You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Wales’ category.

by Sandy Gerrard

.
cart.

During 2012 Cadw considered the Bancbryn stone alignment for scheduling.  In October, some 9 months into the process, they were approached by the “South Wales Guardian” for an update. The people of South Wales were informed that: “No evidence was discovered to support the firm dating of the feature, but investigations concluded the most likely interpretation is that this is a relatively modern grazing boundary or route marker.”

Recently it has to come to light that at the time this statement was released the assessment process had not even started. Amazingly it would appear that Cadw published their conclusion before they had even started the assessment. Might this be the reason they appear to be unwilling to accept the prehistoric interpretation?

Sadly, as well as being somewhat premature the Cadw statement completely ignores the investigations reported in the Heritage Journal here which demonstrated that the interpretations favoured by Cadw were utterly untenable.  Is Cadw in the habit of ignoring the evidence that does not suit them or is this a one off?

Either way an explanation would be appreciated.

by Sandy Gerrard

Much has been made of the lack of conclusive evidence to support a prehistoric interpretation for the stone alignment at Bancbryn on Mynydd y Betws.  All of the alternative explanations lie in tatters but still Cadw will not even accept the idea that the prehistoric interpretation remains the most plausible explanation. Instead they prefer to stick with the line that there is “insufficient evidence to propose scheduling the feature as a prehistoric stone row”.  Cadw will not say what they think it is, preferring instead to emphasise the lack of positive evidence. In many ways this is an understandable position.  They are essentially saying that as we have no definite proof that it is prehistoric it would be unwise to add the site to the schedule of ancient monuments. However, this position would seem to contradict their usual “modus operandi” where mounds of stones, hummocks, single standing stones or indeed even lines of stones have happily been added to the schedule with no conclusive evidence being provided to justify their interpretation.

Indeed one does not have far to look to see an example of this apparently inconsistent behaviour.  No conclusive evidence currently exists to support a prehistoric date for the scheduled cairns at Bancbryn. No finds or other dating material has been recovered from any of them and indeed the entry in “Coflein” the Royal Commission’s online database notes:  “The scanty remains of 14 to 17 cairns, most of which have central mutilations, suggesting that, although no structural elements are apparent, the cairns may have been ritual in nature. Alternatively the cairns may have been claerance (sic) heaps, robbed in the hope of their being sepulchral.”

Coflein also helpfully publishes an extract from the scheduling documentation which states: “Remains of an extensive burial cairn cemetery, probably dating to the Bronze Age, situated within open moorland on the summit of Bancbryn. “

So despite considerable doubts about the identification and date of the mounds at Bancbryn, Cadw were happy to schedule this particular monument without any actual evidence to support its date or function.  Insufficient evidence was not an obstacle in this instance so why is the same level of proof not being applied to the associated stone alignment? The Cadw scheduling process seems somewhat haphazard. Sometimes hard evidence is needed but on other occasions no evidence at all. This inconsistent approach to the protection of our heritage should be a concern to us all.

One of the scheduled cairns at Bancbryn. This cairn is scheduled despite a lack of hard evidence to confirm its date and function.

One of the scheduled cairns at Bancbryn. This cairn is scheduled despite a lack of hard evidence to confirm its date and function.

by Dr Sandy Gerrard

On Mynydd Bach Trecastell, a pair of stone circles, at least one stone alignment and one cairn stand spectacularly on a gentle north facing slope offering extensive views over Mid Wales and the Brecon Beacons.  The stone circles stand close to each other and are very different in character.  The northern one measures 23m in diameter and includes 21 stones and five socket holes. The southern one is 7.9m in diameter and includes four uprights, three recumbent and a number of socket holes.

The Northern stone circle

The Northern stone circle

The site receives a mention in the Preliminary Statement for the Bancbryn stone alignment produced by Cotswold Archaeology in 2012. In this report  it is noted that: “An alignment of stones was also noted at Mynydd Bach Trecastell in proximity to a pair of prehistoric round cairns. This ‘stone alignment’ was interpreted as representing a former postmedieval field boundary. The reason for this interpretation is unclear, but appears to be due to the much smaller size of stones compared to the Saith Maen example cited above, and largely recumbent.”

