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

Wednesday 31 August 2022

The Lost Circle and the death of due diligence

Now that we have it confirmed (we knew it already, but let that pass) that there was no "lost circle" at Waun Mawn, and that the site had nothing whatsoever to do with Stonehenge, we have a duty to mull over this question:  "How is it that a narrative so unsupported by hard facts and so far removed from reality was accepted by so many people as one of the great archaeological finds of the century?"

The mulling process is all rather intriguing, but also deeply depressing.......

Just a reminder of what happened on February 12th last year.  

On that date we saw one of the largest and most carefully-coordinated high pressure PR / media campaigns I can ever remember. The BBC and the journal "Antiquity" agreed far in advance that an article by Mike Parker Pearson and twelve colleagues on the subject of "the original Stonehenge" would be published on the same day as the first transmission of a "Lost Circle" documentary-drama featuring Prof Alice Roberts. It was titled “Stonehenge: the Lost Circle Revealed”, and was promoted as a "BBC2 special" and as a "world exclusive."    On top of that the journal mounted an aggressive press release and briefing campaign which was accompanied by a parallel campaign (using the same materials) from the university press departments of all 13 of the authors. Then there was a meticulously planned social media campaign involving Alice Roberts herself, English Heritage and other “experts”, following leaks and tweets over the two weeks or more leading up to D-Day......... So the media had plenty of time to prepare their articles, with press images and choice quotes from MPP and Alice Roberts, ready for the day when the press embargo ended.  On the chosen day, there were banner headlines and feature articles galore (just use Google to do a check), and the BBC documentary had very high viewing figures.  Social media (Facebook, Twitter etc) were awash with glowing praise from members of the public and from professional archaeologists -- and all those involved were thoroughly delighted.  Job well done!  Reputations enhanced!

The problem was that it was all based on a vastly irresponsible exercise in interpretative inflation by 13 senior research workers, all of whom should have known better.  They were ultimately responsible for the nonsense in the TV programme, in the article and in the media, but we should not forget the role of a multitude of "enablers" who must ultimately share responsibility for what happened.  The Editor of "Antiquity" journal, Rob Witcher of Durham University, selected the referees for the article and decided to publish it.  He must have been heavily involved in the negotiations with the BBC about linking the publication date to the BBC transmission date. Tomos TV in Cardiff wanted to make the TV documentary, and the director / producer Peter Chinn must have pitched the idea to BBC2.  He was ultimately responsible for the content of the programme, for deciding who to use (including Alice Roberts), and for determining that the programme theme should be a variation on the age-old holy grail / quest story and that MPP should be the hero.  At the BBC end,  somebody at a senior level must have commissioned the TV documentary, and many others must have participated in the liaison with "Antiquity" and in the media campaign.  Press officers in all of the university departments represented on the list of article authors must all have been heavily involved.  In other words,  scores of people were enthusiastically occupied in ensuring that the "lost circle revelations" made the greatest possible impact on the public.

So whatever happened to due diligence?  A responsibility is always placed on both academics and senior people in the media (publishing and broadcasting) to ensure that programmes are truthful, honest and reliable.  But here we have an article that should never have been published and a TV documentary that should never have been transmitted.  Apparently nobody noticed that the article was seriously deficient in hard data and overloaded with speculations and rash assumptions.  Apparently nobody noticed that the TV documentary was similarly defective.  So they all went full steam ahead, gloriously oblivious to the fact that they were spreading a wildly irresponsible myth dressed up as serious research.   Were they all stupid, or were they all just too busy and too swept along by the own hype to seriously examine the content that they were feeding to the public?

Should all these people have known that they were involved in a serious piece of academic mischief?  Of course they should.  Over the past five years the "lost circle" hypothesis so enthusiastically promoted by MPP has been questioned by scores of professional archaeologists on and off the record, and even the briefest of literature checks would have confirmed that there were serious doubts about any sort of circle ever having been present at Waun Mawn. Even the research team's own geophysical investigations had suggested (on at least two occasions)  that the required sockets in the ground were just not there.  And yet nobody had the common sense or the authority to put a stop to this latest "add-on" to the Stonehenge narrative.  Shame on them all!

Of course, following the publication of the two articles in the "Journal of Archaeological Science" in June, the original "Antiquity" article should be retracted, and heads should roll at the BBC for the foolish commissioning of a documentary disaster.  But will there be any corrections on the record, or apologies for the manner in which the public has been misled?  I doubt it.  After all, it's just entertainment, hot news one day and next day quite forgotten.......


