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

Tuesday 31 August 2021

The barbed wire mindset


Beware.  Keep out.  If you try to get inside, you will get hurt.  We will see your blood, and throw you out because you have not adhered to our rules...... 

Many thanks to Charlene for sending this rather powerful image, taken from a moving vehicle while passing along the road near Stonehenge.  The image is packed with symbolism.  Over there is an old ruin loaded with artificial virtue and value by generations of historians, mystics, archaeologists and even politicians.  Owned, in theory, by all of us, but in fact possessed or occupied by an organisation called English Heritage and only accessible to those who can afford to shell out rather a lot of money, in exchange for which we are "allowed" to visit bits of the site that are deemed by others to be worthy of access, and excluded from other bits of what is referred to as "our common heritage." It's called visitor management.  How ironic is all of that?

Then there is the arrogance and the exclusivity.  That fence speaks of them and us.  If you are on the inside, you can claim ownership and -- you hope -- get away with trying to keep others out.  The outsiders are by definition less worthy than those on the inside, so you can not only control their physical access to the site but also tell them patronisingly what to believe and what not to believe.  You, after all, are a "guardian of our heritage" who has studied Stonehenge for much of your life, and devoted your career to understanding it.  You may have dug it up in rain and shine, measured the stones, set it in its landscape context, fought for research funding, written papers galore about it and devoted hundreds of hours of your time to explaining things in simple terms for those who live on the other side of the fence.  You, in short, are the EXPERT and the rest of us should show you respect and reverence, and believe what you say.  You should have rights that the rest of us do not have, and your opinions should be delivered with unshakeable conviction and certainty, and accepted by the rest of us.

I wonder if the barbed wire mindset underpins the words and the actions of the quarrymen and lost circle hunters who are currently hoofing around in North Pembrokeshire, after a decade of developing their extraordinary Neolithic narrative?  How else to explain their blunt refusal to engage with any ideas that may differ from their own?  How else to explain their refusal to admit that anything they say is disputed by others? How else to explain their refusal, in their published output, to cite any other peer-reviewed papers that do not conveniently support their ruling hypothesis?  How else to explain the abandonment of the scientific process and its replacement by an exercise in ruling hypothesis confirmation?

We know that the object of the ongoing research exercise is the invention of a brand new "bluestone mythology" dressed up, through the use of assorted pseudo-scientific methods and though astute media manipulation, as "the truth".  The diggers and the circle hunters are on the inside, protecting their terrain with a ring of barbed wire, and we, the barbarian hordes, threaten them from outside with our free thinking, our specialist knowledge, our evidence and our scepticism.  They are the ones who are trapped by their ring of barbed wire, and the real tragedy is that they know it.  

There is another irony, of course.  It is now deemed appropriate that Stonehenge should be "protected" from over-use by the "hippies and Druids" who deem it to be a powerful and sacred site and who simply wish to be left in peace to worship the stones and the sanctity of the earth in their own way. One might say that they have their mythologies, and they are sticking to them.  Stonehenge is a place that generates mythologies.  MPP and his colleagues are currently simply adding another mythology to the list, carefully hidden beneath a cloak or respectability........

Sunday 29 August 2021

The Truth about Craig Rhosyfelin

The famous Fertility Stone in the Rhosyfelin Family Planning Clinic.  It was a very popular facility, but may have been abandoned when a large crack developed as a result of energetic over-use in 5150 BP.  This date is confirmed by Bayesian analysis of 293 radiocarbon dates on hazel nuts collected by local squirrels.

I have to report that I have received guidance from the Gods, and that I now know the truth about that enigmatic and much-excavated place called Craig Rhosyfelin.  I have to apologise to those of a sensitive disposition who were upset by my frivolous suggestion, the other day, that Rhosyfelin is, and always was, a shrubbery.   It is no such thing.  In my heightened sense of awareness this morning following my consumption of toast and marmalade I realised that it was for many millennia A FAMILY PLANNING CLINIC.

It was very popular with Neolithic families who had too many children, or too few, and the most successful feature of the facility was the Fertility Stone, a large flat stone in a prominent position that had magical properties.  It was believed by those living in the neighbourhood that if you made love on the stone, a child was guaranteed.  Furthermore, if you made love on the stone at the time of the full moon, twins were sure to be born nine months later; and if you made love on the stone at the time of a lunar eclipse, triplets were the inevitable outcome.  This is all confirmed by strontium isotope studies of cattle teeth found at Stonehenge.

So powerful were the traditions associated with the Fertility Stone that the community (as you might expect) was a very happy one.  But the Rhosyfelin tribe was very isolated, and there was too much inbreeding, as with the Viking colony in Southern Greenland.  So over several generations the population declined and weakened, and eventually died out, leaving a barren landscape in which there were no human beings for a thousand years, as shown in expert studies by assorted eminent archaeologists.

So there we are then.  All sorted.  A learned paper is in preparation for the journal "Antiquity".  Further speculation will be a waste of everybody's time.

The Fertility Stone at Rhosyfelin -- not very comfortable but renowned for its magical powers.

By your deeds shall ye be known........


Matthew 7:15.  I hesitate to get into Biblical quotations, buy hey, it is a Sunday, and it's the first day of the 2021 digging season on Preseli..........

At the beginning of Matthew Chapter 7 the King James version says: "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."  There is a lesson in there somewhere, and no doubt there have been many thousands of sermons over the years based on verse 1 or verse 15.

