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, 21 October 2017

Green Bridge of Wales -- the beginning of the end?

Pics from Doug Reubens and Gareth Davies

 This has nothing to do with Stonehenge, bluestones or glaciers -- but since we enjoy talking of the forces of nature on this blog, this might be of interest.  Storm Ophelia has been causing some severe cliff falls in Pembrokeshire -- and one of the most spectacular rockfalls has been on the tip of the Green Bridge of Wales (one of the most famous arches in the British Isles).  These photos show the damage.

The outer "block" (which will become a stack when the arch goes) is now much reduced in size, and the state of near-equilibrium that existed there is gone.  Not sure how this will affect the stresses in the arch itself.  Depends how riddled with fractures it is.  Ironically, the compression on the arch may now be greater than it was before, so it may become stronger.......... we shall see........

As I write, Storm Brian is battering the coast, and lots of people are rushing down to the limestone cliffs and the Stack Rocks area with their cameras.........

I'm more interested in the submerged forest, and wonder if it will be exposed after this storm surge coinciding with spring tides.

 Pic: Beth McColl.  After the fall.........

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Lambert Glacier -- a thing of beauty

There are few things on this planet more impressive than a big glacier in full flow.  This is the Lambert Glacier in Antarctica.  It flows into the Amery Ice Shelf.  Click to see the image enlarged.

At the base of this NASA image, it is about 30 km wide, but at the big confluence with Fisher Glacier it is about 60 km wide.  Across most of the area shown in the image, the glacier velocity is between 500 m and 800 m per year, but the velocity speeds up as the ice gets towards the ice shelf, with a flow rate of c 1 km per year.    Surging glaciers sometimes move faster than that, but this is assumed to be the fastest-flowing big outlet glacier on the planet.

The streamlines or flowlines are shown here in extraordinary detail.

 Here is another image -- this time from Google earth.  You can see many of the same features.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Parker Pearson et al under scrutiny -- more scientific misconduct?

On looking back at the literature over the past couple of years, I have been reassessing the following:

Parker Pearson, M., Pollard, J., Richards, C., Schlee, D., and Welham, K. (2016).  "In search of the Stonehenge Quarries,"  British Archaeology,  Jan/Feb 2016, pp 16-23.

Parker Pearson, M. (2016).  "Secondhand Stonehenge?  Welsh Origins of a Wiltshire monument."  Current Archaeology 311 (2016), pp 18-22.

Both of these articles were published in the spring of 2016, about three months after the publication of the QN article by Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd, John Downes and me.  That article, peer-reviewed and revised on the advice of referees and editor, described the landforms and stratigraphy at Rhosyfelin and made the point that there was no trace of a Neolithic bluestone quarry at the site, no matter what the geological affinities with Stonehenge might be.  Parker Pearson, Pollard, Richards, Schlee and Welham (all senior archaeologists) must have known about the paper, and they must all have read it.  They must also have been fully aware of the "media storm" that followed in December 2015 when their big Antiquity paper was published within a few days of our second paper in Archaeology in Wales.  There were literally hundreds of write-ups in the press and in magazines, and on digital media as well. The great majority talked about the dispute.  Assorted academics made comments on the record, flagging up the fundamental disagreement between one group of specialists and the other.

In spite of all this furore, the two articles mentioned above blithely promote the bluestone quarrying hypothesis and make no mention of any inconvenient evidence or academic dispute. 

So there are two question here.  Did the authors of the two articles mentioned above have time to react to the publication of our two articles in November and December ?  And should they have changed their texts, even a proof stage, in order to inform their readers that their assumptions about bluestone quarrying were not universally accepted?  The answer to the first question is undoubtedly "Yes".  They had two months to make corrections and adjustments, and if they had requested relatively minor changes I am sure that the Editor would have agreed.  And the answer to the second question is also "Yes" -- since a responsibility is always placed upon authors to provide reliable information and to avoid the pretence of certainty in cases where there is doubt.  As mentioned in our earlier post
a deliberate failure to cite "inconvenient" publications or data is tantamount to falsification, fabrication and the intentional distortion of the research situation.  That is rather a serious matter.

I haven't checked up on all the universities represented here, but MPP works at University College London, and all universities have Ethical Guidelines which staff and researchers are supposed to adhere to.  The internal guidelines generally insist on publication of research results in a responsible and timely manner, in a form accessible to other interested parties, with research results preserved for future reference in cases where replication might be needed.  It goes without saying that all academic authors must also adhere to COPE guidelines, which state:

Researchers should present their results honestly and without fabrication, falsification or inappropriate data manipulation. 

Reports of research should be complete. They should not omit inconvenient, inconsistent or inexplicable findings or results that do not support the authors’ or sponsors’ hypothesis or interpretation.

Authors should cooperate with editors in issuing corrections or retractions when required.

Authors should represent the work of others accurately in citations and quotations.

New findings should be presented in the context of previous research. The work of others should be fairly represented. Scholarly reviews and syntheses of existing research should be complete, balanced, and should include findings regardless of whether they support the hypothesis or interpretation being proposed.

From COPE website:  Wager E & Kleinert S (2011) Responsible research publication: international standards for authors. A position statement developed at the 2nd World Conference on Research Integrity, Singapore, July 22-24, 2010. Chapter 50 in: Mayer T & Steneck N (eds) Promoting Research Integrity in a Global Environment. Imperial College Press / World Scientific Publishing, Singapore (pp 309-16). (ISBN 978-981-4340-97-7)

Well, I have grumbled before about the complete lack of research diaries or field reports representing seven seasons of excavations in the field.  Parker Pearson and his colleagues have behaved neither in a responsible nor a timely fashion.  Nor is there a single paper which presents in a satisfactory and scientific manner the findings in the digs at Rhosyfelin, Carn Goedog and a number of other sites. (The paper published in Antiquity in December 2015 is far adrift of the standard required, and does not withstand scrutiny.)

Mike Parker Pearson, Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer, Joshua Pollard, Colin Richards, Kate Welham, Ben Chan, Kevan Edinborough, Derek Hamilton, Richard Macphail, Duncan Schlee, Jean-Luc Schwenninger, Ellen Simmons and Martin Smith (2015). Craig Rhos-y-felin: a Welsh bluestone megalith quarry for Stonehenge.   Antiquity, 89 (348) (Dec 2015), pp 1331-1352. 

The published material in the British Archaeology and Current Archaeology articles is examined in these two blog posts:

It's pretty clear that the COPE guidelines have been broken in both of the articles cited at the head of this post --since they have wilfully ignored two relevant -- but seriously inconvenient -- papers that should have been cited and discussed.  This constitutes scientific misconduct.  The only extenuating circumstance is the limited amount of "revision time" available to MPP and his colleagues between our publication dates and theirs.

So let's be forgiving for the moment.  But if this pattern of behaviour (ie the wilful refusal to acknowledge the existence of "inconvenient" research) is repeated in future publications,  I might start getting upset.

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 Kurdling 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.