by Sandy Gerrard
In March last year 18 questions relating to the archaeological situation on Mynydd y Betws were asked. During May the answers provided by Cadw were published here. I also asked my local Assembly Member (Mr Rhodri Glyn Thomas) to ask the Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) the same questions and he kindly did this on my behalf. Having had no response in October I asked Carmarthenshire County Council for a copy of the DAT response and this was passed to both Mr Thomas and myself shortly afterwards. A commentary on the DAT response was then produced and sent to Carmarthenshire County Council. This series of articles present DAT’s responses in black and my own comments upon them in green.
General Comments (my commentary in green)
At the outset we should explain that this Trust has had strong reservations about the interpretation of the stone alignment as given by Dr and Mrs Gerrard largely through the medium of the press.
Interesting use of the words “has had”. The Trust surely either has or had strong reservations but surely not both at the same time.
At the site meeting the Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) officer first raised the possibility of the stone alignment being schedulable and offered to contact Cadw directly for an assessment to be conducted. We informed him that we would also contact Cadw. The DAT officer also said that he would get straight back to us. I only contacted the “press” after it became clear that both the DAT and Cadw were not going to engage with our concerns.
This has concerned us as the nature of this archaeological find makes it very difficult to provide immediate or clear-cut interpretations on date and function and it is regrettable that this was done in the context of a sensitive windfarm development that has clearly invoked much local opposition.
I totally agree that it is regrettable, but as the stone alignment was only identified at this very late stage in the process clearly some sensitivity was going to be needed. If the Trust had instead chosen to involve us, as they initially promised, we would have been happy to work with them. Instead they choose to first alienate and then exclude us from the process and by doing so created the regrettable situation.
The Cotswold Archaeological Trust were commissioned by the developer to provide a report on the newly discovered stone alignment, based on a recommendation made by this Trust to the planning authority. The contents of the report are self-explanatory. However, it concludes that whilst a prehistoric origin cannot wholly be dismissed, it is: ‘More plausible that the current alignment is representative of a later boundary, perhaps demarcating grazing rights on the moorland, or marks a pathway, perhaps from Bryn Mawr to the twentieth century adit workings’. [p12].
This form of “later boundary” is unknown in Wales so if this interpretation is accepted it would make the feature unique and therefore arguably more important than a prehistoric stone alignment of which there are several examples.
The “twentieth century adit workings” are neither C20 in date or adits. This site is described as late C18 or early C19 by the Royal Commission and was described by them some 9 years before the date assigned by the Cotswold Archaeological Trust (CAT). Adits are never cut into the very top of hills and it is perhaps better to consider them as outcrop coal workings. This is important because it means the report is suggesting that an impossible explanation is more plausible than one that “cannot be wholly dismissed”.
This Trust agrees with this conclusion, though our preferred interpretation is that the stones have been taken from nearby prehistoric cairns and used as a way marker across an open and inhospitable moorland environment, where changes to weather can occur very quickly.
This explanation can and has been challenged on many grounds:
There is no logical need for a third route to the summit of Banc Bryn
None of the other paths or tracks on the moor are waymarked
The small size of the stones means that they are soon covered by snow
There is no man made path or track on the upslope side
There is no need to build a path to a small scale outcrop working whose focus would have been continually shifting
The outcrop workings are much earlier in date than suggested by the report and may therefore not even be contemporary with the farmstead
The route chosen is more uneven than the one currently being utilised a short distance upslope
There is no tradition of waymarking across moorland using large numbers of closely spaced small stones
Why is the Dyfed Archaeological Trust so eager to accept an interpretation that is completely contradicted by its own records?
However, Dr and Mrs Gerrard may not agree with these alternative interpretations and it will be for them to produce a detailed report on their find which can perhaps be published in an academic journal making their views open to professional archaeological scrutiny and judgement.
A report has been produced and copies sent to DAT and Cadw. An online version is also available at: http://heritageaction.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/mynydd-y-betws-stone-row-very-poor-scholarship-and-a-system-which-is-clearly-unfit-for-purpose/
This report and others are now hopefully being used as part of a consultation exercise being conducted by Cadw. However, no response to the contents of the report has been received from DAT or Cadw. Indeed the officers to whom the report was initially sent did not even bother to acknowledge receipt.
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