Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- due for publication on June 1st 2018. After that, it will be available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Friday, 21 April 2017

Literature Wales: the truth is whatever you want it to be

 Prof MPP directing the dig at Rhosyfelin.  Now the myth manufacturing machine rolls on, thanks to a shove from Literature Wales, which should stick to books

Some days ago I complained about this extraordinary item on the new Literature Wales website called "Land of Legends":

Craig Rhos-y-felin, Crosswell

    • Region : South West Wales
    • Grid Ref : SN 11650 36140
    • Google Map
    • Add to your list

Some of the bluestones of Stonehenge were quarried here. First used for a local monument in about 3400 BC, they were moved to Salisbury Plain 500 years later where they stood in various settings before the giant inverted ‘U-shaped’ stones joined them in 2500 BC. This makes Stonehenge a truly Welsh site - something supported by the Boscombe Bowmen: seven individuals re-buried in a mass grave near Stonehenge around 2300 BC. All were  seemingly born and raised in south-west Wales, travelling to Wessex during their lifetime. This connection and journeys from the west are recalled in folk legend - Geoffrey of Monmouth (c. 1100-1155) retells the ancient belief that Merlin brought Stonehenge from Ireland. The rock face retains the natural pillar formations which the stone-cutters exploited. You can enjoy a picnic where they camped 5400 years ago.


As I pointed out, the only thing that is demonstrably correct about all of that is that Rhosyfelin is a pleasant picnic site.

Anyway, I wrote to both Cadw and Literature Wales about it, pointing out that while most of the entries on the web site were entertaining and factually accurate, this one was not.  In fact, it was so inaccurate and misleading that it was likely to harm the reputation of Literature Wales and its sponsors Visit Wales and the Welsh Government.  Further, it broke with public sector etiquette by (a) dressing up speculations and assumptions as facts; and (b) seeking to create a new myth rather than reporting upon an old one.

It response to my request that the item should be removed because of its inaccuracy, or at the very least rewritten so that it presented the situation in a more nuanced way, I got a thoroughly bizarre response from Dr Bronwen Price of Literature Wales (who apparently has a 2009 Cardiff PhD in archaeology, specialising in the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age of the Irish Sea region).  She admitted that she had written the text herself.  She seemed to think that because Rhosyfelin has been studied by Mike Parker Pearson and that because his results have been published in "Antiquity",  he is probably correct about everything.  To cut a long story short, she refused to change a single word, and stated that she would not enter into any more correspondence on editorial matters relating to the new web site.

So there we are then.  Bronwen's truth is what we are stuck with, and to hell with the facts.

Does any of this actually matter?  Well, if you are a tourist visiting Wales, probably not.  But if you are a scientist concerned about the ongoing degradation of scientific integrity, it does indeed matter.


Myris of Alexandria said...

I agree it is rather naively written and am surprised that 'inverted U shaped' would be used by a professional archie ("in my day etc etc ")for the well-understood term trilithon but she is presumably youngish.
But her myth is as good as your myth and just because you believe something true does not make it so.
It is hard, sometimes extremely hard, to have something published in Antiquity as it is correctly and rightly jealous of its reputation; hence it is very acceptable to take that as an authority.
On a scale of 1 to 1.0001 how tactful were you?

I do, however, wonder alongside you at the change from a unknown and neglected outcrop in a field to a promoted picnic site- all within the lifetime of a (roasted) guinea pig. A transformation that can be traced back to the few seconds when the Jovian fabric was matched and recognised or to when a couple of extra Ph.D samples were sectioned. Icing on the cake I guess.

BRIAN JOHN said...

The problem here is the dressing up of assumptions and "leaps of imagination" as facts. When I talk about the glacial transport theory, I hope I always make it clear that it is nothing more than a theory -- albeit a very well supported one when we come to look at evidence on the ground. "Antiquity"and its reputation? You have to be joking -- I have said it before, and will say it again -- that paper by MPP et al is one of the worst papers I have ever seen in a supposedly reputable journal. It should never have found its way into print.

How tactful was I with Lit Wales? Probably not very! I have tried tact and gentle diplomacy, and as you know I am a very polite sort of fellow, but as you also know I have asked over and again for a more nuanced approach to Rhosyfelin, and for a recognition that there is a dispute over quarrying and transport mechanisms -- but the commercial imperative trumps everything else. Lit Wales, Pembs CC, National Park and all sorts of other outfits have clutched the MPP myth to their bosoms, regardless of what the evidence shows, because it allows them to say "We have here a cultural heritage that is second to none!!" Nothing much has changed since HTT in 1923.....

BRIAN JOHN said...

That should be HHT, of course.....

chris johnson said...

Dr Price does the subject and indeed her country a disservice. In such a publication one expects to finds fictional stories; they are entertaining. One also expects to discover truths. The responsibility of the author is surely to distinguish clearly when she is entertaining with a story and when she is educating based on facts.
Wales has always had a huge respect for teachers and educated people. Perhaps Dr Price is too dazzled by big London reputations - or Sheffield even. Hopefully she can have a change of heart and rewrite her piece.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Agree with that, Chris. I suspect that she personally took the decision to put that site in, and then wrote the text for it, demonstrating to the world how little she knows about Rhosyfelin. Then she was personally affronted that somebody like me should come along and question both her judgment and her understanding of the site and the literature -- since she holds a PhD in archaeology! It would have cost her nothing at all -- and indeed would have demonstrated a willingness to take advice -- had she simply changed the text to something more nuanced. She could even have thanked me for my help. Had she been really smart, she could have flagged up the truth / myth issue in quite an entertaining way for future tourists to the area.......

Neil Wiseman said...

From our: For What It's Worth department ...

The 'U-Shaped stones' she talks about is most likely the overall shape of the Trilithon set - not individual arches.


TonyH said...

Someone (on a completely unrelated topic) talked about "Best Fit" theories the other night on Radio Three. Brian - and the rest of us dissenters from the human transport tale - ought to concentrate upon best fit, and present the two opposing theories with all their claims, and leave it to Modern Man and Woman to choose which is the best fit, in the light of modern science, rather than speculation, someone called Geoffrey from East Wales, and whimsy.

TonyH said...

Dr Bronwen Price no doubt sees Mike Parker Pearson's heavy footprints embedded deep in the surface of Rhosyfelin. Some of us take a much more Friends of the Earth, ecological view of the British landscape, and prefer that people tread lightly, both literally and also when offering their theories of landscape construction and/ or modification by Man(Woman).