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Sunday, 30 April 2017

Foel Drygarn annotated image


This is a close-up image from the fantastic Bing Maps site, showing the key features  referred to in the previous post.

Foel Drygarn Prehistoric "Quarries"


 Bing image of Foeldrygarn, showing the main Bronze Age and Iron Age settlement and fortification features, and the rock outcrops / quarries in the lower (southern) part of the image

 The crags at the western end of the series of rock outcrops

The same view in winter.  This gives an impression of Preseli as it might have appeared over 10,000 years or so of intense periglacial activity after the melting of the Devensian Irish Sea Glacier.  There might have been a small glacier in the cwm beneath the summit of Foelcwmcerwyn during Zone III / Younger Dryas times.  Around 10,000 years ago Ice Age conditions finally gave way to much warmer interglacial or post-glacial conditions much more favourable for human settlement.

If you are into Neolithic / Bronze Age quarries, and want to see a real one for a change (instead of the fantasy quarries at Rhosyfelin, Carn Meini and Carn Goedog), go to have a look at Foeldrygarn, at the eastern end of the Mynydd Preseli upland ridge.   Here we can see some real evidence of extensive "quarrying"or stone gathering activities.  It's interesting that the quarries are not mentioned on the otherwise excellent Coflein description of the site written by Toby Driver.   This is reproduced below.

First, the site geology.  It's very complex indeed, with at least three different igneous rock types in close proximity.  Probably it was once a volcano or maybe the core of a volcanic complex, but not all of the rocks are "deep" rocks intruded and cooled far beneath the earth's surface-- some of them appear to be volcanic ashes and lavas laid down from surface eruptions.  There were probably many phases or eruptions, some of them very violent or explosive, revealing and then burying materials of different ages.  I wouldn't like to be a geologist trying to work it all out.  Maybe Rob or somebody else can enlighten us -- since there is not much that I can find in the literature.  Actually rock lithology is not that important here -- no particular rock type seems to have been preferred over any other by the quarrymen.  For the record, I think there are dolerites (none of them spotted, as far as I can see), rhyolites, lavas and ashes all exposed within a very small area.

This is the description from the Geology of Britain viewer:

Unnamed Igneous Intrusion, Ordovician - Microgabbro. Igneous Bedrock formed approximately 444 to 488 million years ago in the Ordovician Period. Local environment previously dominated by intrusions of silica-poor magma.

Setting: intrusions of silica-poor magma. These rocks were formed from silica-poor magma intruded into the Earth's crust. It cooled to form intrusions ranging from large, coarse-crystalline, often gabbroic, plutons at depth to smaller, fine to medium crystalline, often basaltic dykes and sills.

Fishguard Volcanic Group - Tuff And Lava. Igneous Bedrock formed approximately 464 to 467 million years ago in the Ordovician Period. Local environment previously dominated by explosive eruptions of magma.

Setting: explosive eruptions of magma. These rocks were formed from viscous and highly gaseous magma. It rose to the surface, where sudden pressure relief caused explosive volcanic eruptions, producing fragmentary pyroclastic material or ash.

The key man-made features here are the three massive Bronze Age burial cairns that give the hill summit its name, and the embanked enclosures and hut sites of the Iron Age hilltop village.  There are several features that have made this site attractive: (1) it's an isolated hill with panoramic views in all directions -- valuable from a strategic or defensive point of view; (2) there is a broad summit plateau which is not by any means flat but which was not so steeply sloping as to discourage settlement; (3) there is an abundant stone supply from the summit crags and the accumulated scree on the southern and south-western flanks of the summit.  I suspect that this latter factor was of vast importance -- especially for the tribal groups who decided to build those three massive burial cairns.

Yesterday I led a group of walkers around the eastern part of Mynydd Preseli -- very cold and windy.....!  Here are some of my photos:




Foel Drygarn from the south, showing the outcropping igneous rocks in the crags to the left of the summit. If you zoom in you can see the clear "quarrying platform" beneath the crags from which hundreds of tonnes of stone have been taken --almost all of it from accumulated scree banks of frost-shattered material.



