Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
To order, click

Monday 30 September 2019

The hijacking of megalithic sites by far-right extremists

I don't often praise the BBC, but where praise is due, let's give it. Did anybody else see the Countryfile report on the rise in far-right, Neo-Nazi / white supremacist sentiment in the countryside? Brave and timely journalism by Charlotte Smith, who also contributes to Farming Today on BBC R4. She knows her stuff, since she is talking to farmers and other rural dwellers all the time. Anyway, she went after those very dodgy groups called Generation Identity and British Revival, and reported that their Facebook pages have now been taken down after pressure from the Commission for Countering Extremism.

Wales was mentioned as a fertile place for some deeply unpleasant characters to spread their ideas -- capitalising on the isolation that many in the farming community feel, and their innate conservatism and susceptibility to some of the propaganda put out by the right-wing press.  In a weird twist, the groups pretend that they are environmental or conservation organizations, and promote the concept of "eco-nationalism" -- whatever that may be.  Another manifestation of the Brexit madness sweeping the country. We should all pay attention to what is going on......

There was also mention in the programme of the hijacking of megalithic sites like Avebury for meetings and for filming promotional videos by these groups.  Some clips from these videos were featured in the programme.  The National Trust is clearly very worried.

As we mentioned in our previous posts on this disturbing subject, these groups are always on the lookout for symbols -- and it is all too easy for them to promote the bizarre idea that our iconic sites like Stonehenge, Pentre Ifan, Silbury Hill and West Kennet are the high points of some mythical "pure" episode in British prehistory prior to racial contamination from outside.  MPP has been suckered into this style of thinking, going on about Neolithic political unification and the symbolic representation of "the ancestors" before the arrival of the continental hordes which messed everything up.  And Herbert Thomas did it too, in the years following the First World War, when he promoted the bluestone human transport hypothesis at a time when it was deemed desirable to demonstrate that the British Neolithic tribes were cleverer and more sophisticated than those of Germany.

Dangerous territory, and I hope that the archaeology establishment makes it clear to all practicing archaeologists that they will have nothing to do with it.

The predictable Daily Express response to Charlotte Smith's report:

It's 'beyond a joke': Fury at BBC Countryfile over political segment on rise of far-right

COUNTRYFILE sparked controversy last night as it highlighted the rise of extreme political groups in the countryside and how some are using Britain's national monuments to reinforce their message. The BBC One programme however gained mixed reviews with viewers questioning the segment placed within a 'farming show'.

And so on ...... following the paper's hate agenda and stirring the pot for all it is worth.

Saturday 28 September 2019

The Blog Photo Albums

I have been digging into my album archive.
There are three albums, archived by Blogspot / Blogger originally and then by Google:

Take a look at them. There are some fabulous images in there, in addition to all of the maps and diagrams  I have created, adapted and pinched from other people (acknowledged where I know the source).

Unfortunately, the photos are not arranged in chronological order. Goodness knows how the sequence for the albums is worked out by Google........

But enjoy!!

Our tenth anniversary

A bit belated, but never mind......

I may not have mentioned this before, but in May it was our tenth anniversary.  This blog started on 25 May 2009, and since then there have been 2,564 posts and goodness knows how many comments published.  I could count them, but it would be far too laborious.  Probably over 10,000.  Obvious spam and anonymous posts are always dumped.

The page hits total is now up to 1,512,215.

I must have used well over 2,000 illustrations too -- many of them created for this blog.

The blog is being archived by the National Library of Wales -- I suppose in recognition that it has some sort of value for posterity, given that I am no spring chicken........

So thank you all for your generous contributions and off the record support.  In addition to the regular contributors there are 72 "followers" -- most of whom prefer to remain anonymous.  Some people probably get notifications whenever a new post goes up -- but I have no control over that particular activity.  We have had many hot -- and sometimes acrimonious -- debates over the decade, and those who have behaved like trolls or otherwise broken the ground rules relating to good behaviour have been banned and have gone on to bother the owners of other blogs instead.

Here's to the next decade!

Rhosyfelin RIGS designation No 564

It's not widely known that Craig Rhosyfelin (the scene of a great deal of polite debate) is actually a designated and protected site on the grounds of its geological and geomorphological interest and importance.  The level of protection is not as high as that afforded to an SSSI, but "development" is effectively shut off.

Below I reproduce the official citation as approved by the RIGS Committee.  When we were working out the wording (John Downes took the lead on this) we agreed to include the Addendum after the initial Statement of Interest.  In it, we acknowledged the existence of a dispute relating to the "Neolithic Quarrying" hypothesis, but we say that the "quarrying hypothesis" is "strongly refuted."  We cite our two 2015 published papers.  

That is the current "official position".  In the light of this, is it quite extraordinary that the MPP team has steadfastly refused to acknowledge either the RIGS designation, the existence of our two peer-reviewed papers, or even the fact of an ongoing dispute.  They are clearly agreed that none of them (numbering about a dozen) will see, hear, say, taste or touch anything remotely inconvenient.

22 December 2015

Site Name: Rhosyfelin

RIGS (Regionally Important Geodiversity Sites) Number: 564
Grid Reference: SN117362


RIGS Statement of Interest:

Craig Rhosyfelin is a craggy outcrop of Ordovician rhyolite in the valley of the Afon Brynberian. The rhyolite belongs to the Fishguard Volcanic Group which outcrops along the northern margin of Mynydd Preseli. This site is of particular interest since the rocks are exposed on a series of fracture planes and rhyolite samples from the rock face have recently been matched to “bluestone” fragments in the "debitage" at Stonehenge (See also Carn Menyn RIGS 555). Rhosyfelin is also significant in that it offers an opportunity to examine some of the geomorphological processes and landforms typical of the Pleistocene period in the area. There are examples of scoured surfaces, frost shattered crags and scree, glacial till, fluvioglacial gravels and solifluction deposits. With regard to the rock face, from a geomorphological perspective there is ample evidence that glacial, periglacial and biological processes have all contributed to the widening of joints and the accumulation of rock debris at the foot of the Rhosyfelin crag.


Recent archaeological excavations (Parker Pearson et al, 2015), however, have led to the assertion that part of the Craig Rhosyfelin outcrop and some of the stone debris at its base (including a large, roughly rectangular block) are the result of prehistoric quarrying. This suggestion has been strongly refuted by the current authors (John, Elis-Gruffydd & Downes, 2015a, 2015b) who have argued that the features of the site constitute an association of natural geomorphological landforms and Quaternary sediments. Continued research at the site, both geomorphological and archaeological, including the possible application of Terrestrial Cosmogenic Nuclide (surface exposure) dating, may help resolve the relative contributions of natural and anthropogenic processes at the site.

Geological setting:

The rhyolitic crags at Rhosyfelin in the Brynberian valley appear to be an erosional remnant of the main outcrop of the Fishguard Volcanic Group as mapped by the BGS on the 1:50,000 map ( Sheet 210 Fishguard). These rhyolitic lavas are Mid Ordovician in age (Llanvirn stage). They dip steeply northwards (75ยบ according to the BGS) on the north flank of Mynydd Preseli. Field observations at Rhosyfelin reveal deep almost vertical fractures with numerous horizontal cross fractures. The rhyolite is a splintery dark blue rock which weathers to a light grey colour. A considerable amount of rock debris, accumulated at the foot of the steep rock face, has been uncovered during a recent dig by archaeologists.

The geomorphological history of Rhosyfelin is complex since the site has been overridden by the ice of the Irish Sea Glacier on at least two occasions during the last half million years. As on many of the other tors and crags in the area, there are signs of substantial ice smoothing and block removal; it is likely that Craig Rhosyfelin was once higher and more prominent than it is today. Glacial erratics from the north have also been transported into the locality (John, Elis-Gruffydd and Downes, 2015a, 2015b).

Fluvioglacial erosion has occurred at the site on a substantial scale. The main Brynberian river valley is steep sided and has clearly carried great volumes of meltwater. Subglacial meltwater flow is suggested by the small steep channel adjacent to the exposed rock face. It is possible that meltwater has flowed up and over a col under hydrostatic pressure before descending to join the main discharge route again at the end of the rocky spur. It is likely that these features are inherited from the Anglian glacial episode.

Apart from the broken rockfall debris and scree that has accumulated beneath the rock face on a smoothed and undulating bedrock surface, there is an extensive exposure of Devensian glacial till containing many boulders and smaller clasts of dolerite and other erratics. This has been exposed during the archaeological dig. Near the end of the spur this till grades into a fluvioglacial deposit of gravels incorporating many dolerite boulders and other rounded stones. Both bedrock and detached rock slabs in this vicinity are heavily abraded. Recent excavations have exposed a clay-rich horizon beneath the fluvioglacial gravels that may represent a temporary pro-glacial lake on the floor of the valley. There are also periglacial and colluvial slope deposits up to 2m thick, with some internal variation, possibly representing climatic oscillations during the Holocene.

