Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my book called "The Bluestone Enigma" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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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 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 (Pensarn) Roman villa

Possibly the most interesting thing to come out of the work at Pensarn is the discovery (during the search for a Neolithic Proto-Stonehenge) of a Roman villa site.  This was discovered by geophysical surveys in September 2016, and reported to a student conference in April 2017.

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:

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.  It looks to me as if there is a thin layer of till as well.  I wasn't invited to take a 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.

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 Colin Richards 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.....

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.....

The diggers are back.....again....

 One of the photos of the 2016 Pensarn dig, showing the Bronze Age cist burial site at Pensarn -- from Emyr Jones's Facebook page

This is an interesting brief report on one student's involvement in the 2016 digs by MPP and his team.

The diggers have moved  back into the area, and news will no doubt filter through about where the 2017 digging is going on.  I'm not going out searching -- I have too many other things to do with my time.   Anyway, I understand that the diggers plan to dig once again in the Pensarn area, not far from Rhosyfelin -- somebody told me that this year's dig is essentially a "training dig" for students, but we can be in no doubt that the search for the Holy Grail is still going on.  These guys will probably not stop until they have found something Neolithic (a passage grave or something similar), maybe with a stone socket hole or two so that they can invest the site with significance.  The real search is of course for Proto-Stonehenge -- because MPP is now hell-bent on selling the idea that Stonehenge was really a Welsh monument, put up initially somewhere between Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog, and then dismantled and carted off all the way to Salisbury Plain.

The programme of local talks for late September is already organized.  Book your tickets now, folks.......... pay over your money, and do your bit to keep the myth machine in good running order.......

Cunnington on Aubrey Holes and bluestone chips

Purely by chance, this was in the same WANH magazine as the note about the stone axes.  Cunnington here implies that there are bluestone chips in multiple holes -- but he and his colleagues at the time were quite convinced that the holes had NOT contained bluestones, but were simply post holes.  This flies in the face of what MPP claims -- as far as I know, he still promotes the idea of the Aubrey Holes holding a full setting of bluestones at a very early stage in the history of the monument......

By Lt.-Col. R. H. Cunnington.
Wiltshire archaeological and natural history magazine, VOL. XLIV. — NO. CXLIX.  (1927-1929), p 32 

Extract: p 338 The Recent Excavations at Stonehenge.

Since it has been shown that the holes probably contained wooden posts it must be assumed that the depressions were due to the stumps gradually rotting away. The slow sinking caused by the disappearance of the wood would be balanced to a great extent by the growth of turf above, and the filling of the depressions since Aubrey's time shows how quick the process is. But in Aubrey's time there were still depressions, and that implies that the wood had not then, or had not very long before, completely decayed away.

 The presence of blue stone chips so far down in the holes can also be best explained as following down the rotting wood. They were "rarely found below 20in." (Vol. L, 33) and decreased in quantity downwards. One hole, No. 5, shows them at 2ft. 6in. depth, or 15in. below the level of the surrounding chalk (Vol. I., 83), but they were never found quite at the bottom. It is unlikely that the blue stones were chipped until after the posts were erected, for if the chips had been lying on the surface some would have fallen in with the packing, but there is no reason to suppose that any long interval intervened.

 The gradation of stone chips also shows that the filling was never subsequently disturbed by renewal of the posts.

The early reports suggested that the holes might have held a ring of the blue stones before they were trimmed. The only argument for this seems to have been that the numbers roughly correspond. The shape of the holes, round instead of oblong, is almost sufficient to preclude this idea ; they also seem to be too small ; and even without the further blue stone stumps or holes that have been found, they were probably too few. Also if stones had been taken out and the holes filled up, it is hardly conceivable that de- pressions would remain until Aubrey's time, at least 2000 years later.

"Foreign" stone implements from N Wiltshire

 HH Thomas, geologist and antiquarian, 1876-1935

Thanks to Gordon for drawing attention to this -- a record of 21 implements made from "imported stone" -- from an area of Palaeozoic rocks.  Found mostly in North Wiltshire.


By H. H. Thomas, F.R.S., and A. D. Passmore.

Wiltshire archaeological and natural history magazine, VOL. XLIV. — NO. CXLIX. (1927-1929)
1928, Pages 246-247

NB.  This article has been scanned and placed on the web -- so there may be inaccuracies in the following text.  Please check by going back to the original:

(ADP) Amongst thousands of stone implements in my own collection from N. Wilts and the adjoining part of Berks are twenty-one specimens made from imported blue or green stone probably obtained in prehistoric times by barter for flint ; thirteen of these are from N. Wilts and consist of polished axes or parts thereof, four with circular cutting edges, pointed butts and nearly round sections are of an early pre-dolmen type ; three with straighter cutting edges, flattened oval sections, and thin butts are later. One fine axe has a slightly curved cutting edge, flattened oval section, thin butt with the side edges ground square, and is the latest of all. The remainder are fragments or lower halves of axes with flattened oval sections. The large perforated hammer axe herein illustrated has a peculiar history. Found in 1840 alongside the Roman road, south of Ogbourne St. George, towards Bytham Farm, it was placed on a mantel shelf and kept in the finder's family till acquired by the writer in 1923. Its length is 6in., its greatest breadth 2in., and its height 2in (i.e., length of perforation). The hole measures 32 mm. in diameter in one direction and 29 mm. in the other. Traces of the original polish may be seen inside. Outside the whole surface is much decayed and pitted by weathering. It weighs 2 lbs. 13 ozs. The hammer end is round in section ; at the centre in the region of the perforation it is square ; while near the cutting edge it is oblong. The hammer end is slightly lower than the other.

