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....
To order, click

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Britice Project revises Devensian ice margins

For years I have been arguing that the Devensian ice margin shown on BRITICE maps is all wrong, since it defies glaciological logic and does not accord with the evidence on the ground.  Now, at last, it seems that common sense is breaking out.  The latest version of the map (dated 2016) is shown below.

Nothing much has changed in the Celtic Sea sector, but in the outer reaches of the Bristol Channel the ice margin has been moved sharply eastwards to incorporate Chris Rolfe's work on the glaciation of Lundy Island, the work of John Hiemstra and others on Gower,  and maybe even my work on this blog, where I have pointed out that the ice limit shown in Pembrokeshire was all wrong, and that Cadey Island appears to have been glaciated in the Devensian.  It's only a matter of time before the BRITICE team (led by Prof Chris Clark) come to recognize that Devensian ice probably did affect parts of the coast of Devon and Cornwall as well.

The ice lobe occupying the Celtic Sea looks much more sensible now, since as I have repeatedly pointed out, you do not get narrow elongated lobes of ice in unconstrained situations.

Things now start to get rather interesting, particularly in South Pembrokeshire, where it has always been assumed that the surface glacial deposits are probably Anglian rather than Devensian in age.  But the area is now shown on the 2016 BRITICE map as having been glaciated in the Devensian.  Watch this space.......

Severn estuary heavy minerals support Irish Sea Glacier thesis

With a certain amount of generous help (and not revealing my sources) I have now been able to see some scans of pages from a Bristol University doctorate thesis from 1974.  The results of the doctorate research were never published, because the author obtained a job immediately after its completion and never, thereafter, managed to find the time to write things up.  At the base of the page I reproduce an OCR document, with many corrections because parts of the scans are indecipherable.  Please forgive the inevitable errors, but this is the best I can do.......

The most interesting point to come out of all this is that the heavy minerals do not appear to have come from secondary or sedimentary rocks in the immediate vicinity of the Severn Estuary, so they must have come from primary sources either in North Wales or in the North of Scotland.  So they must have been carried in sediments by the Irish Sea Glacier as it flowed southwards initially and then broadly eastwards up the Bristol Channel and into the Severn estuary. This is of course confirms what many geologists and geomorphologists have been saying for many years.  Dr Griffiths suggests that the "immature heavy mineral suite" and the relative abundance of the heavy minerals in question, accords with Kellaway's assumptions about ice movement -- and this also supports his assertion that there was a distinct ice stream within the glacier which carried erratic material from Scotland, Northern Ireland and North Wales.

This brought to mind the work of CB Crampton on the heavy minerals in the glacial and other deposits of the Vale of Glamorgan, in which he concluded that there were various heavy mineral suites which bore little resemblance to those of the underlying rocks, and which must have been carried either by southward-flowing Welsh ice or by eastward-flowing Irish Sea ice..

Reports and transactions (Cardiff Naturalists' Society), 1900-1981 -
Vol. XCI 1961-63
CB Crampton: Certain aspects of soils developed on calcareous parent materials in south Wales

 In my mind this confirms that Irish Sea ice must not just have affected the coasts of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, but that it must have reached Mendip and the Bristol area as well.  The heavy mineral assemblage studied by Elwyn Griffiths cannot in its entirety have been transported upstream from the Bristol Channel into the Severn Estuary by tidal streams, since the prevailing flow and direction of sediment transport in this sort of situation has to be downstream, towards the open sea.

Now I would like to know how this research ties in with the work on Flat Holm a couple of years ago.  How many of those pebbles collected from the beaches came from Scotland and North Wales?  And what does the evidence tell us about erratic comminution over distance and over time?

The evidence accumulates........


(Note:  thanks to Dr Rob Ixer for correcting various spelling mistakes in the following -- now updated.)

Extract:  Dr Elwyn Griffiths, Ph D Thesis, University of Bristol (1974): “Sedimentary Response To The Tidal regime Of The Upper Severn Estuary. "

Extract:  Dr Elwyn Griffiths, Ph D Thesis, University of Bristol (1974): “Sedimentary Response To The Tidal regime Of The Upper Severn Estuary. "

P 10
Study of the interactions ??  between wave and tidal energy indicates that wave activity, when present, only modifies the distribution of heavy mineral concentrations already produced by tidal currents.

This implies that the degree of selective sorting is mainly attributed to differences in current velocities. The highest parts of the sandbars, areas of deposition,  experience the lowest overall velocities, and channels and constrictions of the study area experience the highest overall velocities.

Finally, an analogy to the process of current selective sorting is seen on a smaller scale at Lydney sandbar. Allen (1968) illustrates heavy mineral concentrates along the crests of straight asymmetrical ripples from this site. Segregation must have taken place, during a decreasing current when the critical erosional velocity was surpassed for the light fraction but not for the heavy fraction. As the shear stress is lowest in the troughs of ripples (Raukivi,1963) quartz grains once deposited here will remain as long as the critical erosional velocity is not surpassed.


The provenance of the upper Severn Estuary sands is best determined by the categorisation of certain heavy mineral associations.  These associations, indicative of major source rocks, have been defined by Krumbein and Pettijohn (1938); Feo-Codecido (1956); and many others.

Using Feo-Codecido’s provenance scheme it is evident that the heavy mineral suite is immature and that the major source rocks are contact and dynamothermal metamorphics and basic igneous rocks. The low content of tourmaline, RUTILE and zircon (RTZ. index) suggest that reworked source rocks are minor. The perfect crystalline forms of tourmaline, garnet and hornblende, and the angular fragments of kyanite, staurolite, diopside and enstatite, rule out prolonged weathering and recycling from a secondary source. Also, the high proportions of hornblende, garnet, kyanite, staurolite, and andalusite (see Appendix 4) and the presence of glaucophane suggest that the dynamothermal metamorphic rocks are a primary and dominant source. The only metamorphic rocks within the catchment area of the Severn river are the Malverns but the linear outcrop does not contain the above assemblage.