On the valley floor there is a well-developed flood plain where river gravels are currently being reworked during swings by the river. The process of crag diminution by rockfalls is ongoing, with biological processes (root expansion in joints and fissures) currently prominent.

Network context of the site:

Quaternary and Geomorphological RIGS in S.W. Wales are assigned to one or more of the following networks.

1. Pre-Quaternary landscape evolution.
2. Glacial Geomorphology. This network includes such landforms as moraines, cirques, protalus ramparts and kettleholes, and deposits composed of till, moraine and scree, for example.
3. Periglacial Geomorphology. Sub-networks are landforms and deposits formed in environments around the fringes of glacial terrains. They include pingos, patterned ground, ice wedges and solifluction features.
4. Fluvio-glacial Geomorphology. Sub-networks are landforms that include alluvial fans, patterned ground and meltwater channels, together with their associated deposits.
5. Fluvial Geomorphology. Landforms are terraces, meanders, bars, waterfalls, gorges and palaeochannels, for example, which are associated with a variety of deposits.
6. Holocene Geomorphology. The landforms include raised bogs and screes, whilst the deposits comprise peat and gravel, for example.
7. Coastal Geomorphology. Landforms are diverse, comprising spits, dune fields, beaches and cusps, among several others. Associated deposits include dune sands and shingle.
8. Karst.

This RIGS illustrates Glacial Geomorphology including such deposits as glacial till and ice scoured surfaces (Net 2) Periglacial Geomorphological features such as solifluction deposits (head) and scree (Net. 3). Features of Fluvioglacial Geomorphology (Net. 4) include meltwater channels and possible lacustrine deposits.


Potential use (general):

Although the geomorphology of the area is highly specialised, the significance of the rocks as a possible source of some of the rhyolitic fragments at Stonehenge suggests that a public awareness initiative may be appropriate.

Potential use (educational):

The rocks are of interest to geologists studying the Lower Palaeozoic igneous rocks of SW Wales, to geomorphologists studying the effects of Pleistocene glacial episodes on the flanks of Preseli, and also to archaeologists interested in the origin of some of the rhyolitic debris at Stonehenge.

Other comments:

The archaeological dig site has now been infilled and the site is accessible via a public footpath.


BRITISH GEOLOGICAL SURVEY (2010). 1:50,000 Geological Sheet 210, Fishguard, NERC.

BURT,C.E., et al. (2012) Geology of the Fishguard district. A brief explanation of the geological map Sheet 210 Fishguard, NERC

CAMPBELL, S. & BOWEN, D.Q. (1989). Quaternary of Wales, Geological Conservation Review Series, No. 2, Nature Conservancy Council, Peterborough.

CATT, J.A., GIBBARD, P.L., LOWE, J.J., McCARROLL, D., SCOURCE, J.D., WALKER, M.J.C. & WYMER, J.J. (2006). Quaternary: ice sheets and their legacy. In BRENCHLEY, P.I. & RAWSON, P.E. (eds) The Geology of England & Wales, The Geological Society, London. 430-467.

HAMBREY, M.J., DAVIES, J.R., GLASSIER, N.F., WATERS, R.A., DOWDESWELL, J.A., WILBY, P.R., WILSON, D. & ETTIENNE, J.L.(2001). Late Devensian glacigenic sedimentation and landscape evolution in the Cardigan area of South West Wales. Journal of Quaternary Science. 16, 455-482.

HUNTER, A. (2001). The Geological History of the British Isles. SXR260. Open University, Milton Keynes.112-123

IXER, R.A. and BEVINS, R.E. (2011). Craig Rhos-Y-Felin, Pont Saeson is the dominant source of the Stonehenge rhyolitic ‘debitage’. Archaeology in Wales 50, 21–31

IXER, R. A. and BEVINS, R, E. (2014). The Vexed Question of the Stonehenge Stones. British Archaeology, Sept-Oct 2014, 50-55

IXER, R.A and BEVINS, R.E (2013). Chips off the old block: the Stonehenge debitage dilemma. Archaeology in Wales 52, 11-22.

JOHN, B.S. (1970). Pembrokeshire. In LEWIS, C.A. (ed.) The Glaciations of Wales and adjoining regions. Longman, London. 229-265.

JOHN, B.S. (1973). Vistulian Periglacial Phenomena in South-West Wales, Biuletun Peryglacjalny 22, 185-212.

JOHN, B.S. (2008) The Bluestone Enigma. Greencroft Books, Newport, Pembrokeshire, 160 pp.

JOHN, B.S. (2013) A Long History of Rhosyfelin.

JOHN, B.S., ELIS-GRUFFYDD, D & DOWNES, J (2015a). "Quaternary Events at Craig Rhosyfelin, Pembrokeshire." Quaternary Newsletter, October 2015. No 137, pp 16-32.

JOHN, B.S., ELIS-GRUFFYDD, D & DOWNES, J (2015b). Observations on the supposed ‘Neolithic Bluestone Quarry’ at Craig Rhosyfelin, Pembrokeshire. Archaeology in Wales 54, pp 139-148.

McCARROLL, D. (2001). The glacial geomorphology of West Wales. In WALKER, M.J.C. & McCARROLL, D. The Quaternary of West Wales: Field Guide. Quaternary Research Association, London, 9-16.

PARKER-PEARSON, M., BEVINS, R, E., IXER, R. A.; POLLARD, J.; RICHARDS, C.; WELHAM, K.; CHAN, B.; EDINBOROUGH, K.; HAMILTON, D.; MACPHAIL, R.; SCHLEE, D.; SCHWENNINGER, J.; SIMMONS, E. & SMITH, M. (2015). Craig Rhos-y-felin: a Welsh bluestone megalith quarry for Stonehenge. Antiquity, 89 (348) Dec 2015, pp 1331-1352

THORPE, R.S., WILLIAMS-THORPE, O., JENKINS, D.G. & WATSON, J.S. (1991) The geological sources and transport of the bluestones of Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 57, 103-157.

Thursday 26 September 2019

Brexit and cockeyed science -- Pitts shoots the messengers

In connection with my last post, I have been looking at the article from Mike Pitts, published in Salon in April. It's very interesting, and is well worth reading. But  what I find interesting is his emphasis on dodgy journalism -- with the New Scientist in his firing line.

But it is quite weird that he is all for shooting the messengers, without (apparently) any awareness that archaeologists are the very people who have written these papers that have been misinterpreted or over-interpreted, and that they are the ones who have signed off the press releases issued from their university press offices.  Mike Parker Pearson and others have been doing this for years -- using scanty and dodgy evidence to develop wild theories that are then marketed to the media as "spectacular breakthroughs" or "groundbreaking advances."  MPP is a master of the method -- when are the archaeologists going to accept their share of the blame for the nonsense that appears in the media?


Brexit, Brutal Invaders and Stony British Steadfastness

Mike Pitts (Editor)

Salon, 245 (9 April 2019)

Last month two editions of the weekly New Scientist featured stories about British archaeology on the front cover. You might think archaeologists would be pleased, but most of the commentary, some of the more prominent from Fellows, seemed to suggest not. In one of the magazines Timothy Glauser, a law professor dedicated to exposing false medical remedies, says that scientists should ‘speak up, in the news and on social media,’ when they ‘hear somebody using scientific language inaccurately’. Archaeologists have been doing just that – about articles in New Scientist. What’s going on?

Concern about the first story (9 March) was less to do with the science than its headline: ‘The original Brexit’. Richard Webb, Executive Editor, had written about the history of Britain’s physical connection with the continent over the past 800,000 years, and the origins of the English Channel. He describes the comings and goings of early humans across an isthmus. ‘You see a drop in accessibility during warm periods’ (when the sea level was higher), says Nick Ashton FSA. ‘The only times people could get across was when it was cold.’

That connection was eroded by water flowing south from the North Sea, first around 450,000 years ago, in a catastrophic overflow that created huge chalk cliffs between Dover and Calais, and again after 180,000 years ago. Lower sea levels 20,000 years ago exposed a wide land shelf between eastern Britain and Scandinavia, which was, from our perspective today, terminally flooded 8,200 years ago, leaving the UK separated from the continent.

