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Sunday, 29 September 2013

Rhosyfelin Blitzkrieg


There are some rumbles doing the rounds about the smashed-up mess made by the diggers at Rhosyfelin this year, upslope of the main archaeological dig site.  It almost looks as if a JCB has gone on a mad spree, having lost its driver........

What is the purpose of this mayhem?  Is it simply an attempt to gain access to the upper part of the site so that some more geological samples can be taken?  Can't imagine that being the reason for all the damage -- after all, these crags were perfectly accessible as it was, to any geologist worth his/her salt.  Is it an attempt to open up a new part of the site for 2014 excavations?  Can't imagine that being the reason either, since following the depradations of the big machine nothing that we can see in this photo will be of any value whatsoever to an archaeologist trying to check out what is there.

Very mysterious.  Does anybody know what is going on?

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Rhosyfelin Fracture Pattern

This is probably all very familiar to the geologists, but let's look at the Rhosyfelin fracture pattern exposed on the rock face.  Here are two versions of the same photo, one in its pristine condition, and the other annotated:



On the annotated photo, the orange lines show the dominant fracture pattern which causes the rock face to break up into elongated slabs or columns.  The blue lines show another fracture trend, running along the face from one end to the other.  One very long fracture can be followed for 50m or more -- others are shorter.  But here we have an explanation for the manner in which the rock face breaks up into "upper slabs" and "lower slabs".  The lower ones, when they break off the face, won't travel very far, but the higher ones, pushed off by physical and biological processes, will fall with considerable momentum, and can travel some way from the rock face.

Rhosyfelin -- the rockfalls continue.......

I have been trying to argue that there is a long history of rockfalls at Rhosyfelin -- but keep on coming up against the buffers -- at least in the minds of those who think that all the debris uncovered in the digs over the last 3 years has got there because of Neolithic quarrying.  Just take a look at these photos:


Look at the big "proto-orthostat" in the foreground of this photo, taken of the inner part of the crag, where a digger has been clearing the vegetation this year, and making a right old mess.  The location is close to the bend in the little channel, not far from the col between this and the main Brynberian river channel.  This big stone was very close to the ground surface.  No way is this a Neolithic feature -- I would hazard a guess and say that it may have fallen off the rock face withing the last few centuries.

This was taken a bit lower down the channel, not far from the highest point reached in last year's dig.  Note that this particular "proto-orthostat" has a good cover of lichen and moss on it -- it has been exposed at the ground surface.  Almost certainly, this one dates from a rockfall from the face within the last few decades..


And now for the "coup de grace".  This is the 2013 dig site, looking at the famous "monolith" and a few of the large stones on the bank above it.  Look at the cliff face to top right of the photo.  Look at the crack half-way up the face.  Look at the manner in which roots and other vegetation are insinuating themselves behind the slab.  Click on the photo to view in more detail.  A bit more root expansion, maybe some frost and maybe some nice wet conditions over the winter, and hey presto -- down comes the next proto-orthostat.......... and not a Neolithic quarryman in sight.

The Dreamtime Pedestal

One of the more interesting ideas to come out of the MPP talk in Moylgrove recently is the one about the "pedestal" on which the big "proto-orthostat" is supposed to rest.  According to Mike, the monolith is "propped up" on a pile of stones, and shows signs of having been "jacked up" into its present position by quarrymen using long levers -- presumably made of timber or else of elongated stones such as we see all over the dig site. 

This is all very interesting, because we can see how the pedestal has evolved and appeared over the past three digs on the site.  Here are three photos, the first from 2011, the second from 2012, and the third from 2013.




You can see the manner in which the stone was originally embedded in sediments which were themselves rich in rhyolite blocks and smaller stones.  In the first year the dig went down to the base of the big stone.  In the second year much more of the finer material was taken away, and many of the big blocks surrounding the big stone were removed.  In the third year even more sediment and stones were taken away, leaving the big stone apparently in a "raised" position and exposing the stones beneath it.  Obviously they couldn't take away too much of the material beneath the stone, for fear of disturbing it and squashing a few diggers. 

Hey presto!  It's quite wonderful what you can do by removing all the stones except the ones you want to leave in place, thereby creating a wonderful pedestal with a big stone perched on top of it.  And you can then invest the pedestal with great significance, and use it to help to demonstrate to the world what a smart bunch the Rhosyfelin quarrymen were.........

Excuse me, all you guys and gals who have spent vast amounts of time recording and digging and humping away stones, but do you seriously expect people the BELIEVE any of this jacking up business?  In any case, why would your Neolithic quarrymen want to LIFT a very heavy stone which you are trying to take away downhill?









Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Deja vu all over again

I've been reflecting on all this Neolithic quarry mania, and thinking to myself:  "Haven't we heard all this before?"  Well, of course we have, but last time it was in relation the the famous Carn Meini Neolithic Quarry, which now seems to have been given the push........

Let's remind ourselves.

Two craggy outcrops -- two quarries? 

The Carn Meini "Quarry"

The prsence of a quarry at Carn Meini was hinted at by HH Thomas and promoted with even more enthusiasm by Richard Atkinson in his 1956 book on Stonehenge.  Since that time it has been more or less accepted as fact, on the following grounds:

1.  The stone is very special, since the whitish spots in the local dolerite made it appealing to our ancestors, since maybe it reminded them of the starry night sky.

2.  The stone breaks naturally into tubular columns which are ideal for use as orthostats at Stonehenge.

3.  There are several stones in the bluestone assemblage that appear to match geologically the outcrop at Carn Meini.

4.  The site is an easy one from which to extract elongated blocks of stone and to trundle them off towards Stonehenge.

5.  There are traces of prehistoric activity in the immediate vicinity -- cf the "enclosure" described in the last few years by Darvill and Wainwright.  Perhaps the enclosure was to protect the quarry or to provide shelter and protection to the quarrymen who lived inside it?

6.  There is a splendid stone lying right in the middle of the supposed quarrying area which is just perfect for use at Stonehenge.  This is "the one they left behind" for some unknown reason.

7.  There is a nearby ancient trackway which shows that the area was a centre of Neolithic activity  -- there is also a small burial site nearby, assumed to be Neolithic.

8.  There is a "broken stone" not far away -- damaged during transport and subsequently rejected.

9.  According to Roger Worsley, there is a length of "hidden track" leading downslope from Carn Meini towards the "stone stream" where resistivity and other measurements show heavy compaction of the soil, consistent with heavy loads passing across it.

10. There are occasional small sub-angular or rounded stones in the area -- assumed to be hammer stones used in working the rocks taken from the quarry.

 The ones that got away -- or rather, that didn't get away, and stayed where they were.......

The Craig Rhosyfelin "Quarry"

1.  The stone is very special, since the bluish colour in the local rhyolite made it appealing to our ancestors.  Maybe its sharp edges also made it desirable for cutting or slicing tasks.

2.  The stone breaks naturally into elongated columns which are ideal for use as orthostats at Stonehenge.

3.  There are many fragments in the bluestone debitage that appear to match geologically the outcrop at Craig Rhosyfelin.

4.  The site is an easy one from which to extract elongated blocks of stone and to trundle them off towards Stonehenge (according to MPP).

5.  There are traces of prehistoric activity in the immediate vicinity -- cf the "hearth" described recently by Prof MPP.  Perhaps the hearth was used by many generations of quarry workers?

6.  There is a splendid stone lying right in the middle of the supposed quarrying area which is just perfect for use at Stonehenge.  This is "the one they left behind" for some unknown reason.

7.  There is assumed to be a nearby ancient trackway which shows that the area was a centre of Neolithic activity  -- there are also burial site nearby, including Bedd yr Afanc.

