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....
To order, click

Saturday 31 March 2018

The Rhosyfelin papers

Rhosyfelin dig site -- lots of digging and lots of publicity, but scrutiny is not welcomed.......

Just when we thought that everything had gone quiet on the Rhosyfelin front, along comes this extraordinary paper by Mike Parker Pearson (and maybe some others) called "The origins of Stonehenge: on the track of the bluestones" -- and it all blows up again.

How can it be that a senior academic who seems to be reasonably aware of other people's publications (he does have references and citations in his articles) appears to be blissfully unaware of the existence of five substantial articles which have a bearing on his own research? All five of them are on Researchgate -- a platform which allows access to most of his own material published in journals............

Shall we be very generous and suggest that when he (with the approval of his colleagues?) was writing the latest "research update" he simply forgot to mention the five papers that question almost everything he has said about the West Wales "Neolithic quarries"?

Strange that he should have missed them, since together, the articles have now had 2,134 reads.  So some people out there appear to have found the articles and to have read them.  I hope they have found them useful.  Two of the papers have been published in peer-reviewed journals; one of them was rejected by "Antiquity" since to have published it would have been to admit to a massive breach of academic standards in the publishing of the infamous article by MPP et al in 2015; and the other two are in the nature of "working papers" presenting evidence and inviting discussion.

The papers can be found here:

The individual papers (all available for reading and download):

The short article called "Those bluestone quarries" was offered to the editor of "Current Archaeology" for publication, but was ignored.  Obviously it was far too inconvenient, since it picked to pieces an article by MPP which that same journal had published in 2016.  

There is a long and undistinguished history here of poor editorial and peer-reviewing standards in "learned" journals, over-hasty publication of articles that appear to be making spectacular points or telling weird and wonderful stories, an assumption that articles by senior academics must be wonderful even if they are actually woefully inadequate, and a reluctance to admit to scientific dispute and to correct the research record through the publication of contrary evidence.  As I have said before, there is currently very little to admire in the UK archaeological publishing scene -- and it's about time that journal editors got their act together and paid more attention to this thing called scientific integrity.

The strange case of the missing authors

The other day I mentioned the loss of three authors from a publication in the UCL archaeological  "house journal".  An article supposedly written by Parker Pearson, Welham, Richards and Pollard ended up as an online article with only MPP's name attached to it.

The mystery deepens.  I have just come across this on Researchgate:

Lo and behold -- here the article is credited to the four authors again.  There is a different DOI as well.  Does this mean the article is being published in various versions, some with four authors and some with just one?

It's actually not very easy to lose authors like this, and if I had been one of those cast into outer darkness I would not be very amused.  On the other hand, given that the article contains very serious scientific malpractice, maybe JP, KW and CR decided at the last moment that they wanted nothing to do with it?

Friday 30 March 2018

On glacial cycles

A composite map of the assumed Anglian Celtic Ice Sheet flowlines and maximum extent. Could it be that this is simply a "best shot" at unravelling what went on during four glacial phases over a quarter of a million years?  

A big new paper has just been published in Nature Scientific Reports which throws new light on the glacial cycles in northern Europe -- assembling a vast array of new dating evidence. The authors are Tobias Lauer and Marcel Weiss. Key info:

Timing of the Saalian- and Elsterian glacial cycles and the implications for Middle – Pleistocene
hominin presence in central Europe

by Tobias Lauer & Marcel Weiss

NATURE SCIENTIFIC REPORTS (2018) 8:5111, 12 pp.


By establishing a luminescence-based chronology for fluvial deposits preserved between the Elsterian- and Saalian tills in central Germany, we obtained information on the timing of both the Middle Pleistocene glacial cycles and early human appearance in central Europe. The luminescence ages illustrate different climatic driven fluvial aggradation periods during the Saalian glacial cycle spanning from 400–150 ka. The ages of sediments directly overlying the Elsterian till are approximately 400 ka and prove that the first extensive Fennoscandian ice sheet extension during the Quaternary correlates with MIS 12 and not with MIS 10. Furthermore, the 400 ka old fluvial units contain Lower Paleolithic stone artefacts that document the first human appearance in the region. In addition, we demonstrate that early MIS 8 is a potential date for the onset of the Middle Paleolithic in central Germany, as Middle Paleolithic stone artefacts are correlated with fluvial units deposited between 300 ka and 200 ka. However, the bulk of Middle Paleolithic sites date to MIS 7 in the region. The fluvial units preserved directly under the till of the southernmost Saalian ice yield an age of about 150 ka, and enable a correlation of the Drenthe stage to late MIS 6.