The authors of this report appear to have confused the stone circles with round cairns. The stone alignment leads from the southern stone circle and is a long way from the nearest cairn. The stone alignment includes at least five stones leading directly north eastward towards the smaller stone circle. The alignment formed by the stones is also directly orientated towards the nearby cairn situated some 175m to the south west.

Detail of the five stones forming the alignment

Detail of the five stones forming the alignment

Cairn at SN 83140 30992. The line of stones leading from the southern stone circle is aligned on this cairn.

Cairn at SN 83140 30992. The line of stones leading from the southern stone circle is aligned on this cairn.

The reason for the post-medieval field boundary interpretation is certainly unclear.  All the other boundaries in the vicinity include a ditch and bank.  It is also difficult to understand why a boundary would respect the stone circle stopping as it does a few metres short.  The idea that it may have not been accepted as a stone row because the stones were small is interesting.   If one starts from the premise that all stone rows consist only of large stones then of course those with only small stones must be something else.  This blinkered approach has obvious dangers and here the result is that a line of stones leading from a stone circle in the precise direction of a cairn has been interpreted as a post-medieval boundary despite the fact that all the other boundaries on the mountain consist of a bank and ditch.

Post medieval boundaries in the vicinity consist of a bank and ditch.

Post medieval boundaries in the vicinity consist of a bank and ditch.

It makes no sense to me to imply that the post-medieval farmers on this mountain chose to devise a completely new way of building boundaries when they arrived in the vicinity of prehistoric archaeology and instead chose to place stones in a line leading from a stone circle to a cairn. Perhaps we need to embrace the idea that stone alignments can consist entirely of small stones in order to avoid further silliness. Why do archaeologists working in the South West of England not have a problem with this idea?

A line of stones

A line of stones leading towards a stone circle is usually interpreted as a stone alignment.

Heritage Action member Sue Brooke has been peeking over the garden fence again, and gives us this update on the Caerau Hillfort excavations in Cardiff.

Well the leaflet dropped through the door about two weeks ago. At the end of last week the local community magazine arrived, both with the invitation to ‘come and join the excavations.’ So I did.

I’ve written about Caerau Hillfort in Cardiff in the past via this journal. It was, you may recall, featured on a Time Team episode – one of the last in the final series made, shown in April 2012. It was actually also featured in one of the Time Team dig books. But since all this ended and the so called glare of publicity faded away it may seem like it has all been forgotten. Not so.

The CAER Heritage Project has been working constantly in the local areas of Caerau and Ely, (CAER is an acronym – Caerau and Ely Rediscovering). They have their own website and the usual Facebook group following as you would expect, but they are actually up there promoting their project aims of rediscovering the past.

Community excavations took place last year. Again this year, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, my triangular shaped field is the focus of activity for anyone interested either in local history or archaeology itself. I couldn’t get there myself last year but this year I found myself free for the first days of the planned dig, and since the weather has been so beautiful I accepted the invitation of ‘come and join the excavations’ and wandered along.

It’s probably best that you understand, at this point, that although I find archaeology fascinating and, having watched probably most of the Time Team episodes I viewed myself as something of an armchair expert. But I never ever wanted what I had come to think of as MY triangular shaped field to be dug up. I had researched this field, written thousands of words on it, drawn maps of it, walked up and down in it and generally did my best to keep it as a secret. Although local legend, if you like, was that there was a Roman Fort located up alongside the old church of St Mary in the ring-work, I had always believed it to be the triangular shaped field that would hold the biggest and, hopefully earliest secrets. I could bore for Wales on the subject of this field.

When Time Team visited I spent each and every day up on the hill, horrified at the goings-on. I never thought for one minute that this field would give up shiny swords or gold treasure but I felt it was important to the development of the local area in which I have always lived. This hillfort is quite literally over my garden fence. I wanted to know more about who lived there, how they lived there and why? For me it was, and still is, as much about the people as the place.

