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 HERE
Tuesday 28 February 2023
Monday 27 February 2023
Anyway, here is the link:
From Piltdown Man to anti-vaxxers ... What science’s worst hoaxes can teach usby Robin McKie
25 Feb 2023
It took decades before the true nature of Britain’s greatest scientific fraud, Piltdown Man, was revealed. It’s an extraordinary story that will be outlined at the meeting by palaeontologist Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum.
The shards of skull that were unearthed in a gravel pit at Piltdown in East Sussex in 1912 were interpreted as being the remains of a million-year-old apeman, an individual who possessed a large brain but primitive jawbone and teeth. It was exactly what British scientists were seeking, said Stringer.
“A century ago, French archaeologists had discovered Cro-Magnons while the Germans had their Neanderthals. Britain had nothing – until Piltdown Man appeared.
“Then we had our own fossil rival – except, of course, it was a forgery made up of the braincase of a modern human being and the jawbone of an orangutan. It took scientists 40 years to prove this.
“At the time of its discovery, there was a huge demand for Britain to have its own missing link, and a lot of experts who should have known better lowered their guard.
“It is a lesson for all of us. When something seems too good to be true, it probably is too good to be the real thing.”
As to the perpetrator, most scientists, Stringer included, now believe local archaeologist Charles Dawson – the man who had first found the pieces of skull – was responsible for fabricating the find. He was desperate to become a fellow of the Royal Society and was listed as a possible candidate for election. The Piltdown skull would be his ticket to scientific fame, he hoped. However, he died in 1916, not long after making his “discovery”.
Dawson, though, would not have been the first fraudster or crook to have been made a fellow of the society if he had succeeded.
“Indeed, it is surprising, when you start looking, how many eminent scientists and fellows of the Royal Society have ended up in jail,” said Keith Moore. “There is a long history of this kind of thing here.”
Examples go back to the founding of the Royal Society, though some were imprisoned for less than nefarious reasons.
German theologian Henry Oldenburg, its first secretary and one of the originators of the idea of peer review was imprisoned in the Tower of London as a suspected spy in 1667 during the second Anglo-Dutch war. Crystallographer Kathleen Lonsdale was briefly jailed for her pacifist views during the second world war.
But the strangest of all these characters was Rudolf Erich Raspe, who will be the focus of a talk by Moore at Thursday’s meeting.
Raspe, a German, was elected to the society in the 18th century for his work on geology but was eventually ejected for his “divers frauds and gross breaches of trust”.
“Part of the problem was that in those days, scientists had no income other than private means and that sometimes led them on to the path of temptation,” said Moore.
Raspe sought other sources of income and in due course turned to fiction. “He wrote the earliest known version of the stories of Baron Munchausen, which have never been out of print since, though he made no money from them himself,” added Moore.
The crucial point is that science can only operate if it can be sure that the information it is presented with is correct, said Moore.
“That is why the integrity of its fellows was so important to the society. It was our way of ensuring information and data were coming from a reliable source. And of course, it is fun to tell people there has been a long history of scientists fighting against fraud and occasionally losing out.
“It is also important to understand these issues because we now have new problems relating to the internet, deepfaking and that kind of stuff. People have to be careful about the sources of the information that they are relying on. That has always been a problem.”
Raspe and Baron Munchausen…….
Rudolf Erich Raspe (1737-1794)
Thursday 23 February 2023
For some reason it has popped up again on the BBC website. Here is the abstract of the article:Abstract
The roles of migration, admixture and acculturation in the European transition to farming have been debated for over 100 years. Genome-wide ancient DNA studies indicate predominantly Aegean ancestry for continental Neolithic farmers, but also variable admixture with local Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. Neolithic cultures first appear in Britain circa 4000 BC, a millennium after they appeared in adjacent areas of continental Europe. The pattern and process of this delayed British Neolithic transition remain unclear. We assembled genome-wide data from 6 Mesolithic and 67 Neolithic individuals found in Britain, dating 8500–2500 BC. Our analyses reveal persistent genetic affinities between Mesolithic British and Western European hunter-gatherers. We find overwhelming support for agriculture being introduced to Britain by incoming continental farmers, with small, geographically structured levels of hunter-gatherer ancestry. Unlike other European Neolithic populations, we detect no resurgence of hunter-gatherer ancestry at any time during the Neolithic in Britain. Genetic affinities with Iberian Neolithic individuals indicate that British Neolithic people were mostly descended from Aegean farmers who followed the Mediterranean route of dispersal. We also infer considerable variation in pigmentation levels in Europe by circa 6000 BC.
With regard to the complex myth developed by MPP and his colleagues, regarding stone selection and quarrying, the use of megaliths in at least one "lost giant circle" in the midst of a ceremonial complex, and then the export of 80 bluestones to Stonehenge, they completely ignore the fact that all this would have required a highly sophisticated Neolithic culture in West Wales and a less sophisticated one on Salisbury Plain. There is no evidence that such a state of affairs ever existed, and indeed the research by Brace et al suggests that the stone-using skills came with the Neolithic tribes moving in from the near continent -- from the east towards the west.