Here is one of their key diagrams:

It's quite detailed.  Click to enlarge.  The authors confirm that the first big extension of the Fennoscandian Ice Sheet into Germany occurred in MIS12 and not MIS10, making it earlier than some others have suggested.  That's the big glaciation otherwise referred to as Elsterian, Mindel or Anglian -- the one assumed to have been the GBG (Greatest British Glaciation) about which we have talked on many previous occasions.  The date of this glaciation is again confirmed as around 450,000 years ago.

But look at the next glaciation -- named the Saalian / Riss / Wolstonian episode, shown here as spanning a vast time span from 400,000 to 125,000 years BP.  There are four discrete glacial or cooling episodes within it, all showing up in the marine isotope record as MIS10, MIS8, MIS6 and one other temperature dip that has not been labelled.  Between these are the warmer episodes including MIs7 and MIS9.

Now let's look at another glacial cycle diagram which is in common currency:

The climate curve is very similar, but look at the labelling of the glacial episodes.  On this diagram it is the Anglian Glaciation that is shown as incorporating four discrete glacial episodes, with the Wolstonian Glaciation shown as a single glacial episode spanning the period 200,000 - 140,000 years ago.

The Devensian Glaciation is shown more or less conventionally, with a deteriorating climate -- with oscillations -- after 100,000 yrs BP culminating in the glacial maximum around 20,000 yrs BP and then a very rapid warming and glacial collapse.  That's a scenario which I confirmed in my doctorate work in West Wales in 1962-65 -- with many other confirmations from other field workers.

There are clearly some major labelling issues here.........

So was the Anglian Glaciation a short, sharp one or one that was very prolonged, with many ice-front oscillations over more than a quarter of a million years?

Watch this space.......

Thursday 29 March 2018

Should we laugh or cry? MPP's latest article......

With great fanfares in the UCL social media, MPP has just published his latest article in the online journal that emanates from UCL itself.

Here is the info:

Parker Pearson, M., (2017). The origins of Stonehenge: on the track of the bluestones. Archaeology International. 20, pp.52–57.


It's quite extraordinary, in that its core message is to do with the wonderful "bluestone quarries" at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog -- and in that it demonstrates that MPP is in a complete state of denial about the two peer-reviewed articles in 2015 which questioned every scrap of evidence which he now, yet again, lovingly repeats. He does not cite those two articles, and neither does he mention that there is a bit of a dispute going on......... this is serious scientific malpractice, and I'll return to it.

The article is referred to as a "research update" -- which means that it has been anonymously refereed and approved for publication by the journal editor.  How on earth did it get into print?  Could it be that neither the referees nor the editor are aware of the fact that a rather noisy dispute is going on with regard to these "quarries"?  What does that say about their level of awareness and their qualifications?  Maybe it does say rather a lot about the closed little world of academic archaeology in UCL.

But what is actually quite entertaining is that the article (pretty well word for word) originally had four authors -- and included Josh Pollard, Kate Welham and Colin Richards. Suddenly, in a puff of smoke, they have disappeared, and MPP is the only author cited. At the end of the article, it says "The authors have no competing interests to declare."  Plural, not singular.

What's going on? Could it be that JP, KW and CR have jumped ship? All will no doubt be revealed......

Stonehenge always was a bit of a mess

Stone plan at Stonehenge, from Field et al (2015).  I suspect that we will hear more about that little mound, and about the North Barrow on the inside of the embankment......

We have done two previous posts on the contents of the big paper by Field et al on the Stonehenge stones:

David Field, Hugo Anderson-Whymark, Neil Linford, Martyn Barber, Mark Bowden, Paul Linford, Peter Topping, , Marcus Abbott, Paul Bryan, Deborah Cunliffe, Caroline Hardie, Louise Martin, Andy Payne, Trevor Pearson, Fiona Small, Nicky Smith, Sharon Soutar and Helen Winton (2015). Analytical Surveys of Stonehenge and its Environs, 2009–2013:

Part 2 – the Stones.
Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 81, pp 125-148


Non-invasive survey in the Stonehenge ‘Triangle’, Amesbury, Wiltshire, has highlighted a number of features that have a significant bearing on the interpretation of the site. Geophysical anomalies may signal the position of buried stones adding to the possibility of former stone arrangements, while laser scanning has provided detail on the manner in which the stones have been dressed; some subsequently carved with axe and dagger symbols. The probability that a lintelled bluestone trilithon formed an entrance in the north-east is signposted. This work has added detail that allows discussion on the question of whether the sarsen circle was a completed structure, although it is by no means conclusive in this respect. Instead, it is suggested that it was built as a façade, with other parts of the circuit added and with an entrance in the south.

