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Friday, 9 November 2018

CA continues its quaint quarrying promotion campaign

The so-called bluestone quarries "in focus",  according to Current Archaeology.  I thought that magnifying glasses were supposed to be used for close scrutiny, and for bringing clarity?  Instead, what we get is sychophantic and shallow journalism, no scrutiny, and most definitely no enlightenment......

Thanks to Tony and David for drawing my attention to this one:

"Moving Monoliths: new revelations from the Preseli bluestone quarries". Current Archaeology, No 345, Dec 2018, pp 52 -- 55.

New?  This is all very surprising, since there has been no new work at either Carn Goedog or Rhosyfelin, and the last publication to mention the sites was almost a year ago:

Parker Pearson, M., Pollard, J., Richards, C. and Welham, K., 2017. The origins of Stonehenge: on the track of the bluestones. Archaeology International, 20, pp.52–57. DOI:

It is a sad state of affairs when a journal insists on flagging up "new revelations" when there is really nothing of any interest out there. Having now had a chance of looking at the article, it's clear that whoever wrote it has been conned.  He or she simply regurgitates material that is at least three years old, which has no more substance to it now than it did in 2015.  The author refers to all sorts of things that are supposedly "remarkable", including the "remarkable precision" of the Bevins / Ixer provenancing of individual stones to "specific rock faces."   That is wrong, as the author must know if he/she had bothered to read the literature properly. Then there is reference to "clear traces of Neolithic quarrying" -- with no mention of the fact that this is hotly disputed, with others (including myself) seeing no such traces.  The radiocarbon dating evidence, which by any independent analysis falsifies the quarrying hypothesis at Rhosyfelin, is portrayed as giving precise dates for quarrying activity.  "New revelations about how the stones were extracted and transported from the quarry sites are still emerging....."  Sorry, but there are no new revelations.  False news and sloppy journalism.

On and on it goes, with the author faithfully repeating whatever he / she has been told by MPP and his team.  It's all here -- the usual stuff about platforms, loading bays, trackways, dry stone walls and so forth........  As I have said before on this blog, this sort of stuff is typical of MPP and his team; we --  the gullible readers -- have no opportunity to see measured sections or site descriptions or to scrutinise this old-fashioned thing called  EVIDENCE.  What we get instead is a string of unsupported assertions and fantasies.  As I have said before, when I examined both of these sites I could see no evidence in support of any of these features, and had to conclude that they were all products of a desperate hunt for something of significance.  We don't even get to see the stratigraphic context of a "new" radiocarbon dated sample.  We are just expected to accept that it is important.

What is most entertaining in this article is the use of several photographs from the two digs at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog, purporting to demonstrate the existence of the "engineering features" which are lovingly referred to in the captions.  That was not a smart idea.  I defy any reader of the magazine to say, with hand on heart, that they can see anything in the images other than a jumble of rocks and sediments, arranged by nature without any human intervention at all.

Much is made of the discovery of something that might be a Neolithic end-scraper --  but the supposition that this might have had something to do with quarrying is nonsensical.  The reference to "a large, level platform" at Carn Goedog is frankly ridiculous -- on the photos it is neither large nor level, and when I examined in it reality, when the excavation pit was still open, I simply saw a jumble of large rocks with many different sloping surfaces which could never have facilitated the sliding and removal of pillars or anything else.

The latter part of the article consists of a string of yet more speculations and fantasies, bringing in proto-Stonehenge and Bluestonehenge for good measure.  Those are best forgotten about -- the evidence -- such as it is -- is years out of date.  On the final page of the article, there is a summary of what MPP et al wrote in the 2017 article:

Just beyond the edge of the platform we found an 11 m-long, 3 m-wide ditch. Dug to a depth of 0.4 m, its upcast was deposited on the side away from the outcrop and the ditch was then filled with large stones, creating a permanent barrier across which no monolith could be transported. The latest radiocarbon date on charcoal from this ditch indicates that it was filled-in around or after 3020–2880 BC. ..................      In summary, Carn Goedog’s main period of monolith extraction was slightly later than at Craig Rhos-y-felin, in the two or three centuries before 3000 BC. The same method was used of lowering monoliths onto a level platform, in this case built largely of large flat slabs with sediment in between them, sitting on top of the Neolithic ground surface. Unlike Craig Rhos-y-felin, no hollow way was formed by the hauling-away of monoliths, presumably because the hard ground and tough grass cover on this elevated hillside were not eroded by moving stones over the surface. The construction of a stone-filled ditch (the date of which coincides with Stage 1 at Stonehenge) as a barrier to cut off access to bluestone pillars from the outcrop, is intriguing. It may have served to prevent removal of any more of these important stones.

It's saddening to see that yet again CA is allowing itself to be a free promotional vehicle for something that just does not make any sense.  Just think about it for a moment -- why on earth would the  Carn Goedog quarrymen (just for fun, let's assume they actually existed) want to dig an 11m long ditch and fill it with big stones, just to stop people taking any more monoliths away from Carn Goedog?  When I looked, I saw no ditch, no spoil heap and no "fill" of large stones.  We are just told that they existed, and are expected to believe.  There is no evidence that the spotted dolerite from here (or anywhere else) was revered or special in any way, and if anybody had wanted to collect spotted dolerite monoliths they could have taken them from anywhere on other parts of the tor, or from the abundant assemblage of elongated erratic stones littering the local landscape.  This really is the storytelling obsession take to the extremes of absurdity.

I have seen a number of "junk science" articles in Current Archaeology before -- but I think this one really does take the biscuit.



Given the fact that Mike Parker Pearson announced, about a year ago, that it was his intention to discover a giant stone circle -- proto-Stonehenge -- at Waun Mawn in September 2018, I am 100% convinced that the editor of CA set aside space in the December 2018 issue of the mag for a huge "breaking news" article.  When it transpired in September that there was nothing of any great importance at Waun Mawn, the editor was forced to fill the vacuum with this hotch-potch of old news, dressed up as something new and exciting.  Others might agree with me that it is more exciting to sit in front of a blank wall, watching paint as it dries......

Confucius he say:  be careful what you wish for.


TonyH said...

Michael "Pied - Piper" Pearson continues to lead even more contingents of suggestible members of the public (and journalists) astray on his elaborate, but mis - firing goose chase.. he goes on.....and on.....and on......even in his [apparent] absence.

Alex Gee said...

What else could you expect from a chartered accountant? Bums on seats and the bottom line, is far more important than accuracy, integrity or scientific rigour!

TonyH said...

Of course, the fact that Current Archaeology has a cosy relationship over the years with bluestones geologist Rob Ixer, aka Myris to older Bloggers, who regularly writes book reviews for the magazine, has had no possible influence on the objectivity of Current Archaeology in its article writing on Matters Preseli!

He produced an extremely prejudiced negative review of Brian's June 2018 Stonehenge Bluestones" book soon after it was published.

Shame on you, Mr Ixer.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I doubt that somebody who offers book reviews to all sorts of journals will have much influence over editorial policy. No -- I think that in this case the editor was really expecting something big from MPP and his merry gang -- and it failed to materialise. So they had to cobble together this weird article at the last minute as a stop-gap. But it emphasises how sycophantic some journals are, and how the view of "the establishment" is simply regurgitated adinfinitum. I find it rather intriguing that NOBODY from within the archaeological community (well known for being riven by factions) is prepared to examine carefully the fantasies being pushed out by MPP and his gang, and to say that by all academic standards the published work is woefully inadequate. Not one of them, apparently, is capable of independent scrutiny.