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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Saturday 30 September 2017

Cot Llwyd henge?

Well, blow me down!  Bing Maps has recently put up some new imagery of North Pembs, showing a winter landscape with a low sun.

In the centre of this image is the Cot Llwyd "roundhouse" -- with a diameter of about 10m.  It's on the edge of the common, on the northern slope of Carningli.  Generally this is assumed to be one of the better preserved of the Bronze age dwelling sites in this area.  Grid ref:  SN056380.

I have never seen this before, on other satellite images, but suddenly we can see that there is a much bigger circular structure, with the roundhouse in the middle.  I estimate that the diameter of the big circle is about 70m.  The shape is that of a reversed capital D -- very strange.  Maybe the planned circular feature was not completed, and was finished off later with a straight wall on its eastern flank?  Was it a henge?  There does not seem to be an associated ditch either outside or inside the wall or embankment.

There is another mysterious uncompleted feature near Carn Llwyd, maybe 500m to the east.  There is a curving section of ditch and embankment about 50m long.  That looks as if it might have started off as an ambitious project for a circular feature with a diameter of at least 200m.  That's truly enormous.  The bank section is in the centre of this image:

Friday 29 September 2017

Where was the Anglian ice sheet edge?

This is a topic to which we have returned many times, and will no doubt return again.......

I have been taking a fresh look at the highly influential paper by Patton et al (2016) which applies a more sophistcated modelling technique than ever before to the Eurasian ice sheet complex -- including the Celtic Ice Sheet (otherwise called the British / Irish Ice Sheet or BIIS).  Although the work relates to the climatic and other conditions for the Late Weichselian (let's say 40,000 BP to 15,000 BP as being relevant to SW Britain) the modelling is in some respects more applicable to the earlier glaciations, since ground truthing suggests that the Celtic Ice Sheet never did develop to the full extent as predicted by the model.

 The map above shows the most commonly assumed Devensian ice limit (red line) for the British Isles, which is clearly inadequate in many respects.  The area defined by the wavy dark blue line shows the maximum extent of the modelled ice sheet, based on an analysis of a vast range of different parameters.  The orange areas are the areas of assumed highest erosion -- the dark blue area shows the ice shed location, stretching from the Lake District across to the Isle of Man and thence towards SW Ireland.  Note that the ice is shown impinging well into the counties of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset, onto Salisbury Plain, and across the Midlands towards The Wash, incorporating a large area to the north of the Thames Basin assumed to have been unglaciated in the Devensian.

Take a look at these maps as well:

The upper map shows the positions of the ice divide around 27,000 BP (red), according to the run of the model, and around 22,000 BP (black).  An ice divide running across Ireland from NE to SW must have forced ice flow on one flank towards the SE and on the other flank towards the NW.  As far as St George's Channel and the Celtic Sea are concerned,  this supports my thesis of a Celtic Sea ice mass made up of ice from the Irish Sea Glacier, but with a powerful mass of ice coming from central Ireland, and forcing the ice to flow eastwards, as shown on this map:

The similarity between these maps is remarkable, given that my map is based largely on ground evidence, and theirs is based on computer-based glacier modelling.

So far so good -- but the intriguing thing is that my map shows my assumed Anglian glacial scenario, and theirs shows a theoretical Late Weichselian scenario!   I need advice from the experts.  Watch this space........


Henry Patton, Alun Hubbard, Karin Andreassen, Monica Winsborrow, Arjen P. Stroeven. 2016.
The build-up, configuration, and dynamical sensitivity of the Eurasian ice-sheet complex to Late Weichselian climatic and oceanic forcing. Quaternary Science Reviews, Volume 153, 1 December 2016, Pages 97–121

Note:   Late Weichselian = Late Devensian


The Eurasian ice-sheet complex (EISC) was the third largest ice mass during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), after the Antarctic and North American ice sheets. Despite its global significance, a comprehensive account of its evolution from independent nucleation centres to its maximum extent is conspicuously lacking. Here, a first-order, thermomechanical model, robustly constrained by empirical evidence, is used to investigate the dynamics of the EISC throughout its build-up to its maximum configuration. The ice flow model is coupled to a reference climate and applied at 10 km spatial resolution across a domain that includes the three main spreading centres of the Celtic, Fennoscandian and Barents Sea ice sheets. The model is forced with the NGRIP palaeo-isotope curve from 37 ka BP onwards and model skill is assessed against collated flowsets, marginal moraines, exposure ages and relative sea-level history. The evolution of the EISC to its LGM configuration was complex and asynchronous; the western, maritime margins of the Fennoscandian and Celtic ice sheets responded rapidly and advanced across their continental shelves by 29 ka BP, yet the maximum aerial extent (5.48 × 106 km2) and volume (7.18 × 106 km3) of the ice complex was attained some 6 ka later at c. 22.7 ka BP. This maximum stand was short-lived as the North Sea and Atlantic margins were already in retreat whilst eastern margins were still advancing up until c. 20 ka BP. High rates of basal erosion are modelled beneath ice streams and outlet glaciers draining the Celtic and Fennoscandian ice sheets with extensive preservation elsewhere due to frozen subglacial conditions, including much of the Barents and Kara seas. Here, and elsewhere across the Norwegian shelf and North Sea, high pressure subglacial conditions would have promoted localised gas hydrate formation.

Thursday 28 September 2017

The Late Devensian Glaciation in Wales and SW England

Late Devensian Glaciation of South-western Britain and the Celtic Sea

Here is my latest attempt to summarise what is currently known about the extent of ice in the Late Devensian, around 25,000 years ago (see Note).  The maximum ice positions may have occurred at different times in different parts of the glaciated area, as a result of surges or pulsing behaviour.  Also, the boundary between Irish Sea ice and ice from the Welsh and Irish Ice Caps must have oscillated in a fashion not currently fully established.
Note the following:

1.   The ice movement directions shown for the Celtic Sea Piedmont Glacier are approx 90 degrees away from the directions assumed by most glacial geomorphologists in their maps.  This is because ice marginal deposits at more or less the same levels (ie just a few metres above present sea level)  in western Pembrokeshire, on Caldey Island and in the Isles of Scilly cannot be explained by a glacier with a gradient running from NE towards SW.  Ice must always move perpendicular to the ice edge except in troughs and other tightly constrained situations.  That means the ice gradient must have run from NW towards SE, as shown on the map, driven from a dynamic and vary large ice dome over Ireland. 

2.  If, as I believe,  glacier ice over-rode Lundy Island and impinged against the coastline of Devon and Cornwall, there is a possibility of a large meltwater lake being trapped within the Bristol Channel.

3.  I have shown local ice caps over the uplands of Devon and Cornwall, and assume that in the Late Devensian they did not come into contact with ice coming in from the NE.