From p 134 onwards, the authors concentrate on interpreting the stones.  From the outset, they demonstrate a refreshing degree of common sense, and refuse to be drawn into the business of simply approving ancient myths simply because they happen be be in all of the EH guidebooks!  So immediately they go on the record and state that almost everything about the site -- the number and location of stones, their shapes, sizes and arrangements, the number of gaps and broken stones etc -- militates against the idea of the "immaculate Stonehenge".  They appear to be in no doubt at all that the monument was never finished -- and they cite chapter and verse to show that it was a good deal more crude than most authorities would have us believe.  There is an impressive amount of detail in the text, coming from the laser survey, and ground penetrating radar work, and physical measurements and observations on the stones.

They quite like Ashbee's idea that maybe the "semi-finished" Stonehenge was made of both stone and wood:  "In the absence of ‘missing’ stones, Ashbee invoked the use of wooden uprights and lintels in order to account for a complete circuit. This idea of mixing materials may seem strange from a modern western archi- tectural perspective but undoubtedly Stonehenge need not have conformed to the Jones reconstruction and, in view of the unexpected feature of an upturned tree-bole at Seahenge, for instance (Pryor 2008), the Ashbee suggestion may have merit."  The authors examine the evidence regarding standing sarsens, geophysical anomalies, lintels, fallen stones, gaps, parch marks and "irregular" or "inconvenient" sarsens, and draw the same conclusion from each line of evidence -- namely that this site does not look at all like the remnant of a finished monument. 

Like Petrie (1880), E. H. Stone (1924, 5, 73) commented that an ‘examination of the stones at Stonehenge would appear to show that the builders were unable to obtain sufficient material of suitable quality and of large enough size to properly fulfil their requirements’, while Atkinson could only conclude that the builders ‘were hard put to find sufficient blocks of the requisite size to complete the circle’ (Atkinson 1979, 38). ........... Implicit in this is that the north-east sector was constructed first and the south-west built almost as an afterthought, or at least added subsequently.

For the moment, the evidence that the sarsen set- tings formed a completed circuit remains ambiguous. Parch-marks indicate that Stone-holes 15, 17, and 18 were almost certainly present (Banton et al. 2014) and a circuit therefore intended. Whether stones were erected is another matter....

Taken together, there is little evidence to support the notion of a circle completed to a ‘planned norm’. Instead, like many chambered tombs, there appears to have been a conspicuous façade which was given a considerable degree of structural prominence (Tilley 2007, 200–1). Elsewhere there is irregularity and variability, but it is this very uncertainty that may provide insight into the processes involved at the site.

The work on the bluestones (p 140) is a little disappointing, and concentrates on GPR anomalies and irregularities in the stone arrangements.  The authors suggest that some of the bluestones might have been set in pairs, but they do not go far into the presentation of new evidence.  The final section of the paper is to do with rock art, and the authors report on a number of new carvings of axes and daggers which have not been identified before.

In their conclusions, the authors state:  If, as seems potentially the case, some of the sarsen is local to the site, or derives from a variety of locations and thus not all the subject of a long and difficult journey, it is possible to start investigating and dis- cussing the varied biographies of individual stones.

They also say:  It may even be that the newly discovered mound within the stone settings (Field et al. 2014) provided a focus for the earliest activity here. Whether natural or artificial, situated in the south-east quadrant of the stone settings it provides a new research focus and invites investigation into origins, site development, and the search for earlier arrangements – perhaps even single monoliths such as the menhir-like Stone 16 or alignments incorporating the Altar, Slaughter, and Heelstone, as much as the nature of use of the major stone settings.
Ever so gently, they conclude: is acknowledged that some perceptions of the monument have become fixed in the public imagination largely as a result of Atkinson’s extensive media work during the 1950s and 1960s and the countless magazine articles that it spawned.

