Thanks to Chris for sending through a small published booklet (67 pp) entitled "Science and Stonehenge" by Prof Mike Parker Pearson. It appears to have been published in the Netherlands on 2nd March, in association with a lecture given at the Netherlands Museum of Anthropology and Prehistory. It's not clear whether the text is a word-for-word version of the lecture given, or a "background document" presented to attendees. Anyway, it purports to summarise the giant leaps forward in the use of scientific techniques in studies of the old monument and its environs. It all sounds impressive indeed, but here's a question: should the lecture have been entitled "Technology and Stonehenge"?
There is a huge difference between technology / techniques and true science, and I'm not at all sure whether archaeologists understand what that difference is. I seem to recall that somewhere or other, not so long ago, MPP argued that archaeology is not a science, and that archaeologists could operate free of scientific constraints; but here he seems to be arguing that archaeology (at least at Stonehenge) is very scientific indeed......
Anyway, there is much of interest in this small publication, and it's a useful summary of the state of play relating to dated phases of occupation and construction. The conclusion -- on "Explaining Stonehenge" -- is intriguing, and will be worth discussing on another occasion. But what interests me right now is the issue of the scientific method. Let's assume (for the sake of argument) that MPP truly represents current British archaeological opinion in this article, and is not just promoting his own ideas....... Let's also ignore for the moment the standard denial that there is any dispute over the long-distance human transport of bluestones or the Neolithic quarrying of bluestones from sites north of the Preseli Hills. That denial is in itself unscientific, but we'll let that pass too.
ON SCIENTIFIC HYPOTHESES
On the second page of the document there is this very intriguing statement: "At the core of recent scientific enquiry into Stonehenge is the application of a hypothesis-testing approach". Linked with this is the proclivity to predict things, based upon the assumption that the relevant hypothesis is a reliable one. If this is the approach of method that drives British archaeology at the moment, I hope that there are some people out there who are concerned about it, and who are asking questions about there hypotheses come from, and how they should be used.
Here is a short statement on hypotheses from "Live Science"
A scientific hypothesis is the initial building block in the scientific method. Many describe it as an "educated guess," based on prior knowledge and observation. While this is true, the definition can be expanded. A hypothesis also includes an explanation of why the guess may be correct, according to National Science Teachers Association.
ON INVENTED EVIDENCE
On this blog we have expressed concerns, many times, about archaeologists being so keen -- or so desperate -- to find the evidence they need to support their unreliable hypotheses that they "see" evidence where others see nothing unnatural and even create archaeological artifices which are then flagged up as important pieces of evidence. We can judge for ourselves whether these artifices are created deliberately or unconsciously. If the latter, we can express sadness about the over-enthusiasm and perhaps the naivety of the field workers involved; if the former, we are into the territory of scientific malpractice.
In past posts, we have looked at evidence "invented" by Professors Darvill and Wainwright with respect to the features seen in the Carn Meini and Talfynydd area.
Then we had the labelling of all sorts of natural features at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog with "engineering" terms. Now we have another example. In this latest publication Mike Parker Pearson confirms the name and the purpose of the latest project involving his team: "We are currently engaged in a fifth project, the Origins of Stonehenge, exploring what we believe to be the stone circle in Wales from which the stones of Stonehenge's first stage were taken." (p 8) Then, on page 21, he says this: "This perpetual re-positioning of bluestones may not have been confined to their time on Salisbury Plain, since there is evidence that they may have formed a stone circle in the Preseli hills of West Wales."
Sorry to be brutal, but there is not a shred of evidence to support that statement. There may be slight evidence of a stone circle on Waun Mawn, but there is nothing at that site to suggest that it had anything whatsoever to do with Stonehenge. The only reason for the increasingly wild speculation about Stonehenge is the mismatch between the radiocarbon dates from Carn Goedog and Rhosyfelin with the assumed or desired dates of quarrying activity. So, the story goes, since the bluestone monoliths cannot possibly have been entrained and transported by the Irish Sea Glacier, they must have been quarried by Neolithic tribesmen. What is more, they must have been quarried earlier than expected, and they must then have been parked somewhere else before being carted off to Salisbury Plain. This is not science. This is fantastical storytelling on an ever more extravagant scale.
Why does the archaeological community put up with it? Answers on a postcard please.....