The surface of the Devensian till layer at Rhosyfelin -- laid down by ice and exposed by the archaeologists
Almost two years have passed since the publication of this paper in Archaeology in Wales
, a recognized journal whose papers are all peer-reviewed:
OBSERVATIONS ON THE SUPPOSED “NEOLITHIC BLUESTONE QUARRY” AT CRAIG RHOSYFELIN, PEMBROKESHIRE.
Since it was published, we have heard many reports of talks by MPP and his colleagues, and geologists Richard Bevins and Rob Ixer have also published at least one paper which refers to the "bluestone quarries" at Rhosyfelin and Carngoedog and the human transport of bluestone monoliths. And yet strangely, I have not heard of or seen any mentions or citations of this published paper, or of the other one (also peer-reviewed) in Quaternary Newsletter
. Do these people simply not read articles relevant to the arguments they are making? That's a rhetorical question. Of course they have all read our two articles -- the Arch in Wales article has been read 810 times on Researchgate alone, and most of those reads have come from archaeologists. In addition to being downright disrespectful to the views of earth scientists who have made valid contributions to a lively debate, it is simply bad academic practice to ignore the articles or to pretend ignorance of them, and to refuse to address the issues we have raised. We are not amused.
Whatever happened to scientific discourse?
We are going to continue to make these points until they are addressed by those who have so enthusiastically embraced the idea of Neolithic bluestone quarries in the Presely area. Thus far, not a single one of our points has been properly addressed in print, let alone disputed, either by an archaeologist or by a geologist. So we will keep on repeating them, and as long as there is a thunderous silence from MPP and his loyal quarrymen, we will take this as a recognition of the truth of what we are saying -- namely that the so-called quarrying features are entirely natural, apart from those that have been created by the archaeologists themselves in the course of their dig.
A reminder of some of our points:
Brian John, Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downes. 2015. OBSERVATIONS
ON THE SUPPOSED “NEOLITHIC BLUESTONE QUARRY” AT CRAIG RHOSYFELIN,
PEMBROKESHIRE". Archaeology in Wales 54, pp 139-148. (Publication 14th
SUPPOSED HUMAN ACTIVITY TRACES
Ever since 2011 the rock face at Rhosyfelin has been interpreted by
certain archaeologists and geologists as a Neolithic quarry (e.g. Parker
Pearson, 2013), and the debris banked against it is described as
quarrying spoil. However, detailed investigations of the features at the
site by the three authors of this paper suggest that there is no sign
of human quarrying activity -- either related to the removal of
monoliths intended for transport to Stonehenge, or for any other
purpose. As suggested above, both the landforms and sediments owe
nothing to human interference. It is worth itemising some of the
“engineering features” described in the literature, in order to subject
them to brief scrutiny.
“The quarry face”
The impressive rock face (Fig. 6) is the feature that has led the
archaeologists to assume, after clearing away trees, shrubs and many
tonnes of debris, that it is a worked quarry (Parker Pearson, 2012,
2013). The face does not coincide with a single fracture plane, but is
made up of multiple surfaces, some set back more than 1.5 m behind
others. The “smooth face” is an illusion, and it can be argued that it
is simply an “archaeological artifice” created by the excavation team
and unlike anything that might have existed in the past. Close to its
tip there is much joint widening and evidence of block detachment and
collapse guided by intersecting fracture planes. There are no traces of
working with wedges or other tools, and there is no joint- guided ledge
such as might be expected if the rock face had been systematically
worked back from its original position.
“The quarry spoil bank”
The suggestion is that some of the larger blocks now exposed have been
deliberately quarried by being levered from the rock face. Some blocks
are indeed fractured and sharp-edged, as might be expected if Neolithic
quarrying activity had been involved, but others at the surface are
heavily weathered and also smoothed and rounded as a result of glacial
and fluvioglacial erosion. Such blocks must have been emplaced around
20,000 years ago. Many blocks have weathered faces and “fresh faces”,
just like those which are still in position on the crest of the ridge;
the weathered faces are exposed to the elements, and the fresh faces are
located on opening fractures or joints.
