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....
To order, click

Sunday 28 May 2017

Preseli -- the naked truth

A very revealing story from the Pembrokeshire Herald, for all those who are interested in Stonehenge and the bluestones.  In case you wondered, the tor in the photo is Carn Bica, and the pic was taken from Bedd Arthur, one of the places where King Arthur is buried.  Has Arthur risen from the grave, to save us from Brexit, just as he promised to do?  Watch this space -- I shall report any further sightings of this mysterious figure..............

Preseli Hills: Shocked walker photographed naked ‘feral looking’ man


May 28, 2017

A WALKER says that he encountered a feral looking naked man on his walk on the Preseli Hills yesterday (May 27)

The astonished visitor says that he managed to keep cool, calm and collected and even managed to take photographs of the mystery individual on the well known trail near Eglwyswrw.

Nick Pentecost told The Herald: “It was the weirdest afternoon walk yesterday ever!  I went for a wander, as I regularly do, into the Preselis.

“I was walking to the top of Carn Goedog with no one around as usual except in the distance I suddenly thought I saw this figure and as I looked closely it turns out I was right. To my amazement and shock I realised I was looking at a feral looking man, hunched over looking at the ground.

“I paused and managed to get my phone out and take a few snaps.

“I watched him walking around kind of calmly and sort of aimlessly for about 20 seconds then I think he noticed me and I very quickly turned and sped back down the mountain to my car.

“I looked back to see if he had followed me but didn’t see the figure again.  Very, very strange!"

Friday 26 May 2017

Stuart Piggott at work (not Atkinson)

I love this picture from the Atkinson collection at English Heritage.  The great man is the one with the pipe.  This was taken in the good old days, before safety was invented.......

Postscript:  Originally I headed this post with a reference to Richard Atkinson  -- but thanks to Simon we now know that the fellow on his knees, smoking a pipe, wearing a natty boiler suit,  is Stuart Piggott.

Tuesday 23 May 2017

Pentre Ifan video

Here is a new CGI video from Cadw, showing what Pentre Ifan is assumed to have looked like.  All very dramatic and moody........

Shared from BBC News:

Sunday 21 May 2017

Preseli: the eastern tors

I rather like this photo, taken a couple of days ago!  Click to enlarge......

Carn Meini (the craggy area at top left) is often described as the most prominent feature of the Preseli skyline,  and this is used as an explanation for its desirability as a sacred site and as a quarrying site.  Actually the prominence of the skyline features is very dependent upon where you are standing.  If you are a Neolithic trader wandering along the "Golden Road" or ridge trackway, on the spine of Mynydd Preseli, Carn Meini is not particularly prominent, and from this viewpoint (on Foel Dyrch) the most prominent of the tors is Carn Gyfrwy -- the one towards top right.

Anyway, whatever the perceived desirability and significance of particular crags might have been, this is a rather wonderful landscape.......

Stonehenge and the arrival of the Beaker hordes

An interesting article in the paper today:

It suggests that during the construction of Stonehenge there was a major incursion into Middle England of the Dutch tribes bearing beakers.  Must check out how strong the evidence is -- there is clearly some debate.  But it's suggested in the article that this all happened before "the Stonehenge project" was completed.  So does this back up my thesis that Stonehenge never was completed?  I have always had concerns that the "immaculate Stonehenge" made of c 80 sarsens and c 80 bluestones -- as imagined by generations of archaeologists, tourist operators and artists -- is not actually supported by hard evidence on or in the ground........

I'm also intrigued by what this new research means for all the current hype relating to Durrington Walls.  Were the gigantic hog roasts much beloved of MPP and others jolly international affairs to which the Dutch were invited, or were they the last hurrahs of a culture about to be replaced?

 Postscript:  Is migration making a comeback, at the expense of acculturation?  And the idea that beer was a key component of the movement of beakers and tribes is an interesting one.  Maybe all those wild BBQ events at Durrington Walls really were drunken orgies initiated by the Dutch invaders?

