Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my book called "The Bluestone Enigma" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Friday, 18 August 2017

Horrid Happenings at Rhosyfelin

This is from the Oriel y Parc Facebook page, advertising a storytelling session which I have promised for them next week.  Goodness knows why they chose this pic of me at the Old Ruin.  Nothing to do with me.  That got me thinking.  Since I am supposed to be telling terrible tales and horrible histories and fantastical fables, I need the advice of experts.

Tell me, should I tell the terrible tale of the hairy monster who comes out of the dark woods to dig deep holes in the ground at Rhosyfelin, every year at the time of the harvest moon?  The kids could probably cope with it, but would it all be too scary for adults of a sensitive disposition?

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Bluestone recycling

What were we saying about the re-use of bluestones in many different setting at the old ruin?  Note that the artist has even accurately portrayed the many different bluestone lithologies..........

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Spats are as old as the hills.......

Geologist and physician Henry Hicks, a good Pembrokeshire man who 
did not suffer fools lightly.

Sometimes one wonders whether our little academic spats demonstrate a lowering of academic standards, or a reduction in tolerance, or a sort of hypersensitivity on the part of researchers.  Surely it cannot have been so bad in the good old days?  Well, it's reassuring to know that it was just as bad, if not worse.......

Here is short extract from Geol Mag 1886, involving Henry Hicks (who seems to have been a crusty sort of fellow) and a certain Prof Hughes, who clearly had a habit of expressing strong views on places he had not actually visited and things he knew nothing about.........

Geol Mag Volume 3, Issue 12
December 1886 , pp. 566-571
V.—On the Ffynnon Beuno and Cae Gwyn Caves

Henry Hicks

Published online: 01 May 2009


The best reply that I can make to Prof. Hughes’ remarks, in the Geological Magazine for November, on the Ffynnon Beuno Caves, is to publish the substance of the report presented to the British Association, especially as an opportunity will be given to those interested in the inquiry to examine the section during the further explorations to be carried on, probably in the month of June next year. Some of his statements—especially as regards the position of the fence, which is entirely at the opposite end of the cavern to that at which the flint flake was found, also as to the position of the flake, and. the nature of the deposits overlying it—are so entirely misleading, that I can only account for such statements being made by the fact that Prof. Hughes did not visit the section, though strongly urged by me to do so, until it had been almost entirely covered over, and work for the time suspended, and by his hasty survey of the surrounding conditions.

Erratic blocks of England and Wales

Thanks to Rob for drawing my attention to this wonderful article and map.  I had never seen this info before.  It has come to the surface thanks to the great project under way in the Birmingham area, in which Rob and Prof Ian Fairchild are involved.

Look at the date of this work: 1878.  That's rather a long time ago.  But our Victorian ancestors were great field workers and often pretty good geologists too -- even though their ideas on glaciation were rather primitive, to say the least.  No matter -- the observations formed the foundations of much of the glacial history as we understand it today, and the maps are classics of their kind.

I particularly love this bit:  "There are probably many boulders which I have not yet seen, and the positions of which, therefore, are not shown in the map."  Quite so.


Thanks to the wonders of OCR, here is a transcript of part of the paper:


RESULTS of a Systematic SURVEY, in 1878, of the DIRECTIONS and Limits of DISPERSION, MODE of OCCURRENCE,and RELATION to DRIFT-DEP0SlTS of the ERRATIC BLOCKS or BOULDERS of the West of ENGLAND and East of WALES, including  a REVISlON of many Years' previous 0BSERVATIONS.

By D. MACKINT0SH, Esq., F.G.S. (Read March 26, 1879.)


As it is impossible to ascertain the precise routes taken by boulders, in a map it is perhaps least presumptuous to draw straight or slightly curved lines from their sources to their terminations. As most of the Kirkcudbrightshire granite blocks would appear to have been dispersed from Criffel mountain or the neighbourhood, to prevent complication I have represented that mountain as the centre of dispersion. The barrier offered by the westerly extension of the Cumberland mountains renders it necessary to assume a curve in the route taken by these boulders. As I have already described the Shapfell granite dispersion (see Geol. Mag. for Aug. 1870 ; and Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. for Aug. 1873), and as it has been made the subject of papers by other authors, I have only mentioned it in the map. For the same reason the stream of large limestone boulders found along the east coast of Morecambe Bay is merely mentioned. The boulders of Silurian grit, felstone, &c. which went south from the mountain-front of Westmoreland are merely mentioned, as it is not certain that many of them found their way further south than Morecambe :Bay. The "greenstone" boulders are not inserted in the map. As the Arenig boulders which are believed to have wandered as far south as the neighbourhood of Bromsgrove would appear to have gone first in an easterly direction, it is obviously necessary that a curved route should be assigned to them in the middle part of their course. There are probably many boulders which I have not yet seen, and the positions of which, therefore, are not shown in the map.