Because of the lack of primary source rocks in the estuary drainage basin and the catchment areas of rivers flowing into the upper reaches of the Bristol Channel, reworked sedimentary rock sources must be considered. To produce an almost saturated immature heavy mineral suite plus metamorphic rock fragments the presumed sedimentary rock source must be undergoing relatively rapid erosion and have a large areal extent within the drainage basin. Also, the former source of these rocks must have been primarily metamorphic and igneous rocks.

The Old Red Sandstone and the Triassic rocks are the most common, outcropping along the shores of the estuary, sometimes forming the estuary bedrock, and within the catchment areas of the two major rivers, the Severn and the Wye.  Allen (1965) showed that the transport path and source rocks of the Upper Old Red Sandstone of the Welsh Borderland, based on feldspar associations, was from North Wales and the Mona Complex in Anglesey. It was noted, however, that undoubtedly contributing quartz, orthoclase, some of the opaques and iron oxides, the Old Red Sandstone of the Welsh Borderland is low in garnet and other high ranking metamorphic minerals.  Similarly, the Triassic rocks which possibly contribute fluorite, apatite, and sedimentary rock fragments again do not contain the relevant igneous and metamorphic heavy mineral suites. The Carboniferous Limestone, which in the Bristol district is rich in haematite and magnetite, and the Jurassic rocks of the Cotswolds, are considered to be unlikely sources.

When trying to determine source rocks which are not within the present sedimentary basin, and in this case with no direct connections, the ensuing discussion becomes rather tenuous. The nearest possible source rocks of any real extent is the Mona Complex of Anglesey and more  probably the metamorphic rocks of N. Scotland, which are 200 km and 500 km distant, respectively. The only possible method of transport from such an isolated region would be ice action.

There are known extensive and thick glacial deposits in the lower reaches of the Severn Estuary (Hawkins, pers. comm.). Kellaway (1970) proposed that the glacial erratics and the Bluestones of Stonehenge, which are believed to be derived from Pembrokeshire, were brought into the area by eastward movement of the Irish Ice. Large garnetiferous boulders have been found at Porthleven in Cornwall and at Portishead, near Bristol, which are thought to have been transported by the Irish Sea Ice from Scotland. (Hamilton, pers. comm.)

The glacial deposits ??  found in the Bristol region may, possibly, have been dragged by the ice from the floor of the Celtic Sea. It is possible that the sands of the study area have a similar mode of origin; but to confirm this, further exacting provenance studies are necessary.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

National Park: we want Rhosyfelin to be a quarry, and therefore it is a quarry

 Nelson makes good use of his blind eye (Jonathan Gifford)

My spat with the Pembs Coast National Park over their walks leaflet on Rhosyfelin rolls on.  I have been trying for months to get the wording on the leaflet changed.  See

More than six months ago I complained about the inaccuracies in the leaflet, and when nothing was done I complained again, this time to the National Park Officer and various other senior officers.  At last I have received a reply from the Park's Archaeologist Phil Bennett,  agreeing to make a few minor changes but insisting that the heading should still be:

Craig Rhosyfelin: A Stonehenge Bluestone Quarry

The following changes to the text have now been made:

Look Out For: Craig Rhosyfelin Crag, source of at least one of the bluestones from the inner, bluestone circle at Stonehenge (it’s the inner circle that contains the mix of stones, it’s the inner horseshoe/oval that is solely dolerite)
And overleaf: It is here that at least one of the famous bluestones were quarried and later taken to Stonehenge.

Phil explained himself thus:
Although aimed at a general and non specialist audience we have taken advice from a range of senior academics undertaking current research to inform the text. The method of transport of the stones to Stonehenge using oxen is one of several hypotheses and we feel that its inclusion in the text encourages walkers to consider the vast effort that was required to make the journey.

My reply is appended below.  Nothing further will be done, of course, because this is not about scientific integrity or the truth -- it is about wild conclusions being drawn in haste, about an obsession with demonstrating how wonderful the National Parks "cultural heritage" is, and about saving face.  The truth is whatever the National Park deems it to be, and having placed Prof MPP on a pedestal as one of the Park's heroic figures, he has to stay there.  As for the Parks apparent determination to completely ignore the two peer-reviewed papers by Dyfed, John and myself, that brings to mind a little article which Tony kindly brought to my attention.  As Nelson said when looking through a spyglass with his blind eye: "Ships? I see no ships...."


Hi Phil
Thanks for this.  There is no quarry at Rhosyfelin -- that is the considered opinion of Dyfed, John and myself, and of all of the senior glacial geomorphologists who have visited the site.  You have seen the two peer-reviewed articles.  Why do you persist in refusing to acknowledge this research and this considered opinion?  We are less than impressed.  As for the "range of senior academics undertaking current research", we all know about MPP and his colleagues who have staked their reputations on the "Neolithic quarrying" thesis -- but the fact of the matter is that they have NOT produced any solid evidence for quarrying, no matter how many times they may tell you that they have.  Why is there apparently a blockage relating to glaciation and glacial transport?  Do you really think the public is incapable of coping with a scientific debate, in which there are two theories coming from rival camps?  That's the way science works, and it's fine to acknowledge it.
The title would lose nothing if it was as follows:
Craig Rhosyfelin: A Stonehenge Bluestone Source
Oxen?  Bluestones?  Vast efforts? Taken to Stonehenge?
I repeat -- all we know is that some of the debris at Stonehenge probably came from here or hereabouts.  We do NOT know that one of the monoliths came from here.  For goodness sake, ask the geologists!
Sorry, but you are acting like a marketing offshoot of the MPP digging team rather than an organization which has a respect for scientific accuracy.  Can I suggest you just scrap this leaflet and start again?
Best wishes



Monday, 27 June 2016

Page views go over 900,000

I have just noticed that the number of page views on this site has crept over 900,000.  Next milestone -- the million mark.......

