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....
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Monday, 21 June 2021

More on the Stonehenge dolerites — multiple sources and no quarries

One of the unspotted dolerite samples from Stonehenge probably came from near here. This is Cerrigmarchogion.  The other dolerites — spotted and unspotted — came from many different places.

There’s a big new paper from Bevins, Pearce and Ixer. As with their other papers, the intention seems to be to find common sources for multiple samples from Stonehenge, and to identify the locations of “bluestone quarries” — but with every paper they publish they inadvertently demonstrate that almost all of the samples are unique and that they have come from different places.  This is exactly what we would expect of a collection of glacial erratics.  The idea of bluestone quarrying is dead, and it’s about time the geologists admitted it.

 Anyway, here are the details of the new publication.  It’s difficult to do a proper review right now because of the constraints of using an iPad in the wilds of Sweden, rather than my very versatile iMac at home. (Copying and pasting is difficult on an iPad.......). It’s a highly technical paper intended for specialists, and it continues the efforts by these three authors to study very intensively all the categories of rock found at Stonehenge and its environs, and to find provenances for all of the samples on the record. Unfortunately, there is no new fieldwork here — it appears that the sampled rock fragments and cores are the same ones that have popped up over and again in the literature from Bevins, Ixer and Pearce, mostly collected more than 30 years ago. Those samples have effectively been worked to death, and one has to wonder why there has been no new sampling around Mynydd Preseli which is more suited to the “bluestone debate” as it currently stands.

There are a couple of things that significantly detract from the value of this new study.

First, as mentioned above, the underlying assumption on the part of the authors that the bluestones at Stonehenge were quarried and transported by Neolithic tribesmen from the Preseli area to Stonehenge, rather than being collected up and used more or less where found. That forces them into other assumptions, including the assumption that two quarries have already been found, and the assumption that there are other quarries waiting to be found. This forces them, in their interpretations of the evidence, to assume a modest number of sources, whereas for any independent reader the evidence clearly points to multiple scattered sources, as one would expect of a collection of glacial erratics.

Second, the authors still refuse steadfastly to acknowledge that their ideas about quarrying and stone transport are hotly disputed in my book on the Stonehenge bluestones and in two peer-reviewed papers. I have said it before, and I will keep on saying it — this is reprehensible and is tantamount to scientific malpractice. I’m amazed that the referees and the editor responsible for the publication of this paper did not insist on proper careful citations of “inconvenient” papers and a consideration of pros and cons in the discussion and interpretation of the evidence.


The accurate identification of the sources of stones used in the construction of stone circles has the potential to play an important role in understanding the movements of people in ancient times, having a particular relevance and potential significance when long-distant transport has been involved. Tracing of sources to particular rock outcrops provides the opportunity for focussed archaeological excavations which might inform questions such as why particular stone sources were selected and exploited, as well as potentially revealing material evidence as to how the stones were extracted and subsequently transported from site. In the context of this paper, recent detailed provenancing of particular Stonehenge bluestones (see Ixer and Bevins, 2010, Ixer and Bevins, 2011, Bevins et al., 2011, Bevins et al., 2012, Bevins et al., 2014) has led to the discovery of two Neolithic quarry sites in the Mynydd Preseli area of north Pembrokeshire, at Craig Rhos-y-Felin (Parker Pearson et al., 2015b) and Carn Goedog (Parker Pearson et al., 2019). It has also recently been suggested that some of the bluestones may have been part of an earlier stone circle in the Mynydd Preseli area, at a location called Waun Mawn, which was partially dismantled, with some of the stones transported to Stonehenge (Parker Pearson et al., 2021).

So this article is hugely devalued by the ongoing adherence of the authors to a very silly ruling hypothesis which should have been abandoned years ago.  It’s also devalued by a lack of comparative sample analyses; I should like to have seen some analytical data from unspotted dolerites in other parts of the UK.    How similar, or how different, are they from the analyses presented in this paper?

All that having been said, it is of some interest in that it brings a new technique to the table — the analysis of rare earth elements.  It is suggested that one Stonehenge sample (SH45) probably comes from the Cerrigmarchogion area, but the other unspotted dolerite samples from the Stonehenge area are difficult to fix.  They are most likely to have come from eastern Preseli, around Carn Ddafad-las.  But the samples are different — they have not all come from the same place.  Sample SH44 is an anomaly — unlike anything else found at Stonehenge and different from all of the Preseli unspotted dolerites sampled.  

So once again, as with the studies of spotted dolerites, sandstones, rhyolites and ashes, the conclusion is that there are no preferred and identified sources which can be identified as quarries, but rather multiple scattered sources, not one of which has yet been “nailed down” by hard evidence.  I have made the point over and again over the last decade that there are around 30 different sources for the Stonehenge bluestones and the “bluestone debitage” — and every geological study published by Ixer, Bevins and their colleagues supports this contention.  They claim to have fixed some foliated rhyolites as having come from a quarry at Craig Rhosyfelin to “within a few square metres”, but the presented evidence does not support that claim.  They also claim that there was a spotted dolerite quarry at Carn Goedog, with “evidence” that is even more equivocal.  It is high time that they faced up to reality, as presented in their own papers.  


Revisiting the provenance of the Stonehenge bluestones: Refining the provenance of the Group 2 non-spotted dolerites using rare earth element geochemistry

Bevins, RE, Pearce, NJG and Ixer, RA

Jnl of Archaeological Science: Reports Vol 38, Aug 2021, No 103083.


