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

Sunday 30 April 2023

How controversial is the truth?

Yesterday I gave a talk to a group of Oxford college alumni, and I was introduced as "someone who holds very controversial views on the origins of the bluestones".  It was all very jolly, and my talk was well received, but the introduction got me thinking. Is it really my views that are controversial, or should that word be used to describe the views of the other lot?

To put it simply, if we forget about druids, giants, aliens and Merlin the Wizard, there are two views of the bluestones at Stonehenge:

1.  The bluestones (43 of them, and maybe a few more originally) are glacial erratics that were scattered about in the Stonehenge landscape before they were gathered up and built into the stone monument.  In all of the other Neolithic and Bronze Age stone monuments of the UK, that is exactly what happened -- suitable stones were found and used locally, involving minimal effort.

2.  The bluestones (80 of them, nearly half of which have mysteriously disappeared) were quarried from rock outcrops in West Wales and transported about 380 km to Stonehenge by our Neolithic ancestors -- carried as an act of reverence because they were deemed to be sacred or magical. There is no other example in British prehistory of such an enterprise, and no evidence anywhere of a technique of long-distance stone transport being developed, reaching a climax, and then declining. In other words it was a complete anachronism or aberration, out of place and out of time.

Now which of those alternatives qualifies as more likely to be true?  Which might be considered normal and thus predictable, and which is eccentric and controversial?  Think Occam's Razor and Hitchens's Razor.  This is from an old post on this blog:

"The burden of proof regarding the truthfulness of a claim lies with the one who makes the claim; if this burden is not met, the claim is unfounded and its opponents need not argue further in order to dismiss it. It is named, echoing Occam's razor, for the journalist and writer Christopher Hitchens, who, in a 2003 Slate article, formulated it thus: "What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."

"... extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence...."....... on the basis that this is an elementary rule of logic. Well, from every possible angle, Thomas's idea about the human transport of the bluestones was "extraordinary", since there was and is no evidence from Wales that the bluestones (of many different types) were considered special in any way; since there are no other records of the long-distance transport of megaliths for use in ritual or other settings anywhere in the British Isles; since there are no radiocarbon or other dates which can verify the haulage of the stones at the time required by the archaeologists; and since no ropes, sledges or rafts have ever been found which might demonstrate that the haulage project was technically feasible.

In other words, I refuse to accept that my view are controversial.  They are in fact rather normal, unimaginative and unexceptional.  The wild eccentricities and claims of irrational behaviour all go with option number two, which claims that the bluestones were carried or hauled across country, without a scrap of evidence ever having been produced in support of the hypothesis. Assertions are not a substitute for facts. As I asked at the head of the post, how can something that is most likely, on the balance of probabilities, to be true, ever be considered controversial?

Thursday 27 April 2023

Craig Rhos-y-felin: no wedges and no quarry


My colleagues and I have been busy. We have just published this short article on Researchgate, where it is open access.  No affiliations to be demonstrated, and no reading fees.


Craig Rhos-y-felin: no wedges and no quarry

Brian John
Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd
John Downes


This article challenges the claims made by Parker Pearson et al (2022a) that there is a Neolithic bluestone quarry at Craig Rhos-y-felin and that rock wedges used in the quarrying process have been discovered. The current authors suggest that the evidence for monolith quarrying at Rhos-y-felin and Carn Goedog does not withstand scrutiny, and field research at the Rhos-y-felin site suggests a long history of crag disintegration and rockfall debris accumulation, with Late Devensian glacial and fluvioglacial deposits overlain by Holocene colluvium and other slope materials. The engineering features listed by the archaeologists are disputed, and it is suggested that the radiocarbon evidence from the site also falsifies the quarrying hypothesis. The present authors do, however, accept that there is evidence of a long history of intermittent occupation by hunting and gathering parties, and it is proposed that they might have used Rhos-y-felin as a source for sharp-edged disposable cutting and scraping tools. The use of rhyolite rock wedges in Neolithic quarrying makes no sense from a rock mechanics standpoint, and after examining the fractures in which the wedges were found, it is pointed out that not one of them would have been of use in the extraction of a viable stone monolith or orthostat. Finally, the current authors point out that the "Stonehenge narrative" involving quarries at Rhos-y-felin and Carn Goedog, a "lost stone circle" at Waun Mawn, and stone transport to Salisbury Plain is seriously damaged by recent research publications and should be abandoned. It is a matter of regret that Parker Pearson et al have ignored two detailed Rhos-y-felin papers written by the present authors and published in 2015.


