Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Sunday, 18 December 2016

An Insecure Archaeological Context

I came across this rather entertaining (and sad, too) photo on the web the other day -- posted by somebody who wanted to demonstrate what damage is being done to our oceans and coastal habitats by plastic flotsam and jetsam. This Yoplait yogurt pot has been on the coast for 40 years, and is virtually undamaged. Would anybody suggest that the coastal cliffs and caves just off the photo to the right are also 40 years old, because this yogurt pot dates them accurately? Er, probably not, but this is a nice illustration of what is meant by an insecure archaeological context.

Sadly, this dating problem is illustrated perfectly in the case of Rhosyfelin. The archaeologists persist in their claim that the famous "monolith excavation point" on the rock face towards the tip of the spur is accurately dated, and that a lump of rock was quarried from there in the Neolithic, because they have radiocarbon dates from not far away:

"The most probable dates associated with the removal of the rhyolite pillar from its recess are c 4590 BP and c 4667 BP, provided by carbonised hazelnut shells from the small occupation layer just 1.5 m away from it."
Source: p 1344 of the Antiquity article by Parker Pearson et al.

 There is no logic in that statement, and nothing to link any stone removal with any particular dated phase of occupation.  This is a classic case of an insecure archaeological context, since there is no independent evidence of any monolith being removed from here by human agency, and nothing to suggest any link between the rock face and the sediments and organic materials found nearby.  The rock face as we see it today may be many thousands of years older than the sediments found in the vicinity; and there is no more sense in the claim by MPP and his colleagues than there is in the claim that the cliffs and caves in the vicinity of that Yoplait pot are 40 years old.

Sorry, but this is yet another illustration of just how dodgy the archaeology is at Rhosyfelin, and how misleading that Antiquity paper is.  MPP has apparently changed his mind about there being a quarry at Rhosyfelin, if reports of his latest talk the the recent NPA Archaeology Day are to be believed.  Would it not make good sense, therefore, for the authors to write to the editor of Antiquity and simply retract the paper?  It does nobody any good for it to remain in print, and indeed it does most of those involved a great deal of harm.............


MoA said...

Ah you have been misinformed
MPP has not moved from his position that the quarry at CRyF is a quarry. He was directly asked recently and replied 'it is a quarry'

Since direct question are the way forward.

Do you believe the SH orthostats and their associated debitage really are the only erratic materials ever to have been found on Salisbury Plain, on the surface or within the river sediments?

This has not been an effective marketing ploy for selling your book? NEEDS a rewrite, after all there is not a single slight against MPP is the current edition.

I think that the electric version of my atlas (with Dr Paul Duller)has sold one CD-ROM for every 10/20 million hits (it might well be worse than that)! So had I been wanting to make money I would have been disappointed.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Myris -- Having not searched Salisbury Plain personally, I have to depend on the evidence provided by others. I find the arguments put forward by Olwen Williams-Thorpe and her late husband in their seminal paper rather convincing, and I find the Boles Barrow bluestone evidence rather convincing, and Chris Green's pebble analyses not convincing at all. So there we are then. Much work still to be done on the deposits of clay-with-flints and other apparent glacially derived deposits to the west and north.

Now a direct question to you. Do you agree with the point I am making in this post?

What's all this about selling books and making money? Sordid business. I have far more noble things in mind, like truth, and scholarship, and integrity......

Evergreen said...

"This Yoplait yogurt pot has been on the coast for 40 years, and is virtually undamaged.."

How do you know it has been on the coast for 40 years? Perhaps somebody put it there last week.
Assumptions are dangerous things Brian...

Tylwyth Teg said...

It's fair to say that both the human transport theory and the glacial transport theory cannot be disproved with the evidence currently available,however,there's a third revolutionary explanation for the production, and movement, of large stones over reasonably long routes that doesn't involve either humans or glaciers.

I'm neither qualified nor experienced enough to expand on this new theory, perhaps Myris has come across it?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Large stones can be moved over relatively large distances by a number of different mechanisms. Which one are you on about? Sea ice? Volcanic eruptions? Landslides? Fairies? Giants? Aliens?