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Monday, 27 September 2021

Waun Mawn 2021 -- what was discovered?


Was there a great oak tree at the centre of a magic circle?  Now wouldn't that be fun?

So what was discovered?  Not very much, by all accounts.

I have some reports on Prof MPP's annual lecture at the Bluestone Brewery -- which is traditionally the occasion on which great announcements are made.  The talk was on 14th September, just before the end of the dig -- so the main findings were certainly clear by then.  Some of the locals who have attended the Brewery talks in the past did not attend this year, partly because of Covid-related fears about social distancing etc and partly because they have heard it all before, several times.  I think a sort of bluestone fatigue has set in, and that appalling Alice Roberts TV documentary has also convinced many people that there is far too much speculation going on, backed up by too few facts.

Reports from those who did attend the talk suggest that the whole thing was very low-key, with no major announcements of exciting finds.  So the presence of the "lost circle" was not confirmed by the "discovery" of new sockets or stone holes, in spite of a very extensive search.  In fact the "lost circle" promotion was much more muted this time round, with a change in the language used.  The certainty of past lectures was replaced with phrases like "my best guess is...." and "we think it's possible that...."  One listener was quite surprised that there seemed to be an acceptance that the "lost circle" was an OPINION rather than an established fact.  Interesting........ and about time too.......  And the suggestion now seems to be that the mooted stone circle was never actually completed, let alone dismantled and carted off to Stonehenge.

The slight "embankment" with recumbent stones, to the north of the putative stone circle circumference, has by the look of it turned out to be entirely natural.

The embanked circle near Gernos-fach seems to be difficult to interpret, but it looks as if it is BronzeAge, as many of us have suggested -- and so it probably has nothing to do with either the Neolithic or Stonehenge.

My contacts don't recall anything interesting being said about the attempts to find standing stone sockets showing some sort of alignment with the rising sun on the summer solstice.  So it looks as if the diggers have drawn a blank there too. 

The only thing that seems to have sparked a murmur of interest appears to have been the "discovery" of ye olde oak tree somewhere near the centre of the putative lost giant circle.  That's where there was an excavation c 8m x 8m. Apparently a pit was found that seems to have been related to the rootstock of a large oak tree.  No stone socket and no post hole that might have been used with a rope for marking out the circumference.  So the latest theory seems to be that the builders of the circle (if there ever was one, or part of one) were tree worshippers who used a great oak tree as a focal point of their religious ceremonies or rituals and who wanted to place standing stones around it as a sort of homage. Ah -- the predecessors of the druids!  The story gets ever more wacky. 

Of course, as I have said on more than one occasion, the so-called stone sockets (ten of them, according to MPP) are so shallow and so irregular that they are best interpreted as natural hollows in a rough till surface -- or possibly as the locations of tree roots in the past. Mike Pitts and Tim Darvill seem to agree with me.   That interpretation would not be at all surprising, since this area was recorded in the Middle Ages as a deer park -- and that means it was densely wooded.  MPP wants us to believe that Waun Mawn was a past peat bog, covered with blanket peat -- but I don't believe that the evidence supports that, and it is much more likely that it was covered by woodland during much of the Holocene, with a later reversion to the dry acid heath vegetation that we see today.

There is a reasonable chance that the great oak tree (or maybe little oak tree?) that was rooted in this auspicious position has nothing at all to do with the Neolithic, but was growing there 4,000 years later, providing shelter for jolly huntsmen at the pleasure of one of the local Welsh princes or Norman barons.  All will be revealed when the radiocarbon dates and pollen analyses are available for scrutiny.

We assume that all the geological sampling, taking of peat cores for pollen analyses etc all went according to plan -- and will bring forth results that are of interest. But there is something pathetic about the pretence by the MPP team that they are still hunting for more bluestone quarries, and one can only hope that in future they will use their time and cash resources more constructively.

All in all, much ado about nothing.

PS.  Sorry if any of the above proves to be inaccurate -- but my correspondents were not as attentive as they might have been in the past......  If anybody reading this wants to correct me, please send in your comments and I will publish them.


Tony Hinchliffe said...

My Facebook pal over the weekend showed us a photo he took of an ancient oak in northern Wiltshire he reckons was there in Bill the Conquerer's time.

Parker Pearson seems to be on Sabbatical from his professorial duties at UCL during the Autumn Term. Off to his U.S. believers perhaps? We await his next Preselli pronouncements with slightly underwhelmed anticipation. This post - processualist insistence isn't pulling up too many trees this time around so far.....but he usually pulls something staggering out of his Tommy Cooper bag, don't he??!

CysgodyCastell said...