Herewith a short explanation of why this article is not being published in a mainstream peer-reviewed journal.  Multiple reasons. When we had finished modifying the article in line with the recommendations of our own reviewer,  we looked at various options and and decided to submit to one particular archaeology journal that seemed suitable.  But immediately we bumped into problems.  One editor gave us advice as to how the article could be modified for maximum impact, and another editor in the team gave us directly contradictory advice.  So we did some tweaking and submitted it, to find that it was then rejected on the recommendation of a single referee who was clearly unfamiliar with the locations, the background and the articles already published about Rhosyfelin.  In a somewhat chaotic report he / she said at first that the article should be more detailed and evidence-based, and then wider and more generalised. Then more specific to the site in question, and then less specific. We could not make head or tail of what was required of us.  The basic issue seemed to be that two geomorphologists and one geologist had the temerity to question the interpretations of professional archaeologists, including one who has a very high profile!   Rocking the boat!! Outrageous!!   The editor gave us the option to rewrite and re-submit, maybe to another journal in the same "stable".  That was not an issue -- we have all rewritten things and resubmitted them in the past.  But we sensed that we were not going to get anywhere, and decided to explore new pastures.

Immediately we bumped into the problem of submitting an article that was partly archaeological to a geological or geomorphological journal, or of submitting an earth science article to a journal specialising in archaeology.  Even before seeing the draft manuscript, a number of editors suggested that our article fell outside their guidelines and that we should try elsewhere.

But the greatest problem encountered by us (three old codgers) was that we are no longer affiliated to any academic institutions -- and this means that we do not have access to any funding to cover the article publication fees that are nowadays charged by virtually all of the "open access" journals which are owned by Wiley, Taylor and Francis or Elsevier.  Most of them do not even give the editors the discretion to waive the fees.   In addition, the submission process is standardised and extremely intimidating and bureaucratic -- things have changed rather a lot since the days when I could just submit a PDF to a journal editor and expect to receive in due course a couple of peer reviews (sometimes anonymous, sometimes not) pointing out flaws and suggesting improvements.

So we are somewhat disenchanted with the journal publication process as it currently exists, and much prefer to place material onto Researchgate or Academia, where it genuinely is available for anybody to scrutinize.    Further, we have discovered that many of the peer-reviewed journals nowadays require authors to declare in writing that they will NOT copy their articles onto Researchgate or Academia.  The journals are not "open access" at all, but appear to be intent on limiting their readers to a small and select group of researchers who inhabit the ivory towers.  There are exceptions, and we applaud them -- but they are few and far between.

There is also the question of declining standards in the pages of the journals that were once the pillars of academia.  I have been very critical in many of my blog posts of journal articles that should really never have seen the light of day.  That may be partly because editing standards have declined, and it may be that a system in which the authors of articles can effectively choose their own referees encourages cronyism and reduces critical scrutiny.  Just the other day I read a long article in which the author bewailed the fact that the peer review system has effectively collapsed because there are too many journals, too many articles and too few qualified reviewers.

For better or worse, the Researchgate publishing route seems to us to be preferable from a number of standpoints. True, those who publish articles on its web site do not have the same "status" as those who use mainstream journals, but there is much to be said for community science which is democratic,  inclusive and even a little subversive, as long as it is accompanied by options for feedback and discussion such as we have on this blog and on many others.  

Mudstone fragments from Carn Goedog interpreted as "quarrying wedges". 
Source:  Parker Pearson et al, 2022.

Thanks to Chris Johnson for this photo of some of the "wedges" put on display in an exhibition in Belgium in 2018, curated by MPP.

PS.  Over the last couple of years I have done a number of posts on this blog about the wedge claims.  Just type "wedges" into the search box and all will be revealed.

One of the open joints at Rhosyfelin that was supposedly targetted by the Neolithic quarrymen with the use of wedges.  You can just see the broken rock debris that has fallen into the joint.

Another wide joint, and another broken bit of bedrock. The idea that fragments such as these are deliberately placed "wedges" is quite preposterous, and demonstrates a cavalier disregard for natural processes.


Tuesday 25 April 2023

Did the Vestra Fiold "quarry" provide standing stones for the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness?

The Vestra Fiold "quarry pit" from which, so it is claimed, firm evidence of quarrying was extracted.  The evidence is much more equivocal than claimed.  (Photo: Colin Richards)

There's a new article about the Vestra Fiold "quarry" on Orkney, which is very concise and nicely produced but which tells us nothing new.  Here it is:

Vestrafiold – the megalithic quarry
SUNDAY, APRIL 23, 2023

But on examining it, I realised that it is based on a whole string of assumptions going back quite far into the archaeological record, all based on the assumption that there is a stone quarry there that has provided monoliths for the famous stone settings at the ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness, some miles to the SE. Everybody cites the older "authorities" who described it as a place of monolith quarrying, but nobody seems to have asked any serious questions about that key assertion.  And of course Colin Richards has confirmed this -- in the eyes of many -- in a number of publications.  So powerful has this assertion been that RCAHMS has confirmed it as a scheduled monument, apparently without any serious examination of the evidence.  Colin's narrative about quarrying and stone movement is just as fanciful as that of MPP with regard to Rhosyfelin -- and of course, because he was part of the digging team,  he may well have been more than a little involved in the interpretation and description of the features at the latter site......

But things are not quite that simple.  Many years ago Aubrey Burl explored the idea that the stones at the two famous sites near the Ness of Brodgar were collected up in the immediate neighbourhood, and were either glacial erratics or stone slabs lifted from nearby stone extraction pits. It's known that the monoliths are of seven different rock types -- which immediately disposes of the myth that all of the monoliths came from a dedicated quarry at Vestra Fiold.