Why this?  Why now?  Well, yesterday I got a rather graphic account of some of the things that have been going on down at Rhosyfelin, and I did not like what I heard.  It's time to remind ourselves that for the last ten years MPP and his merry band have been flagging up Rhosyfelin as a "special place" -- significant enough to attract a large work-force of Neolithic quarrymen intent upon excavating innumerable slabs of bedrock from the flank of the crag in the middle of the valley, significant enough to build revetments and riverside quays, loading platforms and sledge trackways on the floor of the valley, and significant enough to have created a routeway along which great monoliths of rock were exported either to Stonehenge or to some intermediate parking place like "the lost circle of Waun Mawn."  It's all nonsense of course, but apparently nobody in the archaeological establishment wants to let the truth get in the way of a good story.

So the archaeologists have speculated in print and in media interviews as to WHY Rhosyfelin was so special.  Something to do with the colour of the rock?  Was the foliated rhyolite specially prized because of its hardness or fabric?  Was it deemed to have healing properties?  Was is prized because somewhere in the vicinity was a resting place of the ancestors?  Was its astronomical position the reason for its inherent power and magical properties?

The latter-day quarrymen who dug up the site with such enthusiasm over a period of five or six years knew exactly what they were doing in extolling its virtues and preaching about its Neolithic / Bronze age "significance" -- and to their eternal shame the National Park and all sorts of other august bodies like Cadw, Visit Wales and Literature Wales have assisted in the promotional efforts.  

Anyway, predictably the roosters are coming home to roost, and I have been picking up on reports of "river treasure hunters" turning up at Rhosyfelin in four wheel drive vehicles and trawling up and down along the river bed in the hope of finding artefacts associated with the quarrying activities that have been so graphically described.  No doubt they are stimulated by the Sky TV series called "River Hunters".  There have also been sightings of "ceremonies" somewhat akin to the goings-on at Stonehenge, with groups of people in robes attracted by -- and no doubt worshipping -- "the power of the stones".  Not sure whether Druids may have been involved.........  Otherwise the sheer number of visitors to the site (where there is hardly any roadside parking) is now a major source of concern to those who live nearby, with cars parking on private property and occupants caught urinating in a nearby garden. On certain parts of the social media Rhosyfelin is already spoken of with reverence and even awe.

It's difficult to get authentication for some of the things I have heard, and to separate out rumour from fact, but clearly the National Park is worried --  as I have reported before -- and has been moved to issue press releases pleading with the public to respect private property, not to take away rock samples, and not to camp or light fires at Rhosyfelin and other "sacred sites".

Many metaphors come to mind, including the one about stable doors and bolting horses....... 


Friday 27 August 2021

The Bluestone Museum

I have been cogitating on the matter of a Bluestone Museum for some little while, and at last it has come to pass.  Poly bags have been extracted from cupboards and cardboard boxes have been opened, and rock and sediment samples have at last been brought out into the light.  Nothing groundbreaking -- just good old-fashioned spotted dolerite, foliated rhyolite, Irish Sea till, erratic pebbles and other things related to bluestone entrainment, transport and dumping. 

So if you want a balanced assessment of the myths and disputes surrounding the bluestones, this has to be your destination of first choice --and you will get a much more nuanced set of explanations than you ever will at the Stonehenge Visitor Centre or at the National Museum.  This is all about science, not mythology......

The new exhibition is at the Pembrokeshire Candle Centre in Cilgwyn, at SA42 0QN.  My wife used this room as a mini-museum of candle making for many years, and at last she has retired and sold off most of her stock -- and nature abhors a vacuum.

So a warm welcome to anybody who feels like calling in.  Admission is free, and we are open as long as we are here and awake.

I have tried to make the little museum as "hands on" as possible, with nothing hidden behind glass.  On the walls the photos, captions and commentary are grouped together into a sequence of displays, clockwise around the room.  The main categories of info are as follows:

An exploration of a classic scientific dispute
Stonehenge and the Bluestones -- the facts and the fantasies
The science of the stones
The villains of the piece
The quarrying myth
The myth of the "lost stone circle"
The work of ice
The Ice Age
Occam's Razor

Thursday 26 August 2021

Abermawr raised beach


I went down to Abermawr today, not sure whether I would find a parking spot, what with all these tourists crowding onto every accessible beach and cove around the Pembs coast.......  

Anyway, I did find a spot, and I managed to get the best photo yet of the high raised beach which I discovered a few years ago.  It's sitting on a high and rather undulating bedrock platform.  I assume that it is Ipswichian in age.   It's capped by a 50 cm layer of pseudo-stratified Ordovician bedrock slabs (shale, sandstone and quartzite) and then by a massive layer of matrix-supported slope breccia.  In turn this is overlain by the Irish Sea till and by very complicated melt-out deposits that are largely redistributed or redeposited.  The slope breccia must date from the Early and Middle Devensian, as I suggested all the way back in 1965.  The till and other glacial and glaciofluvial deposits must date from the LGM.

The absurdity of the quarrying hypothesis (2)

"Miles from anywhere, lost in the jungle, and down in a deep valley.  With a horrible rock type too.  Ah yes, the perfect place for a bit of reverential quarrying.......let's do it!!"

In their rather weird podcast about Waun Mawn and all things related, the Prehistory Guys (Messrs Soskin and Bott) got most things wrong, but they did get one thing right -- namely the complete absurdity of the bluestone quarrying hypothesis.  