Due diligence definition:  “the care that a reasonable person takes to avoid harm to other persons or their property”

Are people actually "harmed" by those who misrepresent or mislead and who make outrageous claims based upon very flimsy evidence?  Of course they are.  It's called deceit or fraud, neither of which should be tolerated in any civilised society.


The two papers which confirm that what some of us have been saying for years is quite correct:

Bevans, R.E., Pearce, N.J.G., Parker Pearson, M., Ixer, R.A., 2022. Identification of the source of dolerites used at the Waun Mawn stone circle in the Mynydd Preseli, west Wales and implications for the proposed link with Stonehenge.  Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 45 (2022) 103556.

Nick J.G. Pearce, Richard E. Bevins, and Rob A. Ixer, 2022. Portable XRF investigation of Stonehenge -- Stone 62 and potential source dolerite outcrops in the Mynydd Preseli, west Wales.   Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 44 (2022) 103525.

It follows that these papers also destroy the credibility of the lost circle / proto Stonehenge hypothesis.

Stockholm Archipelago coastal changes over 330 years


I have come across a rather interesting map of the Stockholm Archipelago, made by Carl Gripenhielms around 1690.  As you might expect, it is wildly inaccurate, especially for those parts of the archipelago that were not heavily populated, but for the area I know well there are some fascinating details.  For a start, the northern part of the island of Blidö, which is called Oxhalsö (island of the oxens throat) was at that time an island surrounded by sea water.  Note that Oxhalsö is spelt Oxhals Öhn.........  

Given that the orientation of the old map is about 45 degrees away from the modern standard orientation, with north at the top, it's possible to compare the old map with the modern one.  The area where we have our cottage was mostly under water in 1690, since relative sea level was then about 2.2m higher than it is today.  It's all to do with isostatic recovery since the end of the last glacial episode...........

The area around Bromskär was an island, with quite a wide stretch of water between it and the mainland.    The peninsula of Granören was also an island, with a curving channel running round it and out to the modern coast near Rådmansholmen.  This is currently a boggy area where there was a plan, some years ago, for the excavation of a canal to allow clean water to enter the bay where we currently keep the family boats.  The island which we currently call Granöören (fir tree island island) is shown clearly, much further out.  

The small island which we call Alören is shown with a name difficult to decipher -- it could be "Starbatsdyret" or something similar. Could it be something to do with navigation -- with an old word for "starboard"??   There is a speckled area close to it, labelled "Blötingsön" or similar.  "Blöt" is the word for damp -- so this could be an area of shoals or grounds more or less where the members of my wife's family currently have their plots and their cottages.......

Anyway, nearly all of the land which makes up our summer paradise was, in 1690, under water.  And what a difference a 2m sea level rise (or fall) has on coastal topography in lowland areas, even in an area like this, where there are no high tides or storm surges........  Please note -- the experts are now talking about a 2m rise of global sea level associated with ice sheet collapse.........

Three hundred years ago everything in these two photos was submerged beneath about 2m of water.

Thursday 25 August 2022

Fairytale prize win for Waun Mawn research team

Here is a really weird piece of news.  On 8 June 2022 it was announced that the Waun Mawn research team had been awarded the Ben Cullen Antiquity Prize for "outstanding" Stonehenge-related research in 2022.  The prize -- in memory of Ben Cullen, who was a student at UCL -- is awarded in association with "Antiquity" journal, so we can only assume that the judges decided this article met all the criteria as being "Stonehenge-related" and that it was better than anything else published in the right time frame:

“The original Stonehenge? A dismantled stone circle in the Preseli Hills of west Wales”.   Mike Parker Pearson, Josh Pollard, Colin Richards, Kate Welham, Timothy Kinnaird, DaveShaw, Ellen Simmons, Adam Stanford, Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer, Clive Ruggles, Jim Rylatt and Kevan Edinborough
Antiquity , Volume 95 , Issue 379 , February 2021 , pp. 85 - 103.