An attempt to map the positions and courses of boulders is justified by the fact that most of them have been found more or less imbedded in clay or gravel, at all angles, often standing on end - in other words, in the positions in which they were left by the ice which carried them during the Glacial period.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Just see how the jolly bandwaggon rolls..........

 Image:  Colby College

I thought that with the departure of Phil Bennett, some common sense might break out in Pembs Coast National Park HQ, and that there might be rather more respect for the facts. Fat chance.  The opportunity of turning a dishonest quid or few has proved too tempting to miss, so here we go again.  The usual nonsense in the blurb, in spite of endless requests from me to moderate the purple prose. A guided bus tour on 20th Sept, at the end of the digging season, led by MPP himself, complete with barbecued burgers just as they used to be in the good ol' days at the Durrington raves. 

Then the usual evening talk at 7.30, for the ears of the faithful.   Title: The Welsh Origins of Stonehenge.  Depressing, isn't it?

If you want to join the whole rave, it will set you back almost £40. I think I might give it a miss.......

Monday, 14 August 2017

The strange blacked-out world of the archaeologist....

Now here is an interesting question.  Do archaeologists always wander about in the countryside with boxes on their heads?

I have been thumbing through a few of my books looking for some info, when I came upon a page or two in Prof Mike Parker-Pearson's big book on Stonehenge which left me gobsmacked.  OK --I have read it all before, but now it has struck me ever more forcibly that certain senior archaeologists know absolutely nothing about the forces that have affected the landscape.  For them, geomorphology is just a long word with an unknown meaning.

On p 289 MPP is seeking to flag up the wondrous routes available to our Neolithic ancestors who wanted to carry all those lovely bluestones across country all the way to Stonehenge.  He refers to "potentially excellent transport links" and goes on to say:  "The glaciated valleys of Preseli have U-shaped profiles, with wide, flat, stone-free bottoms.  There is plenty of room for moving megaliths along a valley bottom without having to negotiate its stream....."

Don't lets mince words here.  This is complete and utter nonsense.  Which landscape has MPP actually been looking at?  There are no glacial troughs / glaciated valleys with flat bottoms in Pembrokshire.  I repeat.   THERE ARE NO GLACIAL TROUGHS IN PEMBROKESHIRE.  He must have been reading some ancient text book or other, and got all confused.  The topography is all wrong for glacial troughs, and this was an area of areal scouring, not concentrated ice flow.    There are no U-shaped profiles and no wide, flat, stone-free valley bottoms.

What we do have are a number of spectacular sub-glacial meltwater channels, especially in western Preseli, including Cwm Gwaun which MPP knows very well since that's where Bessie's pub is located.  These valleys do have wide flattish floors, but they are by no means stone free.  And these valleys are of no use for the bearers of large stones, since they are all to the WEST of the territory in which MPP keeps on seeing Neolithic quarries.  These latter so-called quarry sites are in EASTERN Preseli, from which he wants the stones to be transported EASTWARDS.

He then goes on to talk of the Nevern Valley as one of the "hotspots of Britain's Early Neolithic."  That again, if I may say so, is unsupported by the evidence.  There is a little group of portal dolmens in and around the valley, but the density of features is no greater than anywhere else in West Wales, and it is fanciful in the extreme to refer to it as a cultural "hotspot".

Then he goes on to talk of the valley sides being densely wooded and the valley floors being more easy to move about on.  "These wide-bottomed valleys would have formed ideal droveways for taking the cattle on to the high pastures, past Craig Rhosyfelin and on to Waun Mawn and Carn Goedog." (p 289)   That again is complete nonsense. For a start, there is nothing whatsoever to link these named sites apart from MPP's fertile imagination.  Secondly, all the evidence that I have seen suggests that the valley floors were just as densely wooded as the valley sides in the Neolithic -- and maybe even more difficult to move about on, given that they would have contained many boggy areas and pools on those parts of the valley floor where gradients were low.  Look at Esgyrn Bottom, Criney, Cwm Gwaun and the Brynberian Valley even today, after centuries of land clearance and land drainage..........