8.  There are abundant "broken stones" in the quarry -- damaged during quarrying operations and subsequently rejected.

9.  According to MPP, damage to smaller stones beneath and downslope of the "proto-orthostat"  is consistent with heavy loads passing across it.

10. There are occasional small sub-angular or rounded stones in the area -- assumed to be hammer stones used in working the rocks taken from the quarry.

 Broken stones galore -- not good enough for Stonehenge?

It's almost spooky how similar the "case for Carn Meini" is to the "case for Rhosyfelin."  It's also rather entertaining that the case for the former is now dismissed as unreliable, while the case for the latter is being trumpeted from the rooftops as the latest great archaeological discovery.  

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Craig Rhosyfelin -- where are the restraining voices?



One thing that interests me about the ongoing Rhosyfelin debate is that there seem to be virtually no restraining voices which might temper Prof Mike Parker Pearson's obvious enthusiasm for the "most perfectly preserved Neolithic quarry in Europe" or "the Pompeii of Neolithic stone quarries."  That's been his view since the unearthing of the big "proto-orthostat" in 2011, and every utterance since then has been devoted to the confirmation of the ruling hypothesis.  I'm clearly not the only one who thinks that we have here a situation in which marketing has taken the place of science.  But why have others involved in this dig not intervened to point out that the "evidence of quarrying" is equivocal to say the least, and is open to a number of interpretations?

Richard Bevins and Rob Ixer are petrologists who have done a fantastic job in provenancing some of the rhyolite fragments at Stonehenge to the rock face at Rhosyfelin or to the immediate vicinity; but they are not geomorphologists, and it would be unfair to expect them to have looked in detail at some of the geomorphological subtleties of this site.  I have no idea how this project is being run.  But we know that there are those in MPP's team who do have expertise in geomorphology -- Charly French and Mike Allen to name but two -- and there are many bright young geomorphologists in the universities of the UK who could have brought a cold and dispassionate eye to some of the interpretations about which I have been complaining for the last couple of years. 

The things I pointed out in my last past on this blog should have been pointed out by others working on the dig, or others pulled in to advise on certain aspects of the work.  Because there have not apparently been any researchers pointing out natural phenomena, looking for alternative explanations of "exciting discoveries" and urging caution, what we now have is a runaway bandwaggon with a lot of clever researchers stuck on board........ 

...........continue the metaphor in whatever manner you wish!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Rhosyfelin -- some inconvenient truths

A few days ago I sent a message to MPP asking if I could meet him and the team down at Rhosyfelin to have a chat about the sediments appearing in the current digging stage.  I didn't get a reply -- not complaining, since he is probably incommunicado just now, being somewhat involved in two big digs in Pembrokeshire..........  So after tea I ambled down to Rhosyfelin to see if there was still any action down there, and the guys and gals had all gone home.  So I had a mooch about, taking great care not to disturb anything.  Very interesting.  Here are some inconvenient truths:

1.  Now that the dig has been extended for 70m or more, right to the inner end of the rocky spur, we can see that the dig site is on the floor of a small meltwater channel, similar to many of the features we can see on the flanks of the Gwaun-Jordanston meltwater channel system.  It's difficult to assess how many times this channel might have been used, but its use by meltwater (probably subglacial, under very high pressure) might go some way towards explaining the long, smooth, regular wall which others tend to refer to as "the quarry face."  It's probable that the channel was used both in the Anglian and Devensian Glaciations.

 View of the dig site, looking along the rock face of the spur towards the top end of the meltwater channel.  In the far distance the channel loops round to the left and rejoins the main meltwater channel now occupied by the Brynberian River.

2.  If you look carefully at the photo above you can see that the big "orthostat" resting just to the right of centre in the photo has fallen from the highest pinnacle on the ridge.  I see no problem at all with a slab of this size crashing down the rock face, either in the Late Glacial or at some stage during the Holocene, and ending up exactly where it is today, some distance from the rock face.  It might have slid, might have tumbled down end over end, or might have rolled.  No human agency required in the process.

3.  In his Moylgrove lecture, MPP placed great emphasis on the "killer fact" that a big transverse stone just downslope of the "proto-orthostat" has striations or erosional grooves on it, proving beyond doubt that other large stones have been hauled across it during earlier stone removal operations.  It's lucky that I managed to have a look at it today, or this myth might have been perpetrated until the end of time -- and there would have been no way of checking, since the spoil is about to be thrown back into the dig location at any moment now..............  Anyway, they are not striations, scratches or erosional grooves.  They are outcropping foliations on the rock surface, no different from those on scores of other stones to be found throughout the dig site.  They follow the strike of these micro-structures.  If you look at the side of the rock you can see how the foliations or "pseudo-layers" run within the rock, downwards towards the bottom left of the photo.  I am 100% confident that any geologist or geomorphologist who looks at this rock would agree with me on this.  Here are some pictures:


Above:  Close-up of the "grooves" supposedly caused by heavy orthostats being dragged across the stone in question.  There are indeed grooves, but they coincide exactly with the outcropping foliations on the stone surface.  They are perfectly normal weathering phenomena, of no significance whatsoever to the quarrying debate.


Above:  Another grooved block of rhyolite embedded in till in the lower part of the dig site.  The grooves on this one are seriously interesting, since they are slightly curving and since they don't seem to be related to the pattern of outcropping foliations.  This one has "glacial erosion" written all over it.


Above:  More grooves on the end of another slab of local rhyolite, not far from the "proto-orthostat."  These grooves are very prominent, and are clearly related to the pattern of outcropping foliations.


Even more interesting -- and something you don't see very often in Pembrokeshire.  This is a heavily glaciated slab of rock on the lower part of the dig site - look at all the smoothed off corners.  But look even more carefully at the crescentic gouges or fractures.  If you are a geologist you might call them conchoidal fractures.  They show that a glacier with very hard tools has been at work on this surface.


4.  In the Moylgrove lecture, MPP also dismissed the idea that the excavation had reached a layer of till. He said that if there was till present, it must be much deeper down.  I have news for him.  In the lower part of the dig at the moment we can see some of the best till I have seen in a long time.  In fact, they hit it last year, as I mentioned on this blog.  (Why don't these people listen when they are given solid information?)  It is probably Devensian, around 20,000 years old.  Its upper surface -- as always in Pembrokeshire -- is a foxy red colour.  When I saw that I was pretty convinced that I would see a rather sticky clay-rich or silty till underneath the reddish layer, and indeed, there it is for all to see:


The lower part of the dig site.  In the foreground we see a cluster of rhyolite boulders which have been embedded in the Devensian till.   The foxy red colour is typical of the weathered upper surface of the till everywhere in Pembrokeshire.  Deeper down, the colour changes, and there are signs of gleying, with streaks of buff, grey and black colouration.  I'm not sure whether the black colouring is due to manganese oxide or organic material.  We can see this if we look carefully at the section beneath the white labels -- bottom left.  There is not a huge amount of clay in this till -- it is more sandy and gravelly.  Again that is typical of the inland tills in Pembrokeshire.  On the north coast, where the ice has come in from the sea, the clay percentage in the Irish Sea till is substantially higher.

5.  I may be wrong, but I get the impression that when archaeologists look at erratics, they see hammer stones.  I'm not denying that there may be the odd hammer stone lying about on this site, but what is indisputable is that we have a splendid collection of rounded, sub-rounded and shaped glacial erratics representing many different lithologies.  I counted five or six different rock types very quickly, but did not wish to disturb any of them for fear of messing up the survey work.  The most prominent are the blocks of quartz (very rough and jagged, since quartz is almost impossible to smooth off nicely except on a beach or in a very turbulent river), several types of dolerite, and several types of volcanic ash.  Probably they have all come from the NW, where the rocks of the Fishguard Volcanics are exposed at the surface.  Some of these are small enough to use as hammer stones, if you were determined enough to bash something, but many of the boulders are far too large to be lifted, let alone used for percussion or stone shaping.  You can see some of these stones in the photos posted by Chris:  http://chrisjohnsonnl.smugmug.com/Rhosyfelin-2013-dig
Many of them are still embedded in the till, and others have been lifted by the digging team and slung onto the spoil heaps.  Here are a few of them:

Large erratic boulder embedded in the till in the lower part of the dig site.  This is probably a dolerite.