There are two other scheduled monuments in the vicinity of Vestra Fiold, a Neolithic long cairn and a Bronze Age (?) enclosure  -- and I have never seen a serious consideration that any quarrying at Vestra Fiold may simply have been devoted to the provision of local stone for local use.

And on the matter of geology and geomorphology, the glacial erratic  hypothesis has simply been ignored in most of the literature about the Orkney megalithic sites.  And yet it has been known for well over a century that the Stromness Sandstones outcrop both to the south and the north of the Ness, and that the monoliths used in the famous stone settings COULD have come from the SE, given that there was a SE - NW movement of ice across Orkney on at least one occasion during the Quaternary.

As I said in 2014: I have seen nothing in the geological work which might indicate that the orthostats in the Ring have come from the north of the island rather than from the south -- and there is one other small piece of evidence in that one stone found at the Ring appears to belong to the Eday Group, which outcrops in the south but not in the north. That might be an indicator of glacial transport from the south coast of the island towards the peninsula on which the Ring is positioned.

The last glaciation in Orkney, Scotland: glacial stratigraphy, event sequence and flow paths
October 2016
Scottish Journal of Geology 52(2)
DOI: 10.1144/sjg2016-002

Adrian M. Hall, James B. Riding and John Flett Brown

This 2016 paper by Adrian Hall and colleagues just considers the Devensian glaciation, but it confirms the log-held belief of ice transport of erratics from SE towards NW.  I'm going to remain profoundly sceptical about the Vestrafiold "monolith quarry" until somebody comes up with some convincing geological evidence in favour of it.........


Rethinking the great stone circles of Northwest Britain
Colin Richards



Other Information

RCAHMS records the monument as HY22SW 7, 8, 10.


Callander, J G 1935-6, 'Bronze Age urns of clay from Orkney & Shetland with a note on vitreous material called 'cramp'', Proc Soc Antiq Scot 70, 441'52.

Davidson, J L and Henshall, A S 1989, The chambered cairns of Orkney: an inventory of the structures and their contents, Edinburgh, 185-6, no 79.

Photos-Jones, E, Smith, B B, Hall, A J and Jones, R E 2007, 'On the intent to make cramp: an interpretation of vitreous seaweed cremation 'waste' from prehistoric burial sites in Orkney, Scotland', Oxford Journal of Archaeology 26, 1'23.

RCAHMS 1946, The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Twelfth report with an inventory of the ancient monuments of Orkney and Shetland, 3v, Edinburgh, 259, 269, nos 687, 727 and 728.

Richards, C 2002, 'Vestra Fiold, Orkney (Sandwick parish), Neolithic quarry; chambered cairn', Discovery Excav Scot 3, 88.

Richards, C, Brown, J, Jones, S, Hall, A, and Muir, T 2013, 'Monumental Risk: megalithic quarrying at Staneyhill and Vestra Fiold, Mainland, Orkney', in Richards, C (ed).  Building The Great Stone Circles of the North, Windgarther Press, Oxford, 119-148.

Richards, C, Downes, J, Ixer, R, Hambleton, E, Peterson, R and Pollard, J 2013, 'Surface over substance: the Vestra Fiold horned cairn, Mainland, Setter cairn, Eday, and a reappraisal of the late Neolithic funerary architecture', in Richards, C (ed) Building The Great Stone Circles of the North, Windgarther Press, Oxford, 149-185.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Monday 24 April 2023

Birmingham's Brilliant Boulders

These are the plaques on some of the erratics listed by the boulder enthusiasts of South Birmingham.  I wonder if EH would give permission for similar plaques to be stuck onto the bluestones of Stonehenge?  That might help to get some common sense into the interpretation of the old ruin, and help to suppress some of the wilder fantasies that are doing the rounds......

I'm full of admiration for those excellent people in South Birmingham who have recognised erratic boulders in their locality as a fantastic asset for tourism and also commumnity cohesion.  They have a splendid Facebook page, full of photos and bits and pieces of publicity and interpretation.  They claim that the bulk of the boulders have come from the Arenigs in North Wales, and that they were transported by ice around 450,000 years ago.

They value their erratics so highly that they sometimes give then a nice wash and brush-up, and careful records are kept of erratic sightings in the woods and in other places where the habitat is suitable.

There are 8 (at least) boulder trails, with accompanying guides on the web site.  There are also some well written notes on the erratic hunters web site, such as this one:

Known erratics in the Birmingham - Bromsgrove area

Mackintosh's remarkable map from 1879, showing main erratic sources, crossing erratic routes and other features.  The Arenig Fawr erratics are shown by the solid black squares.

To the left, the plucked face of Arenig Fawr, thought to be the source of many of the erratics now found in the south Birmingham area.