From Wikipedia:
Migration vs. acculturation
Given the unusual form and fabric of Beaker pottery, and its abrupt appearance in the archaeological record, along with a characteristic group of other artefacts, known as the Bell Beaker "package", the explanation for the Beaker culture until the last decades of the 20th century was to interpret it as the migration of one group of people across Europe. However, British and American archaeology since the 1960s had been sceptical about prehistoric migration in general, so the idea of "Bell Beaker Folk" lost ground, although recent genetic findings lend renewed support to the migratory hypothesis. A theory of cultural contact de-emphasizing population movement was presented by Colin Burgess and Stephen Shennan in the mid-1970s.[29]
Under the "pots, not people" theory the Beaker culture is seen as a 'package' of knowledge (including religious beliefs and copper, bronze and gold working) and artefacts (including copper daggers, v-perforated buttons and stone wrist-guards) adopted and adapted by the indigenous peoples of Europe to varying degrees. This new knowledge may have come about by any combination of population movements and cultural contact. An example might be as part of a prestige cult related to the production and consumption of beer, or trading links such as those demonstrated by finds made along the seaways of Atlantic Europe. Palynological studies including analysis of pollen, associated with the spread of beakers, certainly suggests increased growing of barley, which may be associated with beer brewing. Noting the distribution of Beakers was highest in areas of transport routes, including fording sites, river valleys and mountain passes, it was suggested that Beaker 'folk' were originally bronze traders, who subsequently settled within local Neolithic or early Chalcolithic cultures creating local styles. Close analysis of the bronze tools associated with beaker use suggests an early Iberian source for the copper, followed subsequently by Central European and Bohemian ores.

Tuesday 16 May 2017

Pwllderi Cliffs, Pembrokeshire

This pic has nothing very much to do with the Quaternary, and nothing at all to do with Stonehenge, but I post it herewith simply because I like it!  This is the most impressive cliff rampart in Pembrokeshire, with cliffs over 120m in height.  (Normally around this coast the cliffs are 30m high, or less........)

The light on the cliffs when I took this photo was perfect -- when the cliffs are completely in the sun, or completely in shade, you see far less detail.

Click to enlarge.

Ice-moulded features near Strumble Head

These images are from the west coast of the Pencaer Peninsula in Pembrokeshire, between Pwllderi and Strumble Head.  I have shown some images from here before, demonstrating the extent of ice moulding.  Had a most pleasant walk there on Sunday, in glorious weather -- so I did some more photography.

Here the Devensian ice of the Irish Sea Glacier was moving directly onshore, and the extent of "debris cleaning" and ice moulding is very impressive.  I have not seen any obvious striations.  We can only assume that these features are of Devensian age, although of course we cannot discount the possibility that some are inherited from earlier glacial episodes.

There are of course other areas of ice-moulded bedrock in N Pembs -- and I have already illustrated this in locations like Garn Fawr, Carningli, Carn Meini and Carnllidi.

It would be rather interesting to get some cosmogenic dates for these surfaces........

Friday 12 May 2017

New book on Preseli

A new book on Preseli has just been published -- written by my old friend Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd.  It will be a fascinating read, for those who can read in Welsh.  Anyway, I'm happy to do my bit in promoting it, since it will, I am sure, be reliable!


Wednesday 10 May 2017

The Boles Barrow Bluestone -- more photos

Many thanks for these photos of the Boles Barrow bluestone, kindly sent in by Phil Morgan.  Here we can see that most of the surface is heavily weathered and abraded -- and even polished -- suggesting surface exposure over a very long time period.  We can also see the "broken" part of the stone, with a relatively sharp edge to it -- and we can see the much "fresher" rock surface which has nothing like the same degree of weathering.

One question (which we have already discussed extensively) is whether this boulder was genuinely found inside Boles Barrow, or whether it actually came from Stonehenge.  The other question is this:  is this a broken-off part of a larger monolith, or is it simply an erratic boulder with facets of different ages on it?  Clearly the archaeologists would like it to be a piece of of monolith, the rest of which might still be at Stonehenge.........  and that question could possibly be resolved by cosmogenic dating on the "old" and "new" surfaces of the boulder.

Monday 8 May 2017

Strontium isotope ratios in Stonehenge cremated bone

Thanks to Dave S for drawing attention to the latest Channel 5 blockbuster called "The Final Mystery of Stonehenge" -- featuring Prof Mike Parker Pearson and Francis Pryor competing in the purple prose and memorable insight stakes.    It is a 45 min programme, full of portentious commentary and dramatic music.  You know the sort of thing.......

Here is the link:

There was nothing in the programme about the "quarrying" and transport of the bluestones, but a lot about Durrington Walls, pigs, wild celebrations, ancestors and cremations, and periglacial stripes.  You know the sort of thing.........

So there was nothing very new.  But I was quite intrigued by some of the work here reported upon -- particularly that of Dr Christophe Snoeck of the Geology Dept at Brussels University.  In the programme there was a clear attempt made to suggest that "some of the bones" found in the collection of 500,000 bits and pieces from Aubrey Hole No 7 had come from West Wales, and that some of the pigs gobbled up in those great feats had come from West Wales too.  The bluestone and human transport connection was obvious -- it's all part of the attempt to build the myth.

