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Friday 26 October 2018

Bayvil and the curse of Stonehenge

There's a new article on Bayvil, written by  Prof MPP, Kate Welham and Chris Casswell and published in Archaeologia Cambrensis.  It's free to view and download from the Academia web site.  Details:


MIKE PARKER PEARSON, CHRIS CASSWELL and KATE WELHAM with contributions by Rob Ixer and Ellen Simmons (2018)
A Late Bronze Age ring-fort at Bayvil Farm, Pembrokeshire
Archaeologia Cambrensis 167 (2018), 113–141

The paper reports on the finds from a dig in September 2014.  For earlier blog posts on Bayvil, use the search facility.  It's worth reminding ourselves that the work at Bayvil was flagged up by Prof MPP in his September 2014 talks as the possible or even probable location for "proto-Stonehenge", since it was already clear at that time that the radiocarbon dates for Rhosyfelin were not coming out as expected.  So the search was on for a location for the "parking up" of all those lovely bluestone monoliths from Rhosyfelin for 400 years or so, prior to removal to Stonehenge.  Having drawn a blank at Castell Mawr, Bayvil was the next place on the list.  The authors of this paper are a bit coy about this background scenario, saying just this in their introduction to the article:

"An assessment in 2006 by Dyfed Archaeological Trust concluded that this 70m-diameter circular ditched enclosure is probably of Iron Age date but it has also been suggested that it might be a segmented- ditched enclosure — an early type of Neolithic henge (Driver 2007, g. 18)."

But be in no doubt, dear reader -- this was not an investigation designed to tell us more about the Bronze Age and the Iron Age in Pembrokeshire.  It was all about Stonehenge and the MPP narrative. Quote:  Investigations at Bayvil Farm were carried out as part of the Stones of Stonehenge project, researching the origins of Stonehenge’s bluestones within the area of the Preseli hills in north Pembrokeshire. The research in 2014 was supported with a grant from the National Geographic Society.  And be in do doubt that the researchers were hugely disappointed by what they found.

The paper is detailed and nicely laid out, with additional specialist inputs from Rob Ixer on pottery shards and from Ellen Simmons on plant remains.  So it clearly does make a contribution to the local archaeology database.  This isn't the place to review the article in detail.

So to the conclusion to the paper:
"The ceramic and radiocarbon-dating evidence indicates that this site is not a Middle-Late Neolithic enclosure of the type described as a segmented-ditched formative henge. Instead, the sequence of radiocarbon dates in the ditch and the Late Bronze Age plain-ware pottery within the secondary and tertiary layers of the ditch demonstrates that this enclosure ditch was dug probably in the late twelfth- eleventh century BC and then silted up probably within the tenth century BC. A probable roundhouse wall-trench and a pit with a flint scraper produced radiocarbon dates indicating activity within the enclosure probably in the late eighth-sixth centuries BC. This site’s use thus spans the Bronze Age/Iron Age transition though occupation and use may well not have been continuous."

That's all very fine.  Let it go, and move on, folks..........

But in the final paragraph of the paper the curse of Stonehenge strikes again.  The authors cannot resist dragging it in.  These are the authors' concluding words:

"...........the majority of other Late Bronze Age ringworks appear not to have had any local Neolithic monument to inspire their construction. Even so, the similarity of form between ringworks and henges is close enough to suppose that ringworks referenced an ancient Neolithic past. Given the location of Bayvil Farm just 5 kilometres north-west of Craig Rhos-y-felin, a bluestone source for Stonehenge, its construction could possibly have drawn on mythic histories relating to events of two millennia earlier. Similarly, the geometric plans of the Early Iron Age concentric palisades and enclosing ramparts at Castell Mawr, 3 kilometres south-east of Bayvil Farm, could have continued that revived link with a much more ancient past."

Bringing in Rhosyfelin and Stonehenge is completely gratuitous and more than a little nonsensical.  Pathetic, even.  Oh dear  -- why would a Bronze Age ringwork need to be "inspired by" a local Neolithic monument or to "reference" an ancient Neolithic past?  And what's all this about mythic histories and memories of events two thousand years earlier?  And because something has a circular plan, does that mean it continues a revived link with a much more ancient past?!   Archaeological gobbledeygook.

This sort of does thing nothing at all to enhance the value of a perfectly sound paper.  On the contrary,  it devalues it -- I'm surprised that the editor of the journal allowed its inclusion.  But there you go -- the editor is probably also infected by the curse of Stonehenge, so a degree of understanding and even sympathy is in order.

1 comment:

TonyH said...

There's quite a lot about the placing of later features within earlier monuments in Chapter 8, Carving out a Niche: a New Order, of the 2016 book Neolithic Horizons: Monuments and Changing Communities in the Wessex Landcape, by David Field & David McOmish.

I commend this book very highly to any interested in the Wessex landscapes close to, or further from, Stonehenge.

One quote, of general application across much of Wessex:-

"It is as if people sought out denuded earthworks then sometimes 1,000 years old and scattered potherds in the ditches." Bigger alterations are also illustrated.