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

Friday 31 December 2021

John Glacier -- all quiet on the southern front


I had my attention drawn to this rather interesting article written by a team including three staff members from my old Geography Department in Durham. It's a detailed and very fascinating examination of the geomorphology and glaciology of the ice free area that includes Nelson Peak and the Miller valley in the Pensacola Mountains in Antarctica.  I have a proprietary interest in that neck of the woods, since the glacier that bears my name (thanks to the Antarctic Placenames Committee) lies just to the north of the field study area!  I have located my little glacier on the map above, which comes from the article.  

John Glacier is about 8 km long, and in its upper section 2 km wide.  It's one of a series of outlet glaciers which tumble over the Washington Escarpment, carrying ice from the East Antarctic Ice Sheet towards the Ronne Ice Shelf and the Weddell Sea.

Measured ice velocities in the Weddell Sea Embayment

Small et al describe the context as follows:

The Neptune Range is a massif within the Pensacola Mountains in the south-east portion of the Weddell Sea embayment.  The Pensacola Mountains are dominated by folded sandstones, mudstones, conglomerates and limestones, with minor igneous rocks exposed in their western part (Schmidt et al. 1978). The Neptune Range consists of the Washington Escarpment with associated ridges and valleys, the Iroquois Plateau, the Schmidt Hills and the Williams Hills. These latter two massifs are located on the eastern margin of the Foundation Ice Stream (FIS) and are separated from the Washington Escarpment by the ice-filled Roderick Valley. The Washington Escarpment trends north-west to south-east for > 100 km and, at its southern end, the Academy Glacier flows from the polar plateau and is confluent with the FIS. To the east of the Washington Escarpment the Iroquois Plateau comprises a large snowfield at an elevation of ∼1400m. Outlet glaciers from this snowfield overtop the Washington Escarpment in numerous places and flow west into Roderick Valley and, via Childs Glacier, into the trunk of the FIS.  In several places, peaks on the Washington Escarpment are sufficiently high to prevent overriding by ice from the Iroquois Plateau.   In the lee of these highest peaks are several ice-free valleys that are blocked at their entrances by ice lobes that spill into the lower valleys from outlet glaciers flowing from the plateau towards Roderick Valley. 

Antarctic Science pp 1- 28 (2021) Cambridge University Press on behalf of Antarctic Science Ltd. doi:10.1017/S0954102021000237

Ice-free valleys in the Neptune Range of the Pensacola Mountains, Antarctica: glacial geomorphology, geochronology and potential as palaeoenvironmental archives


We describe the glacial geomorphology and initial geochronology of two ice-free valley systems within the Neptune Range of the Pensacola Mountains, Antarctica. These valleys are characterized by landforms associated with formerly more expanded ice sheet(s) that were at least 200 m thicker than at present. The most conspicuous features are areas of supraglacial debris, discrete debris accumulations separated from modern-day ice and curvilinear ridges and mounds. The landsystem bears similarities to debris-rich cold-based glacial landsystems described elsewhere in Antarctica and the Arctic where buried ice is prevalent. Geochronological data demonstrate multiple phases of ice expansion. The oldest, occurring > 3 Ma, overtopped much of the landscape. Subsequent, less expansive advances into the valleys occurred > 2 Ma and > ∼1 Ma. An expansion of some local glaciers occurred < 250 ka. This sequence of glacial stages is similar to that described from the northernmost massif of the Pensacola Mountains (Dufek Massif), suggesting that it represents a regional signal of ice-sheet evolution over the Plio-Pleistocene. The geomorphological record and its evolution over millions of years makes the Neptune Range valleys an area worthy of future research and we highlight potential avenues for this.


Debris covered surface in the Miller Valley -- from the paper by Small et al 2021.

The fieldwork done by David Small and his colleagues was concentrated in the ice-free nunatak areas near Nelson Peak and Mount Hawkes, and the article contains a number of excellent illustrations which show what the landscape looks like.  To me, it looks very old indeed -- and this is confirmed by the dating work undertaken.

It looks as if John Glacier is fed by two icefalls on the edge of the Washington Escarpment, with the southern one most active.  In the photos a rocky crag is visible between the two icefalls.  Like the unnamed glacier to the south, the lower part of the glacier appears to have retreated substantially, since it is flanked by wide areas of moraine and accumulated slope debris. On the USGS 1:250,000 map of this area, extensive areas of water are shown beyond the snout as frozen meltwater lakes; but I suggest there is a mistake in the reading of the satellite imagery, and it is more likely that these areas are exposures of very ancient blue ice.  Whatever the truth of the matter, it looks as if the snout has lost contact with the ice that fills the depression to the west.  This fits with the regional interpretations of Small et al, who suggest that the general ice surface in this area has dropped by at least 200m since the time of maximum glaciation.  That would not be surprising, since we are after all in an interglacial episode right now, and as a result of global warming, too many ice surfaces are wasting too quickly.  

If I manage to find out anything more about my little glacier, I'll do another post!

Some of the geomorphological features of the Miller Valley - Nelson Peak area. The glacier at the top edge of this illustration is similar to John Glacier, which lies a few km to the NE, on the other side of Hannah Ridge. 

The mammoth documentary -- at last, some decent science


‘Attenborough and the Mammoth Graveyard’ was first shown at 8 p.m. on December 30 on BBC One.

Five stars for the mammoth programme. At last, a documentary worthy of the BBC -- in contrast to those appalling programmes featuring MPP and his "astonishing discoveries" in West Wales. And not a single mention of Stonehenge...........

We watched it last night, and it was a delight to see David Attenborough at his best -- bowled over by the wonder of things, celebrating great discoveries, asking probing questions of the experts, and making his own assessments of the things he was looking at and examining through his own magnifying lens.  He was at the centre of the programme (well, Attenborough and mammoths had to be an unbeatable combination!) but that was fine, since he is such an affable guide to quite complex matters, and because he is a GOOD SCIENTIST.    He has an extraordinary ability to explain in very simple language the things we are looking at on the screen.    And his interpretations are always sensible and conservative -- no hyperbole and no mad speculations.  In this he was assisted by the archaeologists -- all of whom were at pains to point out that they still do not know the truth of what happened in that damp river valley 215,000 years ago, and that it may take ten years of painstaking research to work everything out.  So words of praise are due to Prof Ben Garrod, Lisa Westcott Wilkins and all the other archaeologists who have contributed to the research thus far.

As indicated in my earlier post, the most amazing things about the find of the "mammoth graveyard" are (a) its age, in MIS 7, before the Wolstonian glaciation, and (b) the association of Neanderthal implements with the bone assemblage, and with scratch marks on some bones, implying butchering of the animals and possibly hunting as well.