The authors are relatively kind to Parker Pearson, Darvill and the other senior archaeologists who have carried on with the grand storytelling traditions at Stonehenge (I suppose they had to be) -- but there is no hiding the frustrations of David Field and his fellow authors, who clearly want to see real science done at Stonehenge, combined with pragmatic and straightforward interpretations of the things that can be observed on the ground and under it.  Let's hope that they prevail, and that we will now see an end to this over-long episode of fantastical narratives involving healing stones, petrified ancestors, political unification and astronomical obervatories.

And maybe the biggest message of all -- there is no reason to think that any of the stones at Stonehenge were carted in from a long way off.


Sunday 25 March 2018

Lydstep Headland -- a key Quaternary site?

Church Door, a very famous arch in vertical strata of Carboniferous Limestone in Skrinkle Haven, near Manorbier.

Yesterday I enjoyed a splendid walk from Manorbier to Tenby (about 11 miles).  It's a number of years since I last walked this stretch of the Coast Path -- it was as enjoyable as ever!    The first part of the route was on Old Red Sandstone, and the later part on Carboniferous Limestone.  As we walked, I kept a careful eye open for anything that might be deemed to be a till, on the clifftops and in stream gullies -- but saw nothing noteworthy.  There are a few erratics around, but they may have nothing to do with the Devensian......

I'm still convinced that Devensian ice has affected Caldey Island and has left till there -- and that's just a few miles further east.  If ice flowed over Caldey it might have touched Old Castle Head, but because of the military presence there it is out of bounds.  I'm now rather convinced that Devensian ice flowed from the west towards the east in this area, and that the great cliff rampart of south Pembrokeshire was an effective barrier which prevented the ice from transgressing inland.  The cliffs are for the most part about 120 ft high, with a further slope of about 30 ft in the tidal and sub-tidal zone before a gently sloping sea bed with considerable irregularities runs further out into Carmarthen Bay.

There is a fabulous resource for looking at the sea bed here:

Check it out!

I need to look in more detail at Manorbier and Swanlake Bays to see if there are any deposits other than churned-up head or slope deposits which attest to a period of severe periglacial climate, probably with permafrost.  But my main priority is to get back to Lydstep Headland,  to take another look at a deposit of cemented till which I saw and recorded many years ago.  Yesterday, my colleagues on our long walk woul have got very irritated with me if I had gone off to do some serious geomorfin'  .    Watch this space......

Coastline and submarine contours (in feet) in the Lydstep area.  This is a classic karst coastline,  with a spectaculat limestone gorge, blow-holes, caves, arches and stacks.  The Carboniferous Limestone strata are here almost vertical.  

Google Earth image of the small peninsula projecting south from Lydstep Headland.  The famous Smugglers Cave is just to the left, off the photo.  This is where the ancient till can be seen.  

Saturday 24 March 2018

Boyd Dawkins and the caves

A man who knew how to rough up his enemies.  Come to think of it, he looks rather like Marlon Brando, doesn't he....?

Rob Ixer asked if we could find space for this small review.  Happy to oblige.  I don't know much about this monstrous fellow, or his controversies.  But this is a reminder that if academic debate can get rather dirty at times these days, the skullduggery was a thousand times worse in the Victorian era.......

The "invention of evidence" is not new either -- we have talked about this on this blog with respect to HH Thomas, and of course with respect to the more recent work on those non-existent "bluestone quarries" by those whom we know and love.


William Boyd Dawkins and the Victorian Science of Cave Hunting: Three Men in a Cavern.

Mark John White

21 Nov 2016. Pen and Sword History. Barnsley. Hardcover –302pp

In 1876 Boyd Dawkins, Britain’s premier 19th Ice Age vertebrate palaeontologist, was present at the finding of two of the most spectacular cave finds in Britain at Creswell Crags, namely an engraved sketch of a horse’s head and the canine tooth from a scimitar-toothed cat. Was he a fraud, a dupe or incredibly fortunate?

This the central theme to White’s compelling biography of a Victorian intellectual monster, a man who trashed his many enemies’ lives with anonymous letters and book reviews but who probably knew more about cave fauna than anyone else, who was responsible for establishing the Manchester Museum and Department of Geology, worked on the Kent Coalfield and (Victorian) Channel Tunnel. However, now a man who reputation, if he be remembered at all, is scarred by the doubts surrounding these finds.