The land shelf was conjured into public consciousness by Bryony Coles FSA in 1998. Hitherto, she argued in a ‘speculative survey’, archaeologists had referred to the land between Britain and the continent as a ‘bridge’. That concealed, she said, the significance of a landscape the size of southern England, rich in resources that would have appealed to hunter-gatherers. So she gave ‘the North Sea Plain’ a proper name, after a sandbank where in 1931 a trawler had brought up a hunter’s harpoon point made 13,500 years ago: Doggerland. Orme drew maps, imagining how Doggerland looked. Since then considerable evidence has accumulated for lost coasts and rivers, thanks especially to seabed surveys by the oil and gas industry exploited by a project led by Vince Gaffney FSA and the late Kenneth Thomson. And now the submerged land has returned to the imagination, featuring in two well-reviewed books. In Time Song: Searching for Doggerland (February), Julia Blackburn discovers Doggerland history (talking to, among others, Nick Ashton, Bryony Orme, Martin Bell FSA, Jim Leary FSA and Dave Field FSA) blending past and present. Doggerland (March) is the title of Ben Smith’s first novel; writing in the Guardian Stuart Evers describes it as a book set in the near future on a North Sea windfarm, with conversations ‘reminiscent of Beckett or perhaps Pinter’.

Roger Cox wrote in the Scotsman that it was ‘impossible to read [Time Song] without Brexit in mind’ (he found the book ‘magical, mesmerising’). It was this link between prehistory and Brexit (New Scientist compared an ancient strip of land between the Netherlands and England as ‘a backstop that prevented Britain’s exit from Europe for the next 150,000 years’) that caught the attention of Kenny Brophy FSA. He had recently written an article, published in the December Antiquity, proposing that ‘any archaeological discovery in Europe can – and probably will – be exploited to argue in support of, or against, Brexit.’ In ‘The Brexit hypothesis and prehistory’ (a title consciously modelled on ‘The invasion hypothesis and prehistory’, by Grahame Clark FSA, Antiquity 1966), Brophy writes that ‘Examples demonstrate how archaeological and ancient DNA [aDNA] studies are appropriated for political ends.’ His thesis is discussed in the same Antiquityby Chiara Bonacchi FSA, Andrew Gardner FSA and Nathan Schlanger. ‘These calls for disciplinary solidarity, advocacy and activism’, concludes Brophy in an afterword, ‘are all the more vital as we await the inevitable post-Brexit Brexit hypothesis mutation, as suggested by Schlanger’s (2018) dystopian vision of Union flags draped from Stonehenge. We will all need to be vigilant.’

Brophy continued the argument in The Conversation (12 February), writing that ‘The [UK’s] feverish Brexit neurosis … has poisoned the well of public discourse. It has even infiltrated narratives about our ancient past.’ As an example, he quoted a Daily Mail headline to a story inspired by an English Heritage press release: ‘Stonehenge exhibition of ancient artefacts reveals how Britain has ALWAYS had a fraught relationship with ‘Europe’’ – ‘offer[ing] legitimacy’, adds Brophy, ‘to the Brexit process as prehistorically the natural state of things.’

In its first feature New Scientist had used Brexit as a hook to promote an informed article. The second feature, felt critics, distorted archaeological understanding. Drawing on recent aDNA research, science writer Colin Barras claims that Stonehenge is ‘a memorial to a vanished people … wiped out by incomers,’ the Yamnaya and their descendants from northern Europe, who might be ‘the most murderous people in history’. Media picked up the theme. ‘The most violent group of people who ever lived,’ headlined Mail Online: ‘Horse-riding Yamnaya tribe who used their huge height and muscular build to brutally murder and invade their way across Europe than 4,000 years ago.’ The Sun ran a similar story, and both quoted the archaeologist who was Barras’s main source: Kristian Kristiansen FSA.

The controversy dates back to 2017, when a large aDNA study went online ahead of peer-review publication in Nature (March 2018). As I wrote in Salon at the time, the paper (among whose many authors were at least 11 Fellows) argued that a substantial immigration into Britain from around 2500 BC was followed by the almost complete replacement of the native genome – reported in the press as ‘Intruders forced out ancient farmers that built famous relics such as Stonehenge.’ A debate followed about the extent to which aDNA and archaeological data were revealing different narratives about the same societies, the dangers of creating sweeping theories that relied on small and possibly unrepresentative samples, and ways of interpreting the evidence that did not involve great migrations (such as the movement of women at marriage).

Nuance was not the first concern of the other New Scientist feature. Supported by dramatic illustrations by Simon Pemberton – perceptively analysed in a blog by Katy Whitaker FSA (5 April) – Barras focuses on the idea that genome change, both on the continent and particularly in Britain, was the outcome of a violent annihilation of an earlier native population. ‘I’ve become increasingly convinced there must have been a kind of genocide,’ Kristiansen tells Barras, perpetrated, explains the science writer, by horse-riding people represented in the ground by ‘Yamnaya-like artefacts and behaviour’. David Reich, a lead geneticist in the research, supports this view, referring to an aDNA study in Iberia where he sees ‘males from outside … displacing local males ... almost completely’. Barras also talks to Volker Heyd, an archaeologist who is sceptical of the violent migrants thesis, and qualifies his conclusions (‘Even if they weren’t the most murderous people in history, there is no doubting that they spread far and wide’). But it was New Scientist that upset some archaeologists.

Tom Booth, a bioarchaeologist at the Natural History Museum, argued on Twitter that there are many other possible readings of the data: ‘my view is that all the ancient DNA can say on its own at the moment is that there were large-scale population shifts across Europe resulting from movements of people carrying ancestry originating in the Pontic steppe … certainly in Britain, there is no evidence for a surge in violence at the beginning of the Beaker period’ (@Boothicus, 31 March).

Rachel Pope FSA (@preshitorian, 5 April) suggested that ‘Not all change is (necessarily) an indication of mass migration of rampaging big-men (and an accompanying genocide/rape). Change can also be about cooperation and love.’ How do we tell? ‘Interpretation based on good data, hard evidence and reason,’ she suggests. ‘Multi-variate, inter-disciplinary research across years. Not an unsupported, too-rapid, pop interpretation of aDNA data, in a publication that really should know better!’

‘Wonder if anyone has bought the film rights for this yet?’ tweeted David McOmish FSA (@DavidSMcOmish, 30 March): ‘The Yamnaya, evil superheroes...’ Kenny Brophy (@urbanprehisto, 29 March) left his copy of New Scientist on the train … unread.

It’s not going to go away yet. In his series Simon Says on National Public Radio (transcribed under the headline, ‘Can Stonehenge Offer A Lesson For Brexit?’, 6 April), Scott Simon says, ‘Something in the standing stone slabs in that ancient ceremonial site seems to signify stony British steadfastness… even when the slabs of Stonehenge were being raised, people understood they were stronger together than apart.’

‘Load of old rubbish,’ tweeted Kenny Brophy.

Stonehenge and Brexit: a rap on the knuckles for archaeologists

Richardson, L-J and Booth, T 2017 Response to ‘Brexit, Archaeology and Heritage: Reflections and Agendas’. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology, 27(1): Art. 25, pp. 1–5

Thanks to Tony for drawing my attention to this article.  Very interesting indeed.  This needs to be read in the context of some of my recent posts:

Mike Parker Pearson was in my view very foolish to get into all this nonsense about isolation, unification and Brexit in his 2012 book and in some carefully-planned subsequent statements:

"They're the people who bring Britain out of the Stone Age. Up until then, the people of Britain had cut themselves off from the continent - 'Neolithic Brexit'. This is the moment when Britain re-joins the continent after 1,000 years of isolation - most of the rest of Europe was well out of the Stone Age by this point."

"All the architectural influences for Stonehenge can be found in previous monuments and buildings within Britain, with origins in Wales and Scotland. In fact, Britain’s Neolithic people were isolated from the rest of Europe for centuries. Britain may have become unified but there was no interest in interacting with people across the Channel. Stonehenge appears to have been the last gasp of this Stone Age culture, which was isolated from Europe and from the new technologies of metal tools and the wheel."

Why did he say these things?  Well, he likes to think about prehistoric features in the context of grand and sweeping "political" scenarios which are, of course, nonsensical.  He was also, of course, thinking just as much about media coverage as about communications with archaeologists.  And therein lies the nub.  You sow seeds in the media at your peril, for there is no knowing where it will all lead.  I am not suggesting that MPP has knowingly spread neo-Nazi ideas -- which seem to be based on the idea that our great heritage sites are somehow reflections or manifestations of racial purity and racial supremacy going back at least as far as the Neolithis --but he really should be more careful.

Anyway, it now seems that the recent research has shown that Stonehenge was NOT built by a "British" or Aryan super-race.  I saw this comment in some of the related correspondence:  "More importantly and beneficial is the breaking of the link between the Neolithic and various far right claims of national identity. Various very unsavoury groups like to claim a racial purity back to the builders of the monuments........"

