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Monday, 2 April 2018

Carn Goedog -- no excavation reports, no peer review, no scrutiny

The publication of the latest "research update" by Prof MPP (or is it by four authors?) reminds us of a very uncomfortable situation -- namely that the Carn Goedog "quarry site" which was first investigated in 2014 has still not been properly described, let alone analysed.

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

This is what the text says:

Carn Goedog Megalith Quarry

At least five stones at Stonehenge are sourced to Carn Goedog (Bevins, Ixer and Pearce 2013). We found only one access point through the surrounding scree where suitable natural pillars could be quarried. Part of this accessible area has been affected by post-medieval quarrying but, just east of it, the outcrop retains evidence of more ancient removal of many whole pillars. At the foot of this rock face, excavations revealed an artificial platform of large slabs, many of them split in half with their split faces uppermost. Sediments from within and underneath the platform produced charcoal fragments which have yielded six dates in the Neolithic, most of which cluster around 3350–3020 BC. The latest of these dates to 3020–2880 BC. The platform was out of use when a small fire pit was cut into the top of it, with charcoal dating to 2890–2630 BC (Fig. 2).

The Carn Goedog platform, like the Neolithic platform at Craig Rhos-y-felin, terminates away from the outcrop in a vertical 0.9 m drop to form a loading bay where monoliths could be loaded onto sledges. However, there is no sign of a trackway in the hard ground leading away from it. Just beyond the edge of the platform we found an 11 m-long, 3 m-wide ditch. Dug to a depth of 0.4 m, its upcast was deposited on the side away from the outcrop and the ditch was then filled with large stones, creating a permanent barrier across which no monolith could be transported. The latest radiocarbon date on charcoal from this ditch indicates that it was filled-in around or after 3020–2880 BC.

In summary, Carn Goedog’s main period of monolith extraction was slightly later than at Craig Rhos-y-felin, in the two or three centuries before 3000 BC. The same method was used of lowering monoliths onto a level platform, in this case built largely of large flat slabs with sediment in between them, sitting on top of the Neolithic ground surface. Unlike Craig Rhos-y-felin, no hollow way was formed by the hauling-away of monoliths, presumably because the hard ground and tough grass cover on this elevated hillside were not eroded by moving stones over the surface. The construction of a stone-filled ditch (the date of which coincides with Stage 1 at Stonehenge) as a barrier to cut off access to bluestone pillars from the outcrop, is intriguing. It may have served to prevent removal of any more of these important stones.

So that's all sorted then.  Or is it?  Let's remind ourselves of the Carn Goedog literature.  First, this one:

Richard E. Bevins, Rob A. Ixer, Nick J.G. Pearce. 2014.  "Carn Goedog is the likely major source of Stonehenge doleritic bluestones: evidence based on compatible element geochemistry and Principal Component Analysis"
Journal of Archaeological Science 42, pp 179-193 (online as from 13 November 2013)

That's the basic geology paper that triggered off all the quarrying mania......  I discussed it here:

Among my comments were these:

"What I'm doing is applying some careful scrutiny to the published paper and pointing out that the designation of Carn Goedog as the place where the Stonehenge spotted dolerites probably came from seems to be based more upon the fact that it is a PROMINENT HILLOCK than upon incontrovertible geological provenancing......."

"To explain a bit further. Re the Carn Goedog spotted dolerite sill -- we can see on the map that it is truncated by a fault that runs more of less N-S along the cwm to the west of the tor. The fault line is assumed to run right across the Preseli ridge, giving rise to the col which is the lowest crossing of the ridge -- this is why the route was used by the drovers and their animals. I have assumed that the sills which extend to the west of this fault, on the northern slopes of Mynydd-bach, are part of the Carn Goedog sill. True or false? There appears to have been no sampling which will help us to answer this question....... But we do know that the sill as shown on the geological map is inaccurate. There are certainly several outcrops of dolerite on the mountainside where there are supposed (according to the map) to be Ordovician sediments....."

So it is not true that ....."At least five stones at Stonehenge are sourced to Carn Goedog (Bevins, Ixer and Pearce 2013)."  That level of certainty does not exist.

Other papers?  This is the main paper, published in a glossy popular magazine which is not peer-reviewed:

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. (Not open access)

There is a critique of the article here:

Then there are two linked articles in "Current Archaeology" (Feb 2016)  311, pp 18 -24 -- one by Mike Parker Pearson and the other by Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins.  You can see them here:

In MPP's article, he goes so far as to say there are "......12 bluestones and numerous debitage chippings recovered from the Stonehenge landscape linked chemically to this spot and its immediate env-rons......"   That is, shall we say, a bit over the top.......

