Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my book called "The Bluestone Enigma" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Sunday, 28 August 2016

Cerrig Marchogion and the Giant Boar

King Arthur and the Giant Boar

One of the ancient stories related in The Mabinogion concerns a heroic running battle between King Arthur and his knights and a Monstrous Boar called Twrch Trwyth. The unwitting cause of a the trouble was a young prince called Kilhwch or Culhwch, who was madly in love with a young lady called Olwen, whom he had never met. The girl’s father was a wicked giant called Yspaddaden Penkawr, who set all suitors an assortment of seemingly impossible tasks in order to win her hand in marriage. Anyway, to cut a very long story short, King Arthur had agreed to help this young prince in the performance of a number of terrible tasks, which they achieved by means of guile and not a little magic. At last only one task remained - that of stealing a comb, razor and scissors from between the ears of the great boar, a bad-tempered beast who had once been a wicked Irish King. (This task was all down to the fact that Culhwch was a scruffy young man, who needed to tidy himself up a bit if he was to deserve the hand of the fair princess.)

When King Arthur travelled to Ireland to ask politely for the comb, razor and scissors Twrch Trwyth refused to speak to him, let alone make him a present of the desired objects, and instead he swam across to Wales, accompanied by seven young ferocious boars, to ravage Arthur's territory.

The boars landed at Porthclais near St David’s and laid waste the districts around Milford Haven before Arthur and his knights caught up with them and pursued them to the Presely Hills. They fought one battle in the Nevern Valley and then another great and bloody battle in Cwm Cerwyn, the deep depression beneath the summit of Preseli. Here four of Arthur’s knights were killed. Turning at bay a second time the beast slew four more knights and was wounded himself, while several of the young boars were also killed. The chase continued to Llandissilio, then into Cardiganshire, then all over South Wales, with many local people falling victim to the boars and with four more knights slain.

At last only Twrch was left. He was forced to swim out into the Severn estuary, where Arthur managed to grab the razor and scissors from between his ears. The comb was not obtained until the chase reached Cornwall, and then the great boar leaped into the sea and was never seen again.

Armed with the razor, scissors and comb, Arthur cut and combed Culhwch’s hair and gave him a shave. Then he helped him to kill the savage giant called Yspaddaden Penkawr (who was, you may recall, Olwen’s dad), thereby enabling the handsome prince and the beautiful girl to get married and to live happily ever after.

According to the legend, the scattered rocky crags of Cerrig Marchogion (the rocks of the knights), up on the crest of the Preseli ridge, are the petrified remains of the knights who fell in battle. These rocks are made of spotted dolerite, and it is possible that some of the spotted dolerite debris at Stonehenge has come from these crags.


This is from my book of "Pembrokeshire Folk Tales."  More here, via Dropbox:

Pembrokeshire Folk Tales

Mike's Magical Mystery Tours

The Rhosyfelin narrative becomes more psychedelic  with every day that passes......

Came upon this purely by chance this morning -- had to share it!  It's a nice illustration of the manner in which myths develop.  Starting from one of Mike's enthusiastic talks to visitors at the Rhosyfelin dig site, and building on the myth that stone SH48 came from here,  we now have a giant white sleeping boar that apparently had roasted hazelnuts for breakfast before being turned into solid rock.

It's a nice story, and it's quite charming to think that some people are enchanted by it,  but it also demonstrates the universal charm of the fantastical narrative -- much more appealing that boring old science.......

No point in getting upset.  We all have our own realities, some more colourful than others!

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Rhosyfelin -- more good news from the rock face

 How old are these and other rock faces at Rhosyfelin?  My guess is that this one has been exposed to cosmic bombardment for around 18,000 years.

Last year I suggested to Rob Ixer and many other visitors to the Rhosyfelin dig site that what we all really need is a programme of cosmogenic 36Cl dating on the rock face, so as to work out how fresh, or how old, parts of it actually are.  If dated surfaces show that large parts of the rock face were exposed for the first time in the Neolithic, that might support the thesis of Neolithic quarrying.  If the supposedly "quarried" face proves to be a great deal older, bang goes the quarrying theory.  If parts of the rock face prove to have been exposed at different times, that would support the thesis that there have been intermittent rockfalls going on here ever since the Devensian ice melted away, around 18,000 years ago.

When this was put to Prof MPP and his colleagues, to their credit they agreed, on the basis that anything which brings us closer to the truth has to be a good thing.

