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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Sunday 29 October 2017

The Carn Meini mystery

Carn Meini, as we all know, is the place where it all started........ this set of four craggy outcrops of dolerite on the crest of the Preseli ridge was identified by HH Thomas back in 1921 as the place from which many of the spotted dolerites at Stonehenge had come.  He didn't think there was a quarry there, but Richard Atkinson did, and since the 1950's it has of course been promoted heavily by EH and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all as THE Neolithic quarrying site.  This idea was pushed very recently by Tim Darvill and the late Geoffrey Wainwright in their big chapter in the Pembrokeshire County History, even though the geologists now seem to be agreed that none of the spotted dolerites at Stonehenge actually came from here.  As they say, you don't want the truth to get in the way of a good story.......

For good measure, TD and GW were intent upon making the place even more famous, and in the literature it is now promoted as having the earliest stone quarry in the British Isles -- dating from the Mesolithic -- where "meta-mudstones" were extracted for reasons unknown.  Then there is that funny little enclosure, which TD and GW promoted as a sort of protective barrier to stop the locals from pinching valuable bluestones from the quarrying storage depot.  So there is quite a story there, which you can believe or poke fun at, as the case may be......

Now then.  We have a problem about the name.  "Carn Meini" means "stony crag".  On the older maps the locality is shown as "Carn Meini" or "Carn Menyn" more or less interchangeably -- but Carn Menyn is the preferred spelling on the modern OS maps.  That's a bit of a nonsense name, since "menyn" means "butter" -- and how can you name a craggy rock after a lump of butter?  Bertie Charles, in his book on the place names of Pembrokeshire, explains this as an indication of a fertile upland grazing area that ran up to the rocks, maybe involving cattle grazing and butter making in a "hafod" or summer settlement.  There is indeed a trace of a ruined dwelling with small enclosures about a kilometre from the rocks, and another just 500m from the rocks.

Was there a cottage here, where cattle were looked after on their summer grazing area, 
and where butter was made?

But then it gets interesting.  Last night I was reading the classic local history of Mynachlog-ddu parish, by ET Lewis.  With very rare exceptions, he refers to the rocks not as Carn Meini but as CAERMEINI.  In doing that, he must have been representing local verbal usage of the name, and he cites a lot of documentary evidence as well.  He was a fluent Welsh speaker, and he would not have confused "carn" with "caer".  The word means a fort, castle or citadel -- or some defended and strengthened place.  Interestingly enough, the three closest farms are Caermeini Isaf (lower), Ganol (middle) and Uchaf (upper) -- and those spellings are used on the current OS maps. Sometimes descriptive words are used in a picturesque sense (eg "castell" or "castle" is used for a crag that looks particularly romantic or ruinous!) but Lewis clearly did not think that this was the case here.  So we have a tradition locally of a fortified site at Carn Meini or Caer Meini...........

Lewis also mentions the local Welsh dialect in the Mynachlog-ddu area, in which the word "mynydd" (mountain) is pronounced "mini" -- so he infers that both "meini" and "menyn" might just be corruptions of the word for "mountain".   So the meaning might be "mountain fort" or "mountain crag" -- ie nothing to do with butter.

So here is an interesting thought -- could it be that there was a defended structure on Carn Meni which features in local traditions and local place names?  Is the "walled" enclosure described by Darvill and Wainwright a candidate?  It really is a pathetic little feature which can never have been very prominent, but who knows?

Now it gets even more interesting.  ET Lewis has a theory that the flattish plateau area above Talfynydd was the site of the Battle of Mynydd Carn in 1081, in which the forces of Rhys ap Tewdwr and Gruffydd ap Cynan (th princes of Gwynedd and Deheubarth) were involved in a terrible conflict, with huge slaughter, with the armies of the princes of Powys and Morgannwg.  Rhys and Gruffydd marched eastwards for a long day from St Davids, and Lewis thought that they marched along the old Golden Road on the Preseli ridge to meet the foe.  When they arrived in the vicinity of Talfynydd (just over 1 km west of Carn Meini) the armies of the princes of Powys and Morgannwg had already been in residence in the vicinity for about three weeks.  Could it be that that they had established their camp around the Carn Meini crags?  And could it be that the princes themselves had established their HQ in the "enclosure",  demarcated by a rough wall which could have been built in a day or two by a group of soldiers with nothing much else to do while they waited for battle?

Darvill and Wainwright were unable to establish that the "wall" had anything to do with quarrying, and did not demonstrate that it was a Neolithic or Bronze Age feature. I think it might have been built in prehistoric times as part of a simple animal enclosure -- but I am more and more attracted by the idea that it might not be prehistoric at all, but was built by some bored soldiers in the year 1081.

Maiden Castle near Trefgarn -- a tumbledown and very delicate tor which was presumably named because it looked like a ruined castle.

Saturday 28 October 2017

On the redistribution of bluestone erratics

In the light of my previous post, on the "bluestone erratic train", I have been re-reading this interesting paper by Phil Gibbard et al:

New insights into the Quaternary evolution of the Bristol Channel, UK
ISSN 0267-8179.
DOI: 10.1002/jqs.2951

I covered it briefly in a previous post, here:

It's great to see that things are moving (so to speak) in the Bristol Channel arena at last, and a number of geomorphologists are realising that hereabouts we will find information crucial to our understanding of the Quaternary of south-west Britain.  Sounds obvious -- so it's all the more surprising that the area has been relatively neglected while research has been concentrated in other areas like north Wales, eastern England and the fringes of Scotland. 