 A close-up of some of the crags.  Between the grassy banks and the rock face there is a back-slope in places, indicative of stone removal on a substantial scale. I need more time to examine the micro-morphology of the site.......

On the left, the edge of one of the cairns, with a dolerite rock collection site immediately adjacent.  They did not need to go far for their rocks........



Some of the walkers scrambling over one of the cairns.  Look at the stone sizes -- there is no stone here which is heavier than c 40 kg, ie capable of being carried by two men with a stretcher......



 Close-up of the flank of one of the cairns.  The great majority of these stones can be carried by one man, woman or older child without too much difficulty.  Nonetheless, there are many thousands of stones in the three cairns, indicative of substantial community commitment and effort.

 So -- the lessons arising from all of this?  Yes, Bronze Age people did "quarry" or collect stone on a substantial scale in this area, but the guiding principle always was economy of effort, and the easy availability of stone in convenient-sized blocks on the hill summit of Foel Frygarn may well be the explanation for (a) the choice of the hill as a burial site, and (b) the extraordinary size of the cairns themselves.

I see no signs here that there was any preference for a particular rock type over any other, or that there was any physical breaking away of lumps of stone from the exposed rock faces.  I think that no tools were used.  All of the stones have been taken from pre-existing banks of scree or slope deposits, made of accumulated masses of frost-shattered material.  By and large, the edges of the stones in the cairns themselves are sub-angular rather than angular.  If the stones had been taken from "the living rock" by quarrymen with tools, the edges of the stones would certainly be very sharp.

As far as I can see, no big blocks (the sort of things used in megalithic stone settings or cromlechs) have been taken from here.

As I have said before, maybe the term "collecting"or "gathering" should be used in preference to the term "quarrying".......

=====================

My description of the site:

Foel Drygarn (158336 )

This prominent hill mass towards the eastern end of the Preseli upland ridge stands in glorious isolation, and the summit can only be reached via a stiff climb from the nearly "Golden Road" footpath.  The name means "the bare hill with three cairns" -- and the three massive Bronze Age burial mounds on the summit are the most spectacular features of this age in Pembrokeshire.  They lie within the confines of an Iron Age hillfort which contained both an animal enclosure and a substantial settlement site.  Scores of hut circles can still be made out in the turf.  The defensive ramparts are prominent.  A gorgeous location, with spectacular views in all directions.  Maybe we shouldn't classify this as a "Preseli tor" but on balance I have included it in this list because there are indeed spectacular crags here towards the western end of the summit.  The rocks are rhyolites rather than spotted dolerites, and as with the other high tors the dominant process which has shaped the crags in recent millennia is frost shattering and the downslope movement of detached blocks under the influence of gravity.  The jury is still out on whether the summit of Foel Drygarn was affected by glacier ice during the last glaciation.


================   

http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/94948/details/foeltrigarnmoel-trigarnfoel-drygarn-hillfort


Coflein Site Description

Frequently photographed and one of the most dramatically sited and visually striking Iron Age hillforts in Wales, Foel Trigarn occupies the easternmost ridge on Mynydd Preseli, its characteristic silhouette dominating much of the east Pembrokeshire skyline. Three main enclosures can be traced, defined by stone walls or stone-revetted banks, with traces of a ditch around the inner rampart. The earliest was probably that on the very summit, an oval fort set against natural cliffs on its southern side, enclosing 1.2 hectares and with main gates on the east, west and south sides. Attached to this first enclosure, and probably representing later periods of expansion, are a second enclosure on the north and east side which mirrors the outer ramparts of the first, and a third outer annex to the east. The most striking characteristic of Foel Trigarn is its pock-marked interior, the sites of at least 227 levelled house platforms where Iron Age houses once stood. There are also fainter traces of a further 42 uncertain platforms bringing the total closer to 270 house sites. It is highly unlikely that all these house sites were occupied at the same time. The entire hillfort was probably occupied and expanded over many centuries, rather than being used by a single leader or group of people. We are effectively seeing the remains of a complex and long-lasting prehistoric village, with all its phases of occupation on show. Early excavations in 1899 by S Baring Gould unearthed Iron Age and Roman pottery and artefacts which included spindle-whorls, fine glass beads and a jet ring from some of the house platforms. Sling stones were also found in ‘…great numbers…some in piles..’ (Baring Gould et. al., 1900, 210). A new survey by the Royal Commission and researchers from Portsmouth Polytechnic (in 1988) provided the first detailed plan.