But if we do some simple scrutiny, what do we find?  We find that most of the bone fragments (c 66%) were rather local, ie from the Salisbury Plain area.  That means that around 33% were from further afield.  And just some of those are apparently from West Wales.  What percentage?  I have written to Dr Snoeck to find out.

And how sound is the idea that they have come from West Wales anyway?  I have looked at the strontium isotope ratio maps again, and have found that there is no way that provenancing can be done with that sort of accuracy.  Dr Snoeck uses the maps of Dr Jane Evans and others, which show that the ratios for West Wales are the same as those for large parts of East Wales,  Exmoor, Dartmoor, the tip of Cornwall, parts of North Wales and Anglesey, the Southern Uplands of Scotland, and the Grampians. 

It is perfectly reasonable to suggest that the bone fragments examined by Dr Snoeck are much more likely to have come from Devon or the Welsh Borders, since those areas are much closer to Salisbury Plain.

Spapdash pseudo science yet again, from Prof MPP, Francis Pryor and the people who put this programme together.  They clearly do not expect scrutiny of the abundant goodies that they scatter before us....... and assume that we will just lap it all up.

 Strontium isotope ratio map from one of Dr Snoeck's papers, relating to a site at Langford.

 The much-cited map put together by Dr Jane Evans and others.  There is nothing unique, in terms of provenancing, about West Wales.

Sunday 7 May 2017

Whatever happened to the Boles Barrow Bluestone?

This nice pic of the stone in Salisbury Museum (courtesy Tony H) is from my post of last August, and reminds us that everything has gone rather quiet on the matter of that particular lump of spotted dolerite.

Wasn't there supposed to be a new report on the stone, incorporating some petrology (Ixer and Bevins, I presume?) designed to identify whence it might have come, and the detailed laser scans of its shape and micro-morphology? 

I assume that the Museum was keen on this research, so as to make more of one of its prize exhibits........

Does anybody know anything about the status of this research?  Is there an article in the pipeline?

Saturday 6 May 2017

Hitchens's Razor and a century of scientific fraud

Today I came across a rather interesting piece in Wikipedia, about Hitchens's Razor:

Hitchens's razor is an epistemological razor asserting that the burden of proof regarding the truthfulness of a claim lies with the one who makes the claim; if this burden is not met, the claim is unfounded and its opponents need not argue further in order to dismiss it. It is named, echoing Occam's razor, for the journalist and writer Christopher Hitchens, who, in a 2003 Slate article, formulated it thus: "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."

This is rather timely, since it is exactly 100 years since HH Thomas invented one of the great British myths -- namely the human transport of bluestones from Preseli to Stonehenge.  (I reckon he formulated his idea during the First World War, prior to publication in 1923.)

If you put "Herbert Thomas" into the search box you will find a string of previous posts on HHT and his theory,  which was essentially an assertion without evidence.  Evidence concerning the Preseli sources of "bluestones" found at Stonehenge is simply evidence of provenance -- it has nothing whatsoever to do with mode of transport.

I'm still rather convinced that Thomas was involved in a hoax which has fooled the archaeology establishment (and the British public) for the last century.  Because his mad theory is now treated as orthodoxy, the people who are currently treated as heretics are Geoffrey Kellaway, Olwen Williams-Thorpe and others (including me) who have dared to argue the case for glacial transport and who have questioned some of the assumptions underpinning the human transport hypothesis.

But hang on a moment.  Isn't this a grotesque distortion of something that should be amenable to scientific testing and debate? 

What do we know?  There are many different rock types represented in the "foreign stone assemblage" at Stonehenge.  Many of the rhyolites, and maybe all of the spotted dolerites, come from the eastern end of the Preseli Hills and from the outcrops of Fishguard Volcanics between there and the north Pembrokeshire coast. The stones are heavily abraded and weathered, and they come in all shapes and sizes.  Most of them are boulders and slabs -- not pillars.   From abundant evidence from many different disciplines, we know that during the Ice Age the great Irish Sea Glacier flowed across Pembrokeshire approximately from NW towards SE, and that on at least one occasion the ice pressed all the way up the Bristol Channel to the coasts of Devon and Cornwall and into the low-lying depression of the Somerset Levels.  The bluestone assemblage at Stonehenge seems to have come for the most part (probably including the Altar Stone) from a very narrow band of countryside, where glaciological theory tells us that entrainment of erratics should have occurred, maybe between parallel-flowing streams of Irish Sea and Welsh ice, as argued by Lionel Jackson and myself in an article in EARTH magazine.