Note added 29.9.2017:  recent papers are suggesting that the glacial maximum occurred around 25,000 years ago -- this pushes the date back by about 5,000 as compared with the widespread assumptions of a few years ago.  Partly this adjustment is related to the advent of new dating techniques, which have supplemented -- and sometimes -- supplanted  evidence based solely on radiocarbon dates on organivc materials.

The Greatest British Glaciation in Wales and SW England

The extent of the "Greatest British Glaciation" in the south-western quadrant of the Celtic Ice Sheet (sometimes called the British and Irish Ice Sheet)

This is my latest attempt to map the greatest-ever Pleistocene extent of ice in this area, bearing in mind evidence from a wide variety of sources.  I'll be happy to discuss modifications if anybody has any doubts about what the evidence on the ground actually shows.

When was this?  The jury is still out. The most common assumption nowadays is that the glaciation was very ancient indeed  -- the Anglian Glaciation (MIS 12) conventionally dated to c 450,000 years ago.  However, Phil Gibbard is suggesting nowadays that maybe this was the Wolstonian, which used to be called the Riss or Saalian glaciation on the continent, and which occurred around 200,000 years ago (MIS 6).  Maybe the ice edge shown is a composite one, but this will need to be established by cosmogenic dating such as that undertaken by the BRITICE project over the past few years.

Please note the following:

1.  The ice direction arrows shown are approximate only -- one must bear in mind that there are considerable swings as ice masses wax and wane.  For example, before the Irish Sea Glacier became prominent, the Welsh Ice Cap would have been more extensive, pushing ice further out from the core of the Welsh uplands.  Individual outlet glaciers at such a time would also have been more topographically controlled.  Something similar might well have happened at the end of the glaciation, as the Irish Sea Glacier waned and retreated from its maximim position.  We do not know at present how many phases or pulses of glacier expansion there may have been -- the evidence on the ground is very patchy.

2.     South-central England is shown as a permafrost zone, but there must have bee extensive areas of perennial or semi-permanent snowfields.

3.  It is assumed that the ice extended to the south of the Isles of Scilly and that there may well have been a large calving bay at the ice grounding position, in the Celtiv=c Sea and off the bottom left corner of the map.

4.  I'm assuming that moving ice pressed onto the Cotswolds, into the Bristol and Bath area, over the Mendips, and across most of the Somerset Levels.  I believe that there us reasonable evidence to support the position of the ice limit as shown.

5.  In Devon and Cornwall, it is reasonable to assume that there were small  discrete ice caps over Exmoor, Dartmoor, Bodmin Moor and some of the other uplands.   These ice caps might have coalesced, and they would have been in contact with the Irish sea ice somewhere near the position of the present coastline.  

6.  Note that the coastline is shown here for guidance only.  In reality, at the time of this very large glaciation, sea-level must have been at least 120m lower than it is today. 

After that fruitless quarry hunt, normal service is resumed........

Over the last week or two I have spoken to many people -- including archaeologists -- about the recent archaeological work on the northern flank of Preseli, and I am intrigued by the fact that NOBODY has even mentioned bluestones or quarries.  There now appears to be widespread scepticism about the existence of the Neolithic quarries so beloved by MPP and his friends, and an acceptance that the evidence they have unearthed during their mad quarry hunt has been so equivocal and unconvincing that the whole idea is best dropped.  For example, the radiocarbon dates and organic remains from Carn Goedog and Rhosyfelin do nothing at all to support the idea of bluestone monolith quarrying, but simply demonstrate the intermittent occupation of hunting and gathering sites.

In contrast, a number of people have said to me that the archaeologists are getting back to the normal practice of their trade by subjecting a smallish area to intense scrutiny (using geophysics, aerial surveys and LIDAR) and finding some rather interesting cultural features from the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman times.  This shows a long history of settlement in an area with quite positive environmental attributes.  Essentially this is a random process -- and a number of experienced archaeologists have said that MPP and his team could probably have subjected almost any part of North Pembrokeshire to a similar level of technical scrutiny and manpower investment, and would have obtained quite similar results.  We knew already from the excellent work done by Dyfed Archaeological Trust and other university groups over the years, that there are widespread cultural traces across the landscape and that a large proportion of them have survived because the level of agricultural and other development here has been lower than it has been across much of south Pembrokeshire.

Many of the relevant records are in the Coflein and Archwilio databases, and some are contained in this Report:
It's a bit out of date now, but is very valuable nonetheless.

So the feeling seems to be that the digs at Pensarn (three excavations), Parc y Gaer (one excavation) and Waun Mawn (six pits opened) represent a welcome return to normal service -- involving a lot of students, who will have obtained valuable training in how a good dig should be run.

No additional significance can be attached to these digs.  There is nothing "special" about the areas investigated, and I hope that the archaeologists will resist the temptation to pretend that there is.  A location does not become special or significant just because MPP and his colleagues have dug there.  And as I have noted before, and as many others have noticed, there is nothing in any of these recent digs that has anything to do with bluestones, quarries, Stonehenge, Carn Goedog, Rhosyfelin, or Stonehenge.  It would be quite preposterous for MPP and his team to pretend otherwise.

So a gentle request to the teams who have been at work on these sites in 2017 -- please add your records to the database of prehistoric sites for North Pembrokeshire, and follow the unassuming and efficient practices of the Dyfed Archaeological Trust.  Write and publish your peer-reviewed papers if you will.   Please resist the temptation to speculate and to tell elaborate stories.  Place your dig diaries and excavation records into the public domain as quickly as you can, and spare us any additional hype.......

Wednesday 27 September 2017

The geologists who stepped on the hornet's nest

On this blog we know and love geologists Richard Bevins and Rob Ixer, since they feature in a vast number of posts and have made amazing contributions to our understanding of the geology of the bluestones.   And Rob personally has been prepared to get involved in good knockabout debates on a wide range of issues, and to explore the pros and cons of many theories of geological, geomorphological and archaeological interest.  In the comments sections following a myriad of posts, he is a prominent and learned contributor.  For that, he deserves enormous respect.

But one thing has been puzzling me greatly for the past seven years or to -- why is it that two reputable geologists have turned into evangelists for the Neolithic quarrying thesis so enthusiastically advocated by Mike Parker Pearson and his team?  They claim, whenever you ask them, that they are entirely neutral in their utterances, and that they maintain a certain academic detachment from the grubby business of archaeological disputes, but the evidence is rather strong that they are fully signed up to the quarrying idea -- and indeed  we have speculated on previous posts that as long ago as 2011 they actually pushed our friend MPP into some of his more effusive and picturesque statements about Pompeii, smoking guns and proto-orthostats.  Consider the following statements made by Drs Ixer and Bevins, from their recent published output:

"There is clearly still much to learn here, but as work on the Preseli quarries continues, we hope that our detailed petrology will help to resolve the ongoing debate about how the bluestones arrived at Stonehenge and from exactly where."

