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Thursday, 24 November 2022

The three Antiquity papers behind the heroic bluestone myth

These are the three academic journal articles that have been responsible for the promotion of the "heroic bluestone myth" not just involving bluestone transport from Preseli to Stonehenge (that one has been around for a century or so) but incorporating bluestone quarrying, "proto Stonehenge" in the form of a lost stone circle at Waun Mawn, and even stone moving motives associated with the political unification of Neolithic Britain, centred on Stonehenge.  That narrative, which seems to get more convoluted with every year that passes (see below), is assumed to be true and unchallenged, in defiance of many articles in the literature that do indeed challenge its essential components.  The key assumptions made with respect to Rhosyfelin, Carn Goedog and Waun Mawn are all disputed, and yet the disputes are NEVER mentioned in any of the articles.  And yet these articles have been accepted for publication by the Editor of Antiquity Journal.

The Editor was also closely involved in the media promotion of the "lost circle" paper, working closely with the article authors and the BBC to coordinate publication with the first transmission date for the infamous Alice Roberts documentary.  A press embargo prior to that date was strictly enforced, leading to a highly orchestrated "media blitz".  I would have no problem with that, had the research been important, and of top quality.  But it wasn't.  It was unconvincing and unsupported nonsense, as many observers immediately pointed out on social media.

I am not the only earth scientist to say that these three articles are among the worst "scientific" papers I have ever seen.  So there is culpability here, on the part of the journal and its editor.  This sits alongside the culpability of the 15 or more named authors, who are listed in the three articles as co-authors and not as the writers of specific parts of the text or as the providers of technical services.

As noted in this post, all of the co-authors have chosen to share the responsibility for the writing of the text and for all of the interpretations and conclusions drawn.  If they had reservations about anything, they had ample opportunities to leave the project led by MPP and to question the evidence presented and the conclusions drawn.  They chose to bask in the shared glory of media coverage of the publication of each paper in turn, and some of them even appeared in their "expert" roles on the telly -- most recently in the notorious Alice Roberts "Lost Circle" documentary. The geologists, who should have stuck to their good work on the provenancing of the bluestones, have devalued their own research over and again by emphasising (quite gratuitously) its role in the development of the MPP bluestone narrative.   

Now they are all stuck in a quagmire of their own making, as one new piece of research after another demonstrates that all of the key components of the narrative are nonsensical.  Some of us have been telling them that for the past decade or more -- but they have turned their deaf ears to everything while making their central narrative more and more preposterous.  Some of the co-authors have certainly been led astray and exploited by the small team of senior academics who have fashioned the narrative.  But do I feel sorry for any of them?  No way.  What we have been looking at is pretty serious scientific malpractice, and the actions of the key players should now be seriously scrutinized by the relevant university authorities. 



1.  Parker Pearson, M. et al. 2015. Craig Rhos-y-felin: a Welsh bluestone megalith quarry for Stonehenge. Antiquity 89: 1331–52.

2.  Parker Pearson, M. et al. 2019. Megalith quarries for Stonehenge's bluestones. Antiquity 93: 45–62.  (may be behind a paywall)

3.  Pearson, M. et al. 2021. The original Stonehenge? A dismantled stone circle in the Preseli Hills of west Wales. Antiquity, 95(379), 85-103.

Multi authors:   

No 1:  Mike Parker Pearson, Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer , Joshua Pollard, Colin Richards Kate Welham, Ben Chan, Kevan Edinborough, Derek Hamilton, Richard Macphail, Duncan Schlee, Jean-Luc Schwenninger,
Ellen Simmons and Martin Smith

No 2:  Mike Parker Pearson, Josh Pollard, Colin Richards, Kate Welham, Chris Casswell, Charles French, Duncan Schlee, Dave Shaw, Ellen Simmons, Adam Stanford, Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer

No 3:  Mike Parker Pearson,  Josh Pollard, Colin Richards, Kate Welham, Timothy Kinnaird,  Dave Shaw, Ellen Simmons, Adam Stanford, Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer, Clive Ruggles, Jim Rylatt and Kevan Edinborough.


The latest twists in the narrative:

1.  Probably only one monolith was ever quarried from Rhosyfelin. They intended to take lots more, but maybe never got round to it..... so an elaborate quarrying infrastructure was set up, all for no particular reson.

2.  Rock wedges were the key quarrying implements at both Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog.  But the wedge in one of the two "fracture locations" at Rhosyfelin was probably hammered in as practice for more important things to come...... the wedge in the other location makes no sense either.

3.  Because there are so many rock types in the Stonehenge bluestone assemblage, the rock types themselves were not given great significance.  It's the "lost circles" in which the stones were set that had special status or cultural significance. 

4.  Waun Mawn never did have a full or even partial stone circle.  But the important thing is that the local tribes had the INTENTION to build it.

5.  A great oak tree at the exact (or approximately exact) centre of the Waun Mawn circle, with an associated hearth, was clearly the focal point for the standing stone setting.

6.  The stones used at Waun Mawn were fetched from Cerrig Lladron, so there must have been a quarry there, even though there is no sign of it.

7.  Although Waun Mawn had no demonstrable links with Stonehenge, it was still important in the Stonehenge story, for some reason or other.

8.  There must be other "lost circles" in the area which must have provided the bulk of the stones for the Stonehenge bluestone settings.  One day they will no doubt be found.

9.  The stoneholes supposedly marking the edges of the Waun Mawn "entrance" are 15 m apart. (As accepted by Clive Ruggles, an arc of that width cannot possibly be claimed to be accurately orientated on the midsummer solstice.)

10. The "unfinished" bluestone circle at Waun Mawn is matched by the "unfinished" bluestone Q and R hole settings at Stonehenge, and that demonstrates a relationship.

11.  Quote: "We now know that monuments were erected close to the quarries and subsequently dismantled, at around the same time as the unparalleled transporting of approximately 80 Bluestone monoliths to form two Neolithic stone circles 170 miles away on Salisbury Plain."   (That is garbled nonsense, suggesting functional relationships where none have been demonstrated.)


If it were not so serious, this has all become rather hilarious.  Which brings me back to a claim I made quite some time ago.  This is really just a gigantic hoax, perpetrated by a group of jolly academics intent on finding out just how far they can go with scientific fraud and the perpetration of a fantastical and ultimately worthless narrative.  So far, they have got away with it, which is rather intriguing!


Philip Denwood said...

And yet the same journal had already published "The myth of long-distance megalith transport" by Thorpe & Williams-Thorpe. Is this article ever referred to in the three you talk about?

BRIAN JOHN said...

Strange, isn't it? Different time, different editor. This particular article is one of those that the MPP team chooses to ignore -- it 's far too inconvenient. The only times that they choose to cite the work of the OU team around 1991 are in the context of James Scourse's hatchet job on Geoff Kellaway, in which he professed to having dealt with the glacial transport idea once and for all.......

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Your twist in the narrative: number 5, please explain how MPP and his cohorts justify their claim for " a great oak tree at the...centre..of the Waun Mawn circle, with an associated hearth" is justified.