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, 22 April 2017

Fantasies versus science

From the BBC coverage of today's March for Science. 

A gentle reminder for certain archaeologists who ignore evidence (and ignore inconvenient peer-reviewed papers) and who subvert and degrade science by dressing up their own assumptions, speculations and fantasies as "facts" -- for reasons that are sometimes rather too obvious.  Headlines, notoriety, and a good flow of research funds are all very desirable things.......

A gentle reminder too for local authorities, tourism bodies and government agencies (you know their names) who are so obsessed with the need to market places like West Wales as possessing more "heritage icons" than anywhere else that they systematically ignore serious scientific findings and prefer to dress up recently-manufactured myths (such as the quarrying of bluestones at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog) as "established facts".   Commercial interests, as I have said before, have overturned respect for the truth -- and nobody seems to mind.

Shame on all of them, for hastening the demise of science and encouraging pseudo-science and "alternative facts."  I, for one, am with the thousands of scientists who marched in many of the great cities of the world today.  Keep waving those placards, boys and girls!

Work at Trellyffaint cromlech

Thanks to George Nash for inviting me to come over and have a look at the work currently under way at Trellyffaint cromlech, not far from Moylgrove.  A fabulous spring day, and a very interesting chat.

The cromlech is reputed to be a ruined portal dolmen, and indeed it is in a bit of a decrepit state.  Did it collapse during construction, or after it was abandoned?  It's built of natural erratics presumably collected from the neighbourhood.  The big supporting rock on the left is made of dolerite, but I think the capstone and the right-hand support are made of volcanic ash, as are several of the smaller stones.  There are other small dolerite cobbles lying around, and some that seem to be made of rhyolite and local shales and mudstones, some of which are metamorphosed.  There are lumps of quartz lying around too; these have probably come from bands of quartz in the mudstones exposed in the nearby cliffs.

Was there a mound partly covering the burial site?  George thinks that this is very likely.

There may have been another cromlech just to the left of the one seen in the photo -- so was this related in some way to the "cromlech cluster" at Cerrig y Gof?

The main work of George's research team has concentrated on the cupmarks on the capstone and other stones, and on ground surveys.  There is no actual excavation at the site this year.  Some interesting things are emerging.  George will no doubt report on these when he is ready.......

Friday, 21 April 2017

Literature Wales: the truth is whatever you want it to be

 Prof MPP directing the dig at Rhosyfelin.  Now the myth manufacturing machine rolls on, thanks to a shove from Literature Wales, which should stick to books

Some days ago I complained about this extraordinary item on the new Literature Wales website called "Land of Legends":

Craig Rhos-y-felin, Crosswell

    • Region : South West Wales
    • Grid Ref : SN 11650 36140
    • Google Map
    • Add to your list

Some of the bluestones of Stonehenge were quarried here. First used for a local monument in about 3400 BC, they were moved to Salisbury Plain 500 years later where they stood in various settings before the giant inverted ‘U-shaped’ stones joined them in 2500 BC. This makes Stonehenge a truly Welsh site - something supported by the Boscombe Bowmen: seven individuals re-buried in a mass grave near Stonehenge around 2300 BC. All were  seemingly born and raised in south-west Wales, travelling to Wessex during their lifetime. This connection and journeys from the west are recalled in folk legend - Geoffrey of Monmouth (c. 1100-1155) retells the ancient belief that Merlin brought Stonehenge from Ireland. The rock face retains the natural pillar formations which the stone-cutters exploited. You can enjoy a picnic where they camped 5400 years ago.


As I pointed out, the only thing that is demonstrably correct about all of that is that Rhosyfelin is a pleasant picnic site.

Anyway, I wrote to both Cadw and Literature Wales about it, pointing out that while most of the entries on the web site were entertaining and factually accurate, this one was not.  In fact, it was so inaccurate and misleading that it was likely to harm the reputation of Literature Wales and its sponsors Visit Wales and the Welsh Government.  Further, it broke with public sector etiquette by (a) dressing up speculations and assumptions as facts; and (b) seeking to create a new myth rather than reporting upon an old one.

It response to my request that the item should be removed because of its inaccuracy, or at the very least rewritten so that it presented the situation in a more nuanced way, I got a thoroughly bizarre response from Dr Bronwen Price of Literature Wales (who apparently has a 2009 Cardiff PhD in archaeology, specialising in the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age of the Irish Sea region).  She admitted that she had written the text herself.  She seemed to think that because Rhosyfelin has been studied by Mike Parker Pearson and that because his results have been published in "Antiquity",  he is probably correct about everything.  To cut a long story short, she refused to change a single word, and stated that she would not enter into any more correspondence on editorial matters relating to the new web site.

So there we are then.  Bronwen's truth is what we are stuck with, and to hell with the facts.

Does any of this actually matter?  Well, if you are a tourist visiting Wales, probably not.  But if you are a scientist concerned about the ongoing degradation of scientific integrity, it does indeed matter.

The 1607 tsunami in the Bristol Channel

The TV prog last night about the 1607 tsunami was quite well done -- but it was really a 30 minute programme stretched out interminably, presumably on the basis that the director, having made lots of spectacular clips of drowning peasants, smashed-up buildings,  dead cows and giant waves,  could not resist getting his money's worth by showing all of them at least a dozen times.

Anyway, that wasn't Prof Simon Haslett's fault,  and the info presented was really quite convincing -- through documentary sources, historical evidence of peak water levels, coastal stratigraphy and oceanographic modelling.  The evidence is compelling that this was really a tsunami and not just a storm surge coinciding with an exceptionally high tide.  I liked the way that Simon Haslett and his colleague worked through the evidence systematically and drew perfectly reasonable conclusions from it.

This is not new news, and I think I might even have seen this programme before -- or at least parts of it........

Today I checked with Simon, and he confirmed that shells collected from the sand layer (the tsunami layer) in coastal exposures were too young for reliable C14 dating -- as I had anticipated.  Shells and other materials only 400 years old are rather difficult to date accurately.

I'm not entirely convinced by the argument that the big blocks on the beach were all aligned by the force of incoming water, and I'd like to have a look at them........  And I'm not at all convinced that the rock platforms shown were cut by the tsunami -- to me they looked just like all the other raised beach platforms that are scattered around the coasts of SW Britain.

But those are minor points.

PS -- yes, I have seen it before!  I see now that this was first broadcast as a Timewatch documentary in 2005.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

LIDAR imagery coming along

Thanks to Andy for drawing attention to this -- it's not a work of art, or an experimental mapping exercise, or even a map of Britain made up of scraps of waste paper stuck onto a board --  but it is in fact the database showing LIDAR coverage of England and Wales.  When this is complete, you will be able to zoom in and pick up incredible details on small segments of the land surface.  I'm not sure what the overall accuracy is, but generally surface altitudes will be accurate to within 25 cms.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Penanty-isaf gallery grave site

Another satellite image from Apple Maps -- this time showing the Penanty-isaf gallery grave, just to the south of the two prominent hawthorn trees and to the east of the farm which gives the site its name.

Banc Llwydlos prehistoric burial sites

I have just upgraded some of the software on my computer, and suddenly have access to Apple Maps -- and a new satellite coverage with amazing definition.  Here are the two features on Banc Llwydlos to which I have devoted some attention recently.

The gallery grave stone alignments are perfectly obvious.  The cromlech and rough hollow which we can refer to as an embanked grave or a chambered tomb is at the eastern edge of the bouldery area right of centre on the image.