"So the contents of a 60-year-old box led to the discovery of the first secure Stonehenge-related quarry site, confirming that man moved the bluestones.”

“.......very recent excavations at Carn Goedog have revealed evidence for Neolithic working of the outcrop.”

“........ archaeological excavations have shown features consistent with ancient quarrying.” 

“The best that can be hoped for is that a number of undisputed Neolithic quarry sites can be found.” 

"It's like an IKEA. You just walk up to it, take what you want and take it away."

“The discovery of a megalithic bluestone quarry at Craig Rhos-y-felin in 2011 marked a turning point in this research. Subsequent excavations have provided details of the quarrying process......”

“Colluvium has buried and protected the remains of prehistoric quarrying from subsequent stone removal and disturbance in the medieval and modern era.”

“Six megalith-quarrying features have been discovered at Craig Rhos-y-felin.”

“There is relatively little debris within the quarry to indicate the methods used for detaching monoliths from the rock face.”

“It is possible that the bluestone monoliths were taken directly from their quarries to Salisbury Plain.”

I know that all of these statements are taken out of context, but they do not contain many signs of neutrality or impartiality, as I think readers might agree.  But how can it be that two senior earth scientists are apparently prepared to ignore the evidence of earth surface processes that various people have presented for Rhosyfelin, Carn Goedog and many other Pembrokeshire sites, and have decided instead that assorted natural features and sediments are not natural, but are man-made? 

One reason might be that many of their papers are published in archaeological journals, and that they have been seduced away from pure geology into saying things that the archaeologists (or maybe just some of them) would quite like to hear?  There have been some strong personalities in the ranks of senior archaeologists who have been arguing for Neolithic quarries for many years now -- think of Darvill, Wainwright, Parker Pearson, Pollard, Richards, Welham, Pitts etc.  Their research agendas and projects, and their hypotheses, pull in other people -- and when joint peer-reviewed papers or popular magazine articles appear with multiple authorships, the principle of corporate responsibility applies.  For example, the big 2015 Antiquity paper on Rhosyfelin (which I still think of as one of the worst I have ever read) had no less than 14 authors, and whatever nonsense there is within that paper now has to be defended by all of them.  Nobody can break ranks and say "Well, actually, I never did agree with what was said on page fifteen......"  I still think that Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins made a grave mistake by ever agreeing to contribute to jointly authored papers like this one --  the millstone that hangs around Mike Parker Pearson's neck hangs round their necks as well.

Another reason why the geologists have been signed up as supporters of this Neolithic quarrying business is, I believe, that they have just not been able to do adequate fieldwork in the area that they are writing about.  Richard Bevins knows the area well, having wandered about all over the outcrops of Fishguard Volcanics over many years, and having collected hundreds of geological samples from useful exposures.  But how much time has he spent in the company of glaciologists or geomorphologists on these field visits?  I just don't know, but I'll hazard a guess that the answer is "Not very much."  He is Keeper of Geology at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, with vast responsibilities, so it's a miracle that he is able to do any fieldwork at all, and to maintain an incredible flow of research publications.  I am lost in admiration for his dedication and his commitment to research.  As for Rob, he lives a very long way away from Pembrokeshire, and is involved in such detailed lab-based petrography, and across such a wide range of topics, that it would be not far short of another miracle if he has ever managed to find the time to wander across north Pembs and simply look at the landscape and the processes that have fashioned it.

And thirdly, I think the geologists have gone with quarrying because they (like everybody else) are attracted by the spectacular, which is always more interesting than the mundane.  Although they are earth scientists, they probably quite like the idea of our heroic ancestors doing wondrous things.  And from an academic standpoint, they probably quite like the idea of fame and notoriety.  You just have to look at the string of press releases to which their names are attached -- in those, caution is thrown to the winds, and IMPACT is everything.  They can't blame university or museum press officers for the purple prose -- they are the ones ultimately responsible.  And hey -- they might even appear in  National Geographic documentary one day.  And how exciting is that?

Finally, I have become convinced that the geologists have gone along with the quarrying idea -- and have ended up promoting it -- because they think that the evidence for glacial bluestone transport is in some way deficient.  They have, I assume, taken on board the idea that "glacial transport was impossible" because, at some stage, James Scourse and Chris Green said so.  So by default they have to accept that human transport WAS possible, and that the quarrying of the bluestones was possible too.  As I have said many times before, that is not very scientific, because it conflates various issues.  There are three issues under debate -- stone entrainment, stone transport, and stone dumping.  If we are trying to be good scientists, we need to examine the evidence for each one of these issues independently, without allowing assumptions about the other two to influence our interpretation of the evidence on the ground.  What the geologists have done, I fear, is to assume that there are quarries at Carn Goedog and Rhosyfelin because there are not enough bluestones scattered about on Salisbury Plain.  Hmm --- how logical is that?

I write this post not in anger but in sadness -- since I have enormous respect for the two geologists involved, and the great work they have done.  So if I was to write a press release about all of this I would put on top of it the title:  "The sad case of two good geologists led astray".


Monday 25 September 2017

New work at Waun Mawn

It's rather interesting that work has resumed at Waun Mawn at grid ref SN083341.  Apparently work started there very late in the digging season, maybe because the archaeologists were frustrated at having found no trace of proto-Stonehenge at either Pensarn or Parc y Gaer!  Anyway, there are signs of great activity up there, and some seriously heavy plant has been used.  It's all a bit of a mess at the moment, but it will no doubt settle down again over the winter..........

I'm quite pleased to see that this new work is going on, because the Waun Mawn - Tafarn y Bwlch - Cnwc yr Hydd area is extremely interesting.  Hummocky morainic topography, standing stones, old stone walls, ancient trackways, and even traces of an old deer park......... Use the search box to find previous posts.  If there is a Neolithic quarry anywhere in this part of North Pembs, it is here, at the top of the hill -- but there are other pock-marks lower down as well, from which rhyolite and metamorphosed shales appear to have been taken.  Goodness knows why. (Maybe the quarries are quite modern, having been used for road material for the trackway up to Gernos Fach?) 

On the platform halfway up the hill there are 4 big stones that appear to have been used in a stone setting.  They are all dolerites picked up in the vicinity, all very heavily abraded and weathered.  They are certainly not freshly quarried from anywhere -- they are classic glacial erratics, although they have probably not travelled far from their places of origin. (But who knows?  They could have come from Cilgwyn or Carningli.)  Only one of the stones is standing, and there are two very big recumbent stones and one smaller recumbent stone which is just visible above the turf.  One can't see the full dimensions of the stones, but I reckon the two big ones each weigh between 6 and 8 tonnes.

The archaeologists have opened up six pits and closed them again.  These are the locations:

Two of the pits have been dug adjacent to recumbent stones, and four very extensive exploratory pits have been opened up -- two to the west and two to the east of the visible stones.  The stones may have been placed in the ground about 10m apart.  Rumour has it that two sockets have been found -- I'm not sure whether these relate to stones that are still there and have fallen over, or to stones that have gone missing........  I hope the archaeologists will publish a field report soon and give us the info on that.