Another erratic boulder resting on the surface of the till.  This also appears to be a dolerite.


A large quartz erratic boulder, upslope of the "proto-orthostat."  This one could have come from almost anywhere in North Pembrokeshire........


How many more erratics do you want to see?  I won't bore you with any more close-ups, but here are a few that the diggers have extracted and pushed to one side.

So there we are then.  If anybody tells you that there are no traces of glacial action at Rhosyfelin, do not believe them.  Trust me.  I know what I am talking about.  Always happy to help.  And by the way, I'm still waiting to see some evidence that this site was used as a quarry.



Sunday, 22 September 2013

Enough debitage to make an orthostat?

In thinking through this issue of whether the foliated rhyolite debitage at Stonehenge came from the far west as an orthostat, or a boulder, or as smaller fragments suitable for trading, I discovered this diagram from some months ago:


These diagrams refer of course only to the samples collected by assorted diggers over the years -- so the captions should refer to "that part of the Stonehenge Layer sampled thus far" -- and we cannot tell whether the proportions of rock shown here are typical of the whole, or strongly biased towards particular rock types because of the chosen locations of digging sites.

Note that the proportions of rhyolite and subplanar rhyolite are very small indeed.  Perhaps Rob and Richard can tell us what the total weight of foliated rhyolite fragments gathered up thus far actually is.  Five kilos?  Ten?  A hundred?  If there really was a foliated rhyolite orthostat -- or several of them -- at Stonehenge, as certain archaeologists would have us believe, where are the remains of it?

If something like the "one that got away" (the proto-orthostat that rests amid the rubble at Rhosyfelin) ever did exist at Stonehenge, we might expect debris totalling several tonnes to be present in the debitage.  Why do we not see it?

An erratic lesson from Flimston

There are rather a lot of erratics in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset.  Quite a few in Wiltshire too.  Some are very well known, and others are rather obscure (although thanks are due to Pete Glastonbury for drawing attention to some of them.....).  We have innumerable posts on this blog referring to erratics in the area, in many different contexts -- for example here:
http://brian-mountainman.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/stray-stones-in-south-west-england.html
Where we do know the provenances of these erratics, they always seem to have come from the W or NW -- and it is hardly a coincidence that this coincides with the direction of ice movement of the Irish Sea Glacier.   Here are just three of them, well described in the literature:


The interesting thing about these erratics, of course, is that because they are in "natural" contexts, nobody (not even the most senior archaeologist!) ever questions that they are true erratics, emplaced by natural processes.  In all the cases above, they have been emplaced by glacier ice, on the English side of the Bristol Channel. 

Let's move back across the Bristol Channel to Pembrokeshire.  I have just caught up with Adrian James's interesting blog, in which he shows photos of many South Pembrokeshire erratics that have been carried from the NW by the ice of the Irish Sea Glacier.  They are scattered about all over the place!  Here are two photos of the erratics in Flimston Churchyard:

Flimston Church, near the southern tip of the Castlemartin Peninsula, south Pembrokeshire, and the seven erratics.  There are four in the foreground and three clustered together and used as grave headstones, just to the left of the cross.  (Photo: Adrian James)

 The cluster of four "unused" erratics in the corner of the Flimston Churchyard, near the ruins of Flimston farm.  (Photo: Adrian James)

I have covered this before, in January of this year:
http://brian-mountainman.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/more-south-pembrokeshire-erratics.html
but a revisitation is needed.  The following is adapted from Adrian's text:

Flimston Chapel churchyard (SR92399558). There is a substantial collection of erratics in this churchyard. Some have been used as headstones for the graves of members of the Lambton Family who died in military service. Others have been left sitting in one corner of the enclosure. All of these stones arrived in the churchyard when the chapel was renovated and re-consecrated in 1903. There are 7 of them. A pamphlet, which describes the features and memorials in the yard, printed at the time of the opening of the chapel in about 1914, gives us these vague details:
 

No. 1 Boulder, at the head of Lady Victoria Lambton's grave was taken from just opposite Flimston Cottage. A 'brecciated spherulite, albite, trachyte or rhyolite.' Many occur in Pembrokeshire. This one 'seems to fit best with those of Romans' Castle in the character of its spherulites and groundmass.'
[Flimston Cottage stood at SR927955, about 0.3 km ESE of the chapel and just north of the old clay pits.]
No. 2 Boulder, from Pwllslaughter, which stands in the opposite North corner. [Bullslaughter, SR942944 - approximately 2.25 km SE]
No. 3 Boulder from Bulliber Farm [About 2.25 km WNW, at SR905968]
No. 4 Boulder from Merrion pond. [ About 2 km NE].
No. 5 Boulder from Lyserry Farm
No. 6 Boulder from Lyserry Farm.
No.7 Boulder from Lyserry Farm.
[Lyserry is about 3.4 km ENE of Flimston chapel, at SR9556967]


Most of these appear to have travelled over 30 miles from the N. West separated from their parent rocks by St Brides Bay and Milford Haven, and by a considerable mass of high ground.........

Clearly there was some significance in dragging these rocks from their resting places about the area, but quite what the intention was is unclear. It seems likely, as I have mentioned elsewhere, that they were all intended to be memorials or headstones.

There are many other erratics featured on Adrian's Blog, but this is the most substantial of them, in the farmyard of Loveston Farm:

 The Loveston Erratic. (Photo: Adrian James)

Now then, what is particularly interesting about Flimston Churchyard and Loveston Farm is that the erratics occur in cultural contexts -- a churchyard and a farm.  The provenances have not been fixed precisely, but we can be pretty sure that all of the erratics come from the St David's Peninsula, not far from St David's itself. Why is it that nobody has gone hunting for the "quarries" from which these erratics came?  After all, the farmer from Loveston has plenty of tractors and high-powered equipment at his disposal, and could well have popped over to St David's to fetch his stone if he had wanted to.  And even in 1903, when Flimston Churchyard was restored, there were cranes and mechanised transport available to help fetch seven stones from the St David's area if that was what the Lambton family had wanted to do.  Why therefore does it appear "logical" to assorted archaeologists (who shall be nameless) that the Neolithic tribes of Salisbury Plain would have wished to haul all the way to West Wales to collect  80 bluestones, given the extraordinary constraints of distance, terrain and technology?  I have said it before, and I will keep on saying it -- it just doesn't make sense.

The interesting thing about Flimston is that the people who had a cunning plan for the churchyard in 1903 did actually range across the countryside looking for stones that would fulfill a cultural / spiritual purpose -- they wanted them as grave headstones, in an area where they happened to be lying around.  Not because they were magical in any way, but because they were convenient and maybe just a little unusual.  The landscape was -- and is -- relatively open and bleak, with few trees.  So the erratics were quite visible.  They collected them from the immediate vicinity, and up to 3.4 km away, according to Adrian.  Maybe that was effectively the limit at which costs began to outweigh benefits?

I have argued in precisely similar fashion that the bluestones at Stonehenge were lying around in the landscape, ready to be collected.  (We know that at least one of them was built into a long barrow called Boles Barrow, near Heytesbury.)  Maybe the presence of these stones -- and abundant sarsens -- was not the original reason for the construction of the early earthworks.  But it may well be the reason why stones started to be used, and why ultimately a rather spectacular stone construction was started -- if never finished -- on the same site.  Forget about this periglacial stripes nonsense -- this is a much more feasible hypothesis.

