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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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.......