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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Saturday, 21 April 2018

The Bluestone Quarries -- a great gullibility experiment?

Neolithic bluestone quarry?  You must be joking, man.......

Below I have re-posted a blog from eight years ago.  Suddenly, hoaxes and practical jokes are right back in the frame again.  I have been pondering, on this wonderful warm spring morning, and have come to the considered judgment that this whole bluestone quarrying business is actually a rather splendid "gullibility experiment" conducted by a group of smart academics who will, any day now, spill the beans. They will put out a statement saying:

 "Haha!  Fooled you all!  There never was any evidence for these things that we have labelled "Neolithic bluestone quarries"!  We just wanted to see how far we could go with a completely mad idea, inventing evidence, taking nice photos and drawing complex diagrams, placing it all in the learned and popular media, and promoting it through lectures and press releases.  Now we must come clean, and admit that we have just been having fun creating an edifice that has no foundations.  It has cost a lot of money and involved a great deal of effort.  But there has been a serious motive behind all of this -- and it has all been in the cause of science. The lesson is this:  do not believe everything that you are told by senior academics.  Test everything.  Scrutinize everything.  And draw your own conclusions strictly on the basis of what can be observed."

Frightening, isn't it, the extent to which a whole academic community can be swept along by something completely irrational?


Saturday, 27 March 2010

Two great hoaxes: Piltdown Skull and Bluestone Quarry?

Some see a bluestone quarry -- others don't.
Some see a Missing Link -- others see a hoax.

There was a piece on the telly the other day about the Piltdown Man hoax of 1912. One thing struck me in the commentary -- namely the "fertile ground" which existed in Britain at the time, providing perfect conditions for the hoax to take root, to flourish and eventually (in spite of the reservations of some experts) to become part of mainstream thinking. This is what one web site says about the hoax:

"Perhaps the most famous hoax was Piltdown man. In 1912, at a time when Darwin's evolutionary theory was new, and people were looking for missing links between humans and apes, someone planted two fake skulls which came to be known as Piltdown Man.
The part medieval man, part Orang-utang fossil was found, in the very English village of Piltdown in Sussex. Piltdown man's scientific name, Eoanthropus dawsoni, reflected its finder's name Dawson. To get a flavour of those times, the British Empire was still riding high, and Germany had their Heidelberg man fossil, Britain was desperate for a more important ' missing link' between man and monkey."

The key to this is national pride, and a desire in Britain to demonstrate that whatever important discoveries there were in Germany, Britain had even better ones, showing the world what wonderful ancient civilizations we had here, and what brilliant archaeologists we had to uncover them and to expound new theories of evolution to the world...... OK, petty, nationalistic, xenophobic and even absurd, but that was the world around the time of the First World War. Germany had Neanderthal Man, and now Britain had the "Missing Link" -- even more important.

So what about HH Thomas and the bluestones? Well, I have suspected for some time that Thomas might have been guilty of simplification and selective citation of his samples and his rock identifications, in order to flag up the Carn Meini area as the source of the bluestones. I have also expressed my amazement in earlier posts that he "got away with murder" in that NOBODY seems to have seriously examined his evidence or questioned his wacky idea that the stones had been hauled by tribesmen all the way from Presely to Stonehenge in a totally unique feat of Stone Age long-distance transport. And why did people not scrutinize his theory more closely? Why, because there had been great discoveries about megalithic structures in Germany, and because British archaeologists were desperate to show that in these islands we had even more advanced prehistoric civilisations and even cleverer engineers and technicians.

Sounds absurd? I don't think so -- and a number of other authors have suggested that Thomas's idea was carefully put together around the time of the First World War as part of a national "feel good" strategy, and that the whole nation (and not just the archaeologists) just loved the idea when he announced it, and were disinclined to examine it carefully.

So Thomas became famous, then the bluestones became famous, and the "bluestone transport story" entered the mythology of Britain. It is still trotted out ad infinitum, even though there is even less evidence for it now than there was in 1920. And anybody who dares to question it, or to undermine our cosy assumptions about the extraordinary skills of our Neolithic ancestors, is likely to get short shrift from the archaeology establishment. Look at what happened to poor Geoffrey Kellaway.......

So was the Carn Meini / bluestone quarry / human transport story all a hoax? I think it's a distinct possibility. How much longer will it be before the whole mad idea about human transport is finally consigned to the scrapheap? Not long, I suspect, since the new geology being done by Rob Ixer and colleagues in the Stonehenge area is revealing so many new sources for the stones and fragments at Stonehenge that we are going to have to talk about 20 quarries all over western Britain, rather than one. And that would be to stretch things to a rather extraordinary degree......

All hoaxes have their day, and eventually bite the dust, leaving senior academics looking very foolish.


ND Wiseman said...

Hi Brian,
In half-hearted defense of HH Thomas, I'm pretty sure he didn't seek fame. Perhaps merely an acknowledgement. His findings were presented years after what amounts to a casual stroll through Pembrokeshire, and then only at the behest of others who were on the same track. He never visited a couple of the now-key sites, and he never followed up.

That it turns out he was correct about the Stonehenge bluestone provenance is almost secondary. I tend to believe he was long past caring by the time he published.

That said, Richard Bevins completely shreds him in a recent publication, while Rob Ixer is a bit more sympathetic.


GCU:In two minds said...

See forthcoming Antiquity May/June edition for more on HH Thomas and the bluestones.

It will be behind a paywall so we shall all have to spend our Dead Dog Pennies or be left wanting

There be a great difference between planting an ape-skull and a 2/4 tonne proto-orthostat so that it lies at an impossible 'natural' angle to the vertical quarry face.


BRIAN JOHN said...

"Impossible" ?? Come along now, Myris -- that is not a word to be used lightly. The stone is not 2-4 tonnes in weight. It is 8 tonnes, as agreed by everybody who has measured it and done the sums. And not a single geomorphologist or geologist who has been to the site in my company has remarked bout the positioning of the stone as being at all unusual. When a stone falls from a crag it is rather difficult to predict its trajectory and its final resting place. It depends how it falls and what it hits or gets deflected off on the way down. As I have pointed out many times on this blog, there are other large stones as well which lie up to 5m away from the rock face at Craig Rhosyfelin and even further away, out in the valley floor, in other locations in the valley.

And please don't keep on calling it a "proto orthostat" since that demonstrates a clear interpretational bias. You know how much it upsets me and my fellow bloggers when people lose their objectivity.......