In the commentary David Attenborough referred to the "lost 100,000 years" during which the Wolstonian ice expanded and contracted maybe several times.  I have tried to highlight this gap in our knowledge of the Quaternary on a number of occasions -- let's hope that there will now be a renewed research effort targetted at working out precisely what went on and where the ice limits might have been.

There is vast press coverage.  This one is interesting:

The Gop -- Wales's Silbury Hill

A drone image of the mound

Vertical satellite image of the Gop

Gop y Goleuni
Neolithic Barrow and Mound
South of Prestatyn, Clwyd (OS Map Ref SJ087801)

This is the third tallest prehistoric mound in Britain, after Silbury Hill and Marlborough Mound.  It's virtually unknown, which is a pity..........

Built during the Neolithic mainly of limestone blocks and stone, it  reaches 12 metres in height and covers an area of 100 metres by 68 metres. Its original purpose is unknown, although it commands spectacular and wide ranging views. Excavated in 1886 and 1901, no human remains were found at the site only the bones of horses and oxen along with many flint arrowheads were recovered. This proliferation of arrows found at the mound in the past lead it to be known by the locals as Bryn-y-Saethau, meaning 'Hill of the arrows'.

Coflein record:

Gop Cairn is a titanic cairn, 75-80m in diameter and 12m high, centrally disturbed. It was explored in 1886-7 by a central shaft and drifts and faunal remains only were encountered.
It is traditionally a beacon site.
J.Wiles 15.10.2002

The Gop Cairn is Wales's largest prehistoric monument and only surpassed in size by the prehistoric mounds of Silbury Hill and the Marlborough Mound in southern England. It commands a mighty vista from its elevated limestone plateau on the north coast of Wales, close to Prestatyn. A shaft sunk to its centre in the nineteenth century shed little light on its original purpose but it was clearly a place of enormous significance. The Gop Cave in the foreground has produced human skeletons, prehistoric flints and pottery. (Extract from the forthcoming 'Historic Wales from the Air', RCAHMW, 2012).

Sunday 26 December 2021

Lemaire Channel


 Great photo of the Lemaire Channel, Antarctic Peninsula -- posted on Twitter by Laurence Dyke.  We went through this channel on the John Biscoe in 1966, in weather rather like this.  One of the most spectacular navigable channels in the world of ice -- very heavily glacierized, but with clear water in most summer seasons.  This is really a fjord landscape, with old interfluves that have been almost destroyed by intensive ice action over millions of years, leaving these pinnacles as the last remnants of long-gone steep-sided ridges.  The waters here are very dangerous, with underwater shallows and grounds in quite unexpected places.

Friday 24 December 2021

Barclay and Brophy fight back..........

Stopping a juggernaut is not easy......

This gets more and more interesting.   It's been building up for the last decade or more -- a growing disquiet about the manner in which the Stonehenge area has been  flagged up as THE great symbol of Neolithic and Bronze Age civilisation in the British Isles.  The place to which everything gravitates, and the place to which tributes are due and homage has to be made.   One of the drivers of this Stonehenge juggernaut is Mike Parker Pearson, aided and abetted by many other senior archaeologists who have contributed to the development of an ever more elaborate Stonehenge / Durrington narrative.  And the Stonehenge team, backed up by the marketing power of English Heritage, have loved it, since the great British public, the media and visitors from abroad always have a soft spot for elaborate and heroic stories.  Stonehenge, one of the wonders of the world!  And the more the visitors pour into Stonehenge and nearby sites like Avebury, the louder becomes the ringing of the cash tills.........

Anyway, here is a brief summary of the lead-up to the latest published article:

Chapter One:

"Four Nations Prehistory": cores and archetypes in the writing of prehistory. Gordon Barclay, September 2019. In book: History, nationhood and the question of Britain (ed) Brocklehurst, Helen & Phillips, Robert'Four_Nations_Prehistory'_cores_and_archetypes_in_the_writing_of_prehistory

My take on it,  as a perfectly reasonable and well-argued paper:

Chapter Two:

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

Evans, J., Parker Pearson, M., Madgwick, R. et al. Strontium and oxygen isotope evidence for the origin and movement of cattle at Late Neolithic Durrington Walls, UK. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 5181–5197 (2019).

My take on the article by Madgwick et al:
........ in addition to which I have made many other posts on the "over-interpretation" of the isotope evidence.

Chapter Three:

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.

My take on the article:

Chapter Four:

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

This was my take on this rather disingenuous, arrogant and insulting article:
I referred to this article as including "gratuitous character assassination", and I stick with that assessment.

Chapter Five:

The ‘omphalos of Britain’: iconic sites and landscapes, methodological nationalism and conceptual conservatism in the writing of ‘British’ prehistory. A reply to Madgwick and collaborators 2021.
December 2021
Publisher: Eligor Publishing
ISBN: ISBN 978-1-7397594-0-7

This is not the most media-friendly or eye-catching of titles for an article, but the contents are pretty explosive, since the authors are obviously very angry, and feel that they have been defamed.  They not only feel that the attack on them by Madgwick et al was unprofessional and unacceptable -- but that they have been "hung out to dry" by the very journal that published their 2020 article.  This is what Gordon Barclay said on his Twitter feed:


Dr Kenny Brophy (@urbanhistory) andI have published a paper on my website, at… .

This responds to an article published by Madgwick et al in May 2021, in the Archaeological Journal. 
The article we are responding to, by Madgwick et al (2021), is available here: […]. 
Madgwick et al (2021) presents itself as a response to an earlier article by Dr Kenny Brophy and myself published in 2020 […]. 
However, the article published by Madgwick et al 2021 avoids dealing with our key points, misrepresents what we had written and puts words in our mouths. It does this in language about us and our work that were astonished to find in a reputable peer-reviewed journal.
Specific accusations by Madgwick et al (2021) are, we are advised by counsel, defamatory. Concern has been expressed that such an ill-judged text got through refereeing and editing into print. 
A promise by @royalarchinst that we could publish a response to Madgwick et al (2021) was broken. Repeated requests by my solicitors that they reconsider this decision were rebuffed. A formal complaint to @tandfnewsroom, publishers of the journal¸ provided no redress. 
Our work has been misrepresented; our reputations have been attacked; our chance to reply to Madgwick et al (2021) has been summarily removed. We spent 3 months incurring significant legal costs to persuade the Royal Archaeological Institute to keep its promise. 
We spent another 3 months trying to get Taylor & Francis to find a solution. We decided that we could not continue to allow this attack on our motivations, ethics and competence to remain unchallenged. We have therefore published less formally. 
Our new article, we believe, also makes a significant contribution to the study of methodological nationalism and conceptual conservatism, and the part they play in the writing of ‘British’ prehistory from within the Wessex echo-chamber. 
We do not expect that it will have any effect on the progress of the ‘Stonehenge juggernaut’ but hope that others will not be put off challenging the ‘intractability of old national narratives of the past’. 

