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Prehistoric Sites in England (1 of 5)

Prehistoric Sites in Scotland (1 of 2)

Astronomical Alignments at Crick Barrow, Gwent

Prehistoric Sites in Wales:

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Prehistoric Sites in

WALES

by Martin J. Powell


Page 1 of 5

Click on a thumbnail to see a full-size picture (all pictures will open in a new window). The Ordnance Survey Map links (O.S. Map) point to the 1:25,000 scale map of the region (equivalent to the O. S. Pathfinder Series of printed maps), as displayed at Streetmap.co.uk.

The abbreviation 'Ast' indicates that the site is included in the archaeoastronomy study of monuments in South Wales.

Maes-y-felin chambered tomb, near Cardiff, Glamorgan (Photo: May 1987)

 

Maes-y-felin chambered tomb, St Lythans, Glamorgan, viewed from the East (Photo: ca. 1991)

Maes-y-Felin

a.k.a. St. Lythans, Gwl-y-Filiast

Chambered Cairn

 

County: Vale of Glamorgan (South Glamorgan)

Ordnance Survey Grid Ref: ST 101 723

O.S. Map (Streetmap)

The Gwl-y-Filiast ("lair of the greyhound bitch") is a classic example of a type of Neolithic burial chamber commonly known in Wales as a cromlech (from theWelsh crwm-llech meaning 'curved stone'). They are the oldest buildings in Wales.

 

Four mudstone slabs stand at the Eastern end of a much-ploughed down long mound, with three uprights forming a rectangular chamber some 6 ft (2 m) long by 5 ft (1.5 m) wide. Human remains and pottery were found in the chamber in 1875. The capstone is pitched upwards slightly towards the Eastern end. There is a hole through the rear stone of the chamber, through which the spirits of the dead are said to have flown.

 

An excavation of the site took place in 2011, which determined that the cairn measured 98 ft (30 m) long by 39 ft (12 m) wide. The much-robbed cairn comprised large limestone slabs along with boulders and small pebbles, all of which had been collected locally. Traces of a circular structure was evident around the chamber, suggesting that the monument might have been a two-phase construction, the chamber and circular cairn having been constructed first and the long cairn added later. Immediately around the chamber, large boulders and slabs were found to have been pitched upwards at an angle of about 45, serving to provide support to the chamber uprights. Examination of the South-western corner of the cairn revealed a single layer of stones and slabs which had been laid on top of an apparent low-standing earthen mound.

 

At the edges of the cairn was a poorly preserved revetment wall, which was found to be best preserved at the Western end. The monument would originally have featured a horned forecourt, much like that at the nearby Tinkinswood chamber (see Page 2). Most of this structure had however collapsed into the forecourt area, covering a layer of stones which had been used to close off the chamber at the end of the site's use.

 

Finds from the recent excavation included fragments of Neolithic Grooved Ware pottery, fragments of a bone needle and a polished stone axe, several pieces of flint and some human bone and teeth.

 

A local legend says that the field in which the tomb stands is cursed, and that nothing will grow there - apart from the grass, that is! [Ast]

 

The Harold's Stones, Trellech, Monmouthshire (Photo: June 1989)

The Harold's Stones

Stone Row

 

County: Monmouthshire (Gwent)

O.S. Grid Ref: SO 499 051

O.S. Map (Streetmap)

Three stones of conglomerate sandstone stand in a line 39 ft (12 m) long in a field beside the village of Trellech (also spelled Trelleck or Trelech, meaning "village of stones"). They all lean at various angles, although we may assume that they were originally upright. The row is aligned in a NE-SW direction. The tallest stone, at the South-west, is 11 ft (3.3 m) tall. The central stone has been shaped by hand and it has two large circular hollows (known as cup-marks) on its South-western face [Ast]

 

A carving of the stones, dated 1689, can be seen on the base of a sundial in the nearby church. The heights of the stones are marked (in feet) and above them is a Latin inscription:

 

MAJOR SAXIS

"Greater in regard to the Stones"

 

In 2002, a geophysical survey was carried out in the vicinity of the stones. It indicated the presence of a sub-rectangular ditched enclosure, of unknown date, measuring about 130 ft (40 m) in diameter.

