By Sandy Gerrard
The Welsh Schedule of Ancient Monuments includes a “Burial Chamber at Pen-yr-Alttwen” just outside Pontardawe. This is scheduled as GM 514 and the grid reference is given as SN 7315 0331. According to the Royal Commission the monument stands “on the scarp edge of a south-facing slope, on the edge of a track terraced into the hillside.” The Royal Commission report continues:
“From the track the site presents in much the way described by Cadw. One large slab surrounded by leaning and fallen smaller slabs and blocks, supposedly a collapsed chamber, and a second adjacent slab with similarly disposed blocks suggesting a second, smaller, chamber to the immediate NW.
When seen from below, that is downslope from the track, the structure appears to be eroded outcrop. The larger slab seems to be a block dislodged from the exposure along a bedding plane. If the track is followed a short distance to the S it is seen to be formed on levelled outcrop. It is therefore hard to avoid the conclusion that this site is no more than a fortuitous arrangement of stones created by surface levelling. But by the same token a former built structure may have been shifted by the same process resulting in the disturbed remains visible today. There are no traces of a cairn, and if the site is genuine the location would have afforded little prospect of one, unless the subsequent landscaping was so radical as to have altered completely the configuration of the local ground pattern.”
The Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust’s Archwilio entry for the site helpfully adds “The interpretation of this feature as a monument is not entirely certain; it could be a natural landform, but the question is unlikely to be resolved in the absence of excavation. It consists of a pile of very large slabs of sandstone embedded in a steep hillslope, one of which looks as though it might be a capstone, although most of the rest look like a natural geological formation.”
So the Royal Commission and the local archaeological trust have voiced concerns regarding the identity of this monument, but Cadw were happy to schedule it and have retained it on the schedule despite the lack of any evidence whatsoever to support a prehistoric interpretation.
When Cadw was asked to schedule the Bancbryn stone alignment they responded saying that “there was insufficient evidence to propose scheduling the feature as a prehistoric stone row”.
Fair enough, I hear you cry, but then why is Cadw happy to schedule sites for which there is absolutely no evidence of date or indeed whether it is even archaeology at all? It is indeed a funny old world. Perhaps a smidgen of double standards!
Viewed from certain angles this pile of rocks (elsewhere in Wales) resembles a chambered tomb. In common with the Burial Chamber at Pen-yr-Alttwen no evidence exists to support a prehistoric interpretation.