So let's ask this basic question.  Why is it that archaeologists are prepared to accept the presence of erratics in natural contexts in the SW Peninsula, and in cultural contexts in places like Flimston and Loveston (not to mention Boles Barrow / Lake House and other locations in Southern England) but not on Salisbury Plain?  The reason is that HH Thomas in 1920 declared that it was impossible for glacier ice to have reached Salisbury Plain.  That was a silly idea in 1920, and it is even more silly today, given what we now know about glacier action on Dartmoor, in Somerset and other parts of SW England.  The word "impossible" should never be use in earth science research unless we are talking about things that defy the laws of physics.

The obsession with quarries is really rather wearisome........ and fundamentally illogical.










Saturday, 21 September 2013

Rhosyfelin rhyolite tools and fragments as trading items?


Blue rhyolite exposure on the crag at Rhosyfelin (courtesy: Chris Johnson)

After MPP's lecture the other evening, and the man himself had gone off to take a shower, a number of us had an interesting discussion on the possibility that the quarrymen at Rhosyfelin (let's assume for a moment that they were quarrymen, rather than hunters using a traditional camp site) were not interested in orthostats or standing stones at all, but were simply using the site to obtain shards or cutting implements with very sharp edges and with a rather attractive colour?  A number of us were quite taken with this idea, and with the idea that travelling traders might well have been popular on Salisbury Plain if they turned up with bags full of such items. 

"Flint tools are so boring, darling!  Fred gave me one of those GORGEOUS blue cutters from Wales for my birthday, and when I skinned that ox at our last barbecue it worked a treat.........  But then it got blunt and I had to throw it away.  But he's promised to get me another one next time Dafydd Rhosyfelin comes round this way."

Too radical?  Too crazy?  A reminder of this from one of my earlier posts.  Mike Pitts says:  "It is notable that all the samples matched in this study to Craig Rhos-y-felin come from debitage and not from megaliths (although Ixer and Bevins (201111a and b) have suggested that buried megalith SH32e may also come from Craig Rhos-y-felin). One of the distinctive features of the rhyolitic rocks is that they are flinty – they have a good conchoidal fracture. That makes them relatively easy to break up, if they are standing as monoliths at Stonehenge. But it also makes them suitable for making portable artefacts. There are flaked bluestone ‘tools’ from Stonehenge (including some from the stone floor). Which of these are made from debris created when stones were dressed on site? Which are made from broken up megaliths? And which were made in Wales and brought to Stonehenge by people visiting, perhaps on a pilgrimage of some kind? Clearly the distinction has important implications for how we understand Stonehenge." As I suggested earlier, another question is this:  "Which were made either in Wales or at Stonehenge from smaller stones that were deemed to be too small for use as standing stones?"

If we can just get rid of this obsession with orthostats and magaliths, we might get some serious progress in this debate, and find some common ground.......

Thursday, 19 September 2013

MPP on the Rhosyfelin 2013 dig (2)



A couple of other things that might be of interest.  Forgot them earlier on.

The dig is continuing until Tuesday of next week, and will be continued in 2014.  The thing that the team seems to be working on at the moment is a "ramp" which they claim to have found somewhere near the position of the big post hole or stone socket that they found last year.  Not sure whether this ramp goes up or down, or what it would be for.  For sliding a big stone up onto a sledge or cradle?  No -- can't be that, since the latest thing is pivots and levers.  No sledges, rollers or cradles needed. Maybe some anonymous reader of this blog will enlighten us.............

Second thing.  MPP mentioned at the end of the talk that he did not believe that there was anything special about the Rhosyfelin stone -- nothing sacred about it, no magical or healing properties, nothing peculiarly attractive about the colour or fabric of the rock.  No, it was quarried from here, according to the Chief Digger, simply because the quarry was in a convenient location and because the stones were easy to quarry.  Hmm -- that's an interesting one, given that everybody who knows the site thinks that this must be about the least convenient location on Planet Earth for a bluestone quarry -- a deep river valley, with a river liable to flood in the winter and with dense woodland on its floor and on its sides.  A typical Pembrokeshire Neolithic jungle.   It would have taken an almighty effort to get one stone out of here and up onto the surrounding undulating landscape, let alone a large collection of them.  But no obstacle, it seems, was insurmountable for our heroic Neolithic ancestors.

MPP on the 2013 Rhosyfelin Dig


 My friends Suleyman and Felix showing due respect to the "quarried monolith" way back in 2011.  You have to agree that Felix's wellies are quite splendid. No railway track, no sign of "propping up" stones......... just debris

I have a number of posts in mind on the subject of the 2013 Rhosyfelin dig, but in this one I'll just give a brief report on what MPP (full of cold, poor fellow) actually said in his presentation last night in Moylgrove Village Hall.  Great occasion, first event in the newly refurbished building, tea and biscuits afterwards, gullible audience.  Perfect!

It was quite a brief talk, lacking in detail.  He gave a quick introduction to the main prehistoric phases, and said there was now an increasing acceptance of the "Copper Age" around 2,500-2,200 BC.  His concern, however, was with the Neolithic (2,500 - 4,000 BC) insofar as it affected West Wales and the Stonehenge area.  He then homed in on Rhosyfelin and talked about the Bevins / Ixer geological work which had revealed the presence of four types of foliated rhyolite along the exposed rock face.  He mentioned the precise matches with the rhyolitic debitage from Stonehenge in a somewhat oversimplified way, but that's fair enough, since the subtleties of interpretation are a bit too complex for a popular presentation.

I had hoped that at this stage he would have presented the evidence from the last three seasons of digging and asked the question: "How do we best explain the features we see?  Could it be that we have a quarry here?"  But that isn't MPP's style.  Right from the outset this was "the quarry."  All the evidence shown on the screen and in what he said was designed / selected to reinforce the thesis.  So there was reference to to the big "orthostat" or monolith being "propped up on a pile of stones" or "jacked up" by the quarrymen -- and no consideration at all of the idea that the jumbled stones under the big one were there naturally, because that was the way they had fallen.  To me, from the pictures, there was not the slightest hint of any organization or arrangement in the stones. 

Then he referred to the scratches or striations on a smaller transverse stone just beyond the downslope tip of the big monolith, jokingly dismissed the thought that they might have had anything to do with ice action, and said that the scratches must have been made by one or more big orthostats being dragged across it from the inner depths of the quarry, further upslope.  (He may be right, he may be wrong -- one needs to look at the striae properly, and that's something I haven't done.)  Interestingly enough, there was no mention in this talk of the "railway tracks" that he referred to last year.  Those long stones aren't there any more -- the diggers have removed them.

There was then a reference to the "abundant hammer stones" at the site, lying around on what he calls the "Neolithic quarry floor."  We can see some of them in Chris's photos which I published in a recent post and here: http://chrisjohnsonnl.smugmug.com/Rhosyfelin-2013-dig

He showed photos of some of these being held up for display.  One did seem to have percussion marks on it, but the others seemed to be just conveniently sized rounded stones which might have come from the glacial or fluvio-glacial deposits anywhere in North Pembs.  I'm pretty convinced that we are looking at glacial debris here -- we do not just see a few rounded cobbles, but a large number of rounded, elongated and sub-rounded stones of  a number of different lithologies, scattered about all over the place.  I pressed MPP afterwards about this -- and he said "No no -- the till is much deeper down -- this is a Neolithic floor."  It is of course perfectly possible to have a Neolithic floor on a till surface, or even at some depth beneath the top of a till layer, but we'll let that pass........ I just hope he has somebody in his team who knows a glacial deposit when he or she sees it.)

MPP also failed to mention that a large number of the local rhyolite stones that have presumably come from the crag have rounded edges on them.  I pointed this out last year, and in the document called "A Long History of Rhosyfelin" which I published on Scribd.  You would NOT find those rounded edges on broken stones in a quarry.  Very inconvenient -- so completely ignored.