As they pointed out, to attach importance to the Rhosyfelin "quarry" as a source of Stonehenge bluestones is pretty preposterous, since there are no monoliths at Stonehenge made of the foliated rhyolite that has been identified as typical of the Rhosyfelin outcrop.  There are chips and fragments of the "right" rock type in the debitage, but that is all.  To make matters even worse, if Carn Goedog really was a Neolithic bluestone quarry producing spotted dolerite monoliths, and if the stones taken from it were really "parked up" for 500 years at Waun Mawn,  why are there no traces of the right spotted dolerites in the "lost circle"?  MPP and his colleagues speculate (on the basis of one fragment, one standing stone and three recumbent stones) that the standing stones that were at Waun Mawn were unspotted dolerite.  And if the supposed stone circle at Waun Mawn was desirable enough to be dismantled and shipped off to Stonehenge, why did the locals only take some stones away and leave others behind?

The Prehistory Guys might well have added, if they had been better informed, that the great bulk of the bluestone monoliths at Stonehenge have clearly not been quarried at all -- they are rounded, faceted and heavily weathered boulders and slabs, with just a few of them elongated enough to be called pillars.  They have been out in the open for hundreds of thousands thousands of years, as cosmogenic dating will eventually reveal.  Only the pillars in the bluestone horseshoe could be deemed to be the "products of human intervention", since they are clearly shaped from larger blocks of stone, some of them in quite a sophisticated fashion.

They might also have added that the sheer number of different rock types included in the "bluestone assemblage" indicates that there was no preferential collection of especially desirable rock types.  This was pointed out long ago by Olwen Williams-Thorpe and others. There are around 30 different rock types at Stonehenge; there cannot possibly have been 30 West Wales quarries.  In any case, if we look at the megalithic monuments in West Wales (cromlechs, standing stone settings, circles, gallery graves etc) it is demonstrable that the builders simply used whatever rocks were immediately at hand.  They did not travel great distances to collect up "desirable stones" from quarries.

And why would they be stupid enough to quarry for rock in difficult locations when the landscape was -- and still is -- littered with boulders, slabs and pillars of all sizes and of many different lithologies?

"Ah yes," say the archaeologists.  "This is all to oversimplify and to misunderstand the Neolithic mind.  This is all about reverence and ritual.  The really important thing about the stone collection enterprise was the act of winning the stone and overcoming great physical difficulties -- and even suffering for the cause -- in wild and magical places while working together as a community and showing great reverence towards the ancestors."  Brings to mind the head-banging monks in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.......

And so the archaeologists continue to dig, encouraged by their cameraderie and sense of common purpose and by the belief that common sense is of no significance whatsoever in the matter of the Stonehenge bluestones. 

Wednesday 25 August 2021

Another day, another myth: the Cerrigmarchogion "quarry"

In their weirdly naive podcast about Waun Mawn, the Prehistory Guys -- who have quite a following -- accept so much of the nonsense about the "lost circle" and about the supposed bluestone quarries that one doesn't really know where to start.  That's the trouble, when people undertake an "expert analysis" of places they have never visited and of published articles that are taken at face value because they have no interest in hearing dissenting voices.

For 40 minutes or so I found myself listening in horror to some of the things that Rupert Soskin and Michael Bott accepted as fact, without any critical analysis whatsoever.  Listen to it if you dare!  It's all on Podcast 41: Waun Mawn and Stonehenge  (c 47 mins)

Just one example.  They mention on a number of occasions the "Cerrigmarchogion bluestone quarry" as the place from which unspotted dolerite monoliths were taken to be placed in the hypothetical Waun Mawn standing stone circle.  So where on earth did they get that idea from?  Well, if we trace it back we can see that MPP and his fellow authors have speculated on a number of occasions about the origin of one flake of unspotted dolerite found in one of the supposed stone sockets at Waun Mawn.  Choosing to ignore the presence of unspotted dolerite in the immediate neighbourhood (the use of local stones in standing stone settings does not figure in their narrative) they speculated that it might have come from Cerrigmarchogion, on the Preseli ridge about 3 km away.  Why there?  Well, it appears that Richard Bevins suggested that location rather than a host of other more local provenances -- but whether that suggestion was based on a lab analysis of the Waun Mawn sample is unclear.  I suspect he just looked at the flake and thought Cerrigmarchogion might be a nice place for it to have come from......   If there is any hard scientific basis for the suggested provenancing, it would have been presented to us in print by now.

Cerrigmarchogion has featured in geological investigations for 100 years or more, including those of HH Thomas in 1923 and the big OU team led by Richard Thorpe and others in 1991.  It was thought of as a possible source of SPOTTED dolerite bluestones at Stonehenge, and there is some confusion because Ixer and Bevins refer to the site as a possible source of UNSPOTTED dolerites. The truth of the matter is that the Cerrigmarchogion outcrops are quite extensive; some of the dolerites are spotted, some are unspotted, and some are slightly spotted. Is that clear?

Bevins, Pearce and Ixer now think that one of the Stonehenge monoliths (SH45) has probably came from Cerrigmarchogion (or Talfynydd)-- so that is where the idea of the quarry has probably come from........

I don't have a problem with Cerrigmarchogion or any of the other Presely tors being a source of Stonehenge bluestones or being an entrainment location for overriding ice -- but if our friends Soskin and Bott had done the simplest of investigations they would have noted that that there is nowhere in Preseli that looks less like a quarrying site.  It's not often visited, except by people plodding along the "Golden Road' or ridgeway track, but that's no excuse.  There are maps and photographs.  It's an open expanse of moorland (dry heath of heather and grasses interspersed with boggy and peaty areas) and with many small tors or rocky outcrops over a wide area which are, in local legend, the petrified remains of the knights of King Arthur who fell in battle with the monstrous boar called Twrch Trwyth and his cohorts:

I'm not against quarries in principle.  Indeed, there is a very nice Bronze Age one on Foeldrygarn.  But it would be reassuring if people like the Prehistory Guys could come up with a bit of evidence instead of simply referring to a remote location as a Neolithic quarrying site simply on the basis of a throwaway remark from an imaginative archaeologist.

Tuesday 24 August 2021

Waun Mawn 2021 -- the diggers return

An imaginative reconstruction by Steve Spon, for Dronescaping Britain, of what a rough and rugged stone circle might have looked like.  Think Castlerigg and Swinside......... Nice idea -- a pity about the evidence.......

After two fallow years, the diggers under the direction of Mike Parker Pearson will continue their hunt between 29 August and 17 Sept for spectacular bits and pieces to be added to the fantastical Stonehenge bluestone narrative developed over nine years.  We already know what they will claim to have found, because this team has a habit of announcing its discoveries before they are made -- so that's not going to change.  Confirmation bias is the name of the game. There is a budget of around £34,000, committed partly to fieldwork and partly to sample analyses.  Anyway, there will be a big team in the field this year -- mostly made up of double-jabbed volunteers from the older part of the population.  So not many students.  It looks as if they will dig in a number of discrete teams, in different locations -- in order to minimise the risks of Covid infection, I suppose. Fair enough.

From what I can gather, the research team talks (in their dealings with the National Park, the Barony and other agencies) with absolute certainty about two bluestone monolith quarries (and more, as yet undiscovered) and at least one dismantled stone circle linked to Stonehenge.  No doubts, and no mention of any dissent.  The false impression is given that everything is already proved, to the total satisfaction of the scientific community.  I don't know if the officials at Cadw, NPA etc responsible for research consents are asking any questions -- but I suspect that they consider themselves unqualified to do so.......


Piecing together bits of info from many sources, this seems to be the programme:

1.  Back to the "lost giant stone circle" at Waun Mawn for further digging.  Rumour has it that the diggers will look for a central post hole that would have been used with a 55m rope for the marking out of the circle's circumference.  Attempts may well be made to explore parts of the circumference not yet explored, in the hope of finding further sockets (the archaeologists claim, with typical hubris,  to have found ten stone sockets so far).

2.  There will be geophysics and a comprehensive dig at the Gernos Fach embanked circle which the MPP team ludicrously claim to have "discovered" earlier this year.  Again they will look for empty stone sockets, to reinforce the idea that the Stonehenge bluestones were extracted from more than one stone circle in the neighbourhood.

3.  There will be another geophysical survey at Penlan, on private land, at SN09023573, to follow up on previous work.  A stone pair, in the centre of a field, is being interpreted not as a simple stone pair but as the remnants of another possible circle.  Lost circles are apparently in fashion this year.........

The two standing stones on land belonging to Cilgwyn Mawr farm -- not far from the Carnedd Meibion Owen tors.

4.  Two small and rather innocuous recumbent monoliths which I have described on this blog, outside the circumference of the supposed Waun Mawn circle, will be explored (and probably excavated) with a view to testing whether they belong to another man-made feature -- a possible curved embanked structure.

5.  There will be more excavations on the south-eastern flank of the supposed Waun Mawn circle, to see whether there is a causeway or other aligned feature linked to the rising moon on the far horizon; and an excavation in the direction of the midwinter sunset to see whether there was a gap or entrance to the circle on that flank.  This looks to me like a rather desperate attempt to find some feasible astronomical alignments -- either solar or lunar -- wherever convenient, around the distant horizons.......

6.  Some serious palynological work is planned, presumably with the intention of discovering what environmental changes might have occurred around 5,000 yrs BP in association with the fantastical  "bluestone removal and export" exercise -- accompanied by a wholesale migration of local tribes towards Salisbury Plain.  Rumour has it that sediment cores will be analysed from thick peat deposits near Bedd yr Afanc, in the headwaters bog of the Gwaun river, south of the Gernos Fach track, and on Brynberian Moor..

7.  There will be more geological sampling work and presumably more quarry hunting, directed by Richard Bevins.  That's because the geological work associated thus far with Waun Mawn has been woefully inadequate, and hard evidence is needed to back up some of MPP's extraordinary claims about the "missing stones".  I'll hazard a guess that the geologists Ixer and Bevins need more samples to help in the provenancing of the volcanics and rhyolite fragments found at Stonehenge.  Another "bluestone quarry" somewhere in Tycanol Wood, or near Pentre Ifan cromlech, among the outcrops of Fishguard Volcanics (including welded vitric tuffs and acid volcanics) would make a nice story.......

Crags of welded tuffs and other volcanics in Tycanol wood.  A nice place for a quarry?

8.  Non-invasive geophysics and survey work will also be going on at a number of sites in the neighbourhood.  No doubt there will be drone photography as well. (If YouTube is anything to go by, independent drone pilots have already been hard at work.)

9.  Organic samples from here, there and everywhere will be collected from all of the digs in an attempt to clarify the sequence of events.  This is because there is no sequence that makes any sense at all thus far, from the radiocarbon and OSL dating of samples collected in 2017 and 2018. (This matches the highly confusing and inconclusive dating exercises at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedod, during the "quarrying" investigations between 2011 and 2017.  As we all know, the investigators have simply plucked out a few convenient dates from the collection and ignored all the rest.......) 

10.  Plans are being laid for a further two years of  excavations and other studies in the local area, in 2022 and 2023.  Probably the work done in those two digging seasons will be determined by the weather in the coming weeks, what is discovered in September, and which pieces of the fantastical narrative still need to be proved to the satisfaction of the diggers.

Apologies if I have got any of this wrong -- no doubt I will be corrected by somebody operating under the cloak of anonymity who may be in fear for his life!  Never fear -- I always protect my sources.  There may be other objectives too, and I'll report on those when I find out about them.

From what I can gather, the research team will be more or less the same as in previous years, with all research reviews carried out internally and with no external scrutiny.  And so it rolls on, very carefully controlled so that nobody gets to work out the reliability -- or otherwise -- of the amazing storyline that will inevitably come out of the 2021 digging season...........


Drone images source acknowledged:

Monday 23 August 2021

The Daily Telegraph -- always happy to help

 As predicted a few days ago, this story is being picked up by the media all over the place.  A press release has clearly been distributed quite widely.  Make no mistake -- this is not a piece of reactive reporting, in which the NPA and MPP and his team are genuinely "horrified" by the increasing visitor numbers to Waun Mawn, Craig Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog.  This is all proactive --  part of the targetted campaign to promote the "international importance" of two imaginary quarries and one imaginary "lost circle."

I haven't seen any sign of "looting" at Waun Mawn, during my many visits to the area.  There isn't anything to loot -- just one rather large standing stone and several recumbent ones.........

This, from the Telegraph article, is typical:  "Waun Mawn has been the subject of increased interest after Prof Parker Pearson's team unearthed evidence suggesting stones from the site may have been moved 150 miles to Salisbury Plain to form Stonehenge in the 3rd millennium BC."

As we all know, the evidence from the site did nothing of the sort -- but as we also know, if you repeat nonsense often enough, it becomes accepted as the truth in the minds of the gullible.

Sunday 22 August 2021

"Do your research -- and do it properly!"

There's a short article at the base of this post.  Thanks to Tony for publishing it on Facebook -- I had seen it before, but had forgotten how relevant it is not just for public health and trust in medical science, but also for our trust in "discoveries" and "breakthroughs" in many fields that are flagged up in press releases and in TV programmes.

"Do your research!"  is a fine exhortation aimed at ordinary people who tend simply to accept what is fed to them by the media, without ever having the patience or the skill to go back to the original sources and subject them to critical scrutiny.  Often they deem themselves "unqualified to scrutinise", and so they tend simply to trust those who are deemed to be experts.  That's one of the things that Carl Sagan was most concerned about when he bemoaned the inexorable slide into gullibility and superficiality.  (I suggest you simply put "Sagan" into the search box on this blog.)  But it goes deeper than that -- I reckon  we should modify the slogan to this:  "Do your research properly!" and aim it straight at MPP and his fellow conspirators who have played so fast and loose with the scientific method that we can hardly believe a word of what is contained in their publications.

Many people are swept along and convinced by the media reports of the "discoveries" of the "Stones of Stonehenge" project team, and by the words and images contained in glossy pop magazine articles, TV news reports and documentaries.  But how many of them, I wonder, have actually gone to the coal face and READ the three crucial research articles published in the journal "Antiquity"?

As I have said on many occasions, these are pseudoscientific articles in which evidence presentation, interpretation and foregone conclusions are so mixed up that they should never have got past serious referees and a serious editor -- and because of that they should never have found their way into print.  They need to be read and scrutinized by impartial people capable of critical thinking and who are not easily swayed by strong personalities and colourful narratives....... 

“Do your research!!!”
Here’s the thing. Research is a learned skill; it is hard, it is nuanced and complex, and it is true that the majority of people would not even know where to begin or even HOW to do [their own] research.
Research is NOT:
Googling, scrolling your FB newsfeed, or watching YouTube or 4Chan 😖 to search for the results you are hoping to find to be “true.” These are called confirmation biases, and are quickly and easily ruled out when doing actual research.
A post credited to Linda Gamble Spadaro, a licensed mental health counselor in Florida, sums this up quite well:
“Please stop saying you researched it.
You didn’t research anything and it is highly probable you don’t know how to do so.
Did you compile a literature review and write abstracts on each article? Or better yet, did you collect a random sample of sources and perform independent probability statistics on the reported results? No?
Did you at least take each article one by one and look into the source (that would be the author, publisher and funder), then critique the writing for logical fallacies, cognitive distortions and plain inaccuracies?
Did you ask yourself why this source might publish these particular results? Did you follow the trail of references and apply the same source of scrutiny to them?
No? Then you didn’t…research anything. You read or watched a video, most likely with little or no objectivity. You came across something in your algorithm manipulated feed, something that jived with your implicit biases and served your confirmation bias, and subconsciously applied your emotional filters and called it proof.”
This doesn’t even go into institutional review boards (IRB’s), also known as independent ethics committees, ethical review boards, or touch on peer review, or meta-analyses.
To sum it up, a healthy dose of skepticism is/can be a good thing…as long as we are also applying it to those things we wish/think to be true, and not just those things we choose to be skeptical towards, or in denial of.
Most importantly, though, is to apply our best critical thinking skills to ensure we are doing our best to suss out the facts from the fiction, the myths, and outright BS in pseudoscience and politics.
Misinformation is being used as a tool of war and to undermine our public health, and it is up to each of us to fight against it.

Saturday 21 August 2021

The decline of science


Somebody posted this on Facebook.  As we know, Richard Horton is a fierce upholder of scientific standards, and he is using his detailed experience of medical research to make a broader point.  We recognize this only too well ---- and what is most sad is the gullibility of the media and the members of the public who increasingly fail to read or scrutinise published research and thus allow complete tosh to be represented as "the truth."

This is somewhat relevant:

Friday 20 August 2021

Waun Mawn -- the next chapter: peat bogs, more stone circles and a mighty exodus

Wait for it, folks.  We already know what the 2021 diggers are instructed to find.  It's all there in print, and the next chapter of the story is already written.

This is from one of many reports based on the UCL press release during the spring of 2021: 

Sometime after 3000 BC, the people living near Waun Maun left — there's little evidence of habitation in the area after about 3400 BC, according to Parker Pearson. "It's as if they just vanished," he says. "Maybe most of the people migrated, taking their stones — their ancestral identities — with them, to start again in this other special place. This extraordinary event may also have served to unite the peoples of east and west Britain."

Analyses of plant and animal remains at Stonehenge indicate that the people who built it spent their early years on the Welsh coast, providing evidence, says Pollard, that "We've got regular contact between the two regions."

Parker Pearson suggests that maybe the people who built Stonehenge incorporated the bluestones from Waun Mawn for one of two reasons: to have something of their former home in their new one, or to use the bluestones as symbols of their authority, thus entitling it to respect and power among their new neighbors.

In any event, Pearson suspects there's more to the story. Waun Mawn's stones may not be the only transplants at Stonehenge:

"With an estimated 80 bluestones put up on Salisbury Plain at Stonehenge and nearby Bluestonehenge, my guess is that Waun Mawn was not the only stone circle that contributed to Stonehenge. Maybe there are more in Preseli waiting to be found. Who knows? Someone might be lucky enough to find them."

So there was a spectacular depopulation 5,000 years ago, and was it associated with a plague or with climatic deterioration?  Or was there a huge migration or exodus, leaving West Wales effectively as a barren wilderness?  In their big chapter on the Neolithic and Bronze Age (in the new Pembrokeshire County History) Darvill and Wainwright make no mention of such an event, referring only to a subtle and gradual transition as old cultures evolved into newer ones.  I would say that the jury is still out on that one -- see this:

Anyway, as Tony reported in one of his comments, some serious pollen analysis is on the cards for this September dig, designed to demonstrate the "emptying of the landscape" around 5,000 years ago, when everybody supposedly trundled off to Salisbury Plain.  As we know, the archaeologists are very keen to see the "onset of blanket bog peat development" as significant in the evolution of settlement in this area -- and indeed as related to the imagined lifting and export of desirable stones from local stone circles.

I'm not sure that blanket peat bogs ever were very extensive in this area, at altitudes below 300m, and the anthropogenic origins of peat development are contentious, to put it mildly.  To quote Gallego-Sala et al (citations removed):

There has been considerable debate about the cause of Holocene blanket-bog initiation in the UK. There is a long-standing hypothesis, first proposed by Moore (1973), that it was a consequence of land use by Neolithic human populations, and in particular land clearing practices at the time of the “elm decline” (often taken as a stratigraphic marker of Neolithic land use), as well as heavy stock grazing that changed the soil hydrological balance enough to initiate the inception of blanket bogs between about 6000 and 5000 yr BP . Evidence of removal of the shrub and/or tree cover by fire at the onset of blanket bog formation, and pollen analytical studies suggesting intensive agricultural practices by Neolithic people support this hypothesis. A recent investigation of initiation of upland blanket bogs in Ireland also pointed to land use as a principal cause of paludification. However, a number of authors have suggested the initiation of blanket bogs at specific locations solely as a result of a climatic shift during the mid Holocene “Atlantic” period in Scotland, the Faroe Islands, and Ireland. Tipping (2008) suggested that farming communities only settled in the Scottish Highlands after the landscape had already been covered by blanket bogs. Other authors have adopted a more complex view in which both climatic shifts and human activities played a role. Soil-forming processes, including leaching of base cations and consequent acidification and podsolization of soils, were also proposed to have been influential, giving rise to the term “pedogenic peats”.

A much-reproduced graph of Holocene temperature variations.  A "warmer episode" between 8,000 and 5,000 years ago is now broadly accepted and is well supported by the evidence.  After 5,000 yrs BP there was a gradual cooling -- but there was no "tipping point" or catastrophic climatic event capable of triggering a mass migration eastwards from West Wales.

I suspect that whatever the results of the 2021 palynological work may be, Parker Pearson and his colleagues are going to get into a frightful tangle over this one...........


The big glacial transport study: Thorpe et al still behind a paywall


Olwen Williams-Thorpe, one of the lead authors of the big OU report on the bluestones

I have frequently cited the seminal publication by Thorpe et al in 1991, which was republished online in 2014.  I cannot understand why the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society / Cambridge University Press still have this behind a paywall -- it should be accessible to everybody, given its importance in the bluestone provenancing debate.  Anyway, here is the abstract......

It's a very big and impressive piece of work -- more than 50 pages long.

The Geological Sources and Transport of the Bluestones of Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK
Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society , Volume 57 , Issue 2 , 1991, pp. 103 - 157

Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 February 2014
Richard S. Thorpe ,
Olwen Williams-Thorpe ,
D. Graham Jenkins ,
J. S. Watson ,
R. A. Ixer and
R. G. Thomas 

(Note that Rob Ixer is one of the authors -- from a time before he was seduced away by the Pied Piper and his merry gang of storytellers.......)

Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain is one of the most impressive British prehistoric (c. 3000–1500 BC) monuments. It is dominated by large upright sarsen stones, some of which are joined by lintels. While these stones are of relatively local derivation, some of the stone settings, termed bluestones, are composed of igneous and minor sedimentary rocks which are foreign to the solid geology of Salisbury Plain and must have been transported to their present location. Following the proposal of an origin in south-west Wales, debate has focused on hypotheses of natural transport by glacial processes, or transport by human agency. This paper reports the results of a programme of sampling and chemical analysis of Stonehenge bluestones and proposed source outcrops in Wales.

Analysis by X-ray-fluorescence of fifteen monolith samples and twenty-two excavated fragments from Stonehenge indicate that the dolerites originated at three sources in a small area in the eastern Preseli Hills, and that the rhyolite monoliths derive from four sources including northern Preseli and other (unidentified) locations in Pembrokeshire, perhaps on the north Pembrokeshire coast. Rhyolite fragments derive from four outcrops (including only one of the monolith sources) over a distance of at least 10 km within Preseli. The Altar Stone and a sandstone fragment (excavated at Stonehenge) are from two sources within the Palaeozoic of south-west Wales. This variety of source suggests that the monoliths were taken from a glacially-mixed deposit, not carefully selected from an in situ source. We then consider whether prehistoric man collected the bluestones from such a deposit in south Wales or whether glacial action could have transported bluestone boulders onto Salisbury Plain. Glacial erratics deposited in south Dyfed (dolerites chemically identical to Stonehenge dolerite monoliths), near Cardiff, on Flatholm and near Bristol indicate glacial action at least as far as the Avon area. There is an apparent absence of erratics east of here, with the possible exception of the Boles Barrow boulder, which may predate the Stonehenge bluestones by as much as 1000 years, and which derived from the same Preseli source as two of the Stonehenge monoliths. However, 18th-century geological accounts describe intensive agricultural clearance of glacial boulders, including igneous rocks, on Salisbury Plain, and contemporary practice was of burial of such boulders in pits. Such erratics could have been transported as ‘free boulders’ from ‘nunataks’ on the top of an extensive, perhaps Anglian or earlier, glacier some 400,000 years ago or more, leaving no trace of fine glacial material in present river gravels. Erratics may be deposited at the margins of ice-sheets in small groups at irregular intervals and with gaps of several kilometres between individual boulders.

‘Bluestone’ fragments are frequently reported on and near Salisbury Plain in archaeological literature, and include a wide range of rock types from monuments of widely differing types and dates, and pieces not directly associated with archaeological structures. Examination of prehistoric stone monuments in south Wales shows no preference for bluestones in this area. The monoliths at Stonehenge include some structurally poor rock types, now completely eroded above ground. We conclude that the builders of the bluestone structures at Stonehenge utilized a heterogeneous deposit of glacial boulders readily available on Salisbury Plain. Remaining erratics are now seen as small fragments sometimes incorporated in a variety of archaeological sites, while others were destroyed and removed in the 18th century. The bluestones were transported to Salisbury Plain from varied sources in south Wales by a glacier rather than human activity.

PS -- 21 August 2021

Thanks to Tim Daw for drawing attention to this shorter version of the big study:

Williams-Thorpe, O. and Thorpe, R.S.  1991  Geochemistry, sources and transport of the Stonehenge Bluestones.  Proc Br Acad. 77, pp 133-161

Thursday 19 August 2021

Archaeologists "discover" well-known embanked circle


The two dolerite stones -- of very different sizes -- marking the "entrance" to this 
embanked circular feature.

We all know that the archaeologists working at Waun Mawn know nothing about the local geology -- but it's rather intriguing that they seem to know very little about the local archaeology either.....

I'm reliably informed by the underground network that they are now claiming to have "discovered" -- earlier this year -- an embanked circle near Gernos Fach, at grid ref SN077345.  It's a bit like Columbus discovering America, which the locals had known about for some considerable time.  Anyway, I'm pretty sure this feature was mentioned by Dyfed Archaeology many years ago, and I have described it on this blog in 2014, 2016 and 2018, as well as mentioning it in my Waun Mawn article.

The members of the digging team know all about these posts, since some of them, at least, follow my blog and have read my Researchgate article on Waun Mawn, published last year.

Dave Maynard has also flown his drone over it, and I was happy to publish this excellent image from his collection:

Whether we call it a ring cairn or an embanked circle or a "destroyed embanked stone circle" is neither here nor there, but it's a bit irritating when MPP and his colleagues choose to ignore previous work and claim credit for "discovering" things.  But their record in such matters is not exactly exemplary..........

Anyway, I'm informed that there will be a dig at this Gernos Fach site in the coming digging season (Aug 29th - Sept 17th), and it will be interesting to see what comes out of it. I'm delighted that this site will be excavated, but make no mistake -- this dig is really all about Stonehenge.  No doubt the diggers will be looking for stone sockets on the embankment, and will be looking to extend the hypothesis that there was more than one dismantled stone circle hereabouts, from which stones were hauled off to Salisbury Plain.  This embanked site is a nice insurance policy for the diggers at the Waun Mawn "lost circle"-- the evidence there for a dismantled circle is unconvincing, to put it mildly, and a few more holes in the ground, interpreted as empty stone sockets, would come in very handy indeed.