Like Barclay and Brophy, I am mystified by the attitude of the journal editors and publishers, and can only assume that they have been got at by the archaeological establishment in an attempt to maintain the party line on Stonehenge and Durrington, and to eliminate dissent.  There is a big issue here, which we will return to in due course.........

Anyway, this is the Abstract:

This paper in part responds to an article (Madgwick et al 2021) which in turn presented itself as a response to an earlier paper of ours (Barclay and Brophy 2020). But, like our earlier paper, this one has a wider remit. We had explored the presentation of the supposedly 'national' 'unifying' role of monuments in a geographically restricted sector of southwestern England-what we called the '"British" late Neolithic mythos'. Madgwick and his collaborators' response fails to address the key points raised in our paper and, in doing so, in our view, provides further evidence of both methodological nationalism and conceptual conservatism in continuing to present a prehistory written around and prioritising evidence gathered in this restricted area. It does this apparently without any recognition that that research is being carried on within a problematic theoretical framework.

So now we have three things highlighted by the authors:  interpretative inflation, methodological nationalism and conceptual conservatism.    Deep and heavy stuff.......

The new paper starts by listing the misinterpretations / misrepresentations by Madgwick et al (2021) of the main points of the original (2020) Barclay and Brophy article. I agree with them -- the writers of that "Response" were highly selective in their attack, and evaded the most important issues raised.  As B&B  point out:

".....our 2020 essay was a wide- ranging review which directly addressed the erection of the current mythos about the Stonehenge landscape and its supposed centrality in the ‘British’ Neolithic, which has been promulgated over some fifteen years in different media. We also offered a consideration of the problematic but unacknowledged issues caused for the writing of ‘British’ prehistory by some academics’ continued uncritical attachment to a narrative written, and a vision developed, from the narrow perspective of evidence produced from a part of south-western England. It has since been pointed out to us how this unrelenting aggrandisement of the position and significance of this small area may have affected the outcomes of funding applications and research assessment exercises."

There is some discussion of the Scottish Neolithic, which is also relevant to the Welsh Neolithic -- and I agree with the authors that the points made in their original paper were not overtly "nationalistic" but were made in a context of a discussion about the whole of Great Britain and the regional patterns of culture and development.  In the ongoing discussion of the isotope evidence, I agree with Barclay and Brophy that the conclusions drawn on the scantiest of "evidence" are wildly over the top -- and illustrate perfectly the overwhelming desire by Madgwick, Parker Pearson and others to prove their ruling hypothesis, come hell or high water. Their bias in both sampling and interpretation is something I have commented on in this blog over and again. "Conceptual conservatism" is defined as: "the disinclination to relinquish a preferred interpretation in the face of contradictory indications, or in this instance, to sustain and promote a preferred interpretation on slight foundations."  Spot on.

On pp 8-9 of the article there is a very effective demolition of the hypothesis of "the centrality of Wessex".  The authors say: "The promotion of the mythos is not the first time that authors of Wessex-focused prehistory have tried to foist their interpretative model upon the prehistory of the rest of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland on the twin foundations of limited data but strong belief, only for the whole thing to be quietly abandoned once contradictory data appear (Brophy 2015). We have in the first decades of this century emerged from a situation in which there were no known Neolithic houses in Wessex. This misconception was eventually overturned by excavation........"

There is an effective consideration of the way that the unconscious bias works in the "Wessex echo chamber", spilling over into mysticism, mythology, nostalgia, nationalism (and "Englishness") and politics.  

In a discussion of the role of the media, Barclay and Brophy make very similar points to those I have made on this blog over and again.  There is no point in Madgwick et al blaming the media for misrepresenting their ideas.  They are the ones who write the press releases,  promote "spectacular" headlines, and do the media interviews, and they must take full responsibility if there is any "inflation" of their claims. I agree with B&B that inflated and politically-charged lines of interpretation have been advanced by some of the researchers who have promoted the mythos of Stonehenge as the centre of all things.  They talk of "the relentless media boosting of the mythos that has been going on for more than a decade" -- and in my view they are again spot on.

There is an interesting section on Brexit (we can't escape from it) and B&B remind the reader that Madgwick and Parker Pearson have both been complicit in pushing the absurd idea of "a Neolithic Brexit" to the media.

There's more on "Broad Brush Prehistory", with the authors pointing out the dangers of using technological or cultural similarities between widely separated areas in order to reinforce a very dodgy core-periphery myth.

Their conclusion:

The Response (Madgwick et al 2021) avoids dealing with the main thrust of our critique: the ‘elephant in the room’ of English, British and even Irish archaeology. That is, the extent to which an almost mystical attachment to ‘our most precious and sacred’ landscape (Holland 2020) distorts the writing of prehistory across these islands. And the way in which complex and very far-reaching interpretations that happen to coincide with that world view are erected using, we would argue, unsatisfactory, certainly insufficient archaeological and scientific foundations. The Response does not address the neo- colonialist thinking that underpins that narrative and, oblivious, continues to provide examples of it (eg Response, 368, in relation to claims about ‘the whole of Britain’), as well as of vaguely apprehended, broad-brush treatment of prehistories outside the ‘core’. In fact, it seems the most likely legacy of this Response is to act as a warning to those who try to stand in the path of the ‘Stonehenge juggernaut’ – by mounting any challenge, however well-supported by evidence, against the ‘intractability of old national narratives of the past’ (Hanscam 2019, 1). In that respect, we hope that others will not be discouraged.

The Response claims that it is ‘an absurdity’ to link the people of Neolithic Britain to ‘contemporary political debate’, but we have demonstrated that this has in fact been done by at least some of its authors in the promotion of the mythos – the anachronistic idea of a prehistoric ‘British identity’ and ‘Brexit’, for example. Our positions and our arguments have been misrepresented or avoided; replies have been offered to caricatures of our points, rather than their substance; and words have been put in our mouths. In the process we have been accused of behaving dishonestly and unethically, our motivations and our professional standing and competence have been attacked in emotive and personal language we were astonished to find in a reputable academic journal. Indeed, counsel’s opinion is that some of the Response’s accusations are defamatory. Publication in a peer-reviewed journal, however, protects an author from any legal consequences. 