On the summit stand three massive stone cairns after which the hill is named. These are interpreted as Bronze Age burial cairns, massive communal monuments covering the bones, or ashes, of one or several special individuals. Similar examples of pre-existing cairns surviving within later stone forts can be seen at Carn Goch in Carmarthenshire, Pen Dinas, Aberystwyth in Ceredigion and at Tre’r Ceiri on the Llyn Peninsula, Gwynedd. As these cairns were never plundered for their stone, despite being surrounded by hundreds of houses, we must conclude that the occupants venerated their distant ancestors, while at the same time deriving power and social status from the acquisition of such a prominent, and sacred, hilltop.

The size and complexity of Foel Trigarn, one of the largest north Pembrokeshire hillforts along with Carn-ingli, Garn Fawr and St David’s Head, suggests a role and function distinct from the numerous smaller hillforts like Castell Henllys. It is likely that this was a significant centre of population in its time, its design and construction initiated and overseen by a powerful regional leader. If, as one interpretation of the place mentioned by Ptolemy indicates, the Octapitai tribe occupied St David’s Head, perhaps a similar group whose name was never recorded by the Romans sited their ‘tribal capital’ here, commanding the Iron Age lands hereabouts.

Sources: Baring-Gould and others in Archaeological Cambrensis 5th series 17 (1900), 189-211

T. Driver, RCAHMW, 21 September 2009

Monday, 24 April 2017

Land of Legends -- what the Rhosyfelin entry should have said



As I have reported, Bronwen Price of Literature Wales has refused to alter the highly misleading and inaccurate text of the published web site entry on Craig Rhosyfelin.  A pity, since that would have involved no more than a minute's work.  This is what the entry should have said, and I offer it, without charge, to Literature Wales in a spirit of good will:

Craig Rhos-y-felin, Crosswell

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



This is a very beautiful site, with a rocky gorse-capped crag set in a deep river valley near a ford -- a perfect place for a picnic.  It looks peaceful enough, but it is the scene of an animated dispute between academic disciplines about its links with Stonehenge.  It all started some years ago when geologists identified some of the rock fragments in the soil at Stonehenge as having come from the Rhosyfelin area.  Archaeologists then moved in, and over several digging seasons they claimed to have discovered a Neolithic quarry used for the extraction of bluestone monoliths destined for Stonehenge. In two learned papers, earth scientists disagreed, and claimed that all of the “quarrying” features were entirely natural.  Further, they argued that the bluestone debris on Salisbury Plain had been carried there by the great Irish Sea Glacier which flowed across Pembrokeshire and up the Bristol Channel around half a million years ago.  So is there really a Neolithic quarry here, or is that simply a modern myth?  Only time will tell…….


-----------------------


I think that the suggested entry is accurate and balanced, and should not upset anybody!  The existing entry on the web site is this:

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.

SOURCE:
http://www.landoflegends.wales/theme/sacred-and-spiritual

Stonehenge video rolls on......



Much to my surprise, there have now been more than 91,000 views of my video on YouTube.  It's been around for a few years now, and of course attracts comments galore from the lunatic fringe,  but every now and then somebody says something sensible.  Anyway, here it is in case any of our modern blog followers are not aware of it.  Nothing has come along, in the period since it was made, to change any of my views......

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.

SOURCE:
http://www.landoflegends.wales/theme/sacred-and-spiritual

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.