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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Monday, 6 November 2017

Stonehenge -- the authorised version (again)

Julian Richard's new book came out at the end of September.  It's called "Stonehenge -- the story so far", published by Historic England at £22.95 (or whatever), hardcover, 352 pp.

You can read bits of it if you look on the Amazon web site. It's very nicely packaged, with attractive photos and diagrams, and a modern page design.  But what about the text?  Well, from what one can see, we have the same old stuff as usual.  A friend very kindly sent me the text as it relates to the bluestones, in a section dealing with "sourcing and transporting the raw materials".  I am not impressed, since what we have --yet again -- is evidence of an author who is desperate not to rock the boat or to allow for any questioning of the fondly-held assumptions of decades.  Is this bland acceptance of the authorised version something that Historic England insists upon? Is it really true that it cannot admit to any disputes in an "official" publication? Does it really think that Joe Public cannot handle honest academic debate, in which there might be two (at least)  perfectly feasible explanations for one or another of the features at Stonehenge? I should have thought that honesty on this score would excite interest and enthusiasm for our historic heritage, rather then damping it down.........

So what does JR have to say?  Immediately we are into the ruling hypothesis, with confirmation bias flagged up for all to see. We are introduced to Carn Meini (Menyn) which is described as a place of "convenient slabs and pillars." JR continues excitedly: " In this showroom for monoliths tempting stones lie everywhere; some even look as if they have been propped up and are ready for loading onto a sledge for the start of their long journey - perhaps more stones intended for Stonehenge that never made it?" Oh dear. He forgets to tell us that there are at least a dozen other tors in the general area for which exactly the same words could be used.

He then goes on to talk of the geological provenancing, without any mention of the work of Ixer and Bevins, and he actually misrepresents their findings. They will surely not be amused.  Spotted dolerite does not just come from Carn Goedog and Cerrig Marchogion, as he implies. And the rhyolite at Rhosyfelin does NOT provide an "exact match" for bluestone fragments at Stonehenge. Quote: "At this outcrop excavations have shown where a pillar of stone was removed from the rock face, the quarrying dated by radiocarbon to c 3400 - 3300BC."  That weird "pillar" of stone and its "extraction point" pop up all the time, promoted by people who cannot be bothered to apply any scrutiny.  Has Julian Richards or any of the others who promote this nonsense ever been to the site and looked at the narrow natural fissure in the rock face that clearly has nothing whatsoever to do with monoliths or extraction points?  It was dreamed up by MPP in a moment of mad enthusiasm, simply because it was close to sampling point 8 used by Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins, and it has been re-imagined ever since by people who seem to have left their common sense behind.

And the radiocarbon evidence?  Most thoughtful human beings might think "It just doesn't fit.  Therefore, since there is no other evidence of quarrying anyway, we might as well give up on the quarrying thesis and think of something else instead."  But these archaeologists are made of sterner stuff.  "No, since we have already decided that this is a Neolithic quarry, we just have to shift the date back by a few centuries and work out what happened to all those nice bluestones before they were shifted to Stonehenge.  So we have to assume there was a convenient proto-Stonehenge somewhere in the vicinity....." Once these archaeologists have a nice ruling hypothesis to play with, there is no way they are going to abandon it.

And just as the geologists are going to be pretty angry about being ignored, we geomorphologists are also extremely displeased.  For Richards to trot out the quarrying story without question, in the full knowledge that there are two peer-reviewed papers in print which question every single bit of "evidence" presented by the archaeologists in one extremely dodgy "Antiquity" article, is not just careless but also disrespectful and deliberately misleading.  The author had two years to incorporate our findings into his text, and chose instead to ignore them.