I was told by someone who spent a couple of days at the dig, that all he did was turf cutting. He did look into a hole being excavated by a young archaeologist and was told it was a socket but he struggled to see anythging other than soil and stones, quite natural to his eye and nothing archaeological.

There was an ever present camera team filming everything.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Not surprised. A great deal of turf was cut this year, stacked into great piles, and then put back again. I hope the diggers thought it was all worthwhile............ maybe your friend will get a starring role in the next TV spectacular?

I hadn't heard about the filming. Oh dear oh dear........ yet more pressure to "discover" something incredibly spectacular.........

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Let's hope that the cut turf was restored carefully. In previous Seasons complaints were made about lack of after care.

Very topical on the day that the NASA LANDSAT launched again,studying environmental change.

BRIAN JOHN said...

The replacement of a rather large area of turf is pretty messy, and stones have been exposed that were not exposed before. The ground surface also seems to have been lowered in places. I don't know what might have been agreed with the Barony and NRW about "site restoration" and the need to leave the landscape as it was.......

As in 2018, the diggers seem to have left in quite a hurry. Shortage of manpower?

ukdecay said...

Hey whats with you guys, don't you find it exciting? I certainly do.
The fact that a team of world ranking archaeologist's have spent so much time in this area is surely great for the local economy?
I have spent a lot of time in the Preseli recently taking more drone footage for further videos. Foel Drygarn is a magnificent and spectacular Hillfort that dominates the eastern ridge of the Preseli's. See my recent footage on my Dronescaping Britain channel. It has 3 bronze age mounds on it's summit and nearly 300 hut indentations. It must have been a citadel. You can see all of this on my footage. To me the cairns look more like fallen towers or large Beehivecairns that have collapsed. This place must have looked awesome in its heyday! There are so many unanswered questions about these forts.
Carningli hosted a Hillfort too, what kind of Hillfort clads a vast peak of rocks and why? What are those enourmous mounds of scattered stones below both Drygarn and Carningli.
And the centre of the circle of the northern Preseli ridge in the mixing desk position if it was a giant stadium is the enigmatic chevroned Castell Mawr with its two enclosing forts. MPP reckons he found evidence of a neaolithic henge here, that was re-used during the Iron Age. Castell Mawr is almost exactly 3.5 miles from both Drygarn and Carningli, all 3 forts must have been related ? And surely both Drygarn and Carningli go back much earlier than the Iron Age?
I have found several pointers in the dolmen of the northern park that reflect the peak of Carningli, it was obviously a very important place back in ancient times.
You know as someone who has recently lmoved to the area you have in the Preseli's a wonderful , mysterious and fascinating landscape. The fact it draws so much attention must have something behind it? I certainly am drawn here, the genus loci is so obvious.

to be continued....

ukdecay said...

Part two of my rant...Last week I walked to Carn Bicca to get some footage while the weather lasts of some of the alledged piles of rocks and stones that were the original locations of the Bluestones of Sonehenge. I visited with a 40 year lapsed geologist and we talked about glaciers and MPPs ideas and yours Brian.
If.... there were glaciers that headed east, instead of south as is mainly the case in north west Europe and they travelled as far as Wiltshire, then it is not difficult to believe that glaciers carried them.
All this said MPP does have evidence albeit fragments that the same stone seen around here were spotted in studies at Stonehenge and large Cows could have been used to pull the stones of the ancestors on sleds to their new locations. This is my idea based on MPPs, Its not so strange I do understand your occums razor thingy but people do migrateto new location's from time to time (like me I hired a lorry to get here), maybe to get away from invasion around hthe Presli region. I dont think its unreasonable for a community to make such a great effort if the stones in their culture were vitally important for some reason. These people wern't like us they had very few material 'things' Perhaps each stone represented a great ancestor, and maybe circles were a kind of coming together of disperate communities. MPP spent a lot of time in the Indian oceon particularly Madagascer where he spent time with indigenous communities who were perhaps not yet up to speed with modern society and still adept in the ways of the timeless ancestors. From them and from other studies worldwide, it seems a universal idea that generally totems in wood represented the living, whilst stone, represents the dead. This follows through to modern times with our use of stone in gravestones and memorials etc.
Strange tools were found, sandstone wedges and shrpened circular discs, this is not rocket science. MPP has spent years trying to get into the headspace of our ancestors and he has a team of eminent archaeologists at the top of their field. Sure they are getting paid for it, we all need paying!
The Preseli area is absolutely fascinating, there are riddles within enigmas and a magical landscape to boot. I understand local sentiments, having 'foreigners' come down and talk over you.
Some of the things you said about Mike are simply not true. He is dilligent and hard working, he believes pasionately about his work and is a nice chap. He doesn't know everything, who does? He is not a liar, he really believes in the work he is doing. He also works up in the northern isles another place that is absolutely fascinating. I think he is up there now, or will be shortly. I know the BBC's propensity for big headlines, sod the facts. The news is the biggest culprit but it doesn't end there I know.
You have here in the Preseli's a jewel in the crown of Wales. I aim to obtain more local footage with my drone and will write more music to go with it because at the end of the day I am a musician and I will be visiting Bluestones Brewery again lol

Diolch people

Chris Rees said...

