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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Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Molesworth, and suffering in the cause of truth

My favourite book of all time is "Molesworth", written by one genius (Geoffrey Willans) and illustrated by another (Ronald Searle).  In one of the priceless episodes our hero Molesworth has a daydream in which he finds himself together with other "lusty skolars" in an Elizabethan college run by a psychopath called Doctor Kurdling. 

Our hero argues with the evil doctor about the existence of America, and gets six of the best with the cane -- after which Kurding says: "...that will teach you not to alter the ignorance of a lifetime!"

Here endeth the parable for today........

Parable, analogy and the Irish Sea Glacier

In the bad old days, before the enlightenment and before scientists had been invented, Jesus Christ went hoofing about in Palestine doing his preaching.  Almost always he used similes, metaphors and especially parables to put his message across to his listeners, who were in general simple folk who had not had much in the way of education.  Most good stories, whether for adults or very small children, are also parables or allegories, sending messages about ethical issues or about "the truth of things" in attractively packaged formats.  I hesitate to compare myself with Christ, but I have found in the course of teaching university students and members of the public that there is no point in talking about landscape-forming processes involving glaciers or rivers or deserts if the listener does not have a mental picture of what these things actually look like.  Nowadays the level of awareness of natural phenomena is much greater than it was 40 years ago, because images are thrown at us all the time via TV, cinema, computers, tablets and so forth.  But the analogy still works, if I as a teacher want you, as a student, to understand what I am talking about.....

When I sit on a stone on a mountain top, looking down at a landscape below me, I instinctively recreate in my mind's eye what it might all have looked like when covered by ice, or partly submerged by the sea, or affected by tundra rather than deciduous forest conditions.

So I was rater chuffed the other day when I was idly scanning through (as one does) some NASA images from Antarctica, I came across an ice stream image in which showed two branches of an ice stream on the edge of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Between the two branches there was an ice-covered upland maybe 200 km long by about 50 km wide, and the western ice stream branch had a spectacular 90 degree bend in it as it swung around the outer edge of the upland.  Immediately I thought "Irish Sea Glacier and the Welsh Ice Cap!"

So here we are.  The top image is my latest recreation of the Anglian (?) glacial situation in SW Britain, and below it is something I created last night, involving image resizing, image superimposition, addition of colour, instant alpha, and adjustments in transparency.  I had fun!  The resultant image does not involve any horizontal distortion, so it is not a perfect match for that went on during that big glacial episode around half a million years ago.  You seldom get perfect matches in nature.  But it's near enough, with the main ice stream running down the western side of Wales and then swinging into the Bristol Channel, forced by powerful ice pressure from the west.  To the east of the Welsh uplands there is another ice stream, replicating the ice stream that came in across the Cheshire Plain and into the west Midlands.  And over Wales itself we see an undulating ice cap surface within which it is difficult to pick out individual glaciers or drainage routes.  That is probably not far off the way it was........

Isn't nature wonderful?

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Rhosyfelin Glossary and Photo Gallery

Many readers have apparently not realised that in association with the paper on Rhosyfelin, published in December 2015, we also published a glossary and photo gallery showing all of the features assumed by the archaeologists to have been man-made. We appended notes explaining why these features should NOT be considered to have anything to do with Neolithic quarrying activities.

I am increasingly struck by the fact that if we had not examined and photographed this dig site, while work was in progress, there would be nothing on the record in the way of evidence to contradict the fantastical interpretations of a group of archaeologists who were hell-bent on finding a quarry.  Neither would there be any basis on which the question the interpretations of this site as published by Parker Pearson et al in December 2015.  That was all down to a chance set of circumstances.  First, there was open access to the site, adjacent to a public footpath. Second, a group of us were rather interested in this site and were more than a little worried about the high-profile "spin" that came from MPP and others.  Third, we lived close enough to the site to visit it frequently, in spite of the fact that the diggers never invited us to take a look.

I hope that the scientific community is grateful to us for services rendered.

But it's a scary thought.  How many other archaeological digs are opened up and then filled in again in conditions of great secrecy, without any independent scrutiny ever being brought to bear on the so-called "evidence" presented by the diggers themselves, and on the conclusions drawn?

Supplementary Information: Photo Gallery
Brian John, Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downes.