Saturday 22 April 2023

The end of a giant erratic


Apparently this giant erratic on the moraine above the Mer de Glace is no more.  It measured 12m x 19m, and was in a very precarious position.  It fell in March 2023 and broke into many small pieces, none of which reached the glacier surface far below......

Friday 21 April 2023

QRA website revamp


The QRA web site has had a serious makeover, and it how has a fresh and modern look.  There is also a change of policy, and copies of the Quaternary Newsletter are genuinely open access, available to everybody, regardless of academic affiliations or accessibility to "reading cash"!!

Here is my last article in the new QN format:

It's been well received, and I have received no notifications thus far about any violent disagreements from others working in this field.

Thursday 20 April 2023

Exclusive interpretation rights?

April, 2015, at Rhosyfelin, right next to a public footpath.  Who "owns the hole" and who is responsible for the mess?  Is there some ethical reason why independent observers should refrain from visiting sites like this and interpreting what they see?

Does an archaeologist who digs a hole in the ground have an exclusive right to describe and interpret that location?  

That's the question that comes to mind, following a communication I have had from an archaeologist who accuses me and my colleagues John Downes and Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd of unprofessional conduct because we have had the temerity to look at and interpret some of the things turned up at Rhosyfelin in 2012-2015 by Mike Parker Pearson and his team.   OK -- I can understand that there is some sort of etiquette surrounding archaeological excavations, and an assumption that there is "ownership" of the things that are revealed by the diggers that might not have been visible beforehand.  And it's commonly accepted that the diggers have the right of first publication.  But what happens next?  Are the rest of us supposed to then accept without question that the observations made by the diggers are accurate, and that their interpretations are reliable? Heaven forbid -- if that were the case, there would be no academic debate, and in many cases falsehoods, technical failingss and mis-interpretations would trump the truth.

In my own field -- geomorphology -- sites discovered and excavated by me in Pembrokeshire have been re-examined and reinterpreted subsequently by many others.  I don't have any problem with that, and have been involved in many energetic debates about them inside and outside of the published literature.  In Iceland, Greenland and Antarctica sites discovered, described and interpreted in learned journals by David Sugden and me have been visited and subjected to detailed analysis by a new generation of field workers.  That's the way it should be, and our pioneering efforts have been rewarded by the Antarctic Place Names Committee through the listing of Sugden Ridge and John Glacier.  Of course, the sites recorded by geomorphologists tend to be landforms and cliff exposures which remain available for future research once the initial assessments have been made.  That fact alone imposes a certain discipline on those who record sites for the first time; to put it crudely, you know you cannot get away with bullshit, because others will come and check things out.  

In contrast, an extra duty of care is imposed on archaeologists who dig holes in the ground (often at vast expense to the taxpayer) to describe and interpret things honestly and competently, because once the holes are filled in, nobody can check for misinterpretations, selective evidence collection and research bias. 

To return to Rhosyfelin.  I absolutely refute any charge of misconduct or malpractice on our part.  When the dig started I offered to help with a "geomorphology" input in conversations with several of the research collaborators, with no response.  On one occasion I arranged to meet Prof MPP at a certain time at the site, and he failed to turn up.  On several occasions, in discussions after public lectures, I sought to open discussions on matters of interpretation, and the project leader simply refused to engage.  We acknowledged his right to first publication, and held back while several articles were published by the research team.   But when we published two peer-reviewed papers in 2015, MPP and his team simply refused to acknowledge their existence, and over the eight years that have elapsed since then there have not been any citations of our research.  Why not?

As for access to the dig site at Rhosyfelin, there were no restrictions to access because it was immediately adjacent to a public right of way.  Hundreds of people visited the site during September of each year while the dig was going on, and hundreds more visited during the other months and were able to examine "the evidence" since the pit was always left open, sometimes partly covered with a plastic sheet.  In the absence of the excavation team, it was possible to make truly independent observations,  without any pressure to accept the party line or interpret things as required by the senior archaeologists.  The key evidence on the rock face and the local landforms, examined by me and my colleagues, had nothing to do with the dig, and most of this evidence (described in many posts on this blog) is still accessible today, long after the end of the archaeological investigations.

Carn Goedog and Waun Mawn are both on common land, and so the digs at both sites within the last decade were completely open to the public.   The digs could not have been "fenced in" as they might have been on private land.  Again hundreds of people wandered about and looked at things both when the diggers were present and when they were not.  A number of guided tours were arranged for local groups with an interest in archaeology and local history, which was commendable -- but of course on those occasions the narrative given to participants was the one that we are now all familiar with, as featured in popular magazines and in TV programmes. And as we now know, that narrative was not exactly balanced or reliable......... 

What might have happened if there had been no independent evaluation of the three sites, at Rhosyfelin, Carn Goedog and Waun Mawn? To put it mildly, falsehood would have been perpetrated on a substantial scale.  Nobody would have questioned the reliability of the three crucial papers published in Antiquity journal in 2015, 2019 and 2021, and almost certainly all three sites would have been designated as Scheduled Ancient Monuments.  Just think about that for a moment....... and you may wish to recoil in horror.