Are you not allowed into to Bluestone Brewery talk? I’m imagining MPP minders baring you at the door!

BRIAN JOHN said...

Oh, the Bluestone Brewery folks don't ban anybody -- and they are good friends of ours. But I have heard the MPP talk many times before, and have asked him questions which have always elicited arrogant and complacent replies. And these talks are not the places for detailed examinations of the "evidence" because most people do not know the sites, and are just there to be entertained.......

BRIAN JOHN said...

UKdecay -- thanks for the jolly rant. Not the first or the last on this blog! Yes, Foel Drygarn, Castell Mawr, Carningli etc are indeed magnificent sites in a wonderful area -- nobody disputes that. And it makes sense that some of the features are older than the Iron Age -- and maybe date back to the Neolithic. No problem with any of that. Of course the landscape draws people to it -- that is why I live here, and why many others have come to live here too.

On part two of your rant, if you want to believe the speculations and assumptions of MPP and his colleagues, that's your privilege. It would be nice to get some facts that stand up after scrutiny. I have no doubt that Mike is affable and sincere, but if he and his colleagues cannot bring themselves to admit that their ideas are disputed by other sincere and well-qualified scientists, then they do not deserve any respect, in academia or anywhere else.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

MPP, one to one, is a pleasant,friendly,often generous, informal enough chap, who, as "ukdecay" says,doesn't
know everything! I've dug with him and told him about my having a Geography degree. He said he nearly studied it instead of, or as well as Archaeology.

It is a great shame he's not more of an enthusiastic student of geomorphology
(an aspect of physical geography), then he would project his EXTRA enthusiasm for the profound effects of glaciation on the landscape of Preseli onto his television and public audiences IN ADDITION to what he is telling us about archaeology thereabouts.I

Time Team's Tony Robinson, a colleague at times of MPP, has told his TV audience about the effects of Glaciation in separate programmes, after all, and HE is SIR Tony these days!

There now, Mike, is you next big challenge : show a willingness to think outside the box of your self - imposed Ruling Hypothesis......embrace a proper appreciation and respect for the wonders of the natural world BEYOND your archaeology can do it!

ukdecay said...

Hello again, thank you for your kind response to my rant last night.
If you rather I didn't write on your comments I would understand.

I am doing some research myself, I cant find any mention anywhere of Irish Sea glaciers moving east towards southern Britain from the Preselis, could someone illuminate me as where to find this info.
My geologist friend said to me that he was not ware of any substantial west towards east glacial drift, but in fairness he is out of touch with modern thinking.
He said as far as he was aware most glacial drifts generally moved either south or south east or south west. He also said that there are some problems with drift eastwards from the Preselis as there were some high mountains blocking,
Anyway presumably you are working from evidence that is more up to date.
Have there been any instances of Bluestone/dolerite erratics etc originating from the Preseli's found on Salisbury Plain that were not used at Stonehenge?
Also at some point before the year is out, perhaps if we get another fine spell, would there be a chance of visiting your museum please (if you will have me!)

One other thing Foel Drygarn, the three cairns, look like fallen towers from the air, I spoke with a Drystone wall export who had written a paper of Welsh Drystone walls and he wasn't aware of any drystone structures or buildings in Wales. Like for instance Scotch Brocks or Kerry Beehive huts. there is one Beehive Cairn in the Cambrian Mountains that is a modern structure but apaently built on the footprint of an original beehive cairn. Could the 3 cairns on the Foel Drygarn be large beehive cairns, that have been destroyed or collapsed? could anyone shed any light on this?

BRIAN JOHN said...

This idea that glaciers have a problem flowing eastwards is rather bizarre, and was expressed in writing by Geoff Wainwright and a few others who should have known better. Glaciers associated with the British - Irish Ice Sheet flowed in all compass directions. A big glacier will always flow into any depression that happens to be handy, following all the normal glaciological rules. It has been known for almost a hundred years that ice belonging to the Irish Sea Glacier flowed eastwards up the Bristol Channel -- it is all explained on this blog. There is abundant evidence. Just do some searches. If you want it even easier, buy "The Stonehenge Bluestones" either in paperback or in the Kindle version. Very cheap, and we poor authors always need the money.