For many years it has been known that during the Late Devensian glacial episode, ice from the South Wales outlet glaciers pushed across the coast in three main areas -- Carmarthen Bay (the Tywi Glacier), Swansea Bay (the Tawe and Neath Valley glaciers) and in the Cardiff-Newport area (the (Taf and Rhondda Glaciers).  The Usk Glacier is not thought to have reached the coast.  Most of the work on these features, as described by Prof David Bowen and others, has been land-based, and is summarised on this map:

A lot of work is now becoming available in the literature relating to the Bristol Channel sediments and bedforms, as repeated in other posts on this blog.  This is suggesting that Devensian ice did cross the coast around Cardiff and Newport, and that the above map needs to be corrected in that respect.  And the evidence for the inner and outer moraines in Swansea Bay is truly spectacular, as shown in the map at the head of this post, taken from the Gibbard et al paper.

What this all means is that any bluestone erratic train running between Preseli and Salisbury Plain would have been effectively disrupted or smashed to pieces by these Devensian advances involving ice from the Welsh ice cap, flowing broadly southwards from the Brecon Beacons and the uplands of the South Wales Coalfield. 

Here is another map from Gibbard et al, with my hypothetical bluestone erratics train superimposed upon it.

So if anybody asks me in future why there is no trail or train of large bluestone erratics running all the way from Preseli to Stonehenge, I will show them this map.  It demonstrates that there is NOWHERE in South Wales where the erratic train could have survived intact -- in an unmodified form.  In Carmarthen Bay, Swansea Bay and the Cardiff-Newport area old Irish Sea Glacier erratics might well have been flushed out beyond the present coastline.  In other areas any erratics lying about will have been incorporated and reworked into Devensian morainic deposits.  The erratics will still be there -- somewhere, and probably buried -- but the chances of finding them will be infinitesimally small.  In fact pre-Devensian glacial deposits are also very difficult to find in Glamorgan; we only know of one substantial survival, at Pencoed.

So that leaves two areas where we might find erratics -- immediately to the south of Preseli and in Somerset and Avon.  In the latter area, as we all know, no big bluestone erratics (demonstrably from Pembrokeshire) are known apart from those at Stonehenge.  But in eastern Pembrokeshire, down-glacier from the Preseli Hills, there are abundant bluestone erratics, as noticed by Thomas, Griffiths and other researchers.

By the way, ALL of the glacial limits on the above map are speculative.  I have argued over and again that the Late Devensian limit shown does not make any sense and I don't know why researchers keep on showing it on maps when it defies all the rules of glacier behaviour.  And the Early / Middle Devensian limit is even more controversial --  I'll report soon on a new paper that demonstrates that the assumed glacial episode at that time is just as fanciful as a bluestone quarry. (My words, not theirs.......)

Friday 27 October 2017

The Bluestones Erratic Train

Over the years we have discussed erratic trains and trails on many occasions, and I have just prepared a new map showing the main ice streams affecting the Bristol Channel area in the Anglian Glaciation.  (Or maybe it was the Wolstonian?  Nothing is certain in this life......)

I'm fairly happy with the ice stream arrows for both the Irish Sea Glacier and the Welsh outlet glaciers affecting South Wales.  The red arrow is based on the paper I did with Lionel Jackson in 2009 in "Earth" magazine, suggesting a contact zone along which the two ice masses ran side by side at more or less the same speed, without much mingling.  (Ice acts in some ways like a fluid, but we must not carry that analogy too far.....)

Along the red line we might expect to find a train of bluestone erratics, but only if there was a continuous process of erosion and entrainment at the Presell end of the line, in the source area. As I have explained, I think the entrainment of Preseli erratics (spotted and unspotted dolerites, rhyolites, dacites, volcanic ashes and sandstones) might only have occurred on a substantial scale at the beginning of the glaciation concerned, with the supply cut off as the ice thickened.  So the route might be approximately OK, but the "erratic train" might just be a pipe dream.

There would also have been wobbles in the route, and in reality the "red route" would have had a lot of kinks in it, in response to waxing and waning ice pressure both from the southern flank and the northern one.

Then there comes the last complication -- the wastage of the Irish Sea Glacier, which would probably have been catastrophic and very rapid.  It appears to be normal towards the end of a glacial episode for "pulses" or readvances to occur around the fringes of smaller ice masses such as the Welsh ice cap -- and advances of the South Wales glaciers could well have pushed the debris associated with the Irish Sea Glacier (including quantities of erratics) southwards, beyond the present coast line and into the area now submerged beneath the sea.  There are signs of just such terminal and lateral moraines both in Swansea Bay and in Cardigan Bay, associated with Devonian glacier advances following Irish sea ice wastage.

More to be discovered -- of that I have no doubt.

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Altar Stone, Thin Section 277, and the Senni Beds

Thin section of sample 277 -- courtesy Rob Ixer

Don't get me wrong. I just love the idea that the Altar Stone at Stonehenge has come from the ORS Senni Beds -- but since this is a scientific blog, every now and then we need to ask some inconvenient questions.