As it is, in spite of the difficulty of getting "scrutiny" articles published in learned journals, my colleagues and I have behaved ethically at all times.  We have respected the right of "first publication" by Parker Pearson and his team.  We have tried, through our own articles and in social media, to alert them to our concerns about their methods and their interpretations, which were of course ignored.  The only one who did engage, to his credit, was "Myris of Alexandria", whose identity remains a great mystery.......   But it's also a great disappointment that nobody else (from a team of more than a dozen quite senior academics) was prepared to engage in any realistic debate, maybe because they thought that discussing matters of interpretation on a blog was a rather disreputable activity.

So here we are.  On the one hand we have a string of learned papers from geologists and archaeologists, all promoting a bluestone quarrying and human transport narrative, and on the other hand we have detailed scrutiny of those papers and the presentation of independent observations and interpretations in the posts and comments --  on this blog and on other blogs in the field of archaeology.  Maybe that's the way of the world just now. To the right, experts who have access to the traditional means of academic publication, and who have reputations to enhance (or destroy!) -- and to the left other experts (because we ARE experts) who have the skills and enthusiasm to "knowledgeably scrutinize" what is in print and to find it wanting.

So regardless of who occupies the ethical high ground here, the truth is gradually emerging.  Rhosyfelin as "the Pompeii of Neolithic quarries"? Gone.  Monolith quarrying at Carn Goedog "on an industrial scale"?  Gone.  Proto-Stonehenge at Waun Mawn?  Gone.  The imprint of bluestone 62 at Waun Mawn? Gone.  People and animals from Preseli found at Stonehenge, based on the isotope analysis of bones and teeth?  Gone.  These mistakes have been admitted in follow-up publications by the same researchers who originally made the faulty claims.  But make no mistake about it -- if it had not been for the subversive science, detailed scrutiny, and arguments about interpretations by those of us who dabble in social media, those follow-up papers would never have been written.  And multiple falsehoods would all now be regarded as the established truth. 

Sunday 16 April 2023

Bluestone monoliths and the problems of open water transport

Thanks to Les Hazell for sending a copy of his dissertation on the bluestone "open water" transport debate.  It's well researched and referenced, and goes into all aspects of the prehistoric movement of large monoliths of bluestone across open water -- covering tidal streams, winds and waves, coastal hazards, human energy expenditure, route planning and adjustments, boatbuilding, sailing and rowing technologies, and much else besides.   He examines in particular some of the notions in Rodney Castleden's book, and (not surprisingly) finds them wanting.  

The thesis suffers from a rather too easy acceptance that the glacial transport of the stones was impossible -- he was clearly greatly influenced by James Scourse's 1997 book chapter.  And of course a lot has happened since then.  But nevertheless, this is a worthwhile contribution,  and the author concludes that the sea transport of 80 or so bluestones around 5,000 years ago was "neither viable nor practical".



Les Hazell

2001 Honours dissertation, Deakin University


On the Salisbury Plains of Britain, a megalithic structure known as Stonehenge contains an inner circle of Bluestones weighing around 4 tonnes. Although the source for these Bluestones in the Preseli Mountains in Wales is generally accepted, how they were moved from there to the Stonehenge complex in southern England is debated. In contradiction to the possibility of glacial action being responsible, an alternative theory suggests an open water route. This hypothesis is analysed using environmental constraints as research parameters. In this methodology, human power cited from both replication experiments and ethnographic observations are adopted as a constraint to overcome tidal flows, their direction and velocity. This performance expectation is incorporated into analysis of log and canoe raft configurations to determine their structural integrity when challenged by forces induced by wind speed and waves created under the coastal conditions of this hypothetical route. I argue this analysis suggests much of an open water route options suggested in previous research is neither viable nor practical for the valuable Bluestones with the known watercraft options.

Friday 14 April 2023

Ogof Golchfa / Porth Clais -- one of the most precious Quaternary sites in Wales



This is a wonderful photo published on Facebook by Guy Candler.  It shows the cave called Ogof Golchfa and the rocky peninsula on which I spent many many hours back in the day, measuring and recording the stones and the sediments.  Note the rough rock platform on which the raised beach and other sediments rest.  If you click to enlarge the photo you can see the broad dolerite dyke bounded on both flanks by thin sandstone beds that are now vertical (the dyke might actually have been a sill, if it was emplaced contemporaneously......). The raised beach exposures around the cave were -- and still are -- almost impossible to get at.

See also:

More chips off another old block

The commercialisation of the bluestone myth

No wonder Tez and Julie, who live at Rhosyfelin, are furious -- the mythologisation of the Stonehenge bluestones, and the Pembrokeshire sites supposedly associated with them, proceeds apace.  Here is one site from which you can purchase a "bluestone slab" about the size of your thumb for $39.  Somebody collects lumps of bluestone, cuts them and flogs them to anybody who is gullible enough to believe that they have "power".  As ever, the price depends upon the magic and the desirability of the object being flogged.