By all means come and visit my little museum -- a warm welcome is extended to all visitors,, including archaeologists!

I see no reason why the three so-called Bronze Age burial cairns on Foel Drygarn should be interpreted as anything else! They look pretty convincing to me!!

CysgodyCastell said...

You probably need to search through this blog for the information on local rocks being entrained in irish sea glaciers and moving towards what is now SW England.

From memory, and coincidently, there are three beehive cairns on Drygarn Fawr near the Elan valley but these are believed to be 20th Century in date and the ones i think you are referring to.

I know of three huge cairns on Garreg Las in the Black Mountain area of the Beacons thought to be prehistoric. Obviously there will be more.

I dont think their would be any evidence that the cairns atop Foel Drygarn were an elaborate structure like a beehive cairn or a tower of some description, although its an interesting idea. It was a very active settlement site over a long period of time. You refer to Foel Drygarn as a 'Sacred' site, there is no evidence that this site or any other were revered in any way. Is this just click bait on your Youtube channel?

Boles barrow is the one of the more well known dolerites that possibly came from West Wales, again a search of this blog will give you ample information.

ukdecay said...

Thanks for the info..
According to my religious and spiritual beliefs (and not just my beliefs there are many others who think the same), the Preselau area IS a sacred landscape. Venerated by inhabitents and pilgrims in the past and even today it's experienced and enjoyed by a multitude of folk as a 'magical' area of outstanding natural beauty, a landscape with an incredible sense of Genus Loci.
To be fair on the titling to my video I did have As "part of the sacred Preseli Landscape" but Youtube only allows 100 characters as I am sure you are aware. I had to cut the wording down and also follow YOutube's instructions on how to SEO the tile. Apparently that's very important. I dont make up the YOutube rules. Clickbait is something we all have to do online. Your website is called "Stonehenge and the Ice Age" if that is not clickbait I will eat my hat.
Spent hours looking into your hypothesis last night and hmmm. I will read your book if you have any for sale at your museum.
Thanks and Diolch

BRIAN JOHN said...

We all have our special landscapes, and some of us call them sacred. no problem with that. And yes, we are all in the promotional game, selling something or other -- books, videos, consultancy services, academic expertise, whatever........

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Don't let your heart completely rule your head......Mother Nature provided the fundamental Preseli landscape. There is an amazing amount in Nature's contribution, including glacial landscapes. Archaeologists, especially in Preseli, have a recent track record of ignoring the significant contribution of Nature, and giving Prehistoric Folk the vast credit for what God gave us all.

Pembrokeshire of course does possess within it the astounding legacy of St David and other Christians. As a result of this, the County's people are very warmhearted to one and all, including to me down near Stonehenge and Avebury.

chris johnson said...

Welcome to the club of Preseli fans :)

ukdecay said...

Great article in the Observer today that kind of explains my "sacred landscape" commented on my Foel Drygarn video.

In the article the writer refers to the work of Cummings and Whittle in their seminal "Places of Special Virtue: Megaliths in the Neolithic landscapes of Wales"

Whilst at a visit to Lech y Drybedd I noticed the angle and shape of the Dolmen's Capstone mirrored Mynydd Carningli a few miles to the south west and on my photo the angles are a virtual exact match, coincidence? I have noted more such 'possible 'mirror'ed' landscape aspects in the Preseli area. Castell Mawr is equidistant from Drygarn and Carningli, it has some evidence for Neolithic origins, with two very close Hillforts overlooking the Nyfer valley, looking almost as though they are protecting the central great Castle. With Henlly's not far to the north.
Not glacial I know but I thought you may be interested.

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Phenomenology: curiously, when I key "geomorphology"into my Kindle, it likes to suprise me by changing it to " phenomenology ". Weird!

Parker Pearson seems to be a fan. He says (page 59 of his 2012 "Stonehenge...Exploring" book, that his mate at UCL, Chris Tilley " pioneered phenomenology" in the sense of walking the prehistoric landscapes and experiencing the views and vistas they would have seen way back when.

Not at all sure Tilley pioneered this, but, hey! he's trying to earn a crust....

BRIAN JOHN said...

You need to get those gadgets sorted, Tony. Post-processualism and phenomenology have led many honest folks astray, and should be banned, since they both appear to say there is some sort of rationale for saying "the truth is whatever I want it to be" and to hell with the facts of the matter......

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Yeah, post - whatever and phenomenology seen to have turned up soon after psychedelia and Monty Python.....