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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Monday, 25 September 2017

New work at Waun Mawn

It's rather interesting that work has resumed at Waun Mawn at grid ref SN083341.  Apparently work started there very late in the digging season, maybe because the archaeologists were frustrated at having found no trace of proto-Stonehenge at either Pensarn or Parc y Gaer!  Anyway, there are signs of great activity up there, and some seriously heavy plant has been used.  It's all a bit of a mess at the moment, but it will no doubt settle down again over the winter..........

I'm quite pleased to see that this new work is going on, because the Waun Mawn - Tafarn y Bwlch - Cnwc yr Hydd area is extremely interesting.  Hummocky morainic topography, standing stones, old stone walls, ancient trackways, and even traces of an old deer park......... Use the search box to find previous posts.  If there is a Neolithic quarry anywhere in this part of North Pembs, it is here, at the top of the hill -- but there are other pock-marks lower down as well, from which rhyolite and metamorphosed shales appear to have been taken.  Goodness knows why. (Maybe the quarries are quite modern, having been used for road material for the trackway up to Gernos Fach?) 

On the platform halfway up the hill there are 4 big stones that appear to have been used in a stone setting.  They are all dolerites picked up in the vicinity, all very heavily abraded and weathered.  They are certainly not freshly quarried from anywhere -- they are classic glacial erratics, although they have probably not travelled far from their places of origin. (But who knows?  They could have come from Cilgwyn or Carningli.)  Only one of the stones is standing, and there are two very big recumbent stones and one smaller recumbent stone which is just visible above the turf.  One can't see the full dimensions of the stones, but I reckon the two big ones each weigh between 6 and 8 tonnes.

The archaeologists have opened up six pits and closed them again.  These are the locations:

Two of the pits have been dug adjacent to recumbent stones, and four very extensive exploratory pits have been opened up -- two to the west and two to the east of the visible stones.  The stones may have been placed in the ground about 10m apart.  Rumour has it that two sockets have been found -- I'm not sure whether these relate to stones that are still there and have fallen over, or to stones that have gone missing........  I hope the archaeologists will publish a field report soon and give us the info on that.

 Recumbent stone number one -- the westernmost stone in the series.  You can see the traces of the dig around the stone, and at top left you can see the position of one of the exploratory digs.

Recumbent stone number two -- there has been no dig adjacent to this stone

Recumbent stone number three -- apparently the smallest of the three.  There has been excavation on all sides of this stone

I'm a bit more convinced than I was that the stones may lie on the circumference of a very large circle.  If so, it must have had a diameter of around 140 m -- that is enormous, and much larger than the footprint of Stonehenge.  On the other hand, Avebury outer circle has a diameter of 331m, and Stanton Drew is 113m in diameter -- so who knows what might have happened here?

I still think that on balance this is a rather wonky stone alignment.  My reason for thinking that is that a circle with a diameter of 140 m would not have fitted onto this little step on the hillside-- it would have spilled over onto the steeper slope below, so that parts of the circle would have been quite invisible from other parts.  That would not have made any sense at all..........

Anyway, all very interesting, and we look forward to hearing what the archaeologists have to say about this site in due course.

News from the 2017 Preseli digging season: Pensarn, Parc y Gaer and Waun Mawn

Without breaking any confidences, here is a brief summary of what has been placed in the public domain, arising from the 2017 digging season involving Mike Parker Pearson and his colleagues.  This was all under the auspices of the "Stones of Stonehenge" project.  The dig lasted about 3 weeks, ending around 20th September.  This very day the holes in the ground are being filled in.....

The focus of attention was again Pensarn, not far from Brynberian and Crosswell, on the south side of the B4329 road.  The minor road leads down to Pensarn, Droifa and Glanyrafon-Uchaf and other delightful cottages on the northern edge of Brynberian Moor.  It's where the annual Ras Beca cross-country races are held every August -- not that that's strictly relevant!  What's more relevant is the presence of abundant interesting landforms, sediments and Neolithic and Bronze Age features on the moor itself -- as noted in some earlier posts:

This is the key report which gives the regional context:

To return to the matter in hand.  What we now know is as follows:

1.  In 2016 the dig at location SN123358, on a low mound in the middle of the field, revealed a Bronze Age cist burial site, details of which are still to be published.  I summarised what we know here:

2.  Another field about 500m to the east of the Pensarn lane is referred to as Parc y Gaer (field of the fort).  Here there is a rectangular feature with two sub-rectangular boundaries, a square feature and irregular ditched enclosures to the south (all identified last year by the geophysics).  These are now investigated, and are apparently confirmed as the remains of a Roman villa.  This is exciting, since it would be the westernmost Roman villa recorded in Wales.  Kate Welham and her Bournemouth University team will have been working on this one.
Just a word of caution:  some years ago there was great excitement when a supposed "Roman Villa" was found at Wolfscastle.  When it was investigated by Duncan Schlee and others, it was found to be nothing of the sort.........
Apologies for getting the location wrong in a previous post.   I have now done an edit to correct the mistake.
In the hedge to the west of the"villa dig" there is a large stone with "prehistoric rock art engravings" which were identified (correctly?) in 2016.  No doubt more work will have been done on this stone.

 3.  In 2017 there were two new excavations near Pensarn Farm, in another field, on the western side of the lane, at the following grid refs:  SN123357 and SN 122357.

(a)  In the eastern pit (the one with the bucket, the trowel and the beer bottle) there is only a very thin layer of sediments (c 60 cms) over broken bedrock, but there is evidence of assorted features dating from the Iron Age.  It looks as if it might be an Iron Age defended homestead -- there is something that might be a defensive embankment.  Traces of walls have also been found, and in the dig there is a series of pits which may be post holes.  Some interesting domestic and decorative artifacts have been found, and organic materials are going off for C14 dating.

(b)  In the western Pensarn pit there are apparently traces of a Neolithic embanked enclosure of some sort -- a very subtle feature, since the sediments are very thin here and no sign of it could be seen on the ground surface.  It was picked up in 2016 by geophysical work including LIDAR.  Apparently there are some "very unusual features" showing up, which are not commonly seen in the British Neolithic.  It may be a henge of some sort.  Organic materials have been recovered, and these will go off for C14 dating.

4.  Further work has been done at Waun Mawn, close to Tafarn y Bwlch, where all those standing stones and recumbent stones are located.
Apparently work was not started there until almost the end of the digging season, but on Tuesday 19th Sept the diggers found what appears to be a stone socket with some organic material within it, and rumour has it that another socket has also been found. Samples sent for C14 dating might show when the stones were in position and when they were removed or fell over.  Nobody should be surprised by any of this -- there are two very large recumbent stones and a smaller one visible on the surface at Waun Mawn, which might well have been upright at some stage.  So there will be sockets and there will be organic materials within them.  There is also a very fine standing stone.  As pointed out in previous posts, the stones might be on the circumference of a very large circle. Grid ref SN084340 approx.

(I have also heard rumours of a "worked" stone somewhere, which has been removed from its socket and taken away -- but I have no idea whether that rumour relates to one of the stones referred to above.......... We know already that there are other standing stones in the area, and other stones incorporated into hedgerows.  Both dolerite and foliated rhyolite. I had a look at some of these last year, in the company of Chris. )


That's all we know at the moment, from what Mike PP has been saying on his guided tours and evening lectures over the past few days.  My informants are not always 100% attentive, and might misunderstand some things too.   If I have misreported anything, apologies -- no doubt somebody will correct me, and I will adjust the text accordingly.

Anyway, there is cause for pleasure all round, I think, since our knowledge of prehistoric north Pembs has been significantly advanced.  So congratulations to all the diggers for what they have come up with.  It confirms what we already knew from the unsung work of Dyfed Archaeological Trust over the years -- that there is a very long history of early settlement here, stretching from the Mesolithic through Bronze Age and Iron Age to Roman times, with a range of settlement and ritual features under the turf and out on the moor.  Some of the new sites will no doubt become scheduled ancient monuments, which is right and proper.

Observant readers might have noticed that none of the above information has anything whatsoever to do with quarrying, bluestones, Stonehenge, Proto-Stonehenge, Rhosyfelin, Carn Goedog, Carn Meini or the transport of monoliths.........