The writers of the Response make our points for us, that this strand of archaeological interpretation focused on Stonehenge, its hinterland, and the Wessex chalkland continues to operate in a theoretical vacuum, in which its wider historiographical, cultural and socio-political context are ignored or disregarded. It avoids any consideration of the impact of those places’ iconic status, the consequent distorting effects on the writing of ‘British’ prehistory, and the enduring appropriation of this manner of writing by the far right in Britain in the 20th and 21st centuries. It continues to see Britain (and in some
measure Ireland) beyond the study area (apart from Orkney of course) as an inadequately- defined, marginal ‘other’ from which to select things that however tenuously tie these ‘peripheries’ to their ‘core’.

Most importantly, the mythos demonstrates the damaging effects over many decades of methodological nationalism and conceptual conservatism, ignoring the effect that this world view has on the selection and interpretation of evidence and the construction of narratives: ‘pan-British centres’, round the ‘omphalos of Britain’, hosting ‘the first united cultural events of our island’ organised by people with ‘societal roles that were “national” in nature’, and promoting identity’ in the context of a ‘Neolithic Brexit’ belong in the time of Fox’s Personality of Britain (1943) and Hawkes’s A Land (1951), not 2021.


So there we are then.  No doubt this is not the end of this affair -- but Barclay and Brophy deserve the thanks of all who are interested in prehistory for tackling head-on -- in the politest possible terms -- the hugely damaging and unreliable mythology swirling around Stonehenge, invented and promoted by people who should know better.


I'm sorry that some of the links on this post do not seem to be working properly.  I'm trying to sort out what the problem may be........

Thursday 23 December 2021

Happy Christmas to all!

 A very happy Christmas and peaceful New Year to all our friends and occasional contributors!  May we continue to exchange useful information and argue with as much good humour as we can muster!!

By the way, for those who are unfamiliar with the Swedish language, you pronounce the greeting thus:  "Gowd Yule! okk gott Nitt Oar".  So now you know.

Wednesday 22 December 2021

That big lump of flint....


This is a fabulous 3D rotating image from Sketchfab.  Thanks to Tony for drawing attention to it.

Text from the web site:

This mega-core was found at the West Kennet Palisaded Enclosures, a Late Neolithic monument complex, dated to about 2,500 BC, immediately south of Avebury in Wiltshire. It was found in a hedge where it had been thrown by a farmer who was annoyed that it had disrupted his cultivations. The core is exceptional due to its extraordinary size and weight, 16 kg, which makes it undoubtedly the largest piece of worked flint from Wiltshire. There is no flint of comparable size from the area. This forced archaeologists to look further afield, to East Anglia, where objects of similar size, raw material quality and workmanship have been found. It seems likely, therefore, that this core was transported, possibly traded, along the Chalk Ridgeway to the ritual complex at Avebury. The quality of the flaking together with its size and location at a ceremonial monument suggest that it was revered, as it is today, as some form of totemic item, prohibiting its destruction for the manufacture of everyday flint tools.

There is this article, unfortunately behind a paywall:

Phil Harding, John Lord
Antiquaries Journal Vol 97, Sept 2017, pp. 49-63


This paper describes the discovery of a massive, fan-shaped flint core from West Kennett Farm, near Avebury in Wiltshire, a site that is noted for two Late Neolithic palisaded enclosures. The discovery of the core has renewed focus on three similar artefacts from East Anglia, the importance of which has been overlooked. These cores arguably constitute some of the largest individual pieces of systematically worked flint from Britain. The paper considers the implications of the discovery at West Kennett Farm, where nodules of this size are absent, with the movement of flint across Britain, and concludes by discussing the role of these ‘mega-cores’ with current thinking on the function of stone in Neolithic Britain.


Without looking at the paper, it's difficult to say how sensible the idea may be that the big lump really did come from East Anglia.


I have now managed to take a look at this article, and I am not impressed.  In the detailed discussion of how and why this lump of flint travelled from its place of origin to West Kennet there is a brief discussion of the possibility that it might have originated somewhere nearby, in a chalk formation that has now been removed following many millions of years of erosion and landscape change.  That is ruled out, not very convincingly, because if the sarsens can be deemed to be relics or residuals from long-gone chalk layers, why not some big lumps of flint as well?  The conclusion is that the flint boulder probably originated around 200 km away,  in the chalklands of East Anglia, somewhere near the other flint boulders described.

It's also suggested that it might have been transported by our Palaeolithic or Neolithic friends because it was regarded as a sacred object in its own right, not just as a handy source for the knocking off of flint implements. Hmmm.  Moving swiftly on, the most extraordinary thing about this paper is that there is not a single mention of ice, glaciation or till.  As Olwen Williams-Thorpe and colleagues have demonstrated long since,  and as many other glacial geomorphologists have agreed, glacier ice did at one time flow in from the NE, moving SW more or less parallel with the chalk outcrop of the Chiltern Hills.  The evidence is difficult to interpret, since there were many changes in ice movement directions, and the chalky till was certainly recycled (or at least, some of it was) as older glacial deposits were overrun in later glacial episodes.  Here is a summary of "glacial opinions"!!  The grey arrows are thought to represent the later stages of the Anglian Glaciation of MIS12, as the powerful stream of ice driven from the Scandinavian Ice Sheet overwhelmed and displaced ice originating in the uplands of Britain.

See this:

LEE, J R, ROSE, J, HAMBLIN, R J, MOORLOCK, B S, RIDING, J B, PHILLIPS, E, BARENDREGT, R W, AND CANDY, I. 2011. The Glacial History of the British Isles during the Early and Middle Pleistocene: Implications for the long-term development of the British Ice Sheet. 59-74 in Quaternary Glaciations–Extent and Chronology, A Closer look. Developments in Quaternary Science. EHLERS, J, GIBBARD, P L, AND HUGHES, P D (editors). 15. (Amsterdam: Elsevier.)

The most extensive glaciation to affect the British Isles was the Anglian Glaciation of the late Middle Pleistocene (MIS 12). Evidence for this consists of tills, outwash deposits and widespread glacial erosion surfaces throughout both the terrestrial and offshore records (Perrin et al., 1979; Cameron et al., 1992; Fish and Whiteman, 2001; Hamblin et al., 2005). This glaciation also represents the first ‘shelf-edge’ expansion of the BIS along the northwest European margin (Stoker et al., 1994). The history and extent of the BIS during other late Middle Pleistocene cold stages is vague and open to several different interpretations from the same evidence. Current debate surrounds attempts at trying to establish a reliable chronology for glacial deposits within this part of the stratigraphical record, and whether there are just two Middle Pleistocene glaciations during MIS 12 and 6 four separate glacier expansions during MIS 16, 12, 10 and 6.