 Recumbent stone number one -- the westernmost stone in the series.  You can see the traces of the dig around the stone, and at top left you can see the position of one of the exploratory digs.

Recumbent stone number two -- there has been no dig adjacent to this stone

Recumbent stone number three -- apparently the smallest of the three.  There has been excavation on all sides of this stone

I'm a bit more convinced than I was that the stones may lie on the circumference of a very large circle.  If so, it must have had a diameter of around 140 m -- that is enormous, and much larger than the footprint of Stonehenge.  On the other hand, Avebury outer circle has a diameter of 331m, and Stanton Drew is 113m in diameter -- so who knows what might have happened here?

I still think that on balance this is a rather wonky stone alignment.  My reason for thinking that is that a circle with a diameter of 140 m would not have fitted onto this little step on the hillside-- it would have spilled over onto the steeper slope below, so that parts of the circle would have been quite invisible from other parts.  That would not have made any sense at all..........

Anyway, all very interesting, and we look forward to hearing what the archaeologists have to say about this site in due course.

News from the 2017 Preseli digging season: Pensarn, Parc y Gaer and Waun Mawn

Without breaking any confidences, here is a brief summary of what has been placed in the public domain, arising from the 2017 digging season involving Mike Parker Pearson and his colleagues.  This was all under the auspices of the "Stones of Stonehenge" project.  The dig lasted about 3 weeks, ending around 20th September.  This very day the holes in the ground are being filled in.....

The focus of attention was again Pensarn, not far from Brynberian and Crosswell, on the south side of the B4329 road.  The minor road leads down to Pensarn, Droifa and Glanyrafon-Uchaf and other delightful cottages on the northern edge of Brynberian Moor.  It's where the annual Ras Beca cross-country races are held every August -- not that that's strictly relevant!  What's more relevant is the presence of abundant interesting landforms, sediments and Neolithic and Bronze Age features on the moor itself -- as noted in some earlier posts:

This is the key report which gives the regional context:

To return to the matter in hand.  What we now know is as follows:

1.  In 2016 the dig at location SN123358, on a low mound in the middle of the field, revealed a Bronze Age cist burial site, details of which are still to be published.  I summarised what we know here:

2.  Another field about 500m to the east of the Pensarn lane is referred to as Parc y Gaer (field of the fort).  Here there is a rectangular feature with two sub-rectangular boundaries, a square feature and irregular ditched enclosures to the south (all identified last year by the geophysics).  These are now investigated, and are apparently confirmed as the remains of a Roman villa.  This is exciting, since it would be the westernmost Roman villa recorded in Wales.  Kate Welham and her Bournemouth University team will have been working on this one.
Just a word of caution:  some years ago there was great excitement when a supposed "Roman Villa" was found at Wolfscastle.  When it was investigated by Duncan Schlee and others, it was found to be nothing of the sort.........
Apologies for getting the location wrong in a previous post.   I have now done an edit to correct the mistake.
In the hedge to the west of the"villa dig" there is a large stone with "prehistoric rock art engravings" which were identified (correctly?) in 2016.  No doubt more work will have been done on this stone.

 3.  In 2017 there were two new excavations near Pensarn Farm, in another field, on the western side of the lane, at the following grid refs:  SN123357 and SN 122357.

(a)  In the eastern pit (the one with the bucket, the trowel and the beer bottle) there is only a very thin layer of sediments (c 60 cms) over broken bedrock, but there is evidence of assorted features dating from the Iron Age.  It looks as if it might be an Iron Age defended homestead -- there is something that might be a defensive embankment.  Traces of walls have also been found, and in the dig there is a series of pits which may be post holes.  Some interesting domestic and decorative artifacts have been found, and organic materials are going off for C14 dating.

(b)  In the western Pensarn pit there are apparently traces of a Neolithic embanked enclosure of some sort -- a very subtle feature, since the sediments are very thin here and no sign of it could be seen on the ground surface.  It was picked up in 2016 by geophysical work including LIDAR.  Apparently there are some "very unusual features" showing up, which are not commonly seen in the British Neolithic.  It may be a henge of some sort.  Organic materials have been recovered, and these will go off for C14 dating.

4.  Further work has been done at Waun Mawn, close to Tafarn y Bwlch, where all those standing stones and recumbent stones are located.
Apparently work was not started there until almost the end of the digging season, but on Tuesday 19th Sept the diggers found what appears to be a stone socket with some organic material within it, and rumour has it that another socket has also been found. Samples sent for C14 dating might show when the stones were in position and when they were removed or fell over.  Nobody should be surprised by any of this -- there are two very large recumbent stones and a smaller one visible on the surface at Waun Mawn, which might well have been upright at some stage.  So there will be sockets and there will be organic materials within them.  There is also a very fine standing stone.  As pointed out in previous posts, the stones might be on the circumference of a very large circle. Grid ref SN084340 approx.

(I have also heard rumours of a "worked" stone somewhere, which has been removed from its socket and taken away -- but I have no idea whether that rumour relates to one of the stones referred to above.......... We know already that there are other standing stones in the area, and other stones incorporated into hedgerows.  Both dolerite and foliated rhyolite. I had a look at some of these last year, in the company of Chris. )


That's all we know at the moment, from what Mike PP has been saying on his guided tours and evening lectures over the past few days.  My informants are not always 100% attentive, and might misunderstand some things too.   If I have misreported anything, apologies -- no doubt somebody will correct me, and I will adjust the text accordingly.

Anyway, there is cause for pleasure all round, I think, since our knowledge of prehistoric north Pembs has been significantly advanced.  So congratulations to all the diggers for what they have come up with.  It confirms what we already knew from the unsung work of Dyfed Archaeological Trust over the years -- that there is a very long history of early settlement here, stretching from the Mesolithic through Bronze Age and Iron Age to Roman times, with a range of settlement and ritual features under the turf and out on the moor.  Some of the new sites will no doubt become scheduled ancient monuments, which is right and proper.

Observant readers might have noticed that none of the above information has anything whatsoever to do with quarrying, bluestones, Stonehenge, Proto-Stonehenge, Rhosyfelin, Carn Goedog, Carn Meini or the transport of monoliths.........

Saturday 23 September 2017

Small book becomes heavy millstone

Sometimes I sits and ponders, and sometimes I just sits. So goes the old saying.  Anyway, I was pondering a bit today, out in the garden, and I got to asking myself this question.  Why is it that certain archaeologists are so obsessed with the idea of Neolithic bluestone quarries in north Pembrokeshire that they continue to try and sell them to all and sundry, in spite of the fact that their "evidence" does not stand up under scrutiny?  Not only that, but why to they exist in a state of denial about contrary opinions, to the extent that they refuse even to acknowledge the existence of two peer-reviewed papers that show that their cited "quarrying features" are in fact entirely natural?