The current orthodoxy is that the Altar Stone is from the Senni Beds -- and not from the Cosheston Beds on the shore of Milford Haven. The foundation of all of that is the paper by Ixer and Turner-- much cited -- dating from 2006. That's quite a while ago, in geological terms.

Reference:  Ixer, R.A. and Turner, P. 2006. A detailed re-examination of the petrography of the Altar Stone and other non-sarsen sandstones form Stonehenge as a guide to their provenance. Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Magazine 99, 1–9.


I have been looking at the paper again, and am forcefully reminded that there is actually a huge amount of doubt surrounding this identification. The centrepiece of the work by Ixer and Turner was a thin section from the Salisbury Museum collection, labelled "277 Altar Stone Stonehenge."  Who took the sample, and when?   Is sample 277 one of the Cunnington samples?  Quote: "Cunnington (1884) identified five fragments of the Altar Stone, that he assumed resulted from dressing of the stone, amongst his loose finds, although they are now missing."

Quote: "Therefore, the thin section labelled ‘277 Altar Stone Stonehenge’ in the Salisbury Museum Collection is likely to remain, for the foreseeable future, the only piece of the monolith available for investigation. It is imperative then that it should be described as fully as possible and that this description becomes widely available."

In Discussion (Quote):

This, paper represents the first detailed description of the Altar Stone for over eighty years and is in broad agreement with H.H. Thomas other than his identification of abundant garnet and glauconite. Glauconite is a green, chlorite-like mineral and so, if present, has been subsumed under chlorite in the present description. The disparity over the amount of garnet is more significant and puzzling. Thomas noted significant amounts of garnet in his ‘heavy residues’ (Thomas, 1923, 244) but did not report garnet in his thin section description of the Altar Stone. Although trace amounts of garnet can be overlooked/underestimated in thin section the present study could not confirm significant amounts of garnet microscopically. The presence and amount of garnet is important as Thomas was struck by the coincidence between the garnet-rich nature of his Altar Stone ‘heavy residues’ and the unusually garnetiferous nature of the Cosheston Beds and it was the presence of these unusual amounts of garnet in both, that led him to suggest the Cosheston Group might have been the origin of the Altar Stone. Without further sampling (this would require many grammes of Altar Stone to crush before separating the heavy minerals) the garnet problem must remain unresolved.

The big issue here is the amount of garnet among the heavy minerals in the rock.  Herbert Thomas and Richard Thomas have both stated that there are substantial amounts of garnet in the Altar Stone itself -- but garnet is missing from thin section 277.  There are also substantial amounts of garnet in the Cosheston Beds.  So was HH Thomas right all along?  And have Ixer and Turner simply assumed that thin Section 277 was correctly labelled, when it might have just come from a piece of debitage  assumed -- unreliably -- to have come from the Altar Stone?

A simple matter of a sample being mislabelled?  The mystery deepens.........

Monday 23 October 2017

MPP: I have discovered a speculation!

I just came across this. I thought it worth sharing, especially since it came from an academic web site that prides itself on its academic rigour........

Mike Parker Pearson: "I led the team of researchers that discovered that Stonehenge was most likely to have been originally built in Pembrokeshire, Wales, before it was taken apart and transported some 180 miles to Wiltshire, England." 

Stonehenge isn’t the only prehistoric monument that’s been moved – but it’s still unique

(This was in the “science and technology” section of The Conversation…..Dec 11th, 2015. It prides itself on "Academic rigour, journalistic flair”………….)

Saturday 21 October 2017

Green Bridge of Wales -- the beginning of the end?

Pics from Doug Reubens and Gareth Davies

 This has nothing to do with Stonehenge, bluestones or glaciers -- but since we enjoy talking of the forces of nature on this blog, this might be of interest.  Storm Ophelia has been causing some severe cliff falls in Pembrokeshire -- and one of the most spectacular rockfalls has been on the tip of the Green Bridge of Wales (one of the most famous arches in the British Isles).  These photos show the damage.

The outer "block" (which will become a stack when the arch goes) is now much reduced in size, and the state of near-equilibrium that existed there is gone.  Not sure how this will affect the stresses in the arch itself.  Depends how riddled with fractures it is.  Ironically, the compression on the arch may now be greater than it was before, so it may become stronger.......... we shall see........

As I write, Storm Brian is battering the coast, and lots of people are rushing down to the limestone cliffs and the Stack Rocks area with their cameras.........

I'm more interested in the submerged forest, and wonder if it will be exposed after this storm surge coinciding with spring tides.

 Pic: Beth McColl.  After the fall.........

Another photo, taken 22 Oct by Guy Candler.  It shows the fracture face in much more detail.  


We now know that the large fracture scar high up on the pillar is the result of the Storm Ophelia storm (16 October), and the lower (smaller) scar is the result of a second rockfall during Storm Brian on 21st October

Thursday 19 October 2017

Lambert Glacier -- a thing of beauty

There are few things on this planet more impressive than a big glacier in full flow.  This is the Lambert Glacier in Antarctica.  It flows into the Amery Ice Shelf.  Click to see the image enlarged.

At the base of this NASA image, it is about 30 km wide, but at the big confluence with Fisher Glacier it is about 60 km wide.  Across most of the area shown in the image, the glacier velocity is between 500 m and 800 m per year, but the velocity speeds up as the ice gets towards the ice shelf, with a flow rate of c 1 km per year.    Surging glaciers sometimes move faster than that, but this is assumed to be the fastest-flowing big outlet glacier on the planet.

