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Monday, 15 October 2018

Another biological process explains everything

Down goes a giant oak........

......... and up goes a 2-tonne monolith, ending up 2m above the ground surface


Well well, you could knock me over with a feather.  Just when I thought there was nothing much to say about extraction pits, bluestone monoliths, sockets and archaeological artifices, along comes a southerly gale, down goes a very large oak tree in the wood at the back of the house, and all is revealed.

What has happened is this.  In the Cilgwyn Valley there is an undulating surface of rocky outcrops and moraine, with large dolerite boulders and other erratics all over the place.  Over the millennia a mature woodland has developed, comprising oak, hazel, ash, holly, rowan, and sycamore for the most part.  The trees are safe as long as they do not get too tall, but if one tree has a crown above the rest of the canopy, it becomes vulnerable, and even top-heavy -- and eventually, in a gale, it will come down.

That's exactly what happened the other day. So what's all this got to do with archaeology?  Quite a lot, as it happens.  I have talked about biological processes before, in the context of the supposed "quarry" at Rhosyfelin.  Then, I was talking about the role of rocking trees and bushes, and expanding roots, in forcing slabs of bedrock to part company with the parent rock and to come crashing down, contributing the the accumulating mass of rockfall debris at the base of the slope.

https://brian-mountainman.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-rhosyfelin-shrubbery.html 

https://brian-mountainman.blogspot.com/2018/05/biological-processes-at-rhosyfelin.html

Here, near the Cilgwyn Waterfall, we are talking not about monoliths falling, but being lifted into the air.

When the tree came down, the root mass, which was of course horizontal, embedded into the stony ground, was tilted through 90 degrees, ending up vertical.  It carried up with it a large quantity of stones and boulders, the biggest of which is this dolerite "triangular pillar" weighing about 2 tonnes.  It has all the features of a highly abraded and weathered glacial erratic.  The moss-covered area id the part that was previously exposed at the ground surface.  So there it sits, about 2m above the ground surface, supported on a tangled pedestal of roots, soil, leaf mould, cobbles and smaller boulders.  There is quite a lot of clay too.  At the ground surface there is a large pit that was previously occupied by the root mass.  It's about 50 cm deep, and 1m x 3m in extent.  It contains a lot of debris, including smaller stones which were in contact with the large boulder that has been lifted into the air.  In another context these might be referred to as "packing stones".........  and the sides of the pit are not vertical but damaged and degraded by the occurrence -- in this case -- of a rather catastrophic event.


So what happens next?  Assuming no human interference, the "bluestone monolith" could remain on its pedestal for weeks, months, years, decades, centuries or even millennia.  It's not all that solidly "gripped" by roots, so my guess is that it will come down sooner rather than later, as rain washes away the finer material in the pedestal.

And what will people find in a thousand or five thousand years' time?  Well, they will find the hollow from which the boulder was extracted, with these smaller stones more or less where we see them now, probably filled with a mixture of slope wash debris, leaf litter and the rotted remains of the oak tree root system.  The full rotting process could take many centuries, since this is an oak tree.   If this woodland should be set on fire at any stage, either as a result of a lightning strike or because it is burnt for clearance purposes, there could be ash, charred fragments and even charcoal incorporated.   When the monolith does eventually slide off its pedestal and find its "final resting place" it is most unlikely to end up where it started off -- it could even be a few metres away, with a completely new alignment.  Then the soil surface will gradually build up around it, eventually burying both the boulder and the sediments beneath it.

So we end up with an extraction pit containing smaller stones and assorted sediments easily differentiated from those in the sides of the pit, dateable organic sediments, and a measurable gap between the extraction of the boulder and its eventual repositioning following the removal of its supporting pedestal.

This process is a perfectly valid one if we seek to explain what has been uncovered in the excavations at Waun Mawn.  But surely the Cilgwyn Valley contains a sheltered and prolific woodland, whereas Waun Mawn is a wild and windy -- and treeless -- moorland?  Not so fast, dear reader.  It was not always thus.

Not far away is the famous tor called "Carn Goedog", where MPP and his merry gang have been excavating.  That means "woodland carn", and the presence of bluebells around the crag is a pretty good indicator of mature woodland not so long ago.  The windswept appearance of the moorlands today is largely down to management -- and several centuries of grazing by sheep and other animals.    Gorse clearance by burning has played its part too.  Not far away from Carn Goedog, at the enclosed "summer settlement" of Hafod Tydfil, there are healthy mature trees growing in abundance, simply because they have been protected from animal grazing.  And at Waun Mawn itself, we know that it was once designated as a "deer park" and was used as such in the Middle Ages.  Deer parks did not exist on wild moorlands; on the contrary, they were densely wooded, so that deer, wild boar and other animals could be hunted with the help of abundant cover  by the lord of the manor and his cronies.