Just do a search on Google, and you will find scores of sites selling "bluestone" beads, healing crystals, pebbles, chunks, lumps and so forth, incorporated into necklaces, bangles, keyrings and a host of other things.  I imagine that geologists Ixer and Bevins, and the archaeologists that they work with, are as appalled as the rest of us by the cheap (sorry, expensive!) tat sold under the "bluestone" banner.   They should, perhaps, have paused for a moment before embarking on their high-pressure marketing campaigns --- and they should have realized that high-pressure and uncontrolled commercialisation was an inevitable consequence of the wacky narrative that they have enthusiastically developed. 

In case you wondered, a reminder that some of this bluestone stuff is available via the Stonehenge Visitor Centre, along with vividly branded chocolates and a lot else besides!


The myth of our superhuman ancestors

Sums are not my strong point, but my friend Pete has just reminded me of an interesting figure trotted out by MPP in his latest article: 88,000 person / hours for the transport of 80 bluestones from Pembrokeshire to Stonehenge. (That is, along the A40 land route.......)  That works out at a bit more than 1,000 person hours per stone.  Assuming that around 20 people were required to carry or pull each stone (a very conservative estimate), that gives them just 50 hours to shift a stone from Preseli to Stonehenge -- a distance of c 300 km.  So without any breaks at all they would have to trot along at about 6 km per hour......... assuming that there were no jungles, bogs, impassable rivers, high tides and so forth encountered along the way.  Let's be generous, says Pete, and assume that MPP's calculator was faulty, or that he just forgot a few zeroes ......

Of course, this all has relevance nowadays because of the realisation by MPP that Stonehenge was not a great "central place" at all, but a PERIPHERAL place with no hinterland or tribal /cultural catchment.  It was also a place apparently built as a folly, with no great purpose, and used, after its construction or partial construction for a variety of different purposes.

In the light of all of this, it makes the human transport hypothesis even more preposterous than it was before.  If Stonehenge was not after all THE great cultural centre of the British Isles, it cannot possibly have had the "pulling" power to encourage tribesmen from the far west of Great Britain to carry 80 monoliths across hostile and difficult terrain in an act of ancestor worship, political unification or homage. Even if said tribesmen were somewhat crazy, why didn't they cart the petrified remains of their ancestors to other interesting "special places" as well?  And if their behaviour was deemed by others to be perfectly normal and acceptable, why is there no evidence of other tribes making similar grand gestures in other parts of the country?  None of this makes any sense at all.

The diggers and the camp followers at Rhosyfelin, Carn Goedog and Waun Mawn would still have us believe that bluestone monoliths were quarried and arranged in stone circles because the places that they came from were "special places" or because the "act of quarrying" was deemed in itself to be worthy or noble.  But nothing in West Wales supports this version of events.  The evidence of quarrying is so flimsy that it can -- according to Hitchens's Razor, be dismissed. Spotted dolerite and foliated rhyolite were not used preferentially in megalithic settings in West Wales.   There are around 46 different rock types in the bluestone assemblage at Stonehenge -- were they all special and were they all quarried?  The Waun Mawn "lost circle" did not exist, and if there was a small stone setting there it had nothing to do with Stonehenge.  

The more we examine the thesis of long-distance megalith transport in the British Isles, the more we realise that it is not supported by the evidence.  And if long-distance stone haulage was an activity that characterised a certain episode in Neolithic history, why were no stones delivered to Stonehenge from the tribes who lived to the north, the east and the south?  And why is there no evidence of the development of this form of worship or tribute earlier, and a decline in activity afterwards?  Or did the rules of cultural evolution or dissemination simply not apply to Stonehenge and those who visited it?  And finally, why, if quarrying was a desirable activity, are the great majority of bluestone monoliths at Stonehenge weathered and abraded boulders and slabs which have clearly not been quarried from anywhere, and which look like glacial erratics?

These are all crucial issues that have simply been ignored by MPP, Mike Pitts and scores of other authors of learned papers and books about Stonehenge.  Journal editors and reviewers, EH and the archaeological establishment are all involved in the cover-up of the realities listed above -- and they are all complicit in the perpetration of an increasingly outrageous mythology dressed up as the truth. 

Monday 10 April 2023

Open Access Publishing -- in theory and in practice

This is a follow-up to my post of last month:

Some time ago I submitted a paper to a middle ranking learned journal for consideration, in the hope that it would -- after peer review -- be approved and accepted for publication online. The Editor wrote: "Thank you for the fine manuscript, which I enjoyed reading very much." So I went through the mandatory submission process online, but came up against the buffers when I got to the section dealing with APCs (article publishing / processing charges). I could not complete that section because I have no current affiliation with a UK academic institution, and did not have the wherewithal ($3,000) to get my article published. There are waivers, but only for researchers based in one of the small or impoverished countries deemed worthy of support. The central publishing office (one of the big ones!) was completely inflexible on this, and so I had to withdraw the article, which clearly was of a sufficient standard to be published. The journal, which prides itself on "open access publishing", is clearly not open access at all, either for readers or writers who are not currently working in an academic institution. It is open access for a privileged few whose institutions foot their publishing bills.

