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Friday 7 June 2024

Another puff for the human transport myth

The Carn Goedog dig, at the site of an imaginary quarry. Photo acknowledgement: Adam Stanford.

Here we go again.  Another plug for the human transport theory, this time from Chris Catling, on the website called "The Past" -- linked to Current Archaeology magazine.  The feature article is called "Rolling Stones"....... and it reports on Chris's involvement in the long walk undertaken by Prof Keith Ray in April.  The walk took about two weeks, and the energetic professor was accompanied on different days by different people who had an interest in Stonehenge and the bluestones.

We know where the author is coming from very early in the article: "Disappointingly, many people find it hard to accept that the bluestones were deliberately quarried in west Wales, preferring to believe that they were carried by glaciers."   Outrageous!! Whatever next???

While he does at least acknowledge that there is a glacial transport theory, and while he does give it some space in the article, his assumption is that it is deeply flawed and that the evidence of bluestone quarrying and monolith provenancing is so strong as to be incontrovertible.  He refers to the "hard science" of Ixer and Bevins, and fails to mention that the precision of their provenancing was seriously questioned in 2015 by Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd, John Downes and myself.  He also refers to "archaeological excavations at several quarry sites in the Preseli Hills" by Prof MPP and his colleagues, and fails to recognise that the "quarry sites" are hotly disputed.    So his bias is obvious and disappointing.....

Chris also claims that in his 2012 book on Stonehenge, MPP "tries to do justice to the critics on their own terms" by acknowledging that glacial deposits do exist in the Bristol - Bath area -- but then he contradicts himself by stating that Chris Clark of Sheffield University claims that the last glacial ice sheet "did not extend beyond Wales."  To the best of my knowledge, Chris has never claimed that -- and neither has anybody with access to modern data claimed that the Solent was created by glacial activity.  Then we get confusion about the ability of ice to flow uphill.  

It's all a bit of a mess, and the article descends into just another puff for the human transport hypothesis, with the author simply assuming that the "bluestone expeditions" were established as actually having happened.  He even cites MPP's latest view that we should abandon the use of Occam's Razor in Stonehenge studies: ‘we have to fight an innate prejudice that often makes us try to explain prehistoric activities in terms of what we see as “common sense”’ because this ignores the role played by symbolism. From the earliest times, particular stones have been invested with meanings over and above their utility."

Quote:  "Being part of the great enterprise of bringing the stones to Stonehenge would have appealed to Neolithic people for any number of reasons: satisfying curiosity, seeking novelty, pursuing self-realisation, seeking freedom from constraint, meeting new people and experiencing new ideas – not to mention any ritual or religious motivations. Taking part was transformative for the individuals concerned, not unlike taking part in an archaeological excavation. All the hard work would have been mitigated by a similar sociability and camaraderie, and enough memories made to furnish participants with a lifetime of anecdotes."

This is all very well, but neither MPP nor Chris Catling has yet come up with a shred of hard evidence supporting the long-distanc human transport of the bluestones for either symbolic or utilitarian reasons.  It is all speculation, assumption, and assertion, dressed up when it is deemed appropriate, as science.

1 comment:

Tony Hinchliffe said...

Chris Catling should be abandoned by " Current Archaeology" magazine, he's had his day and is too set in his ways. If he did deem to read this Blog, he might begin to realise that the study of glacial geomorphology is an ongoing, dynamic discipline and that revelations south of the Bristol Channel and from within places closer to Stonehenge ( e.g. INSIDE Salisbury Museum in June 2022) demonstrate this!!