Mike then made a rather complicated point which I didn't fully grasp about a "carbon copy" of one of the Rhosyfelin stones being seen in the cliff face above the digging area, and another "carbon copy" fitted into a cross section of one of the bluestone sockets at Stonehenge.  He seemed to be suggesting that they had dug out a socket at Stonehenge with precisely the dimensions of a stone which they then went off to Rhosyfelin in order to find.  Made to measure, as it were........  I may have got it wrong on this -- maybe Chris or somebody else who was there will correct me.

Then Mike moved on to talk about the latest discoveries associated with C14 dating.  He gave no actual dates, did not tell us where they had come from, and gave us no idea how many dates there are from the past and present excavations. Secrecy prevails.  So we were forced to take everything on trust.  Anyway, he claimed to have a sequence of dates ranging from the Neolithic to the Iron Age, some of which were associated with a series of hearths near the position of the Iron Age hearth discovered last year.  I assume that they have found charcoal or other organic materials that have been dated.  It looked as if the hearths were in more or less the same place, in a nice sheltered position beneath the crag, just above the grassy floor of the valley.  Perfect camping places for hunting groups, or for quarrymen, or for jolly family barbeques on a summers evening, depending on your preferences........  That was all quite interesting.  There was no mention of the big pit or stone hole which got so much attention last year.  Wonder why?

Then I got lost again when MPP showed a slide of a small vertical stone embedded in the ground.  It looked perfectly natural to me, given that when rocks fall off cliffs some of them end up vertically embedded anyway -- but no -- this stone and others were deliberately placed there as pivots so that bigger stones could be moved across them by the use of levers.  Sounds like a perfectly daft idea to me -- but MPP was quite unabashed, and he said that the movement of big stones with the use of pivots and levers had been shown to be feasible -- and he went on the suggest that rollers and sledges were out, and that all of the stones from here and other places in West Wales had been taken to Stonehenge along the A40 road by splendid fellows armed with nothing more than pivots and levers.  So there we are then.  They were clever fellows in those days.

The final part of the talk was about other sites in North Pembs, including Ty Canol Wood, which now appears to be in the frame as another possible quarry site.  (I have been suggesting for years that the crags in the woods there, or maybe the tors of Carnedd Meibion Owen, would be perfect places for the entrainment of erratics by an over-riding ice sheet...........)  There was also mention that Carn Meini has now been dismissed by Rob Ixer and Richard Bevins as a source for Stonehenge spotted dolerite, and that the two leading candidates for spotted dolerite quarries are Carn Goedog and Cerrig Marchogion.  We knew that already. 

MPP rounded off by straying into prehistoric politics, as is his wont -- and said that there were strong stylistic links between the Pembrokeshire cromlechs and the dolmens of Brittany, suggesting that the Preseli area might have been a power centre capable of exporting its influence (and its stones) to the Salisbury Plain area.  He now seems to be convinced that a complete stone circle of about 80 stones was erected somewhere not far from Rhosyfelin -- maybe at Castell Mawr, where excavations have also gone on this summer.  The idea that Castell Mawr was a great population centre now seems to have been ditched, and it is simply thought of as a henge monument, maybe with something older (a settlement site) inside it and beneath it.  Some interesting traces of palisades have been found this summer near the centre of the site. 

Final point -- the North Pembrokeshire stone monument was exported intact -- or rather in 80 pieces -- all the way to Stonehenge, along the A40 route, in an act which MPP refers to as the first invasion of England by the Welsh.  That idea is not new -- HH Thomas was quite attracted by it almost a century ago, although he thought that the "local stone circle" was probably at Cilymaenllwyd, on the SOUTH side of Preseli.

And that's it, folks.  As much as I was able to jot down.




Wednesday, 18 September 2013

How not to answer a question



I'll report more fully on tonight's MPP lecture in Moylgrove when I have looked through my notes, but I am not best pleased.  In the Q&A session after the talk, I observed that he had dismissed the glacial transport theory out of hand, and asked him "On what basis do you dismiss the theory that the Stonehenge bluestones were carried from Pembrokeshire by glacier ice?"  He replied: "Because we have found a quarry."  I tried to get him to answer the question, but he refused point-blank, and said "There is no point in discussing this. The discussion is over.  It's finished."

So there we are then.  A number of words come to mind, but they are all unprintable.  Shall we just say that I am less than impressed?

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The 2013 Rhosyfelin Dig



Many thanks to Chris for allowing this link to his new Rhosyfelin album.  Some stunning pics in there:

http://chrisjohnsonnl.smugmug.com/Rhosyfelin-2013-dig

Chris has had a long chat on the site with MPP -- and all will be revealed at the lecture in Moylgrove tomorrow evening.  It's obvious that the plan this year is to keep going down in what is considered to be the key part of the site -- beneath the big "orthostat" and towards the outer edge of the spur where last year the diggers claimed to have come across a stone hole or post pit and a possible Iron Age hearth and camping site.

From the two of Chris's photos reproduced above, it looks as if the diggers are now down into fluvio-glacial deposits or till, for there are lots of stones with rounded edges on them, and that means transport either in ice or in water.  The soil doesn't look particularly gravelly, so till might be the preferred option......  I wonder if there are any striae on the rounded and sub-rounded stones?  Note also the big quartz boulders lying about in the mixture.  We can hazard a guess that the rounded stones will all be interpreted as hammer stones or mauls, but I hope to goodness that they have had a qualified geomorphologist or two on the dig this year, so that some professional judgments can be made on what is natural and what is not. 

Clearly the intention is to find something beneath the "orthostat" (organic materials or maybe some artefact or other) which would "prove" that the big chunk of rock was not there 10,000 years ago and was put there as a result of Neolithic quarrying activity.   On the other hand, rockfalls have been going on here for a very long time, intermittently,  and even if a Neolithic skeleton is found beneath the big stone we cannot say that the removal of the stone from the rockface was a result of human intervention -- we might simply be looking at the result of an unfortunate accident........

Rumour has it that the exposed ground surface shown in the photos is dated to 3100BC -- apparently on the basis of a C14 date from last year.   I will be really interested to learn what dates have been obtained, and exactly where the organic samples have come from.

Finally, there are rumours of bits of Neolithic pottery being found somewhere on the site.  Again, hard evidence awaited.........

If necessary I'll eat my hat, but for now I have to say that everything in my photos, and all the other photos I've seen suggests that we are looking at a long-continued set of natural processes without any human intervention at all.


Monday, 16 September 2013

What's the Significance of Megalithic Monuments in Atlantic Europe?

 
 Poulnabrone dolmen – 5,000 year old portal tomb in the limestone Burren area of 
County Clare, Ireland

This is a very interesting article from Heritage daily. Worth reproducing and reading.....


Significance of Megalithic Monuments in Atlantic Europe?

Ashleigh Murszewski
Posted by: HeritageDaily , September 15, 2013

An archaeologists analysis on how the construction of megalithic monuments in Atlantic Europe are not restricted to a single purpose, nor how they reflect one aspect of the community that built them.

Contrarily, they give well-rounded evidence for practical and symbolic components of the early agricultural lifestyle within the Neolithic. Depictions in the architecture of these structures explore complex symbolism and the socio-ritual interactions where monuments offer places for gatherings. Furthermore, megaliths demonstrate understandings of geometrical and astronomical knowledge in society that was not thought to be established for centuries.

Megalithic monuments of Atlantic Europe have long attracted attention from those who are interested in the early past of mankind. The word megalith originates from the Greek, meaning ‘great stone’ and is used when describing stone structures set upright in the Earth dated from 5000 to 500 BC in Atlantic Europe (Balter, 1993).