This is the article:

Richardson, L-J and Booth, T 2017 Response to ‘Brexit, Archaeology and Heritage: Reflections and Agendas’. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology, 27(1): Art. 25, pp. 1–5, 

"The .... data collated from Twitter emphasise the misunderstandings associated with DNA testing amongst non-specialist publics, as well as the personal and group meanings of ethnicity and associated identity. There are also numerous associations that can be found in this dataset between neo-Nazi ideas of northern European ‘whiteness’, and the location of very specific geographic origins that can be found in archaeological work with ancient DNA. Overwhelmingly, as these data will demonstrate, the complicated association between present ethnic identity and ancient DNA is misunderstood, over-simplified, and frequently used to fit into nationalist narratives and support ideas of white supremacy." 

"It has long been argued that archaeological public engagement needs to adjust, adapt and evolve according to the prevailing social and political winds, and the post-Brexit vote backlash against experts is a clarion call for professional archaeologists to promote them- selves as public intellectuals and engage with difficult societal issues. This feeds directly into the theme of ‘intuitive knowledge’ which is perceived to have driven some of the arguments around Brexit and may lie at the heart of new nationalisms and post-Brexit heritage. Two ‘intuitive tenets’ related to these issues are pervasive in the public consciousness: that ancestry and heritage are fundamentally linked, and that British biology and nationhood were simultaneously forged in the Early Medieval period. Analyses of  both modern and ancient DNA are now undermining these biologically determinist notions of nationhood and heritage. "

And later:  

" general terms, modern British white Europeans are not directly descended from the people that originally built Stonehenge, and in a biologically determinist model of heritage, Stonehenge would not be British heritage."

"Archaeologists perhaps need to consider how they can effectively and aggressively ground the new social narratives that are created as a result of work on archaeological genetics within local and national archaeologies, starting from the point that these discoveries are published both within the academic sphere and in popular media. Since open access academic publications are becoming increasingly common, it is not unusual for popular media to interpret the findings of an academic research paper after publication, and this can lead to misleading information being taken out of context."

Those final comments represent a real rap over the knuckles for archaeologists, who can be so keen to grab spectacular headlines that they are prepared to twist (and even manufacture) evidence in order to achieve their objectives.  The point about the increasing public mistrust of "experts" is important too.  It means that if respect is to be recovered, there is a greater need now for good research and sound science -- both of which are sadly lacking in the archaeological work that has taken up so much of our time on this blog.

Post-processualism probably has something to do with it -- involving a drift away from observation, data collection and parsimonious explanations towards rambling narratives and wild fantasies.  Archaeology needs to rediscover its integrity and stay out of politics.

Wednesday 25 September 2019

Some common sense on bluestone transport

Tony has kindly drawn attention to the contents of a book published in 2001 (in the pre-quarrying era, if you see what I mean) and which we discussed briefly back in 2010:

2001, The History Press, 208 pp.



The construction of stone circles has long been the subject of great fascination and over interpretation (Pitts 1998). Because some researchers have desired a fantastic and extra - terrestrial explanation, the raising of the stones of Stonehenge, the exact measurement of circles, perfect alignments and astronomical complexity - to name just a few of the abberations of poor scholarship - have all been claimed at various times as evidence for a lost civilisation, men from Mars or similar! However, it should be clear from the discussions above and from previous chapters that the building of stone enclosures or circles was simply a local interpretation of a broadly similar tradition found across Britain and Ireland and western Europe. It developed quite logically from the technologies of constructing stone cists, cairns, chambered tombs, and timber buildings. The choice of site, the proximity to contemporary Neoithic sites, and the physical geography of an area determined to a great extent the final form of stone circles, along with particular traditions.  In most cases, a fairly flat site was chosen, and where flatness was not available, the builders sometimes terraced the area to create a flat zone, as at Kiltierney in Co Fermanagh. The geography and also the social requirements of the site determined its size, which varied enormously. Sometimes stone was very local, and simply dragged from outcrop or scree to the site, but in rare cases may have been quarried and transported over considerable distances. The most contentious example of transport is the movement of the bluestones from the Preselly (sic) mountains of Pembrokeshire to Stonehenge (Thorpe et al. 1991) which now suggests that, contrary to the belief that the stones were transported by human effort, ice movement brought the rocks as erratics during the Ice Age and dumped them between Wales and Salisbury Plain (e.g. Burl 2000). Research and the chemical analysis of Rhyolite across Britain has shown that glacial transportation of the rock, and its use in prehistoric structures, was quite common and that Stonehenge and its use of exotic stone was not unique. For example, fragments of the stone occur in prehistoric barrows, the Stonehenge cursus, Welsh monuments and standing stones and randomly in modern gateposts and walls.  However, other geological studies contest this, and claim that most of the Stonehenge Bluestones are from a specific outcrop in Preselly (Scourse 1997). Whatever the outcome of this long debate, some stone was selected and transported for its colour and shape. Circles close to Callanais have standing stones of different colours (pink,white, black) and at Avebury the Sarsens that form the outer circle and the West Kennet Avenue were chosen for their shapes - either triangular or columnar.  The Callanais stones were selected and placed for the same reason.

There is a good deal of common sense in there, and the author does at least cite Thorpe et al and Aubrey Burl as proponents of the glacial transport thesis.  The author mistakenly implies that rhyolite is the main "bluestone" at Stonehenge, and that analysis of the rhyolite (she means spotted dolerite) somehow supports the glacial transport thesis. It does not -- it simply gives more evidence as to what the provenences of the bluestones might be, without telling us anything about transport mechanisms.  Since she talks about stone shapes, she might have noticed that the Stonehenge bluestones are for the most part boulders and slabs rather than pillars -- and that does indeed reinforce the glacial transport thesis.  Scourse does not claim that the geology shows that the Stonehenge bluestones have come from a single Preseli source. On Callanais or Callanish and the other Scottish stone settings, there was indeed some selection of stones with different characteristics, but the fact that these "selected" stones were used does not in itself imply that they were transported over long distances.  As far as I can see, as pointed out by Olwen Williams-Thorpe and her colleagues, they were used more or less where they were found, either as erratics or because of the existence of convenient adjacent rock outcrops and rockfall debris.  Steve Burrow makes the same point in his book The Tomb Builders , with respect to Wales.

Anyway, it is good to see a recognition in this book that certain matters were being disputed around 2001!  Nothing much has changed........

Monday 23 September 2019

Rhosyfelin -- the jungle returns

I went over to Rhosyfelin yesterday with a couple of people who wanted to look at the site, and was intrigued to see how vegetation growth has reclaimed much of the site which was cleared by the archaeologists in 2011-2015.  It's now 4 years since they left on completion of their extended dig, and the upper part of the excavated area has been overtaken by brambles and bracken.  In the lower part of the site, in the vicinity of the rockfall rubble and the big "picnic table" stone, vegetation growth is also making it difficult to see the details described by the MPP team and by Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd, John Downes and myself.  On the rock face, the upper limit of the pre-existing slope debris is now quite difficult to see because of lichen growth, moss and other plants......

So the evidence is disappearing.  Thank goodness that John, Dyfed and myself got in there when we did, and described the deposits exposed in the dig.  If we had not done that, nobody would have known what the sedimentary sequence is, and the only record of the site would have been that of the MPP team, which completely ignored the presence of periglacial, glacial and fluvioglacial deposits and which interpreted a wide range of natural features as "engineering features."

As I have said before, one of the weird (and potentially fatal) flaws in archaeological research is the fact that digs are filled in when research is complete, preventing scrutiny and allowing all sorts of cockeyed interpretations to gain traction.  If you, as an independent researcher, cannot check, you cannot contradict.  That is a situation which breeds slapdash interpretations and arrogance on the part of the excavators -- as the Rhosyfelin quarrying saga illustrates perfectly.  Extravagant narratives can be developed ad infinitum, and with nothing to hold them in check they simply become increasingly elaborate over time, and ever more bizarre.

In my own discipline, geomorphology, it is a blessing that most of the exposures described by field workers, and then interpreted and written up, remain accessible for others to examine.  If you misinterpret or fail to describe things accurately, you will sure as eggs get your come-uppance rather rapidly.  That ensures care and caution -- which is as it should be.  It also ensures good science.

One positive thing is that the fractured rock-face, the foliated rhyolites and the so-called "monolith extraction point" are still easy to examine, and it does not take very long for even the most inexperienced of observers to realise that the claim of bluestone provenancing to "within a few square metres" is completely absurd, and that the "extraction point" is a wild fantasy.

