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Friday, 12 February 2021

Antiquity article on the "Lost Circle" -- review


This (from the paper) shows the opened excavation pits, the postulated sockets (all other 
pits are ignored), the standing and recumbent stones, and the "solstitial alignment" 
which is not actually aligned..........

I have forced myself to read it. Here is my review. All in all, it is a truly appalling paper, and I am surprised it was accepted for publication. There is a possibility that there might have been some small standing stones here, in a landscape full of interesting Neolithic and Bronze Age features (which are all ignored by the authors). There is no reason at all to assume any link of any sort with Stonehenge.


The original Stonehenge? A dismantled stone circle in the Preseli Hills of west Wales.,12 February 2021.

Mike Parker Pearson, Josh Pollard, Colin Richards, Kate Welham, Timothy Kinnaird, Dave Shaw, Ellen Simmons, Adam Stanford, Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer, Clive Ruggles, Jim Rylatt and Kevan Edinborough
Antiquity , Volume 95 , Issue 379 , February 2021 , pp. 85 - 103



This is quite a short article — surprisingly devoid of detail, given the extraordinary claims being made by the authors….

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.

Close to Stonehenge’s bluestone quarries? On the second line of the article — not a good start. Unsupportable assumption number one……

Quote: "From the perspective of our ‘Stones of Stonehenge’ project (Parker Pearson et al. 2015a, 2019), the hypothesis that Stonehenge was built for the ancestors could be expanded to explain the significance of the bluestones as markers of ancestral identity that originally formed a circle or monument in Preseli (Parker Pearson & Ramilisonina 1998).”

What on earth does this mean? What do they mean by bluestones? No definition…. And “markers of ancestral identity”? What does that mean? If they were, would there not be a preferential use of spotted dolerite and foliated rhyolite (since this are the stones claimed to have been quarried) in the west Wales landscape? There is no such preferred usage.

Quote: "The identification and excavation of bluestone megalith quarries at Craig Rhos-y-felin and Carn Goedog in the Preseli Hills, which yielded evidence suggesting that they date to c. 3400–3000 cal BC, narrows the search for a dismantled stone circle to a setting of former standing stones at Waun Mawn (Figure 1; Parker Pearson et al. 2015a, 2019). These four monoliths—three now recumbent—originally stood in an arc………

This is all disingenuous and misleading. The authors know that the “megalith quarries” are hotly disputed — and the literature disputing the quarrying hypothesis should have been cited in a responsible fashion. The dating at both Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog falsifies rather than supports the quarrying hypothesis. And the idea that the stones formally stood in an arc is not widely accepted — they may even have been in a simple alignment or stone row.

Fig 1 — Locations of assorted features. This breaks all the rules of map-making, since it selectively cites sites deemed to be supportive of the hypothesis, and fraudulently ignores everything else. Why was this not jumped on by the journal editor?

Fig 4 — “four remaining standing stones”? Wrong. There is one standing and the others are recumbent — never shown to have been standing. The plan shows how the search for sockets was conducted only in predetermined locations — with everywhere else ignored.

Quote: "Prehistoric artefacts recovered from Waun Mawn include a flint scraper, a flint chip and a trimmed, circular mudstone disc.” Singularly unimpressive — we are not shown these features. Another reference to "the Carn Goedog megalith quarry, 5km to the east.”……….. repeat nonsense often enough, and some will believe it is the truth…...

The “evidence”

Quote: "Of the 12 sub-surface features located, six (including the two detected in 2017) were stoneholes with emptied sockets from which standing monoliths had been removed. We also excavated the stoneholes of two of the fallen stones at the ends of the arc; together, these indicate that the diameter of this former stone circle was 110m (Figure 4). Many of the stoneholes had a shallow ramp up to 0.50m long. The six stoneholes and four surviving standing stones (ten in total) may have originally formed part of a circle of 30–50 stones, although further excavation is required to refine this estimate.

This is completely inadequate for a scientific paper. We are just told what to believe — there is no attempt to present evidence and then interpret it in a responsible and scientific manner. We are under no obligation to believe this at all — these are extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence, and the authors cannot be bothered to present it. And Antiquity allows them to get away with it……

In the paras that follow, we can take nothing seriously because there is no attempt at objective description of the features seen, and everything his interpreted before it is described. There are references to ”sediment filling empty sockets” but we have no idea whether these holes or hollows have simply been excavated by the archaeologists themselves — in other words, the suspicion persists that these “sockets” are simple excavation artifices. The descriptions of the “evidence” are completely inadequate.