Saturday, 25 June 2016

All you need is communism and a lot of people........

Thanks to Simon for sending this in...... I dare say that if you can carry a Chinese dragon boat like this, you can also carry a bluestone.........!!  Was Stonehenge built by the Chinese?

Friday, 24 June 2016


I get a lot of messages from blog contributors, some of whom request personal replies -- not for publication.  Can I remind our friendly chatting community that it's better in such cases not to contact me via this blog, since I do not get to see Email addresses and therefore cannot reply personally, in private.  Therefore, if you want to conduct a personal conversation, or send me a confidential message, please contact me by normal Email, addressed to brianjohn4"at"  Many thanks.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Bedd yr Afanc geology

The geology of the area around Bedd yr Afanc, after the BGS "Geology of Britain" viewer.  Two different scales.  FVS = Fishguard Volcanic Series.  Key locations are also shown.

I have been looking at the BGS maps of the Brynberian area in order to try and ascertain where the edge of the Fishguard Volcanic series may be. Brynberian and Rhosyfelin lie within the outcrop area, but does Bedd yr Afanc? It's rather confusing. The gentle rise on which the passage grave stands is thickly covered with till, so bedrock is invisible. At one scale on the BGS map Bedd yr Afanc is shown as lying within the FVS area, and at another scale it is shown as virtually on the edge, with FVS rocks to the north and Lower Ordovician (Llanvirn) shales, mudstones and sandstones to the south. At one scale on the map, the FVS rocks extend all the way to Tafarn y Bwlch. let us say that because of the difficulties of finding bedrock in much of this area, there are many inaccuracies in the mapping.........

Just to build on some previous posts, here are my current thoughts.

At Bedd yr Afanc there appear to be at least 16 stones incorporated in the monument -- it all depends how many of the "outliers" you choose to incorporate.
The stones are in two rough rows, and only project above the surface for 40 cms or so. They vary a lot in shape and dimensions -- and rock type too. Some are made of dolerite, some are volcanic ashes, rhyolites and what appear to be gabbros. The stones have almost certainly just been picked up in the immediate vicinity and built into the monument. They are typical glacial erratics made of rocks from the Fishguard Volcanic Series and from related dolerite and other intrusions -- and as far as I can see not one of them has travelled very far from its place of origin. Not one of them can properly be described as a "pillar". The facets and broken surfaces seem to be of several different ages, but none of the edges is particularly sharp.

Where are the capstones? There are plenty of flattish stones embedded in the turf in the vicinity. Some may actually be embedded in the turf in the "passage" itself.

Many of the stones lean inwards towards the axis of the monument. The passage is not aligned towards anything significant....... which seems to upset some people.

There are a number of boulders with rounded-off edges in the vicinity which seem to be made of a very similar bluish foliated rhyolite as that which is exposed at Rhosyfelin. The rock outcrops there are less than 2 km away, towards the NNE. Without proper geological analysis, the origins of these boulders cannot be reliably guessed at -- and there are of course many other outcrops of bluish foliated rhyolite in the Fishguard Volcanic Series to the N and NW.

Bluish foliated rhyolite boulder near the Bedd yr Afanc passage grave

If (as I suspect) the passage grave was made of stones picked up in the immediate neighbourhood, one might expect some of the "casts" of these stones to be revealed in any excavations. I hope that the archaeologists take note of that point. I can see it now -- they all start digging, find some casts, call them sockets, and rush to the conclusion that they have found "proto-Stonehenge" and that lots of monoliths were carted away from here to be re-set into the ground in the bluestone circle on Salisbury Plain. If the casts are scattered about, as I would expect, bang goes the proto-Stonehenge theory. If they are demonstrably arranged in a circle or oval, then we start to get into interesting territory! Let's see the colour of the evidence.

My tentative suggestion at the moment is that the geology at Bedd yr Afanc is dominated by thick glacial deposits that have been carried into the area by Irish Sea Ice travelling broadly from NE towards SW. That means that stones from the Craig Rhosyfelin outcrops might have been carried to the vicinity of Bedd yr Afanc and then dumped there. Other foliated rhyolite boulders may not be erratics at all, but may be locally derived. I hope that some serious geology can be done here, to work out the approximate provenances of the 16 or so stones used in the passage grave.

 Postulated ice movement directions for the Irish Sea Glacier at the maximum of the Devensian Glaciation.  The arrow shown for the Nevern Valley indicates a lobe of ice swinging towards the SW and culminating in the Tafarn y Bwlch end moraine.  The countryside around Rhosyfelin and Bedd yr Afanc must have been affected by this lobe.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Fishguard Volcanic Group

For those who are geologists, or who are just interested in the geology of the Preseli area, here is a newish paper about the Fishguard Volcanics.  It's very technical, and it concentrates on the Strumble - Pen Caer exposures, but it's good solid background info!

On the map, the FVG rocks are shown with the grey wash  -- the foliated rhyolites at Rhosyfelin belong within this group.