The inevitable conclusion from all of this must be that the Stonehenge bluestone assemblage is an assemblage of glacial erratics, maybe deposited in conjunction with other glacial deposits, and maybe not.  If one uses the principle of Occam's Razor, there is simply no need for any other theory, and geologists, glaciologists and geomorphologists simply need to concentrate on finding the solutions to two crucial questions: exactly when did this event occur?  and exactly where was the ice edge located when the erratics were dumped? (There are other questions as well, relating to glacial dynamics and sedimentation processes, but don't let's complicate the issue.....)

Seen in this context, and given the recent geological findings by Rob Ixer, Richard Bevins and their colleagues, if anybody was to come along today and suggest, out of the blue, what HH Thomas suggested in 1923, he or she would simply be laughed out of court.

Back to the Bluestone Heresy.  The real heretics are not Geoffrey Kellaway and Olwen Williams-Thorpe, but Herbert Thomas, Richard Atkinson, Tim Darvill, Geoffrey Wainwright, Mike Parker Pearson, Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer and a myriad of others who have led the world off on a wild goose chase, based upon the entirely false premise that glacial transport of the bluestones was and is impossible.  This heresy has even been perpetrated by geomorphologists including James Scourse, Chris Green and David Bowen, who should have known better.

The real heresy is the story of the human transport of the bluestones, as a result of which the scientific community has wasted many years of research effort and dressed up a crazy myth as an article of faith.  Much of the recent effort has to do with the search for non-existent bluestone quarries.

Back to Hitchens's Razor.  The HH Thomas human transport myth was asserted without evidence.  It can therefore be dismissed without evidence.  The burden of proof regarding the claim rested initially with HH Thomas.  It was not met, and it should therefore have been dismissed in 1923.  After a century of naive acceptance and elaboration by several generations of myth-makers, the claim is STILL unfounded and its opponents (people like Olwen Williams-Thorpe, Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and I) are under no obligation whatsoever to argue further in order to dismiss it.


I have been thinking further about the "other" part of the quote from Hitchens featured at the top of the post:  "... extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence...."....... on the basis that this is an elementary rule of logic.  Well, from every possible angle, Thomas's idea about the human transport of the bluestones was "extraordinary", since there was and is no evidence from Wales that the bluestones (of many different types) were considered special in any way; since there are no other records of the long-distance transport of megaliths for use in ritual or other settings anywhere in the British Isles; since there are no radiocarbon or other dates which can verify the haulage of the stones at the time required by the archaeologists; and since no ropes, sledges or rafts have ever been found which might demonstrate that the haulage project was technically feasible.

From the very beginning, this has been a hoax or a scientific fraud, and it is truly amazing that the archaeological establishment and even a section of the science community has gone along with it for so many years.  We don't even have any "ordinary"evidence in support of it, let alone the "extraordinary" evidence demanded by logic.

Thursday 4 May 2017

Foel Drygarn stone extraction features

Thanks to Dave for pointing out the interpretation issue on the southern (rocky) flank of the Foel Drygarn hillfort site.  Are the ridges there, beneath the rocky outcrops, defensive embankments of featres related to the extraction of scree and loose stone for use in the Burial mounds?

The burial mounds were, according to Coflein, built some time before the defensive structures were put in place.  The mounds are assumed to be Bronze Age, and the fortified site is assumed to be Iron Age.

If you look carefully at the middle image above (thanks to Coflein) you can see that the outer embankment extends round on the SE part of the hill summit -- and this is shown on the Univ of Portsmouth plan reproduced below it.  There are also hut circles inside this part of the embankment -- so this was part of the "living area" of the fort.  The southern footpath is also clearly shown. 

The area which I find rather intriguing is to the west of that footpath -- at the SW part of the hill summit.  Here there does not appear to be any embankment beneath the crags, but there does seem to be a little backslope in places, and a distinct terrace which I assume served the purpose of being a convenient trackway for the hundreds if not thousands of stone carrying journeys made by the builders of the cairns.

Click to enlarge the images.

Watch this space......

Wednesday 3 May 2017

Craig Rhosyfelin -- why Literature Wales is up the creek

In the "Land of Legends" web site published by Literature Wales for the Welsh Government, we have a lot of interesting information, attractively packaged.  The "site entries" are by and large reliable, and most of the inaccuracies are of a minor nature and are not worth bothering about.  But those entries are supposed to be factual, reporting on myths rather than making them.......

