This gets more and more interesting. It's been building up for the last decade or more -- a growing disquiet about the manner in which the Stonehenge area has been flagged up as THE great symbol of Neolithic and Bronze Age civilisation in the British Isles. The place to which everything gravitates, and the place to which tributes are due and homage has to be made. One of the drivers of this Stonehenge juggernaut is Mike Parker Pearson, aided and abetted by many other senior archaeologists who have contributed to the development of an ever more elaborate Stonehenge / Durrington narrative. And the Stonehenge team, backed up by the marketing power of English Heritage, have loved it, since the great British public, the media and visitors from abroad always have a soft spot for elaborate and heroic stories. Stonehenge, one of the wonders of the world! And the more the visitors pour into Stonehenge and nearby sites like Avebury, the louder becomes the ringing of the cash tills.........
Anyway, here is a brief summary of the lead-up to the latest published article:
"Four Nations Prehistory": cores and archetypes in the writing of prehistory. Gordon Barclay, September 2019. In book: History, nationhood and the question of Britain (ed) Brocklehurst, Helen & Phillips, Robert
My take on it, as a perfectly reasonable and well-argued paper:
Evans, J., Parker Pearson, M., Madgwick, R. et al. Strontium and oxygen isotope evidence for the origin and movement of cattle at Late Neolithic Durrington Walls, UK. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 5181–5197 (2019).
My take on the article by Madgwick et al:
Chapter Three:Barclay, G. J., and K. Brophy. 2020. “‘A Veritable Chauvinism of Prehistory’: Nationalist Prehistories and the ‘British’ Late Neolithic Mythos.” Archaeological Journal 1–31. doi:10.1080/00665983.2020.1769399.
My take on the article:
Richard Madgwick, Angela Lamb, Hilary Sloane, Alexandra Nederbragt, Umberto Albarella, Mike Parker Pearson & Jane Evans
Archaeological Journal, 18 May 2021
I referred to this article as including "gratuitous character assassination", and I stick with that assessment.
This is not the most media-friendly or eye-catching of titles for an article, but the contents are pretty explosive, since the authors are obviously very angry, and feel that they have been defamed. They not only feel that the attack on them by Madgwick et al was unprofessional and unacceptable -- but that they have been "hung out to dry" by the very journal that published their 2020 article. This is what Gordon Barclay said on his Twitter feed:
Dr Kenny Brophy (@urbanhistory) andI have published a paper on my website, at
This responds to an article published by Madgwick et al in May 2021, in the Archaeological Journal.
The article we are responding to, by Madgwick et al (2021), is available here: [https://tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00665983.2021.1911099…].
Madgwick et al (2021) presents itself as a response to an earlier article by Dr Kenny Brophy and myself published in 2020 [https://gordon-barclay.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/A-veritable-chauvinism-of-prehistory-nationalist-prehistories-and-the-British-late-Neolithic-mythos.pdf…].
However, the article published by Madgwick et al 2021 avoids dealing with our key points, misrepresents what we had written and puts words in our mouths. It does this in language about us and our work that were astonished to find in a reputable peer-reviewed journal.
Specific accusations by Madgwick et al (2021) are, we are advised by counsel, defamatory. Concern has been expressed that such an ill-judged text got through refereeing and editing into print.
A promise by @royalarchinst that we could publish a response to Madgwick et al (2021) was broken. Repeated requests by my solicitors that they reconsider this decision were rebuffed. A formal complaint to @tandfnewsroom, publishers of the journal¸ provided no redress.
Our work has been misrepresented; our reputations have been attacked; our chance to reply to Madgwick et al (2021) has been summarily removed. We spent 3 months incurring significant legal costs to persuade the Royal Archaeological Institute to keep its promise.
We spent another 3 months trying to get Taylor & Francis to find a solution. We decided that we could not continue to allow this attack on our motivations, ethics and competence to remain unchallenged. We have therefore published less formally.
Our new article, we believe, also makes a significant contribution to the study of methodological nationalism and conceptual conservatism, and the part they play in the writing of ‘British’ prehistory from within the Wessex echo-chamber.
We do not expect that it will have any effect on the progress of the ‘Stonehenge juggernaut’ but hope that others will not be put off challenging the ‘intractability of old national narratives of the past’.