The answer, I have concluded, is that Mike Parker Pearson's book called "Stonehenge: exploring the greatest Stone Age mystery" came at exactly the wrong time.  At the time Mike thought it was the right time, and a wonderful opportunity to enhance his academic reputation.  Let me explain.  The book was published in June 2012.  That means it was probably in production between January and June 2012 -- and that means that Mike had to complete the manuscript probably by Christmas 2011.  Going back a bit further, in August 2011 Richard Bevins contacted MPP to say that he and Rob Ixer had "pinpointed" a match for one of the Stonehenge foliated rhyolite samples to the outcrop called Rhosyfelin.  (Before that, they had published a paper flagging up the Pont Saeson area as a good match for some of the material in the rhyolite collection.)  The archaeologists had planned to dig at Carn Goedog, again after guidance from the geologists that that was a likely source for Stonehenge spotted dolerite samples, and at Waun Mawn, where they thought there might be the remnants of a large stone circle.  But because of this piece of supposed high-precision provenancing, MPP and his colleagues decided to concentrate on Rhosyfelin.

They seem to have decided, even before they dug the first turf, that this was a Neolithic monolith quarry.  In no time at all they found an "ancient ground surface", so-called hammerstones (which all turned out, of course, to be fluvioglacial cobbles), the big rhyolite block (claimed to weigh about 4 tonnes, whereas it is actually over 8 tonnes) and "rails of elongated stones" set on edge beneath it.  News spread about this amazing discovery, although when I visited the site with friends I could see nothing at all that demonstrated human occupation, let alone quarrying activity.  Anyway, at the end of the September digging season Mike hoofed around, announcing to the world that the "Pompeii of prehistoric stone quarries" had been found.  The first talk was at Newport Memorial Hall on 15th September.  The detailed Rhosyfelin petrography paper came from Ixer and Bevins in December 2011, and there were then press releases from the geologists, followed by a media feeding frenzy featuring "the bluestone quarry" just before Christmas 2011.  There was no need for the geologists to push the quarrying hypothesis, but they chose to do it, presumably because they were convinced of its correctness........... and even geologists just love media attention and fame.  Don't we all?

By this time Mike must have finished the manuscript for his book.  The purple prose is there for all to see, between pages 286 and 291.  After the bit about Pompeii, MPP said:  "We could hardly believe our luck.  This was a smoking gun; the game was up for anyone still trying to argue that the bluestones were not quarries in Preseli during the Neolithic, and then taken to Wiltshire."  And then in June 2012 it was in print, between hard covers, there for everybody to read. Set in stone, as it were.

The trouble with books is that they are so wretchedly permanent and are deemed by readers to contain well-considered views on this and that.  They are not like scientific research reports, or field diaries, or journal articles, or press releases.  These latter forms of communication are all ephemeral by comparison, and although press reports are read by millions of people, they are soon forgotten.  And the things that you might have said in them can be quietly dropped, or changed, without many people noticing......

So there was MPP's extremely premature description of the 2011 dig and his conclusions on it, written before any field reports or journal articles had been worked on, and rushed out on the basis of completely inadequate field evidence.  Act in haste and repent at leisure.  Since June 2012 Mike has been stuck with the quarrying ruling hypothesis, and I think it is now a millstone round his neck.  He can't or won't change his mind about the quarry, and he has persisted in the promotion of it in spite of the fact that no evidence has emerged over six subsequent digging seasons to confirm the hypothesis.  In fact, many people will have noticed that the radiocarbon and stratigraphic information presented for the Rhosyfelin dig in the Antiquity paper of December 2015 is extremely inconvenient, and tends if anything to mitigate AGAINST the quarrying hypothesis.  But still MPP (and his colleagues) trundle on, refusing to admit that the thesis is wrong.  Instead, they have simply modified the theory, claiming now that the quarrying went on several centuries earlier than they would have liked, and that there must have been a Proto-Stonehenge somewhere, which they WILL find, come hell or high water.....

It's all becoming more than a little absurd.


By the way, my review of the MPP book is in the Antiquaries Journal, and is reproduced here:

Phil Bennett

Sad news to report.  Phil Bennett, who was the archaeologist for the Pembs Coast National Park for many years, and later the manager of Castell Henllys, died on 11th Sept.  His funeral was on Wednesday last.  Phil and I crossed swords on a number of occasions (as you will see if you do a search on this site) but he was a kind and rather gentle man and at a personal level I always got on with him very well.  We worked together on various events organized by the National Park.  He was a great enthusiast for the cultural heritage of Pembrokeshire, and did  a sterling job of promoting the county further afield.  He left the National Park staff about a year ago, and it's sad that he did not live to enjoy a long and mellow retirement.  Our condolences to his family at this sad time.

The Stonehenge Layer and the making of Preselite axes

Not long ago various people on this blog expressed outrage at the very idea that Stonehenge might have been used (in its dying phase, or even earler) as an axe factory, on the basis that there was plenty of raw material there in the shape of bluestones.  One contributor suggested that this was a calumny perpetrated by geologists who did not know much about anything -- but I was sure that archaeologists have said it too.  Now I have found the following -- coming from Profs Darvill and Wainwright in 2011:

Our excavations within Stonehenge in 2008 (see CA 219) confirmed what earlier excavations had hinted at: namely that the Bluestones started to be broken up and chipped away more or less from the time they were set up in each successive arrangement. The great spread of flakes and debris usually referred to in the archaeological literature as the ‘Stonehenge Layer’ is not, as once thought, the debris from a one-off act of dressing the stones prior to their erection. Instead, these flakes have accumulated over millennia and include evidence for the use of Bluestone to fashion axes.

The Stones of Stonehenge

Posted by
March 20, 2011
Tim Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright’s research focuses on the very stones of Stonehenge. Here, they give us an insight into their 2008 excavation at Stonehenge and ten years of fieldwork in and around the Bluestone quarries in the Preseli Hills of north Pembrokeshire.

So there we are then.  You know it makes sense.  But forget the nonsense about the "bluestone quarries" in the previous paragraph -- that's just a puff from the journal editor to try and get more readers.

Friday 22 September 2017

Parc y Gaer Roman villa, Meline parish

Possibly the most interesting thing to come out of the work in the Pensarn area is the discovery (during the search for a Neolithic Proto-Stonehenge) of a Roman villa site.  This was discovered by geophysical surveys in a field in Meline parish in September 2016, and reported to a student conference in April 2017.  The field is about 500m to the east of the Pensarn Lane where the 2016 dig took place.