The streamlines or flowlines are shown here in extraordinary detail.

 Here is another image -- this time from Google earth.  You can see many of the same features.

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Parker Pearson et al under scrutiny -- more scientific misconduct?

On looking back at the literature over the past couple of years, I have been reassessing the following:

Parker Pearson, M., Pollard, J., Richards, C., Schlee, D., and Welham, K. (2016).  "In search of the Stonehenge Quarries,"  British Archaeology,  Jan/Feb 2016, pp 16-23.

Parker Pearson, M. (2016).  "Secondhand Stonehenge?  Welsh Origins of a Wiltshire monument."  Current Archaeology 311 (2016), pp 18-22.

Both of these articles were published in the spring of 2016, about three months after the publication of the QN article by Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd, John Downes and me.  That article, peer-reviewed and revised on the advice of referees and editor, described the landforms and stratigraphy at Rhosyfelin and made the point that there was no trace of a Neolithic bluestone quarry at the site, no matter what the geological affinities with Stonehenge might be.  Parker Pearson, Pollard, Richards, Schlee and Welham (all senior archaeologists) must have known about the paper, and they must all have read it.  They must also have been fully aware of the "media storm" that followed in December 2015 when their big Antiquity paper was published within a few days of our second paper in Archaeology in Wales.  There were literally hundreds of write-ups in the press and in magazines, and on digital media as well. The great majority talked about the dispute.  Assorted academics made comments on the record, flagging up the fundamental disagreement between one group of specialists and the other.

In spite of all this furore, the two articles mentioned above blithely promote the bluestone quarrying hypothesis and make no mention of any inconvenient evidence or academic dispute. 

So there are two question here.  Did the authors of the two articles mentioned above have time to react to the publication of our two articles in November and December ?  And should they have changed their texts, even a proof stage, in order to inform their readers that their assumptions about bluestone quarrying were not universally accepted?  The answer to the first question is undoubtedly "Yes".  They had two months to make corrections and adjustments, and if they had requested relatively minor changes I am sure that the Editor would have agreed.  And the answer to the second question is also "Yes" -- since a responsibility is always placed upon authors to provide reliable information and to avoid the pretence of certainty in cases where there is doubt.  As mentioned in our earlier post
a deliberate failure to cite "inconvenient" publications or data is tantamount to falsification, fabrication and the intentional distortion of the research situation.  That is rather a serious matter.

I haven't checked up on all the universities represented here, but MPP works at University College London, and all universities have Ethical Guidelines which staff and researchers are supposed to adhere to.  The internal guidelines generally insist on publication of research results in a responsible and timely manner, in a form accessible to other interested parties, with research results preserved for future reference in cases where replication might be needed.  It goes without saying that all academic authors must also adhere to COPE guidelines, which state:

Researchers should present their results honestly and without fabrication, falsification or inappropriate data manipulation. 

Reports of research should be complete. They should not omit inconvenient, inconsistent or inexplicable findings or results that do not support the authors’ or sponsors’ hypothesis or interpretation.

Authors should cooperate with editors in issuing corrections or retractions when required.

Authors should represent the work of others accurately in citations and quotations.

New findings should be presented in the context of previous research. The work of others should be fairly represented. Scholarly reviews and syntheses of existing research should be complete, balanced, and should include findings regardless of whether they support the hypothesis or interpretation being proposed.

From COPE website:  Wager E & Kleinert S (2011) Responsible research publication: international standards for authors. A position statement developed at the 2nd World Conference on Research Integrity, Singapore, July 22-24, 2010. Chapter 50 in: Mayer T & Steneck N (eds) Promoting Research Integrity in a Global Environment. Imperial College Press / World Scientific Publishing, Singapore (pp 309-16). (ISBN 978-981-4340-97-7)

Well, I have grumbled before about the complete lack of research diaries or field reports representing seven seasons of excavations in the field.  Parker Pearson and his colleagues have behaved neither in a responsible nor a timely fashion.  Nor is there a single paper which presents in a satisfactory and scientific manner the findings in the digs at Rhosyfelin, Carn Goedog and a number of other sites. (The paper published in Antiquity in December 2015 is far adrift of the standard required, and does not withstand scrutiny.)

Mike Parker Pearson, Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer, Joshua Pollard, Colin Richards, Kate Welham, Ben Chan, Kevan Edinborough, Derek Hamilton, Richard Macphail, Duncan Schlee, Jean-Luc Schwenninger, Ellen Simmons and Martin Smith (2015). Craig Rhos-y-felin: a Welsh bluestone megalith quarry for Stonehenge.   Antiquity, 89 (348) (Dec 2015), pp 1331-1352. 

The published material in the British Archaeology and Current Archaeology articles is examined in these two blog posts:

It's pretty clear that the COPE guidelines have been broken in both of the articles cited at the head of this post --since they have wilfully ignored two relevant -- but seriously inconvenient -- papers that should have been cited and discussed.  This constitutes scientific misconduct.  The only extenuating circumstance is the limited amount of "revision time" available to MPP and his colleagues between our publication dates and theirs.

So let's be forgiving for the moment.  But if this pattern of behaviour (ie the wilful refusal to acknowledge the existence of "inconvenient" research) is repeated in future publications,  I might start getting upset.