The judges might also have considered this:
Waun Mawn and Gernos-fach: the Welsh origins of Stonehenge project
Interim report of the 2021 season
By Mike Parker Pearson, Chris Casswell, Jim Rylatt, Adam Stanford, Kate Welham and Josh Pollard

How bizarre is this?  The prize was announced in June -- the same month that two new papers were released which showed that all of the key assumptions and interpretations contained in the cited "Antiquity" article were incorrect.  I have dealt with these papers in other posts.  The geological work at Waun Mawn was demonstrably inadequate.  The paper was packed with speculations dressed up as facts. The authors were apparently ignorant of local landforms, sediments and even other local surface features and megalithic monuments.  The assumptions about sockets and missing stones were so dodgy that they have been criticised and questioned by all sorts of people including fellow archaeologists Darvill and Pitts.  The "alignment" speculations were wildly inaccurate.  Stone 62 at Stonehenge came from the far east of Preseli and had nothing to do with Waun Mawn. The monoliths and other scattered rocks at Waun Mawn are all locally derived and have no known matches with Stonehenge.  The radiocarbon and other dates tell us nothing about stone circles or Stonehenge. There were no control digs.  The presumed circumference of a "giant circle" was never adequately supported by evidence.  There is nothing at all at Waun Mawn to demonstrate any link with Stonehenge, and the proto-Stonehenge and "lost circle" propositions are shown to be fantasies.

The paper published in Antiquity has been so comprehensively discredited that it should really be retracted.  And yet it is awarded a prize for academic excellence?  You couldn't make it up.........


In my updated commentary I explain why this prize-winning paper should never have been published in the first place:

The Lost Circle at Waun Mawn: a commentary (updated). Available from:[accessed Aug 25 2022].

Sunday 21 August 2022

How to move a bluestone (2)


Historic photo -- a 2.5 tonne bluestone being moved from the Carn Meini area in April 1989, as part of a project in support of the Cystic Fibrosis Society.  Two stones were moved off the mountain by the Chinook helicopter -- I think this is the one that went on to be transported to Stonehenge on the back of a lorry.  It was at the entrance to the old Visitor Centre, next to a lump of sarsen.  Where is it now? 

I think the other stone (3.5 tonnes) was set up near the Waldo Williams memorial, on the other side of the road, on the common near Mynachlogddu.

The stones were "donated" by the Barony of Cemaes, which presumed to have owned them!

Where next for those who seek the Holy Grail?

I exchange messages with all sorts of people, and in certain quarters right now there is a good deal of innocent pleasure to be had from speculation about the next wacky fantasy that is going to be dreamed up by MPP,  Ixer, Bevins and their fellow searchers who hunt the Holy Grail.......

Rumour has it that MPP will not be conducting a dig this year in the neighbourhood, but that some other research will be going on instead.  That is intriguing in itself, and presumably means that some charitable organisation with more money than sense has put up yet another grant to fund fieldwork involving the use of some high-tech equipment. Well, it's better than spending it on GM crops or nuclear weapons.   It is also rumoured that MPP will be giving his usual September lecture over at the Bluestone Brewery -- probably to raise funds for the Air Ambulance, so I won't complain about that worthy intention.  But what on earth is he going to say to interest the punters who want progress reports with an emphasis on "progress"?  Last year he really had nothing to report, and this year he will have even less, and will have to admit major interpretative errors over the last few years.  Will he apologise?  I have my doubts.

Proto-Stonehenge and the Lost Circle have been shown never to have existed -- at least at Waun Mawn -- and two hugely expensive and unnecessary geological projects have shown that Stone 62 never was at Waun Mawn and that there's nothing there to show any sort of a link with Stonehenge.  So where next?  The Holy Grail hunters are in so deep now that they cannot get out, and we know already that MPP still insists that a giant circle of monoliths was planned for Waun Mawn, even if it was never completed, and that eight bluestone monoliths were taken from there and placed somewhere else.  

One of my contacts predicts that the research team will continue with geophysical investigations designed to find another circle which might have provided a home for the "eight missing bluestones".  Another predicts that they will search for traces of quarrying at Cerrig Lladron, from which they think the Waun Mawn stones must have been "fetched".  Another thinks that there will be an extended quarry hunt, based on the very unfortunate discovery (from their point of view) that the bluestone fragments (of all sizes) at Stonehenge have come from at least 30 different locations.  Yet another thinks there will be more detailed and dense geological sampling designed to bring even greater precision to the provenancing of the bluestone monoliths and debitage fragments found at Stonehenge.  Watch this space.......

Bring it on.  On the geological front, I am intrigued by the torrent of geological papers which show unfailingly that bluestone groups (spotted dolerites, unspotted dolerites, rhyolites, ashes, sandstones) are much more complex than originally thought, and demonstrate the presence of more and more fragments whose provenances are quite unknown.  

One day the researchers will all be forced to admit that most of the bluestones at Stonehenge are simply abraded and weathered igneous erratics, that they never were quarried and never were carried by their heroic ancestors along the prehistoric A40 road.  Hysteria will subside, mythology will be put in its rightful place, and science will prevail.  Thus trust in academia will be restored.    Amen.