Another good thing is that the return of thick vegetation shows just how effective biological processes are on the tip of the ridge and on the upper part of the rock face.  Rocking trees and bushes and expanding roots are at work again, already adding to the bank of rockfall debris and scree -- as predicted by Dyfed, John and myself.  No human agency required.

Anyway, let nature take its course.  And as I have said many times before, charlatans will be exposed, and truth will out.........

A photo from Casey Cilshafe (posted on Facebook) showing just how much vegetation has sprung up in the area that was excavated......

Saturday 21 September 2019

Carn Goedog working paper reaches 300 reads

In my last post I commented on the interesting phenomenon of scientific publishing on Researchgate, enabling researchers to reach a large readership rather quickly while maintaining high academic standards and while inviting scrutiny from specialists.

Well, my Rhosyfelin working paper has achieved 600 reads in a period of three years.

But now my Carn Goedog working paper is being scrutinized even more quickly, with over 300 reads in just 5 months. Most of the readers must be archaeologists,  although not one of them has challenged anything contained in the paper.

Brian John (2019) Carn Goedog and the question of the "bluestone megalith quarry"
Researchgate Working Paper, 25 pp.
April 2019

Here is another working paper, this time dealing with both of the "quarrying" sites:

Brian John (2016) Those "bluestone quarries" -- the manufacturing of a modern myth (Greencroft Working Paper No 3)
September 2016


This has had over 250 reads since publication 3 years ago.  This is the article which I was thinking of submitting to Current Archaeology magazine, but my approaches were ignored by the editorial team.  The top brass are clearly not into the publication of articles that rock the boat........

Thursday 19 September 2019

Rhosyfelin working paper reaches 600 reads

The times they are a'changin'.............  I've just had a notification from Researchgate that my working paper disputing the  "quarrying origins" of the features at Craig Rhosyfelin has reached 600 reads.   So a lot of people out there are taking it rather seriously. That's interesting because it is not a peer-reviewed paper published in an academic journal, but something much more informal, published in order to stimulate interest and to invite comments and discussion.

It's intriguing that so many people have decided to read it, and just as interesting that NOBODY has seen fit to dispute anything contained in the article or to challenge its conclusions. The members of MPP's quarry-hunting research team who should have put up or shut up have decided to shut up.  What does that tell us about the article, and what does it tell us about them?

As we have discussed before, the fact of something being published in a "respectable journal" does not instantly ensure that it is of high quality, given the increasing trend of  authors choosing their own referees or of editors choosing friendly referees if they want something published, and hostile referees if they want to turn something down.  Scientific corruption?  Of course it is.

I have argued many times that the two peer-reviewed papers detailing the research work of the MPP team on Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog, and published in "Antiquity" are so bad that they should never have been published in the first place.    Other academics agree with me.

So Researchgate gives an opportunity for a new kind of "open" publishing, in which an author can get freshly-completed or controversial work out there into an academic domain at high speed and allow it to be scrutinized as harshly or as gently as the academic community wishes. If the work is carefully assembled and presented (as I think mine is) it will be given respect.  And it will  be read.

By the way, the paper written with colleagues Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downed entitled
"OBSERVATIONS ON THE SUPPOSED “NEOLITHIC BLUESTONE QUARRY” AT CRAIG RHOSYFELIN, PEMBROKESHIRE" (December 2015) has now been read 1472 times on Researchgate.  The article entitled "QUATERNARY EVENTS AT CRAIG RHOSYFELIN, PEMBROKESHIRE" (also Dec 2015) has been read 644 times on Researchgate -- with no doubt many more readings on the QRA wen site.

And even more interesting -- shall we use the word "reprehensible"? -- is the fact that in all of the papers written by the MPP team and relating to the "quarrying hypothesis" there is not a single  mention of the fact that there is a dispute going on, and not a single citation of any of the three key articles mentioned above.   The conspiracy of silence continues........and would anybody like to give me a rational explanation for it?

Tuesday 17 September 2019

New Atlas of fortified sites

This is a manageable image from the Atlas web site:

As the researchers say, these "defended settlements" (including hillforts and promontory forts) appear to be mostly from the Iron Age, but some are certainly older than that, and it is natural enough to assume that there were abundant defended sites with banks and ditches in the Bronze Age, which were later enlarged and adapted to changing circumstances (including changes in weaponry and the need to enclose and protect livestock.....)

Can we infer anything from the density of dots on the map?  Maybe -- hillforts occur for the most part where there are hills, and promontory forts appear mostly on coastal promontories and on river spurs protected by steep slopes on some sides.  So coastal and upland locations are obviously preferred.  But was there a more thriving culture in those areas?  That's a more difficult question to answer --  it could be argued that these features are signs of a beleaguered and marginalised group of tribes or communities, and that the real hotspots of culture and economy were far away, in the lowlands.  The arguments will go on for ever........

Press release:

Online hillforts atlas maps all 4,147 in Britain and Ireland for the first time

Dotted across the landscape of Britain and Ireland, hillforts have been part of our story for millennia and for the first time a new online atlas launched today captures all of their locations and key details in one place.

A research team based at the universities of Oxford, Edinburgh and University College Cork has been helped by citizen scientists from across England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Ireland.

Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), they have spent the last five-years sifting and recording information on all the hillforts across Britain and Ireland. They have discovered there are 4,147 hillforts in total, and have collated details for every one on a website that will be accessible to the public – and completely free.

The result can be found here.

The survey covers England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, The Republic of Ireland, and the Isle of Man, with Scotland claiming 1694 hillforts - nearly half of all the hillforts identified. A staggering 408 hillforts are located in Scottish Borders alone. England follows shortly behind Scotland with 1224 hillforts, with Northumberland as a clear winner with 271.

Professor Ian Ralston from the University of Edinburgh, who co-led the project, said: 'Standing on a windswept hillfort with dramatic views across the countryside, you really feel like you’re fully immersed in history. This research project is all about sharing the stories of the thousands of hillforts across Britain and Ireland in one place that is accessible to the public and researchers.'

'It is important that our online database will be freely accessible to all researchers and interested parties', added Professor Gary Lock from the University of Oxford and co-principal investigator for the project.

'AHRC funding has enabled this extensive collection and integrating of data which will provide the baseline for much future research into hillforts at scales never before possible.'

This unique resource will provide free access to information about world-famous sites as well as many previously little-known hillforts, helping ramblers, cyclists, naturalists, and history enthusiasts discover them and their landscapes in all their variety.

Professor Lock said: 'We hope it will encourage people to visit some incredible hillforts that they may never have known were right under their feet.'

The peaceful location, abundance of wildlife, and breath-taking views from hillforts are hard to match, and with 4,171 identified and freely available, anyone can find their own favourite hillfort spot.
Mostly built during the Iron Age, the oldest hillforts date to around 1,000BC and the most recent to around 700AD.

Hillforts were central to more than 1,500 years of ancient living: with numerous functions - some of which are yet to be fully uncovered – hillforts served as communal gathering spaces. The research also shows that, fascinatingly, not all hillforts are on hills; nor are they all forts. Excavated evidence shows that many hillforts were first and foremost used as regional gathering points for trading and festivals, and some hillforts are located on low-lying land.

The online resource can be updated by the public via a wiki-style database. Through the citizen science initiative, around 100 members of the public collected data about the hillforts they visited, which was later analysed by the research team.

They were asked to identify and record the characteristics of thousands of forts. The researchers wanted information not only about the upstanding, well-preserved forts but also sites where only cropmarks and remnants show where forts once stood.

This process helped to develop the knowledge and skills of volunteers and enthusiasts. The public will be able to continue contributing to to the wiki-style database by uploading their own images and text based on their hillfort visits.

Dr Martin Poulter, Wikimedian-in-residence for the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, said: 'We have thousands of images from the public on the database. These freely reusable data and images will help to and create content about hillforts on Wikipedia, and will direct readers to links for the main atlas website.

'The database also allows users to search for customised maps focused on a particular type of fort or region of the British Isles, whilst also combining hillfort locations with other data.'

The new data will be made available to the national monuments records of Britain and Ireland and will also help heritage managers, naturalists, archaeologists and policy makers to consider how we they look after the hillforts.

The online atlas database will also be accessible on smartphones and tablets and can be used while visiting a hillfort. A physical atlas will be available to buy from the summer of 2018.


There is a vast amount of detail.  You can zoom in on the user-friendly main UK map, right in to the level of individual hillforts / promontory forts. Naturally enough, the first thing I did was check out the site I know best -- Carningli -- and I was delighted to see that the authors of the Atlas have depended quite heavily on my observations and map as originally published on Wikipedia.  I may be, in the eyes of some, a "lousy archaeologist", but there does at least seem to be some respect for my observations and my ability to record things on maps!