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Small book becomes heavy millstone

Sometimes I sits and ponders, and sometimes I just sits. So goes the old saying.  Anyway, I was pondering a bit today, out in the garden, and I got to asking myself this question.  Why is it that certain archaeologists are so obsessed with the idea of Neolithic bluestone quarries in north Pembrokeshire that they continue to try and sell them to all and sundry, in spite of the fact that their "evidence" does not stand up under scrutiny?  Not only that, but why to they exist in a state of denial about contrary opinions, to the extent that they refuse even to acknowledge the existence of two peer-reviewed papers that show that their cited "quarrying features" are in fact entirely natural?

The answer, I have concluded, is that Mike Parker Pearson's book called "Stonehenge: exploring the greatest Stone Age mystery" came at exactly the wrong time.  At the time Mike thought it was the right time, and a wonderful opportunity to enhance his academic reputation.  Let me explain.  The book was published in June 2012.  That means it was probably in production between January and June 2012 -- and that means that Mike had to complete the manuscript probably by Christmas 2011.  Going back a bit further, in August 2011 Richard Bevins contacted MPP to say that he and Rob Ixer had "pinpointed" a match for one of the Stonehenge foliated rhyolite samples to the outcrop called Rhosyfelin.  (Before that, they had published a paper flagging up the Pont Saeson area as a good match for some of the material in the rhyolite collection.)  The archaeologists had planned to dig at Carn Goedog, again after guidance from the geologists that that was a likely source for Stonehenge spotted dolerite samples, and at Waun Mawn, where they thought there might be the remnants of a large stone circle.  But because of this piece of supposed high-precision provenancing, MPP and his colleagues decided to concentrate on Rhosyfelin.

They seem to have decided, even before they dug the first turf, that this was a Neolithic monolith quarry.  In no time at all they found an "ancient ground surface", so-called hammerstones (which all turned out, of course, to be fluvioglacial cobbles), the big rhyolite block (claimed to weigh about 4 tonnes, whereas it is actually over 8 tonnes) and "rails of elongated stones" set on edge beneath it.  News spread about this amazing discovery, although when I visited the site with friends I could see nothing at all that demonstrated human occupation, let alone quarrying activity.  Anyway, at the end of the September digging season Mike hoofed around, announcing to the world that the "Pompeii of prehistoric stone quarries" had been found.  The first talk was at Newport Memorial Hall on 15th September.  The detailed Rhosyfelin petrography paper came from Ixer and Bevins in December 2011, and there were then press releases from the geologists, followed by a media feeding frenzy featuring "the bluestone quarry" just before Christmas 2011.  There was no need for the geologists to push the quarrying hypothesis, but they chose to do it, presumably because they were convinced of its correctness........... and even geologists just love media attention and fame.  Don't we all?

By this time Mike must have finished the manuscript for his book.  The purple prose is there for all to see, between pages 286 and 291.  After the bit about Pompeii, MPP said:  "We could hardly believe our luck.  This was a smoking gun; the game was up for anyone still trying to argue that the bluestones were not quarries in Preseli during the Neolithic, and then taken to Wiltshire."  And then in June 2012 it was in print, between hard covers, there for everybody to read. Set in stone, as it were.

The trouble with books is that they are so wretchedly permanent and are deemed by readers to contain well-considered views on this and that.  They are not like scientific research reports, or field diaries, or journal articles, or press releases.  These latter forms of communication are all ephemeral by comparison, and although press reports are read by millions of people, they are soon forgotten.  And the things that you might have said in them can be quietly dropped, or changed, without many people noticing......

So there was MPP's extremely premature description of the 2011 dig and his conclusions on it, written before any field reports or journal articles had been worked on, and rushed out on the basis of completely inadequate field evidence.  Act in haste and repent at leisure.  Since June 2012 Mike has been stuck with the quarrying ruling hypothesis, and I think it is now a millstone round his neck.  He can't or won't change his mind about the quarry, and he has persisted in the promotion of it in spite of the fact that no evidence has emerged over six subsequent digging seasons to confirm the hypothesis.  In fact, many people will have noticed that the radiocarbon and stratigraphic information presented for the Rhosyfelin dig in the Antiquity paper of December 2015 is extremely inconvenient, and tends if anything to mitigate AGAINST the quarrying hypothesis.  But still MPP (and his colleagues) trundle on, refusing to admit that the thesis is wrong.  Instead, they have simply modified the theory, claiming now that the quarrying went on several centuries earlier than they would have liked, and that there must have been a Proto-Stonehenge somewhere, which they WILL find, come hell or high water.....

