Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my book called "The Bluestone Enigma" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Saturday, 21 April 2018

The Bluestone Quarries -- a great gullibility experiment?

Neolithic bluestone quarry?  You must be joking, man.......

Below I have re-posted a blog from eight years ago.  Suddenly, hoaxes and practical jokes are right back in the frame again.  I have been pondering, on this wonderful warm spring morning, and have come to the considered judgment that this whole bluestone quarrying business is actually a rather splendid "gullibility experiment" conducted by a group of smart academics who will, any day now, spill the beans. They will put out a statement saying:

 "Haha!  Fooled you all!  There never was any evidence for these things that we have labelled "Neolithic bluestone quarries"!  We just wanted to see how far we could go with a completely mad idea, inventing evidence, taking nice photos and drawing complex diagrams, placing it all in the learned and popular media, and promoting it through lectures and press releases.  Now we must come clean, and admit that we have just been having fun creating an edifice that has no foundations.  It has cost a lot of money and involved a great deal of effort.  But there has been a serious motive behind all of this -- and it has all been in the cause of science. The lesson is this:  do not believe everything that you are told by senior academics.  Test everything.  Scrutinize everything.  And draw your own conclusions strictly on the basis of what can be observed."

Frightening, isn't it, the extent to which a whole academic community can be swept along by something completely irrational?


Saturday, 27 March 2010

Two great hoaxes: Piltdown Skull and Bluestone Quarry?

Some see a bluestone quarry -- others don't.
Some see a Missing Link -- others see a hoax.

There was a piece on the telly the other day about the Piltdown Man hoax of 1912. One thing struck me in the commentary -- namely the "fertile ground" which existed in Britain at the time, providing perfect conditions for the hoax to take root, to flourish and eventually (in spite of the reservations of some experts) to become part of mainstream thinking. This is what one web site says about the hoax:

"Perhaps the most famous hoax was Piltdown man. In 1912, at a time when Darwin's evolutionary theory was new, and people were looking for missing links between humans and apes, someone planted two fake skulls which came to be known as Piltdown Man.
The part medieval man, part Orang-utang fossil was found, in the very English village of Piltdown in Sussex. Piltdown man's scientific name, Eoanthropus dawsoni, reflected its finder's name Dawson. To get a flavour of those times, the British Empire was still riding high, and Germany had their Heidelberg man fossil, Britain was desperate for a more important ' missing link' between man and monkey."

The key to this is national pride, and a desire in Britain to demonstrate that whatever important discoveries there were in Germany, Britain had even better ones, showing the world what wonderful ancient civilizations we had here, and what brilliant archaeologists we had to uncover them and to expound new theories of evolution to the world...... OK, petty, nationalistic, xenophobic and even absurd, but that was the world around the time of the First World War. Germany had Neanderthal Man, and now Britain had the "Missing Link" -- even more important.

So what about HH Thomas and the bluestones? Well, I have suspected for some time that Thomas might have been guilty of simplification and selective citation of his samples and his rock identifications, in order to flag up the Carn Meini area as the source of the bluestones. I have also expressed my amazement in earlier posts that he "got away with murder" in that NOBODY seems to have seriously examined his evidence or questioned his wacky idea that the stones had been hauled by tribesmen all the way from Presely to Stonehenge in a totally unique feat of Stone Age long-distance transport. And why did people not scrutinize his theory more closely? Why, because there had been great discoveries about megalithic structures in Germany, and because British archaeologists were desperate to show that in these islands we had even more advanced prehistoric civilisations and even cleverer engineers and technicians.

Sounds absurd? I don't think so -- and a number of other authors have suggested that Thomas's idea was carefully put together around the time of the First World War as part of a national "feel good" strategy, and that the whole nation (and not just the archaeologists) just loved the idea when he announced it, and were disinclined to examine it carefully.

So Thomas became famous, then the bluestones became famous, and the "bluestone transport story" entered the mythology of Britain. It is still trotted out ad infinitum, even though there is even less evidence for it now than there was in 1920. And anybody who dares to question it, or to undermine our cosy assumptions about the extraordinary skills of our Neolithic ancestors, is likely to get short shrift from the archaeology establishment. Look at what happened to poor Geoffrey Kellaway.......

So was the Carn Meini / bluestone quarry / human transport story all a hoax? I think it's a distinct possibility. How much longer will it be before the whole mad idea about human transport is finally consigned to the scrapheap? Not long, I suspect, since the new geology being done by Rob Ixer and colleagues in the Stonehenge area is revealing so many new sources for the stones and fragments at Stonehenge that we are going to have to talk about 20 quarries all over western Britain, rather than one. And that would be to stretch things to a rather extraordinary degree......