Monday 9 September 2019

Video just released: The Myth of the Bluestone Quarries

I'm pleased to announce the release of a new video on the "bluestone quarries" -- filmed and edited by my grandson Finley.  He has just started as a first-year student at the University of the West of England in Bristol.  Maybe I am biased, but I think he has made a splendid job of it, and I'm really proud of him!


Certain geologists and archaeologists have claimed that the bluestones at Stonehenge were carried by Neolithic tribesmen from West Wales to Salisbury Plain. Further, they claim to have found two "bluestone quarries" in West Wales from which monoliths were extracted. Geomorphologist Dr Brian John examines the evidence on the ground, and concludes that the quarries are simply "figments of somebody's fertile imagination." He shows that the "engineering features" are entirely natural, and that the blocks of stone and other debris that ended up at Stonehenge were entrained and transported by glacier ice during the Ice Age. The quarrying hypothesis is falsified by the radiocarbon dating evidence too. The archaeologists are accused of promoting yet another Stonehenge myth........

Here is a YouTube link:

In the making of the video we were careful to keep clear of polemics and accusations of scientific malpractice, and to keep things simple and evidence-based.  I hope that Prof MPP and his team will enjoy it and accept that I know what I am talking about.

As background, if you want to read the articles which perpetrate the myth that Rhosyfelin is a Neolithic bluestone quarry, you can find them here:

On the so-called Craig Rhosyfelin bluestone quarry:

Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins, Archaeology in Wales 50, 2011, pp 21-31

This is the paper in which geologists Richard Bevins and Rob Ixer claim to have identified the source of certain foliated rhyolites in the Stonehenge debitage to "within a few square metres" on the Rhosyfelin rock face.  This claim was unreliable when it was first made, and it remains unreliable today since no new evidence has been published to support it.  (Note that they have never claimed that any of the existing fallen or standing stones at Stonehenge have come from Rhosyfelin.......)

This is the paper in which MPP and his team claim that they have discovered and analysed a bluestone rhyolite quarry used for the extraction of Stonehenge bluestones. It has been scrutinized and heavily criticised on this blog, and Prof Danny McCarroll said it was "one of the worst papers I have ever read." 

Mike Parker Pearson, Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer, Joshua Pollard, Colin Richards, Kate Welham, Ben Chan, Kevan Edinborough, Derek Hamilton, Richard Macphail, Duncan Schlee, Jean-Luc Schwenninger, Ellen Simmons and Martin Smith (2015). Craig Rhos-y-felin: a Welsh bluestone megalith quarry for Stonehenge. Antiquity, 89 (348) (Dec 2015), pp 1331-1352.

These are the two papers in which Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd, John Downes and myself scrutinise the evidence for Neolithic quarrying and suggest that some of it is simply misinterpreted and that some of it is actually fabricated.  We conclude that ALL of the so-called engineering features are entirely natural.  We also question the reliability of the geological evidence presented by Ixer and Bevins.

Brian John, Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downes. 2015. OBSERVATIONS ON THE SUPPOSED “NEOLITHIC BLUESTONE QUARRY” AT CRAIG RHOSYFELIN, PEMBROKESHIRE". Archaeology in Wales 54, pp 139-148. (Publication 14th December 2015)

Brian John, Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downes (2015a). "Quaternary Events at Craig Rhosyfelin, Pembrokeshire." Quaternary Newsletter, October 2015 (No 137), pp 16-32.

These are the relevant articles on the so-called Carn Goedog bluestone quarry:

"Megalith quarries for Stonehenge’s bluestones", by Mike Parker Pearson, Josh Pollard, Colin Richards, Kate Welham, Chris Casswell, Duncan Schlee, Dave Shaw, Ellen Simmons, Adam Stanford, Richard Bevins & Rob Ixer. Antiquity, June 2018 .

and this paper published online:

Brian John (2019) Carn Goedog and the question of the "bluestone megalith quarry"
Researchgate: working paper
April 2019, 25 pp.

DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.12677.81121
Carn Goedog paper.pdf


I am often asked whether the conclusions reached by my two colleagues and myself (and so studiously ignored by Parker Pearson and his colleagues) are shared by other geologists and geomorphologists.  You need to understand that academics are in general reluctant to go on the record relating to sites examined by other people, unless they themselves have examined those sites (and the ongoing archaeological digs) in some detail.   There is also a reluctance on the part of specialists from one discipline to get involved in digs conducted by academics from another discipline.  There is an "ownership" issue too.  It is a cause of great regret that MPP and his team have never invited the involvement or asked for the opinions of senior glacial geomorphologists either at Rhosyfelin or Carn Goedog.  As I have explained before, that immediately invites suspicion about the working practices, the intentions and the academic integrity of those involved in the digs.

So no other glacial geomorphologists or geologists have published observations or interpretations on the two sites in question. That having been said, I have visited the sites with many senior academics whose opinions I respect.  Others have visited in the company of Prof MPP.  These include Prof John Hiemstra, Prof Danny McCarroll, Dr Rick Shakesby, Prof David Sugden, Dr Richard Thomas, Prof Simon Carr, Prof David Evans and Prof Martin Bates.  I'm sure visits have been made by Dr Ken Addison, Dr Stewart Campbell and other geologists in association with the site's RIGS designation, and by Dr Derek Fabel in association with cosmogenic dating.  There have been others too, including assorted research students.  I have reported accurately that none of them has seen anything that makes them think of human quarrying. Most of them are professors or senior academics with vast field experience. If any of them wants to contradict my reporting of our conversations, the opportunity is on this blog, here and now. They have all interpreted the site as entirely natural, apart from the evidence of camp site occupation. That says it all....... so I would argue that the points made in our two papers represent a geomorphological consensus, until somebody comes along and argues otherwise.

The only comment that I am aware of, on the record, comes from Prof Danny McCarroll:

I had the pleasure to visit one of those sites, at Rhosyfelin, while the material was still exposed and was singularly unimpressed with the supposed evidence for quarrying activity; it all looked completely natural to me. At the time I thought that maybe I was just missing some subtle evidence that the trained eye of the archaeologist could discern, and that the many radiocarbon dates produced for the site would doubtless be used to critically test the quarrying hypothesis. Those dates have now been published in the journal Antiquity and in fact they lend absolutely no support whatsoever to the quarrying hypothesis; a fair appraisal would be that they actually falsify it conclusively. Unfortunately that is not the interpretation of the authors of what is, sadly, one of the worst papers I have ever read.


The offer is always open.  If anybody wants to join me in looking at either Rhosyfelin or Carn Goedog, I live just a short distance from the sites, and I'd be delighted to show you around and consider any observations or hypotheses you might want to discuss.  Just send me a message via this blog.........


PS.  I have been accused -- today, on a Facebook group page -- of being a lousy archaeologist and of failing to understand the subtleties of interpretation which the experts (ie archaeologists like MPP) employ in their work.  OK -- I probably am a lousy archaeologist, but I think I am a reasonably competent geomorphologist, and I hope that my observations and opinions might have some value for archaeologists.  Shades of the debate last time I gave a talk at the Bluestone Brewery:

From my report:

" or two members of the audience were quite outraged that I had the temerity to question the evidence presented by those terribly expert geologists and archaeologists, who were deemed to be honest and highly-skilled academics simply doing their best to collect evidence in the field. I should presumably have accorded them more respect and even deference.........

I could have reminded these good people that I am rather expert too, and know what I am talking about, at least for most of the time. But time was too tight for all that sort of stuff, so I contented myself with reminding the audience that when you do field research you are supposed to go through a process of data collection, data analysis, and interpretation before telling the world what your conclusions are. In contrast, the archaeologists who have been digging in our area for six seasons have demonstrated a cavalier disregard for the norms of scientific field research, and they deserve to be slated for it. (In fairness, the geologists have done things properly, so no problems on that score, apart with some quibbles on their interpretations.....)

I also reminded my enthusiastic critics that I have at least done MPP and his team the honour of referring to their work and examining it carefully. On the other side of the argument, from all the reports I have had of MPP's talks in the last year or two, the glacial transport thesis is simply ignored or dismissed out of hand as being "discredited." By whom, and on what grounds, is apparently never explained."

The other absurdity from that Facebook page is a comment that almost all geologists  disagree with my criticisms of the "bluestone quarries."  I assume that the writer was referring to earth scientists generally as "geologists" -- but he has clearly not read the literature or spoken to anybody other than the usual culprits.  If he was to widen his circle of contacts he might be surprised.

