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Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Did "Antiquity" authors conclusively falsify their own quarrying hypothesis?

"Tis but a scratch....."

As readers of this blog will know, when Mike Parker Pearson and thirteen of his colleagues published their glossy and detailed paper on Rhosyfelin in December 2015, claiming they they had found a wondrous Neolithic bluestone quarry, the media loved it. The media also loved the fact that at almost the same time Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd, John Downes and I published two peer-reviewed papers which showed that there was no quarry at Rhosyfelin, and that all of the so-called engineering features were entirely natural.

In the two and a half years since then, the six senior authors of the Antiquity paper have published abundantly in magazines which do not have peer-review processes, repeating their contention that they have found quarries at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog, and steadfastly refusing to acknowledge the existence of the two papers arguing the "natural processes and natural landforms" case.  That dogged and persistent refusal to acknowledge the fact of a debate or a dispute is, as I have said many times, discourteous and also unscientific.  Six senior academics, all in a state of denial.......  and what on earth can they hope to gain from it?  Do they really think that their reputations will be enhanced by completely ignoring the field findings and the interpretations of scientists who have different skill sets from their own?

In post after post, I have dissected the evidence presented in the "Antiquity" paper, for example here:

 I have also expressed the view that the paper was so badly organized and so poor in quality that it should never have been published.  Further, I've expressed the view that the abundant radiocarbon dates from the site, from organic materials scattered through the sequence of deposits, did nothing at all to enhance the quarrying hypothesis.  On the contrary, all that was shown by the dates was that there had been a long history of intermittent occupation of the site, probably by hunting parties using the wooded valley for shelter.

It was a strange experience at the end of the "Antiquity" paper, to see the authors seeking to show that their hypothesis had been supported or enhanced by this erratic  scatter of radiocarbon dates, when it was perfectly clear to all readers that it had actually been fatally damaged.    "No problem", said the quarrymen.  "All this shows is that quarrying went on here over a very long period of time, and that monoliths must have been taken away far earlier that we thought, and built into a proto-Stonehenge setting somewhere nearby before being dismantled and taken off to Stonehenge in those bluestone transport expeditions."    The evidence has become more and more elusive, and the narrative more and more complex -- and still hardly anybody in the archaeological community is prepared to say "What a load of cobblers......"

It reminded me at the time of that wonderful Monty Python episode in which the Black Knight keeps on shouting defiance, and insisting that he will be victorious, while his limbs are systematically chopped off, one after another.......

Anyway, it's interesting that Prof Danny McCarroll has now entered the fray (in his review of my new book) by referring to the quarrying hypothesis as "just plain silly".  He also says of the radiocarbon dates: "Those dates have now been published in the journal Antiquity and in fact they lend absolutely no support whatsoever to the quarrying hypothesis; a fair appraisal would be that they actually falsify it conclusively. Unfortunately that is not the interpretation of the authors of what is, sadly, one of the worst papers I have ever read."

The fact that a senior academic with no axe to grind now talks of the quarrying hypothesis being not just fatally damaged but conclusively falsified should give a wake-up call to the six senior authors of that "Antiquity" paper.  When you are in a deep hole, for God's sake stop digging........

It's time for all six of them to admit, on the record: "OK -- we hold our hands up.  We got it wrong.  Back to the drawing board."

I bet there are very few people who have read that paper carefully, giving it the scrutiny it deserves.  The link is below.  Please read it -- you will, I am sure, be appalled.


Mike Parker Pearson, Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer, Joshua Pollard, Colin Richards, Kate Welham, Ben Chan, Kevan Edinborough, Derek Hamilton, Richard Macphail, Duncan Schlee, Jean-Luc Schwenninger, Ellen Simmons and Martin Smith (2015). Craig Rhos-y-felin: a Welsh bluestone megalith quarry for Stonehenge. Antiquity, 89 (348) (Dec 2015), pp 1331-1352.

Here you will find the "alternative interpretation":

Brian John, Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downes (2015). "Quaternary Events at Craig Rhosyfelin, Pembrokeshire." Quaternary Newsletter, October 2015 (No 137), pp 16-32.

Brian John, Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downes. 2015. OBSERVATIONS ON THE SUPPOSED “NEOLITHIC BLUESTONE QUARRY” AT CRAIG RHOSYFELIN, PEMBROKESHIRE". Archaeology in Wales 54, pp 139-148. (Publication 14th December 2015) 


Alex Gee said...

the lack of response reminds me of that video showing Atkinson and Kellaway. Kellaway's mistake was to only own one suit and not speak with a plum in his mouth. Atkinson might not then have treated him with such scorn.

If you want a response from the esteemed Antiqueeries, you'll have to ditch the outdoor gear, get yerself along to Burton's (do they still exist?) and start elecution lessons. After me, "How now brown cow"!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Yes, that old prog was quite bizarre -- three snobs patronising a perfectly sensible geologist who knew what he was talking about (well, for most of the time, anyway).........

But I can speak real posh when I want to. And I know a lot of words. But still they ignore me. Is it something I've said?

TonyH said...

Perhaps you live too far in to SW Wales to be taken seriously, Brian?? That's why 'The Archies' felt the need to despatch their own missionaries from the East........ to make dead sure interpretation of evidence from excavating at Rhosyfelin etc met their high standards.

TonyH said...

Perhaps you live too far in to SW Wales to be taken seriously, Brian?? That's why 'The Archies' felt the need to despatch their own missionaries from the East........ to make dead sure interpretation of evidence from excavating at Rhosyfelin etc met their high standards.