The doleritic bluestones of Stonehenge, sourced from the Mynydd Preseli in west Wales, have been previously classified into three geochemical groups on the basis of compatible element geochemistry (Bevins et al., 2014). The majority of Group 1 (spotted) dolerites were identified as coming from the outcrop of Carn Goedog, Group 3 (spotted) dolerites were linked to the outcrops Carn Breseb, Carn Gyfrwy, outcrops in the vicinity of Carn Alw and an un-named outcrop west of Carn Ddafad-las and Group 2 (non-spotted) dolerites were identified as coming from either Cerrigmarchogion or Craig Talfynydd. A sub-set of the samples used by Bevins et al. (2014) have been re-analysed by solution nebulisation ICP-MS, including analyses of the rare earth elements (REE).

Analysis of the REE data reveals that Groups 1 and 3 dolerites from both Stonehenge and the Preseli have very similar REE patterns which strongly suggests that they are derived from a single intrusive body. Group 2 non-spotted dolerites are now divided, on the basis of their REE contents, into four Preseli and two Stonehenge sub-groups, (Groups 2i-2iv and Groups 2v-2vi, respectively) while Stonehenge orthostat sample SH44 plots apart from all other Stonehenge and Preseli samples in all discriminant diagrams used. The new data show that Preseli Group 2i dolerites have very distinct concave down “humped” patterns and bear no resemblance to any analysed Stonehenge dolerites. The source of Stonehenge Group 2v dolerites remains equivocal; they plot close to Preseli Group 2ii dolerites from Carn Ddafad-las and Garn Ddu Fach and have in common the presence of notable positive Eu anomalies, but they show minor differences, especially in relation to their Gdn/Ybn ratios. However, Stonehenge orthostat sample SH45 shows a near identical REE composition to Preseli Group 2iii dolerites from Cerrigmarchogion.

In terms of the interpretation of REE contents and chondrite-normalized patterns we found no differences whether using the ‘standard’ techniques used by geochemists, based on chondrite-normalized elemental ratios and values, or the quantitative approach using shape factors derived from polynomial curve fitting.

Saturday, 5 June 2021

Outwash gravel sheets in Central Pembrokeshire


Did a braided river like this once flow from the Trefgarn Gorge exit and then southwards across the site of Haverfordwest?

Extract from the geology map showing the main gravel occurrences in pink.  The present course of the Western Cleddau river can be picked out by the yellow band on the image, showing where the present flood plain is located.

I have long been intrigued by the extensive sheets of glaciofluvial gravel found in the Haverfordwest area, especially on the "plateau" incorporating Prendergast, on the NE edge of the town, and running up through the site of the Withybush Aerodrome (where of course they are massively disturbed) towards Rudbaxton and thence towards the southern exit of the Trefgarn Gorge.

There was an outcrop of these gravels on the bank that dropped away beneath Cherry Grove, where I lived as a child, and I was intrigued by them even at that tender age! 

But why does this "gravel sheet" not run along the present route of the Western Cleddau river and to the west of the A40 road?  Was there a braided outwash river to the east of the road?  That would have been a strange situation, since much of the land to the east of the road is above the 50m contour whereas much of the land to the west of the road is below 50m.  Or might the river have migrated westwards and removed vast quantities of glaciofluvial material in the process?

Various attempts have been made to recognize river terraces in the Haverfordwest area, but they have never been very successful, partly because of the extent of the built-up area and partly because terrace remnants are small and difficult to identify.  Traditionally, the gravels in the Haverfordwest area have been interpreted either as pre-glacial river gravels laid down at a time of higher sea-level, or as glaciofluvial gravels associated with one of the earlier glaciations (Anglian?).  This would make sense, if the Gwaun-Jordanston channels are assumed to have been formed by vast torrents of meltwater flowing under the ice and flowing first westwards and then southwards, through Trefgarn Gorge and towards Milford Haven.  This too makes sense, with an ice surface gradient sloping down from NW towards SE.   If the gravels are stained and even rotten -- and hence very old -- this would support the Anglian glacial hypothesis........ and the assumption that Devensian or LGM ice could not have affected central Pembrokeshire.

On the other hand, I have been thinking for some time that Devensian ice did not simply skid to a halt along the coast of St Bride's Bay, but pushed well inland.  To his credit, Prof Dai Bowen was the only person to have suggested this in his Devensian / Weichselian ice limits maps:

Recently some big exposures have been opened up in association with the building of a new Haverfordwest High School on the site of the old Sir Thomas Picton School.  Near Prendergast Cemetery and the County Archives building there is a huge mound of excavated gravels, incorporating large boulders which suggest to me either a very powerful meltwater torrent or the close proximity of glacier ice.  Sadly, I have not been able to examine any in situ gravels which might indicate the direction of meltwater flow.........

Another braided river plain (sandur), showing the complexity of anastomosing channels and suggesting the frequent lateral displacement of the dominant water routes.  We should not strictly refer to this as a "flood plain" since the "flooding" is going on for much of the time during the melting season, here, there and almost everywhere........  Multi-channel rivers like this are a nightmare to cross on foot with a heavy pack!

Kaldalon braided river and sandur in NW Iceland.  We crossed this one many times in 1960, usually in the middle of the "night" when the water level was low.

When I examined the apparently fresh glaciofluvial gravels at Picton Point, I became convinced that they were Devensian in age, and that they were laid down nor far from an ice edge:

It would be logical for the gravel sheet north of Haverfordwest to be the same age, and to have formed in similar circumstances.

