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Monday, 13 September 2021

The glorification of Waun Mawn -- with the help of 23 lies

Tomorrow night MPP will be giving his annual lecture at the Bluestone Brewery, reporting on the latest "discoveries" from up there on the mountainside.  This year the excavators have been blessed with pretty good weather, so the digging and sample collecting should have gone smoothly.  I hope he has something interesting to tell to the faithful, and will hazard a guess that there will be much more about the Bronze Age than about the Neolithic..........

Six months ago I reported on the infamous press release issued in association with the publication of the February 2021 Antiquity article about Waun Mawn, and the banal BBC TV documentary featuring MPP and Alice Roberts.  I make no apologies for reproducing my comments below, in the hope that this year might be one in which solid science comes to the fore, taking the place of distortions, speculations and assumptions.  Here is the original link:

How many lies can you pack into a single press release? As it happens, quite a few. This is the highest achiever I have ever seen — and I’ve seen quite a few in my time, in many different fields……..

There are 23 lies packed into a single press release. That’s quite an achievement. Here is a little list:

1. The headline is seriously misleading. Not even Mike Parker Pearson claims that Stonehenge was a dismantled stone circle — he claims that SOME of the bluestones in the bluestone settings at Stonehenge have probably come from a stone circle at a a place called Waun Mawn.

2. “The stunning discovery” ? This is not a "discovery” at all. It is a speculation, pure and simple. It is arguable that there ever was a stone circle at Waun Mawn, and there is NO evidence of any sort that links Stonehenge with Waun Mawn.

3. The bluestones are “already known to have come from the Preseli Hills”.  Really? Some of them probably have, but others have not — and possible sources are still being searched for.

4. The MPP team “has identified megalith quarries” ? No it hasn’t. It has claimed to have done so, but the evidence is hotly disputed in two peer papers published in 2015 which the MPP team has steadfastly refused to acknowledge or cite. That “refusal to cite” has been widely seen as academic malpractice.

5. “The dismantled stone circle nearby” ? No link of any sort has been established between Waun Mawn and the supposed quarry sites, and the evidence all suggests that if there ever were standing stones at Waun Mawn that have gone missing, they were small monoliths sourced locally.

6. Professor Parker Pearson said: “I have been leading projects at Stonehenge since 2003 and this is the culmination of twenty years of research. It’s one of the most important discoveries I’ve ever made.” Alarm bells should be ringing straight away when the archaeology becomes a minor issue and the main focus becomes a quest in the style of King Arthur and Indiana Jones. I note that the press release makes reference to the TV programme on “the lost circle” — which did not have science or even archaeology as its focus, but the obsessive quest of one man against all the odds, fashioned quite deliberately into a three-act drama. Let's be clear — this is NOT an important discovery.

7. "The find goes a long way to solving the mystery of why the Stonehenge bluestones were brought from so far away…” No it doesn’t. This is not a “find” but a speculation, and it has never been shown through evidence that the bluestones were “brought” from anywhere distant.

8. “………. all other stone circles were erected within a short distance of their quarries.” False. Most stone circles did not need quarries at all — they were made with whatever stones happened to be handy in the neighbourhood.

9. "Only four stones remain at Waun Mawn…” There are abundant substantial stones lying around, as revealed in the excavations. Others have simply been ignored by the MPP team. Some of those are bigger than those postulated to have fitted into sockets.

10. “…… revealed as having been the third biggest stone circle in Britain, after Avebury in Wiltshire and Stanton Drew in Somerset, and also one of the earliest.” False. This is a speculation, not a revelation. And the dating is also highly speculative, and unsupported by the evidence.

11. "Archaeological excavations in 2018 revealed empty stoneholes at Waun Mawn…” That again is a highly questionable assumption. I have examined all of the “stoneholes” and think that most of them are simply natural depressions in a till surface, far too small and shallow to have held substantial stone pillars. Mike Pitts and Prof Tim Darvill agree with me on that.

12. "Scientific dating of charcoal and sediments in the holes confirmed that it was put up around 3400 BC.” That is not true. There was a wide range of dates (as at the two “quarry” sites) and they are across such a wide range that no conclusions can be drawn. You cannot just cherry-pick the dates that suit you, as the MPP team has done.

13. “……..both Waun Mawn and Stonehenge were aligned on the midsummer solstice sunrise.” Not true. The two postulated “sighting stones” at Waun Mawn have been chosen simply because they are "convenient”. They are widely separated, and the arc between them is so wide that it has no significance in terms of alignment.

14. "One of the bluestones at Stonehenge has an unusual cross-section that matches one of the holes left at Waun Mawn.” That is fanciful in the extreme, and as I see it, having also seen the pit concerned, there is no match between socket and stone.