Now, assorted little birds tell us that money has been found and that 36Cl sampling on the rock face will be done within the next couple of weeks, by Derek Fabel from East Kilbride, in the company of Prof MPP.  Derek is a cosmogenic dating specialist who has been working with the exciting BRITICE  Chrono project, which I have mentioned many times on this blog.  The leader of that project is Prof Chris Clark of Sheffield University, who has been cited a couple of times by Prof MPP as an authority on the glaciation of the British Isles who doubts that the Irish Sea Glacier could have reached anywhere near Wiltshire.  (You will recall that MPP was based in Sheffield before he moved to UCL.)   Well, Chris is indeed an authority, who says some things that I agree with and others that I think are somewhat dubious.  Geomorphologists hardly ever agree with one another on very much anyway......

So Derek will visit the site, take samples and do the dating.  His sample collecting will of course be determined to some degree by the hypothesis being tested -- and we do not know what that is.  We can be sure that the testing of the so-called "bluestone extraction point" will be in the mix.  The sampling programme will also be constrained by the amount of money in the kitty, and on the accessibility of quartz-rich veins liable to give sound results.  In my view the site could do with around 20 samples, across the face, on some of the fallen stones (including the 8 tonne "picnic table"), at the foot of the face, and on the ridge summit and the col which appears to have been influenced by overflowing meltwater.

Given that Derek is involved with BRITICE, I hope he will take the opportunity of investigating some of the suggestions made by my colleagues and myself concerning the age and pattern of glaciation here on the north flank of Mynydd Preseli.

BRITICE-Chrono sampling map.  Sampling finished 12 months ago.

Rhosyfelin -- good news from the rock face

 Let's see how the stratigraphy described in the new paper matches with this simplified scheme, worked out by Dyfed Elis-Gruffydd, John Downes and myself.  We expect a much more complex identification of layers, almost entirely within the strata labelled 4 and 5 above.  That's something we applaud.  The task is rendered difficult by the fact that many of these layers with occupation traces are discontinuous.

We hear on the grapevine that another paper on Rhosyfelin is on the way -- this time dealing with the detailed chronostratigraphy.  This is what we wanted originally, but never got -- a detailed record of the stratigraphy (hopefully free of all those assumptions and speculations about quarrying activity), with due consideration given to natural processes and sediments, and with detailed information regarding environmental change and human occupation phases.  There is a fascinating settlement history here, and a lot of radiocarbon and other dates, so the site is vastly important on that basis.  There are not many sites in Wales where an intermittent occupation story can be followed from the Mesolithic right through to the Middle Ages, and we look forward to reading the paper when it appears.

We don't expect to discover anything new about the supposed history of quarrying and stone extraction;  if there had been anything convincing in the record, it would already have been given to us.  So let's hope for a nice solid piece of archaeological reporting, with a high standard of scholarship.  And no unsupported assumptions.

One million hits -- and counting........

Purely by chance, when I switched on at 0810 this morning!  What interests me about the fact of a million page views is that rather a lot of people -- in addition to the regulars -- are actually interested in the topics covered on the blog.  It pops up all the time when people search for things on Google.  I don't do all this search engine optimisation stuff, but the site comes high up on the page rankings simply because it is popular -- and in the algorithm popularity enhances popularity.

This means that on some issues (such as the bluestone quarrying debate) opinion can only be influenced to a limited extent by the high profile press releases put out by UCL, Cardiff and Leicester Universities and by the obsession with storytelling and "impact ratings".  Put on one side the people who read gullible newspapers and who believe whatever the BBC chooses to tell them, and we have rather a lot of people who are capable of thinking for themselves, and who seem to enjoy a forum in which EVIDENCE is honestly debated and in which scientific methods are accorded some respect.

Raise a glass!

Friday, 26 August 2016

The Giant's Quoit at Porthleven

Thanks to Rob Ixer for forwarding this one -- photo kindly taken by Nick Moore.  It shows how enormous the Gant's Quoit (at Porthleven in Cornwall) really us.  As fine a chunk of bluestone as we are likely to see anywhere.  (By "bluestone" I mean a chunk of rock in SW England which is obviously an erratic, having got to where it is by some process that we still do not fully understand........)

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Children of Nature

This is wildly off-topic, so please forgive me.  I have just discovered that my all-time favourite film, called Children of Nature (1991), is now available on YouTube  for viewing in full.  You will need reasonably fast broadband.  Here is the link:

The film has a special resonance for me, since the focal point in the latter part of the film is the Vestfirdir region of NW Iceland, to which I led my first university expedition in 1960.  Then I went back to the area for several summer research trips in the 1970's.  We visited Hesteyri, where the final scene is set -- deserted and indescribably beautiful.

So I am a child of nature myself, as you might have gathered.....

The opening sequence of the film, in which the old man leaves his house, is very slow, but is an exquisite piece of film-making -- poignant, and so full of human dignity. I defy anybody to watch it without getting a lump in the throat or a tear in the eye.  I think the whole film, at 1 hr and 22 mins, is a masterpiece.  Enjoy!