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Molesworth, and suffering in the cause of truth

My favourite book of all time is "Molesworth", written by one genius (Geoffrey Willans) and illustrated by another (Ronald Searle).  In one of the priceless episodes our hero Molesworth has a daydream in which he finds himself together with other "lusty skolars" in an Elizabethan college run by a psychopath called Doctor Kurdling.

Our hero argues with the evil doctor about the existence of America, and gets six of the best with the cane -- after which Kurdling says: "...that will teach you not to alter the ignorance of a lifetime!"

Here endeth the parable for today........

Parable, analogy and the Irish Sea Glacier

In the bad old days, before the enlightenment and before scientists had been invented, Jesus Christ went hoofing about in Palestine doing his preaching.  Almost always he used similes, metaphors and especially parables to put his message across to his listeners, who were in general simple folk who had not had much in the way of education.  Most good stories, whether for adults or very small children, are also parables or allegories, sending messages about ethical issues or about "the truth of things" in attractively packaged formats.  I hesitate to compare myself with Christ, but I have found in the course of teaching university students and members of the public that there is no point in talking about landscape-forming processes involving glaciers or rivers or deserts if the listener does not have a mental picture of what these things actually look like.  Nowadays the level of awareness of natural phenomena is much greater than it was 40 years ago, because images are thrown at us all the time via TV, cinema, computers, tablets and so forth.  But the analogy still works, if I as a teacher want you, as a student, to understand what I am talking about.....

When I sit on a stone on a mountain top, looking down at a landscape below me, I instinctively recreate in my mind's eye what it might all have looked like when covered by ice, or partly submerged by the sea, or affected by tundra rather than deciduous forest conditions.

So I was rater chuffed the other day when I was idly scanning through (as one does) some NASA images from Antarctica, I came across an ice stream image in which showed two branches of an ice stream on the edge of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Between the two branches there was an ice-covered upland maybe 200 km long by about 50 km wide, and the western ice stream branch had a spectacular 90 degree bend in it as it swung around the outer edge of the upland.  Immediately I thought "Irish Sea Glacier and the Welsh Ice Cap!"

So here we are.  The top image is my latest recreation of the Anglian (?) glacial situation in SW Britain, and below it is something I created last night, involving image resizing, image superimposition, addition of colour, instant alpha, and adjustments in transparency.  I had fun!  The resultant image does not involve any horizontal distortion, so it is not a perfect match for that went on during that big glacial episode around half a million years ago.  You seldom get perfect matches in nature.  But it's near enough, with the main ice stream running down the western side of Wales and then swinging into the Bristol Channel, forced by powerful ice pressure from the west.  To the east of the Welsh uplands there is another ice stream, replicating the ice stream that came in across the Cheshire Plain and into the west Midlands.  And over Wales itself we see an undulating ice cap surface within which it is difficult to pick out individual glaciers or drainage routes.  That is probably not far off the way it was........

Isn't nature wonderful?

Sunday 15 October 2017

Rhosyfelin Glossary and Photo Gallery

Many readers have apparently not realised that in association with the paper on Rhosyfelin, published in December 2015, we also published a glossary and photo gallery showing all of the features assumed by the archaeologists to have been man-made. We appended notes explaining why these features should NOT be considered to have anything to do with Neolithic quarrying activities.

I am increasingly struck by the fact that if we had not examined and photographed this dig site, while work was in progress, there would be nothing on the record in the way of evidence to contradict the fantastical interpretations of a group of archaeologists who were hell-bent on finding a quarry.  Neither would there be any basis on which the question the interpretations of this site as published by Parker Pearson et al in December 2015.  That was all down to a chance set of circumstances.  First, there was open access to the site, adjacent to a public footpath. Second, a group of us were rather interested in this site and were more than a little worried about the high-profile "spin" that came from MPP and others.  Third, we lived close enough to the site to visit it frequently, in spite of the fact that the diggers never invited us to take a look.

I hope that the scientific community is grateful to us for services rendered.

But it's a scary thought.  How many other archaeological digs are opened up and then filled in again in conditions of great secrecy, without any independent scrutiny ever being brought to bear on the so-called "evidence" presented by the diggers themselves, and on the conclusions drawn?

Supplementary Information: Photo Gallery
Brian John, Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downes.

 The paper itself:

Archaeology in Wales 54, pp 139-148. (Publication 14th December 2015)

More on the Lower Palaeozoic sandstones: Palynology

 One of the Stonehenge sandstone lumps.  Note how big it is -- about 45 cms long, 
with a weight of 8.5 kg.

I think I forgot to mention this little note before.  It has been posted on the Academia web site, but there is no citation or date.  So it looks as if it has never been published.  But the info contained is interesting!

Palynology, age and provenance of the Lower Paleozoic Sandstone of Stonehenge
Stewart Molyneux, Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer and Peter Turner

Shouldn't that be "Palaeozoic"??


The bluestones comprise a variety of volcanic, intrusive and tuffaceous igneous rocks, along with rarer sandstones. The last include the ‘Altar Stone’, two buried orthostats and a number of sandstone blocks in the debitage. The Altar Stone is petrographically similar to fine- to medium-grained calcareous sandstones in the Lower Devonian Senni Formation of South Wales. Sandstone fragments from the debitage, however, include specimens of greenish-grey, indurated, fine-grained, feldspathic sandstone that have been subjected to low-grade metamorphism, with a suggestion of a spaced cleavage. They are more deformed than the Devonian sandstones exposed in South Wales, form a coherent lithological group, now referred to as the ‘Lower Palaeozoic Sandstone’, and contain characteristic clasts of dark mudstone.