Caerau Sign

But here I am, on my way to go back up the hill to yet another excavation. It is a long and very steep walk up. Thankfully it has been reasonably dry lately so it makes it far safer underfoot. I arrived at the foot of the hill to find the excavations signposted. It’s actually a very pretty walk up and definitely worth it when you eventually reach the top. The gates were open to the triangular shaped field and just inside there were some gazebo type tents which form an information point.

Caerau finds

Some of the latest ‘finds’ are being cleaned up but they are displayed on trays and I was actually given some sherds of pottery to hold. In my hand! Cardiff University students are on hand to talk you though what they have found so far and it was really fascinating stuff. I know both project directors – Olly Davis and Dave Wyatt – from my early work with the group just prior to them forming the heritage project, and it was nice to catch up with them again. Olly walked me around the site, pointing out what they were doing and the significance of their very early discoveries. Olly explains things really well, not reverting to that dry academic way of speaking that you can often hear when the so called expert knows what he is on about but you simply end up nodding in bemused and confused agreement. Olly pointed out the various features actually in the ground, giving his early interpretation of them and setting them into a historical context that I, as a local historian with only a broad knowledge of history in general, could understand.

CAerau trench

I was shown around the various trenches that have already been put in and met some of the university students involved. It was really nice to see the whole thing being recorded on film and in pictures by a local resident. Various local people were on the site and had been included in the digging itself. Olly told me that there had been 30 visitors to the site the previous day and they were expecting many more. Local schools have been fully involved again with the project. Local children and young people will be attending the dig, in planned visits, during the duration of the excavations.

Caerau excavation

There are potentially some important discoveries to be made up at the site. Without giving away too much of the detail there are signs of some exciting possibilities in the ground that could hold importance to understanding early life in Wales. Back at the gazebo I was shown the geophysical results and the Lidar images that have been taken and these were explained clearly to me. There is also a large reconstruction drawing on display – again the work of a local resident – which gives a nice insight to how the site may have looked. There is also a booklet – free of charge – that gives lots of information on the previous work undertaken and some of the discoveries made.

Caerau booklet

I have to say that this ‘red-carpet’ treatment wasn’t exclusive to me. I spoke with Olly asking him if he ever got the chance now to get in the trench and dig – which, after all is what he trained for, and he replied saying that showing people around and interpreting the site took up an awful lot of his time. Although he did agree that not having his nose in the trench did allow him a better overview of the site as a whole. We may make a local historian out of him yet!

Having had a really good look around I was relieved that the trenches weren’t taking over the whole of the field. The trenches from the previous excavations were now barely discernible and I expect that these recent ones will fade back into the grass with time. The work that is being done will certainly help me gain a better idea not only of the place but of the people who lived within it.

What makes this heritage project just that little bit different is that it includes the members of the local community; it actually encourages them in, gives them a trowel and makes them get dirty! The key objective of this project was to:

Put local people at the heart of cutting edge archeological research, to develop educational opportunities and to challenge stigmas and unfounded stereotypes ascribed to this part of Cardiff.

I think, from my visit today that CAER Heritage Project actually does what it says on the tin – even if they are digging up my triangular shaped field.

So, I now share the invitation with you. Go and join the excavations. They run from 30th June through to 25th July 2014. There is a lot going on up there that it probably wouldn’t be fair of me to share in this little article – please, go and see for yourself. I may see you there – I’m going back tomorrow only this time I’m going to dig!

There is also an article about the dig on the BBC web site.

