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BRITARCH  July 2003

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Subject:

Re: Stonehenge Moat Hypothesis

From:

Paul Barford <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

British archaeology discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 16 Jul 2003 09:45:32 +0200

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Orion asks:
> Is there a difference between fitting the evidence to the hypothesis
> and (the opposite), fitting the hypothesis to the evidence?
One is deductive the other inductive reasoning.

In archaeology the construction of interpretations (hypotheses) derives from
observations. This is especially so in the case of excavated or field
(topographical) evidence. So the interpretation is based on the observed
evidence. The problem arises of course when what is observed is conditioned
by what is sought.

The acceptance of an interpretation depends on its ability to explain the
observed evidence better than any opposing interpretation and also fitting
into the pattern of events and human behaviour which emerges from the study
of other contemporary evidence from other sites.

The posing and testing of "what if" questions is also a legitimate part of
the research process as a counter to the latter problem if nothing else.
Interpretations based on such propositions must also be tested against the
material (observed) evidence. Here rather than looking for evidence
accumulating to support a "what if" idea, it would be more effective to look
for factors falsifying (or potentially falsifying) it.

Apart from the factors of confirmation of predictions, or lack of falsifying
evidence, there is also the principle of Ockham's Razor which should be
rigorously applied, and here it is I think your Stonehenge Moat Hypothesis
falls, for it involves so many other "what ifs" (or rather "why not"s) and
presupposes the existence of a situation at Stonehenge which flies in the
face of much of what we know about henge monuments of this type and date and
also Neolithic engineering (not to mention the site itself). This is not to
say in itself that your interpretation is necessarily on that account wrong,
but is an additional factor which should be taken into consideration.  More
to the point it proposes a supply of water to the site of which no other
trace exists, it supposes that the 'moat' once could hold water while now it
cannot, it supposes not only that the builders had advanced knowledge of and
(more to the point) previous experience of building multi-level waterways on
a large scale, but also that in setting out to do so they deliberately chose
a site on a slope and higher than the more obvious positions for such a feat
lower down.

You urge the application of the principles of logic to your interpretation,
but logic suggests in fact that the interpretation of the ditch around
Stonehenge I as a dry ditch is the one more accurately reflecting the
evidence taken as a whole. That is the same as seems to be the case with the
majority of British henges throughout the period of their construction and
use.


Until more concrete evidence emerges - like excavated traces of a leat of
suitable proportions taking water to the site, or those taking it away, like
the presence of snail shell evidence of permanent standing water in the
ditch and so on - this "what if" idea remains unprovable. It must join the
ranks of other "what ifs" like the possibility Stonehenge MIGHT have been
built with the help of little green men from the planet Zog, Merlin the
wizard or by Beaker-touting guys with foreign accents and Swiss teeth.

Paul Barford

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