 

Ty Illtud chambered tomb, Brecknockshire (Photo: May 1991)

Ty Illtud

Chambered Cairn

 

County: Powys (Brecknockshire)

O.S. Grid Ref: SO 098 264

O.S. Map (Streetmap)

The Ty Illtud chamber measures 7 ft (2.2 m) by 4 ft (1.3 m) and is positioned slightly offset from the centre of its enclosing mound. The inner faces of the chamber slabs are decorated with over sixty faint symbols, mainly crosses and lozenges (see selection of graphite rubbings). These probably date from medieval times and were perhaps an attempt to exorcise the paganism of the site. The capstone slopes downward towards the entrance and is only supported by the two side slabs. A large vertical slab 6 ft (1.8 m) long (visible in the foreground) appears to be the remnant of a forecourt-type structure.

 

A "heape of stanes" once reported to have covered the chamber seems to have been removed in the 17th century. The name of the site means "House of Illtud", after the Franco-Celtic monk St Illtud (ca. 425-525 AD) who, it has been suggested, used the chamber as a hermit's refuge [Ast]

 

Bryn Celli Ddu passage-grave, Anglesey (Photo: July 1987)

 

View of the rear of the chamber with the carved stone replica beside it. The carving on the stone is indicated by the red arrow (Photo: July 1987)

Bryn Celli Ddu

Chambered Cairn

 

County: Anglesey (Ynys Mn)

O.S. Grid Ref: SH 507 702

O.S. Map (Streetmap)

Satellite Photo (Google Maps)

The "hill of the dark grove" is a passage-grave set within a circular mound 85 ft (26 m) in diameter. The mound is held in place by a revetment of large stones. The passage into the mound is 23 ft (7 m) long and roofed. It opens into a polygonal shaped chamber of six upright stones at the centre of the mound. A wallstone inside the chamber has a spiral carving on its face. A single pillar of stone stands inside the chamber and since it serves no structural purpose, it presumably had a ritual significance. Excavations at the site between 1925 and 1929 found cremated and unburnt fragments of human bone within the chamber and passage.

 

Just behind the chamber - at the centre of the original mound - is a pit, in which wood and a human ear-bone were found. The pit was originally covered by a slab, and lying beside it was a stone which had been carved on both sides with spiral and zigzag patterns. The 'Pattern Stone' (as it became known) is on display at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff; the stone visible at the monument today is a replica, set into a concrete plinth (some of the carvings on the 'Pattern Stone' replica can be discerned in the lower photograph, indicated by the red arrow). In the original monument, the mound would have covered the chamber, the pit and the 'Pattern Stone' but today it has been deliberately truncated to allow the chamber and the carved stone to be easily viewed.

 

The passage entrance is orientated towards the North-east and faced the rising Sun on midsummer's day. Indeed, it has been suggested that the entrance may once have included a 'roof box' to allow the Sun's rays to enter the passage, much like the one at at the Newgrange passage tomb in Ireland (which faces the midwinter sunrise). A short distance in front of the tomb's entrance is an enclosure, today demarked by five low-standing stones (visible in the upper picture). The stones occupy the positions of post-holes, which originally contained wooden posts, behind which was a pit containing the bones of a small ox. This structure may have been part of an earlier monument known as a henge, upon which the tomb itself was later built. The enclosure is set on a slightly different orientation to that of the tomb's passage.

 

The design and structure of Bryn Celli Ddu has many similarities to the passage tombs located across the Irish Sea in Northern and Eastern Ireland. The tomb at Barclodiad y Gawres, some 17.8 kms (11 miles) to the West of Bryn Celli Ddu, is similar in form and also contains carved stones (see Page 5).

