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Thursday, 28 September 2017

After that fruitless quarry hunt, normal service is resumed........



Over the last week or two I have spoken to many people -- including archaeologists -- about the recent archaeological work on the northern flank of Preseli, and I am intrigued by the fact that NOBODY has even mentioned bluestones or quarries.  There now appears to be widespread scepticism about the existence of the Neolithic quarries so beloved by MPP and his friends, and an acceptance that the evidence they have unearthed during their mad quarry hunt has been so equivocal and unconvincing that the whole idea is best dropped.  For example, the radiocarbon dates and organic remains from Carn Goedog and Rhosyfelin do nothing at all to support the idea of bluestone monolith quarrying, but simply demonstrate the intermittent occupation of hunting and gathering sites.

In contrast, a number of people have said to me that the archaeologists are getting back to the normal practice of their trade by subjecting a smallish area to intense scrutiny (using geophysics, aerial surveys and LIDAR) and finding some rather interesting cultural features from the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman times.  This shows a long history of settlement in an area with quite positive environmental attributes.  Essentially this is a random process -- and a number of experienced archaeologists have said that MPP and his team could probably have subjected almost any part of North Pembrokeshire to a similar level of technical scrutiny and manpower investment, and would have obtained quite similar results.  We knew already from the excellent work done by Dyfed Archaeological Trust and other university groups over the years, that there are widespread cultural traces across the landscape and that a large proportion of them have survived because the level of agricultural and other development here has been lower than it has been across much of south Pembrokeshire.

Many of the relevant records are in the Coflein and Archwilio databases, and some are contained in this Report:
www.dyfedarchaeology.org.uk/projects/schedulepembroke2011.pdf
It's a bit out of date now, but is very valuable nonetheless.

So the feeling seems to be that the digs at Pensarn (three excavations), Parc y Gaer (one excavation) and Waun Mawn (six pits opened) represent a welcome return to normal service -- involving a lot of students, who will have obtained valuable training in how a good dig should be run.

No additional significance can be attached to these digs.  There is nothing "special" about the areas investigated, and I hope that the archaeologists will resist the temptation to pretend that there is.  A location does not become special or significant just because MPP and his colleagues have dug there.  And as I have noted before, and as many others have noticed, there is nothing in any of these recent digs that has anything to do with bluestones, quarries, Stonehenge, Carn Goedog, Rhosyfelin, or Stonehenge.  It would be quite preposterous for MPP and his team to pretend otherwise.

So a gentle request to the teams who have been at work on these sites in 2017 -- please add your records to the database of prehistoric sites for North Pembrokeshire, and follow the unassuming and efficient practices of the Dyfed Archaeological Trust.  Write and publish your peer-reviewed papers if you will.   Please resist the temptation to speculate and to tell elaborate stories.  Place your dig diaries and excavation records into the public domain as quickly as you can, and spare us any additional hype.......

12 comments:

Evergreen said...

Hi Brian,

Yesterday we walked (the very soggy) path from Crymych up to Carn Menyn and Carn Gyfrwy. It really does feel like another world up there and it was a strange feeling to be standing where stones were plucked, by whichever agency, to eventually end up at SH.
What particularly struck me as I stood and stared with the wind blowing through what is left of my hair, is the definite and particular character of the place. I will avoid the word ‘special’, but it is difficult to escape a feeling of otherness, whether you are up on the ridge or looking up at it from the ground.
It seems remarkable, and quite tragically comical, that if the builders of SH found these stones, say on the fringes of Salisbury Plain, that they had absolutely no idea of the stones remarkable provenance.
If the stones were found nearby, rather than intentionally quarried and transported from the area of origin, it seems astounding that they were interested in them enough to incorporate them as an (admittedly possibly early) feature of what could be reasonably described as the most ambitious circle building project undertaken in southern England. That’s without mention of the huge cremation cemetery and focal point of a ‘ritual landscape’ spreading for miles in every direction. All of this despite the fact that some of them, as you have often pointed out, are quite unremarkable in appearance. It would seem odd to make such found stones such a major feature of such a grand undertaking. Less so if the stones were unremarkable in appearance but imbued with meaning or from a ‘particular’ place.
Standing up there it is very difficult to imagine men quarrying 80 or so stones from the surrounding outcrops (or taking them from a previously erected monument nearby) and then carrying them the vast distance to SH. And I agree, thus far, we haven’t been presented with evidence to show that that happened, and when it comes to the dodgy story telling of archaeologists with an agenda i’m right there with you, but having now visited a few of the preseli sites my conviction has deepened that there was an ambitious plan, the reason for which will almost certainly never be known, but the evidence for is hopefully not to far away..

BRIAN JOHN said...

Hi Evergreen

It was good to meet up the other day, and hope you enjoyed the rest of your trip!

As you know, I'm rather sceptical about esoteric theories about the "special ambience" or the "magic" of Preseli being used as a justification for our Neolithic forefathers fetching lots of stones and carting them off to Stonehenge. Romantic fellow as I am, that's all a bit too romantic for me. We are all culturally conditioned, from an early age, to love bleak and wild places, and the more the population becomes urbanised, the more we view these wild places as beautiful and even as spiritual sanctuaries.

Let me tell you a little story. Whenever I can, I climb up Carningi, simply because I love it up there -- wide sky, glorious views, peace and quiet, wheatears scuttling about, buzzards soaring etc. You know the sort of thing. One day my neighbour stopped me and asked me why I kept on climbing up the mountain. I explained as best I could. "Bloody mad, you are," he said. "Terrible place. All those rocks and stones, holes where cattle can break their legs, bracken where the sheep keep on getting lost, and wind and cloud most of the time. I never go up there unless I have to, and when I have to, I hate it!"

End of story.

Evergreen said...