RIP Neil Wiseman

 Sad news about Neil Wiseman, who passed away yesterday after a short illness. He was a very active member of the Stonehenge discussion community.  He was very well informed, and his contributions to many blog and Facebook arguments on Stonehenge matters will be sorely missed.  I did not always agree with him, but his contributions to debates were always polite and relevant, and he he always demonstrated an ability to modify his views if that is what was required by the weight of evidence.  Unlike some others, he was prepared to admit to the existence of disputes, and he tried hard to see if those disputes could be resolved.  May he rest in peace.

Friday 19 August 2022

Irresponsible archaeology

It's been quite an education, welcoming people to my little Bluestone Museum and talking to them about what they believe and do not believe.  One of the most striking things about the conversations is the number of people who have at some stage studied archaeology (including professional archaeologists) and who are seriously worried about the myth-making activities of certain senior professors.  They cheer me on and say "Thank God somebody is highlighting some of our concerns."  Then there is another group -- far larger -- of people who know nothing about archaeology or geomorphology and whose beliefs are based upon banner headlines in the press and on TV programmes introduced by our old friend Alice Roberts, among others. They are not stupid, and I prefer to think of them as intelligent people who are misinformed!   Day after day I get statements like these:

"The geologists know exactly where all the bluestones at Stonehenge have come from."

"It's scientifically proved that there were bluestone quarries at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog."

"They now know exactly which route was followed by the people who moved the bluestones."

"They have found the precise places from which bluestone pillars were extracted in the quarries."

"At Waun Mawn they have found the exact sockets in which the Stonehenge bluestones once stood."

The words "exact" and "precise" come up over and again......

It's all nonsense, of course, but I have been surprised by just how influential that appalling programme involving Alice Roberts and MPP in the rain has been;  it has been shown at least four times over the past 18 months, and those who know nothing about Stonehenge or archaeology think it's just wonderful!  That probably makes Mike and Alice, and the BBC and English Heritage, very happy indeed.  

But there is a darker side to all of this.  Occasionally, and against my better judgment, I dip into discussions on Twitter or Facebook about bluestones and the prehistoric archaeology of West Wales, and when I seek to correct some of the misunderstandings some people are instantly enraged.  Myths have turned into articles of faith, and they are accepted and followed with quasi-religious fervour by many thousands of people.  As Magister Kurdling said to pupil Molesworth back in the 1500's:  "Boy, take six of the best!  How dare you seek to destroy the ignorance of a lifetime?"

Some people are so furious with me that they become very aggressive, and one or two "discussions" are turned very nasty by torrents of personal abuse pouring in my direction.  

So we come to the cause of all this aggravation -- the promotion of rather wild fantasies and the creation of myths by archaeologists and geologists who should know better. They get cheap publicity and even something we might call "fame" because of the manner in which their ideas are promoted via press releases and the media and in TV documentaries promoting fantasies dressed up as the established truth.    

Every now and again we see articles in the literature about "responsible archaeology", and indeed archaeologists are much more sensitive than they used to be about local cultures, languages and beliefs -- and about the ownership of artifacts.  That is something to be applauded.  But there is much less emphasis on the need for archaeologists to be careful and truthful, and to promote only those hypotheses that are well supported by field evidence.  And hardly anybody talks about the need for academic restraint.  When that restraint is abandoned, evidence is not properly scrutinized and "impact" becomes the only thing that matters.  Both the media and the public are enticed away on a wild goose chase into territory that becomes more and more bizarre.

If there is one thing that upsets me it is the willingness of certain well-known archaeologists to announce earth-shattering finds (linked to Stonehenge, of course) based on the flimsiest of evidence, and to then spend years searching for, and even creating, confirmatory "evidence".  Certain journals are complicit in this, publishing articles that should never have seen the light of day.  And I am upset too by the manner in which inconvenient evidence relating to geology, landforms and sediments is simply ignored on the basis that the glacial hypothesis is "dead in the water."  MPP and his team of maybe twenty researchers refuse even to admit that any of their ideas are disputed in the literature; that is not just bad manners, but a clear sign of academic malpractice.

When are archaeologists going to take this issue seriously and call out those responsible for this descent into the gutter?  To continue with the metaphors, most academics appear to be scared to death of making ripples on the water or poking their heads above the parapet.  But Gordon Barclay and Kenny Brophy have made a start by flagging up the "interpretative inflation" that goes with the aggrandization of Stonehenge, and to their credit they do not seem to be deterred by the vicious personal attacks that have been aimed at them by certain very angry individuals.