It's great to see students working on a project like this, and reporting their work responsibly.  I'm sure we all wish them well, and look forward to seeing what the 2017 dig has revealed.   The name Parc y Gaer means "fort park" or "fort field" -- I'm intrigued to know whether that name is the traditional name used by the farmers of this land down through the years.  Here is the abstract from the spring conference:

Updated and corrected 25th Sept 2017

Thursday 21 September 2017

Inebriated archaeologists dig large hole in Pembrokeshire field

Couldn't resist this one -- with due acknowledgement to the Bluestone Brewery Facebook page....... always happy to give a puff for our friends and neighbours!

Seriously though, the diggers were probably all perfectly sober and well organized.  This is a nice pic of the latest Pensarn dig by MPP and his team, showing how thin the sediment layer is here -- not much more than a metre or so before the broken bedrock (looks like foliated rhyolite) is encountered.  There is a lot of frost-shattered and broken rhyolite, and some foreign stones including bits of dolerite.   Some of the stones look as if they might have been burnt -- are there hearths on the site?   I wasn't invited to take a close look when I called over there the other evening.........

I don't want to sound sour.  It sounds as if there are some really interesting things coming out of this dig, which we can all celebrate.  I have no inside information, and need to check what is in the public domain, as well as separating rumours from facts.  But all being well, I'll be in a position to report on what MPP has said within a few days.

PS -- slightly edited.  I thought there might be till here.  Now, having had a closer look,  I have my doubts.  Its distribution is very patchy.

MPP, The National Geographic and the encouragement of pseudo-science

I was interested to see this little phrase in the Antiquity article by Mike Parker Pearson et al in December 2015:

"The theory that the stones were carried by glaciers, transported during an Ice Age to Salisbury Plain or its margins (Kellaway 1971; Thorpe et al. 1991; Williams-Thorpe et al. 1997, 2006), has not been refuted until now..........."

The implication is that the  Rhosyfelin research work, and the assumed identification of that infamous "quarry" has somehow put an end to all this stuff about glaciers.  Of course, nothing could be further from the truth, not least because the evidence for quarrying does not withstand scrutiny.  As we have seen on this blog, the presence of the "quarry" was decided upon even before the archaeologists descended on the site to dig their rather large hole, and all they were actually doing was seeking confirmation of a ruling hypothesis.  Pseudo-science was writ large across the face of the project from day one.  The geologists -- Richard Bevins and Rob Ixer -- were complicit in this, even though they started out by simply referring, in their papers pre-2011, to a rather interesting piece of provenancing which linked Stonehenge to the Pont Saeson - Rhosyfelin area, without expressing any opinion as to how the monoliths and the bits of broken rock might have travelled from here to there. By 2015, of course, they were fully signed up to the quarrying hypothesis, as we can see from a string of statements in their publications.  Like MPP and his archaeologist colleagues, they had clearly decided to go with the flow. The glacial transport of bluestones was impossible, because the following had apparently told them so: 

(Thomas 1923; Green 1973; McMillan et al. 2005; Gibbard & Clark 2011; Clark et al. 2012)

 We don't want to go over all that again, but we might as well remind ourselves that Kellaway, Richard Thorpe, Olwen Williams-Thorpe and their colleagues were by no means isolated or out on a limb as far as extensive glaciation was concerned. MPP et al could have cited my apparently unmentionable little book (2008) as well, on the basis that I actually do have reasonable credentials, and that I know more about the glaciation of western Britain than some of those on their list of sceptics. They could have mentioned Judd from the good old days and Alun Hubbard, Tom Bradwell, Nicholas Golledge, Adrian Hall, Henry Patton, David Sugden, Rhys Cooper, and Martyn Stoker (2009) from the days of high-tech glaciology and glacier modelling.  These guys know what they are talking about, and they all signed up to a statement in a big and much-cited paper to the effect that glacier ice as far east as Salibury Plain was perfectly possible.

I don't want to get into silly numbers games, but I'm confident that of all the earth scientists who have expressed views on glaciers and Salisbury Plain, there are at least as many who say that glaciation was possible as there are on the other side. And of course, if we apply a little logic, even if there is a Neolithic quarry at Rhosyfelin, it tells us nothing whatsoever about how 43 or so bluestones travelled from A to B.

The thing that worries me more than anything about the pseudo-science swirling around the Rhosyfelin debate is the lack of peer-review and scientific scrutiny of the things the archaeologists have been writing and saying.  Let's remind ourselves that over a period of 7 years there is just ONE peer-reviewed paper (in Antiquity in 2015) which presents evidence, discusses its interpretation, and suggests conclusions.  That relates just to Rhosyfelin.  It's a deeply flawed paper, and I remain amazed that it ever found its way into print.  If I had refereed it, it would have been rejected out of hand, with a request for a complete rewrite and resubmission.  Apart from that, nothing.  There has been no peer-reviewed paper on Carn Goedog.  That's incredible, given the huge significance being attached to the site by MPP and his team. We don't count articles in British Archaeology or Current Archaeology, conference papers or "state of play" reports, or even books, because they are not designed for scientific scrutiny and simply repeat assertions and speculations which readers cannot question because they have no evidence to assess.  Over seven years MPP and his team have placed no excavation diaries or annual field reports into the public domain, where they can be examined by their peers.  They may have submitted annual reports to the funding organizations, as required by the terms and conditions, but if they are not made public these documents might as well not exist.  (In contrast, Profs Darvill and Wainwright HAVE followed academic norms by presenting their field evidence in seven annual SPACES reports, all published -- and available for scrutiny -- in Archaeology in Wales.)

I have made a fuss about this on my blog, and am probably therefore viewed as "the enemy" by MPP and his team. But there are big issues here regarding the use of public funds, scientific ethics and university education.  Why is the archaeological community not raising hell about an ongoing and high-profile research project which is apparently not overseen or scrutinised by anybody?

I have been pondering on the whys and the wherefores of this miserable state of affairs.  Could the blanket of secrecy over the Stones of Stonehenge project be down to some mysterious contract which MPP has signed with one of the project funding partners?  I cannot imagine the Society of Antiquaries or the Royal Archaeological Institute insisting on "no unauthorised publication" or "first use of information" clauses in funding contracts, since they want material out there in the public domain, preferably as quickly as possible.  So the culprit has to be the National Geographic -- either the magazine or the TV Channels.  If you look at the Society's web-site, it offers grant aid to exciting projects, and purports to encourage publication everywhere and anywhere -- but Mike has admitted at various times to constraints placed upon him and his team by the National Geographic.  I will speculate, therefore, that Mike has signed an incredibly restrictive contract which gives the National Geographic a "first use" option on anything coming out of the digs in Pembrokeshire.  This is, I think, supported by the manner in which the National Geographic has issued press releases and publicised  spectacular events associated with the digs (you know the sort of stuff) before the rest of the media swings into action.  Is there a very large TV contract also lurking in the background?  Does MPP have to deliver a TV documentary spectacular the like of which the world has never seen before?  Does he have to deliver before he gets paid? To hell with science -- all that matters is IMPACT.