If we look at the topographic map of north Pembrokeshire we can see where the main drainage routes are.  The Gwaun-Jordanston meltwater channel system has flummoxed researchers for well over a hundred years, but most people nowadays accept that they are very old, having been cut (and then modified) by sublgacial meltwater during several glacial episodes.  But they must have been used by huge torrents of meltwater at the end of the Devensian (LGM) glaciation as well.  If Lake Teifi and the other features in the Teifi Valley were created in the WAXING phase of the LGM ice advance, that makes it quite likely that meltwater escaped westwards through Cwm Gwaun and the other big rock-cut channels prior to the LGM and after it as well.  All very confusing.  That means a complex history of meltwater flow and landform development, between 30,000 and 20,000 years ago.

Main meltwater routes used during the Late Devensian.  It is assumed that meltwater flowed westwards and then southwards through Trefgarn Gorge when the ice was far advanced, and then escaped northwards into Cardigan Bay once the ice edge had retreated to the north of the present coastline.

So where should we draw the Devensian ice edge at the time of the LGM?  I am inclined to think we are talking of retreat phases here, rather than a terminal of "end moraine" position.  Watch this space.......

Rock avalanche

A fabulous image.  A rock avalanche onto the surface of Scud Glacier, British Columbia, June 2020.


Sunday, 23 May 2021

The isotope analysis debate gets vicious


Thanks to Jon for drawing attention to this, published just a few days ago.  

A veritable confusion: use and abuse of isotope analysis in archaeology
Richard Madgwick, Angela Lamb, Hilary Sloane, Alexandra Nederbragt, Umberto Albarella, Mike Parker Pearson & Jane Evans

Archaeological Journal, 18 May 2021

The expansion of isotope analyses has transformed the study of past migration and mobility, sometimes providing unexpected and intriguing results. This has, in turn, led to media attention (and concomitant misrepresentation) and scepticism from some archaeologists. Such scepticism is healthy and not always without foundation. Isotope analysis is yet to reach full maturity and challenging issues remain, concerning diagenesis, biosphere mapping resolution and knowledge of the drivers of variation. Bold and over-simplistic interpretations have been presented, especially when relying on single isotope proxies, and researchers have at times been accused of following specific agendas. It is therefore vital to integrate archaeological and environmental evidence to support interpretation. Most importantly, the use of multiple isotope proxies is key: isotope analysis is an exclusive approach and therefore single analyses provide only limited resolution. The growth in isotope research has led to a growth in rebuttals and counter-narratives. Such rebuttals warrant the same critical appraisal that is applied to original research, both of evidence for their assertions and the potential for underlying agendas. This paper takes a case study-based approach focusing on pig movements to Neolithic henge complexes to explore the dangers encountered in secondary use of isotope data.

The abstract looks innocuous enough, since it does not mention anybody by name, but it is actually a full-on and rather vicious attack on the authors of this paper:
Barclay, G. J., and K. Brophy. 2020. “‘A Veritable Chauvinism of Prehistory’: Nationalist Prehistories and the ‘British’ Late Neolithic Mythos.” Archaeological Journal 1–31. doi:10.1080/00665983.2020.1769399.

.... and a forthright defence of this one:
Madgwick, R., A. L. Lamb, H. Sloane, A. J. Nederbragt, U. Albarella, M. Parker Pearson, and J. A. Evans. 2019a. “Multi-isotope Analysis Reveals that Feasts in the Stonehenge Environs and across Wessex Drew People and Animals from Throughout Britain.” Science Advances 5 (3)

I have read through the new article, and am intrigued.  I guess a "robust defence" of the isotope analysis research was inevitable — and Barclay and Brophy would have expected it.  MPP, Madgwick and Co have clearly worked long and hard on this — but it's far nastier than I anticipated! On a quick reading, it's a classic defence based on a lot of selective citations and much nit-picking on the minor details of phraseology.  It sometimes assumes meanings or intentions that were not necessarily there. It pulls in a lot of additional isotope analytical detail, claiming that it supports the points originally made by Madgwick, Evans and others (and then questioned by Barclay and Brophy) but it is difficult here to see the wood for the trees, and does not invalidate the point made by the Scottish duo that the presented evidence of "feasting connections" did not support the 2019 conclusions.

It is clearly the intention of the authors of this new article to demonstrate that Barclay and Brophy have "abused" the isotope analyses done by Madgwick, Evans, Lamb and others.  In other words, they are accused of not really understanding it.  Well, that's a bit rich, since in my view the actual evidence presented in the "isotope analyses" papers was abused by the researchers themselves when they over-interpreted and misrepresented what it was showing.  They claim that they simply "used" the evidence --  but that's not the way I saw it!

The whole article seems to me rather disingenuous, and fails to properly address the central point of Barclay and Brophy’s paper, which was that the isotope dating specialists have been seeing everything through a Stonehenge-centred lens instead of seeing the island of Great Britain as one with a high-density traffic map, with multiple centres generating and accepting traffic from elsewhere. And I think it’s a bit rich for Madgwick et al to now claim that the media has “inflated” or misinterpreted their ideas and their press releases. One’s heart bleeds for them! They need to get real. They are the ones who write the press releases, designed for maximum media impact and coverage. They manipulate the media and manufacture myths, and know exactly what they are doing…….

Richard Madgwick, the lead author of the new article

As readers of this blog will know, I have had a go at Richard Madgwick and his friends a few years ago,  2017 - 2019:

I found most of the isotope analysis work deeply unsatisfactory and unconvincing, and I was not alone in saying this. I also thought that the points made by Barclay and Brophy (with reference to Scotland) were eminently sensible -- although I was more concerned about some of the dodgy things being said about the "Welsh connection" by the isotope analysis team.  See here:

This one will run and run….