White writes Dawkins’ life and times with a neutral detailed prose that mirrors the best Victorian novelists. This is more than a great biography, it is more than worthy of an important, influential and thoroughly dislikeable man, it is his deserved partial rehabilitation.

But was Dawkins a fraud that rude summer’s day, read the book and discover for yourself.

Sunday 18 March 2018


Worth sharing. Click to enlarge.  I found this great photo of clay-with-flints resting on an undulating surface of broken chalk -- this pic is from the Chilterns.

The irregular bedrock surface is the [product of many different processes.  I suspect that here solutional rills are a part of the scenario, but maybe we are also looking at enlarged cracks associated with permafrost in the past, and there is also a possibility of cracks and pits associated with deep root penetration at a time of woodland cover.

The clay-with-flints is a highly variable and somewhat mysterious material -- containing flint nodules weathered out of the chalk but also erratic pebbles assumed to have come from stripped away Cretaceous layers which once rested on the chalk.  I have always felt that glacially derived material may also be contained -- .but much more systematic studies will be needed before the full story is known

Tuesday 13 March 2018

On sails and bluestone transport

This is a very interesting article which I came across by chance:

More than once, on this blog, we have discussed ropes and sails and sailing techniques, since some people think it was just a doddle for our Neolithic ancestors to transport 80 bluestones by sea from Pembrokeshire to the coasts of Somerset or somewhere else in SW England.

The article explains how difficult it was, even in Viking times, to make sail cloth (using wool) which was strong enough, light enough and manageable enough to catch the wind and cope with great stresses in a hostile marine environment.  Early sails -- in the Neolithic and Bronze Age -- are thought to have been made with woven flax.  But the fragments of woven flax that have survived suggest that there was a size limit on what could be woven -- which would have necessitated stitching together lots of small woven items in a sort of patchwork effect.  Animal skins might also have been stitched together,  but they would have been very heavy indeed.

All very instructive.  I'm more than ever convinced that rafts or other vessels with sails could not realistically have been used 5,000 years ago to transport large lumps of bluestone from North Pembs all the way to the Somerset coast.  Neither the development of floating vessels,  ropes or sails had reached a sufficiently technologically advanced stage.

Friday 9 March 2018

EH still in denial about glacial transport hypothesis

Another push today from EH on the bluestone haulage story, coinciding with another piece of wonderful "experimental archaeology" showing that if lots of people do the pulling, a large lump of stone can be gauled across a nice flat lawn.  One does get a bit weary of all this repetition, but I suppose that every now and the EH needs a Stonehenge headline in the media.  This time the pretext is the little experiment, and also the line (not at all new) that the pulling of the stones was more important than the building of the monument.  This is a standard MPP line.........

"English Heritage also thinks people may have gone on a kind of celebration pilgrimage to help construct the monument. "  So now we have the "bluestone pilgrimage"story,  involving either people from SalisburyPlain going off the Pembrokeshire to fetch their stones, or Pembrokeshire pilgrims, stone-laden, going on their own pilgrimage and heading east.  Stone bearing pilgrims -- nice idea, and east to market!  It's all about marketing.......

But why does Susan Greaney -- and EH -- find it impossible to even mention that there is a debate going on?  And why does she not admit that there is still no evidence for the human transport of the stones, a hundred years after the idea was first mooted?  This peddling of  "certainty" where there is none is bad science, and EH should not be involved in it.

It's also quite intriguing that the long-distance transport of sarsens is also accepted as fact by "most archaeologists) -- in spite of the fact that in the paper reviewed recently David Field and many others clearly have serious doubts about whether they really did come from the Marlborough Downs. Crossed lines somewhere?

Ironically, this latest press release comes on the same day as I have received an order for another 100 copies of  "The Bluestone Enigma"for the Stonehenge Visitor Centre -- so Mr and Mrs Public are obviously reading it in good numbers, and asking questions about the reliability or otherwise of the EH take on things.  It's to the eternal credit of EH that it does at least have my subversive tome on sale!


Building Stonehenge 'may have been ceremonial celebration'

Celebrating the building of Stonehenge may have been as important to Neolithic people as worshipping there

The arduous task of building Stonehenge may have been part of a ceremonial celebration, claim historians.

The circle in Wiltshire was built more than 4,000 years ago using bluestones from south Wales - a decision which has long baffled experts.

Susan Greaney, from English Heritage, said they now believed that Neolithic people did not want to make "things as easy and quick as possible".

Building the monument was as important as "its final intended use," she added.