In short, it is perfectly feasible that the West Kennet flint boulder is a glacial erratic, carried either the whole way from its source or part of the way.  It is careless in the extreme for Harding and Lord to have completely ignored this possibility, and they should have studied this article and cited it.

"Geochemical provenancing of igneous glacial erratics from Southern Britain, and implications for prehistoric stone implement distributions" by Olwen Williams-Thorpe, Don Aldiss, Ian J. Rigby, Richard S. Thorpe, 22 FEB 1999, Geoarchaeology, Volume 14, Issue 3, pages 209–246, March 1999;2-7/abstract

Tuesday 21 December 2021

Penitente in the Andes


A great pic of penitente (sharp edged snow pinnacles) in a snowfield at 5200m, on the flank of a volcano in the Andes.

Penitentes usually form at high altitude, where high solar radiation, cold air and extreme aridity cause snow just to evaporate away (sublimate), without passing through a water phase.

Here are some more:

Determinism, core and periphery

This short 2019 book chapter underpins the whole recent acrimonious debate about interpretative inflation in archaeology.  In it, Gordon Barclay traces the roots of the "Wessex bias" in prehistoric archaeology back to Mackinder, Sir Cyril Fox, Semple, Huntington, Childe and others who were motivated by a sort of geographical determinism;  academic geographers have been arguing about this for a century or more!  The debate about crude determinism, possibilism and probableism was pretty well over and done with by the 1970's in geographical circles, but maybe it has hung on in the field of archaeology until much more recently?  If one is looking for patterns and seeking explanations of distributions, it's quite appealing to simplify complexity into something like this:  ancient rocks are in the north and west, which is where the highlands are, which is where the acid soils are, which is where the climate is inhospitable, which is where farming is difficult, which is why the communities there are more primitive than the cultured communities of the dry and sunny lowlands.........  From there, it is not a very great leap over to ideas of core and periphery, accessibility and remoteness, backwardness and progress, intelligence and stupidity, masters and servants.

Anyway, this is worth reading:

"Four Nations Prehistory": cores and archetypes in the writing of prehistory.   Gordon Barclay,
September 2019
In book: History, nationhood and the question of Britain (ed) Brocklehurst, Helen & Phillips, Robert
Publisher: Palgrave'Four_Nations_Prehistory'_cores_and_archetypes_in_the_writing_of_prehistory

The writing of much twentieth-century British prehistory can be related to arange of wider cultural issues. First, the wholly unconscious functioning of England's peculiar national consciousness, which is perceived in England as not even being 'nationalism' of the kind found in other cultures (cf Craig, 1996, p. 103), for 'it represents a history whose nationality is not in question, Determinism, core and periphery and to which national issues are therefore' irrelevant'. This can manifest itselfthrough the dismissal of alternative narratives from the periphery as 'nation-alistic' (Thomas, 1998).  Second, the consequent tendency to erect English patterns as a norm against which other patterns can be seen to be abnormal (cf Craig, 1996, pp. 102-3); this can be seen in supposedly 'British' prehistorieswhere non-core material is included inconsistently and' with limited local interpretative context (Longworth and Cherry, 1986; Dyer, 1990; Parker Pearson,1993). Third, the particular place of 'landscape' in the English tradition and the almost mystical role of a regionally restricted conception of an archetypal landscape in the English national consciousness (cf. Pittock, 1999), the effectsof which are read through directly to the practice of archaeology and the writing of prehistory. Fourth, the operation of English culture in all aspects as one of a few, or perhaps the only 'organic' culture with an unbroken tradition (as argued by Craig, 1996). In archaeology this appears as an apparent incapacity to deal with the possibility of incomplete sequences of development in 'core' areas such as Wessex or its 'satellite cores', or the absence of types of material in the core that occur or are better preserved on the 'periphery'. This powerful core can, when convenient, redefine 'peripheral' material as 'core', like the settlement evidence from Orkney.  
I have attempted in this chapter to discuss broad trends in the writing of prehistory, prompted by the apparent lack of self-awareness of how political (albeit unconsciously) much of the practice of archaeology in the UK is, and the apparent difficulty of writing worthwhile prehistories of these islands from the 'core' in Britain, whether the modern metropolitan core or a core based on the archetypal English landscape and its archaeology.

Monday 20 December 2021

Mammoths on the festive menu


Here we go again!  Another pre-publication TV docudrama, this time on the subject of the mammoths and other remains found in a gravel pit near Swindon. It's on Dec 30th, on BBC1, and it's called "Attenborough and the Mammoth Graveyard".  There is, of course, vast pre-broadcast publicity, including a piece in yesterday's Observer:

Actually, I rather trust David Attenborough, who has a great knack of communicating scientific discoveries in an accessible and reliable way, without going off into flights of fancy.  So, fingers crossed that the programme will be informative, entertaining and well grounded.

The dig at this gravel quarry site has been coordinated by DigVentures, which is a social enterprise company, rather than by one of the university departments of archaeological trusts.  One of the leaders of the project is Lisa Westcott Wilkins.  The discoveries in the pit were first investigated by two amateur fossil hunters, Sally and Neville Hollingworth.  One of the lead investigators is Prof Ben Garrod from the Univ of East Anglia, who has written extensively on the woolly mammoth.  A number of other university personnel have been brought in to help with specialist analyses.

Five mammoths, a steppe bison, a brown bear, and rumours of other animal remains as well -- and in addition flint tools including a Neanderthal hand axe.  Some of the bones appear to have butchery marks on them -- so whether the animals were hunted, or just discovered, butchered and used for food, bones, skins and other body parts will no doubt be revealed. From one of the reports:

On top of the mammoths themselves - two adults, two juveniles and an infant that are thought to be 220,000 years old, they have also found giant elks, tiny creatures like dung beetles and snails and even seeds, pollen and plant fossils, as well as human tools like an axe.