OSL Dating — 18 samples — effectively useless. Quote: "laboratory characterisation and screening revealed more complex depositional histories for the socket fills than suggested in the field, indicating a mixing of archaeological materials and substrate in the basal layers, and the infiltration of more recent materials throughout the fills.” In other words, all that is shown is that some of the materials closer to the surface (whether or not it can be referred to as “socket fill material”) was younger than some of the material deeper down. So it should be. This does nothing to confirm the presence of sockets or deliberate fills placed where there used to be stones.

Radiocarbon dating: 43 samples — 31 from assumed stone holes. Quote: "Many of the dates fall in the ninth to fifth millennia cal BC—broadly the Mesolithic—and these can be excluded as residual in the stonehole fills, as they fall outside the ranges provided by OSL dating. Similarly, those dates that are later than the OSL date range for construction (during the second and first millennia cal BC—the Bronze and Iron Ages) can be excluded as intrusive.

In other words, a wide range of dates, so let’s just ignore or exclude all those that happen to be inconvenient. Is this really a serious paper, or is it a spoof? Seven dates are  “chosen” including 4 from “stoneholes”. Quote: "As some of these samples could also have been either residual or intrusive, we propose that the stone circle was erected in c. 3600–3000 cal BC.” Never seen such convoluted reasoning before — it's pure jiggery pokery. Effectively, they have no supporting radiocarbon evidence.

Geology — no evidence of any sort. Why Cerrigmarchogion is chosen as a likely source for the unspotted dolerite boulders is a complete mystery, when there are unspotted dolerite littering the landscape and outcropping in the neighbourhood. It's quite extraordinary that the local geology has been ignored completely — in spite of me pointing it out to the authors on my blog and in my Researchgate article. Ixer and Bevins are included in the list of authors. Why did they allow this? This is nothing short of academic malpractice.

The socket (91) that supposedly “matches” stone 62 at Stonehenge — this is so laughable that we can just ignore it. The socket (so called) and the “pentagonal” stone are not the same shape at all…….. and this is obvious if one examines the photos reproduced in the article.

Solsticial alignment — stones 013 and 21 are said to be a sort of “gunsight” through which the rising sun on the midsummer solstice was supposed to shine into the centre of the circle…….. This again is nonsense. The sideways setting of these stones is not shown to be correct, and stone 21 is around 20 deg away from the solstice sunrise alignment.  In any case, no evidence is presented as to the actual position of the Neolithic sunrise on the horizon.  We are just expected to believe what the authors tell us.

Fig. 7. Radiocarbon dates. Ten selected radiocarbon dates, with no dates shown for the period 2,000 - 3,000 yrs BC. All "inconvenient” dates are simply excluded from the graphs. There is no explanation as to why there are no dates from the “missing” millennium.

Discussion. The 110m diameter is stressed — but there is no explanation as to why the putative Waun Mawn circle had a diameter (supposed) of 110m and why it is supposed to match up with the ditch diameter at Stonehenge. The Aunbrey Hole circle diameter is 87m approx. Quote: "the difference in architecture between Waun Mawn and Stonehenge stage one testifies to an altered emphasis and perspective, the latter being one of regularity and homogeneity.” What on earth is that supposed to mean?

The solstice alignment —this really is pushing things to the limit. If one takes the mid line between the 2 “sighting stones”, it is around 10 degrees out. Quote: "The imprint of stonehole 91 at Waun Mawn matches the basal cross-section of stone 62 at Stonehenge.” No, it doesn’t, and even if it did, there would be no significance. Re the idea that there were around 25 bluestones in the nearby circle of Bluestonehenge, I thought that idea was long since dead and buried?

Quote: "That the four unspotted dolerite Waun Mawn stones were left behind may, of course, help to explain why there are so few such pillars at Stonehenge. It seems more likely, however, that Waun Mawn contributed only a small pro- portion of Stonehenge’s 80 or so bluestones. This raises the question of whether multiple monuments in Wales contributed monoliths to Stonehenge and Bluestonehenge.” Oh dear oh dear. This is all getting rather pathetic…….

Quote: " It is possible, if not likely, that one or several stone circles were dismantled in the Preseli area to provide Stonehenge and Bluestonehenge with their full number of bluestones; their varied range of lithologies includes spotted dolerite and various types of rhyolite and volcanics". By this point, the authors are, I fear, completely out withy the fairies.  But they do at least recognise that there are multiple lithologies and provenances involved in the bluestone assemblage.  Instead of trying to convince us that all the bluestones came from Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog, they should have the good grace to admit that the Stonehenge bluestones have come from between 20m and 30 different places.