 The paper itself:

Archaeology in Wales 54, pp 139-148. (Publication 14th December 2015)

More on the Lower Palaeozoic sandstones: Palynology

 One of the Stonehenge sandstone lumps.  Note how big it is -- about 45 cms long, 
with a weight of 8.5 kg.

I think I forgot to mention this little note before.  It has been posted on the Academia web site, but there is no citation or date.  So it looks as if it has never been published.  But the info contained is interesting!

Palynology, age and provenance of the Lower Paleozoic Sandstone of Stonehenge
Stewart Molyneux, Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer and Peter Turner

Shouldn't that be "Palaeozoic"??


The bluestones comprise a variety of volcanic, intrusive and tuffaceous igneous rocks, along with rarer sandstones. The last include the ‘Altar Stone’, two buried orthostats and a number of sandstone blocks in the debitage. The Altar Stone is petrographically similar to fine- to medium-grained calcareous sandstones in the Lower Devonian Senni Formation of South Wales. Sandstone fragments from the debitage, however, include specimens of greenish-grey, indurated, fine-grained, feldspathic sandstone that have been subjected to low-grade metamorphism, with a suggestion of a spaced cleavage. They are more deformed than the Devonian sandstones exposed in South Wales, form a coherent lithological group, now referred to as the ‘Lower Palaeozoic Sandstone’, and contain characteristic clasts of dark mudstone.

The palynological data, coupled with petrography, show that the Lower Palaeozoic Sandstone of Stonehenge is not older than Late Ordovician, and it is most probably from a Late Ordovician unit in the Welsh Basin. However, the possibility that it is from a Welsh Basin Silurian unit cannot be discounted without more information on acritarch assemblages from Silurian sandstones, including the nature of any recycling.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Another geology paper -- and a case of scientific misconduct?

Another geology paper on the bluestones, and another case of wilful negligence. That's the very least we can say about it -- and maybe we should be saying something a good deal stronger....

The paper in question is by Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins (2017), a feature article in "Geology Today" called "The Bluestones of Stonehenge." (Vol 33,  No 5, Sept - Oct 2017, pp 184-187.  You can see it (maybe) online here:

It's not a paper intended for archaeologists or the general public, but for people interested in geology.  So we would expect something scientifically accurate, since geology is generally considered to be a science.  It's also a feature article, meant to summarise the state of play in an entertaining way.  And what have we got?

Well, it's nicely laid out and lavishly illustrated, as you would expect.  Most of the text consists of an update from the geologists on the latest bluestone provenancing research -- so we have heard almost all of that before.  The authors say that they consider a bluestone to be "any non-sarsen rock used as an ‘orthostat’ or standing stone" found in the inner circle and horseshoe at Stonehenge.  They mention sarsens very briefly, and say they "may only have been moved dozens of kilometres" from their sources.  On the other hand, they may all have come from the immediate vicinity, and it's careless of Ixer and Bevins not to mention that.   Most of the geological core of the paper is uncontroversial, although they do claim that they corrected the interpretations of the OU team on the origins of the spotted dolerites, moving the likely source from Carn Meini to Carn Goedog and Cerrig Marchogion.  I thought that the OU team said that long ago, and that the Ixer / Bevins work simply confirmed their suspicions?  Then they move on to the 2 dacite and 2 rhyolite orthostats, and "go underground" in referring to the buried stumps which appear to be a mixture of tuffs and sandstones.  After that, the references to rock types are all linked to the debitage, which is "dominated by a very distinctive, strongly foliated rhyolitic tuff and by more variable, well cleaved argillaceous tuffs, as well as with lesser amounts of an indurated Lower Palaeozoic sandstone which shows a poor fracture cleavage."  There is a fundamental illogicality here, since according to the Ixer / Bevins definition anything that does not come from an orthostat should not be counted as a bluestone.  It may be that the debitage is indeed made up of smashed-up standing stones -- but it may also be that the debris has nothing to do with standing stones and has come from smaller and inconvenient erratics found on the site.  This possibility should at least be admitted.

