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....
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Tuesday 29 August 2017

A plea for Stonehenge samples......

I came across this pic of a fellow doing some rather naughty sampling of a chunk of rock somewhere or other, and it got me thinking about what a lot of time we all waste on this blog and on scores of other blogs, and in the learned journals, speculating on the nature and provenance of the 93 (correct number?) of monoliths at Stonehenge.  There are about 43 bluestones and 50 sarsens.  A small sample, used for a thin section slide for each stone, would unlock a treasury of information that would advance Stonehenge research by light years -- and Rob and Richard are trembling in the wings, microscopes at the ready, waiting for global stardom.........

So why, oh why, does EH refuse to contemplate that as a project?  Judicious sampling as agreed in advance would do less damage to the stones than all those starlings do every winter.  The organization is absurdly precious about the "value" of the stones -- anybody would think that they have magical properties, and that a curse will fall upon the heads of all who tamper with them.

Please, English Heritage, get organized and allow a proper sampling programme, and allow some proper science to move us forward to a much improved appreciation of what Stonehenge is all about!

PS.  I hasten to add that I am not encouraging Richard and Rob to go prowling about there at dead of night, with jackets over their heads. 

Monday 28 August 2017

Bluestone transport -- how archaeologists have evaded the burden of proof


We have been here before, in discussions on Occam's Razor and Hitchens' Razor.  Since we have some new readers out there, let's just remind ourselves what this is all about.  The archaeologists -- and certain others, including geologists and geomorphologists, have asserted something quite extraordinary -- namely that Neolithic tribesmen physically transported more than 80 large bluestone monoliths from North Pembrokeshire to Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain.  And it is indeed an extraordinary claim -- it is spectacular, and heroic, and it has become one of the architypal English myths.  Everybody knows it.  That does not mean that it is true, or even well supported.

Let's cite Wikipedia again:
"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."
Shall we just remind ourselves of the following ten points?

1.  There is no sound evidence from anywhere in the British Neolithic / Bronze Age record of large stones being hauled over long distances for incorporation in a megalithic monument.

2.  The builders of Neolithic monuments across the UK simply used whatever large stones were at hand.

3. If ancestor stones were being transported to Stonehenge, why have all of the known bluestones come from the west, and not from any other points of the compass?

4.  There is no evidence either from West Wales or from anywhere else of bluestones (or spotted dolerite in particular) being used preferentially in megalithic monuments, or revered in any way.

5.  If long-distance stone haulage was "the great thing" for the builders of Stonehenge, why is there no evidence of the development of the appropriate haulage technology leading up to the late Neolithic, and a decline afterwards?  It is a complete technological aberration.

6. The evidence for quarrying activity in key locations is questionable, to put it mildly.

7.  The sheer variety of bluestone types  (I still insist the figure is somewhere near 30) argues against selection and human transport.  There cannot possibly have been up to 30 "bluestone quarries" scattered about West Wales.

8.  No physical evidence has ever been found of ropes, rollers, trackways, sledges, abandoned stones, quarrymen's camps, or anything else that might bolster the hypothesis.

9.  Bits and pieces of experimental archaeology on stone haulage techniques (normally in "ideal" conditions) have done nothing to show that our ancestors could cope with the sheer physical difficulty of stone haulage across the heavily-wooded Neolithic terrain of West Wales (characterised by bogs, cataracts, steep slopes and very few clearings) or around the rocky coast.  Aubrey Burl made this point forcefully many years ago, and it remains forceful today.

10.  And if there was a "proto-Stonehenge" somewhere, built of assorted local stones and then dismantled and taken off to Stonehenge, where was it?  Herbert Thomas thought it might have been near Cilymaenllwyd (south of Preseli) and now MPP thinks it might have been north of Preseli, somewhere or other.  So the great proto-Stonehenge hunt continues.......

 So where is the "extraordinary evidence" required to support the "extraordinary hypothesis"?  In sort, there isn't any.   

THE HYPOTHESIS IS THEREFORE REJECTED AS FALSE, without any requirement being placed on me or anybody else to find evidence against it.

Friday 25 August 2017

Rhosyfelin and Parker Pearson's archaeological artifices

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:


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 December 2015)



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.

The “proto-orthostat”

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 archaeological artifice.

“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.

“The revetment”

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 2015 pit.

“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.

“Hammer stones”

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 artifice.

Tuesday 22 August 2017

Erratics from Newport beach

There have been some very low tides recently, and on a walk the other day I found a large exposure of rounded pebbles on an outcrop of till, very close to the outermost end of the river channel.  This was very close to the old Lifeboat Station at Cwm.  These pebbles are clearly derived from the till, but the rounding is modern -- every now and again this area is exposed and subjected to quite violent wave action.  This is a photo of some of the pebbles collected:

The bulk of the pebbles exposed just now are sandstones, gritstone and shales -- many of these are typical of the Ordovician sediments in this general area, and from the eastern part of Cardigan Bay -- in Ceredigion.  But there are a lot of these igneous pebbles too, which I refer to as porphyritic volcanics, and they sure as eggs are not local.  To my untrained eye they look as if they might have come from the Ramsey Island volcanic outcrops, but an origin there is very unlikely -- so I suggest that they have come from either the Harlech Dome, from the Snowdon volcanic zone, or maybe even from the Lake District.   Maybe from all of these areas...........