Saturday, 22 May 2021

Sheffield Archaeology Dept under threat?

There's a strange article in The Guardian about the threat of closure hanging over the Sheffield University Archaeology Dept:

It looks like a bit of a rearguard action initiated by Mike Parker Pearson and other "experts" (don't you just love that word?) who have -- or who had in the past -- links with the Department. Of course one is sad to read of the closure -- or possible closure -- of any university department. But as we know, the Sheffield Archaeology Dept has not helped itself through its association with some very dodgy "bluestone" research at Stonehenge, "Bluestonehenge" and in West Wales -- demonstrating rather too much interest in perpetrating elaborate myths of bluestone quarrying and transport, and rather too little interest in sound science. 

"Important research on Stonehenge could be put in jeopardy if the threatened closure of one of the UK’s most renowned university archaeology departments goes ahead, leading experts on the prehistoric monument have warned."

Parker Pearson directed the Stonehenge Riverside Project, which has made some of the most impressive discoveries about the monument of modern times, including finding evidence of a second Stonehenge a mile away from the great stone circle.

He said: “Colleagues at Sheffield are working right now on material from my project at Stonehenge and if they lose their jobs it jeopardises completion of this project which has grabbed the world media’s attention over the last 15 years.”

There, in a nutshell, we have it.  A second Stonehenge?  Well, "Bluestonehenge" was claimed ten years ago to hold fragments of bluestones in its supposed stone sockets -- and that was shown to be incorrect. But it is still marketed by MPP and others, regardless of the dodgy nature of their claims.  And as for grabbing the attention of the world's media,  that's something MPP knows all about -- promoting completely outrageous theories and myths that are essentially unsupported by any evidence that can withstand scrutiny.  If that is still one of the priorities of the Sheffield University Archaeology Dept, with myth making in the foreground and sound science pushed into the background, how sound is its claim that it should be taken seriously, and spared from the axe?

Of course, the size and success of a university department can always be measured by the size of the student demand for its courses and its degrees.  This is a more effective measure than the size of banner headlines in the tabloid press.

Reputations are hard to come by, and are all too easily destroyed.........

See also:

PS.   27 May 2021

It looks as if the department's fate is sealed.  The real issue was clearly the lack of student demand.  Without students, no university department can survive, even if it specialises in developing elaborate myths and capturing the attention of the media........

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

New dating for LGM Irish Sea Ice Stream

Maximum extension of the Irish Sea Ice Stream (ISIS) at the time of the Last Glacial Maximum, 
with dated retreat stages.

Here is a big new paper from the BRITICE-CHRONO project, reporting on new dates for the retreat (with occasional readvances) of the ISIS through St Georges Channel and the Celtic Sea and the "Irish Sea Glacier" which is deemed to have pressed through the Cheshire Gap and into the Midlands of England. This new terminology is a bit confusing -- but no matter. This is a very intreresting and useful paper.


The BRITICE-CHRONO Project has generated a suite of recently published radiocarbon ages from deglacial sequences offshore in the Celtic and Irish seas and terrestrial cosmogenic nuclide and optically stimulated luminescence ages from adjacent onshore sites. All published data are integrated here with new geochronological data from Wales in a revised Bayesian analysis that enables reconstruction of ice retreat dynamics across the basin. Patterns and changes in the pace of deglaciation are conditioned more by topographic constraints and internal ice dynamics than by external controls. The data indicate a major but rapid and very short-lived extensive thin ice advance of the Irish Sea Ice Stream (ISIS) more than 300 km south of St George's Channel to a marine calving margin at the shelf break at 25.5 ka; this may have been preceded by extensive ice accumulation plugging the constriction of St George's Channel. The release event between 25 and 26 ka is interpreted to have stimulated fast ice streaming and diverted ice to the west in the northern Irish Sea into the main axis of the marine ISIS away from terrestrial ice terminating in the English Midlands, a process initiating ice stagnation and the formation of an extensive dead ice landscape in the Midlands.

In the dating, using a variety of techniques, there are a few anomalies (as one might expect) but the pattern and timing of ice retreat now seems pretty well established, following a rapid advance of thin ice right out to the Celtic Sea shelf edge at about 25,500 BP.  the authors say "this may have been preceded by extensive ice accumulation plugging the constriction of St George's Channel."  I'm not sure how strong the evidence is for this, and I'm not sure how this "plugging" might have worked, but that's a minor point.

Some of the dates now published are around a thousand years adrift from those published by the same team of researchers a couple of years ago, but there is now a much more sophisticated analysis of the data.   As we can see from the map, the ice edge retreat was remarkably rapid, progressing across terrain which is now mostly sea floor over a distance of more than 700 km from shelf edge to the Isle of Man in little more than 5,000 years.  That's extraordinary if correct -- a rate of around 7 km per year.  The key positions were:

Shelf edge  25,500 yrs BP
West of Scilly 25,300
Outer Bristol Channel  25,000
Outer St Brides Bay (off Pembrokeshire) 24,700
North Pembs coast  24,300
Cardigan Bay  24,000
North Cardigan Bay  22,700
Llyn Peninsula 21,000
Anglesey 20,900
Isle of Man c 19,000

One interesting thing is that all of these speculative ice edge positions are convex.  That means they are all interpreted as land-based.  If they had been calving bays with ice breaking free off a floating ice front, as suggested by Ed Lockhart, they would have been concave, like the ice fronts shown in the Irish Sea in the latter phases of deglaciation.  This means -- or so the current authors think --  that the ice occupying the Celtic Sea arena was not an ice shelf but a grounded glacier; and it must have followed the rules of ice physics, with a gradual (if shallow) ice gradient from source to ice front.  I have discussed this before on this blog:

This brings me to my next point, concerning the eastern edge of the Irish Sea Ice Stream.  As shown on the maps in this article, I don't think it makes sense.  it would have been nice to have more information on the interactions between the ice of the ISIS and that of the Welsh Ice Cap, both in Cardigan Bay and on the south Wales coast; maybe that will be forthcoming in future articles from the BRITICE-CHRONO group.   But let's look at the outer reaches of the Bristol Channel, where the authors show streaming ice travelling broadly NE >>SW from the constriction of St Georges Channel towards the shelf edge:

As I have pointed out to the researchers on this team many times before, this is not how ice flows when it is grounded.  Ice always flows perpendicular to the ice edge in situations unconstrained by topography, and if the ice surface was high enough (probably in excess of 350m) off the Pembrokeshire coast to maintain a flow all the way to the shelf edge at -200m, 400 km away, it must also have pushed ice much further to the east across Carmarthen Bay and up the Bristol Channel.  I have discussed this with respect to Ed Lockhart's thesis, here:

I'm gratified that the authors of this new paper have accepted my point that Caldey Island and the South Pembrokeshire coast were glaciated during the LGM, but they have not gone so far as to accept my contention that the ice reached the coasts of west Cornwall and west Devon, and that the Scilly Islands archipelago was a nunatak:

I repeat here that the Bristol Channel ice edge as shown by the authors in this paper is not supported by sound published evidence.  I would have liked more geomorphology in this paper.

But these large research teams are often very reluctant to abandon their working hypotheses.  They will get there in the end........

One of my recent reconstructions of the relationships between the ISIS and the Welsh Ice Cap.  
Here I am suggesting that Preseli was completely inundated by the ISIS; in reality 
it might be that there was a small cold-based ice cap on Preseli which protected it from 
intensive scouring or other glacial effects.  On the north flank of Preseli it is clear that there are traces of Irish Sea ice at least up to the 340m contour.

Monday, 17 May 2021

Byers Peninsula in focus


I came across a novel the other day -- called "The Killing Ship" and written by two anonymous academics under the pseudonym Simon Beaufort.  It's set on Livingston Island at the western end of the South Shetlands group in west Antarctica, with the Byers Peninsula at the heart of the story.  Well, this is where I was based with three colleagues for a whole month in late 1965 -- so we got to know it rather well after many miles of trudging back and forth across what was essentially a snow-covered landscape in the early summer season.

So I bought the book and read it -- and it was a massive disappointment.  It was obvious from the outset that the authors had not the faintest idea what the environment was like or what the landscape looked like.  And even less idea of what the practicalities of living and working on the peninsula are or were in recent decades.  The book is flagged up as a thriller, but almost every incident was laughably ridiculous, with cardboard characters who elicited no sympathy from the reader, and dialogue that was unbelievably unlike anything that goes on in real life.  The whole thing was simply a catalogue of absurdities.  How on earth did it ever manage to get into print?  One star out of five, if I'm being generous.  The ending was replete with hints of a sequel.  Oh dear -- if it ever does appear, I for one will not be reading it......

Three recent photos of Byers Peninsula, which is now a protected area frequently visited by research scientists and also by tourists.  When we were there, the landscape was completely unaffected by human activity apart from some small traces of sealing activities on the beaches in the 1800's -- one of the celebrated "last great wildernesses".........

See also:

Friday, 14 May 2021

3,000 reads of Waun Mawn article

I got a message from Researchgate to tell me that my Waun Mawn article entitled "Waun Mawn and the search for Proto-Stonehenge" has now had more than 3,000 reads.  This is an extraordinary figure for an article which was initially published on Researchgate (rather than in the pages of a specialist journal) just six months ago. 

A lot of the readers must be archaeologists -- and I will be quite pleased if just some of them, after reading it, come to the same view as me, namely that the MPP insistence on a "giant circle" at Waun Mawn, dismantled and shipped off to Stonehenge, is a wild theory unsupported by the evidence.  In short, it is nothing more than a gigantic hoax.

New bluestone research transforms understanding of Stonehenge


Monday, 10 May 2021

Alpine landscapes -- Greenwich Island


Greenwich Island in the South Shetlands group has rather spectacular alpine landscapes, with very intensive glaciation still under way.  And yet we see fragile stacks and rocky pinnacles very close to the shoreline.  An interesting juxtaposition and one of the stranger characteristics of glaciation -- effective landscape protection and dramatic landscape change right next door to one another.

This is one of the areas in which we worked with the naval helicopters in 1966.

Vestfirdir -- the west fjords -- Iceland


Here are some fabulous images of the fjord landscape of Vestfirdir, which I first visited in 1960 and where we had a big project in the 1970's.  Flat-lying basalts have been sculpted during a succession of intensive glacial episodes, and the west-facing fjord troughs are truly spectacular.

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Iceland satellite image

 This is one of the most striking satellite images I have ever seen -- it's from Apple Maps, and shows Iceland as it appears with a sprinkling of snow in the high mountains and on upland plateaux in the north.  The ice caps in the south are very clearly shown, and when you zoom in all sorts of landscape features are shown with remarkable clarity, enhanced by the subtle colourings.

Friday, 30 April 2021

River Boyne log boats

One of the recent images of a log boat almost 3m long and about 60 cms wide.  

There has been more recent coverage of the discoveries of log boats in the mudbanks of the River Boyne near Drogheda.  Of course, Newgrange is not far away  -- so the temptation is to say that the log boats are somehow connected, and that they must be Neolithic in age.  Maybe they were used for the transport of stones?