Now I can well understand that the big journal publishing houses like Wiley, Elsevier and Taylor & Francis have to devise business models that will earn them a profit, but surely there has to be a better way than this? If non-affiliated researchers and readers are cut out of the academic process of producing and scrutinising research materials, the process remains in the hands of an elite, and the losers must be science and the truth. Knowledgeable members of the public who want to keep up with developments in their fields of expertise will have to depend on popular magazine articles and media headlines based on press releases -- and we all know how dangerous that scenario is.

As we all say far too often, something should be done about it........

Peace and joy be yours for ever.....

Isn't it rather lovely, on this happy Easter Monday, that there now appears to be a great level of agreement between the geomorphologists and the archaeologists on Stonehenge and the bluestones?

After a decade of rather acrimonious disagreements, it now seems that we are in perfect harmony on a range of matters relating the Stonehenge, the bluestones, and the fate of the delightful fanciful narratives that used to fly about in the media.  For example:


1.  After the recent admission that Stonehenge had no particular purpose, we appear to be agreed that it was probably just a folly, built by some fellow intent upon making a grandiose statement and then adapted for a variety of uses through the centuries that followed.  The world's first multi-purpose venue?

2.  There are hints that my belief in Stonehenge as a structure that was never actually finished (maybe because they ran out of stones) is now accepted rather more widely than before.

3.  There is a mutual acceptance that the Stonehenge bluestones have not just come from a couple of monolith quarries but from "multiple geological sources".

4.  It's agreed that Craig Rhosyfelin never was the "Pompeii of Neolithic quarries" and that the site -- or some other place nearby -- might have provided (at most) one lump of rock that ended up at Stonehenge.

5.  As far as Carn Goedog is concerned, we no longer hear about "bluestone quarrying on an industrial scale"  -- and that is a great blessing.

6.  Waun Mawn, it is now agreed, was never the site of a "giant lost circle of standing stones".

7.  It is also agreed that any small stone setting at Waun Mawn was of strictly local interest, and had nothing to do with Rhosyfelin, Carn Goedog, or Stonehenge.

8.  The idea that Bluestone 62 at Stonehenge had a precise footprint at Waun Mawn (hole 091) and was moved to Stonehenge from there has also been abandoned.

9.  The idea that Stonehenge Bluestone 62 came from one of the supposed bluestone quarries has also been abandoned.

10.  We are now all happily agreed that any standing stones that were present at Waun Mawn were collected up in the immediate vicinity.

11.  The claim that isotope evidence from the analyses of teeth and bones at Stonehenge showed a direct link between Stonehenge and West Wales has now quietly been dropped, and there is agreement that some of the people and cattle who arrived at Stonehenge had previously been somewhere else, maybe in western of northern parts of the British Isles.

12.  The pervasive idea of the Stonehenge establishment relating to the site as the great focal point or centre of the British Neolithic world (which was heavily criticised by Barclay and Brophy) now seems to have been dumped by the archaeologists in the MPP team, in favour of a belief that the site was no more important than scores of other sites in Middle England,  and that it was on the boundary between one tribal territory and another. 


There are a number of other quite subtle points which suggest shifting positions, but the dogged belief in the existence of megalith quarries and human bluestone transport persists to this day.  Never mind -- those beliefs will also be dumped before long, and then we can all live happily ever after.

Sunday 9 April 2023

Stonehenge had no purpose, and it was not really all that important.......... so says MPP

Stonehenge -- an anachronism, and just a speck in a landscape of more significant Early Neolithic features?

It's hard to keep up with MPP's mental gymnastics.  In his latest contribution he simply dumps a range of his previous fondly held beliefs and replaces them with beliefs that are much less spectacular.  One climb down after another, with no fanfare and not even any acknowledgement of the publications that have proved his earlier ideas to have been fanciful and downright misleading.

The details:  Parker Pearson, M. 2023.  Stonehenge -- the Little "Big Other".  Jnl of Urban Archaeology 7 (2023) pp 147-168

It's a very strange article.  First, the things that he is hanging on to.  He still thinks that 80 or so bluestones were imported (in the context of a gigantic civil engineering and logistics exercise)  to Stonehenge from West Wales.  He still thinks there were monolith quarries at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog.  He still believes in Bluestonehenge, complete with bluestones.  He still thinks there were bluestone monoliths in the Aubrey Holes.  He still thinks that Stonehenge was built where it is because of those mysterious "periglacial stripes" that happened to be pointing in the right direction.

As for the rest, there are major shifts.  There is no mention of the famous "Lost Circle" at Waun Mawn, and it looks as if he has finally come to terms with the fact that there is no evidence for it that stacks up.  There is no mention of any cosmogenic / isotope evidence linking West Wales and Stonehenge, and he appears to have accepted that the evidence -- such as it is -- simply suggests that some people and animals and people might have come to Stonehenge from somewhere in western or northern Britain.  That's exactly what many of us have been telling him. Following the energetic criticism fired in his direction by Barclay and Brophy, he seems to have dropped the idea that Stonehenge was a "central place" or the great focal point of the British Neolithic and has substituted the idea that it was a "peripheral place" with no catchment or hinterland, located on a boundary between adjacent tribal territories.  It was a part of an extensive ceremonial landscape -- but no more important than many other locations.  It was not a temple, and it appears to have had no purpose.  (Yes, he actually says that.......)  Yes, people were cremated or buried there, as they were in many other locations.  So it was one of many little "Big Others".