There are a couple of paragraphs on the sandstones -- the Altar Stone and the Lower Palaeozoic (probably Upper Ordovician) sandstone.  Mill Bay is eliminated as a source for the former, with the evidence now pointing to the Senni Beds somewhere or other.  They don't speculate as to where the Lower Palaeozoic rocks might have come from, but the assumption is "somewhere in north Pembrokeshire", as we have seen in earlier publications.  There is a mischievous hint that "Ice Age proponents" are rather careless when it comes to adventitious material at Stonehenge --  but the authors should know full well that Olwen Williams-Thorpe, Geoffrey Kellaway and I have always been very careful, when referring to a "wide range of rock types", to eliminate road stone and other rubbish carried onto the site.  It's a bit silly to hint at our scientific incompetence -- especially in the light of the behaviour of the authors themselves............ Stones and greenhouses come to mind ...... so read on, dear reader.

In review or feature articles of this sort, the authors have to say something significant, so the last part of this one involves a discussion of the human transport routes for the bluestones, accompanied by the usual map which we have all seen a thousand times before.  (Yes, they are assuming, in all of this, the correctness of the human transport hypothesis, and yes, that is bad science, but we have got used to it by now.)  Because the "new" provenances for bluestone orthostats and debitage happen to be on the northern flank of Preseli, Ixer and Bevins say that rules out Milford Haven and sea transport, and so they promote the MPP hypothesis of the overland or A40 route instead.  They throw in a reference to the Steep Holm glacial erratics here as well, which I find quite mystifying, since they have nothing whatsoever to do with the matter in hand, and since nobody, as far as I know, has argued in print that they were "abandoned bluestones" dropped by Neolithic seafarers. They are simply taking pleasure in putting up an Aunt Sally in order to knock it down.

Rhosyfelin -- the rock face, carefully cleaned and presented for public approval.....

So -- inevitably -- we come to Rhosyfelin and the source of some of the rhyolite debitage.  This is where the science goes seriously cockeyed.  The authors refer to "a north-west facing planar face".  It is nothing of the sort, as I have frequently shown on this blog.  The rock face reveals multiple planar surfaces, not just one.  It is broken up by multiple fractures, and some bits of the rock face project more than 1.5 m out beyond other bits.  They say the face "does not look natural" -- that's a highly subjective judgment with which I and many other visitors to the site disagree.  One small blessing is that the authors do not say in this article that they have provenanced foliated rhyolite fragments to "within a few square metres."

But Ixer and Bevins say this: "Subsequent archaeological excavations have shown features consistent with ancient quarrying."  That's for Rhosyfelin.   A little earlier in the paper, with reference to Carn Goedog, they say this: "......very recent excavations at Carn Goedog have revealed evidence for Neolithic working of the outcrop (Parker Pearson and others, in press)".  The implication is that a new paper is on the way, which will enumerate the evidence.  But there is no such reference in the "suggestions for further reading", and from what I can gather the only paper to which we can all look forward is another general one from MPP which might not even be peer reviewed.  Perhaps Ixer and Bevins will enlighten us as to the nature of this paper, and tell us when and where it will be published.  Until then, we will treat this as a false citation.

Now let's get serious.  Ixer and Bevins have told the readers that there are "features" and "evidence" pointing to Neolithic quarrying or working, at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog.  That, as we all know, is just part of the story, and the authors have known, ever since 2015, that there are two peer-reviewed papers in the literature which have analysed all of the cited "evidence" and have concluded that the described features are entirely natural.  Not only that, but the papers both suggest that some of the evidence cited by the MPP team (including Ixer and Bevins as senior authors) may actually be best described as artifices created by the diggers themselves during their ongoing excavations.  Just in case anybody has failed to encounter them, here are the papers:

Brian John, Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downes (2015). "Quaternary Events at Craig Rhosyfelin, Pembrokeshire." Quaternary Newsletter, October 2015 (No 137), pp 16-32.

Brian John, Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downes (2015). "Observations on the supposed "Neolithic bluestone quarry" at Craig Rhosyfelin, Pembrokeshire".  Archaeology in Wales 54, pp 139-148. (Publication 14th December 2015)