However, expert opinion seems to be that of the 20 log boats found thus far, the majority are likely to be of medieval age, probably occupied by a single paddler for crossing the river or fishing.  Work is ongoing, and it will be interesting to see whether any of them can actually be dated to the Neolithic or Bronze Age.

Monday, 26 April 2021

Banc Llwydlos passage grave number one


The previously described Banc Llwydlos passage grave, seen from the closed end -- which is probably where the burial chamber was located.  This is about 450m away from the Banc Llwydlos "village",  to the NW.  About 40m away from this passage grave is the strange "ruined cromlech" with the massive dolerite slab resting on a small boulder and another cantilevered slab........

Grid reference:  SN 08746 33223.

Banc Llwydlos -- another passage grave?


Yet more features from Banc Llwydlos.  At this location the old maps show "hut circles", but on my visit today I was only convinced by ONE circle or oval on the west bank of a northward-flowing stream.  It's quite a distinctive feature which others have interpreted as one small circle and another larger one.  The embankment is easily distinguished, made of boulders and smaller stones which are largely turf-covered -- and therefore difficult to photograph.  The maximum diameter is about 22m -- far too large to be a hut circle.  So I'll call it a ring cairn or embanked circle.  There was no obvious "entrance" to be seen.  Location SN 09303 33114.

Of greater interest is a rather indistinct feature to the west of the "circle" made of two more or less parallel embankments about 50 - 60 cm high and obviously cored by boulders and stones.  Each bank is about 1m wide, and the elongated hollow between the two banks is about 1m wide. The southern end is closed off, and at the northern end, about 8m away, there is an area of irregular mounds and hollows which may be made of material taken from an entrance portal or maybe from a mound that existed at one time.  My instinct is to classify this feature with the other three passage graves already known from this area of moorland.  It's not as spectacular, but in scale and orientation (opening to the north) it looks as if it might be part of a family..........  Grid ref:  SN 09285 33102.


Friday, 23 April 2021

South Pembrokeshire pipeline research

This looks interesting -- at long last, the results of the survey work undertaken by Cotswold Archaeology along the rote of the gas pipeline installed in 2005-2007 between Milford Haven and Tirley in Gloucestershire. I'm most interested in the Pembrokeshire bit of the 317 km route. The book (in which Tim Darvill is the lead author) is published by Oxbow at £20.  From the published summary of the book:

Timeline is a synthesis of the results and covers over 10,000 years of human history, from at least the Mesolithic period to the beginnings of industrialisation. Pipelines by their very nature provide a thin slice across the contemporary landscape and present opportunities to explore past landscapes in areas not usually affected by commercial development. They often provide new and complementary information to existing knowledge that challenges our preconceptions of the past – where people lived and the routine of daily life. Ken Murphy (Dyfed Archaeological Trust) writes about Iron Age settlement in upland areas, Andrew David (formerly Historic England) and Prof Tim Darvill (Bournemouth University) report on Mesolithic and Neolithic activity (the latter including the discovery of a new henge monument), and Heather James (now retired) focusses on Early Medieval farming and diet. Seren Griffiths provides a radiocarbon chronology based on Bayesian analysis for many of the key sites, and James Rackham has written a synthesis of the past environment. Jonathan Hart sets the scene and provides discussion. The project produced large datasets and the book is a gateway to a significant online resource that can be explored at CA Archaeological Reports website (keyword search: South Wales Gas Pipeline).

It's one of my great regrets that when the pipeline work was under way, I was too preoccupied with writing my Angel mountain books to keep an eye on the open trench across the landscape.  I suspect that it would have told us a great deal about the Pleistocene deposits in the inland parts of Pembrokeshire......

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Swinside and Castlerigg


Swinside stone circle, near Broughton-in-Furness, Lake District

Castelerigg stone circle, near Keswick, Lake District

Many thanks to Charlene and Martin for these pics of the two best preserved stone circles in the Lake District.  They are both made from a mottley collection of locally sourced glacial erratics of all shapes and sizes.  There was clearly no preferential use of "pillars" rather than slabs or boulders.  It's assumed that both were made from stones quite closely spaced.  If there ever were stone circles worth the name in Pembrokeshire,  these two classic sites probably provide good models showing what they might have looked like.  Both Castlerigg and Swinside are probably Neolithic rather than Bronze Age structures.

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Devensian till at Parrog, Newport


Beneath the Parrog footpath, in front of the houses, there are several excellent exposures of till which is likely to be of Devensian age.  There has been a lot of disturbance here over the centuries, and it's difficult to see what the full sequence of deposits is. The till is up to 2m thick, and it is not particularly clay-rich, so I would hesitate to call it "Irish Sea till".  It's more like a melt-out till or ablation till, and it has characteristics in common with the till deposits that we find on clifftops and in embayments all around the Pembrokeshire coast.  It's overlain by about 1m of slope breccia, which is then overlain by another slope deposit made of colluvium, and then by a sandy modern soil.

So what we have here is the top part of the Devensian sediment sequence, matching well with the upper part of the sequence at Abermawr and many other sites.

Raised beach platform, Parrog, Newport

Two exposures of remnants of the raised beach platform at Parrog, in front of the houses and not far from the old lifeboat station at Cwm.   There are not many remnants left, but these two are quite spectacular, about 3m above the current platform which is somewhere between HWM and LWM.  Interestingly enough, these remnants are on the western flank of the estuary -- just like the spectacular traces at Poppit, on the Teifi estuary. 