"The experiments presented also indicate significant excursions of wet-based ice into areas of southern England, where little evidence of recent glaciation has been found. This may not present such a major problem given that our model indicates ice was at this extended limit for less than 1 ka. The experiments also provide support for a possible glacial mechanism for the movement of Preseli erratics as a transport trajectory which overrides parts of northern Pembrokeshire and was subsequently deflected south-eastwards across the Bristol Channel into SW England, cannot be completely discounted."

'Dynamic cycles, ice streams and their impact on the extent, chronology and deglaciation of the British–Irish ice sheet.'
Alun Hubbard, Tom Bradwell, Nicholas Golledge, Adrian Hall, Henry Patton, David Sugden, Rhys Cooper, Martyn Stoker
Quaternary Science Reviews 28 (2009) 759–777

That's a very cautious statement, but it does NOT agree with the James Scourse / Chris Green / David Bowen line that glaciation some distance to the east of the Bristol Channel was "impossible", and indeed among the specialists who have analysed the evidence on the ground we can cite  Kellaway, Thorpe, Olwen Williams-Thorpe, Gilbertson and Hawkins, Keen, Hunt, Campbell, Harrison, Andrews, Stephens, Mitchell, Dewey, Maw, Croot, Bridle and a host of others.  Sure, they have not expressed views on the "bluestone quarries"  -- but their writings certainly describe an Ice Age context in which the glacial entrainment and transport of West Wales erratics by the Irish Sea Glacier was not just possible but probable.

Thursday 5 September 2019

Video: Dispelling the Stonehenge myth

I have been taking another look at the lecture which I gave an the DO Lectures series in 2010.  Nine years have passed, but hardly anything has happened to invalidate the things I said.  So here it is again -- summarising the manufacture of the myth and its shortcomings.  The only details that need correcting relate to the "bluestone sources" near Dinas and Newport -- which are now doubted by the geologists.   But the actual number of probable bluestone sources has still not changed at all -- I still estimate that to be around 30 sources.

Also, in 2010 we had heard nothing of Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog as "quarrying" locations, and Carn Meini was at that time pretty well universally accepted by archaeologists as the site of THE bluestone quarry..........

Another interesting point is that in 2010 Prof MPP was already developing his ideas about bluestones being "embodiments of the ancestors" -- so the roots of the current narrative were already taking hold and beginning to flourish.

You can either watch the lecture (about 30 mins) on YouTube here, at relatively low resolution:

or on the Do Lectures web site, as a Vimeo video, at much higher quality:

Trying to embed the video:

Your ability to watch this may depend on which browser you are using -- and which version......

Tuesday 3 September 2019

When does a delusion turn into a hoax?

I learned the other day that a certain well-known archaeologist was upset by my use of the words "hoax", "fantasist" and "conspirators."  Well, I found that very upsetting because I am a delicate flower and because I only ever use a word if it is exactly right, as befits somebody with a scientific background.

Let's just concentrate on the word "hoax" for the moment.  Yes, I have used the word quite often with regard to the attempts by Prof MPP and his colleagues (shall we call them fellow-conspirators?) to convince the world that they have found two Neolithic bluestone quarries and a "proto-Stonehenge" stone setting in West Wales.  As readers of this blog will know, we have examined the evidence presented in support of these contentions, and have found it wanting in every important respect.  It does not withstand scrutiny, and when this has been pointed out to the MPP team in journal articles  its response -- consistently -- is simply to ignore the points raised and to reiterate the story in ever more elaborate form, with or without the help of assorted journal editors and media journalists.

The radiocarbon dates, flagged up as supporting the quarrying hypothesis, actually falsify it.

So the research team members simply refuse to engage with others who question their evidence, their working methods and their conclusions.  Whatever you may think about bluestone quarries, you might agree with me that this is not a happy scenario, since both scientific practice and academic convention are consistently flouted.  It is not a good idea to simply ignore other senior scientists who have good reputations, simply because they do not agree with you.  Even if you are a firm believer in bluestone quarries and dismantled stone circles you might agree with me that it is never a good idea to refuse to accept scrutiny.  It simply does not look good.  If this happened in geomorphology, reputations would be terminally damaged.  But in archaeology, it appears that other rules apply.

So -- are the members of this research team just deluded, and swept along on a great wave of enthusiasm which makes it difficult for them to accept alternative interpretations of the things they are looking at?  They may indeed be deluded, but most deluded academics tend to be rather diffident and tend not to shout their delusions from the rooftops.  

This is different.  MPP and his team have built their story quite inexorably over the past eight years, never once engaging with the concerns that have been raised, never admitting to a dispute in the literature, and feeding quite assiduously more and more outrageous material to the media -- and obtaining acres of media coverage from gullible journalists.

You might agree with me that this goes far beyond delusion and humorous deception.  It is actually rather malicious.  In short, it is a typical academic hoax,  meeting all of the criteria itemised by
psychologist Peter Hancock.  He has has identified six steps which characterise a truly successful hoax:

Identify a constituency—a person or group of people who, for reasons such as piety or patriotism, or greed, will truly care about your creation.

Identify a particular dream which will make your hoax appeal to your constituency.

Create an appealing but "under-specified" hoax, with ambiguities

Have your creation discovered.

Find at least one champion who will actively support your hoax.

Make people care, either positively or negatively—the ambiguities encourage interest and debate

In another post, I have made very similar points:

For a scientific hoax to be successful, it requires four preconditions:

1. A gullible public predisposed to believe in “new discoveries” — in this case, stories about the great skills of our prehistoric ancestors and the meaning of Stonehenge. In these days of alternative facts and false news, almost anything will grab the attention of the public. The mere use of the word "Stonehenge" in a press release guarantees wide media coverage.

2. A colourful and swashbuckling lead character who has a respectable past and a strong media presence. MPP is a popular figure who has been called the “Indiana Jones” of British archaeology, with a reputation for an endless stream of controversial theories.

3. A body of “evidence” cited in support of the hoax which cannot be checked or replicated by anybody else. As far as I am aware, there was no independent scrutiny or peer review of the dig sites at Rhosyfelin, Carn Goedog and Waun Mawn while MPP and his team were at work between 2011 and 2018. And the excavations have now been filled in, so that nobody can go back to them to check the cited “evidence”. Wonderful! That's a perfect scenario for a successful hoax……….

4. The ability to suppress or "drown out" anything inconvenient that might show up the hoax for what it is. This can be achieved by doing deals with big business or grant-giving bodies which see that there would be large negative impacts for them should the hoax be exposed. They will help you to promote the hoax and to suppress independent scientific research and conclusions. You can also "drown out" inconvenient expressions of concern by using your contacts to repeat the hoax in print as often as possible and to develop it bit by bit in a way that can be represented as "hypothesis confirmation." And of course you can vilify your opponents behind the scenes and use your establishment contacts to ensure that anything they write has little chance of being published. This is all very jolly as long as you are not concerned about scientific ethics.

As I pointed out, all four preconditions are amply fulfilled in this case. My own feeling is that the archaeologists were given a false sense of security and certainty by some seriously defective advice from the geologists Richard Bevins and Rob Ixer back in 2011, and that having initially celebrated the "quarry discovery" at Rhosyfelin with some rather unwise hyperbole,  they have found themselves dug in so deeply that they cannot get out without losing face.  So they plough on -- at very grave risk to their reputations -- in the hope that they will not get rumbled.  Too late, boys and girls........

For all good hoax hunters, this from Wikipedia might be entertaining:

A hoax is a falsehood deliberately fabricated to masquerade as the truth. It is distinguishable from errors in observation or judgment,[1] rumors, urban legends, pseudosciences, and April Fools' Day events that are passed along in good faith by believers or as jokes.

Elsewhere, a hoax is defined as "a humorous or malicious deception."


Robert Nares defined the word hoax as meaning "to cheat," dating from Thomas Ady's 1656 book A candle in the dark, or a treatise on the nature of witches and witchcraft.[8]

The term hoax is occasionally used in reference to urban legends and rumors, but the folklorist Jan Harold Brunvandargues that most of them lack evidence of deliberate creations of falsehood and are passed along in good faith by believers or as jokes, so the term should be used for only those with a probable conscious attempt to deceive.[2] As for the closely related terms practical joke and prank, Brunvand states that although there are instances where they overlap, hoax tends to indicate "relatively complex and large-scale fabrications" and includes deceptions that go beyond the merely playful and "cause material loss or harm to the victim."[9]

According to Professor Lynda Walsh of the University of Nevada, Reno, some hoaxes—such as the Great Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814, labeled as a hoax by contemporary commentators—are financial in nature, and successful hoaxers—such as P. T. Barnum, whose Fiji mermaid contributed to his wealth—often acquire monetary gain or fame through their fabrications, so the distinction between hoax and fraud is not necessarily clear.[10] Alex Boese, the creator of the Museum of Hoaxes, states that the only distinction between them is the reaction of the public, because a fraud can be classified as a hoax when its method of acquiring financial gain creates a broad public impact or captures the imagination of the masses.[11]

One of the earliest recorded media hoaxes is a fake almanac published by Jonathan Swift under the pseudonym of Isaac Bickerstaff in 1708.[12] Swift predicted the death of John Partridge, one of the leading astrologers in England at that time, in the almanac and later issued an elegy on the day Partridge was supposed to have died. Partridge's reputation was damaged as a result and his astrological almanac was not published for the next six years.[12]

It is possible to perpetrate a hoax by making only true statements using unfamiliar wording or context, such as in the Dihydrogen monoxide hoax. Political hoaxes are sometimes motivated by the desire to ridicule or besmirch opposing politicians or political institutions, often before elections.