What interests me most of all here is the context. These remains were found in a Hills Group gravel pit to the north of Swindon about four years ago, in an area of mud and other fine-grained sediments apparently beneath one of the Thames terraces.  The precise location has not been revealed.  However, the history of the Thames terraces is pretty well known, and no doubt we will find out eventually where the finds fit into the glacial - interglacial sequence.  However, it has been revealed that these finds are around 225,000 years old. That's surprisingly early, given that most woolly mammoth finds date from the Devensian glaciation, around 20,000 years ago. The press release refers to MIS7 as the age of the finds.  That means they slot into a very mysterious interglacial episode now referred to as the Aveley Interglacial, between the Early Wolstonian glacial phase and the Saalian glaciation of Northern Europe.   But some authorities think that the late Wolstonian is the equivalent of the Saalian, which means that the Aveley Interglacial (between 243,000 and 191,000 years ago) may have been a time of oscillating interstadial climate.  As I have said in many earlier posts, the Wolstonian glacial episode remains very difficult to decipher.

The sequence of climatic changes:

MIS 2 – 29,000 yrs BP  Late Devensian -- peak glaciation.   COLD
MIS 3 – 57,000  mid-Devensian
MIS 4 – 71,000  Onset of Last Glacial Period / Weichselian / Devensian / Wisconsin in North America

MIS 5 – 130,000   Eemian interglacial, or Ipswichian in Britain -- many substages. WARM

MIS 6 – 191,000  Illinoian glacial in North America, Saalian in northern Europe and ?? Late Wolstonian in Britain)

The mammoth and other finds now announced are c 225,000 years old.

MIS 7 – 243,000 (Aveley Interglacial in Britain)  WARM

MIS 8 – 300,000 Early Wolstonian in Britain.    COLD

MIS 9 – 337,000 (Purfleet Interglacial in Britain)  WARM 

MIS 10 – 374,000   COLD

MIS 11 – 424,000  Hoxnian Interglacial in Britain   WARM

MIS 12 – 478,000 Anglian Glacial in Britain, Elster glaciation in northern Europe.  COLD

We still do not know how the location of these finds fits into the pattern of glaciation in this area.  There is a strong possibility that the Anglian ice extended further south than Swindon, but where was the Wolstonian ice edge, and when did it reach its maximum position?  Do these finds relate to a time of deteriorating climate towards the end of the Aveley interglacial or interstadial phase, when tundra was expanding and mammoths and other steppe animals were moving into terrain which had previously been characterised by taiga or cool temperate forest?  Or was it the other way round, with steppe animals moving north as the climate ameliorated?

The steppe mammoth was enormous -- but the individuals examined from this site appear to be somewhat smaller than those which ranged across the steppes hundreds of thousands of years earlier.  They may have  grown smaller over time -- suggesting that they were von the way out, probably down to changing environmental conditions and maybe increased competition for resources.  They are thought to have been the ancestors of the beloved woolly mammoth which thrived during the most recent episodes of the Ice Age.

All will be revealed.  Whatever the climatic interpretations may be, I'm sure there will be relevance for what happened a bit further south, on Salisbury Plain.

 PS.  Thanks to Tony for drawing attention to this interim report:


The fossils are mostly of steppe mammoth (Mammuthus trogontherii), a species inhabiting open grassland habitats across Eurasia before 200,000 years ago. These remains were mostly uncovered in the base of a former river channel, possibly of what is now the Thames, and usually lying against large boulders. These boulders were mostly of a rounded shape, indicating they had been moved along the bed by very rapidly flowing water. Overlying the mammoth bones were fine gravels and sands. These were also deposited in a channel, but one in which water velocity was much lower, and certainly too slow to move the fossils. Given that the bones are unabraded, they cannot have moved far. It therefore seems likely that the mammoths died close to or within the channel and that subsequent movement was sufficient only to lodge them against the boulders.

Samples taken from the sands and gravels have been analysed to date the site as well as to recover plant and invertebrate bones. Measurements made using the Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) technique by Prof. Phil Toms at the University of Gloucestershire show that the mammoths died around 225,000 years ago. This age is significant as it coincides with a warm episode of the Pleistocene geological epoch (the period from 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago, commonly called the 'Ice Age'). Indeed, the modern range of beetles found in samples from the sands and gravels, and studied by Dr Enid Allison at Canterbury Archaeological Trust, suggests they formed in a climate only slightly cooler than today. Nevertheless, and unlike now, the landscape around the mammoth graveyard would have been open grassland lacking in trees, as evidenced by the ecological preferences of molluscs (snails) studied by Dr Matthew Law of L-P Archaeology. In other words, the landscape would have been perfect grazing for the steppe mammoth.

Wednesday 15 December 2021

Pot-hole paradise

Now here are some PROPER holes, carved on a steeply sloping rock face in Norway.  They were taken by Prof Jan Mangerud, a glacial geomorphologist with whom I was in frequent contact in the good old days.  He's now retired, of course (he's even older than I am), but is still writing articles and contributing to assorted Facebook pages and blogs.

These pot-holes are fabulous, carved out beneath deep wasting ice by very powerful meltwater streams armed with tumbling boulders.  The rock arch in the top photo is particularly spectacular (and very unusual), having been formed through the coalescence of two large potholes that were adjacent to one another on the rock face. 

I suspect the photos are from the famous Rullestad Gorge.  Here are a couple of extra pics:

Saturday 11 December 2021

Message to MPP: please pay attention!

MPP at the so-called Rhosyfelin "bluestone extraction point".  He will show it, with great enthusiasm, to any TV crew that asks him to perform.......

Yet again, in the latest TV extravaganza about the "giant pit circle" at Durrington, MPP has appeared in person, down at Rhosyfelin, examining the so-called "bluestone extraction point" and pointing out, with utter certainty, that this is where there was an identical geological match match between bedrock and one of the Stonehenge bluestone monoliths, and that this was the exact spot from which the stone was taken by the famous Neolithic quarrymen.  I don't remember his words exactly, but I recall that the "discovery" was deemed to be "a perfect match" -- and "astonishing" or  "amazing" or "extraordinary".  (Those words featured very prominently in the documentary, to the point where the viewer began to worry for the future of the English language......)

As I have repeatedly said, that is all complete nonsense.  For a start, the geologists have not found an exact match between a sample precisely on this spot and one of the Stonehenge monoliths.  What we can say -- and this is very different -- is that a sample taken from within a few metres of here had geological characteristics that were similar (NOT identical) to the characteristics of some of the foliated rhyolite fragments found in excavations at Stonehenge.  MPP has completely distorted the geological findings for his own purposes, and he should have been taken to task by the geologists, instead of letting him get away with it.  My take on the geological work is that there is a reasonably strong chance that some of the fragments at Stonehenge have come from a destroyed bluestone that originated somewhere near Rhosyfelin, where the "Jovian fabric" occurs in some of  the rock outcrops.  The Jovian fabric samples did NOT come exclusively just from one sampling point. And even if Rhosyfelin is a likely source area for some material found at Stonehenge, that does not mean that bluestones were taken from here by Neolithic quarrymen.