There are no traces of the raised beach itself on these platform remnants, but there is one exposure of broken bedrock breccia overlain by solidly cemented sandrock with traces of horizontal bedding.  The exposure is limited in extent, and one cannot see how these deposits relate to the till deposit seen in the vicinity in other cliff sections.


Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Throwing good money after bad

Extract from the 2021 Newsletter:


The Association received a generous legacy from the late Rev Michael Coombe of £2000
which was placed in the Research Fund. Unsurprisingly in view of the contraction,
cancellation and deferment of many research activities, there were fewer applications than
usual in October 2020, but two fresh applications were considered in February 2021. A
number of projects for which grants had been made in 2019 have not yet been able to go

Note:  this is by far the biggest grant of the current round:

£2330 to Professor Mike Parker Pearson for excavation at Waun Mawr stone circle, Preseli.
The planned third and final season of excavation for which a grant was made in 2019 could
not take place in 2020 and is now planned for 2021. Waun Mawr appears to be a part dismantled
stone circle whose size is closely comparable to Stonehenge and is close to the
proven quarry sources for Stonehenge’s bluestone and rhyolite stones. Stones from Waun
Mawr may have been transported to Stonehenge.


It looks as if the boys and girls will be back again in September 2021 for yet more digging at Waun Mawn, in spite of the fact they they showed scant regard for the conditions that should have applied during the 2018 dig -- to the point where they got a pretty severe rap over the knuckles from Natural Resources Wales.  I don't know when this application for funding for "Waun Mawn Season Three" was submitted, but whenever it was, the application was submitted under false pretences.  If they had any sense at all, the Cambrian Archaeology Research Fund managers should have known that the "Waun Mawn stone circle" is not an established fact but a speculation; that the phrase "whose size is closely comparable to Stonehenge" is meaningless; and that the "proven quarry sources" are hotly disputed and unsupported by the evidence.  Also, the sentence "Stones from Waun Mawn may have been transported to Stonehenge" is disingenuous in the extreme, since there is not a scrap of evidence in support of the speculation.  Sadly, CAA staff seem to be completely unaware of the scepticism about the Waun Mawn "findings" across social media, and unaware that established archaeologists including Tim Darvill and Mike Pitts have said that the evidence presented by MPP and his team thus far just does not stack up.

No doubt MPP and his team will be delighted by the new funding -- but one has to wonder what the application looked like, and one has to wonder at the gullibility of those who are charged with looking after the Association's research funds.  From where I stand, the CAA research grant will simply be used for the perpetration of an elaborate myth.


The glorification of the absurd


Here we go again -- the Council for British Archaeology is doing its bit for the glorification of the absurd.  As expected, here comes the latest puff for the "Lost Circle" of Waun Mawn, and for the amazing "discoveries" of the MPP team.  It would appear that in British archaeology there is nobody left who is capable of knowledgeably scrutinising anything;  whatever appears in print, no matter how outrageous, is simply accepted as being true.  Thoroughly depressing.

The article from the MPP team:
Antiquity , Volume 95 , Issue 379 , February 2021 , pp. 85 - 103

The discovery of a dismantled stone circle—close to Stonehenge's bluestone quarries in west Wales—raises the possibility that a 900-year-old legend about Stonehenge being built from an earlier stone circle contains a grain of truth. Radiocarbon and OSL dating of Waun Mawn indicate construction c. 3000 BC, shortly before the initial construction of Stonehenge. The identical diameters of Waun Mawn and the enclosing ditch of Stonehenge, and their orientations on the midsummer solstice sunrise, suggest that at least part of the Waun Mawn circle was brought from west Wales to Salisbury Plain. This interpretation complements recent isotope work that supports a hypothesis of migration of both people and animals from Wales to Stonehenge.

...and here is my take on things:

Waun Mawn and the search for "Proto- Stonehenge"
November 2020
Interpretation of West Wales megalithic structures

This paper examines Waun Mawn in its regional context, on the northern flank of Mynydd Preseli in Pembrokeshire. The geology is typical for the area, with outcrops of Ordovician mudstones and meta-mudstones and igneous rocks belonging to the Fishguard Volcanic Group. The landscape has been intensively glaciated on more than one occasion, and glacial and periglacial deposits are widespread. There is an extensive litter of erratic boulders (mostly of dolerite) scattered across the hillside. Many of these boulders have been used in prehistoric stone settings around Waun Mawn, Tafarn y Bwlch and Banc Llywdlos. Included in these stone settings are single and double standing stones, ring cairns, passage and gallery graves, and what appear to be collapsed cromlechs. Parker Pearson (2017, 2019) has claimed that Waun Mawn carries traces of a dismantled "giant stone circle" which provided bluestone monoliths for Stonehenge. The evidence cited in two publications is examined, and does not withstand scrutiny. From examinations of the shallow excavations in 2017 and 2018, it is concluded that there might have been some small standing stones which were later removed or broken up, but it is not demonstrated that there ever was a small stone circle here, let alone a "giant" one. Furthermore, there have been no control studies in the neighbourhood that might demonstrate that the speculated feature has any significance. There is nothing at Waun Mawn to link this site in any way to Stonehenge, and it is concluded that the archaeologists have simply "discovered" what they wanted to find, and have created an elaborate and unnecessary bluestone narrative around it. No evidence has been brought forward in support of the claim that "this was one of the great religious and political centres of Neolithic Britain".

There is one glimmer of hope for mankind -- at the last count, there had been 2,890 reads of my Researchgate article.  Some people, out there, are taking it seriously..........