Best Neolithic quarry ever discovered, anywhere in the world.  Heroic ancestors quarrying chunks of rock in a Welsh wilderness and then carrying the monoliths all the way to Stonehenge just because they embody the spirits of the ancestors?  An amazing Proto-Stonehenge in Wales, used and then dismantled  -- yes indeed -- that'll do nicely! Assemble the cast of thousands -- filming starts on Thursday week........

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Is Tim Darvill a quarrying sceptic?

I have been looking back over a few old articles, and on looking at one of the more balanced pieces on the MPP quarrying and Proto-Stonehenge hypothesis, by Tia Ghose, I came upon this snippet which demonstrated a certain scepticism.

.............However, the evidence in support of the theory is scant: a few traces of burnt material and one oddly positioned rock. And not everyone is convinced that these clues point to an earlier Stonehenge-like monument.

"While this work adds some detail, it doesn't change the main picture," said Timothy Darvill, an archaeologist at Bournemouth University in England, who has excavated at Stonehenge but was not involved in the current study. "The Preseli Hills are extensive and geologically very complicated, with the result that matching stones to particular outcrops is fraught with difficulties."

In addition, it's possible that much of the archaeological material uncovered is "entirely natural" — not evidence of human work on the landscape, Darvill said.

I hadn't noticed the quote from Tim Darvill on a previous reading, and it's rather interesting that he says pretty well exactly what Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd, John Downes and I said in those two articles which MPP and his colleagues so studiously ignore!

The Making of Prehistoric Wiltshire

The Making of Prehistoric Wiltshire (2017)
by David Field and David McOmish
Amberley, 160 pp, £16.99

Brief Review

I have been browsing through this pleasant book, which concentrates more on geography and history than on archaeology.  For the authors, landscape is not exactly everything, but they recognize that spatial relationships have been somewhat neglected in the bulk of archaeology texts in recent years, and they seek to redress the balance.  In their introduction they talk of "the archaeology of landscape", and the words "land" and "landscape" crop up frequently throughout the text.  The chapters are organized not by conventional time periods, but by the differing landscape impacts of particular cultures.  So we hear about the first monuments, agricultural landscapes, enclosures, forts, farms and so forth -- all with an emphasis on how successive waves of settlers adapted what was there before and brought new features into the landscape.  The natural landscape underpins or shapes everything, and there is a nice emphasis on associations, development, abandonment and redevelopment during the ebb and flow across the millennia.

What I particularly like about the book is that it is evidence- or fact-based, and mercifully free of speculation and fantasy.  Not a sign of hyperbole anywhere.  The bluestones are briefly mentioned, but there is nothing about so-called quarrying at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog.  Stonehenge hardly figures at all in the text -- and that's really rather refreshing!  As a result of this rather fastidious attention to accuracy and impartiality, the book reads at times like a slightly dusty academic tome -- so in that sense it bears comparison with "Stonehenge and its Landscape" (1995) by Ros Cleal and her colleagues, which is also mercifully free of fantasy.  But that vast tome is now somewhat dated, and the Field / McOmish book is up-to-date, as well as being a short and easy read.

There are a few gripes.  The system of notes gives the book a rather academic feel, and might deter the non-specialist reader.  I found the habit of using archaeological long-hand for dates extremely irritating;  what on earth does this mean?  "..... dating to the late third / early second millennium cal BC"..........  If they meant 4,000 years ago -- or whatever -- why didn't they just say so?  The book's design leaves much to be desired, with figures that are almost all over-reduced and covered with a grey wash, making them mostly incomprehensible.   The maps are also difficult to read because of the grey obsession.  The colour plates have a very flat appearance, largely because the book is printed on a matt or silk paper, and I cannot understand why they are all clustered in a group near the middle of the book.  There is absolutely no reason for doing that, with modern printing technology, and they would all have been much more effective if they had been placed in their "right" positions in the text.

But these are minor gripes.  Overall, an interesting and reliable book, thoroughly recommended.

Tuesday 19 September 2017

The 2017 Pensarn dig

I had a pleasant chat with Adam Stanford this evening, having gone over to Pensarn to see where the current dig is being conducted.  He was flying his drone at the end of the day's work.

Out of respect for the diggers, I won't reveal anything about the dig until it has been made available to the public by MPP and others.  Mike is doing a talk this evening at Bluestone Brewery, and I will no doubt hear about what is revealed!  So I will do a post in due course.

I had been informed in advance of the approximate dig location, since there was apparently quite a bit of preparatory geophysics work last year while the 2016 dig was under way.  It wasn't located quite where I expected -- but there are two pits, about 100m apart.  The grid references are SN123357 and SN 122357.  The two excavations are on the other side of the road from the Bronze Age site investigated last year, and about 200 m away from it.  I'm not breaking any confidences by revealing the locations, since around 40 diggers have been at work this year, and many others have also visited the site.  Everybody in the neighbourhood knows exactly where it is!

Nothing shows up in the satellite imagery for the field in which the digs are located -- and this is exactly the situation in which detailed surveying and geophysics comes into its own.

Watch this space.....

Postscript:  I erroneously stated that I had met Colin Richards on the site.  It was actually Adam Stanford  -- apologies to both of them.

Monday 18 September 2017

The artificial significance of Rhosyfelin and Carngoedog

 If those two sites are supposed to be quarries, how many other sites are NOT quarries?  Answers on a postcard please.......

As readers of this blog will know,  we have often discussed sampling bias, the caveman effect, and artificial significance.  Here we are again, at the end of another dig, in the MPP lecture season, where everybody prepared to listen will be told yet again that Carn Goedog and Rhosyfelin are of earth-shaking significance.  They are the great bluestone quarries, now mythologized in much the same way as Stonehenge, with high pressure PR work and judiciously placed articles in the archaeological magazines. This, of course, in spite of the fact that the EVIDENCE for quarrying just does not stand up to scrutiny.

As readers will know, my thinking about Rhosyfelin is that this site has nothing whatsoever to do with either monolith extraction or with the human transport of big stones to Stonehenge -- but that it might have been used intermittently during the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age for the fabrication of cutting or slicing implements, given the lovely sharp edges which this rhyolite gives.  So in that sense, the rock might have been used opportunistically.  But maybe not.  Maybe the good old folks just liked being there in the woods, doing a bit of fishing, gathering berries, listening to the birds, and sheltering from the wind.  Later on, some Iron Age people used this sheltered site against a craggy rock face in a wooded valley as an encampment -- maybe just over the winter months.

My thinking about Carn Goedog is that there is no prehistoric quarry there either, and that there was not actually any need for Neolithic quarrying activity on the tor, given the readily available spotted dolerite slabs, pillars and boulders scattered as glacial erratics across the Preseli landscape.  If tribesmen had wanted monoliths for building into cromlechs, or for use as standing stones, they could have just picked them up, very close to the places where they were needed.  People camped in the vicinity, and in that sense used the site, but bits of charcoal, ancient soils and radiocarbon dates do emphatically NOT indicate quarrying activity.