Assertions that there is a single large “proto-orthostat” propped on
wedges, pillars and rock “rails” (Parker Pearson, 2012; Ixer, 2012: 13)
are not well founded. The large flat-topped slab appears to be in an
entirely natural position, embedded in other rockfall debris and slope
deposits following one of many post-glacial rock face collapses (Fig.
6). The stone is internally damaged by a series of fractures, and is so
fragile (like other large stones at the site) that its chances of
surviving even a short haulage expedition by land or sea would have been
minimal. At a weight of 8 tonnes it is in any case far too large ever
to have been thought of as a potential Stonehenge orthostat. It has
fallen or slid into its present position at some stage after the
deposition of the Rhosyfelin till.
“Props and pillars”
Beneath the enigmatic flat-topped slab the archaeologists have exposed
compressed broken rock debris up to 30cm thick. This assemblage of rocks
of all shapes and sizes, some of which are broken by percussive
impacts, is referred to by the archaeologists as a set of pillars,
pivots, props and packing materials put into position by Neolithic
quarrymen in order to ease the movement of the “proto-orthostat”
downslope. This material has been revealed by the selective removal of
other adjacent material, and there is nothing to suggest that there has
been any human interference. The “feature” referred to is an
“The stone rails”
Parker Pearson (2012) has referred to elongated and broken blocks of
rhyolite up to 1m long located beneath and adjacent to the
“proto-orthostat” as rock rails deliberately placed into position by
quarrymen in order to ease the dragging of the large block downslope
from the quarry face. However, there are many other elongated blocks
scattered about through the rockfall accumulations, and there is no
merit in the idea of human interference in their positioning.
“Scratched rock surfaces”
“Gouges” and “scratches” on the edges of fallen rocks near the
“proto-orthostat” are deemed by the archaeologists to have been created
when large blocks were hauled over them by Neolithic quarrymen; but
after close examination these features are seen to be outcropping
foliations typical of the Rhosyfelin rhyolite. Such features are seen on
many rock edges throughout the site.
“The monolith extraction point”
Parker Pearson has pointed out to many visitors the “exact location”
from which an orthostat was taken from the rock face and hauled or
carried off to Stonehenge. That assertion appears to be based on the
statement from Ixer and Bevins (2011, 2014) that they had provenanced
certain rhyolite flakes at Stonehenge to “within a few square metres” of
their sampling point 8, near the tip of the Rhosyfelin spur. However,
they have not adequately demonstrated that level of precision, either
through published thin sections from Stonehenge and Rhosyfelin samples,
or through analysis of a very dense pattern of sampling points. The
Stonehenge rhyolite flakes could even have come from a section of the
spur which has been removed by the processes of glacial entrainment.
Also, the “shelf” from which the monolith is supposed to have been
removed is heavily abraded by either meltwater or ice action, indicating
that it cannot have been quarried during the Neolithic.
“The working surface”
The suggested Neolithic “quarry floor” and other proposed anthropogenic
surfaces have not been examined carefully because they have not been
properly exposed. However, the archaeologists appear to have identified
the red-stained till surface as the putative quarry floor or terrace
(Parker Pearson, 2012). Thus if the archaeological hypothesis is
correct, all of the sediments above the glacial and fluvioglacial layers
at Rhosyfelin must have accumulated during the last 5,000 years. In
other words, in this small valley with steep bounding slopes, there is
no sedimentary record of the period between ice wastage and the end of
the Mesolithic, spanning a period of c. 15,000 years. It is more likely
that most of the sediments above the glacial and fluvioglacial layer at
this site have accumulated gradually over a time-span of about 20,000
years, with the identified upper layers (Fig. 4) representing a sequence
of climatic oscillations yet to be identified by radiocarbon and other
dating techniques. In his 2015 lecture Parker Pearson confirmed that
fragments of charcoal dating from the Mesolithic had been found, and
this confirms the great age of some of these sediments. In addition, the
top of the iron-stained zone is a pedological rather than a
stratigraphic feature, and this too negates the idea that it coincides
with a quarry floor or working surface.