All hoaxes have their day, and eventually bite the dust, leaving senior academics looking very foolish.

The Bluestone Enigma

After several reprints, this book has now sold out of stock.  English Heritage snaffled up the last 100 copies not long ago, presumably for the Stonehenge shop........

The book has been very popular, but since it was published ten years ago a great deal has happened, so it needed much rewriting and revision.

The new book will be coming soon.   Watch this space.....

Thursday, 19 April 2018

The Devensian ice limit in Pembrokeshire -- update

This is from a recent post:  

I'm still convinced that Devensian ice has affected Caldey Island and has left till there -- and that's just a few miles further east. If ice flowed over Caldey it might have touched Old Castle Head, but because of the military presence there it is out of bounds. I'm now rather convinced that Devensian ice flowed from the west towards the east in this area, and that the great cliff rampart of south Pembrokeshire was an effective barrier which prevented the ice from transgressing inland. The cliffs are for the most part about 35m high, with a further slope of about 10m in the tidal and sub-tidal zone before a gently sloping sea bed with considerable irregularities runs further out into Carmarthen Bay.

There is a fabulous resource for looking at the sea bed here:

When the Devensian ice of the Irish Sea Glacier arrived in West Wales there was no sea and no coastline.  Instead, there was a steep rampart or coastal slope where the old cliffs had been in the preceding interglacial -- probably masked at least in part by the rockfalls and accumulated slope deposits built up during a long Early Devensian and Middle Devensian periglacial episode.  This is something I postulated (on the basis of a vast amount of evidence) in the 1960's -- and it is still accepted as valid.

So was this rampart or barrier prominent enough and continuous enough to effectively determine the position of the ice edge?  I am increasingly convinced that the answer is "yes" -- and that the ice, as it moved eastwards into Carmarthen Bay, did not have the strength or thickness to surmount this barrier, except in a very few locations.

Previously I have shown the Devensian ice pushing much further east up Milford Haven and across the western part of the Castlemartin Peninsula, but I am changing my mind on that...............  The reason is that on my recent walks on the S Pembs coast I have been reminded quite forcefully that the most common deposit on the clifftops and in coastal embayments like Manorbier Bay, Freshwater East and Swanlake is head -- a periglacial slope deposit (maybe not always periglacial) up to 4m thick and made up of broken bedrock in a sandy of gravelly matrix.  The thickness of the rockfall / slope deposit depends, as ever, on the characteristics of the local bedrock and the proximity of the old cliffline or bedrock source.  Here are a few examples of this material:

Devensian slope deposits (head) c 2m thick in the face at cliff face at Manorbier -- Old Red Sandstone (Devensian) bedrock.  Above the head, c 20 cms of colluvium or hillwash, and then 75 cms of blown sand and modern soil.

Slope deposits up to 3m thick in Swanlake Bay, close to the sandy beach.  Note pseudo stratification and variations in block size, which migh relate to environmental changes or to changes in bedrock source lithology.  Still to be investigated......

Relatively fine-grained slope deposits exposed in the cliff face on the eastern flank of Freshwater East Bay.  At the top of the sequence sandy loam or colluvium.

This is very interesting -- a nice example of a fossil ice wedge, exposed in the cliff near the beach in Manorbier Bay. The edges of the wedge are clearly demarcated, and the rock fragments that have fallen into it are standing vertically -- that is quite typical.  My interpretation here is that the slope deposits have accumulated during the Devensian cold episode, and that the wedge might have formed during permafrost conditions during the Younger Dryas.

All that having been said, there are certainly exotic stones and pebbles on all of the local beaches, some of them distinctly reminiscent of the volcanics of Western St David's Peninsula and Ramsey Island.  There are also scattered patches of what appears to be relatively fresh till, in locations which currently seem to defy rhyme and reason  -- some day we will no doubt work it out!  Some examples:

Exotic pebbles from the beach at Manorbier.  They are most likely to have come from degraded till deposits in the immediate neighbourhood.

Erratic pebbles incorporated into slope deposits in Swanlake Bay.  Have they come from very old glacial or raised beach deposits or from Devensian till reworked and incorporated into slope deposits since 20,000 yrs BP?

This appears to be undisturbed till, exposed in the cliff face at Swanlake Bay.  Note the abundant small pebbles from multiple locations in the clay-rich matrix.  The greenish cobble  does not appear to carry striations, but it displays abundant pressure fractures, some of which are conchoidal.  That suggests ice transport......