 

Maen Llia standing stone, Breconshire (Photo: May 1987)

Maen Llia

Standing Stone

 

County: Powys (Brecknockshire)

O.S. Grid Ref: SN 924 192

O.S. Map (Streetmap)

A 12 ft (3.6 m) high monolith of sandstone conglomerate stands on the often-marshy ground of the Llia Valley in the Brecon Beacons National Park. The stone can clearly be seen against the skyline when approaching from the South of the valley. It is orientated in a North-South direction, roughly in line with the valley. The stone is assumed to be of Bronze Age date, and has not been excavated. Two faint inscriptions in the lower right half of the stone, possibly in Roman and Ogham (Primitive Irish) scripts, were identified in 1922. A Roman road called Sarn Helen passes about 1180 ft (360 m) to the East of the stone.

 

In 2009 local megalith researcher Andrew Davies observed that, when the Sun drops below the mountain to the West of the stone around midsummer's eve, the shadow of the stone stretches downhill and touches the Afon Llia stream, some 230 ft (70 m) to the East of the stone. This might help explain an old legend which tells of the stone loving fresh water and walking to the River Nedd (Neath) for a drink whenever it hears the cock crow. Similar stories are associated with many prehistoric megalithic sites across the country.

 

Maen Llia ('Llia's stone') marks the Northernmost point of an isosceles triangle, first identified by archaeologists in the 1980s, comprising the monolith, the Llech-Llia concentric ringwork (SN 923 189) and the Rhyd Uchaf cairn (SN 926 189), which presumably are all contemporary in age. Inside the triangle is a 'U-shaped' embanked platform (SN 924 190) measuring 26 ft (8 m) by 19 ft (6 m) which may have served as an observation platform of some kind.

 

Davies also reported the discovery of a recumbent monolith partly projecting from a field-bank beside the road at SN 923 190, positioned precisely mid-way between Maen Llia and Llech-Llia. The centre-line (altitude) of the triangle, formed by the recumbent stone, the platform and the cairn, stretches across a distance of 980 ft (300 m), its apex pointing South-east towards the summit of Fan Llia mountain. The five monuments appear to have been part of a small ritual complex, with a pre-designed geometric relationship, occupying an area of about 3 hectares (8 acres).

 

Nicholaston chambered cairn, Gower (Photo: March 1988)

Nicholaston

Chambered Cairn

 

County: West Glamorgan

O.S. Grid Ref: SS 507 888

O.S. Map (Streetmap)

Buried amongst the bracken of Cefn Bryn on the Gower peninsula to the West of Swansea, this small chamber is set within an oval-shaped mound some 121 ft (37 m) long by 65 ft (20 m) wide. The chamber is built from local conglomerate and measures 4 ft (1.2 m) by 3 ft (0.9 m).

 

The original access was from the North-east, over a paved area and a sill-stone at the chamber entrance. Excavation in 1939 found no evidence of any entrance passage through the mound to the chamber [Ast]

 

 

Heston Brake chambered tomb, Monmouthshire (Photo: November 1991)

Heston Brake

Chambered Cairn

 

County: Monmouthshire (Gwent)

O.S. Grid Ref: ST 505 886

O.S. Map (Streetmap)

Heston Brake stands in an elevated field at Portskewett village with views over the Bristol Channel and the old and new Severn Bridges. Two portal stones mark the entrance to a passage 13 ft (4 m) long and 5 ft (1.5 m) wide. The chamber itself is 10 ft (3 m) long, now roofless and lined with crude, skeletal blocks of stone. One of the side stones has a hole through it.

 

The chamber is positioned slightly offset from the passage, suggesting that the passage may have been a later addition to the chamber. Excavation in 1888 revealed skeletons in the chamber [Ast]

 

In 2003 it was reported that several cupmarks are visible on the upper surface of the monument's Southern portal stone (the squat stone visible at the centre of the photograph).

 

Penywyrlod long cairn, Talgarth, Brecknockshire (Photo: June 1991)

Penywyrlod (Talgarth)

a.k.a. Pen y Wrlod

Chambered Cairn

 

County: Powys (Brecknockshire)

O.S. Grid Ref: SO 151 315

O.S. Map (Streetmap)

This impressive long cairn was discovered in 1972 by a farmer quarrying for stone. A partial excavation revealed an unusually large cairn some 170 ft (52 m) long by 72 ft (22 m) wide, orientated SE-NW. The cairn still survives to a height of around 8 ft (2.5 m). Four chambers were uncovered and also a small cist in the South-east 'horn' which contained the skull of an infant. More chambers are likely to exist on the South-western (unexcavated) section.