There is another popular article by Ixer and Bevins in Current Archaeology in Sept/Oct 2014, called
"The vexed question of the Stonehenge stones"

And here is a paper in the journal "Geology Today" -- once again promoting the quarrying thesis but once again providing no evidence:

Ixer, R. and Bevins, R. 2017. "The Bluestones of Stonehenge". Geology Today 33 (5) , pp 184-187.

I have heavily criticised that paper here:

....... and I have called the authors to account for knowingly ignoring those two 2015 articles which had the temerity to question the existence of their beloved "quarries."

Rob has very kindly placed all the articles by him and Richard Bevins onto his personal Academia web pages -- so they are easily accessible.  In parallel with all this publishing activity over the past five years there have been many lectures, press releases and bits of media coverage such as this:

There may well be other articles too, but life is too short for me to go around the web, hunting for them.  All very impressive, if you happen to think that constant repetition of nonsense makes it true.

The only things that really matter here are that after four years of constant repetition of the "Carn Goedog quarrying myth" by both the archaeologists and the geologists,

1.  There is not a single field report or excavation report which lays out the features of the Carn Goedog dig over two seasons and which presents the "evidence" in a systematic way.

2.  No paper has been published in a peer-reviewed journal which might give us some confidence that the "evidence" assembled does stand up to academic scrutiny by experts.

3.  No other material has been put into the public domain which will allow independent scrutiny of the findings from the dig  -- a pity,  since the excavation pits have of course been filled in again.

I have said it before, and I say it again -- this is an extraordinary and quite disgraceful state of affairs for which all of those involved in the research at Carn Goedog must bear joint responsibility.  Let's name those involved:  Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer, Nick Pearce, Mike Parker Pearson, Josh Pollard, Colin Richards, Duncan Schlee, and Kate Welham.  This group has apparently abandoned academic convention (and archaeological good practice) and has rushed into print -- not once, but many times -- on "evidence" which does not stand up to a moment's scrutiny.  Their guiding principle seems to have been "Tell, don't show" -- and that is not how science should be conducted.  These are quite senior academics with established reputations -- which makes the whole situation even more reprehensible.

It's time somebody took seriously some of the things I posted here:

On this basis the idea of the Carn Goedog quarry should be rejected out of hand, without a need for any scrutiny or debate, until the team responsible for this work shows some respect for academic tradition.


chris johnson said...

On March 2 MPP gave the Kroon lecture in Amsterdam to a distinguished audience.

My attention was drawn to page 24 of the special booklet where MPP says “(we) have located what appears to be the remains of a dismantled stone circle at Waun Maun..If it is indeed a full circle of emptied stone sockets, as it appears to be, then it would be Britain’s second largest stone circle after the outer ring at Avebury.”

The booklet is entitled “Science and Stonehenge”. MPP says on page 2, “Scientific methods no more make archaeology a science than a wooden leg makes a person into a tree.” This is a nice conceit which leads into a justication for a “hypothesis-testing approach” whereby we may begin with a plausible narrative and then look for the proof.

The choice of site for the Presceli visitor centre is looking very prescient - more or less across the road from Waun Maun. I suspect the September dig this year will be close by.

BRIAN JOHN said...

It is quite inevitable that they will be back at Waun Mawn, hunting for sockets! MPP's enthusiasm knows no bounds. Every year he drip feeds some wondrous expectations to the media and to the grant giving organizations, and every year the expectations turn into nothing much at all. I expect the same thing to happen here.......

We know there must be empty sockets at Waun Mawn, because some of the stones have fallen over. As at Stonehenge, stones were maybe moved from one socket to another -- maybe because the soil layer is not very thick here. It looks to me like a stone setting that was messed about with and eventually abandoned, maybe because of the problems of moving big stones on the sloping hillside..

TonyH said...

"....they will be back at Waun Mawn, hunting for sockets!" AND ' Scientific methods no more make archaeology a science than a wooden leg makes a person into a tree.' Has MPP gone all Buddhist?

I'm sure he'd like/ already likes Uber - Progressive '70's Rock Band Yes's wonderful and beautiful song "Wondrous Stories" and may even commence his TWO lectures in Preseli next September with them.....I hope Mike will be wearing his kaftan or one of Rick Wakeman's old outfits.

Go to:- [1.2 MILLION views, Mike!]