Back to the strangeness.  He claims that what flowed into Stonehenge were monoliths, tools, corpses and ashes and other THINGS, and what flowed out were IDEAS -- namely ideological power and religious fervour.  And it gets even stranger.  Stonehenge's meaning was in its making, from one phase to another -- and not in its finished form.  Holes dug at Stonehenge were part of  "an iconoclastic act to challenge the monument's symbolism of ancestral unity."  And the intention in its initial construction was to unite and resolve conflict between territorial groups.

But if Stonehenge was really just a sort of insignificant folly on the chalklands of Middle England, no more distinguished than hundreds of other little "Big Other" places, why on earth would our heroic Neolithic ancestors have wanted to drag 80 bluestone monoliths to this somewhat chaotic construction site all the way from West Wales?  Because they liked to do illogical and irrational things?  

What on earth is MPP on about, and where is all this heading?  Excuse me -- I have to go and lie down in a darkened room for a little while...........  

Saturday 8 April 2023

A giant erratic in Massachusetts


Thanks to our friends Eleanor and Anthony Lord for these photos of a giant erratic in the Harold Parker State Forest, near Andover, Massachusetts, USA.

Not sure what the rock is, but it looks igneous.  The erratic is quite literally falling to pieces -- as crossing joints or fractures open up probably as a result of frost-related processes every winter.

Friday 7 April 2023

Pentre Ifan and Trefignath


Trefignath, Anglesey, with the remains of the burial chambers and the last of the rubble mound.

Thanks to Chris Walker for posting (on Facebook) some splendid photos of Trefignath chambered tomb, near Holyhead in Anglesey.

The oldest of three chambers here was apparently built around 5,700 years ago -- that makes it one of the oldest structures in Wales.  The similarities with Pentre Ifan in Pembrokeshire are striking -- the portal is obvious, with those two massive flanking stones, and the earliest dolmen (more enclosed than that at Pentre Ifan) is rather battered but still standing.  See also the remnants of the mound, which apparently at one time covered the whole of the megalithic structure. The original mound must have provided the surface up which the capstone was hauled / levered until it was in the "right" position.

At Pentre Ifan there is a new interpretation panel which seems to minimise the importance of the rubble mound.  the gigantic capstone there must also have been manoevred up the slope of the mound -- but on the panel the capstone is shown on the ground beside the supporting pillars -- with no indication of how it was moved........

One of the interpretations of Pentre Ifan, showing the portal or entrance to the tomb and the mound, with the capstone exposed at the surface.

Pentre Ifan plan

Carn Goedog and the Drovers' route


I found this image on Facebook -- thanks to Hugh Thomas of Preseli 360.  It shows the whole of the tumbledown tor of Carn Goedog in extraordinary detail, as described in my Researchgate article:

For the moment, I want to draw attention to the sub-parallel trackways on the southern flank of the tor, which show up remarkably well. These are in the upper part of the photo.  As I have pointed out before on this blog, these trackways make use of segments of ice-marginal channels which may date from the ice wastage phase of the last glaciation, but their powerful imprint on the landscape is down to many centuries os use by human beings and their flocks and herds, travelling over the col on the Preseli ridge which is off the photo, to the right. This was undoubtedly the main route used by the drovers of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when they were crossing the mountains, on their way from South Pembrokeshire and onwards to Cardigan and the Ceredigion coast -- and ultimately towards the growing industrial areas of the Midlands and Lancashire.  But the route is much more ancient -- it is an offshoot of the "Golden Road" used during the Neolithic and the Bronze Age.

The south-facing flank of the tor was a perfect camping location for the travellers, and this is confirmed by the wide spread of radiocarbon dates obtained from organic materials during the dig by the MPP team in 2014-15.  Hearths and scattered remains in "occupation layers" reveal intermittent occupation of the site by travellers right through the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and modern periods, and there are traces of settlements at the foot of the north-facing flank of Carn Goedog and across the surrounding landscape. There are no confirmed traces of occupation on the tor of Carn Goedog itself.

None of the radiocarbon evidence should surprise us, and similar evidence would no doubt be forthcoming if archaeological investigations should be done around Carn Alw, Carn Meini,  Carn Breseb and many other tors.  None of this has anything to do with quarrying, which remains a fantastical hypothesis unsupported by any hard evidence.

There are traces of modern quarrying of course at Cnwc yr Hydd and in Cwm Cerwyn, but the only location in North Pembrokeshire where there is good evidence of prehistoric quarrying is Foel Drygarn, at the eastern end of the Preseli ridge.  At that site the prehistoric quarrymen were extracting rock rubble, not bluestone monoliths.