The summary of the strontium isotope work relating to the 25 cremation burials at Stonehenge is completely biased and unreliable. Quote: “…...four (16 per cent) have stron-tium isotope ratios that are consistent with having lived the last decades of their lives on the Ordovician/Silurian rocks of south-west Wales—including around the outcrops of the Preseli Hills (Snoeck et al. 2018).” That is a gross misrepresentation — and as others have pointed out, there is NOTHING to link these individiuals with West Wales as against many other parts of the British Isles. When an elderly cow also has “a strontium isotope ratio consistent with having been reared in Wales (Evans et al. 2019)” it is also true that the poor beast could have been reared almost anywhere else with Lower Palaeozoic rocks.

Quote: "Waun Mawn did not become the core of a monument complex of the kind known around other great stone circles, such as the Ring of Brodgar, Avebury and Stonehenge. Its development as a major centre in the earlier Neolithic (see Figure 1) appears to have been curtailed by early dismantling.” This, with respect to the “missing millennium of radiocarbon dated materials” is again fanciful in the extreme.

Quote: "In conclusion, it seems that Stonehenge stage one was built—partly or wholly—by Neolithic migrants from Wales, who brought their monument or monuments as a physical manifestation of their ancestral identities to be re-created in similar form on Salisbury Plain—a locale already holding a long tradition of ceremonial gathering (Parker Pearson et al. 2015b: 75–80). Stonehenge’s first stage may also have served to unite the people of southern Britain. Bluestones were brought to the land of sarsen stones and installed at a sacred axis mundi (world axis or world centre), where the sky and the earth were envisioned in cosmic harmony, and where people of different cultural and regional origins might gather for collect- ive monument-building and feasting (Gron et al. 2018; Parker Pearson et al. 2020: 469–73).

It's clear here that Parker Pearson and his colleagues are perfectly prepared to ignore the strong criticism that has come in their direction from Barclay and Brophy about their obsession with a “Stonehenge-centred” world — and it’s also clear that their fantastical hypothesis has now become so convoluted that they have effectively lost touch with reality.

This paper is so bad as to be embarrassing — and I begin to feel rather sorry for the authors who now appear (at least to those with the slightest grasp of the scientific method) to be quite deranged.

Supplementary material

This is very thin, and fails to give any supporting information as to how the conclusions in the paper were reached. We see here simply a list of radiocarbon dates, grouped into stoneholes, mound samples and pits not considered to be stoneholes. No rationale is given as to why some pits are considered as stoneholes and some are not — I assume that those “pits” lying off the assumed diameter of the supposed giant circle were simply assumed not to be stone holes…….. again this is all very dubious!


Link to my Waun Mawn article on Researchgate:

Link to the article by Barclay and Brophy:

Gordon J. Barclay & Kenneth Brophy (2020): ‘A veritable chauvinism of prehistory’: nationalist prehistories and the ‘British’ late Neolithic mythos, Archaeological Journal,
DOI: 10.1080/00665983.2020.1769399


PeteG said...

right up there with any tory promise and the theory of dinosaurs by Miss Ann Elk

chris johnson said...

Curious these days that people no longer trust the BBC, whichever side of the argument you are on. The program last night is a good example. The narrative is great but it is just built of dust, something thousands of believers will discover in the coming years and the reputation for integrity of those involved will be further undermined.

BRIAN JOHN said...

I tend to agree, Chris. What I find particularly disappointing is this -- MPP and Alice know that much of the evidence relating to "quarries" and Waun Mawn (not to mention Stonehenge) is hotly disputed, and not just by me. And yet they refused to mention any dissension or dispute anywhere in the programme, and turned it effectively into a sales pitch, full of adjectives such as "astonishing". I agree that reputations will be on the way down the spout........

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Comparable, on the geopolitical level, with Putin's poisonings, followed by denials and now imprisonment of his official dissenting opponent. Instead, in the UK democratic archaeological scene, we have a deafening silence in reaction to intelligently - argued counter - arguments against "quarries" and so on.

His treatise is full of clever but often false arguments, i.e. sophistry.

Parker Pearson's mega - team, whose names are appended to his usually non - peer - reviewed articles, bear corporate responsibility. That means corporate culpability. The image of penguins huddled together in Antarctica springs to mind.....

BRIAN JOHN said...

I often wonder how these articles are written. In them I see a great deal of MPP and not a lot of anybody else. I suspect the deal is "I write the paper and you get your name added because you once looked down a microscope" or some such thing........ in this latest paper in "Antiquity", what are Ixer and Bevins doing in there as co-authors? There is no geology. Anyway, they are tarred now with the same brush -- when a rubbish article is published, all the authors share the blame equally.

chris johnson said...

It was disappointing, to me at least, to see that Rob did not get a mention.

BRIAN JOHN said...

You mean on the telly, Chris? I suspect, on the quiet, that he is rather pleased that he was not a part of that particular blockbuster! Richard Bevins was in there, but looked very much as if he would have preferred being somewhere else........ it won't have done anybody's reputation any good at all.