“The haulage pathway”
This has been described by Parker Pearson as crossing a rough area of
boulders and fluvioglacial sediments. Excavation on either side
apparently revealed a hard packed route supposedly used for transport of
stones from the quarry face towards the storage platform and the
revetment. On close examination this too is shown to be nothing but an
artifice, created by the archaeologists themselves. In any case this
“pathway” is so irregular and full of boulders and other obstacles that
it could not possibly have been of any use as a stone haulage route.
“The storage platform”
This is an area described near the outermost extension of the 2014 dig
(Fig. 8). Again, it is very rough and irregular, with no clear outline
or distinguishing features. It is in any case far too rough and bouldery
to have been of any use as a ”stone depot” site.
A proposed river bank and semi-circular “revetment” of large boulders
was described in 2014 and 2015 by Parker Pearson in the gravels near the
tip of the spur, on the edge of the main valley floor (Fig. 8). In his
2015 lecture he referred to this feature as a sort of quayside, linked
to the supposed quarrying area and used for the trans-shipment of
orthostats from the storage platform either onto river rafts or onto
sledges, for export down the Afon Brynberian valley towards Newport Bay.
However, these speculations are not supported by any stratigraphic
differences between the supposed dry land and riverine environments, and
all the boulders and cobbles in the vicinity are here interpreted as
lying in entirely natural positions. Once again, they have been given
prominence through the selective removal of surrounding materials.
“The export trackway”
In his 2015 lecture at Castell Henllys, Parker Pearson showed slides
from a new pit dug during September 2015 out on the main valley floor.
He claimed that after removal of fluvioglacial and riverine sediments,
some sort of curving routeway could be seen, leading from the
“revetment” and along the valley, heading north. He claimed that this
feature had been cleared of stones and was defined by arranged boulders.
On examination, this feature is seen to be entirely natural, with
nothing to distinguish it from the exposed surface in other parts of the
“The vertical stone fulcrum”
Close to the so-called monolith extraction point there is a small
elongated stone which projects through the proposed “working surface”.
It is leaning away from the rock face, and stands about 30 cm proud of
the surface. It is referred to as a fulcrum, used with wooden logs for
the leverage of monoliths from the quarry face. However, there is
nothing to distinguish it from many other stones which project
vertically or at high angles from a jumble of rockfall debris, till and
fluvioglacial sediments. The only reason why this is called a fulcrum is
that it is located in a “convenient” position.
“Packed sediment supports”
In his 2015 talk Parker Pearson described clay-rich “packed” sediments
beneath large sub-rounded boulders in the vicinity of the “storage
platform” (Fig. 8). He suggested that the material been “manufactured”
in order to bind stones together in the creation of the platform. On
examination, this material is seen to be nothing other than the
clay-rich till which occurs across much of the dig site.
Parker Pearson (2012: 406) referred to the discovery of abundant hammer
stones in the Rhosyfelin dig site. He has claimed in lectures that some
of these have percussion marks resulting from use in the quarrying
process. However, he seems to have been unaware that there are thousands
of such fist-sized stones at this site, dispersed throughout the
glacial and fluvioglacial sediments. Many of them have surface fractures
resulting from compression and impacts during transport. A search has
not revealed a single “hammer stone” with the percussion marks that
might be expected on a well-used Neolithic stone-working tool.
“The standing stone socket”
In 2012 a circular hole was excavated in the vicinity of a putative
Neolithic hearth, near the tip of the spur. It was suggested by the
archaeologists that it might have actually held a standing stone at some
stage, or even that it was intended to hold the 8-tonne
“proto-orthostat.” However, the sides of this pit were highly irregular,
with many large projecting rock fragments, and no evidence has been
presented for the compression of the sediments at its base, or for a
distinctive infill. The pit has been filled in, and not mentioned
subsequently, and again it appears to have been an archaeological