So there we are then.  The features at Waun Mawn which have excited certain archaeologists and left the rest of us rather unimpressed can all be explained by natural processes.  All we need are some dolerite boulders or monoliths littering the landscape, some mature trees and the occasional gale.




24 comments:

Anonymous said...

....and all else we need are some senior archaeologists who are capable of taking "The Long View" in ecological matters. You'd really think they already possessed the Long View as part of their own essential modus operandi, but, hey!........


I was out in our West Wiltshire equivalent of a Cilgwyn Valley woodland, itself very ancient,indeed Medieval, today, and had a much simpler appreciation of ecology. The sheer quantity of healthy green moss growing on the tree trunks and elsewhere. No wonder it's been called Green Lane Wood for centuries. The Developers would love to decimate it, but that's another story.....

TonyH said...

That "anonymous" comment was mine.

TonyH said...

https://www.wiltshirewildlife.org/green-lane-wood-including-biss-wood-and-green-la..


There's an equally good website for the wood, done by the Woodland Trust.



As someone's motto says in it's middle. "take nothing but photos" [that goes for archaeologists too]

Dave Maynard said...

Next it will be flying monoliths!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Well, why not? Huge rocks can fly through the air during volcanic eruptions and avalanches, so you just need enough energy at the input end......... and with just a little help from Merlin the Wizard, all things are possible until shown to be impossible......

TonyH said...

".....all things are possible until shown to be impossible". Blimey, you're getting very philosophical and open - minded. Next thing you'll be telling us you believe in the Legend of Michael Parker Pearson of the Institute. But I agree, isn't Merlin still seen occasionally in Carmarthen.

Peter Dunn said...

all things are possible until shown to be impossible…….

True for the human and glacial transport of bluestones theories.

I was mistaken when I commented a while back on the Land of the Living Land of the Dead idea, I was thinking of mid 90s plans of the Stonehenge landscape with dotted lines around Stonehenge and adjacent barrow cemeteries defining a Land of the Dead unfortunately the barrow cemeteries then continue in all directions outside the area ruining the idea. MPP and Ramilisonina’s theory defining Durrington the area of the living and Stonehenge the area of the ancestors fits very well with all the evidence burials and cremations at Stonehenge none at Durrington (one piece of human bone I think?) houses at Durrington, none (apart from a symbolic one in the centre settings?) at Stonehenge, wood decays equates to the living, stone permanent equates to the ancestors. Nothing like this in Lord of the Rings.

I am still interested in which archaeologist was symbolically micturating on Neil’s rug (Big Lebowski) I can think of a number who might. And that rug really tied the room together.

Decimated? Do I need to apologise for being pedantic?
Peter

BRIAN JOHN said...

Same rules for everybody, folks! The laws of physics come right up there too.......

Alex Gee said...

Defining Durrington as the area of the living and Stonehenge as the area of the dead isn't a bad idea! In my village, the church cemetery (Stone) tends to be the area of the dead!(apart from a few Satanists and sexual deviants)! And the woodland appears to be fairly alive. Although the gravestones were erected by the living? I don't know where this would fit within the MPP narrative? Perhaps there were greek influences? where certain individuals were allowed to enter and leave the area of the dead(hades) as long as they didn't look backwards?

This may indeed be the case! The motto of MPP and his followers seems to be "Forward ever Forward" With never a backward glance!

Alex Gee said...

Following further consideration, perhaps the main influence at Stonehenge is indeed Greek? The masons who erected the stones within the dead zone at Stonehenge, must have obtained the permission of the gods to do so? It would appear that the influence of the Greek gods, previously considered to only extend to the limits of the Mediterranean, did indeed extend as far as Brittania? If true? as seems likely, this would rather put the mockers on numerous previous theological hypotheses!

Neil Wiseman said...

Hi Alex and all

Fascinating idea, yet there would have been no 'Greek Gods' for the best part of 2,000 years down the road ...

"The Lands of the Living and the Dead"
Cool premise in 1998 fer sher, and still has adherents in the present, re: Stonehenge Environs. Most likely true in various circumstances elsewhere, including recorded history, but personally I'm not a big fan of it on that scale.

People like to call most megalithic structures Monuments. For lack of a better term, I guess that's okay - regardless of what purpose the site really served. But Stonehenge was an actual monument from the time it was built. Encoded within it is everything those folks knew about the world and their place in it. It included the sun, moon and the earth, how they complimented each others movements, and how they interacted in the sky. (This was all-important.)
In several instances it was both representational as well as symbolic. Life, death, fertility, equal standing for the genders, reverence for things that were and hopeful expectation for things yet to be. More prosaically, it also divides the year into eight quarters and tells how many weeks there are in a 13-month calendar.

There are a number of things about the place that makes me believe most of the information was kept secret from the rank and file. (But that's another story.)

Anyway, the cumulative knowledge of many centuries is all crammed in there and it was a pretty big deal at the time, so they wanted the place to last a while, ergo: Stone, but not 'Death' specifically.

Neil

BRIAN JOHN said...