Secondly, if MPP was to stop and look at the rock face at his so-called "monolith extraction point" he would see that there is no way that a single monolith could have been taken from here.  For a start, the crevice or gap in the rock face is completely the wrong shape -- far too narrow for the extraction of a single coherent monolith, given that there are crossing fractures everywhere in the country rock.  And even more significant, the rock surface at the "extraction point" shows a series of quite prominent fracture scars which are weathered differentially.  Some fractures are very old, weathered and smoothed off, and others are moderately fresh or very fresh, with sharp edges.  The little rock projections at the base are particularly interesting in that they are heavily abraded, probably by glacial meltwater.  So there has been no breakage of rock here for more than 20,000 years.  I have described all of this on many occasions, for example in this post in 2018: 

The so-called "extraction point" with fractures of various ages, showing that the rock face here has been created by the breaking off of smallish slabs during a number of different episodes -- exactly as we would expect of an exposed rock face subject to the processes of natural weathering and erosion.

So why is it that a senior archaeology professor consistently refuses to listen to what he is told by people who know what they are talking about?  Why does he refuse to even consider any evidence that happens to be inconvenient?  Why does he persist in repeating ad infinitum a narrative characterised by wild fantasies and fabricated evidence? Answers on a postcard please......

Gaffney has history......

The giant stone row that never was.......

What with all the fun and games relating to the "giant pit circle"  around Durrington Walls, it's worth reminding ourselves that the man blowing the trumpet and flying the flag is Vince Gaffney, who is clearly on a mission to out-do MPP in the scale and significance of the things he finds.  Or claims that he has found.  Do you remember the famous case of the "gigantic stone row" which proved simply be be the product of a very fertile imagination and a gullible media?

Well, here we go again, with the "gigantic pit circle" which has shown up -- so we are told -- on all the wonderful gadgetry used in the latest TV spectacular.  Are we really being expected to suspend our disbelief all over again, and to accept what we are being told, just because it's all terribly scientific?

The circle and the pits -- or those that they chose to tell us about......

Artists reconstruction, complete with little Neolithic diggers

Friday 10 December 2021

The Durrington "giant pit circle" -- fantasies or facts?

Following the garbled nonsense of the latest TV spectacular on the "giant pit circle" and everything else, featuring Uncle Tom Cobbley and all, it's refreshing to see something a bit more sober.

Leivers, M. 2021 The Army Basing Programme, Stonehenge and the Emergence of the Sacred Landscape of Wessex, Internet Archaeology 56.

I've been looking at this article, which makes it absolutely clear that the abundant pits around Larkhill, Bulford, Tidworth and Perham Down, at Ludgershall and between Bulford and Tidworth are natural features (mostly solution hollows and pits aligned on fractures or seepage lines), possibly with some opportunistic excavations associated with flint mining.  The only exceptions are post-holes, of which there are also many.  Most of the pits and hollows, little and large, have been infilled with sedimentary debris by natural and human agencies -- which is not surprising, since many of them date back to the Neolithic.

Matt Leivers appears to have no time at all for the Stonehenge obsession, and seems to think that the features in his area of study were created by people "doing their own thing" -- in spite of the fact that Stonehenge was not all that far away.  He says: "There is no apparent pattern, and whatever the solution hollows may have come to represent later in the Neolithic in terms of a boundary marker or separator of spaces, they had no such significance in the Early Neolithic, if such can be determined from the distribution and contents of the mostly small pits on either side of them." 

This is interesting:

"Thirty-eight of the Bulford pits contained over 1300 sherds of Woodlands Grooved Ware. Radiocarbon dates obtained from animal bone and charred hazelnut shells in the same features have provided modelled dates centred on 2950 cal BC, indicating that the Woodlands Grooved Ware from Bulford is almost as early (if not as early) as that from Orcadian sites claimed to be the style's place of origin. Modelling of Orcadian radiocarbon determinations has suggested that the Grooved Ware assemblage from Barnhouse dates to between 3160 and 3090 cal BC and 2890–2845 cal BC; that from Sanday to between 3210–2935 cal BC and 2815–2650 cal BC; and at the Stones of Stenness the sequence starts at 3020–2890 cal BC (Richards et al. 2016). 

Such apparent contemporaneity poses several questions about contact between Wessex and Orkney around 3000 BC, but it is significant in a second way, as being exactly contemporary with the construction of Phase 1 of Stonehenge. The phase 1 Stonehenge ditch is dated to 2990-2755 cal BC (Marshall et al. 2012), while Aubrey Hole 32 dates to 3000-2890 cal. BC (Parker Pearson et al. 2008, 18). It seems inconceivable that the community undertaking whatever activities resulted in the Bulford pits did not know about Stonehenge, and it is at least possible, and even probable, that the builders of Stonehenge and the Bulford people were the same. If this is the case, and if the Aubrey Holes were the earliest phase of Stonehenge, and if it is true that they mark the location of a bluestone circle (Parker Pearson et al. 2020, 164-8), what made users of  'Orcadian' pottery bring stones from Wales to this spot in southern England?"

A number of the pits and hollows were clearly associated with intensive flint knapping activity, with thousands of flint sherds around the edges and incorporated into later infilling; this supports the idea that the pits themselves might well have been the favoured sites for flint mining or quarrying.  They had to do it somewhere.......

On the circumference of a giant circle?  Hmmm.....

Leivers seems convinced that the "alignment" of larger hollows in the northern part of the Durrington landscape is entirely natural, and that it is in no way a part of a "giant circle of pits" so enthusiastically promoted by Vince Gaffney and his team.  In addition, he doesn't sound too impressed by the "southern arc" of hollows investigated by Gaffney and his colleagues with all their technical gadgetry -- quite apart from the fact that the supposed "giant pits" do not lie neatly on the circumference of any "great circle" at all -- and are much better interpreted as two intersecting rough alignments.  The author's scepticism comes out here:

"At Larkhill and MoD Durrington, all of the investigated examples were natural in origin, but at both the line was interspersed by smaller anthropogenic features (of very different dates: one Early Neolithic in the entrance of the Lark Hill enclosure, one Late Neolithic and a focus for burial and deposition at MoD Durrington). What this suggests is that the arc of 'massive pits' need not have been of any one thing, or of any one date. While many of the examples in the northern half were ancient geological features related to the topography, the southern parts of the arc (or some of them) could have been created by hand, very much later, and not all at once. None the less, even one of these features would have been an enormous undertaking that poses any number of questions, including when, why, and (not least) what happened to the spoil?"