The palynological data, coupled with petrography, show that the Lower Palaeozoic Sandstone of Stonehenge is not older than Late Ordovician, and it is most probably from a Late Ordovician unit in the Welsh Basin. However, the possibility that it is from a Welsh Basin Silurian unit cannot be discounted without more information on acritarch assemblages from Silurian sandstones, including the nature of any recycling.

Saturday 14 October 2017

Another geology paper -- and a case of scientific misconduct?

Another geology paper on the bluestones, and another case of wilful negligence. That's the very least we can say about it -- and maybe we should be saying something a good deal stronger....

The paper in question is by Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins (2017), a feature article in "Geology Today" called "The Bluestones of Stonehenge." (Vol 33,  No 5, Sept - Oct 2017, pp 184-187.  You can see it (maybe) online here:

It's not a paper intended for archaeologists or the general public, but for people interested in geology.  So we would expect something scientifically accurate, since geology is generally considered to be a science.  It's also a feature article, meant to summarise the state of play in an entertaining way.  And what have we got?

Well, it's nicely laid out and lavishly illustrated, as you would expect.  Most of the text consists of an update from the geologists on the latest bluestone provenancing research -- so we have heard almost all of that before.  The authors say that they consider a bluestone to be "any non-sarsen rock used as an ‘orthostat’ or standing stone" found in the inner circle and horseshoe at Stonehenge.  They mention sarsens very briefly, and say they "may only have been moved dozens of kilometres" from their sources.  On the other hand, they may all have come from the immediate vicinity, and it's careless of Ixer and Bevins not to mention that.   Most of the geological core of the paper is uncontroversial, although they do claim that they corrected the interpretations of the OU team on the origins of the spotted dolerites, moving the likely source from Carn Meini to Carn Goedog and Cerrig Marchogion.  I thought that the OU team said that long ago, and that the Ixer / Bevins work simply confirmed their suspicions?  Then they move on to the 2 dacite and 2 rhyolite orthostats, and "go underground" in referring to the buried stumps which appear to be a mixture of tuffs and sandstones.  After that, the references to rock types are all linked to the debitage, which is "dominated by a very distinctive, strongly foliated rhyolitic tuff and by more variable, well cleaved argillaceous tuffs, as well as with lesser amounts of an indurated Lower Palaeozoic sandstone which shows a poor fracture cleavage."  There is a fundamental illogicality here, since according to the Ixer / Bevins definition anything that does not come from an orthostat should not be counted as a bluestone.  It may be that the debitage is indeed made up of smashed-up standing stones -- but it may also be that the debris has nothing to do with standing stones and has come from smaller and inconvenient erratics found on the site.  This possibility should at least be admitted.

There are a couple of paragraphs on the sandstones -- the Altar Stone and the Lower Palaeozoic (probably Upper Ordovician) sandstone.  Mill Bay is eliminated as a source for the former, with the evidence now pointing to the Senni Beds somewhere or other.  They don't speculate as to where the Lower Palaeozoic rocks might have come from, but the assumption is "somewhere in north Pembrokeshire", as we have seen in earlier publications.  There is a mischievous hint that "Ice Age proponents" are rather careless when it comes to adventitious material at Stonehenge --  but the authors should know full well that Olwen Williams-Thorpe, Geoffrey Kellaway and I have always been very careful, when referring to a "wide range of rock types", to eliminate road stone and other rubbish carried onto the site.  It's a bit silly to hint at our scientific incompetence -- especially in the light of the behaviour of the authors themselves............ Stones and greenhouses come to mind ...... so read on, dear reader.

In review or feature articles of this sort, the authors have to say something significant, so the last part of this one involves a discussion of the human transport routes for the bluestones, accompanied by the usual map which we have all seen a thousand times before.  (Yes, they are assuming, in all of this, the correctness of the human transport hypothesis, and yes, that is bad science, but we have got used to it by now.)  Because the "new" provenances for bluestone orthostats and debitage happen to be on the northern flank of Preseli, Ixer and Bevins say that rules out Milford Haven and sea transport, and so they promote the MPP hypothesis of the overland or A40 route instead.  They throw in a reference to the Steep Holm glacial erratics here as well, which I find quite mystifying, since they have nothing whatsoever to do with the matter in hand, and since nobody, as far as I know, has argued in print that they were "abandoned bluestones" dropped by Neolithic seafarers. They are simply taking pleasure in putting up an Aunt Sally in order to knock it down.

Rhosyfelin -- the rock face, carefully cleaned and presented for public approval.....

So -- inevitably -- we come to Rhosyfelin and the source of some of the rhyolite debitage.  This is where the science goes seriously cockeyed.  The authors refer to "a north-west facing planar face".  It is nothing of the sort, as I have frequently shown on this blog.  The rock face reveals multiple planar surfaces, not just one.  It is broken up by multiple fractures, and some bits of the rock face project more than 1.5 m out beyond other bits.  They say the face "does not look natural" -- that's a highly subjective judgment with which I and many other visitors to the site disagree.  One small blessing is that the authors do not say in this article that they have provenanced foliated rhyolite fragments to "within a few square metres."