 To the best of our knowledge, not one of the 14 authors in the MPP team has cited these easily available and much-read papers in any of the "bluestone" papers published over the past two years.  So are they terrible papers?  Well, they are quite short, but they are also detailed, and they were submitted through the normal channels to two journal editors, peer-reviewed blind, revised appropriately, and then published under strict editorial control.  People might not like them, but they are there, on the record.  Not one of our pieces of evidence has been challenged, and not one of our deductions or conclusions has been disputed in print or even off the record.  So have 14 authors simply chosen to ignore them, in the hope that they will go away?  So it would appear.  I can understand why archaeologists might not want to cite the two papers, since they are not scientists, and our papers are seriously "inconvenient" -- but for two senior earth scientists to do the same is unforgivable.  They have read the papers in detail.  They understand exactly what we are presenting in the way of evidence, and they know the full implications of our conclusions.  And yet they have chosen to live in a state of denial, refusing to cite and refusing to engage.  Why?  Maybe because there are no bluestone erratics scattered around on Salisbury Plain?  I just cannot understand the twisted logic that leads senior scientists from that particular issue to a refusal to analyse so-called "quarrying" evidence at two rocky outcrops in west Wales.  Or maybe this has to do with "corporate responsibility", with Ixer and Bevins, having been involved in that infamous paper on Rhosyfelin, now refusing to break ranks because it would be unsporting or disloyal to do so?  I have looked at that issue in a previous post:

Now let's get even more serious.  The most serious crime that can be committed by a scientist is to falsify evidence, with a view to promoting a particular conclusion that might be at fault. Scientific misconduct or malpractice comes in many different forms, but here are two definitions cited by COPE:

Danish definition: "Intention or gross negligence leading to fabrication of the scientific message or a false credit or emphasis given to a scientist"
Swedish definition: "Intentional distortion of the research process by fabrication of data, text, hypothesis, or methods from another researcher's manuscript form or publication; or distortion of the research process in other ways."

We can't accuse the two geologists here of "gross negligence", since we know that they know all about the two "ignored" papers and that they have discussed them in detail.  They have simply chosen not to cite them, with the object of promoting the quarrying hypothesis.  But if we were to be sitting on a university ethics committee I think we might see clear signs of an intention to fabricate a message or to give a false emphasis through the selective citation of sources.  We might also see a distortion of the research process or a misrepresentation of the work of other scientists.

According to the US National Science Foundation, "falsification" is a very serious matter.  They give one of the definitions as follows:  ".....omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record."  That could not be clearer.  If you fail to cite "inconvenient" material you are in trouble, and your reputation is on the line.  In another study, this is called "suppression" -- a failure to publish significant findings due to the results being adverse to the interests and prior claims of the researcher.

Then we have things called "bare assertions".  It is generally not a good idea to make entirely unsubstantiated claims.  The archaeologists do this all the time, since they are seriously into storytelling, but geologists need to be more careful, especially when promoting a quarrying thesis after being told -- in two peer-reviewed papers -- that the claim is unsubstantiated.

So Ixer and Bevins have used selective citation and carefully selected evidence (which they know is disputed) in a paper designed for a knowledgeable geological readership.  At the same time they have wilfully ignored peer-reviewed material that happens to be relevant but inconvenient.

Disrespectful, biased and careless, or something much more serious?  I leave it to the reader to judge.

Postscript 1

There is rather bizarre postscript to this sorry tale.  As all readers of this blog will know, ever since 2011 and the sudden rise to prominence of Rhosyfelin, we have been discussing with Rob in one post after another how the features at the site should be interpreted.  It is to his great credit that he has been prepared to engage in the process of debate.  But over and again he said: "Don't just argue on this blog.  Get your material written up, and get in published in the peer-reviewed literature!"  He even, if I recall correctly, suggested Archaeology in Wales as a reputable journal worth approaching.  So we gratefully followed his advice, wrote up our material, and submitted it to two journals -- one specialising in Quaternary stratigraphy etc, and the other in the field of archaeology.  In due course, in November and December 2015, the two articles were published, to the accompaniment of much excitement in the media.  From that point on, the articles have been systematically ignored by the two geologists.  Really most peculiar.

Postscript 2 

 This is not the first time that Bevins and Ixer have knowingly promoted the quarrying hypothesis, in the process ignoring "inconvenient" peer-reviewed material already on the academic record. The following article was submitted in April 2016, ie 4 months after publication of one the two papers by BJ, DEG and JD, and 6 months after the other.  No excuses.