Sunday, 4 April 2021

The Banc Llwydlos settlement site -- was it really a village?

The settlement at Barnhouse, Orkney.  This is on a similar scale to the settlements at Skara Brae and Banc Llwydlos.

Further to my post about the Banc Llwydlos "village", I have come across this interesting article from a few years ago, dealing with settlement clusters in the Neolithic and Bronze age.  It's a simple and unpretentious article, sticking to the facts and mercifully free of purple prose and fantastical claims relating to ritual structures and  purposes.  It examines many settlement clusters and refuses to get hung up on the matter of how a "village" should be defined.  The author makes the interesting point that many of these small settlements seem to have been ephemeral.  They were created, used for a while, and then abandoned.  So he doubts that they were associated with the introduction of agriculture, or with the development of hierarchical societies.  He thinks that they were created simply because people enjoyed social interactions and communal living, and because local conditions dictated the choice of a site -- with regard to good hunting or fishing, shelter or good access to routeways or river or mountain crossings.  He doubts to that there were defensive considerations in most cases.

This is all very utilitarian -- a mile away from the socio-political and quasi-religious narrative woven by Parker Pearson and others when trying to explain why people might have wanted to shift 80 or more bluestone monoliths from West Wales to Salisbury Plain......... Rathbone does not deny that many settlement sites were located in close proximity to burial sites and maybe stone settings as well, but his view is one of a technically unsophisticated society in which local practices and living conditions were of far greater importance than political links with places 200 km away.


Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 79, 2013, pp. 39–60 & The Prehistoric Society 
doi:10.1017/ppr.2013.2 First published online 3 May 2013

A Consideration of Villages in Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain and Ireland



Neolithic and Bronze Age settlements in Britain and Ireland have, on occasion, been referred to as being prehistoric villages but there is little agreement as to what a settlement from these periods should consist of for it to be confidently identified as such. A particular problem is that the development of villages in Britain and Ireland is commonly seen as being a medieval phenomenon and most discussions regarding the essential characteristics of villages are centred on medieval evidence. This paper examines which features of a prehistoric settlement can be used to determine if the use of the term ‘village’ is appropriate, ultimately finding the number of contemporary households to be the primary concern. Sites which have been identified specifically as being Neolithic or Bronze Age villages are critically reviewed, as are a selection of sites where the designation may be appropriate but where the term has so far been avoided. The number of sites from both periods that could justify being identified as being villages is found to be low, and in all cases it seems that moves toward larger nucleated settlements are geographically and chronologically restricted and are followed by a return to dispersed settlement patterns. This curious pattern of the rapid creation and decline of villages at a regional level is contrasted with different explanations for the development of nucleated settlements from other areas and during other time periods, which revolve around economic and agricultural intensification, the development of more hierarchical societies and the increase in structured trading networks. They do not fit well with either our current perceptions of Neolithic and Bronze Age societies, or with the strictly localised moves towards nucleation that were observed. New explanations with a more local focus are found to be required.

Saturday, 3 April 2021

The Nevern Celtic Cross monolith

 The High Cross at Nevern (usually referred to as the Nevern Celtic Cross) stands just a few feet from the church wall, in the same churchyard as the famous bleeding yew trees. It's the most famous and spectacular Celtic Cross in Wales, standing almost 13 feet high, with wonderfully intricate carvings of Celtic motifs on all four faces.  Each face has four panels.  The wheelhead at the top of the cross (with almost identical carvings front and back) is made from a lump of sandstone, and it's fitted onto the shaft with a mortise and tenon joint.  The "fit" is not at all perfect, leading some to conclude that it was made somewhere else, by different craftsmen who may not have intended it to have been perched on a tall pillar. Both parts are though to have been crafted in the tenth or eleventh century AD -- ie around the time that the first "Normanised church" was built on this site.

There's an old legend relating to the wheelhead.  It says that St David was carrying the mighty stone on his back from St Davids to Llanddewi Brefi, and stopped for a rest at Nevern.  The stone was then known as "David's stone".  Anyway, at Nevern his old friend Brynach chided David for carrying around what was simply a piece of self-glorification, and as a result David repented and left the stone behind.  Brynach was delighted, and so the stone remained at Nevern until it was incorporated into the Celtic Cross 400 years later. So that suggests much greater antiquity for the wheelhead, at least -- if this sort of mythology has any value at all...........

The shaft or pillar is the really interesting thing.  It's made of grey-blue unspotted dolerite, and is slightly bent, and there are signs that it has been shaped or trimmed near its top prior to the carving of the motifs.  But its length is staggering.  Colt Hoare recounted that there was, some time in the 1800's,  a proposal that it should be moved to a position further away from the church wall, and a workman dug down seven feet without hitting the base of the stone.  So its full length is at least 17 feet (5.18m) long -- which makes it one of the longest non-sarsen monoliths in the UK.  

The Rudston monolith in Yorkshire is longer (25 feet tall), but it has no carvings on its surface.  It has probably stood there since the Neolithic or Bronze Age, and it's speculated that it marked a sacred site which was then commandeered by the Christian community when churches and churchyards began to appear on the landscape.

So was the Nevern Church Celtic Cross made from a monolith that was already in position before Brynach, or David, or any of the other Celtic saints arrived in the neighbourhood?  It's possible.

The Rudston monolith

So where did the 17 ft dolerite monolith come from?  It cannot have been picked up locally, since there are no substantial dolerite outcrops to the north of the River Nevern, and no elongated dolerite erratics either.  It cannot have come from Carn Meini or Carn Goedog, since those dolerites are spotted -- so I must give this matter further thought.......