A re-appraisal of the petrogenesis and tectonic setting of the Ordovician Fishguard Volcanic Group, SW Wales
Geol. Mag.153 (3), 2016, pp. 410–425.

doi: 10.1017/S0016756815000461

New gallery of Pembrokeshire megalithic monuments

I have just come across this new Facebook page by Michael Jon Turner.  Simple and straightforward commentaries on the various standing stones and cromlechs, and excellent photos.  Take a look!

The Ancient Stones of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Severn Estuary heavy minerals

 Severn Estuary mudflats.  Image: Andy Hay (RSPB)

Some things come right out of the blue and hit you between the eyes.  I was checking something on the Amazon web site and came across this review of The Bluestone Enigma by somebody called Elwyn Griffiths:

Back in the 1970's, I did a study of the sediments of the Severn Estuary, not too far from Stonehenge. A small section of the study focused on their heavy mineral content which indicated the primary provenance of this saturated, immature and exotic mineral suite came from metamorphic and igneous rocks of N.W. Scotland and the Mona Complex of Anglesey of North Wales. Reading Kellaway's paper of 1971, I too suggested Irish Sea ice may have been the transport method for these sediments and left it at that. This was not the main thrust of my research, but it does lend support to the theory on the Bluestone Enigma authored by Brian John.

Does anybody out there know anything about Elwyn Griffiths and his research?  I have done some searching, and have drawn a blank..... but let us hope there is something in print, somewhere.....

The strange case of the invisible geomorphologists and the fantastical quarries

 "Alternative views?  I see just consensus, where I'm looking.........." (Pic:  Sherman Law)
Everybody who reads this blog (and there are rather a lot of you) and who keeps an eye on the national press knows that there is a jolly dispute going on between certain archaeologists and geologists who think there are at least two Neolithic bluestone quarries in Pembrokeshire, and certain geomorphologists who have looked at the evidence and who see no quarries.  In December 2015 there were banner headlines and purple prose in some of the most popular national newspapers outlining the two sides of the argument and carrying quotes from Mike Parker Pearson and me, among others. The articles all referred to at least one of the two peer-reviewed papers published at the end of 2015 by Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd, John Downes and myself. There have even been assorted mentions of the dispute in archaeological magazines.  These are the two articles published thus far:

Brian John, Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downes (2015). "Quaternary Events at Craig Rhosyfelin, Pembrokeshire." Quaternary Newsletter, October 2015 (No 137), pp 16-32.

Brian John, Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd and John Downes. 2015. OBSERVATIONS ON THE SUPPOSED “NEOLITHIC BLUESTONE QUARRY” AT CRAIG RHOSYFELIN, PEMBROKESHIRE". Archaeology in Wales 54, pp 139-148. (Publication 14th December 2015)

In the light of all this publicity it is therefore somewhat mystifying that the dispute appears to have escaped the attention of all but one of the authors of the 2015 Antiquity paper (see below). Only one, namely Rob Ixer, has acknowledged that there is a dispute going on, through his constructive contributions to this blog under assorted guises. And we thank him for that.  But six months after the publication of those two papers NOBODY has challenged any of the evidence we presented or our interpretations of it. No ripostes or refutations have been published, and no letters or alternative explanations of the features described have been submitted to the two journals involved, namely Quaternary Newsletter and Archaeology in Wales.  A thunderous silence prevails.

If there is no challenge to the points we have made, we have to assume that those points are unassailable. That is a reasonable assumption, since both papers were consulted on quite widely prior to publication, shown to other specialists, and then revised following careful peer review and editorial interventions. On that basis, the fact that they are completely ignored by most of the authors involved in the "Neolithic quarry" research is a cause for some concern. There should be a dialogue, but there is not. From where I stand, the tactic appears to be to pretend that there is a consensus on the reliability of the quarrying and human transport hypotheses, and that our two published papers are so far adrift of mainstream opinion that they should be ridiculed or retracted. Our friend Myris suggests that we should keep quiet and "move on". To put it mildly, that attitude is insulting to my fellow authors and myself and completely unacceptable in an academic context.

Now we come to the strange affair of the invisible geomorphologists. A little bird put the following comments onto the blog the other day:

"The MPP Antiquity paper and the BJ papers were sent as bundles to a range of geomorphologists, independant ice men in the first few months of this year and commented upon. No one wished to comment publically but there was no universal endorsement most wanted more data."
"..........your fixation on assigning tawdry malicious motives to those of us who disagree with you ............ is the reason why most people that were contacted with the bundle insisted that their names be kept quiet."

What does "no universal endorsement" mean?  As I have asked before, how many geomorphologists were consulted, and what were their names?  Were they glacial geomorphologists and glaciologists?  And if not, why not?  I'll hazard a guess that the group was very small, and that it included Dai Bowen, Chris Clark, Jim Scourse and Chris Green -- who have all featured on this blog before and who have all argued that the glacial transport of erratics from West Wales towards Salisbury Plain would have been "impossible."  Not one of them is a glaciologist.  We have our differences of opinion.  It would be natural enough for members of that small group to seek to maintain their previously published opinions, and for any other geomorphologists to say "I don't know the sites in question, so I cannot comment on whether one group in this debate has a better argument than the other."   It would also be natural enough to say "More evidence is needed."  But as we all know, the dig sites at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog have been filled in without any proper access being afforded to glacial geomorphologists.

We should remind the world that there are many more glaciologists and glacial geomorphologists (not to mention geologists) who have accepted in print that glacial transport of erratics from West Wales towards Wiltshire was perfectly possible during at least one glaciation.  I have named most of them in previous posts.