These massive stone structures consist of some of the most famous and visually spectacular archaeological discoveries in the world and signify extensive technical ingenuity and organisation that would be essential to their construction. Their significance is also connected with the development and establishment of the first farming communities in the Neolithic, where their craftsmanship reflects the establishment of territorialism and community identity.

These monuments signify the elaborate transformation in response to the changing demographic and social reorganisation within these agricultural communities. At this level of socio-political complexity, monumental architecture also becomes an integral part of distinguishing the upper classes from the lower ones (Trigger, 1990). Megaliths are also imbued with symbolic and astronomical meanings, which embody both physical and conceptual philosophies about the nature of the world that was inhabited by early agricultural communities. Therefore, their significance is not only a marker of the development of community reorganisation, but reflects a greater connection with the universe and the spiritual realm.

Monumental architecture was one of Gordon Childe’s criteria of urban civilisation, where monumental building is still employed by archaeologists as an index of the development of social complexity (Scarre, 2002). He argued that the whole European megalithic phenomenon was an indirect reflection of travelling bands of missionaries along the Atlantic coastlines (Sherratt, 1990). Starting in the Mediterrean, he imagined groups of sailors travelling northwards along the Atlantic coast bringing a new religion and the monumental settings that it demanded (MacKie, 1977).

Therefore, he assumed more of an outward spread of megalithic builders from a more developed region like the Mediterranean. Although later radiocarbon chronologies have severed Childe’s diffusionist link, megaliths remain highly important when understanding early forms of social organisation and territorial perception in relation to the surrounding landscape (Sherratt, 1990; Thomas, 1988). With the minimal evidence for farming within the Mesolithic, monuments have been seen as a monument that has been linked to the development of farming within the northwest of Europe (Chapman, 1981; Rowley-Conwy, 2011). The areas under consideration here include western France, Britain, northern Germany and Poland and southern Scandinavia (Sherrat, 1990).

To compare, if we were to look at Central Europe, native groups were associated with more easily transmissible features such as livestock, pottery and cereal cultivation to produce characteristic village patterns (Sherratt, 1990; Thomas, 1988). Here, the spread of horticulture to a new ecological setting was directly associated with the development of nucleated, timber village structures and community structure (Rodder, 1984, p. 51). In addition, cemeteries and earth-built structures are not uncommon within central Europe; where their association with monumental burials rarely exists.

On the western and northern margins of Europe, cereal cultivation is favourably correlated with megaliths and monumental surrogates (Rodder, 1984, p. 51;Sherratt, 1990). The dominance of these megaliths in its place of timber villages is not simply due to the absence of raw materials in specific regions. It can be, therefore, argued that these tombs were a basic feature of early cereal cultivation, where the material infrastructure and the organisation of labour are crucial to the establishment of horticulture (Thomas, 1988).

The construction of megalithic monuments also signifies a level of permanence or sedentary lifestyle within the region. Renfrew (1981) argues that megalithic monuments are not only associated with agriculture, but reflects community establishment that signifies the presence or territorial ownership.

This is understood through the immigrant Neolithic societies of central Europe where village communities consisted of residential units and longhouses, whose construction was directly related to the co-operation of several households (Sherratt, 1990). Likewise in Western Europe, the development of farming would have produced similar alterations in society necessitating radial communal organisation. However, in order to reproduce this social mechanism in the absence of large, stable residential units required the manufacture of some equivalent formal mark of unity (Hodder, 1984; Renfrew, 1981).

The development of monumental tombs was the surrogate for the living and acted as a permanent house of the dead amongst the insubstantial huts dispersed throughout the Western Europe (Sherratt, 1990). Furthermore, the level of effort and consideration that went into the craftsmanship of these monuments reflect the importance of these structures within their community, where monuments mark a meaningful place where people divide up the countryside as far as ritual and symbolic activities.

Therefore, they are thought to have an intense occupation period and served their communities for many generations, acting as the burial places for the founding ancestors, communal ossuaries and as a continuing focus for ritual (Sherratt, 1990).

The majority of megalithic monuments in Atlantic Europe are associated with multiple or individual burial grounds in the form of communal tombs (Bradley, 1998). The level of effort that has been exerted in the manufacture of such monuments reflects their significance or in turn, the importance of ritualistic and symbolic behaviour within society.

In particular, passage graves established in Iberia, Ireland and Brittany probably went through several stages of development, where the earliest would have been smaller simple structures (MacKie, 1977). Later developments saw the increase of confidence and skill levels, resulting in the organisation of elaborate and ambitious funerary sites. For example, it is estimated that the tomb of Quanterness needed over 7 000 man-hours of labour for its construction (Renfrew, 1983). Chambers also became more regular, occasionally more cruciform in plan, passages and mounds became larger and decorations emerged (Thomas, 1990).

Ireland has the greatest concentration of megalithic tombs, where these process discussed above emerged three massive tombs in the Boyne Valley Group: Knowth, Dowth and Newgrange (MacKie, 1977; Thomas, 1990; Sheridan, 1986). These Irish passage graves show a phenomenon with architectural similarities with those from Brittany and Iberia, although the pottery and other objects found in them are purely local typology (MacKie, 1977).

Entrance stone with megalithic art. Wiki Commons

In some tombs that have been excavated, there are also sharp contrasts in burial practices. For example, Carrowkeel and Loughcrew have passage graves where the cremated bones have formed a layer 15 centimetres thick on the floors of the chambers. It is believed that cremation was used over many generations, however thought to be adopted from the local Neolithic population (MacKie, 1977). These alterations in burial practices throughout Western Europe are indications of the religious and symbolic practices that were once practiced within these communities.

When analysing these monumental burials it is also possible to determine the social arrangement or presence of hierarchy within the community (Sheridan, 1985). It is most likely that any evidence for this would be within the burials themselves. However, one possible way to determine hierarchy, without the analysis of grave goods is to determine the effort and time taken to construct the tomb itself (Patton, 1993; Renfrew, 1981).

Renfrew (1981) explains this through the division of status seen in monuments of southern Britain; where Long Barrows represent a labour investment of 104 man-hours. Conversley, the two prime monuments such as Stonehenge and Silbury Hill suggest labour exceeding 107 man-hours. Although Renfrew’s theory so far is not a rigorous one, it shows that the most of these sites with more elaborate graves are heavily dispersed.

Furthermore, the presence of ‘collective’ tombs with multiple people buried in one place over a longer time period implies that there are already social groups existing within the population (Furholt, LuthJohannes & Muller, 2001; pp. 281). Behind these communal burials must lie groups of people whose membership or involvement is a necessary criterion in order to be buried there (Renfrew, 1981). Perhaps the more common way to determine social stratification within a social group is the presence of grave goods within the tombs. Grave goods are sparse within most megalithic tombs and even then only in the simplest forms (Renfrew, 1983; Sheridan, 1985).

These finds are generally restricted to pottery, polished stone axes and chipped stone tools (Furholt, LuthJohannes & Muller, 2001; pp. 277). This is supported by the grave goods found with jumbled bones found on the main floor chamber of the tomb of Quanterness. Although they were minimal, a few pieces of chipped flint; three polished stone knives and fragments of 34 pots (Renfrew, 1983).

The symbolic meanings locked within Megalithic structures are represented through internal and external components and the raw materials that were used to create them. Monumental architecture may be said to be full of contradictions, which relate to social and religious aspects of Neolithic cosmology (Midgely, 2008). Although it may not be obvious, there are elements within Megalithic structures that function both physically and symbolically.

Midgely 2010 contrasts the light of the exterior with the darkness of the interior, further juxtaposing the horizontal and vertical by describing the horizontally arranged dry stonewalling. Furthermore, the hard stone boulders contrast with softer materials such as the earth or clay used on the floor with the mounds contrasting the hard bones from the soft flesh (Midgely, 2010).