But Ixer and Bevins say this: "Subsequent archaeological excavations have shown features consistent with ancient quarrying."  That's for Rhosyfelin.   A little earlier in the paper, with reference to Carn Goedog, they say this: "......very recent excavations at Carn Goedog have revealed evidence for Neolithic working of the outcrop (Parker Pearson and others, in press)".  The implication is that a new paper is on the way, which will enumerate the evidence.  But there is no such reference in the "suggestions for further reading", and from what I can gather the only paper to which we can all look forward is another general one from MPP which might not even be peer reviewed.  Perhaps Ixer and Bevins will enlighten us as to the nature of this paper, and tell us when and where it will be published.  Until then, we will treat this as a false citation.

Now let's get serious.  Ixer and Bevins have told the readers that there are "features" and "evidence" pointing to Neolithic quarrying or working, at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog.  That, as we all know, is just part of the story, and the authors have known, ever since 2015, that there are two peer-reviewed papers in the literature which have analysed all of the cited "evidence" and have concluded that the described features are entirely natural.  Not only that, but the papers both suggest that some of the evidence cited by the MPP team (including Ixer and Bevins as senior authors) may actually be best described as artifices created by the diggers themselves during their ongoing excavations.  Just in case anybody has failed to encounter them, here are the papers:

Brian John, Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downes (2015). "Quaternary Events at Craig Rhosyfelin, Pembrokeshire." Quaternary Newsletter, October 2015 (No 137), pp 16-32.

Brian John, Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downes (2015). "Observations on the supposed "Neolithic bluestone quarry" at Craig Rhosyfelin, Pembrokeshire".  Archaeology in Wales 54, pp 139-148. (Publication 14th December 2015)

 To the best of our knowledge, not one of the 14 authors in the MPP team has cited these easily available and much-read papers in any of the "bluestone" papers published over the past two years.  So are they terrible papers?  Well, they are quite short, but they are also detailed, and they were submitted through the normal channels to two journal editors, peer-reviewed blind, revised appropriately, and then published under strict editorial control.  People might not like them, but they are there, on the record.  Not one of our pieces of evidence has been challenged, and not one of our deductions or conclusions has been disputed in print or even off the record.  So have 14 authors simply chosen to ignore them, in the hope that they will go away?  So it would appear.  I can understand why archaeologists might not want to cite the two papers, since they are not scientists, and our papers are seriously "inconvenient" -- but for two senior earth scientists to do the same is unforgivable.  They have read the papers in detail.  They understand exactly what we are presenting in the way of evidence, and they know the full implications of our conclusions.  And yet they have chosen to live in a state of denial, refusing to cite and refusing to engage.  Why?  Maybe because there are no bluestone erratics scattered around on Salisbury Plain?  I just cannot understand the twisted logic that leads senior scientists from that particular issue to a refusal to analyse so-called "quarrying" evidence at two rocky outcrops in west Wales.  Or maybe this has to do with "corporate responsibility", with Ixer and Bevins, having been involved in that infamous paper on Rhosyfelin, now refusing to break ranks because it would be unsporting or disloyal to do so?  I have looked at that issue in a previous post:

Now let's get even more serious.  The most serious crime that can be committed by a scientist is to falsify evidence, with a view to promoting a particular conclusion that might be at fault. Scientific misconduct or malpractice comes in many different forms, but here are two definitions cited by COPE:

Danish definition: "Intention or gross negligence leading to fabrication of the scientific message or a false credit or emphasis given to a scientist"
Swedish definition: "Intentional distortion of the research process by fabrication of data, text, hypothesis, or methods from another researcher's manuscript form or publication; or distortion of the research process in other ways."

We can't accuse the two geologists here of "gross negligence", since we know that they know all about the two "ignored" papers and that they have discussed them in detail.  They have simply chosen not to cite them, with the object of promoting the quarrying hypothesis.  But if we were to be sitting on a university ethics committee I think we might see clear signs of an intention to fabricate a message or to give a false emphasis through the selective citation of sources.  We might also see a distortion of the research process or a misrepresentation of the work of other scientists.

According to the US National Science Foundation, "falsification" is a very serious matter.  They give one of the definitions as follows:  ".....omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record."  That could not be clearer.  If you fail to cite "inconvenient" material you are in trouble, and your reputation is on the line.  In another study, this is called "suppression" -- a failure to publish significant findings due to the results being adverse to the interests and prior claims of the researcher.

Then we have things called "bare assertions".  It is generally not a good idea to make entirely unsubstantiated claims.  The archaeologists do this all the time, since they are seriously into storytelling, but geologists need to be more careful, especially when promoting a quarrying thesis after being told -- in two peer-reviewed papers -- that the claim is unsubstantiated.

So Ixer and Bevins have used selective citation and carefully selected evidence (which they know is disputed) in a paper designed for a knowledgeable geological readership.  At the same time they have wilfully ignored peer-reviewed material that happens to be relevant but inconvenient.

Disrespectful, biased and careless, or something much more serious?  I leave it to the reader to judge.

Postscript 1

There is rather bizarre postscript to this sorry tale.  As all readers of this blog will know, ever since 2011 and the sudden rise to prominence of Rhosyfelin, we have been discussing with Rob in one post after another how the features at the site should be interpreted.  It is to his great credit that he has been prepared to engage in the process of debate.  But over and again he said: "Don't just argue on this blog.  Get your material written up, and get in published in the peer-reviewed literature!"  He even, if I recall correctly, suggested Archaeology in Wales as a reputable journal worth approaching.  So we gratefully followed his advice, wrote up our material, and submitted it to two journals -- one specialising in Quaternary stratigraphy etc, and the other in the field of archaeology.  In due course, in November and December 2015, the two articles were published, to the accompaniment of much excitement in the media.  From that point on, the articles have been systematically ignored by the two geologists.  Really most peculiar.

Postscript 2 

 This is not the first time that Bevins and Ixer have knowingly promoted the quarrying hypothesis, in the process ignoring "inconvenient" peer-reviewed material already on the academic record. The following article was submitted in April 2016, ie 4 months after publication of one the two papers by BJ, DEG and JD, and 6 months after the other.  No excuses.

Richard Bevins, Nicola Atkinson, Rob Ixer & Jane Evans (2016) "U– Pb zircon age constraints for the Ordovician Fishguard Volcanic Group and further evidence for the provenance of the Stonehenge bluestones”, Jnl Geol Soc 174, 14-17, 3 November 2016,

Quote: “……….the age obtained in this study supports the findings on the basis of petrography and geochemistry that its source is not Craig Rhos-y-felin. Nevertheless, this region provides an obvious target to search for further Neolithic quarry sites to add to those identified most recently by Parker Pearson et al. (2015)." 

And here is another short paper published by the same authors in February 2016:

Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins (2016) “Go West: the search for the bluestone quarries”. Current Archaeology 311 (Feb 2016), pp 23-24.

Quote: "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."

This was published three months after our QN paper, and if the authors had chosen to adapt their text and recognize the existence of a "quarrying dispute" they could have done so, even at proof stage. They chose instead to ignore our peer-reviewed article and to maintain the pretence that the existence of the Neolithic quarries was established fact.


Friday 13 October 2017

LANDSAT relief map, Wales

Thought I'd share this -- it's a very beautiful map made from LANDSAT imagery -- published by the Geological Survey.  It's effective because of low level light, dense shadows and false-colour adjustments, which show up uplands as green, full forest or well-wooded areas as dark red, urban areas as grey, and orange for everything else.

The distribution of uplands is particularly impressive.  Click to enlarge.  There is extraordinarily fine definition.  If you imagine the Welsh Ice Cap sitting over these uplands, with an axis running more or less N-S, you can see how and why the Irish Sea Glacier was unable (for most of the time) to penetrate into the west-facing coasts of Cardigan Bay and was pushed southwards, where it flowed NW-SE across the Pembrokeshire peninsula and up the Bristol Channel, driven by ice from the west, in Southern Ireland.  It all makes good sense......

Wednesday 4 October 2017

The spotted dolerite enigma

This is an image I took yesterday -- Carn Goedog, on the northern flank of the Preseli ridge, looking pretty well SSE.  I was standing at SN120351.  Carn Goedog is c 2km away.  (We are not very far from Pensarn, where the diggers have been at work this year.)

I have been troubled for a long time by the frequent occurrence of spotted dolerite boulders in places where they should not be...........  I am not talking here about gateposts or pillars, which could have been collected from Carn Goedog by the local farmers, but big rounded boulders which are clearly heavily abraded glacial erratics.  The nearest known source for spotted dolerites would be Carn Goedog, but to get them dumped in a big morainic spread at this location would involve a substantial flow of glacier ice from the south towards the north -- and that can only have involved an active Preseli ice cap.

The other option is that there are other sources for spotted dolerite to the north or north-west of this location, which we do not know about.  The dolerites on Carnedd Meibion Owen are not spotted, and there are some very peculiar rocks that look like ashflow tuffs or ignimbrites in Tycanol Wood.  There are rhyolites at Sychpant, not far from Nevern, and there are dolerite dykes on my own land in Cilgwyn.  The geological map is clearly inadequate in this area.......

That being the case, I wonder how reliable the provenancing of the spotted dolerites at Stonehenge actually is?   Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins tell us that the "best match" is at Carn Goedog and Cerrig Marchogion, but the matches are not perfect, and could it be that some at least of the Stonehenge spotted dolerites could have come from sources as yet unidentified, to the north of the location I examined yesterday?

That would put the cat among the pigeons -- but the geologists really need to check this out.........

Here are some of the pics taken of the surfaces of some spotted dolerite boulders.  The whitish mineral clusters are quite spectacular in some cases, and they actually stand proud of the surface, having resisted weathering processes better than the "matrix" in which they are set.

The erratic assemblage here includes unspotted dolerites, foliated rhyolites, ignimbrites and quartz boulders.  Some of the boulders are heavily weathered and have clearly been exposed for a very long time -- others are quite fresh in appearance, having been dragged out of the ground by a JCB during a building project next to the track. 

Monday 2 October 2017

The East Preseli tors

Every now and then I throw out some comment or other about one or other of the tors on Preseli, forgetting that not everybody is familiar with the local geography.  Thanks to the wonders of Apple Maps, here is an annotated satellite image showing how the tors are related.

Below is another image -- a closer zoom in on the Carn Meini tors.  Enjoy!  If you click on the images, you should be able to enlarge substantially.