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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.


tonyH said...

Well filmed and edited, Finley!!

tonyH said...

The last 3 paragraphs of the Post need to be read and digested by certain archaeologists - and nay - sayers generally - who sometimes say, glibly, the bluestones could not have been moved in a south - easterly direction towards Somerset and Wiltshire.

The science of glacial geomorphology, like glaciation itself, is dynamic, and what was considered acceptable even 20 years ago has since been found to be questionable and capable of challenge by new evidence. Plenty of examples of this on the Blog, via the Search Engine.

tonyH said...

The Myth of the Bluestone Quarries ................then there's Paul Simon's very catchy song, "The Myth of Fingerprints."

Lyrics, and melody worth a listen.

BRIAN JOHN said...

It appears that the authors of the two Antiquity papers -- including Mike Parker Pearson, Josh Pollard, Colin Richards, Kate Welham, Chris Casswell, Duncan Schlee, Dave Shaw, Ellen Simmons, Adam Stanford, Richard Bevins & Rob Ixer -- have taken a corporate decision to ignore the two "inconvenient" 2015 papers written by Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd, John Downes and myself for reasons that they have never articulated. We get occasional whispers that their justification is that we are not proper archaeologists and that we therefore do not understand what is contained in the Antiquity papers. Another whisper that comes out now and then is that the "glacial thesis" has been "discredited" and that therefore anything that mentions it can safely be ignored. So this ill-assorted gang has decided that it contains all the expertise needed, and that everybody else and every other opinion can safely be ignored. I am gobsmacked that the archaeology establishment apparently condones this outrageous behaviour. Why have these people not been hauled up before the appropriate academic ethics committee? Why have their two papers not been retracted?

tonyH said...

We might have thought we could trust Mike Pitts, the serious journalist/archaeologist who is editor of the magazine British Archaeology, to question these very things that Brian is understandably angry about. But, apart from two words, "admittedly controversial", in reference to the dubious "quarries", he has maintained a tight - lipped, stony silence over this matter. Not good enough, Mike!!

Mike Pitts can be contacted via Twitter, at:-

........ and also via his Digging Deeper site which is:-

tonyH said...

University College London, where MPP and Rob Ixer have their academic homes, also has its own long - established Geology Department.

I would think that its Head should be written to, with the question "does the Geology Department condone the UCL's Institute of Archaeology's most famous Professor failing to take into account, or even to acknowledge the existence of, the 2 "inconvenient" 2015 Papers written by the 3 Glacial Geomorphologists?

Parker Pearson seems to have relied (for well over a decade), for any geomorphology expertise, upon Charley French at the Cambridge University Institute of Archaeology, who is not a glaciology specialist, and also his Soil Scientist colleague of many years, Mike Allen.
A lot of what MPP does involves his pre - existing network of contacts. Some would describe this as a caucus or an Old Boys' network.
If he was in the first instance intending to do investigations/ excavations in the Preseli Hills, then surely his VERY FIRST concern would have been to recruit a specialist glacial geomorphologist. Instead, he has been overcome by his own hubris and conviction that he had no need to rely on a PROPER multi - disciplinary team to inform his conclusions! Michael knows best.

CysgodyCastell said...

Received my regular email from the Megalithic Portal and the video gets some prime publicity.

tonyH said...

"MIKE PITTS HAS GOT IT WRONG", A Blog Post by Brian in August 2008.

Relates to Pitts' article in BBC Focus magazine, July 2014.

Brian wrote a letter of complaint to the magazine on the "unfortunate misunderstanding of the complexities of glaciological theory".

The trouble is, journalists like Mike Pitts write articles that end up being treated like they are "written in stone and brought down from the mountain" so to speak!

So we end up with generalist archaeologists and their enthusiastic Mr & Ms Joe & Jo Punter followers quoting folk like British Archaeology magazine editor Pitts (who always looks suitably thoughtful in his self - pics) and, before we know it, The likes of Mike Parker Pearson and Cohorts are untouchable when it comes to knowledge of the glacial history of Great Britain.

BRIAN JOHN said...

22 August 2014, Tony. Yes indeed, Pitts did indeed have his ideas all screwed up, as a result of over-dependence on the writings of James Scourse, Dai Bowen and Chris Green. I never did hear anything back from him admitting his misconceptions.......

tonyH said...

Too many Southern- based "Softies" all claiming to have 'The Knowledge' when it comes to Stonehenge and in particular Northern Pembrokeshire landscape formation and the sheer practicalities of how on Earth dem bluestones were spirited betwixt the twain!

JUST BECAUSE the majority of them huddle closely to the Home Counties or no further than Wiltshire/Somerset, doesn't give them the inclusive God - given Knowledge on just what happened with respect to the bluestone transportation issue.

We need some more GENUINE communicators to bring some genuine BALANCE to the debate. Meanwhile, Stonehenge administrators advertise their base to far - flung potential visitors with strap - lines like "Come and Hear The Stonehenge Story". Trouble is, the early part relies essentially on an Old Wives Tale.

That merely is a condescending, comforting attitude to its customers. Maybe MORE would come if they felt they were being treated less so!!!

tonyH said...

Brian, Professor of Physics and respected archaeological researcher (including into Stonehenge and Avebury), Terence Meaden, has told me via Facebook he "looked at this well - made video with much interest".