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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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.