Waun Mawn -- the propaganda war intensifies

Yet more coverage on the BBC, with assorted other players (including the police) sucked into the propaganda effort.  Let's not beat about the bush here -- this is not about protecting the environment or the historic "heritage" of the National Park.  This is about the promotion of Waun Mawn, Carn Goedog and Rhosyfelin as hugely important archaeological sites and as essential components in "the Stonehenge story."  As we know, the hard evidence of Neolithic quarrying and of a  "lost giant circle of bluestones" is so thin that it should really be ignored -- but these guys are now in so deep that they cannot get out.

There is a lot of selling going on here, by MPP and his merry band (who want the glory that goes with spectacular discoveries), by the National Park (which wants its historical heritage to be better then everybody else's), and by the BBC, which wants more and more people to watch that appalling and outrageous documentary programme fronted by Alice Roberts and transmitted in February and again more recently.

It's all perfectly cynical, and is part of a calculated campaign to convince the media -- and the public at large -- that a fantastical myth invented by MPP is actually the truth.  There is much more to come......

Monday 16 August 2021

"I want a quarry!" said the Boss......... and his wish was granted

As indicated in our last post, the geologists working at Stonehenge have got themselves into a frightful tangle over provenancing, and into even more of a tangle by adding their names to all this quarrying hyperbole.  Ixer and Bevins are joint authors of most of the papers in which MPP is the "lead author." They knew what they were getting into, and they share the blame.  Not to put too fine a point upon it, they have been too easily led into territory that they should have avoided like the plague.  A reminder of that the geologists have actually said (as distinct from what others say they have said):

On Carn Goedog, the two geologists are actually quite circumspect, and do not claim to have fixed exact provenances for spotted dolerite monoliths that ended up at Stonehenge. They rather foolishly claim that the Carn Goedog tor is probably a provenance for some spotted dolerite orthostats and fragments, but the tor is very large indeed, covering a surface area of about 60,000 sq m. The sill of which it is a part (sharing physical and geochemical characteristics) extends eastwards towards Carn Alw for about 2 km, and there is a section of it to the west as well, on the other side of a fault line. No perfect matches have been found between samples from Stonehenge and samples from Carn Goedog, and the geologists do not have a sufficient density of field samples to say anything meaningful about the precise provenance of any of the Stonehenge spotted dolerite orthostats. This point has been made over and again by other professional geologists with whom I am in contact. The geologists Ixer and Bevins have NOT identified a quarry; at best, they have made an intelligent guess as to the general area from which some spotted dolerite samples might have come. But they have allowed their names to be attached to articles by MPP and others which purport to describe the Carn Goedog "quarry", and to that degree they are culpable.

On Craig Rhosyfelin, however, culpability is compounded. On several occasions Ixer and Bevins have gone onto the record with the claim that they have "spot provenanced" some of the Stonehenge bluestone debitage to "within a few square metres." (See pages 131 - 143 of my book for a summary) We have gone over the evidence and the arguments over and again on this blog, so I will not repeat things here. Suffice to say that in all of the analyses of the "Jovian fabric" and the foliated rhyolites at Rhosyfelin, no perfect matches have been found, and (whatever else Prof MPP might tell you) the geologists have NOT identified a precise location from which a monolith has been taken. I have spoken to many geologists about this, and they all say the same thing: namely that the density of the Bevins / Ixer sampling points is completely inadequate to draw any conclusions about spot provenancing.  Bevins and Ixer do not have the faintest idea where else their "sampled foliated layer" outcrops across the local landscape. I have repeated this point over and again, but certain archaeologists simply refuse to listen.......

Anyway, as reported in February 2021, Tim Daw has kindly published a map of further sampling conducted over the past couple of years in and around the Brynberian valley and in the valley leading south from Pont Saeson.  Further sampling is shown in the upper valley of the Afon Nyfer and in the Carnedd Neibion Owen - Ty Canol wood area.  Quote from Tim:  "The Whispering Molinia tells me that MPP had a remarkably successful 2020, considering, and many more boxes of rock samples are off to be analysed so that nearly 250 potential bluestone locations that will soon have been checked against the Stonehenge references. They have been snuffling up and down the streams that flow around Craig Rhosyfelin leaving no stone unturned. I look forward to learning the results."

Unfortunately there is no key on this map,  so we don't know what the red, purple and black stars actually indicate.  Are these all NEW sampling points, or does the map show the scores of sites already sampled by Richard Bevins and his colleagues prior to 2011?  Do they show different collection dates, or the identities of the persons who did the sampling, or the rock types involved?  Perhaps somebody will explain.........

Whatever the purpose or nature of the sampling, we look forward to seeing the new sample analyses, which may or may not lead to more accurate provenancing for some of the rhyolite and other fragments in the Stonehenge landscape.  I predict that there might be some reasonable "matching" of material collected in the field with samples in the Stonehenge collections -- but how that is then interpreted is anybody's guess.  Such is the obsession with quarries that I suppose we can expect more "quarrying announcements" any day now, no matter how flimsy the evidence might be.  It's a thankless task, hunting for 30 quarries, but as they say, somebody has to do it........