I have also named all the senior glacial geomorphologists who have been to the Rhosyfelin dig site in my company and accompanied by Prof MPP, including John Hiemstra, Danny McCarroll, Rick Shakesby, David Sugden, Simon Carr, David Evans and Martin Bates, and I have reported accurately that none of them has seen anything that makes them think of human quarrying.   Most of them are professors with vast field experience.  If any of them wants to contradict my reporting of our conversations, the opportunity is on this blog, here and now.  They have all interpreted the site as entirely natural, apart from the evidence of camp site occupation. That says it all....... so I would argue that the points made in our two papers represent a geomorphological consensus, until somebody comes along and argues otherwise.

Then I take issue with this:  "..........your fixation on assigning tawdry malicious motives to those of us who disagree with you ............ is the reason why most people that were contacted with the bundle insisted that their names be kept quiet."  What are the "tawdry malicious motives" referred to?  My only fixation is to try to get at the truth -- that is why this blog exists.   It is perfectly natural to seek to understand why certain people promote hypotheses which seem to me to be questionable, to say the least.  And the idea that senior academics are going to insist on anonymity, just because I might get upset if they say things on the record, is frankly preposterous.  Geomorphologists in my experience argue with each other all the time, and tend to call a spade a spade.   Why on earth would they worry about saying something I might disagree with?

So let's have names and opinions on the record.  It helps the archaeological cause not a jot if all the quarrying proponents can do is say "we have consulted various mysterious experts to check what is being said, and they have confidentially told us that there is no universal endorsement of the points made in those two peer-reviewed papers." 

There is a dispute, and there is no consensus.  It is absurd to pretend otherwise.

 The cause of all the bother:
Parker Pearson, M., 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.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

The rise of mythomania?

I learned a new word today -- mythomania.  I was reading an article in The Observer, about this chap called Chappell, who bought BHS for £1 from Philip Green.  He was described by a former BHS consultant as a mythomaniac -- apparently a term describing someone with "a tendency to lie, exaggerate or relate incredible imaginary adventures as if they had really happened."  The article observed that Walter Mitty was rather like that.........  but it occurs to me that there might me a lot of mythomaniacs in the archaeological establishment as well, given that storytelling and media impact are now more important than scientific methods and respect for scholarship.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Stonehenge: cremated remains from West Wales?

The latest twist to the MPP narrative of bluestone transport is revealed in the reports of the recent talk at the Hay Festival.  According to the Independent,  half a million cremated bone fragments at Stonehenge came from the west of Britain, potentially Wales.  According to the Telegraph, MPP says that 100,000 (just a fifth of the total)  fragments came from the west, possibly Wales.  That's a lot of fragments analysed and identified!

Apparently there is unpublished research showing that the cremations took place on pyres which were made of different types of timber.  We await with interest the results of that research, since presumably the thesis is that Pembrokeshire timber was different from that of Devon and Cornwall, or Glamorgan, or Somerset........

There is nothing in the recent article called "The dead of Stonehenge" to indicate the provenances of the cremated bones found in and near the Aubrey holes.   Age, sex and pathology, but nothing about origins.

The other piece of speculation feeding into this is the one about cremation / funerary customs being learned from Neolithic Ireland and then transported into Pembrokeshire and thence to Wessex, all before the start of the Bronze age.

It seems that the narrative becomes ever more complex........... it's just a pity that as ever, speculation  is used as a substitute for hard evidence.  Circular reasoning is never far away.  Let's hope that when this new research is published, it will be better founded and more convincing than the research a few years ago that centred on "cattle teeth from the west".....


They found around 500,000 bone fragments at Stonehenge which they say came from people who lived in the West of Britain, potentially Wales. They found around 500,000 bone fragments at Stonehenge which they say came from people who lived in the West of Britain, potentially Wales.

The team at UCL has also been studying half a million bone fragments found at Stonehenge and discovered that one fifth of them came from people who lived in the west of Britain, possibly in Wales. Some of them may even belong to the hallowed ancestors which were brought to be reinterred at Stonehenge.

“Where are the dead? The simple answer is Stonehenge, because what we hadn’t realised was that Stonehenge is the largest cemetery of the entire 3rd millennium BC in Britain,” added Prof Parker Pearson.

“Most of those remains are cremated. Just burnt fragments. There were several hundred people buried.

“Who were they, where did they come from? Latest scientific results not yet published tell us that we are looking at people being cremated on pyres made from different kinds of material.

“In other words almost certainly not all from Salisbury Plain. They are arriving from Stonehenge already cremated and we know from our own excavations that they were deposited in organic containers, which were probably leather bags.

“It’s very possible that among the cremated remains, those could actually be some of the dead themselves that were brought with them.”


Sunday, 5 June 2016

The Bedd yr Afanc hypothesis

It's now clear from assorted pronouncements and press releases that the latest hypothesis from the MPP team is that the passage grave of Bedd yr Afanc was at the centre of a bluestone circle which had a diameter of 22m -- ie the same as the diameter of the bluestone circle at Stonehenge.  On the above satellite image of Bedd yr Afanc I have superimposed a light-coloured circle with approx this diameter.   So the digging this summer will be concentrated on or just outside the circumference of this circle.

The hypothesis is that a bluestone circle was erected around this important burial site (it has to be this one since there is no other site handily located) and was therefore associated with funerary rites and with the spirits of the ancestors.  According to the story, the stones of this proto-Stonehenge were so revered that they were taken lock, stock and barrel off to Stonehenge and set up again there, mimicking the site in Preseli.  The MPP fantasy is that the travellers literally carried the spirits of their ancestors (and their cremated remains in little leather bags) with them on this epic journey as Stonehenge was developing as the most important cemetery for cremated remains in the UK............