The significance of colours within megalithic monuments is uncertain, however signifies a mystical or symbolic relationship between colours and architecture of these structures. These have been argued to be among the earliest and most emphatic symbols, perhaps related to vivid interpretations of life on earth or afterlife (Birren, 1978). In particular, white is utilised in major structural elements including boulders, dry-stone walling, and burnt flint on the chamber floor or white sheets of bark inserted between slabs (Midgely, 2010).

In addition the western façade of Grønjægers Høj dolmen has red stones, which are contrasted dramatically with the white capstones covering the burial chamber (Midgely, 2008). The interpretation of colours may symbolise diverse human experiences and therefore can and offer a wider range of possible interpretations.

Grønjægers Høj : Wiki Commons

The multiple raw materials that were used when constructing these structures, some exotic and others relatively common suggest that the way people thought was merged with the construction of tombs. These raw materials were gathered and moulded into new shapes, representing life, death and rebirth, which were incorporated into a continuous cycle employed by future generations (Midgely, 2008).

Behavioural and social practices within social communities of the megalithic culture can also be interpreted through the analysis of art within monumental tombs. Furthermore, some of the art is also reflected in surviving artefacts, which allows their contexts to be further analysed. First, megalithic art is thought to trace a progression from a naturalistic approach to more abstract motifs, particularly in Brittany, relating to an obvious advancement in prehistoric society (Bradley, 1989). Secondly, it considers the continuation of abstract art through Boyne Valley, which later progressed into other media throughout the British Isles (Bradley, 1989).

These sequences in overlap to some extent which is therefore, once thought to reflect a smooth linkage between communities from those regions. In particular, there are multiple examples of art on upright stones (menhirs), but the greater part of artistic motifs is represented inside the burial chamber of megalithic tombs or in the passage that is thought to communicate with the spiritual world (Shee Twohig, I981). Like previously stated, the majority of this art is a reflection of naturalistic and more schematic depictions of axes, tools, ploughs, bows and arrows, and more controversially, the identification of boats (Bradley, 1989; Shee Twohig, I981).

These images may reflect a connection with clearing and working with the land, where the bows and possible boats may indicate the continued use of the natural landscape. In addition, both in the early tombs and on menhirs there are further symbols that most likely have anthropomorphic significance (Bradley, 1989). These images became more profound in later deposits where they generally became significantly larger and employed grander stones in their construction.

Art forms progressed into motifs that had a greater array of non-representational designs including entopic phenomena (Bradley, 1989). A clear representation of this progression to more elaborate art is identified in the decoration of Gavrinis, which identifies two distinct phases; the first comprises of bows, hafted arrows and an axe, whereas the second consists of axe-heads, anthropomorphic symbols and parallel curved lines with nested arcs and spirals (Bradley, 1989).

Decorated slabs from the Gavrinis passage (replica in Bougon Museum).

These motifs at Gavrinis show a strong correlation with decorated tombs from Newgrange and Knowth (Eogan, 1986; O’Kelly & O’Kelly, 1982). These correlations may reflect interactions between these different regions, giving rise to trade networks and interfaces from people of different communities. It is from this evidence that megalithic art supports the theory of territorialism, where society utilised art forms to reflect community. It is also through particular images that the elaboration of symbolic principles developed to reflect more abstract behaviour.

More recent studies show that these Megalithic monuments were not only used for sacred burial grounds and ritualistic purposes as they reflect a greater understanding of geometry and astronomy than previously believed. In particular, monuments where stones stand in circular features are thought to be of Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age, reflecting a second great phase of megalith building from approximately 2500 to 1500 BC (MacKie, 1977).

Professor A. Thom has surveyed a large number of archaeological sites, which provided the basis where he deduced the existence of the Megalithic Yard (MY), Megalithic Geometry and Megalithic Astronomy (Thom, 1971). It has been suggested that these structures have been built around flattened circles and egg shapes where their perimeters always are constructed out of areas whose circles radii are systematically multiples of Megalithic Yards (Moir, Ruggles, & Norris, 1980). The discovery of this elaborate geometrical knowledge was previously thought to emerge much later in history within Greek lifestyle approximately 2000 years later (MacKie, 1977).

A sophisticated geometrical understanding is not the only quality that has been uncovered through the assessment of circular megaliths throughout Atlantic Europe (Bradley, 1993). Many of these structures through their arrangement portray an association with practical astronomical functions (Moir, Ruggles, & Norris, 1980; MaKie, 1977; Service & Bradbery, 1979); Thom, 1971).

This connection with astronomical features is believed to have started with observations between the tides, the Moon and the Sun (Thom, 1971; 1977). By tracking the movement of the Sun it would be theoretically possible to construct an accurate calendar. Likewise, although the lunar cycles are far more complex, it is possible for predictions to be made on the occurrence of solar eclipses, which would give power to religious leaders or prophets within these communities.

Many of these megalithic structures have been constructed in observing positions for watching the sun at the solstices and equinoxes or the moon at the limits of its more complex cycles of movements across a sky (MacKie, 1977). One primary example of this is the site of Ballochroy on the west Kintyre where the midsummer solstitial sun is seen on the slope towards where the largest stone is orientated (Thom, 1977; Thom & Thom, 1977). Another site more precise then Ballochroy is the site of Kintraw, where the sun just reappears momentarily in the notch to the right. However, perhaps the most important feature is seen after climbing the steep hill where an artificial platform showing a series of stones, which precisely reflects the equinoxes of the Sun’s declination (Thom & Thom, 1977).

The two largest Megalithic lunar observatories in Europe are those in Carnac and Stonehenge, which both operate in different principles. In Carnac, it is seen from a universal foresight from eight distant positions round it where the Moon rises or sets behind the stone at one or other of the standstills (Thom & Thom, 1977).

Stonehenge is dated around 2800 BC and has been extensively studied to illustrate lunar cycles. The construction of Stonehenge was undertaken in multiple stages, where the building stage labelled Phase 3-A brought about the spectacular monument that we see today (Service & Bradbery, 1979).

Each of the upright stones is evenly spaced around the circle and occupies the space of 1 rod; with each of the gaps in between is half a rod (MacKie, 1977). Thom argues that this arrangement closely fits into the geometrical schemes that have been superimposed over them, where true north clips the ends of two opposing stones. The strong correlation with these megalithic structures and astronomy reflects that their makers had a solid grasp with the nature of the tides, moon and the sun.

Within a thousand years of establishing themselves, the first farmers started to build megaliths in the most part of Western Europe. This strong association with the development of agricultural communities within Western Europe and the establishment of megaliths indicates that their construction was based on the radiation of social complexity and organisation within these communities. As most of these monuments are in the form of tombs or communal burial grounds with the presence of symbolic art forms, reflecting the importance of supernatural beliefs and ritualistic activities within society.

These tombs reflect art forms and symbolic portrayals that reflect a greater understanding of realities of life and the anomalous entities of the multi-dimensional universe. Furthermore, the foundations of geometrical and astronomical knowledge mirrored in their construction signifies an advancement that was not thought to have been made in society for another 2 000 years.

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Header Image : Poulnabrone dolmen – 5,000 year old portal tomb in the limestone Burren area of County Clare, Ireland

Written by Ashleigh Murszewski

HeritageDaily : Archaeology News : Archaeology Press Releases

References:

Rodder, I., 1984, ‘Burials, houses, women and men in the European Neolithic’ in Ideology, Power and Prehistory, eds. Miller, C. & Tilley, C., Cambridge University Press.

Rowley-Conwy, P., 2011, Westward Ho; The spread of Agriculture from Central Europe to the Atlantic, Current Anthropology, Vol. 52, Supplement 4, pp. 431- 451.

Service, A. & Bradbery, J., 1979, Megaliths and their Mysteries; the standing stones of Old Europe, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London.