Experts have tried to discover why the people who built Stonehenge chose to use some stones from the Preseli Hills, about 155 miles (250km) away.

The stones were probably transported via water networks and hauled over land, using a huge amount of labour over the long and difficult journey.

Experts now believe the construction of the monument was just as important to Neolithic people as worshipping in it.

"In contemporary Western culture, we are always striving to make things as easy and quick as possible, but we believe that for the builders of Stonehenge this may not have been the case," said Ms Greaney.

English Heritage also thinks people may have gone on a kind of celebration pilgrimage to help construct the monument. The new theory follows the discovery of a feasting site at nearby Durrington Walls settlement, which attracted people from all over the country to help build Stonehenge.

Historians think holding ceremonial feasts close to the Stonehenge site to celebrate the build "was potentially a powerful tool in demonstrating the strength of the community to outsiders".

English Heritage believe this theory is backed up by a photograph taken during a stone-pulling ceremony on the island of Nias, Indonesia, in 1915.

It shows people in ceremonial dress "revelling in the seemingly arduous task of moving enormous monoliths by hand, taking part in feasts and associated dances".

Ms Greaney added: "As soon as you abandon modern preconceptions which assume Neolithic people would have sought the most efficient way of building Stonehenge, questions like why the bluestones were brought from so far away - the Preseli Hills of south Wales - don't seem quite so perplexing."

In order to test the celebration theory, English Heritage will begin moving a replica stone on Friday using teams of volunteers in an "experiential archaeology" project.

In a statement it said the aim was to see how Neolithic people may have cooperated to build the monument and suggests "visitors abandon 21st-century thinking to understand how the monument was built".

The first monument at Stonehenge was a circular earthwork enclosure with a ring of 56 timber or stone posts, built in about 3000BC.

This was replaced in about 2500BC with sarsen stones and smaller bluestones.

Most archaeologists believe the sarsen stones were brought from the Marlborough Downs, 20 miles (32km) away. The sarsens weigh on average 25 tonnes, with the largest stone, the Heel Stone, weighing about 30 tonnes.

The smaller bluestone came from the Preseli Hills, 155 miles (250km) away in south-west Wales. The stones, which weigh between two and five tonnes each, were probably carried via water networks and hauled over land.

Source: English Heritage

Thursday 8 March 2018

The cosmogenic dates for Rhosyfelin?

About 18 months ago I did a post on the topic of cosmogenic dating at Rhosyfelin -- reporting that samples had been taken and that Dr Derek Fabel of Glasgow University would be doing the analytical work and working out the exposure ages of the samples for Prof MPP.  There was also due to be some sampling work at Carn Goedog.

Since September 2016 there had been a thunderous silence. The dating work must have been done long since.  Could it be, I wonder, that the dates delivered were -- ahem -- rather inconvenient?    I wonder if they will ever see the light of day?

It will be recalled that NONE of the radiocarbon or other dates obtained from either site have supported the quarrying hypothesis, or the sequence of events that MPP might find satisfactory.  Could it be that the quarrying hypothesis is taking a nose-dive?  (All things that fly, and are inadequately supported, short of fuel, or badly designed, eventually take nose-dives.......)


Apologies to all who have sent in comments in the last couple of months only for them to disappear into the ether.  I have been doing some research at this end, and have found some "lost messages" in a box called "Pending"  -- which I never look at because it is the place where spam is dumped.  Normally, when a bona fide comment is posted, Blogger sends me an Email with the comment on it, and I approve it by clicking on a "publish" link.  For some reason I haven't been getting these Email notifications  -- I shall check with Blogger as to the reason for this.

Anyway, the ones I have found have now been posted -- I shall continue to search for others.  I wonder if I have been hacked?

The joys of technology.......

Tuesday 6 March 2018

More on the Blessing Stone, St Dogmaels

In a previous post on this rather splendid glacial erratic near the shore of the Teifi estuary, I gave the standard interpretation of it, as given in assorted guidebooks and information display panels.

Wy wife and I went to have a look at it today, and I must say it is rather impressive.  It's very well abraded and weathered -- and the sides are so smooth and moss- and  lichen-covered that it's rather difficult to see what it's made of.  It's certainly igneous, but it doesn't look like spotted dolerite.  The rock colour is dark blue-grey, but there is a reddish tinge here and there.  I reckon it weighs at least 15 tonnes.  It's a strange shape too -- like a blunted three-bladed propellor or triskell.  Very different from the standard rectangular shape which we see on most erratics and cromlech capstones.  It has a nice little walled enclosure around it, which uis reputed to echo when you shout -- or even whisper -- when seated on the stone.

