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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Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Banc Llwydlos and Occam's Razor

Tycanol Wood -- gnarled trees, mossy stones and a fortified Iron Age site nearby.  One of many settlement sites to the north of Mynydd Preseli

Prof MPP is booked in to do another talk for the National Park at Castell Henllys on 20th September -- it's now become an annual event!  Like the arrival of the first cuckoo of spring, the archaeologists turn up in N Pembs every year, in late summer, looking for the holy grail.  So it looks pretty certain that they will be hoofing about this year too, in the first three weeks of September.  The betting is that they will be looking, once again, for "proto-Stonehenge", and that the hunt will be concentrated to the north of the Preseli upland ridge.  Banc Llwydlos might well be on the cards.........

On Wed 20th Sept there will be daytime event (10 am - 3 pm) entitled "Prehistoric Preseli Tour / Bluestone event" and in the evening Prof MPP will talk (again) on the Welsh origins of Stonehenge.

The working hypothesis (should that be "ruling hypothesis"?) is that there was a bluestone circle somewhere in the area that was systematically dismantled and carted off to Stonehenge as some sort of demonstration of political unification.  The bluestones, highly valued and maybe thought to embody the spirits of the ancestors, were not stolen or collected by the tribes of Wessex, but were taken as a goodwill gesture by the rather sophisticated tribes of North Pembrokeshire.  There was powerful political and spiritual symbolism in the stones themselves, and the act of giving them up and transporting them all the way to Stonehenge was designed to impress the recipients and to achieve some sort of political unification.

This theory is elaborated over and again, with minor tweaks  -- and we will hear the latest version on 20th September, along with a report on the latest incredibly exciting discoveries..........

Readers of this blog will not be surprised to hear that I am completely unimpressed by all of this and that I consider it to be entirely unsupported by evidence of any kind.   Having recently taken a good look around the terrain between Carn Goedog and Tafarn y Bwlch (including Brynberian Moor and Banc Llwydlos) I'm impressed by what appears to be a long history of settlement in the area and with the abundant traces of settlement from the Neolithic to the Middle Ages -- but there is NOTHING to suggest any special reverence for spotted dolerite or foliated rhyolite, and NOTHING to link the area archaeologically with Stonehenge.

 To repeat some points made a few months ago:

1.  There is no hard evidence in the area of  any particular stone type being valued, or being accorded veneration, over and above any other stone type in prehistoric Pembrokeshire.  Stones of all lithologies, shapes and sizes were used wherever it was handy to use them. (That, by the way, is exactly the case at Stonehenge as well.)  If more spotted dolerite pillars and slabs appear to have been used in north Pembrokeshire, it is because there were simply more of them lying around as glacial erratics.

2.  There is no hard evidence, as far as I know, of any large stone in a Pembrokeshire monolithic setting being transported more than a few metres from its place of origin to its place of use.

3.  Because of the abundance of glacial erratics littered across the landscape, there was no need for any quarrying of stone from "bluestone quarries."  So there are no bluestone quarries, and the obsession with searching for them and "finding" them them is nothing more than a rather charming fantasy.

4.   Although I am a geographer who quite enjoys looking for patterns and arrangements in the landscape, I can see no "siting preferences" with respect to monolithic /  megalithic settings based on proximity to springs, views of the mountains or the sea, alignments, transition zones between boggy and and rocky land, or anything else.  The only thing I would concede is that some fortified sites and burial sites are located on hill summits.

5. A thorough examination of the field reports of the Dyfed Archaeology staff suggests  that the cultural associations in Mesolithic, Neolithic and early Bronze Age times were predominantly with other parts of the "Atlantic Fringe" and NOT with Salisbury Plain and the Stonehenge area.  There does not seem to be any cultural context for a situation in which people would suddenly want to start gathering up 80 bluestones and carting them off to Stonehenge.

6.  The prehistoric inhabitants of north Pembrokeshire were a pretty pragmatic bunch.  They clearly had their reasons for making "statements" in stone, but they were also driven by utilitarian principles, and always used whichever handy stones were fit for purpose.  They may have been simple folk, but they were smart enough to know about cost / benefit analysis.

If we look at the prehistoric traces that litter the landscape to the north of the Preseli ridge, the most parsimonious explanation of them is that there were local tribes here which shared many building techniques and maybe cultural / religious beliefs with other tribes in western Britain and Ireland but which had no interest in gigantic civil engineering projects or grand political gestures.

Strange that the archaeologists are so reluctant to take on board these relatively simple points and that they are apparently still hell-bent on perpetrating their modern myth, in spite of failing to come up with any evidence of quarrying or long-distance stone transport.


Phil Morgan said...

Hello to Brian,

You say "They may have been simple folk, but they were smart enough to know about cost / benefit analysis", but did cost/benefit came into their plan?
We tend to class ourselves as people who have moved on from being 'simple folk' yet when the Civic Centre of Cardiff, which is classed as the best in Britain and contains the Law Courts, The National Museum and Gallery of Wales, The City Hall etc. was constructed in the early 20th century, the stone used for the facades of the buildings was Portland Limestone. Where was the cost/benefit in transporting the stone that exercise, (a journey of some 100 miles), when there is an abundance of suitable limestone in the surrounding Vale of Glamorgan?
I suggest that the Portland Limestone was imported because that's what the organisers/bosses/architects wanted for their construction,they had 'choice' exactly the same as in the builders of Stonehenge.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Cathays Park was mostly built on land owned by the Marquess of Bute, who had accumulated great wealth from Cardiff Dicks and the coal trade. Many of the civic buildings were of course built with status and prestige in mind -- and Portland stone was used because it was deemed to be rather posh. Not sure we can learn much about the Neolithic from all of that.......

What plan might you be talking about, Phil? I see no plan.

And if the Neolithic tribes had "choice" in what stones to use, how come they always used the boulders or slabs that were just lying around in the vicinity, and showed no interest whatsoever in foliated rhyolite?

BRIAN JOHN said...

oops -- that should have been Cardiff Docks! Nice mistake though....

Dave Maynard said...

The cost/benefit applied there, the prestige of Cardiff was worth the benefit of moving rock from Portland, so that Cardiff had the same stone as Whitehall. The cost of moving limestone from the Isle of Portland, or Purbeck would be very little different than from Penarth, once it was loaded on a ship.

I don't know about the quality of the Glamorgan limestone, or what quarries were supplying, is there good stuff there?

The Neolithic could have choosen the benefit of a particular rock, if they could carry the additional cost of that choice. If the original design had called for dumpy little stones from a specific location, thats fine. When the later design called for large rectangular blocks, they were relieved of the cost of going to west Wales, but ended up with a rather different cost.

What would we have if Portland stone had been chosen instead?

TonyH said...

Cost: benefit analysis comes into MPP & Company's thinking in that MPP & Company's very notion/ Working (or Ruling) hypothesis), is that the bluestones were presented to the Wessex tribes by the sophisticated occupants of SW Wales/ N Pembrokeshire, who were prepared to assist with transporting them, over hill and dale, all the way to what was later to become Wessex. The REAL cost: benefit lies, not in the prehistoric period, but in the 21st Century: MPP & Company get the cost/benefit pay - off insofar as they have successfully flattered present - day occupants of N Pembrokeshire and SW Wales - indeed the WHOLE of Wales! - by claiming that SW Wales' occupants were politically of great significance, so much so that political unification efforts with the Wessex area were equally beneficial to both parties. In modern day parlance, Cardiff Arms Park is as mighty least as Twickenham.