Scarre, C., 2002, Monuments and Landscape in Atlantic Europe: Perception and Society during the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, Routledge, New York.

Shee Twohig, E. I981. The megalithic art of Western Europe. Oxford: Clarendon Press

Sheridan, A., 1985, Megaliths and Megalomania: An account, and interpretation, of the development of passage tombs in Ireland, The Journal of Irish Archaeology III, Vol. 3, pp. 17- 19.

Sheridan, A. 1986, Megaliths and megalomania: an account, and interpretation, of the development of passage graves in Ireland. Journal of Irish Archaeology, Vol. 3, pp. 17-30.

Sherratt, A., 1990, The Genesis of Megaliths: Monumentality, Ethnicity and Social Complexity in Neolithic North- West Europe, World Archaeology, Vol. 22, No. 2, Monuments and the Monumental pp. 147- 167.

Thom, A., 1971, Megalithic Lunar Observatories, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Thom, A., 1977, Astronomical Significance of Prehistoric Monuments in Western Europe, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Vol. 276, pp. 149-156.

Thom, A & Thom, S., 1977, Megalithic Astronomy, Journal of Navigation, Vol. 30, Issue 1, pp 1 ­ 14.

Thomas, J. 1988. Neolithic explanations revisited: the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in Britain and south Scandinavia. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, Vol. 54, pp. 59-66.

Thomas, J., 1990, Monuments from the inside: The Case of the Irish Megalithic Tombs, World Archaeology, Vol. 22, No. 2, Monuments and the Monumental pp. 168-178.

Trigger, B., 1990, Monumental Architecture: A Thermodynamic Explanation of Symbolic Behaviour, World Archaeology, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 119-132.significance of Megalithic Monuments in Atlantic Europe?

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Stonehenge -- progress or aberration?

This is a fun cartoon about Stonehenge -- but it got me thinking about whether Stonehenge really was "progress" in the sense that it was a development from something else that was inferior, and the forerunner of something that came later that was even more sophisticated.  Actually there was nothing much before it that you can say was clearly related -- Woodhenge?  Pentre Ifan and the other dolmens?  Stone circles and henges?   Hmm  -- not very convincing.

And what came after?  Nothing.  Stonehenge does not seem to have led to anything very much.  So was it really just a dead end or an aberration?  Back once again to the thought that it was in fact nothing more than a wild flight of fancy on the part of some clan or family, and that it was simply  a very early folly, designed to demonstrate status or an ability to do something BIG.

I know that many will be outraged by this thought, and will claim that it was a very sophisticated observatory, a set of alignments tied to astronomical observations with great mathematical precision etc etc.  In other words, it was a sort of high point in civilization, after which things went backwards. 

But I don't like the idea of "lost knowledge" and "lost wisdom" -- so that brings me back to the idea that the whole thing probably had no great significance at all.

Friday, 13 September 2013

The Stones in Weston Big Wood


 Many thanks to Pete G for this excellent photo of some of the stones in the wood.  According to the map there are (or were) at least six stones lying on the surface -- waiting to be identified......

They are in Weston Big Wood, not far from a fairly wide trackway that runs NW - SE.

Brent Knoll, Steepholm and Flatholm



I have just had a very entertaining letter from a gentleman of advanced years (well, he's a bit older then me!) who was heavily involved in a jolly jape in 1973.  Apparently a well-known geologist got all excited because he had just come across an article by another well-known geologist which said that a bluestone had been found on Brent Knoll in Somerset.  (I assume he must mean the 1971 article by Geoff Kellaway.)  Anyway, that led to great discussions about Steepholm and Flatholm in the Bristol Channel, on the basis that if ice had carried one or more bluestones as far as Brent Knoll, then the ice must also have crossed the Bristol Channel islands and must -- presumably -- have left some bluestones there as well.

In the midst of all the excitement, a top BBC producer was getting ready to film a great expedition to check out these localities; and plans were made for a party of four to spend 4 days camping on Steepholm, ferried in by RAF helicopter (from St Athan?) and collected again afterwards.  The whole thing was set up, with the RAF and the BBC ready to roll, when the geologist fell out of his loft, broke his arm, and went bankrupt, while owing my correspondent some money and a tin of coffee.  (I kid you not! You couldn't make this up.........)

So the trip was never made, and the BBC film failed to materialise.

Wonderful stuff.  We have touched on the two islands before, and Rob and Richard have scotched the idea that there is any bluestone present on either of them (as far as I am concerned, I would prefer never to say never....) -- but what about Brent Knoll?  Does anybody have any info on what may or may not be lying about there?

Memo to the RAF and the BBC -- if you would like to fly me out to the islands to check out the presence or absence of bluestones, I'm up for it.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Mammoth evidence for Devensian climate change

 

This new study provides yet more evidence for the climatic oscillations that occurred during the last glacial episode -- called the Devensian.  Gradually we are getting a more reliable picture of how the climate cooled and warmed, and when, and what ground conditions might have been like in Southern England -- including Salisbury Plain.  This all feeds into our ponderings on periglacial stripes and solutional rills.........

DNA study suggests hunting did not kill off mammoth

By Pallab Ghosh Science correspondent, BBC News
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-24034954

Researchers have found evidence to suggest that climate change, rather than humans, was the main factor that drove the woolly mammoth to extinction.

A DNA analysis shows that the number of creatures began to decrease much earlier than previously thought as the world's climate changed.

It also shows that there was a distinct population of mammoth in Europe that died out around 30,000 years ago.

The results have published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The view many researchers had about woolly mammoths is that they were a hardy, abundant species that thrived during their time on the planet.

But according to the scientist who led the research, Dr Love Dalen of the Swedish Museum of Natural History, the study shifts that view.

"The picture that seems to be emerging is that they were a fairly dynamic species that went through local extinctions, expansions and migrations. It is quite exciting that so much was going on," he told BBC News.

Dr Dalen worked with researchers in London to analyse DNA samples from 300 specimens from woolly mammoths collected by themselves and other groups in earlier studies

The scientists were able to work out how many mammoths existed at any given time from the samples as well as tracing their migration patterns. They looked at the genetic diversity in their samples - the less diverse the lower the population

They found that the species nearly went extinct 120,000 years ago when the world warmed up for a while. Numbers are thought to have dropped from several million to tens of thousands but numbers recovered as the planet entered another ice age.

The researchers also found that the decline that led to their eventual extinction began 20,000 years ago when the Ice Age was at its height, rather than 14,000 years ago when the world began to warm again as previously thought.

They speculate that it was so cold that the grass on which they fed became scarce. The decline was spurred on as the Ice Age ended, possibly because the grassland on which the creatures thrived was replaced by forests in the south and tundra in the north.

The reason they died out has been a matter of considerable scientific debate. Some have argued that humans hunted them to extinction while others have said that changes in the climate was the main factor.

A criticism of the climate extinction argument is that the world warmed well before the creatures became extinct and so that could not have been the cause.

The new results show that mammoths did indeed nearly go extinct between Ice Ages and so backs the view that climate change was the principal cause for their demise.

These results back a computer simulation of conditions at the time carried out by researchers at Durham University in 2010.

And of course other animals, including humans, became more active after the Ice Age and so competition with other species and hunting may also have been a factor in their extinction, though not the principle cause, argues Prof Adrian Lister of the NHM.

"During the last ice age, between about 50,000 and 20,000 years ago, there were substantial movements of mammoth populations - European populations being replaced by waves of migration from the east, for example," he said.

"But from about 20,000 years ago onwards, the population started the dramatic decline that led to its extinction, first on the mainland about 10,000 years ago, and finally on some outlying Arctic islands. The pattern seems to fit forcing by natural climate change: any role of humans in the process has yet to be demonstrated".'