THE BOOK
Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- due for publication on June 1st 2018. After that, it will be available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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HERE

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.

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

https://brian-mountainman.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/review-of-mike-parker-pearsons-2012-book.html


1 comment:

TonyH said...

That "just sitting" you did out in your garden may well have produced a fairly probable scenario of events which could well have surrounded the production of MPP's 2012 book, and how Mike got stuck with his extremely premature description and interpretation of the 2011 Rhosyfelin dig.

The enthusiasm of those "Pet Rock Boys" of Myris's acquaintance no doubt did little to dampen Mike's conviction that they had, indeed, uncovered a "smoking gun" that pointed straight at Stonehenge, over land and sea, 170 - odd miles away.

They say a week is a long time in politics. The period between the Ixer/Bevins initial contact with MPP and what you term 'the media feeding frenzy' in December of the same year seems to have been quite long enough for MPP & Co's Rhosyfelin Quarry tale to set, like concrete, in their heads and into the pages of the book's manuscript.