 

Radiocarbon dating of human bone from one of the chambers gave a date for the cairn's construction of around 3900 to 3600 BC, making it one of the oldest known cairns in Southern Britain. The chambers had been filled with rubble, and the forecourt blocked with stone, at the end of the cairn's use.

 

A sheep's femur bone, punched through with three holes, was found in the entrance passage to one of the smaller chambers. It may have been a prehistoric flute or whistle - in which case, it is the oldest musical instrument yet found in the British Isles [Ast]

 

Maen Madoc standing stone, Powys (Photo: May 1987)

Maen Madoc

a.k.a. The Dervacus Stone

Inscribed Standing Stone

 

County: Powys (Brecknockshire)

O.S. Grid Ref: SN 918 158

O.S. Map (Streetmap)

Maen Madoc ("Madoc's Stone") is 9 ft (2.7 m) tall and stands near the Sarn Helen Roman road between Coelbren and the Roman fort of Y Gaer (Brecon). The stone has been re-erected twice in recent history; once in the 19th century and again in 1940, after it had fallen. It was then moved about 59 ft (18 m) from its original location next to the road.

 

On the side of the stone is a 5th-6th century Latin inscription:

 

DERVAC  FILIVST  IVST  JACIT

"Dervacus, son of Justus. He lies here."

 

Excavation revealed no traces of a burial, although the acid soil of the region is likely to have destroyed any such traces.

 

There is a possibility that the stone was originally a Bronze Age standing stone which, many centuries later, was re-used on two occasions: once as a Roman road marker and again as a burial marker in the so-called 'Dark Age' period.

 

Cerrig Duon stone circle, Powys (Photo: March 1987)

Cerrig Duon

Stone Circle & Row

 

County: Powys (Brecknockshire)

O.S. Grid Ref: SN 851 206

O.S. Map (Streetmap)

This atmospheric circle is slightly egg-shaped and comprises twenty stones of Pennant sandstone, each around 1 ft (0.5 m) in height. About 29 ft (9 m) to the NNE of the circle is an outlier called Maen Mawr ("large stone") which is almost 6 ft (2 m) high (centre of picture). An avenue of small stones some 147 ft (45 m) long leads up the hill to the North-east of the circle. The avenue narrows as it approaches the circle and stops just short of it. When projected, the avenue would not touch the circle but would pass a short distance to its South-east. It has been suggested that, because of this anomaly, the circle and avenue may not be related to each other.

 

The noted archaeoastronomer Professor Alexander Thom considered that Maen Mawr, when seen from the centre of the circle, marked the rising position of the star Arcturus as it would have been around 1950 BC.

 

About 0.6 miles (1 km) to the NNW of the circle, higher up on the slope of a mountain, is the Waen Lleuci (or Waen Llenai) monolith (SN 854 215). It is 6 ft (1.9 m) tall and its long axis points towards the circle [Ast]

 

Maenaddwyn standing stone, Anglesey (Photo: July 1987)

Maen Addwyn

a.k.a. Maen Fabli

Standing Stone

 

County: Anglesey (Ynys Mn)

O.S. Grid Ref: SH 461 834

O.S. Map (Streetmap)

 

One of around thirty or so standing stones on the Isle of Anglesey, this particular example is incorporated into a field wall alongside the minor road between the villages of Maenaddwyn and Capel Coch. About two-thirds of its surface was covered in ivy at the time of the author's visit in July 1987.

 

The stone is 11 ft 2 in (3.4 m) tall, 3 ft 11 in (1.2 m) wide and 2 ft 11 in (0.9 m) thick. It probably dates from the Bronze Age, but its original purpose is unknown.

 

Maen Addwyn stands opposite the Ysgol Ty Mawr primary school - the smallest school on the island.

 

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