I had almost forgotten that it is still possible for archaeologists to do archaeology without getting completely swept away by the obsession with myth creation.  So thank you, Mr Leivers........

This graphic was shown over and again in the TV documentary, and the repeated claim was made that the pits were uniform, 10m across and 5m deep.  In fact there was great variation in the characteristics and dimensions of the pits.  And where are all the other pits that were searched for around the supposed circumference of the "giant circle?  Have they just disappeared?

Thursday 2 December 2021

The Newgrange glacial erratics

Map of ice movement directions in and around Ireland, discerned from striae, landforms and 
glacial erratic transport evidence.

Thanks to Philip for raising this matter.  I just want to cement some of the points already raised in discussion.

The large stones found at Newgrange, in the standing stone setting, inside the passage (sidestones and roof stones) and on the outside of the mound (the kerbstones) are highly variable geologically, and there has been much discussion about how they were brought to the site.  Some archaeologists who are fond of heroic deeds and jolly narratives, think that many of them were carried up the River Boyne on skin boats.  Others think they were carried by the builders of Newgrange from sites that were deemed to be significant or sacred. 

However, those who have even a basic knowledge of geology and geomorphology have different ideas:

Quote: "It is not known with any certainty how the larger stones which form the kerb and passage and chamber of Newgrange were brought to the site. Many of these stone slabs, 550 in number, were collected from where they had been lying in the landscape. Because many of the stones were found to be weathered, it is believed they were not quarried, so there would have been a huge logistical task in finding suitable boulders dotted throughout the landscape............  Most of the kerb stones are made of grit (greywacke) or slate, and according to the archaeologists they were collected rather than quarried."

So the Newgrange story seems to be one of "stone or monolith gathering" -- not quarrying and long-distance transport -- in contrast to the Stonehenge story, in which a weird quarrying and long-distance transport hypothesis has been done to death for the best part of a century........

The glacial history of the Boyne valley - Newgrange area is well known.  Ice movements (and hence erratic transport routes) were very complex across several glaciations -- sometimes, local Irish Ice was dominant, flowing broadly NW >> SE, but in phases when the Irish Sea Glacier was dominant, ice flow was broadly NE >> SW.   There was an oscillating zone of confluence or conflict more or less in the position of the present coast.   Ice directions ranged across a quadrant of about 90 degrees, and maybe more. Some believe that there was at one time a northwards flow of ice from a Wicklow Hills ice dome. I doubt that -- the Wicklows are too small in scale and too far away.  Anyway,  erratics of granite, basalt, greywacke, gabbro, granidiorite, volcanic breccia, limestone, sandstone and other rock types were inevitably  moved across the Newgrange site from the NW, N or NE. At times the ice flow seems to have been more or less W >> E, and that is the direction of the most recent streamlining.

The main ice domes in Ireland, and main directions of ice movement.  Source:

This is a simple study (now somewhat out of date) of the glaciation of the Boyne area:

Quotes from: "Glacial and fluvioglacial deposits in the Boyne Valley, Ireland" -- “All of the erratics suggest a former ice movement from NW to SE”.   Clearly not all of them.  "The Boyne Valley was influenced by ice from two sources: the north central midlands and the Irish Sea Basin ... Erratics from the Irish Sea Basin have been found as far inland as Slane” (west of Newgrange).  

More information on ice movements has come from the BRITICE-CHRONO work published in the past three years -- but nothing departs significantly from the map at the head of this post.

Some of the glacial erratics used as standing stones at Newgrange

Thanks to Philip for mentioning the work of MPP and his merry gang of quarry hunters.  This is what they said about Newgrange, last year in a book chapter:

Mike Parker Pearson, Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer, Joshua Pollard, Colin Richards & Kate Welham. Long-distance landscapes: from quarries to monument at Stonehenge. Chapter in:
MEGALITHS AND GEOLOGY. Boaventura, Mataloto & Pereira, eds. (2020). pp. 151-169
Stonehenge was by no means the first megalithic monument in the British Isles to incorporate a solstice alignment. Newgrange passage tomb in Ireland was built a few centuries earlier (c. 3300-2900 BC) and the rays of the midwinter-solstice sunrise famously shine down its long entrance passage (O’Kelly, 1982; Hensey, 2015). Newgrange and its neighbouring passage tomb at Knowth incorporate rocks that are not from their immediate environs. Whilst the large kerb stones, passage stones and roof stones of greywacke come from Clogher Head, some 5 km away on the coast, other raw materials were gathered from further afield. Quartz blocks were brought from the Wicklow Mountains, some 70 km to the south, whilst granodiorite, gabbro, siltstone and granite stones probably came from up to 80 km to the north (Cooney, 2000: 136-138). The greywacke kerb stones weigh generally less than a ton, and the other rock types must have been brought in as basket-loads of cobbles and small blocks.

There was no shortage of stone materials within 5 km - 10 km to build the large, complex passage tombs of the Bend in the Boyne from local materials, so the importation of stones from long distances is likely to have been a deliberate and symbolic act. The various types of stone, especially quartz, may well have had a significance and colour that the builders sought. They may also have embodied a sense of place from their different origins, literally and metaphorically constructing the tombs out of the substance of far-off domains brought together into a single home for the ancestors whose cremated remains were placed inside.

I find this extraordinary and irresponsible.  Parker Pearson and his colleagues knew, when they wrote this, that the Boyne Valley has been heavily glaciated, and that there are erratics, drumlins, meltwater channels, eskers, glacial and fluvioglacial deposits in abundance across the landscape.  And yet they cannot bring themselves to even consider the possibility that the large weathered and abraded stones at Newgrange might be glacial erratics, and might have been gathered up from the neighbourhood. So they avoid the words "glacial" and "erratic" like the plague, and talk of the importation of stones from a long way off as "a deliberate and symbolic act".   To make matters worse, the words of the text were signed off by the geologists Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins, who were apparently unaware (as in Pembrokeshire) they they were looking at a glaciated landscape.

To summarise, the "gathered" large stones used in the passage and as kerbstones at Newgrange are most likely to have been picked up from the litter of glacial erratics scattered across the landscape.  The evidence is that they are heavily abraded and weathered -- just like the bluestones in the bluestone circle at Stonehenge. 

In continues to amaze me that MPP and the other archaeologists working at Stonehenge absolutely refuse to acknowledge that weathering crusts and abraded and faceted surfaces are characteristics of most of the bluestones. Do the Stonehenge bluestones look like quarried stones? The answer is a simple "NO"......... and that will be proved when cosmogenic dating is done on them.