Neil, I love your sense of certainty! Well, that's all sorted then....... It's so good to know that somebody understands everything! No point in anybody bothering to talk about Stonehenge any longer.........

Neil Wiseman said...


"If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants" [sic]
(1676 Sir Isaac Newton)

"Those who believe they know everything are very annoying to those of us who actually do."
(1948 Some Guy)
___________________________

I just don't like enigmas, Brian. Nasty, uncomfortable things that make you late for dinner. (© 1932 JRR Tolkien) The solar stuff is pretty obvious; the moon less so because it's earlier in the story, disfigured by the later footprint. (© Burl, Hawkins, Dunn, et.al.) But it's mostly still there. Earth was originally that peculiar, reverse causewayed henge before morphing into the Stone Circle a couple of hundred years later.
The Trilithons are the womb of Mother Earth. The set's cup-shape and how it's positioned to 'receive' the sun's elongated Heelstone shadow in June seems clear. (© 2012/2017 TG Meaden, et.al.) Stone-16, on the opposite axis, is almost certainly the representation of a pregnant woman in her second trimester, bidding farewell to her 'husband' in December. She will bear their offspring at Vernal Equinox, 9-months after his auspicious visitation.
And so it is, on and on ... Logical deduction based on observation and available evidence. (© 1898 AC Doyle, ibid)

Long before, Newgrange showed a fearful questioning of the sun.
Later, Avebury put humans on par with the sun.
Then the new kid on the block - Stonehenge - demonstrated mastery of the sun and put that location at the center of the universe. (© 2014 ND Wiseman)

So yeah - I guess I've expended some effort on this enigmatic Pile of Rocks. (© 2015 TC Daw / S Banton) I've recently even achieved footnote status! (© 2018 The Old Stones) But rather than niggle over a few details someone got wrong 20 years ago, or making hard and fast career investments from out-of-date, timeworn, inconsistent guesswork, or - in Trump-style - ridiculing anyone who disagrees with me, I try to avoid the low-hanging fruit and go for evidence.
Every time.

Neil (© 1955, All Rights Reserved)

TonyH said...

Neil, is your use of the copyright symbol copyright to you only, or can anybody use it? And why this sudden obsession with using it, or was it just a whim on 19th October 2018 at 23.43? e.g were you influenced by the Moon? Or had you been at the brandy (again?) e.g. "more prosaically, it also divides the year into eight quarters", 19.10.18 at 03.05.

Exactly who are you jibing at in your "rather than....making hard and fast career investments from out - of - date, timeworn, inconsistent guesswork"?

Happen Peter Dunn was also on the Brandy when he talked of "which archaeologist was symbolically micturating on Neill's rug". Strikes me Peter & Neill have their own form of esoteric communication, or are they both trying to muddy the waters of this Blogsite which
is still fundamentally about Bluestones, Stonehenge and Glaciation?

TonyH said...

Neil has written a book called "Stonehenge and the Neolithic Cosmos" just a few years ago, which may explain his Copyright symbol for 2015 TC Daw/S Banton reference, folks.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I reckon Neil has just discovered the copyright symbol on his computer keyboard, and is just trying it out. Still don't know where to find it on mine...........

TonyH said...

I'm planning on writing a book soon, and making loadsa money like Brian & Neil

It's going to be about all the books written about enigmas.


It's working title? The Enigma Variations.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Better get that copyright symbol working ASAP, Tony..... there are unscrupulous people out there..........

TonyH said...

It's not available on my computer keyboard either, Brian. Perhaps Neil has a unique keyboard? - presumably copyrighted.

PeteG said...

Mr Google is your friend ©
https://www.google.com/search?q=pc+copyright+symbol&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b

Peter Dunn said...

Ah isn’t this cosy.
Happen it would be just red wine Tony. Not a fan of the Coen Brothers Big Lebowski then, but quoting Rodgers and Hammerstein or Lloyd Webber and Rice is really shining a light on the Neolithic.
I don’t know about muddying the waters, mostly trying to clarify some rather foggy understanding maybe.
Bring back Myris now there was esoteric communication!

Jon Morris said...

Running with Neil's thoughts above, I've developed a story-line for the novel based on MPP's ideas. I think it's plausible but would be grateful for thoughts!

Preseli storyline

Neil Wiseman said...

C'mon guys — all in good fun ...

The Copyright symbol is found (on a PC keyboard) by typing Alt 0169.

© - Alt 0169
™ - Alt 0153
® - Alt 169

Or you can copy-and-paste from Word. (Insert > Symbol)

Neil

Neil Wiseman said...

Jon,
The sun is round. The moon is round. Both clearly orbit the Earth in a circular pattern. Being almost the same distance away, the moon always keeps its sunlit side toward the sun. Both appear and disappear on either horizon at predictable intervals.
Ergo: The Earth is also round.
Your method is most likely how they went about proving the hypothesis.

Neil