All these implements are surface finds, and in no way connected with barrows or earthworks. As a whole they afford valuable evidence of origin, and in this respect were most kindly examined by Dr. H. H. Thomas, F.B.S., whose remarks are as follows.
A. D. P.


(HHT) The implements are of a variety of stone and include dolerites, rhyolite, quartzite and silicified shale and sandstone. The dolerite implements, of which there are a good many, are easily grouped under three separate heads : —

(I). — A moderately coarse olivine dolerite in which decomposed olivine is conspicuous as red and yellow ochreous spots, and which weathers with a pitted surface.

(II ).— A similarly textured dolerite without conspicuous olivine.

(III.). — A finer grained grey speckled dolerite also with no obvious olivine.


1. Half of axe from Liddington, a moderately compact blue grey dolerite with ocherous pseudomorphs after olivine and weathering with a pitted surface.

2. Axe from Avebury, blue grey compact dolerite with abundant ocherous pseudomorphs after olivine.

3. Cutting edge of an axe from Medbourne, of flattened oval section. This is of olivine dolerite with a cavernous surface.

4. Pointed butt of axe from Medbourne, blue grey dolerite with abundant pseudomorphs after olivine.

Group II.

5. Large axe hammer from Ogbourne; this is a coarse grained even textured non-porphyritic greenish-grey dolerite fairly rich in ilmenite and weathered in a rough surface.

6. Axe from Aldbourne, with pointed butt, four inches long, made from dolerite without conspicuous olivine, no obvious ilmenite but the similarity to the stone of the above axe hammer is close.

7. Pointed butt of an axe from Liddington Castle, dolerite without conspicuous olivine, rather fine grained but appears to be similar to Nos. 6 and 22 (a Berks specimen not here described).

8. Half of axe, thin-butted and of flat oval section, from line of Kennett Avenue, Avebury, moderately coarse greenish grey ophitic dolerite similar to the axe hammer and No. 6.

9. Top half of axe, long narrow shape with flattened oval section from Liddington, cavernous surface but appears to be dolerite of the kind without conspicuous olivine.

Group III.

10. A small thin-butted axe with very flattened section, 3 inches long by two inches wide and only 1 inch thick, from Aldbourne. A very fine grained grey speckled dolerite or diabase ; it is unlike any included in the other groups and appears to be olivine free.


11. A small fragment from Liddington Castle, is a fine grained dark grey sandstone not of local derivation.

Indurated Shale.

12. A thin scraper-like implement (probably part of axe) of black silicified shale. At first I thought it was felsite but the material is too soft and it seems to contain flakes of mica. From Liddington.

Rhyolites and Rhyolitic Ashes.

13. Axe from bed of stream south of Lechlade in the parish of Inglesham, is of this group, its red colour is due to accidental firing.

All the implements are imported and made of stone brought from some area of palaeozoic rocks, the types are such as could be procured from N. Wales and the Welsh borders, but other areas of similar rocks are potential sources and our accumulated facts are not yet sufficient to indicate with certainty one region rather than another ; personally, I am inclined to regard Wales as the most likely source.


Sunday, 3 September 2017

Devensian sediments at Aber Bach (Hescwm)

We actually went in for a swim the other evening,  at Aber Bach (Hescwm), between Pwllgwaelod and Fishguard on the Cardigan Bay coast.  Freezing cold, it was......

Anyway, some good came of it, because I discovered that there is a rather fine exposure there at the moment, at the head of the bay, where the footpath comes down to the pebble beach.  We can see about a metre thickness of beautiful pseudo-bedded slope deposits (made of mudstone fragments from the adjacent cliffs).  On top of that is a layer of "churned" slope deposits, almost certainly attributable to the movement of ice across the old shoreline, pressing south-eastwards.  This is about 50 cms thick.  And above that is classic Irish Sea till, fine-grained, calcareous and containing a scatter of small erratics cobbles and pebbles.  There are some larger clasts as well, but the exposure is obscured by slumping and vegetation, so the thickness is difficult to determine.  It seems to be at least 2 m thick.

So the early part of the glacial cycle is represented here -- and of course the section ties in very nicely with that at Aber-mawr.  Here is the sequence, in its correct stratigraphic position:

Dessicated surface of the exposed Irish Sea till.

"Churned" slope deposits underlying Irish Sea till.  This represents the arrival of Irish Sea Glacier ice coming in from Cardigan Bay

 Pseudo-stratified slope deposits, possibly accumulated during the Early or Middle Devensian. At the base the sediments are contorted.

Without excavation it is not possible to see what happened here during the Late Glacial and post-glacial period.