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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.


Myris of Alexandria said...

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.

Rhyolite A-C is found throughout the whole SH Landscape many tens of kilograms some axe-head rough-out were made from it (presumably after the circle was being used as a secondary quarry) but much is too well-jointed (do learn to use that bloody word)to be part of something as small as a tool. They have not come from slicing tools but were struck from a large well jointed orthostat.

Your version of the Quaternary strat at CRyf is not universally accepted, most Pleistocene authorities I have asked will go no further that say it might be correct/not impossible. But then most archy authorities say the same about MPP's version of CRyf.

Bottom line is simple, a largish joint block was move by man from CRyf (glacial dumping on Salisbury Plain really is frozen in its tracks)from CRyf to SH.
Find me a single glacial erratic on Salisbury Plain and I shall concede, even a small one.


BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Myris -- some interesting points there -- a good deal less gung-ho than I have seen before. A change of thinking in the wind?

The erratic challenge. Gets us nowhere, if you refuse to accept the Boles Barrow stone as a genuine erratic. Find me a single large monolith from anywhere in Britain that has demonstrably been transported more than a kilometre or two by human beings, and the human transport thesis might begin to sound reasonable. We have, I suspect, discussed all the likely candidates on this blog, and we always find that "quarried and transported stones" are just glacial erratics when they are looked at carefully........

TonyH said...

I hear Sir Tom "The Voice" Jones has agreed to record and promote a NEW version of The Green Green Grass of Home", to include these lyrics, updated to recognise Wales' stubborn, mule - like marketing strategy for the Preseli area:-

"The bluestones looked the same
As they left the erratic train
And there to greet them
Were Mike P.. P..Pearson, and ... Bri-an.
Arm in arm, they'll walk at daybreak...
It's enough to overcome a heartbreak....
etc etc..

Alex Gee said...

Tim Darvill's hypothesis that Stonehenge was constructed to be a giant Xylophone , is currently the only Stonehenge hypothesis with strong enough supporting evidence to approach the status of "Theory"!

As an amateur stonecarver/sculptor I can confirm that true stones; All those that

are without internal fracture, will ring like a bell when when struck with hammer

or chisel.

Perhaps the Stonehenge musical healers were Conservatives, in which case they just

used music to attract the cripples, Then beat them to death because they were a

drain on Stone Age society? They then buried them in the Aubrey Holes!

Don't forget to vote in June!

First they came for the disabled! Then they came for the ?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Tim Darvill's hypothesis? Not sure he would appreciate being accused of that....... he is the healing stones man, not the musical instrument man.....

Alex Gee said...

Its not an accusation! its an acknowledgment of his Stonehenge xylophone hypothesis; as reported by this blog, by the BBC and by many other news/media organisations.

If I remember rightly, you even have a video on this blog of Mr Darvill enthusiastically elucidating his "Stonehenge was a giant Xylophone/ringing rocks" hypothesis to the gathered media masses?

To my mind its the only Stonehenge hypothesis to date with concrete eveidence to back it up! Hit an Orthostat, get a ring!