All in all, the evidence is stacking up that this south Pembrokeshire coast  was in some places unaffected by Devensian glacier ice, and in other places the ice touched the present coastline and left traces including coherent till.  The till is very reminiscent of that exposed in the Scilly Islands and on Caldey.  Watch this space.......

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Swanlake Neolithic Bluestone Quarry?

It has been announced today, following a reconnaissance expedition to Swanlake Bay on the south Pembrokeshire coast, that Professor Dafydd ap Gruffydd ap Ifan ("call me Dai") has discovered what may be the first Neolithic bluestone quarry in south Pembrokeshire.  The precise location must be a closely-kept secret until Dai has sold the film rights to the National Geographic TV Channel.  From what we know about quarrying techniques from the meticulous work of the archaeologists at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog, virtually all of the key engineering features are present in this case.

The centre of attention must be the massive proto-orthostat of Devonian sandstone which we see left centre in the photo;  this was clearly intended for Stonehenge but was somehow left behind. It weighs about six tonnes.  It appears that when the Neolithic argonauts went sailing past on their rafts, on their way to the Bristol Channel, the locals flagged them down and offered them the stone at what they thought was a very reasonable price.  However, the Head of Acquisitions was not interested, having already obtained his quota.  So the locals chucked a few stones at him and his mates and sent them on their way.

Anyway, enough of archaeological narratives, and back to the evidence.  If you look carefully at the photo (click to enlarge) you can see the man-made pedestal of supporting rocks beneath the proto-orthostat, the threshold stone, the "railway tracks" used to facilitate extraction of the target orthostat, the slabs fractured and scratched by the movement of earlier stones dragged over them, the revetment and loading bay at the base of the photo, the chipping floor, and traces of the quarrying face at the top of the photo.  There is a vast amount of quarrying waste all around the proto-orthostat, suggesting continuous quarrying activity over many centuries.  Just off the photo is a clearly marked  trackway used to transport the stones across the beach towards the beached loading vessels.  In the bottom right corner of the photo clearly visible is the picnic table where the quarry workers ate their lunch between shifts.

We know that the Altar Stone came from the Devonian sandstones of South Wales.  Might it have come from this quarry?  The proto-orthostat in this photo looks remarkably similar.

We now await the arrival of the geologists at this site, confident in the knowledge that they will be able to provenance certain sandstone fragments and orthostats at Stonehenge to within a few square metres of the centre of this photograph.

 Speaking to Botswana Radio early this morning, Prof Dai said:  "This find is the culmination of a life's work.  We really have found the Chipping Sodbury of Neolithic Quarries. This will do wonders for my bank balance."

Monday, 16 April 2018

The World of Ice

I couldn't resist posting these two fabulous images from the World of Ice. No particular reason, other than the fact they are both very beautiful.   The top one shows icebergs trapped in sea ice -- I think the location is Scoresby Sund in East Greenland.  Not sure who the photographer is.....

The lower one is a wonderful iceberg picture from Russell Bevan -- location unknown.

Geologists slammed for ignoring "inconvenient" research

In a letter just published in "Geology Today",  I have had a go at geologists Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins for ignoring (in a paper in the magazine) those two "inconvenient" papers about Rhosyfelin that were published in 2015, and for pretending that there is no dispute about the "bluestone quarries."  That was not just forgetful or naughty of them -- it was a serious scientific misdemeanour.  In science you must be open to debate and criticism, and you MUST admit to the fact that your evidence is challenged by others.  Instead, as we know, Ixer and Bevins chose to portray the Neolithic quarry idea as established or unchallenged:

Anyway, last autumn I wrote a letter to the Editor of "Geology Today" about the Ixer and Bevins paper, and said in rather forthright terms that the paper should not have been published, because it chose to maintain the pretence that the "bluestone quarrying" hypothesis was universally accepted.  Anyway, the Editor and his colleagues got into quite a tizz and insisted on all sorts of deletes and minor edits, so that the letter ended up as a very mild rebuke.  I had to accept the "revised version" in the end, or it would not have been published.  The truth of the matter, of course, is that when a defective paper is refereed and accepted and published, and then heavily criticised, it reflects badly not just on the authors of the article but also on the shortcomings of the editorial process used by the journal itself.  When a paper has to be retracted, it reflects as badly on the publishing journal as it does on the authors.  So retraction is to be avoided at all costs.......

Edited version: Geology Today, 34 (2), March / April 2018
Dear Editor,

'Neolithic quarries'

I ─ům writing to make a complaint about the feature article by Ixer and Bevins entitled "The Bluestones of Stonehenge", in Geology Today (Vol 33, No 5, Sept - Oct 2017, pp 184-187).   I am disappointed that it has found its way into print, since some of its claims are unsubstantiated.