All pictures © Sue Brooke

From The South Wales Guardian:

“BACK in October 2012 we reported what was initially thought to be a neolithic stone row on Betws Mountain was probably just a relatively modern grazing boundary or route waymarker.
At least that was the conclusion of experts from Cadw after inspecting the find.
But now the goal-posts – sorry, waymarkers – appear to have been moved because a senior Cadw inspector has conceded their initial identification may have been somewhat hasty. This begs the question: if those stones aren’t grazing boundaries or waymarkers, what the heck are they”
.
Readers of the Journal are welcome to submit their own ideas on this mystery.
.

puzzle

See more here

http://heritageaction.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/a-stone-alignment-at-bancbryn-mynydd-y-betws-carmarthenshire-part-one/

The Welsh Government is holding a public consultation on whether the “ignorance defence” for damaging an ancient monument (saying the accused was unaware of its status or location) should be restricted.

Successful prosecutions are very rare. Between 2006 and 2012, Cadw received reports of 119 cases of unlawful damage to scheduled ancient monuments in Wales but there has only been one successful prosecution under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 in the last 25 years. That is surely a ridiculous state of affairs? Over the years hundreds of the most important sites have been damaged and only once has a culprit been punished! What do YOU think? Responses have been invited from any individuals or groups with an interest in the historic environment of Wales. You can submit your views here.

Of course, there are certain measures that could be taken to discourage heritage crime, certainly at the Nine Ladies. You’re welcome to suggest some of your own!

vandal2

A STONE ALIGNMENT AT BANCBRYN, MYNYDD Y BETWS, CARMARTHENSHIRE (PART FIVE)

by Dr Sandy Gerrard

Abstract
In January 2012 a previously unrecorded alignment of stones was identified on the southern slope of Bancbryn, Carmarthenshire. Subsequent research has indicated that this stone alignment shares common characteristics with examples in South West England and sits firmly within an area previously identified as containing a significant number of prehistoric cairns. A scheduling assessment conducted by Cadw has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to support a prehistoric interpretation. This article seeks to re-examine the evidence and utilise it to present a persuasive interpretation supporting a prehistoric explanation for this alignment.

Case for a prehistoric stone alignment at Bancbryn (continued)

30. “At Merrivale, Dartmoor, the stone alignments appear to separate a group of ceremonial monuments from a concentration of hut circles and settlement sites.”

Discussion: The stone alignment at Bancbryn is not known to separate ritual and settlement areas, but the idea that alignments can perform the function of separating different zones is one that has a very real significance at Bancbryn. Looking along the upper part of the stone alignment on Bancbryn, Hartland Point (Devon) forms a very obvious distant but precise focus on clear days.

bancbryn27

This relationship is clearly of interest and almost certainly of significance. Walking downhill (southwards) along the upper length of the alignment an observer always has Hartland Point just visible over the shoulder of the intervening hill. The position and orientation of the alignment precisely allows this juxtaposition to be maintained until at the point where it is finally lost, the axis of the alignment shifts more significantly westward. This type of visual relationship is one recognised as significant in prehistoric studies. From the point where Hartland Point disappears the alignment instead becomes focussed on the sharp sided valley west of Banc John which has a very similar profile to Tor Clawdd which framed the left side of Hartland Point. The alignment without any doubt therefore takes full cognisance of Hartland Point, but is this deliberate or a coincidence? The fact that the upper shifts in orientation of the alignment all result in maintaining the same view to Hartland Point and the alignment shifts significantly at the point where Hartland Point disappears below the horizon supports the idea that there is a strong element of deliberation. This suggestion is further strengthened by the observation that the stone alignment effectively also denotes the edge of a small area on Bancbryn that benefits from views to the sea and Devon. This small area also contains a large number of cairns. This compelling evidence which indicates a direct and powerful visual link between the stone alignment, adjacent cairn cemetery and the distant Devon coast is one that can only be challenged by dismissing the idea that stone alignments could separate areas and more importantly that in the siting of monuments visual relationships played no part in prehistoric society. It is therefore perhaps fitting to finish with Cadw’s own observation regarding the distribution of the cairns that “It would be reasonable to assume from the relative positioning of these sites that they had visual relationships in antiquity” (Cadw, R., 2006).

Map showing the extent of the small area from which views of Devon are possible (white). The south eastern edge of this area is precisely denoted by the stone alignment. Views from within the Bancbryn cemetery include much of Bideford Bay whilst along the alignment itself the view is restricted to Hartland Point only. Devon is not visible from the Lletty’r crydd cemetery.