This paper in part responds to an article (Madgwick et al 2021) which in turn presented itself as a response to an earlier paper of ours (Barclay and Brophy 2020). But, like our earlier paper, this one has a wider remit. We had explored the presentation of the supposedly 'national' 'unifying' role of monuments in a geographically restricted sector of southwestern England-what we called the '"British" late Neolithic mythos'. Madgwick and his collaborators' response fails to address the key points raised in our paper and, in doing so, in our view, provides further evidence of both methodological nationalism and conceptual conservatism in continuing to present a prehistory written around and prioritising evidence gathered in this restricted area. It does this apparently without any recognition that that research is being carried on within a problematic theoretical framework.
".....our 2020 essay was a wide- ranging review which directly addressed the erection of the current mythos about the Stonehenge landscape and its supposed centrality in the ‘British’ Neolithic, which has been promulgated over some fifteen years in different media. We also offered a consideration of the problematic but unacknowledged issues caused for the writing of ‘British’ prehistory by some academics’ continued uncritical attachment to a narrative written, and a vision developed, from the narrow perspective of evidence produced from a part of south-western England. It has since been pointed out to us how this unrelenting aggrandisement of the position and significance of this small area may have affected the outcomes of funding applications and research assessment exercises."
The Response (Madgwick et al 2021) avoids dealing with the main thrust of our critique: the ‘elephant in the room’ of English, British and even Irish archaeology. That is, the extent to which an almost mystical attachment to ‘our most precious and sacred’ landscape (Holland 2020) distorts the writing of prehistory across these islands. And the way in which complex and very far-reaching interpretations that happen to coincide with that world view are erected using, we would argue, unsatisfactory, certainly insufficient archaeological and scientific foundations. The Response does not address the neo- colonialist thinking that underpins that narrative and, oblivious, continues to provide examples of it (eg Response, 368, in relation to claims about ‘the whole of Britain’), as well as of vaguely apprehended, broad-brush treatment of prehistories outside the ‘core’. In fact, it seems the most likely legacy of this Response is to act as a warning to those who try to stand in the path of the ‘Stonehenge juggernaut’ – by mounting any challenge, however well-supported by evidence, against the ‘intractability of old national narratives of the past’ (Hanscam 2019, 1). In that respect, we hope that others will not be discouraged.
The Response claims that it is ‘an absurdity’ to link the people of Neolithic Britain to ‘contemporary political debate’, but we have demonstrated that this has in fact been done by at least some of its authors in the promotion of the mythos – the anachronistic idea of a prehistoric ‘British identity’ and ‘Brexit’, for example. Our positions and our arguments have been misrepresented or avoided; replies have been offered to caricatures of our points, rather than their substance; and words have been put in our mouths. In the process we have been accused of behaving dishonestly and unethically, our motivations and our professional standing and competence have been attacked in emotive and personal language we were astonished to find in a reputable academic journal. Indeed, counsel’s opinion is that some of the Response’s accusations are defamatory. Publication in a peer-reviewed journal, however, protects an author from any legal consequences.
The writers of the Response make our points for us, that this strand of archaeological interpretation focused on Stonehenge, its hinterland, and the Wessex chalkland continues to operate in a theoretical vacuum, in which its wider historiographical, cultural and socio-political context are ignored or disregarded. It avoids any consideration of the impact of those places’ iconic status, the consequent distorting effects on the writing of ‘British’ prehistory, and the enduring appropriation of this manner of writing by the far right in Britain in the 20th and 21st centuries. It continues to see Britain (and in some
measure Ireland) beyond the study area (apart from Orkney of course) as an inadequately- defined, marginal ‘other’ from which to select things that however tenuously tie these ‘peripheries’ to their ‘core’.
Most importantly, the mythos demonstrates the damaging effects over many decades of methodological nationalism and conceptual conservatism, ignoring the effect that this world view has on the selection and interpretation of evidence and the construction of narratives: ‘pan-British centres’, round the ‘omphalos of Britain’, hosting ‘the first united cultural events of our island’ organised by people with ‘societal roles that were “national” in nature’, and promoting identity’ in the context of a ‘Neolithic Brexit’ belong in the time of Fox’s Personality of Britain (1943) and Hawkes’s A Land (1951), not 2021.