That's my prediction for the 2016 fairy tale.  Let's see how correct it all turns out to be.

Ice Age events in Dorset

Accumulated sarsen stones -- remnants of a duricrust associated with an ancient Tertiary rock cover now largely eroded away (credit: Dorset Life magazine).

I came across this article by John Chaffey in Dorset Life magazine.  Worth sharing, as it is relevant for much of southern England.

The Geology of Dorset: the Quaternary period

In the last of his series, John Chaffey looks at the Quaternary period in Dorset

Published 2013

Dorset Life Magazine

The Quaternary Period includes the older Pleistocene (Ice Age) deposits, ranging from 1.8 million years to 10,000 years old. In Pleistocene times, much of Britain was under the influence of ice sheets, but this glaciation did not extend as far south as Dorset. During Pleistocene times Dorset experienced a periglacial climate, similar to the tundra conditions of present-day northern North America, Europe and Asia. No ice sheets were present in Dorset, but extensive snowfields covered much of the higher land.
During the Pleistocene, Dorset was under the influence of permafrost, where the upper layers of rock were frozen to some depth. Near the surface was the so-called active layer, where some thawing occurred in the summer, with consequent freezing in the winter. After the spring thaw the active layer became waterlogged, and moved slowly downslope, a process known as solifluction. These soliflucted deposits can sometimes be observed in coastal sections. A particularly good example lies at the seaward end of Scratchy Bottom, where the buff-coloured periglacial material can be seen in the cliffs resting on the vertical Chalk strata. Terraces and lobes of soliflucted material are common on the sides of many valleys in Dorset.
Alternative freezing and thawing of rocks, which occurs under periglacial conditions can produce shattered angular debris. On a large scale, cliffs that existed in the Pleistocene can be disrupted and broken by this action and large quantities of debris would have accumulated at their base. It seems likely that the cliffs of Portland Limestone at St Aldhelm’s Head were subjected to freeze-thaw action in the Pleistocene, and the large screes at their base, now covered thickly with lichens, may have originated at that time.
Where there were accumulations of snow in hollows on hillsides during periglacial times, it is possible that the process of nivation (expansion through snow action) may have been important in expanding these hollows. Small hollows on the southern side of the Purbeck Hills may well have contained accumulations of snow. Freeze-thaw action around the edge of these hollows could have led to their enlargement, with solifluction carrying the resultant debris downhill. One hollow on the western side of Godlingston Hill demonstrates these features remarkably well, with a clear section at the base of the hill showing the soliflucted debris that has been removed from the well-marked hollow above. Similar hollows are found just to the west of Corfe Castle.

In west Dorset the unusual Valley of Stones in the Chalk downland to the west of Black Down displays a larger number of boulders, known as sarsen stones, in the valley bottom. These sarsen stones are flinty conglomerates or silicified sandstones that originated as part of a ‘duricrust’, an indurated crust that developed under tropical conditions, (similar to those in present day Australia), on a past cover of Tertiary rocks on the surrounding Chalkland. These relict fragments of the ‘duricrust’ could have been moved downslope by solifluction into the valley bottom, where they are found today. Valley sides in the Chalk are often mantled with Chalk debris, known as ‘coombe rock’ which may contain flints: such debris has been carried downslope by solifluction. Soliflucted material is also known as ‘head’: the valleys leading down to the coast in the south of the Isle of Purbeck have thick mantles of head, containing angular fragments of the local Portland Limestone. It is likely that most valley sides, and many dry valley bottoms carry a cover of periglacial head.

During Pleistocene times Dorset’s climate varied between very cold spells and warmer interludes. As temperatures began to rise towards the end of the colder spells, thawing caused melting of the snowfields on the higher parts of the landscape. Flow in the streams increased, enabling the rivers to carry much greater loads of debris, particularly flinty material from the Chalk. This debris was laid down as huge spreads of gravel in the main river valleys such as the Piddle, the Frome and the Stour, and possibly the ancient Solent River, which originally ran from what is now the entrance to Poole Harbour eastwards along the Solent. Later, it appears to have changed its course to flow in a more southerly direction just east of the present Isle of Purbeck. From time to time these rivers incised their courses, leaving the gravel spreads as important terraces above the new and lower course of the rivers.

Today these gravel terraces dominate the scenery of the lower valleys of the three main Dorset rivers. In the Frome and Piddle valleys they first appear around Cattistock and Puddletown respectively, and become increasingly more important elements in the landscape downstream. Successive incisions by the rivers have produced a staircase sequence of terraces in these valleys, becoming increasingly higher away from the present river. This staircase effect is particularly well seen on the long straight road from Gallows Hill to Wool as it descends towards the Frome valley. Much of the urban sprawl of Bournemouth has spread across the terraces left by the Stour. In the east of the Bournemouth conurbation the steep slopes of Pokesdown Hill separate the higher terraces on which Pokesdown and Boscombe were built from the much lower ones on which Iford and Tuckton are found. On the opposite side of the Stour, Bournemouth International Airport flourishes on one of the largest spreads of the Stour’s gravels, and the commanding heights of St. Catherine’s Hill brooding over Christchurch represent the highest level of terraces in the lower Stour and Avon valleys. A glimpse at the cliffs on either side of Branksome Chine will reveal Pleistocene gravels at the top of the cliff, overlying the Branksome Sand below.