A hoax differs from a magic trick or from fiction (books, movies, theatre, radio, television, etc.) in that the audience is unaware of being deceived, whereas in watching a magician perform an illusion the audience expects to be tricked.

A hoax is often intended as a practical joke or to cause embarrassment, or to provoke social or political change by raising people's awareness of something. It can also emerge from a marketing or advertising purpose. For example, to market a romantic comedy movie, a director staged a phony "incident" during a supposed wedding, which showed a bride and preacher getting knocked into a pool by a clumsy fall from a best man.[13] A resulting video clip of Chloe and Keith's Wedding was uploaded to YouTube and was viewed by over 30 million people and the couple was interviewed by numerous talk shows.[13] Viewers were deluded into thinking that it was an authentic clip of a real accident at a real wedding; but a story in USA Today in 2009 revealed it was a hoax.[13]

Governments sometimes spread false information to facilitate their objectives, such as going to war. These often come under the heading of black propaganda. There is often a mixture of outright hoax and suppression and management of information to give the desired impression.  In wartime and times of international tension rumors abound, some of which may be deliberate hoaxes. 

For example, this is a hoax:
A memorable and crowded meeting of the Geological Society was held in Burlington House, London, on December 18, to hear a paper read "On the Discovery of a Paleolithic Human Skull and Mandible in a Flint-bearing Gravel overlying the Wealden (Hastings Beds) at Piltdown, Fletching (Sussex),)" by Charles Dawson, F.S.A., F.G.S., and Arthur Smith Woodward, LL.D... Professor G. Elliot Smith was called on to give an account of his investigation on the cast of the cranial cavity, and he pointed out that, while the general shape and size of the brain was human, the arrangement of the meningeal arteries was typically simian, as was a deep notch in the occipital region; he regarded it as the most ape-like human brain of which we have any knowledge... There can be no doubt that this is a discovery of the greatest importance and will give rise to much discussion. It is the nearest approach we have yet reached to a "missing link," for whatever may be the final verdict as to the systemic position of Pithecanthropus erectus, probably few will deny that Eoanthropus Dawsoni is almost if not quite as much human as simian. The recent discoveries of human remains... are demonstrating that several races of man lived in paleolithic times, and we may confidently look forward to new finds which will throw fresh light upon the evolution of man. [3]

While this is the start of an article about a hoax:
The Piltdown Man was a paleoanthropological hoax in which bone fragments were presented as the fossilised remains of a previously unknown early human. These fragments consisted of parts of a skull and jawbone, said to have been collected in 1912 from a gravel pit at Piltdown, East Sussex, England. The Latin name Eoanthropus dawsoni ("Dawson's dawn-man", after the collector Charles Dawson) was given to the specimen. The significance of the specimen remained the subject of controversy until it was exposed in 1953 as a forgery, consisting of the lower jawbone of an orangutan deliberately combined with the cranium of a fully developed modern human. The Piltdown hoax is perhaps the most famous paleoanthropological hoax ever to have been perpetrated. It is prominent for two reasons: the attention paid to the issue of human evolution, and the length of time (more than 40 years) that elapsed from its discovery to its full exposure as a forgery.[4]


Finally, the UCL press release from 7 December 2015.
Read it carefully.  It ticks all the boxes.

New research by the team published today in Antiquity presents detailed evidence of prehistoric quarrying in the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire, helping to answer long-standing questions about why, when and how Stonehenge was built.

The team of scientists includes researchers from UCL, University of Manchester, Bournemouth University, University of Southampton, University of Leicester, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, and Dyfed Archaeological Trust.

The very large standing stones at Stonehenge are of 'sarsen', a local sandstone, but the smaller ones, known as 'bluestones', come from the Preseli hills in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Geologists have known since the 1920s that the bluestones were brought to Stonehenge from somewhere in the Preseli Hills, but only now has there been collaboration with archaeologists to locate and excavate the actual quarries from which they came.

Director of the project, Professor Mike Parker Pearson (UCL Institute of Archaeology), said: "This has been a wonderful opportunity for geologists and archaeologists to work together. The geologists have been able to lead us to the actual outcrops where Stonehenge's stones were extracted."

The Stonehenge bluestones are of volcanic and igneous rocks, the most common of which are called dolerite and rhyolite. Dr Richard Bevins (Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales) and Dr Rob Ixer (UCL and University of Leicester) have identified the outcrop of Carn Goedog as the main source of Stonehenge's 'spotted dolerite' bluestones and the outcrop of Craig Rhos-y-felin as a source for one of the 'rhyolite' bluestones. The research published today details excavations at Craig Rhos-y-felin specifically.

The special formation of the rock, which forms natural pillars at these outcrops, allowed the prehistoric quarry-workers to detach each megalith (standing stone) with a minimum of effort. "They only had to insert wooden wedges into the cracks between the pillars and then let the Welsh rain do the rest by swelling the wood to ease each pillar off the rock face" said Dr Josh Pollard (University of Southampton). "The quarry-workers then lowered the thin pillars onto platforms of earth and stone, a sort of 'loading bay' from where the huge stones could be dragged away along trackways leading out of each quarry."

Professor Colin Richards (University of Manchester), an expert in Neolithic quarries, said: "The two outcrops are really impressive - they may well have had special significance for prehistoric people. When we saw them for the first time, we knew immediately that we had found the source."

Radiocarbon-dating of burnt hazelnuts and charcoal from the quarry-workers' camp fires reveals that there were several occurrences of megalith-quarrying at these outcrops. Stonehenge was built during the Neolithic period, between 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. Both of the quarries in Preseli were exploited in the Neolithic, and Craig Rhos-y-felin was also quarried in the Bronze Age, around 4,000 years ago.

"We have dates of around 3400 BC for Craig Rhos-y-felin and 3200 BC for Carn Goedog, which is intriguing because the bluestones didn't get put up at Stonehenge until around 2900 BC" said Professor Parker Pearson. "It could have taken those Neolithic stone-draggers nearly 500 years to get them to Stonehenge, but that's pretty improbable in my view. It's more likely that the stones were first used in a local monument, somewhere near the quarries, that was then dismantled and dragged off to Wiltshire."

Professor Kate Welham (Bournemouth University) thinks that the ruins of any dismantled monument are likely to lie somewhere between the two megalith quarries. She said: "We've been conducting geophysical surveys, trial excavations and aerial photographic analysis throughout the area and we think we have the most likely spot. The results are very promising - we may find something big in 2016."

The megalith quarries are on the north side of the Preseli hills, and this location undermines previous theories about how the bluestones were transported from Wales to Stonehenge. Previous writers have often suggested that bluestones were taken southwards from the hills to Milford Haven and then floated on boats or rafts, but this now seems unlikely.

"The only logical direction for the bluestones to go was to the north then either by sea around St David's Head or eastwards overland through the valleys along the route that is now the A40" said Professor Parker Pearson. "Personally I think that the overland route is more likely. Each of the 80 monoliths weighed less than 2 tons, so teams of people or oxen could have managed this. We know from examples in India and elsewhere in Asia that single stones this size can even be carried on wooden lattices by groups of 60 - they didn't even have to drag them if they didn't want to."

Phil Bennett, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority's Culture and Heritage Manager, said: "This project is making a wonderful contribution to our knowledge of the National Park's importance in prehistory."

The new discoveries may also help to understand why Stonehenge was built. Parker Pearson and his team believe that the bluestones were erected at Stonehenge around 2900 BC, long before the giant sarsens were put up around 2500 BC.

"Stonehenge was a Welsh monument from its very beginning. If we can find the original monument in Wales from which it was built, we will finally be able to solve the mystery of why Stonehenge was built and why some of its stones were brought so far", said Professor Parker Pearson.