Wednesday 22 February 2023
This paper focuses on the modern biography of a prehistoric stone of uncertain provenance, the megalith known as the Kempock Stone or Granny Kempock that has stood in the Clydeside town of Gourock for at least several hundred years. Rather than fous on a specific prehistoric period of creation and installation, or speculate upon its original function, this account explores the numerous stories that have accumulated around the stone over the past two centuries, revealing its composite biography. In addition, the paper also identifies the plethora of practices that have focused upon the stone over the years. In adopting an urban prehistory that concentrates upon surviving prehistoric places, sites and things that survive in urban places, we investigate how these narratives and practices significntly contribute to the rich heritage of this monolith. In contending that a better understanding of the social benefits of monoliths in urban places is long overdue, we also exemplify the contemporary value such sites play in consolidating local identities, enriching heritage and hosting a wealth of shared cultural practices.
Tuesday 21 February 2023
The claim that there was a "major ancient ceremonial complex" in the Waun Mawn area (in MPP's latest book) is yet another example of the circular reasoning that pervades the bluestone debate. I have highlighted this already, in a number of posts on this blog.
Sunday 19 February 2023
Since MPP is once again promoting the idea that there was a magnificent and ancient ceremonial complex in the area around Waun Mawn, it's worth reminding ourselves that this is not actually supported by the evidence. Dyfed Archaeology has recorded a host of features around Waun Mawn, on Brynberian Moor and on the northern slopes of Mynydd Preseli, and has rather pragmatically stated that some of them are "ceremonial" (associated with burials etc) but that many others are somewhat utilitarian (walls, enclosures, tracks, hut circles etc) and associated with the humdrum practicalities of everyday life. Many of the features are not Neolithic at all, but from the Bronze Age and later.
This is the key report which gives the regional context:
I agree with the assessment that this is a landscape with a scatter of prehistoric features of many types and purposes. The concentration of "ceremonial features" is not especially dense around Waun Mawn as compared with other parts of Pembrokeshire, and no cultural links with Stonehenge have ever been demonstrated. The supposed cultural links with southern Ireland or other parts of South Wales are also difficult to establish, as pointed out by Tim Darvill, Nora Figgis, Steve Burrow and many others.
Brian John. 2021. Waun Mawn and the search for “Proto-Stonehenge”. Researchgate: Greencroft Working Paper No 4, March 2021, 32 pp (updated September 2022)
By the way, I have just checked on Researchgate, and the article has now been read 6,150 times. Some people are taking it rather seriously.........
StonehengeMike Parker Pearson
A Brief History
Bloomsbury Academic 2023, 208 pp
Extract from the book summary:
Some of its stones – the Welsh ‘bluestones’ – came from an already ancient ceremonial complex many miles away
Extract from Ch 3: The First Stonehenge
Whilst some of the stones were probably sarsens, the majority are thought to have been bluestone pillars. These were brought from the Preseli hills in west Wales, from quarries associated with a major Neolithic monument complex.
Saturday 11 February 2023
My new article published in Quaternary Newsletter is currently available via a direct link to the QRA web site -- but that may not remain open for very long, and I have now added the article to Researchgate as well. It's the proof version, identical to the published version except for the in-house formatting style.
Was there a Late Devensian ice-free corridor in Pembrokeshire?
Brian John. 2023. Was there a Late Devensian ice-free corridor in Pembrokeshire? Quaternary Newsletter 158, pp 5-16.
Glasser, N.F. et al. (2018). Late Devensian deglaciation of south-west Wales from luminescence and cosmogenic isotope dating. Jnl of Quaternary Science 33 (7) (2018), pp 804-818.
Friday 10 February 2023
It was fun to write that recent article on the problem of the "Late Devensian ice-free enclave" and to stimulate some debate on that matter. Because the Quaternary Newsletter is a serious peer-reviewed journal, I have had to update my ORCID registration. So I am still, apparently, deemed to be a serious academic in spite of having retired from university life rather a long time ago! Anyway, I'm happy that I still have something to contribute alongside some of my old mates who are, of course, now all Emeritus Professors......
Here is my registration, in case anybody is interested.
Monday 6 February 2023
Brian John. 2023. Was there a Late Devensian ice-free corridor in Pembrokeshire? Quaternary Newsletter 158, pp 5-16.
Flimston Churchyard and its erratic boulders. Some are used as grave headstones. The churchyard is on the limestone coast of South Pembrokeshire, and the erratics are mostly igneous, probably from the St David’s Peninsula. How and when were they transported? (Photo: Louise Trotter)
2 Quaternary Newsletter Vol. 158, February 2023
The Quaternary Research Association has just published my new article on the problem of the "south Pembrokeshire ice free enclave" -- as the lead article in Vol 158 of Quaternary Newsletter. It's good to see it in print at last! It has nothing whatsoever to do with Stonehenge or the bluestones, except maybe in flagging up the great extent of Late Devensian ice in western Britain -- making new evidence available as a supplement to much else that has been published in recent years.
It will be interesting to see what response there is from other specialists in this field -- I'm not really getting after anybody else here, and over the years I have dithered as much as everybody else in trying to understand what the field evidence is telling us.
The plan is that the article should be open access, although for the moment it may be available just to QRA members. Please let me know if you are not able to get at it.
I will in any case try to make the article available on Researchgate and Academia in the near future.