These Pleistocene gravels in the valleys of Dorset’s rivers have been and continue to be of considerable economic value, being worked as an important source of building aggregates. Much valuable agricultural land remains in cultivation on the terraces, particularly in the Frome valley between Woodsford and Moreton.
During the warmer phases or interglacials in the Pleistocene, sea levels were higher than at present, since melting ice was returned to the oceans. These higher sea levels are often marked by so-called raised beaches, two of which are found quite close to Portland Bill.
On the western side, the raised beach is approximately fifty feet above present sea level, and it can be seen capping the cliffs to the north of Pulpit Rock. It has been dated as 210,000 years BP (before the present). On the eastern side the raised beach is about fifteen feet lower and is dated at about 125,000 years BP. Beneath this eastern raised beach angular and broken limestone fragments are found, possibly providing evidence of a colder period before the interglacial.

After the ice sheets disappeared from northern Britain, global sea levels began to rise, with important repercussions along the coast of Dorset. About 10,000 years ago, the Chalk ridge between the Isle of Purbeck and the Isle of Wight was still more or less continuous, but the rising sea had eroded softer rocks to the south and began to attack the ridge itself, breaking through the existing river-cut gaps in it and eventually eroding away the softer rocks to the north to form what is now Poole Bay, although it has been suggested that Christchurch Bay to the east may have been formed somewhat later. Water then began to flood into the lower courses of the Stour, Avon, Frome and Piddle rivers and Poole Harbour and Christchurch Harbour began to take shape. With rising sea levels in post-glacial Holocene times much of the Dorset coast began gradually to assume its present day outline. At the beginning of this period, much of Lyme Bay was still dry land, covered with aprons of debris brought down by streams and rivers from the north. Rising sea levels began to sweep up this debris and push it landwards, thus initiating the formation of Chesil Beach, the fourteen-mile-long shingle bank that today runs from Chiswell to West Bay. During this period further material was added to Chesil Beach from West Dorset and possibly East Devon, although this supply of shingle has now largely ceased as a result of the building of the Cobb at Lyme Regis, and the harbour works at West Bay. During this post-glacial time the coast has been modified by erosion and the effect of landslides, particularly in West Dorset, the Isle of Portland, and parts of the Purbeck coast. Landslide activity has also been important inland, particularly around Shaftesbury, where it may date back to late glacial times.

We do not know exactly when man appeared in Dorset. Terrace river gravels have yielded artefacts, such as flint and chert hand-axes. Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) settlements are known to have existed in Portland, and also on Cranborne Chase and in the river valleys to the south, but it is not known whether these were only temporary hunting encampments. It was not until the Neolithic Period (New Stone Age) that permanent farming settlements were established.

   Raised beach on the east side of Portland Bill. It lies above a rock cliff and is c 35 feet above the level of the present storm beach

MPP's Trojan Horse rumbles on

 MPP on the quarry promotion trail, at the Hay Festival (Telegraph pic)

Assorted events to report. The Trojan Horse rumbles on, cheered by the crowds, assisted by those who should know better, crushing beneath its wheels both academic standards and scientific integrity.  Once upon a time, scholarship meant something.  Not any more........

This is from a Pembs Coast National Park press release:

There’s a chance to enjoy a free tour of the source of the Stonehenge bluestones in the Preseli Hills, with Dr. Richard Bevins on Thursday, June 2. Booking is essential on 01437 720392. It’s followed by an evening talk at Oriel y Parc by archaeologist Professor Mike Parker Pearson at 6 pm. Tickets (available separately) are £5 per person.

I hadn't realised that Richard Bevins was personally involved in the NPA programme of quarrying promotion, and hope that he at least had the good grace to inform visitors on his trip that there are many earth scientists who look at Carn Goedog and Rhosyfelin and see no quarries at all........

The high pressure promotion of the Neolithic bluestone quarrying hypothesis continues unabated.  Not only has MPP been speaking at Oriel y Parc in St David's, but he has also been given a slot in the Hay Festival, as reported in this nonsensical piece published today in the Telegraph's Science Section (I kid you not......) :

Original Stonehenge was dismantled in Wales and moved to Wiltshire, archaeologists believe

Sarah Knapton, Science Editor

5 June 2016

Stonehenge began life as an impressive Welsh tomb which was dismantled and shipped to Wiltshire, archaeologists now suspect.

Experts have known for some time that the smaller bluestones of the 5000-year-old Neolithic monument were brought 140 miles from the Preseli Mountains in Wales.

But the question has always been why? Why would the English settlers bother to make a lengthy pilgrimage for Welsh stone when they had perfectly good local sandstone quarries nearby - from which they would later cut the imposing ‘sarsen’ stones for Stonehenge.

The answer is that the stones were probably brought by the Welsh themselves, when they decided to relocate to the area, and did not want to leave their ancestors behind.

Professor Mike Parker Pearson at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London believes that Stonehenge began life as a Welsh monument to the dead.

“The Welsh connection isn’t just about stones it’s likely to be a long term movement from west to east at this particular time," Prof Parker Pearson told the Hay Festival.

“Why dismantle an original monument? We’re wondering if it actually might have been a tomb with a surrounding stone circle which they dismantled. If that were the case they were basically carting the physical embodiment of their ancestors to re-establish somewhere else.

“Their idea of packing their luggage was rather more deep and meaningful than our own. They are actually moving their heritage, and these stones represent the ancestors. They are actually bringing their ancestors with them.

 “The more we find out about Neolithic society, their culture and religion, it is focussed on the ancestral dead. If you build in stone for the dead, that is a society that is worshiping its ancestors.”

Archaeologists at UCL and the University of Leicester recently found the actual quarries that produced the stones. The spotted dolerite bluestones came from the outcrop of Carb Goedog while Craig Rhos-y-felin, produced the rhyolite bluestones.

The special formation of the rock, which forms natural pillars, allowed the prehistoric quarry workers to detach each stone with minimum effort.

