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Saturday 13 April 2019

The hunt for Proto-Stonehenge and the bluestone quarries has been abandoned?

On talking to some of my local contacts, it look as as if my earlier speculation about the end of "bluestone quarry mania" in Pembrokeshire was correct. Apparently Mike Parker Pearson and his merry lads and lasses will not be digging in Preseli this coming September. No applications for excavations have been received by the Barony of Cemaes, the National Park or Natural Resources Wales, for further digging at Waun Mawn, Bedd yr Afanc or elsewhere. So have they finally given up, after two years of frantically searching for a giant circle of standing stones at Waun Mawn and finding nothing at all of any interest? It looks like it, although there is some talk of future possible small-scale geophysical work in the area, not involving any excavations.

The lack of planned activity in 2019 is claimed to be down to the fact that MPP is due to have a hip replacement operation later in the summer, which will render him incapable of digging. But it's interesting that out of his team of around a dozen archaeologists -- including some quite senior ones -- not one of them has been prepared to step up to the plate and take over as the dig organizer. It looks as if all of them have gone off to pastures new........ excuse me for having a fertile imagination, but  I have this image in my mind of rats jumping off a sinking ship.

Of course the reasons for the abandonment of the Preseli bluestones project are far more complex. I suspect that funding has dried up, for a start.  It's a miracle that a funding stream has been maintained for eight years on this project, given that MPP and his team have produced no sound evidence for either bluestone quarries or local bluestone settings that might have been linked to Stonehenge.  (They have claimed in a string of articles that quarries have been found at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog, but as I have said many times on this blog, in my book and in published articles, their "evidence" does not withstand scrutiny, and in any case their quarrying hypothesis is falsified by their own published radiocarbon dates.)  They have also refused to cite publications which are critical of their research, and have existed in a state of denial about the fact that there is a scientific dispute going on.  That is scientific malpractice, and it may well be that other senior archaeologists and those in charge of the research funding stream have noticed what is going on,  have finally lost patience, and have pulled the plug.  No cash equals no dig.

What are the internal dynamics within the digging team?  Last September, by all accounts, there was an air of desperation and despondency on the Waun Mawn dig site, as day after day was ticked off without anything of interest being turned up.  When one bears in mind that this was the seventh or eighth Preseli site which was investigated in the search for "Proto-Stonehenge" -- driven by MPP's insatiable personal pursuit of an archaeological holy grail --  one should perhaps not be surprised if senior archaeologists like Kate Welham, Josh Pollard and Colin Richards have finally become disillusioned, bored or even angry and have moved on to other more fruitful projects.  One should also take note of the fact that prior to each digging season there has been much hype about the great discoveries about to be made -- and even the slowest of impartial observers must eventually have come to the conclusion that the hype is never actually matched by what is delivered. One anticlimax, followed by another, and then another.......

Finally there is the little matter of the  mess that was left behind on Waun Mawn last September, and the failure on the part of the diggers to abide by the terms of their consent from Natural Resources Wales.  I covered this rather embarrassing matter last autumn, in a couple of blog posts.

So the reputation of the diggers (and of MPP himself, as the leader) took quite a hit, and NRW was not best pleased.  I enquired as to the actions that they took, and I gather that there was quite a stiff reprimand.  I imagine that any consents for future work within an SSSI are likely to have much more onerous conditions attached -- and I imagine that there will be much tighter monitoring of what the diggers are up to.

So, in conclusion, we have a demoralised workforce, a failure to deliver on "anticipated results",  and probably a refusal by funding organizations to throw in any more good money after bad.

My guess is that the "Preseli bluestone project" is dead. Mind you, it has generated a lot of column inches and TV and other media exposure -- not bad for something that was, and is, a very jolly scientific hoax.

Digging aftermath -- above, at Waun Mawn and below, at Craig Rhosyfelin


TonyH said...

Meanwhile, Mike Pitts, editor of British Archaeology magazine, has published this letter, headed CARDIFF BLUES, in the latest issue, May/June 2019/166, from Ron Thomas from Pulborough:-

"Moving 80 bluestones from Preseli to Stonehenge remains a puzzle (feature Nov/Dec 2018/163). Smaller stones could be carried litter-wise, slung under stout poles,with tree-trunk rails to cross marsh and shallow water and corduroy to form roads enabling handlers to maintain footing. Having crossed the Bristol Channel, much larger teams would be needed to climb the downs. The water crossing would be hazardous and difficult. Possible, if large rafts were made, loaded at low tide and using incoming tides to allow poling upstream with deliberate grounding on sand banks when the tide turned.

Persuading three different groups of men to perform the moves to,across and from the River Severn as many as 80 times, would require very powerful motivation. The alternative of a long land journey across Wales to near Gloucester would solve the problems; a Welsh concept, executed by the Welsh and perhaps to venerate their Welsh dead at Stonehenge."

Not convinced??! Email the editor at editor@ or write to British Archaeology, c/o Council For British Archaeology, Beatrice de Cardi House, 66 Bootham, York YO30 7BZ

BRIAN JOHN said...

Pitts occasionally displays traces of scepticism, but he is such a part of the establishment that he is never going to rock the boat. British Archaeology, after all, has been one of the more welcoming means of publication for the MPP myth machine.... all glossy pics, big headlines and zero scrutiny of whatever he sends in for publication.

Hugh Jarce, JP (Rtd) said...

Hello to all,
As a disinterested party in the Ice-V-Humans debate, I would like to say that both the 'quarry' and the site of the 'proto' Stonehenge are in the vicinity of their searches, but they have been looking for both without first applying sensible reasoning.
It would seem that the saddest thing to come from their efforts is the possibility that they've buggered it up for future excavations by learned, sensible and independent parties ---- a sad state of affairs.

CysgodyCastell said...

Brian, why dont they use LIDAR, is it too expensive? If they can expose massive Mayan temple complex's and strip away the jungle, surely it should work on the Preseli Hills.

I saw some pictures of LIDAR in Pembrokeshire, but it mainly followed the A40 up to Fishguard i recall.

It would be time efficient and show every lump and bump out there.