We cannot avoid talking about artificial significance.  Archaeologists don't think about it often enough.  We could also call it sampling bias.   It is pretty clear that MPP and his colleagues have invested these two sites with significance because (a) they have decided in advance that they were Neolithic quarrying sites, and (b) simply because that is where they have dug.  It is perfectly reasonable to think that if they had visited almost any sheltered craggy site in a north Pembrokeshire valley (and there are many of them) and subjected that site to the same level of scrutiny as applied to Rhosyfelin, they would have found virtually the same assortment of features -- including charcoal, hazel nuts and fireplace traces.   I have made this point here:

The same is true of Carn Goedog.  There is nothing exceptional about it, apart from its close proximity to a droving route.  If the archaeologists had dug at Carn Bica, Carn Breseb, Carn Arthur or any of the other Preseli tors, the strong probability is that they would have found traces of occupation.  After all, some of these tors have prehistoric enclosures built against their rocky flanks.  The diggers would have found a litter of large blocks and slabs partly buried in the turf, traces of temporary encampments, charcoal and assorted other organic and dateable materials.  If they had bothered to check, they would have found a similar Pleistocene stratigraphy too.

 The point is that the archaeologists have never even tried to demonstrate that these two so-called quarrying sites are exceptional or unique.  There have been no control digs at any other sites with similar physical and locational characteristics -- and the sampling bias is very strong indeed.

(I have directed exactly the same sort of criticism at the geomorphologists who recently published a set of cosmogenic dates for the northern fringes of the Isles of Scilly, in support of their assumed ice limit.  All of the dates were obtained from inside the assumed limit, and none of them were from outside it -- so there were no controls in the sampling programme.  I still cannot believe that such an elementary error in field sampling design was made by a group of experienced researchers.......)

As noted by Darvill and Wainwright in the recent Pembrokeshire County History volume, the distribution of recorded sites is not necessarily the same as the pattern of prehistoric activity.  A site does not become significant simply because it has been worked on.  I agree with that, and it's a point made by other archaeologists as well.  In any investigation, especially if you are seeking to demonstrate something quite exceptional (such as Neolithic monolith quarrying), you have to show that other similar places are unexceptional.  Do Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog show features that are not normal? The archaeologists have not even bothered to try to demonstrate that.  That's bad science.

To come back to Hitchens's Razor, the onus is on MPP and his colleagues.  Their quarrying thesis is simply rejected out of hand, until the archaeologists can come up with something more convincing.

Engleheart on Boles Barrow and the Bluestones

On looking again at the Boles Barrow material, I was reminded of this comment from Rev Engleheart, tagged onto the end of the article by Howard Cunnington in the 1924 Wilts Magazine, p 432.

He has his dates all wrong, which is not terribly surprising-- and he tells a nice tale about the Neolithic bluestone argonauts passing by Heytesbury, dropping and breaking a bluestone monolith, and then chucking the pieces into Boles Barrow along with many chunks of sarsen collected from the vicinity.  But the reverend gentleman was a pretty good observer, and he states quite categorically that the bluestones at Stonehenge "were not quarried but were picked up as boulders, more or less worn and smoothed by the action of the ice and exposure through ages to the weather."  A man after my own heart -- agreeing with Thomas about a glacial transport process, and saying what I have been saying for years about the characteristics of the Stonehenge bluestones (apart from a few which have clearly been worked).

And talking of those fragments in the debitage -- "one at least shows unmistakable ice-striation".  That's rather interesting.  I wonder what happened to that fragment?

As I have said before, the quarrying fantasy did not start with Thomas, but with Atkinson and those who followed him.  So that particular myth is really only about 60 years old. 

The earliest Wiltshire standing stones?

 The illustrations from the Cunnington article of 1924

On p 59 of the new book by David Field and David McOmish, there is a mention of three long barrows -- assumed dates around 6,000 - 5,500 BP -- which appear to have had standing stones or foreign stones built into them.

One of these is Boles Barrow, and in referring to the Cunnington observations, the authors seem quite happy to accept that the old fellow did indeed find a bluestone boulder inside it. Was it the "broken" boulder currently in the Salisbury Museum?  Others have of course suggested that if a chunk of a larger standing stone went to Haytesbury House and ended up in Salisbury, maybe the rest of the standing stone is still there, inside Boles Barrow, or maybe somewhere nearby?
William Cunnington, who dug into Boles Barrow in 1801, died in 1810.  Here is the original record from Howard Cunnington, in The Wiltshire Magazine, June 1924:
He was of course completely certain that the provenance of the stone was correct, and that it came from Boles Barrow, and not from Stonehenge.  I too am convinced -- the documentary trail is completely authentic, and the only debate about provenance related to a piece of granite that appears to have had nothing to do with either Boles Barrow or Stonehenge.  HTT of course confirmed that the Boles Barrow stone was spotted dolerite, virtually identical to the stone which is well represented in the Stonehenge bluestone assemblage.

By the way, wasn't there supposed to be a definitive geological study of the Boles Barrow stone, with new laser imagery and new petrography?  I know there was some work reported in the Carn Goedog paper, but I thought there was more on the way......... (we had a bit of a chat about it back in May).

The next one is a long barrow at Arn Hill, near Warminster, on the chalk escarpment, which had "a standing stone set within."  No radiocarbon date, but the earliest example of a standing stone in Wiltshire?

The third one is at Knook, where the authors seem to think there was a standing stone which was later broken up, and the bits incorporated into the long barrow.

I know Tony gave us a steer on all of this a while ago -- but does anybody else have info on any, or all, of these sites?  I tried to find the EH scheduled monument records, but didn't have any success......

Wednesday 6 September 2017

Neolithic things near Rhosyfelin?

I'll hazard a guess that this year's quarryman's dig might well be at Pensarn Junction, the location of which is shown on the satellite image above.  The position of a small foliated rhyolite standing stone (about 1.5 m high) is shown in the middle of the field, with Chris for scale, and if I was an archaeologist desperate to find something interesting, that might well be where I would open up a pit. 

There may be other stone sockets in the vicinity, and although the chances are that everything man-made beneath the turf is Bronze Age, maybe -- just maybe -- something older will be found as well. Anything will do -- and of course anything dateable to the Neolithic will be flagged up as a big story, confirming to the archaeologists that Rhosyfelin was a Neolithic quarry from which standing stones were taken for local use.  Not exactly Proto-Stonehenge, but what the hell -- when you are in a spot of bother, anything will do.........

If you are a rational human being, of course, one or more rhyolite standing stones in this area does nothing at all to confirm the quarrying hypothesis -- it simply means that (as was the case all over Pembrokeshire) some old fellows found elongated stones lying around and thought they would look nicer if they were standing.  Occam's Razor applies.

Watch this space.....