They only had to insert wooden wedges into a  crack and let the Welsh rain swell the wood and crack the stone, to allow each pillar to be eased away from the rock face.

It has even been possibly to work out which stones were cut from which part of the quarries by analysing the cut marks.

The team at UCL has also been studying half a million bone fragments found at Stonehenge and discovered that one fifth of them came from people who lived in the west of Britain, possibly in Wales. Some of them may even belong to the hallowed ancestors which were brought to be reinterred at Stonehenge.

“Where are the dead? The simple answer is Stonehenge, because what we hadn’t realised was that Stonehenge is the largest cemetery of the entire 3rd millennium BC in Britain,” added Prof Parker Pearson.

“Most of those remains are cremated. Just burnt fragments. There were several hundred people buried.

“Who were they, where did they come from? Latest scientific results not yet published tell us that we are looking at people being cremated on pyres made from different kinds of material.

“In other words almost certainly not all from Salisbury Plain. They are arriving from Stonehenge already cremated and we know from our own excavations that they were deposited in organic containers, which were probably leather bags.

“It’s very possible that among the cremated remains, those could actually be some of the dead themselves that were brought with them.”

There is no evidence to show why the Welsh moved to Wiltshire. There is no evidence to show they were driven by climate change, warfare or catastrophe. Prof Parker Pearson believes that Stonehenge was built to unite warring tribes.

Archaeological evidence of warfare and ‘grisly killing,’ seems to disappear after the monument was built. 

The team at UCL believes that the original Welsh tomb must be located somewhere between the two quarry and is launching a dig this summer to try and located the site.

“We might have an answer by September, “ Prof Parker Pearson added.


From the Hay Festival Programme:

Mike Parker Pearson

Stonehenge: The Welsh Connection

Event 375 Venue: Llwyfan Cymru - Wales Stage

Excavation of two quarries in the Preseli hills in Pembrokeshire by a UCL-led team of archaeologists and geologists has confirmed that they are sources of Stonehenge’s ‘bluestones’ and shed light on how they were quarried and transported. “We have dates of around 3400 BC for Craig Rhos-y-felin and 3200 BC for Carn Goedog, which is intriguing because the bluestones didn’t get put up at Stonehenge until around 2900 BC,” says Professor Parker Pearson. “It could have taken those Neolithic stone-draggers nearly 500 years to get them to Stonehenge, but that’s pretty improbable in my view. It’s more likely that the stones were first used in a local monument – somewhere near the quarries – which was then dismantled and dragged off to Wiltshire. Stonehenge was a Welsh monument from its very beginning. If we can find the original monument in Wales from which it was built, we will finally be able to solve the mystery of why Stonehenge was built and why some of its stones were brought so far…”

Apparently there was an "enraptured crowd" for the talk.......

MPP has also been involved in the Festival as a "leading academic" and role model for aspiring university students.  See this:

Mike Parker Pearson

Subject Areas – Archaeology

Event 573 Venue: Compass
Please drop in to our new Compass venue, quiz leading academics about their subject and engage in some critical thinking. As part of Hay Festival 2016 and with help from the Welsh Government we have invited a range of university lecturers and speakers to drop in, talk about their subject areas and about university life.
Mike Parker Pearson is Professor of British Later Prehistory at University College London.


Note that the MPP narrative gets more elaborate by the day.........
It appears that the two papers written by Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd, John Downes and myself have been written out of history.  As MPP will find, we are not going away.  Anyway, we do have confirmation now that the "proto-Stonehenge" hunt will be going on this summer, presumably in the area around Bedd yr Afanc.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Edgar Barclay and Herbert Thomas

This is a moody painting of Stonehenge by Edgar Barclay, dating from around 1895.  It's not widely known that this artist played a role in the attempts to identify the sources of the bluestones.  Around 1906 he had in his possession assorted chips of "bluestone" collected from Stonehenge during his many visits as a painter.  He showed them to HH Thomas and asked him where they might have come from.  HHT was at that time working on the Geological Survey of West Wales, and he had some suspicions that the source of the rock chips might have been in the eastern part of the Preseli Hills.  He did not, at that time, know the local geology well enough to say anything definitive.  But a seed was sown in his mind, and in Edgar Barclay's little book called "Stonehenge", published in 1908, HHT recorded his "tentative conclusions" as to provenance.

As we all know,  this led to a closer and closer interest in the origins of the bluestones -- and although Thomas was preoccupied with other matters as a professional geologist in the period 1908 - 1920 (and although everybody had to live through the trauma of WW1) he had a working hypothesis in his mind which he was able to test when he really homed in on the bluestone enigma for two or three years of intensive work.  And that, as we all know, led to the famous paper in The Antiquaries' Journal in 1923.

Chips and stratigraphy

 This is a great photo from Andy White's blog.  It's the sort of thing that archaeologists probably dream about -- a single layer of debris and flakes of flint marking a single episode of flint knapping, sitting neatly in a series of sandy sediments which are physically quite different.  This sort of thing would be rather difficult to explain as a natural occurrence, and nobody much would argue against the hypothesis that this is a sign of human occupation, albeit short-lived.

Sadly for the quarry hunters at Rhosyfelin, there is nothing like this that they can point to.  There are no layers of worked stone debris, no antler picks, bones, teeth, stone axes, wedges, levers, bits of pottery or any other artifacts to suggest intensive and prolonged human occupation, let alone quarrying activity.  The only traces of human occupation at the site (a hearth and some nuts and scattered bits of charcoal, dated by radiocarbon assay) are best interpreted as signs of intermittent occupation by hunting parties over many thousands of years.  None of the radiocarbon dates can be tied in to any of the so-called "quarrying" or "engineering" features.