Interestingly, having applied no scrutiny whatsoever to the quarrying hypothesis, Richards does devote considerable space to the glacial transport hypothesis.  So he does at least acknowledge that there are two competing theories.  But there is a complete lack of balance in the way he treats them.  He simply repeats the usual arguments about the Boles Barrow stone, the apparent lack of other erratics on Salisbury Plain, and the Christopher Green pebble counts. "Quite simply," says our intrepid author, "the theory of glacial transport does not stand up to scrutiny and should be dismissed."  And he concludes his section with a summary of the ideas of MPP, TD and others about highly prized or magic stones being brought to Stonehenge as a great sacred or symbolic gesture.

That's the authorised story, and Richards is sticking to it, come hell or high water.  If you are still tempted to buy this book, you will, I think, never find a better example of selective evidence citation and confirmation bias.


TonyH said...

We need to address our dissatisfaction with Historic England's production of this piece of writing by Richards to their Headquarters at Swindon.

Also of concern is that Julian Richards seems to always be given the authorship of the Official Guidebook sold at Stonehenge Visitor Centre. So is he fully up to speed, for example, on the Rhosyfelin dig AND the subsequent two geomorphological peer - reviewed Papers which discount what MPP and his team claimed to have uncovered there?

We have a write to expect BALANCED summaries of interpretations of investigations in the landscape whence the Bluestones originated.

Jon Morris said...

Met Julian once at a fairly long talk. Nice chap and good raconteur. He thought that archaeos didn't really want to know what Stonehenge was about as it would kill the mystery (or something like that). Thought that was a bit of a disappointing viewpoint so didn't stay on for the after-talk stuff.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes -- this is precisely what we have thought on this blog for a long time now -- HE (or EH) is not really all that interested in the truth. It prefers to maintain a certain mythology which can be easily sold to the public. Marketing triumphs over science. That's really why they won't authorise the taking of a comprehensive set of samples by the geologists, which would allow both provenances and exposure ages to be sorted out. So long as JR plays along with this, he will probably continue to be the man of choice for "telling the story" to the public.........

TonyH said...

I heard someone say, in a different, non - archaeological, context, "after the hubris comes his nemesis". That applies, in the long run, to the 'marketeers' like MPP and J. Richards. All a good deal too cosy and chummy. Unlike James Bond, they need to be thoroughly shaken and stirred out of their complacency, ineptitude, apathy and indolence.

This current Julian Richards book is actually a new version of what he wrote 10 - 15 years ago - same title. He has somehow cornered the market in presenting Stonehenge to the public, as Historic England's mouthpiece. Both he and Historic England are displaying appalling apathy when it come to the pros and cons regarding the genuine, perplexing, Bluestones Enigma. Not nearly good enough! The public deserve more respect.

TonyH said...

Yes, Jon, he IS a nice bloke and a good raconteur.

But we have to expect him to make his 'stories' adaptable to ALL the discoveries and interpretations which impact upon our understanding of Stonehenge......these include Brian and Colleagues' 2 peer - reviewed Papers which academically counteract what the archaeologists (and their geologists) claimed to have found out in their Rhosyfelin digs. Thet should also be respectfully reading and digesting what Brian tells us on this Blog about up - to - date knowledge of how the glaciations impacted upon Somerset, Avon and beyond.

It is not enough just to live in the Michael Jackson - style bubble of MPP & Co's Ruling Hypothesis, Julian, if you are meant to be presenting "The Story So Far" in your new book and retailing also regular revisions the Stonehenge Guide Book through Historic England to HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS week in, week out at Stonehenge Visitor Centre (in numerous languages). We are frequently told what a magnificent, multi - disciplinary subject archaeology is: not while this travesty of the truth is allowed to persist!

Gordon said...

How long does a race of people have to be gone before we can ethnically clean them from our prehistory and replace them with a race of monument building,sun worshipping, stone transporters living in a time of plenty?

Jon Morris said...

”Yes -- this is precisely what we have thought on this blog for a long time now -- HE (or EH) is not really all that interested in the truth. “

I didn't interpret it that way Brian. We occasionally go to see science based lectures by people like Lawrence Krauss: If Lawrence were to say something of that ilk about physics, it would be a career ending moment. But if archaeologists really do have that point of view, then that's perhaps a symptom of a profession suffering from a belief that their own efforts are doomed to failure.