Richard Bevins, Nicola Atkinson, Rob Ixer & Jane Evans (2016) "U– Pb zircon age constraints for the Ordovician Fishguard Volcanic Group and further evidence for the provenance of the Stonehenge bluestones”, Jnl Geol Soc 174, 14-17, 3 November 2016,

Quote: “……….the age obtained in this study supports the findings on the basis of petrography and geochemistry that its source is not Craig Rhos-y-felin. Nevertheless, this region provides an obvious target to search for further Neolithic quarry sites to add to those identified most recently by Parker Pearson et al. (2015)." 

And here is another short paper published by the same authors in February 2016:

Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins (2016) “Go West: the search for the bluestone quarries”. Current Archaeology 311 (Feb 2016), pp 23-24.

Quote: "There is clearly still much to learn here, but as work on the Preseli quarries continues, we hope that our detailed petrology will help to resolve the ongoing debate about how the bluestones arrived at Stonehenge and from exactly where."

This was published three months after our QN paper, and if the authors had chosen to adapt their text and recognize the existence of a "quarrying dispute" they could have done so, even at proof stage. They chose instead to ignore our peer-reviewed article and to maintain the pretence that the existence of the Neolithic quarries was established fact.


Friday, 13 October 2017

LANDSAT relief map, Wales

Thought I'd share this -- it's a very beautiful map made from LANDSAT imagery -- published by the Geological Survey.  It's effective because of low level light, dense shadows and false-colour adjustments, which show up uplands as green, full forest or well-wooded areas as dark red, urban areas as grey, and orange for everything else.

The distribution of uplands is particularly impressive.  Click to enlarge.  There is extraordinarily fine definition.  If you imagine the Welsh Ice Cap sitting over these uplands, with an axis running more or less N-S, you can see how and why the Irish Sea Glacier was unable (for most of the time) to penetrate into the west-facing coasts of Cardigan Bay and was pushed southwards, where it flowed NW-SE across the Pembrokeshire peninsula and up the Bristol Channel, driven by ice from the west, in Southern Ireland.  It all makes good sense......

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

The spotted dolerite enigma

This is an image I took yesterday -- Carn Goedog, on the northern flank of the Preseli ridge, looking pretty well SSE.  I was standing at SN120351.  Carn Goedog is c 2km away.  (We are not very far from Pensarn, where the diggers have been at work this year.)

I have been troubled for a long time by the frequent occurrence of spotted dolerite boulders in places where they should not be...........  I am not talking here about gateposts or pillars, which could have been collected from Carn Goedog by the local farmers, but big rounded boulders which are clearly heavily abraded glacial erratics.  The nearest known source for spotted dolerites would be Carn Goedog, but to get them dumped in a big morainic spread at this location would involve a substantial flow of glacier ice from the south towards the north -- and that can only have involved an active Preseli ice cap.

The other option is that there are other sources for spotted dolerite to the north or north-west of this location, which we do not know about.  The dolerites on Carnedd Meibion Owen are not spotted, and there are some very peculiar rocks that look like ashflow tuffs or ignimbrites in Tycanol Wood.  There are rhyolites at Sychpant, not far from Nevern, and there are dolerite dykes on my own land in Cilgwyn.  The geological map is clearly inadequate in this area.......

That being the case, I wonder how reliable the provenancing of the spotted dolerites at Stonehenge actually is?   Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins tell us that the "best match" is at Carn Goedog and Cerrig Marchogion, but the matches are not perfect, and could it be that some at least of the Stonehenge spotted dolerites could have come from sources as yet unidentified, to the north of the location I examined yesterday?

That would put the cat among the pigeons -- but the geologists really need to check this out.........

Here are some of the pics taken of the surfaces of some spotted dolerite boulders.  The whitish mineral clusters are quite spectacular in some cases, and they actually stand proud of the surface, having resisted weathering processes better than the "matrix" in which they are set.

The erratic assemblage here includes unspotted dolerites, foliated rhyolites, ignimbrites and quartz boulders.  Some of the boulders are heavily weathered and have clearly been exposed for a very long time -- others are quite fresh in appearance, having been dragged out of the ground by a JCB during a building project next to the track. 

Monday, 2 October 2017

The East Preseli tors

Every now and then I throw out some comment or other about one or other of the tors on Preseli, forgetting that not everybody is familiar with the local geography.  Thanks to the wonders of Apple Maps, here is an annotated satellite image showing how the tors are related.

Below is another image -- a closer zoom in on the Carn Meini tors.  Enjoy!  If you click on the images, you should be able to enlarge substantially.