......

David H. Jones said...

Why do we need to consider big erratics on the coasts of Devon and Cornwall, should we also take into account the Stones of Stennes, the alignments at Carnac in France, and a hundred and one other locations?
It's the Salisbury area that's relevant not Cornwall.

Are you claiming that the Welsh Ice selected just the Altar Stone and rejected the remainder of the ORS outcrops?
This ice gets cleverer by the minute, next it will be claimed that it built Stonehenge and people had nothing at all to do with the exercise.

Never mind,there's no point in arguing.

BRIAN JOHN said...

David -- I'm not going over all this again. Please use the search facility and inform yourself. Look up "erratics"and "entrainment" and you will be well on the way! By the way, there is a well-known erratic boulder of white limestone from Northern Ireland in Somerset. As far as I know, the glacier left the rest of Northern Ireland behind.

TonyH said...

Yes, that white limestone erratic boulder is on the North Somerset coast not that far to the west of Portishead.

On Myris' and his friends' claim of their being precious little evidence of glacial erratics on what we might truly call "Salisbury Plain Proper", I would remind everybody that MOST of Salisbury Plain is within the Salisbury Plain's Army Training Area, or S.P.T.A.

Consequently, there is very limited access for the general public to roam around the Plain looking into the geomorphological history of its landscape and this has been the case since Victorian times. As an example, although I have helped on occasion with the Archaeological Section of the Conservation Area on a voluntary basis, we don't get continuous access Up Top on t' Plain. For example, I've only seen Boles Barrow the once on these trips, which have been usually led by the retired Wiltshire County Archaeologist, Roy Canham, who, incidentally, established excellent liaison with The Army.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Dave -- that's probably enough about Hinkley Point. Somewhat off topic and bound to be divisive! As for Agas, I am a red Aga person myself -- on the basis that red Agas are so CHEERFUL......

BRIAN JOHN said...

I just found this quote from MPP in "Archaeology" magazine dated Feb 2016:
“We suspect that there is a dismantled stone circle monument somewhere in the area between the quarries,” says University College London archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson, who led the team. “We expect to find it and excavate it in 2016.”

Ah, the Americans just lap it all up. I wonder if MPP will now get back in touch with the magazine to report "You know that dismantled stone monument I promised you? Well, it's like this......"