I sometimes despair, but must press on.....

Quickly on to page 290.  "Recent archaeological investigations in advance of new pipelines have found evidence of many Neolithic sites in south Wales' valleys...."  He cites Louise Austin as his source on this, but I wonder what she really thinks?  It's news to me.  All of the distribution maps for Neolithic features in South Wales show that our Neolithic ancestors avoided river valleys like the plague -- they always settled and built their structures on interfluves, upland swells, dryish areas on hilltops and on promontories where visibility was good and where waterlogging was not a problem.

Quote:  "Neolithic traders would have used these glaciated valleys not only to avoid the thickly wooded hillsides but also to pass through the many settlements.  The principal routeways would have followed the valleys such as the Taf, the Towey (sic) and the Usk.  These flat-bottomed valleys were the Neolithic equivalent of the motorways, cleared of forest by the earliest Neolithic farmers and facilitating long-distance movement of people and their goods.  For the movers of bluestones, the route was relatively straightforward..........."  And so on and so on.  The Neolithic motorway bit is quite wonderful, thrown in there for the delectation of journalists and others with vivid imaginations.

Who says that the flat-bottomed valleys were cleared of forest in the Early Neolithic? I know of no evidence to support this contention.   Darvill and Wainwright, in the recent Pembrokeshire County History chapter, do not refer to any process of valley floor woodland clearance in the pre-metal period.  There was very little settled farming at the time; clearances were ephemeral, with slash and burn being used here and there in the forest by people who kept moving.  And why would they want to clear valley floors, at a time when forests held valuable resources in a hunter / gatherer society?  The valleys may have been used for shelter, to get away from the wind and the rain, and it was always far easier to move animals in the uplands, where the forests would have been more scrubby and intermittent.  If there were "droving" movement routes, they would have been on the interfluves and plateaux, not on the valley floors.

I have been looking up the literature by Mike Walker, John Evans, Martin Bell and others to see whether there is evidence of extensive valley floor forest clearance in West Wales in the Early Neolithic, around 5,000 yrs BP.  As far as I can see, there is none.  The Elm Decline is much debated, and there are traces of it in West Wales,  but land clearance associated with permanent settlement and agriculture in West Wales came much later.  I have described what the valleys probably looked like here:

I sometimes despair at the apparently infinite capacity of certain archaeologists simply to invent evidence where there is none.  That is scientifically reprehensible, and people who invent evidence should be hauled before the Inquisition and charged with scientific fraud.  Having been found guilty, they should be cast into everlasting darkness, well away from Bessie's pub.  Why do their peers put up with it?  Will they ever change?  Not in West Wales, I suspect.  They are in too deep.

But it would help if every now and then they could take those cardboard boxes off their heads, read a good geomorphology textbook, and start looking at the landscape.


PS.  Here is an additional source -- from Nikki Cook, in Pembs Hist Soc Journal, 2006:
"Although the Neolithic is generally thought to be the time of the first farmers, it is highly likely that to start with people still lived a fairly nomadic lifestyle, moving between upland and lowland pastures herding animals. As a result the evidence we have for actual settlements is quite scanty when compared with that for ritual/funerary monuments.  It is clear that people in the Neolithic possessed the ability to build lasting architectural forms, as evidenced by the numerous chambered tombs seen within Pembrokeshire, but their lifestyle meant they had no need to build lasting domestic dwellings.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Areal scouring on the Pembrokeshire islands

Here are two more of Paul Davies's fabulous images from the Pembs Geology Group Facebook page.  Click to enlarge-- the detail is truly impressive!

The top photo shows Skokholm and the bottom Skomer -- both off the south Pembrokeshire coast.

The pics show just how heavily scoured these island landscapes are -- there are occasional erratics, but real glacial deposits are hard to find (that having been said, they are hard to search for too, since these are nature reserves with nesting seabirds everywhere, so one is not encouraged to scrabble about on the clifftops, where till exposures might be found.........).

The last occasion on which ice passed over these islands was the Late Devensian, around 20,000 years ago, but maybe they have been scoured and abraded on three separate occasions during the Quaternary.