If archaeology is on the way out as a university discipline, it has only itself to blame.   

Monday 15 August 2022

Rhonegletscher -- polished rock


Prof Simon Cook publishes some superb images on his Twitter page.  Here are two stunning images of polished and striated bedrock close to the Rhone Gletscher in Switzerland.  Classic small whaleback forms, with roches moutonnee fracturing on the down-glacier flanks of some of them.

Saturday 13 August 2022

Iceland - the NW fjords


I couldn't resist posting this image of a small church lost in the vastness of one of the huge glacier outlet troughs of Vestfirdir -- the NW fjords of Iceland.  That low cloud base hovering halfway up the trough side is absolutely typical -- brings back happy memories of the field seasons spent up there in days of yore........

How to build a cromlech


This is a nice illustration from the information panel at the Garn Wen "cemetery" near Fishguard, showing how the capstones of the local burial chambers were put in place.  Seems perfectly reasonable to me -- but while a mound of this size was probably needed at Pentre Ifan and some of the other rather spectacular megalithic structures, the Garn Wen cromlechs are so small and crude that hardly any mounds at all would have been needed in order to slide the capstones into position.  Maybe they were just lifted and then moved sideways with levers and packing stones?

Friday 12 August 2022

Commentary on the Waun Mawn "lost circle" (updated)

The commentary on the original "Lost Circle" article in Antiquity (Feb 2021) has been overtaken by events, and so I have provided an update based on the Interim Report for the 2021 dig and on the two geological articles recently published. 

It can be accessed on Researchgate -- no paywalls or other access issues, and it should be possible for everybody to read it and send me comments if they like.

I am becoming increasingly disenchanted with certain peer-reviewed journals like Antiquity which seem to apply less and less scrutiny to articles that are submitted, and which allow into print material which is so unscientific that it should never have seen the light of day.  Journal editors can of course choose "friendly" referees if they really do want to publish a particular article,  and it's common practice nowadays to allow the authors of papers to suggest the names of experts who can be reliably expected to go easy on the critical comments and suggest acceptance and publication.  Nice and cosy.  I can understand why authors do not want their papers to be refereed by people who are blatantly hostile to their hypotheses, but sometimes the quality of refereeing is pretty appalling.  And I'm not the only person saying that.......

Wednesday 10 August 2022

How to move a bluestone


What do I do when I am in Sweden?  Well, for some of the time I move boulders which are in inconvenient positions.  This one was a danger to traffic, on a turning circle where it could have damaged tyres and wheels. So it had to go.  It wasn't actually bluestone -- it was a typical bluish schist as found all over the Stockholm Archipelago.  I reckon it weighed about 800 kg.  I have moved bigger ones in my time, but this was quite enough effort for an old codger like me........  Seriously hard work.  

What you need is a spade, a strong crow-bar so thick that it will not bend (this is your lever), and loads of smaller stones and bits of wood which will be used as packing materials as the stone rises, bit by bit, very slowly, from its original embedded position until it can be rolled away from the hole.  You have to lever the stone up from all sides, sometimes just a few cm at a time, to get it out of the hole.

I hate to think how difficult an operation like this must have been before the invention of iron bars and metal spades.  A standing stone 2m high would have involved a much deeper pit than this, and I imagine that the "backfill" would have consisted mostly of smaller boulders back in the Neolithic, or bits of wood that have since rotted away, or a mixture of both.

With regard to the supposed sockets at Waun Mawn (at least eight of them, according to MPP), I did not see anything to convince me that any of the slight depressions ever did hold a standing stone.  Mike Pitts was quite right to question the "lost circle" research as being fundamentally flawed on this basis alone.

The only positive thing I can say about these hollows is that some of them might have held embedded erratic boulders which were taken away to be used somewhere else.

Friday 5 August 2022

A nice little glacial erratic


This is a nice one -- posted on Facebook today.  A perched block in Finland, reputed to weigh 500 tonnes.......

Silbury Hill bluestones


Thanks to Michael Fordy for sending this photo of one of the small bluestone fragments found in the topsoil at Silbury Hill.  It's on display in the museum at Avebury.   I have enlarged it and cropped the image, so it is now slightly fuzzy -- but although there was some discussion a while ago about the possibility that this might be a hornblende schist, it looks to me very much like a small fragment of spotted dolerite.  I'd go with this identification until somebody informs me otherwise.

I'm not sure whether this is the same piece of bluestone as that photographed by Pete Glastonbury, and published on this blog 12 years ago.  It looks as if it might be a different fragment -- but made of the same rock type.