As I have reported, the Craig Rhos-y-felin entry should probably not have been included at all, since there is no mythology attached to the site.  But for better or for worse, there it is, written by Bronwen Price of Literature Wales, who has an archaeology doctorate and who should therefore know what she is talking about.   It's a bit unclear whether there was any Cadw involvement in the choice of the site, but I suspect that the Pembs Coast National Park might be behind it, given its track record of trying to push it as the next great thing on the prehistoric heritage front.  Anyway, in almost every respect, this entry is at fault, portraying the assumptions and speculations of a few archaeologists as established fact.  A more balanced assessment of this site is here:

See also:

JOHN, B.S, ELIS-GRUFFYDD, D &  DOWNES, J (2015a). "Quaternary Events at Craig Rhosyfelin, Pembrokeshire." Quaternary Newsletter, October 2015. No 137, pp 16-32.

JOHN, B.S., ELIS-GRUFFYDD, D & DOWNES, J (2015b). Observations on the supposed ‘Neolithic Bluestone Quarry’ at Craig Rhosyfelin, Pembrokeshire. Archaeology in Wales 54, pp 139-148.

With regard to the “site description”, this is what I have pointed out to Cadw and to Lit Wales:

Some of the bluestones of Stonehenge were quarried here. There is no evidence to support this statement.  Some small fragments of foliated rhyolite found in the soil at Stonehenge appear to have come from the Rhosyfelin area — that’s the best that can be said.  They might have come from destroyed cutting or slicing tools.  The use of the word “quarried” is entirely inappropriate.

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.   There is no evidence for there ever being a “local monument” or photo-Stonehenge in the local area around 3400 BC or at any other date.  That is a piece of unsupported speculation from Mike Parker-Pearson. There is no evidence that the stones were moved to Salisbury Plain by human agency c 2900 BC or at any other time.  The smaller bluestones at Stonehenge were indeed moved about and used in various settings, but there is no proof that the sarsens were not used on the site until later. The expression “giant inverted U-shaped stones” is really rather strange — each of the trilithons consists of two uprights and a capstone.

This makes Stonehenge a truly Welsh site…..  This is nonsense.

…..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 is wild speculation — I know of no evidence linking the Boscombe Bowmen to SW Wales. According to all the published analytical data, they are just as likely to have come from elsewhere in South Wales, Devon, Cornwall, or the Lake District or any other area of ancient rocks.

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 idea that Geoffrey of Monmouth was repeating some ancient “folk memory” has been around for a long time!  But we now know that he invented many of his stories with political and PR considerations in mind — and he was indeed in the business of promoting Wales and its heroes.  He was a fiction writer, and not an historian, and he invented the “ancient belief” himself.

The rock face retains the natural pillar formations which the stone-cutters exploited.  This is incorrect.  On the rock face there are many intersecting fractures, which explains why the most predominant shapes in the slope accumulations are slabs and blocks rather than elongated pillars.  There were no “stone-cutters” at Rhosyfelin, in spite of what Mike Parker-Pearson may tell you.  In the Neolithic there was no method which allowed the cutting of stone.

You can enjoy a picnic where they camped 5400 years ago.  This at least is partly true!  Radiocarbon dates show that there is a long history of intermittent occupation by hunting and gathering parties at Rhosyfelin, between the Mesolithic and the Middle Ages.  None of the dates coincides with a supposed "quarrying phase".  But this is indeed a very pleasant picnic site………. if you take care not to try and cross the ford when the river is running high or visit when the roads are icy!

I am still bemused as to why Literature Wales will not re-write this entry on the "Land of Legends” site to more accurately represent the scientific consensus. Stubborn mules and ostriches with heads in sand come to mind.  Neither Visit Wales nor Literature Wales should be in the business of inventing or promoting new myths based on dodgy science.

Replacing that fantasy-driven entry would only take a minute's work, and would at least demonstrate an acceptance of the fact that none of us gets everything right, all of the time.

Tuesday 2 May 2017

St Davids Head hut circles

Here is a fabulous Bing image of the cluster of six hut circles near the tip of St David's Head.  They are on a grassy bank looking down at the sea, with some measure of protection afforded ny the rocky ice-scoured outcrops to the north and west.  On the image we can also see the bank and ditch fortification that protected the settlement -- this is towards the right0hand edge of the image, with a clearly defined pathway cutting through it.  The assumption is that this is Iron Age, but the huts might be earlier.  Strangely, only three of these circles are mentioned in the archaeological literature....

A very beautiful settlement site!

Image courtesy Chris Andrews