The geology is mostly acceptable, and we can live with some claims that are not actually well supported by the evidence. This is not the place to argue about details. But much more serous is the question of the "bluestone quarrying" issue.  This is not the first time that these two
authors have given the impression in the scientific literature that there is clear and undisputed evidence of ancient quarrying / Neolithic working at two Pembrokeshire sites, namely Carn Goedog and Rhosyfelin.   In two previous papers published in 2016 they referred to “Neolithic quarry
sites” and to “the Preseli quarries” without making any mention of the fact that in in the previous year two peer-reviewed papers had presented detailed evidence interpreted as showing that such quarries do not exist.

This latest paper, in the pages of Geology Today, has been submitted in spite of the fact that, in my view, the authors have been fully aware, for two years or more, that the “quarrying” evidence presented by Prof Mike Parker Pearson and his team does not withstand detailed scrutiny.

I was one of the authors of the “inconvenient” papers concerned, drawing on extensive knowledge of the Quaternary in West Wales. Detailed sedimentological, stratigraphic and geomorphological evidence was presented to show that all of the so-called "quarrying features" cited by Ixer, Bevins and others are entirely natural, and are fully to be expected in any Quaternary sediment sequence in West Wales where rockfalls are common. None of the cited features are exceptional.  Ixer and Bevins are quite aware of the contents of our papers, and have never challenged any of the field evidence which we have presented.  It seems to me that they have therefore ignored material which should have been cited, and have presented something as established when it clearly is not.

I should make it clear that this dispute between one group of earth scientists and another relates to the interpretation of field evidence at two sites, collected over a period of five years.  It has nothing to do with another ongoing (and vigorous!) argument about how, when and why an assortment of erratic boulders, slabs and pillars found their way from West Wales to Stonehenge.


Dr Brian John

Fig. 15. Carn Goedog, showing perched blocks, ice-moulded surfaces and broken bedrock. Natural, according to some, and a Neolithic quarry, according to others. (Image: Brian John)

Sunday, 15 April 2018

That famous "monolith extraction point" at Rhosyfelin

Perhaps the most frequently-cited of the "quarrying " or "engineering" features at Rhosyfelin is the so-called "bluestone monolith extraction point" near the tip of the spur, and very close to sampling point number 8 as examined by Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins.

Well, I was down in the valley again yesterday, and research continues.

Well there is not really a recess here at all, and given the nature of the bedrock above and below MPP's right hand, it is vanishingly unlikely that a bluestone monolith with dimensions 2m x 20 cm x 20 cm could have survived physical extraction by quarrymen from here, since the rock is criss-crossed with deep fractures. As I mentioned in a previous post, there are at least ten intersecting fracture planes within a very small area.  I'm amazed that the geologists did not point this out to Mike and his colleagues.  We are talking rock mechanics and common sense here.  

The other observation from my latest visit is that on the rock face from which the pillar is supposed to have been extracted, there is clear evidence that thin slabs of rhyolite have fractured and fallen away over a long period of time -- and not all on one occasion.  If you just look at the edges of the fractures on the rock face, some are quite young, others are moderately weathered and others are very old (rounded off and heavily abraded).  This little rock face has a complicated history, as any geologist or geomorphologist will confirm.  On the illustrations pasted below, click to enlarge.

And where is the debris from the flaky thin slabs or slices that have dropped away from this rock face?  Why, it has been thrown into buckets by the archaeologists and thrown away, on the basis that it was of no importance.  Very convenient.........

Much as I hate being a party pooper, there is only one conclusion to be drawn from these observations.  There is no monolith extraction point located here.   In other words, there has been no quarrying.

I'm convinced that if different parts of this face were subjected to cosmogenic dating analyses, the result would be a wide range of different exposure ages.  I believe that at least one sample was taken from here for analysis at Glasgow University a couple of years ago, and that the result should have been available last summer.  Whatever happened to that dating result?  Why has it not been published?  Why, in his 2017 lectures, did MPP not announce the date to the world?  

If the result had been favourable to the quarrying hypothesis, it would be out there by now, as sure as eggs is eggs.............. 

These "stumps" at the base of the rock face have been described as the solid rock remnants left behind when the monolith was levered away by the intrepid quarrymen.  But just look at how heavily abraded they are.  Like many other bedrock surfaces around the tip of the spur, they have been battered and worn down by powerful glacial meltwater streams loaded with sand, gravel, cobbles and even boulders.  The deposits left behind by these streams are located in close proximity to this point, and were exposed during the course of the archaeological excavations: