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Experimenter’s bias

Presumably due to flagging tourist numbers, some people are digging around Stonehenge to see what old bits of stone they can find and declare as pieces of great importance to national heritage.

BBC News reported today that "archaeologists carrying out an excavation at Stonehenge say they have broken through to a layer that may finally explain why the site was built. The team has reached sockets that once held bluestones - smaller stones, most now missing or uprooted, which formed the site's original structure." That sounds very promising, right? It goes on to say that "the researchers believe that the bluestones could reveal that Stonehenge was once a place of healing."

Wow! That really is a breakthrough. But I'd like to put it in the context of an earlier story from the Beeb, which said "the two-week dig will try to establish, once and for all, some precise dating for the creation of the monument. It is also targeting the significance of the smaller bluestones that stand inside the giant sarsen pillars. Researchers believe these rocks, brought all the way from Wales, hold the secret to the real purpose of Stonehenge as a place of healing."

So, what's actually happened is that some archaeologists have - before digging up anything at all - decided what the results of any find must surely mean. And when they find something, clearly it proves what they were trying to prove all along. When they say, "the bluestones could reveal that..." doesn't someone in the digging party say, "wait a minute, surely we should keep an open mind - the bluestones could reveal that Elvis and Jesus are happily married on Mars for all we know."

Surely people should have learnt by now that if you look hard enough for something with your conclusion already in mind, you will surely find it.

Your comments

I found a great chicken soup

I found a great chicken soup recipe in the kernel 2.6.22 source code.


Stonehenge was not actually

Stonehenge was not actually a place of healing, it was a Neolithic fitness centre. In order to fight the flab, neolithic Britons hauled stones across the countryside and set them up in circles, the complete circle showing that each community had done its allotted exercise. Naturally, they started off with smallish stones and worked their way up to larger ones.

I found a great disaster

I found a great disaster recipe in the installation of Vista!

I still don't understand why

I still don't understand why they built it so close to the A303, then didn't use a big lorry to transport all the stones. Perhaps they did it over a bank holiday, and it was quicker to push the stones by hand...

To put it further into

To put it further into context, I don't think they came up with the 'healing' hypothesis out of nowhere - there have been digs here before. This dig just didn't throw up any evidence to the contrary, so the BBC have dressed up the story to make the discoveries look new. Anyway, don't get me started on the confluence of TV and archaeology... ;-)

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