Good to meet you too Brian! Sadly we are heading home tomorrow, but have had a great time and will definitely be back.

Your story made me chuckle, and I take the point, but unfortunately there is no way for us to meaningfully assess the attitude of a group of neolithic wiltshire farmers to exotic stones rising out of the landscape, at the edge of the land in the west, the land of the setting sun...

Ooh, I feel a book coming on... I wonder if Mills & Boon have a prehistory genre?

Gordon said...

As a layman showing an interest in some local mysterious Bronze age features i was informed by a local archaeologist that to find answers i should look for an ethnographic equivalent and if possible find an indigenous peoples still using similar sites.After reading many reports i find that many archaeologists look for their equivalent in Eritrea or Papua New Guinea.Personally,and as i stress,as a layman,i would have thought you should at least be looking in the same hemisphere on similar latitudes.This is what i did and found that the peoples of North America and Canada at time of contact were still in their Neolithic/Copper age.Could i suggest the following for your perusal to make of what you will.Inukshuk/Inuksuk,Buffalo traces,Salt licks and a very interesting paper at https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/handle/2027.42/120823

BRIAN JOHN said...

Hi Gordon
Yes, you have a good point. Archaeologists do look, all the time, at places where "equivalent" technologies are used, when they are trying to understand stone haulage and all sorts of other things. And yes, many of the cited "parallels" do come from tropical or sub-tropical environments. I like the animal traps and other features described in that thesis, and take the point that similar features might well have been used in Britain during the Palaeolithic and Neolithic -- although of course farming and a more sedentary lifestyle were coming in at the time. I have often wondered whether any of the long stone walls on the Pembrokeshire upland commons are actually very old (they are often assumed to be medieval or later) and were first built as part of an animal trapping strategy.

Gordon said...

Hi Brian,we only have the archaeologists interpretation of these sites and i am not so sure it was a sedentary lifestyle.Here in the Yorkshire Dales we have the co-axial field systems all running South West to North East,why do they never mention the prevailing wind when studying these sites?I know the animal migration theory was not taken too seriously when previously mentioned,but couldn't the Ridgeway be such a route?The wild cattle of Great Britain by R.C Auld is quite an interesting article as it looks like some of the ancient breeds lasted into the 19th century.Maybe its how Urchfont on Salisbury Plain came to be named,Auroch spring?It could also be the cause of the erosion down the Avenue at Stonehenge.M and M stockyards of N.S.W Australia have some interesting designs on their web page.

TonyH said...

Nice to have someone from Up t'North on here, Gordon. I am a Yorkshireman who's ended up in Wiltshire. You make some very interesting points - when I'm feeling more bright - eyed and bushy - tailed I'll try to make an intelligent comment on one or two of your points! Welcome aboard, anyway. I'm from the Peak District edges of Yorkshire. Brian taught me a great deal about geomorphology when we were both relative youngsters.

Gordon said...

Thanks Tony.

TonyH said...

Gordon, hadn't heard about the possible derivation of the village place name, Urchfont, as being from 'Auroch'. I see the article by R C Auld on the wild cattle you mention is from 1888. It would be interesting for you to possibly make contact with Jim Leary, who has been conducting excavations at Marden henge and elsewhere in the Pewsey Vale.Jim works for Reading University and his work is called "Between Avebury & Stonehenge: The Vale of Pewsey Project". John Chandler, the eminent local historian and my former librarian colleague, doesn't mention any 'auroch' derivation for Urchfont in his "The Vale of Pewsey", but I don't see why this may not be a possibility.Also, as the white cattle of Chillingham in Northumberland are of ancient origin, who knows what ancient cattle may have made their own journeys along the Great Ridgeway?

Gordon said...

Hi Tony,thanks for the feedback,i did reply to you yesterday but that message must be lost in cyberspace.Both Julius Caesar and Tacitus refer to the Auroch as Ure,Uru and Uri.Modern cattle, because they are tied to one farm and its land, are given mineral supplements where as when these animals were in the wild they would have utilised the natural mineral springs on their migrations.The Wikipedia page with regards to mineral licks is very informative.I find it strange that with the prevalence of Auroch remains found around Salisbury Plain it is not even considered.In south Cumbria there is the settlement of Urswick where there can be found a tarn with Iron rich waters,which according to Wikipedia again,translates to Bison village.

TonyH said...

Gordon,that is interesting indeed what you say about the literate Romans referring to the Auroch as Ure, Uru and Uri. Local Historian John Chandler whom I previously mentioned may have an opinion on this, not least because he has a Degree in Classics I think! I will try to contact him, he is these days in Gloucestershire.

I expect you know the parish of Urchfont contains within it the river Lydeway which marks the watershed between the Bristol and the Christchurch (Hampshire) Avons, thus Urchfont has great significance in the physical geography of this part of SW England. Also, of course, the Ridge Way runs on the N scarp of Salisbury Plain within the parish. Your suggestion that the Auroch travelled along this route before humans did to any great extent is fascinating. It has been suggested by archaeologists who were involved in the Stonehenge Riverside Project that the Greater Cursus may owe its origins to an Auroch route from the river Till to the river Avon near Woodhenge. We've mentioned this in previous Posts here over the years.

Gordon said...

Thanks Tony,i am still familiarising myself with the area around Salisbury Plain and i did not know the significance of Urchfont,it was just the name that interested me.There had to be a spring there or why call it "font".On getting to know the history of the work that has been done around the Plain i have been reading the works of Richard Colt Hoare.I have just read that at a Barrow excavation at Wilsford (Wilsford G58 in google)the body of a large individual with a large axe hammer,a wire implement and a knife handle were found.There was also a tube of bone found,i have to check with a friend of mine but i think this man is a Slaughterman and the wire ran inside the bone tube.Is there a classification for Poleaxes?