15. "Chippings in that hole are of the same rock type as the Stonehenge stone.” That is false. No match has been demonstrated in the “Antiquity” paper. This is yet another rather wild speculation.

16. “……..the Welsh circle had a diameter of 110 metres, the same as that of the ditch that encloses Stonehenge.” False. The proposed diameter of the Waun Mawn “circle” is entirely speculative, and the idea that a ditch diameter in one place has a significant connection with a stone circle diameter somewhere else, and of a different age, is bizarre.

17. "Waun Mawn is further evidence that the Preseli region of Wales was an important and densely settled place in Neolithic Britain, within a concentration of megalithic tombs, or dolmens, and large enclosures.” This is another unsupported assertion. Certainly there are many prehistoric features in the Preseli region, but maps do not show a greater concentration here than anywhere else, and it is irresponsible to suggest otherwise.

18. “………...evidence of activity in the thousand years after 3000 BC is almost non-existent.” False. Darvill and Wainwright have shown that there were changes going on in West Wales around the Neolithic - Bronze Age transition, but there is abundant evidence of continuity of settlement.

19. Parker Pearson is quoted as saying with respect to a stone-carrying migration: "This extraordinary event may also have served to unite the peoples of east and west Britain…” There was no extraordinary event. What is extraordinary is the speculation, based upon no evidence.

20. "Recent isotopic analysis of people buried at Stonehenge when the bluestones are thought to have arrived reveals that the first people to be buried there came from western Britain, very possibly west Wales.” This is another falsehood. The isotope evidence does not show this or suggest this at all.

21. “…… the Altar Stone, recently confirmed as sourced from the Brecon Beacons in South Wales.” This is a lie. It has been suggested that he Altar Stone probably came from somewhere along the eastern outcrop of the Senni Beds in South Wales. The provenancing is no tighter than that.

22. “…… estimated 80 bluestones put up on Salisbury Plain at Stonehenge and nearby Bluestonehenge…” There is no foundation for that statement. It is speculation that there may have been 80 bluestones on Salisbury Plain, and no evidence has ever been produced to show that “Bluestonehenge” actually contained any monoliths from West Wales.

23. “…… guess is that Waun Mawn was not the only stone circle that contributed to Stonehenge.” Maybe just a guess, but it is irresponsible and misleading to pretend that any bluestone monoliths found at Stonehenge have come from a single stone circle in West Wales, let alone several.


PS.  Because I was so concerned about the appalling nonsense in the press release and in the Antiquity article on Waun Mawn, I wrote to Prof Sue Hamilton, the Director of the UCL Institute of Archaeology, to complain about the decline in academic standards in that institution and more specifically about the manner in which the gigantic Waun Mawn myth had been fabricated.  She replied that she had no concerns whatsoever about the activities of MPP or anybody else.  Are we surprised?


Tony Hinchliffe said...

Virtually everything that Pearson insists on telling us about the relationship between the Preseli Hills and Stonehenge is FAR - FETCHED to the extreme.

Pearson is merely a fanatic, and what has been dragged is not many bluestones but all his colleague - archaeologists and other specialists into the same quicksand.....

A great pity that this has happened on Mike .Parker Pearson's watch. He is culpable. Shame he did not stop his researches in England/ Wessex....

BRIAN JOHN said...

I really have no idea whether he is a good archaeologist or not. he probably knows how things should be done -- but the monster in the room is post-processual thinking. It's encouraged archaeologists to abandon science and to devote all their time to asking why? where? and how? -- and to develop more and more wacky stories by way of explanation. Then they just have to get out there into the field and find the evidence to support the stories, come hell or high water. The inevitable result, of course, is scientific fraud.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

I agree with you there, Brian. When you read up about what occurred in Pearson's cerebral processes when he went to Cambridge to study with his 'Guru' Hodder there, he tells you about all the"soul mates" he met and learned with there....maybe they all felt they were having very important shared psychic experiences, became bonded together, and .....Bob's your uncle!....they went down the rabbit hole together thereafter...and Mike became everyone's uncle instead of Bob.

Tom Flowers said...

Prof Sue Hamilton, another one to add to the list headed by the corrupt late Alexander Thom.
Don’t forget also, the late Clive Emsley of the Open University, who refused to concede to the idea that Woodhenge points at the moon. He wrote: ‘A consensus of opinion is that Woodhenge points at the sun.’ Not even a CAD produced plot from a careful GPS survey made in 2008 could change his mind! Further communiques to him, and a hand-delivered letter to the OU in Milton Keynes, (videoed) remain ignored.
The plan was also handed into Devizes Museum for MPP’s perusal, who was lecturing in the town hall at the time and was due to visit the museum afterwards. Not so much as a thank you.
A similar letter was videoed being delivered to Pitts’ address in Marlborough. Subject not present. Six such videos were made altogether should I wish to dig them out.
The plan was also submitted to English Heritage by the surveyors themselves – The Jenks’ brothers. Again, no reply.
Once again, I find myself repeating the words of Professor Mick Aston of the Time Team.
“Archaeology in Britain is a shambles from top to bottom.”