The nearby information panel tells us that the Blessing Stone was once the capstone of a destroyed cromlech -- the story is that the three boulders on the top of the  bank about 30m away are the fallen supporting stones. As far as I know, there has been no excavation here, and so there is no evidence of burials or other use.   The bottom photo in the sequence shows the situation -- the Blessing Stone is located about 6m below the grassy bank, directly behind the picnic bench. 

If there ever was a cromlech here, and the capstone fell off  it accidentally or through a deliberate act of destruction, it would have slipped down the bank directly, at the left edge of the photo.  

My own theory is that our heroic ancestors planned to build a cromlech here, put the supporting stones in place, and then tried to get the massive Blessing Stone up the bank made of till so that they could raise it into position.  But I think the task was beyond them -- the stone was just too heavy -- and so the cromlech was never completed. 

Another monument in which the aspirations of the builders were far in excess of their ability to finish the job.  Sounds familiar?

Sunday 4 March 2018

Coygan Cave rhyolite axe

Found this fabulous image of the famous axe from Coygan Cave, near Laugharne.   Click to enlarge.

Made from rhyolite.  Which rhyolite?  Where from?  Assumed to be of Palaeolithic date -- and possibly Neanderthal........

Curator's Choice: Elizabeth Walker of National Museum Cardiff chooses a Stone Age axe

Elizabeth Walker interviewed by Chris Broughton | 01 February 2009 |Updated: 01 February 2011

Curator's Choice: In her own words... Elizabeth Walker, Curator of Palaeolithic & Mesolithic Archaeology at National Museum Cardiff talks about a Neanderthal hand axe made of rhyolite, which dates back to c. 60,000-35,000 BC.

"This is a hand axe found during excavations at Coygan Cave, near Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, in advance of the cave's destruction by quarrying in the 1960s. It is of a form typically made by a Neanderthal and was left at the cave with another similar tool sometime between 60,000 and 35,000 years ago.

Findings like this hint that Neanderthals may have lived in the Carmarthenshire area, but we have no evidence of their physical remains. The two axes we have were found near the wall of the cave, and it’s been suggested they were deliberately cached by their owners, who intended to return to the cave to use them on a future visit.

What happened to those owners is unknown, as we have no Neanderthal remains of this date from sites in Wales. It’s interesting to speculate, though. Perhaps they were passing through and sheltered in the cave for the night, before setting off down the valley the following morning to hunt big game.

This is a particularly good example of a Neanderthal hand axe. Real, true Neanderthal tools tend to be beautifully crafted, and very distinctive in their shape and form, quite unlike those made by their hominim ancestors. There’s a sense that this was made with a certain amount of pride.

The axe has been hewn out of a chunk of rhyolitic tuff. Typically, Neanderthal tools were made from flint, but there’s no good flint source in Wales, so the maker has had to use an alternative, locally available material.

Rhyolite isn’t as fine-grained as flint, and doesn’t flake in quite such a crisp way. As a result, this axe doesn’t have quite the same sharp flake scars you’d see on a tool made from a more siliceous stone. Even so, the maker has shown considerable skill in working this comparatively difficult material – the axe still has all the characteristics you’d usually expect to see in a tool of this type.

To begin with, the stone would have been knocked into shape using a hard, percussive hammer-like instrument, perhaps a pebble. The thinner, finer flakes would have been removed using a softer material such as bone or antler – you can really see the affect of that across the surface of the object.

Neanderthals are fascinating. They shared a common ancestor with us, yet they were an evolutionary dead-end and died out sometime after anatomically modern humans like ourselves entered Britain. It’s a very strange sensation to look at a tool made by a Neanderthal and consider that it was essentially made by a different species.

A lot of work has been done about the ways Neanderthals’ brains may have worked, and it is now thought that they had the capacity to express themselves through song. I’ve been working with a local composer, Simon Thorne, who has picked up on this idea and created a soundscape to play in the museum’s Origins gallery, in the area where we display the hand axe.

The idea was to provide an imagined landscape of what sounds a Neanderthal may have both made and heard, and I know Simon gained a certain amount of inspiration from handling this axe and visiting the caves like the one in which it was discovered."