It's all becoming more than a little absurd.


By the way, my review of the MPP book is in the Antiquaries Journal, and is reproduced here:

Phil Bennett

Sad news to report.  Phil Bennett, who was the archaeologist for the Pembs Coast National Park for many years, and later the manager of Castell Henllys, died on 11th Sept.  His funeral was on Wednesday last.  Phil and I crossed swords on a number of occasions (as you will see if you do a search on this site) but he was a kind and rather gentle man and at a personal level I always got on with him very well.  We worked together on various events organized by the National Park.  He was a great enthusiast for the cultural heritage of Pembrokeshire, and did  a sterling job of promoting the county further afield.  He left the National Park staff about a year ago, and it's sad that he did not live to enjoy a long and mellow retirement.  Our condolences to his family at this sad time.

The Stonehenge Layer and the making of Preselite axes

Not long ago various people on this blog expressed outrage at the very idea that Stonehenge might have been used (in its dying phase, or even earler) as an axe factory, on the basis that there was plenty of raw material there in the shape of bluestones.  One contributor suggested that this was a calumny perpetrated by geologists who did not know much about anything -- but I was sure that archaeologists have said it too.  Now I have found the following -- coming from Profs Darvill and Wainwright in 2011:

Our excavations within Stonehenge in 2008 (see CA 219) confirmed what earlier excavations had hinted at: namely that the Bluestones started to be broken up and chipped away more or less from the time they were set up in each successive arrangement. The great spread of flakes and debris usually referred to in the archaeological literature as the ‘Stonehenge Layer’ is not, as once thought, the debris from a one-off act of dressing the stones prior to their erection. Instead, these flakes have accumulated over millennia and include evidence for the use of Bluestone to fashion axes.

The Stones of Stonehenge

Posted by
March 20, 2011
Tim Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright’s research focuses on the very stones of Stonehenge. Here, they give us an insight into their 2008 excavation at Stonehenge and ten years of fieldwork in and around the Bluestone quarries in the Preseli Hills of north Pembrokeshire.

So there we are then.  You know it makes sense.  But forget the nonsense about the "bluestone quarries" in the previous paragraph -- that's just a puff from the journal editor to try and get more readers.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Parc y Gaer Roman villa, Meline parish

Possibly the most interesting thing to come out of the work in the Pensarn area is the discovery (during the search for a Neolithic Proto-Stonehenge) of a Roman villa site.  This was discovered by geophysical surveys in a field in Meline parish in September 2016, and reported to a student conference in April 2017.  The field is about 500m to the east of the Pensarn Lane where the 2016 dig took place.

It's great to see students working on a project like this, and reporting their work responsibly.  I'm sure we all wish them well, and look forward to seeing what the 2017 dig has revealed.   The name Parc y Gaer means "fort park" or "fort field" -- I'm intrigued to know whether that name is the traditional name used by the farmers of this land down through the years.  Here is the abstract from the spring conference:

Updated and corrected 25th Sept 2017

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Inebriated archaeologists dig large hole in Pembrokeshire field

Couldn't resist this one -- with due acknowledgement to the Bluestone Brewery Facebook page....... always happy to give a puff for our friends and neighbours!

Seriously though, the diggers were probably all perfectly sober and well organized.  This is a nice pic of the latest Pensarn dig by MPP and his team, showing how thin the sediment layer is here -- not much more than a metre or so before the broken bedrock (looks like foliated rhyolite) is encountered.  There is a lot of frost-shattered and broken rhyolite, and some foreign stones including bits of dolerite.   Some of the stones look as if they might have been burnt -- are there hearths on the site?   I wasn't invited to take a close look when I called over there the other evening.........

I don't want to sound sour.  It sounds as if there are some really interesting things coming out of this dig, which we can all celebrate.  I have no inside information, and need to check what is in the public domain, as well as separating rumours from facts.  But all being well, I'll be in a position to report on what MPP has said within a few days.

PS -- slightly edited.  I thought there might be till here.  Now, having had a closer look,  I have my doubts.  Its distribution is very patchy.