Tony Hinchliffe said...

As well as being heavily influenced by Ian Hodder's acceptance of post - processualism, Pearson had already encountered Colin Renfrew whilst studying at Southampton - their paths were to continue to cross. Renfrew is very capable of having his own points of view beyond post - processualism.

Philip Denwood said...

According to Wikipedia, Post-processual archaeology "is a movement in archaeological theory that emphasizes the subjectivity of archaeological interpretations". That sums it up quite nicely..

BRIAN JOHN said...

Thanks Philip. Yes, subjectivity is a part of it. There is no such thing as a truly objective investigation -- there is always subjectivity in there somewhere, to some degree. That's why papers are peer reviewed and subjected to scrutiny -- in order to decide whether the degree of subjectivity (and hence the room for error) is unacceptably large. The problem is that some archaeologists seem to think that subjectivity -- and opinion -- is perfectly acceptable, no matter how far into the realms of fantasy they stray. So truth ceases to matter -- all that matters is whether your "story" is credible and attractive. If you have to modify your story, you might do that, and believe that no harm has been done. But make no mistake -- harm HAS been done, and it's all your fault.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

I'm just quickly letting everyone who reads this Blog know that University College London seems, based upon a quick internet search, to have a strap-line it calls DISRUPTIVE THINKING. One of its proponents across ALL Institutes of UCL it turns out is Mathematician and BBC radio 4 regular Dr Hannah Fry.....

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Pearson writes in his original,2012 book, " Stonehenge: exploring the greatest mystery... ", as regards his SRP's attempts to get sufficient funding for 5 seasons of fieldwork in 2004:" our brand new Stonehenge Riverside Project made it through to the final three [best archaeological project proposals], but then we received a dismal letter informing us that the RAI found out proposal 'TOO SPECULATIVE '

Perhaps it was Stonehenge's own magnetism and fascinating aura that eventually enabled him to attract the funding for all 5 years??

BRIAN JOHN said...

I had forgotten about that -- all too speculative by a country mile. Not sure if they have subsequently dished out cash to the project. The team seems to have multiple sources of grant aid.

Sandman said...

Flint's tweet:

BRIAN JOHN said...

I heard that there is a budget of around £30,000 for this year's dig. I imagine that around 50% of that will be for the dig and 50% for dating and lab analyses of samples,

Tony Hinchliffe said...

On the topic of Post - Processualist Archaeology and its proponents, I bought Paul Bank's little book, "Archaeology: a Very Short Introduction" yesterday in the Stonehenge shop and I'm glad I did.......he says:-

"One important point to bear in mind when considering theoretical archaeology is that nobody is ever likely to be entirely correct about any aspect of the past - and in any case, how would we ever know whether we were right or not? Knowledge is just a variable tested guess, and the words proof, truth and objectivity do not apply in the world of guesses. We work merely to increase the confidence we can place in those guesses.Archaeology deals in degrees of probability, and it is fairly obvious that a SENSIBLE hypothesis based on reliable data is LIKELY to be closer to the mark than something fanciful conjured up our of thin air, unsupported by the evidence (an Utterly Groundless Hypothesis, or UGH! for short). (page 76)

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Grrr....flaming predictive text!.........the AUTHOR of the book quoted from in my last Comment is.....PAUL BAHN

BRIAN JOHN said...

This reads like a bit of gobbledeygook to me. Theoretical archaeology? If an archaeologist sits in his office all day long and thinks beautiful archaeological thoughts, then all well and good -- but any archaeologist worth his / her salt will be out there in the field, excavating or examining structures. Then it becomes practical or field archaeology, in which case the stuff about knowledge, guesses etc becomes just so much rubbish. You do have facts and evidence to confront. A piece of curved pottery with a glaze and a wine residue on the concave face might have been a wine container. You may even say that you have proof, and probably people will accept that unless there is something very strange that has not been taken into account. Something that looks like a spear head may actually have been just that. The sensible versus the fanciful -- now where have we heard that before?

Perhaps we should in future refer to the Rhosyfelin UGH.........

Tony Hinchliffe said...

By "theoretical archaeology" he is talking about post - processual archaeology.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Depressing, isn't it? There is no such thing as truth, evidence doesn't really matter because it can be interpreted several ways in any case, and who cares anyway? No wonder archaeology is populated by charlatans and frauds, and is on the way out...........

Tony Hinchliffe said...

The aforementioned PAUL BAHN, in that book, does indeed use the word "charlatan"..........more anon!!