Anyway, I haven't been to an archaeological talk since. I figured that if he can say something like that and have the room noddingly acknowledge the point of view, then it's unlikely that there is much value in going along to that type of talk.

Neil Wiseman said...

Hi Gordon,

Technically, this 'Race' of people isn't gone. Genetically, for the most part, they're all still there.

More, the information that's currently proposed concerning them is collated and cumulative over many generations - not specific to one. We can't do that yet.
But there's no evidence of famine or deficiency in any of the human remains we've found.

They did build monuments that, at the very least, interacted with the sun, moon and maybe stars in some cases, but I don't know any serious researcher who says: "Worship". That kind of inference should be left to click-bait news sites. There's currently no way of knowing how they practiced their beliefs, or even what these were.

Stones don't grow in upright circles, so they were obviously transported -- no matter if it was from across the street or from 20 miles away. Avebury is an example of a site where stone was conveniently present, while most, if not all, the stones at Stonehenge were almost certainly imported. Whether the Bluestones were close by or far away, by whatever means the gangs still had to go out and get them.

The time it must have taken to dream up, then erect these monuments infers that there was plenty to eat for long periods. This speaks to a sophisticated social structure.

Additionally, some sites are riddled with symbolism and metaphor, and this is a quite a few steps away from the idea of just throwing up a few rocks to dance around for fun.

In a virtually universal linear trend, technology begets technology. There's maybe 70,000 years between the bow-and-arrow and Stonehenge. Add metal and writing and there's only 4,500 between Stonehenge and walking on the moon.


Gordon said...

A few years ago i read about several local archaeological features that were a bit of a mystery,with various theories to their function.Being someone who likes a good mystery i took to downloading as many excavation reports that could be found on the internet and purchased a few rather overpriced books on the subject.I now own a small library on the subject and relevant themes.After months of reading i believed i had the answer and so approached a local archaeologist, via e-mail, with my theory.He told me i should put my theory into writing and have it judged by my peers.Having left school at fifteen years old it soon became apparent to me that i did not possess the skills required to do that.Therefore i thought rather than it all going to waste i would offer it to the archaeological fraternity as i thought it would offer an insight into the people of the bronze age.I approached several people who claim to be experts on the subject and it soon dawned on me after the lies and obfuscation that these people knew the answer.But why let the truth get in the way of a good story.So i thought,with Brians' permission,i would ask the people who read this blog to be my peers and review a very abridged version,as it is quite a basic theory.The sites in question are known as burnt mounds,very indistinct sites but,if you agree with me,very informative sites.

Myris of Alexandria said...

There are a few oddities plus a really, bizarre redundant chapter that repeats the earlier ones but seems to have been a channelling of Bernard Cornwall writing, most firmly, within the Mills and Boon genre. Sweating hairy bodies, heaving bosoms and laughter not withstanding. It must be an intentional parody!

Britain's best red 'erring is also there, the Blick Mead shocking pink flints complete with almost porcine pictures. Why would anyone think that the transitory colour change of a bit of flint was any more magical than leaves changing colour in autumn is a mystery of Eleffsian proportions.

Never have I thought I would write the Stonehenge bluestones seem to have more of Cornwall about them than the Preselis. Those early Victorians were write-on (sic).

Very very nicely produced book but not for the dedicated Stonehenge watcher (nothing new, other than a semi-independent gloss and lots of modern civil engineering)but as a serious introduction to all things SH related it is probably as good as the other recent books.

However it still needs Mike Pitts to make serious sense of the last ten years. Hengeworld two is needed, That will be a book to enjoy.

The pet rocks boys were/are sorely missed in the book, but their backs are broad and their heart enlarged and surly will forgive the oversight. For what can they do otherwise.
Cold dishes.

Myris of Alexandria said...

ah Cornwell pity