I'm intrigued by how similar this assortment is to the pebbles which Sid Howells is looking at from Flat Holm.  Some of those, of course, COULD have come from Ramsey Island, since an origin there would accord with what we know about directions of ice movement.

This is a photo which I published earlier, of some of the Flat Holm erratic pebbles:

All advice on what these latest pebbles from Newport are, and where they might have come from, gratefully received.......

Monday 21 August 2017

Multiple bluestone rock types -- but how many provenances?

In January 2015 Myris said that the geologists accept around 10 different rock types in the bluestone assemblage.  But the number of rock types is self-evidently not a guide to the number of provenances. 

The dolerites, for example, which some might wish to count as belonging to a single rock type, have almost certainly come from multiple locations -- the samples reported on are all different, suggesting that they have NOT all come from the same place.  The same is true of the "rhyolites with fabric" -- one rock type maybe, but three different groups according to the analysis. So there are three (at least) different provenances for that rock type alone.  The same is true of the sandstones -- they are all sandstones, but of different ages and from three different places.

See also:

Here we go again, with an update of the list published in January 2015.  Maybe this will all become clearer with the publication of a new popular paper by Ixer and Bevins in Geology Today, in the autumn. There are at least 18 different rock types, and probably more than 20. That means multiple provenances, exactly as you would expect with a collection of glacial erratics.

** There are 31 dolerite orthostats, of which 14 were sampled in 1991 and 2008.  Some are standing stones and some are stumps.  Some are spotted and some are unspotted.  The spots are now thought to be not felspars but aggregations or clusters of low grade, secondary metamorphic minerals.

Bevins, Ixer and Pearce (2014) analysed 22 Stonehenge dolerite samples, and suggested that they were clustered into three groups, with one sample petrologically distinct from all three.  So there are three groups and one outlier -- four types. Every one of the 22 samples is unique, and the possibility must be entertained that every one has come from a different geographical location in eastern Preseli.

** There are four above-ground volcanic rocks in the orthostat collection (stones 38, 40, 46 and 48).  There seem to be four distinct types - two dacites and two rhyolites.  They are referred to by the geologists as rhyolitic tuffs, foliated rhyolitic tuffs, crystal-lithic-vitric tuffs, and argillaceous tuffs.  They have come from four different north Pembrokeshire locations. Stone 38 has an unusual mineralogy including graphitising carbon.  

** There is not much debris to match the 4 volcanic rock orthostats in the Stonehenge debitage, but similar fragments are found in the great cursus field.  In the debitage, unique volcanic material has been classified as belonging to two types -- Volcanic Group A and Volcanic group B.  None of the potential parent orthostats for Volcanic Group A (32c, 33e, 33f, 40c and 41d) have been petrographically examined, making it impossible to relate this debitage to any (or all) of the buried stones.  Ixer and Bevins (2016) say: ".........on present knowledge the origin(s) of the Volcanic Group A lithics is still expected to be found within the Ordovician volcanic sequences in the north Pembrokeshire area on the northern side of the Mynydd Preseli range probably amongst those outcrops examined by Evans (1945)."

** There are two micaceous sandstone stumps -- numbered 40g and 42c.  There are also lumps of Lower Palaeozoic sandstone scattered about in the debitage -- the largest lump weighs c 8.5 kg.  There appear to be two types, with possible sources in the Lower Palaeozoic rocks of north-west Pembrokeshire.

** The Altar Stone (stone 80) is a greenish calcareous sandstone, probably from the Senni Beds of Carmarthenshire or Powys. (It is not from Milford Haven.)  So just one rock type here. There is some debitage related to this stone, but it cannot be established that the fragments came from the Altar Stone itself (Ixer and Bevins, 2013).  The most feasible provenance for the stone is the Laugharne - Craig Ddu -- Llansteffan area of Carmerthenshire.

** In the debitage there are many fragments of rhyolites, some with planar fabrics -- and most matching closely (but not perfectly) the rock outcrops at Craig Rhosyfelin.  There appear to be three distinct groups of "rhyolites with fabric", all assumed to have come from the Pont Saeson area.  There may be a match with orthostat 32e or 32d (Ixer and Bevins, 2011), but the debris analyses does not match any of the known volcanic orthostats.

** There are also some basic tuffs in the collection of fragments from the debitage -- two lithologically different types (Ixer and Bevins, 2013). These are probably also from the Fishguard Volcanic Series.

** Other lithics in the stone collections from the debitage (eg. haematite (from the Reading Beds?), greensand, slate, limestones, Mesozoic sandstones and gabbros) appear genuine, and need further research.

To sum up: 

Ixer and Bevins (2014) state that there are “about ten types of bluestone” represented in the orthostat / debitage samples, but they also show that these have nonetheless come from at least 20 different locations.  It is estimated on the basis of the above points that there are at least 30 different rock types represented in the full "bluestone assemblage" -- especially when due respect is given in this count to cobbles as well as orthostats and flakes, for reasons frequently recited on this blog. 

It should also be noted that the majority of the 43 bluestone monoliths/stumps at Stonehenge have still not been sampled and analysed.  The new work reinforces the idea that the Stonehenge bluestone assemblage is made up entirely of rock types from the west, and that they have come mostly from north Pembrokeshire. 

Finally, a plea to the geologists -- if there is anything wrong with this list, please tell us about it, and give us your corrections and citations.  As ever, I'll publish them without fear or favour!

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.