Map showing the extent of the small area from which views of Devon are possible (white). The south eastern edge of this area is precisely denoted by the stone alignment. Views from within the Bancbryn cemetery include much of Bideford Bay whilst along the alignment itself the view is restricted to Hartland Point only. Devon is not visible from the Lletty’r-crydd cemetery.

View from the stone alignment looking along its axis towards Hartland Point. The shifts in the alignment ensure that this remarkable visual relationship between Tor Clawdd and Hartland Point is maintained as you walk along the upper part of the alignment.

View from the stone alignment looking along its axis towards Hartland Point. The shifts in the alignment ensure that this remarkable visual relationship between Tor Clawdd and Hartland Point is maintained as you walk along the upper part of the alignment.

View from cairn B adjacent to the alignment. Despite being only 10m away from the position the photograph above was taken three times as much of Devon is now visible. The stone alignment denotes the edge of a small area where Devon is rapidly revealed as you walk through it. The fact that there are also so many cairns within this area would signify that it was of considerable interest to the prehistoric inhabitants.

View from cairn B adjacent to the alignment. Despite being only 10m away from the position the photograph above was taken three times as much of Devon is now visible. The stone alignment denotes the edge of a small area where Devon is rapidly revealed as you walk through it. The fact that there are also so many cairns within this area would signify that it was of considerable interest to the prehistoric inhabitants.

View from cairn C. Although only 140m from Cairn B much of North Devon is now visible. Views such as this are confined to the small area which is accurately denoted along its south eastern side by the stone alignment.

View from cairn C. Although only 140m from Cairn B much of North Devon is now visible. Views such as this are confined to the small area which is accurately denoted along its south eastern side by the stone alignment.

Conclusion

Much has been made of the lack of evidence to support a prehistoric explanation for the stone alignment at Bancbryn. Assessing the site against the scheduling assessment documentation indicates that such claims are hard to defend. There is an abundance of evidence and it all points one way. By contrast if the currently scheduled Welsh alignments were subjected to the same detailed scrutiny many would perhaps be found wanting. The stone alignment at Bancbryn survives within a very pertinent prehistoric context not evident at other Welsh alignments and clearly conforms to all of the characteristics of this type of monument. The similarities with the longer Dartmoor alignments are powerful as is the direct and compelling visual link with Devon. All of this together with a simple but sound statistical explanation for the apparent absence of long stone alignments within the Welsh archaeological record creates a persuasive evidence based interpretation supporting a prehistoric explanation for this alignment.

Acknowledgements

I have had considerable help from a number of people whilst preparing this article. I would like to thank Nigel Swift for commenting constructively on all aspects and Sophie Smith for digging out hard to find information as well as being a harsh critic of my more outlandish ideas. Helen Woodley has also provided a stream of incredibly useful ideas and was the first to spot the Hartland Point link. George Currie has helped hone the illustrations and provided incredibly helpful feedback. Finally Helen Gerrard has skilfully edited the result and been an inspiration through the discovery process.

Sources

Butler, J., 1997, “Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities Volume 5 – The Second Millennium B.C.”

Cadw, 2006 “Erection of 16 Wind Turbine Generators – Mynydd y Betws” (Letter to Carmarthenshire County Council)

Monument Class Description for Stone Alignments published by English Heritage and available at http://www.eng-h.gov.uk/mpp/mcd/index.htm

________________________________________________________________________

We hope you agree that this series of articles is both interesting and thought provoking. Cadw has indicated that it would welcome the opportunity for a wider debate regarding the attribution and future management of this feature. We will be happy to pass on any feedback you may have.

________________________________________________________________________

A STONE ALIGNMENT AT BANCBRYN, MYNYDD Y BETWS, CARMARTHENSHIRE (PART FOUR)

by Dr Sandy Gerrard

Abstract
In January 2012 a previously unrecorded alignment of stones was identified on the southern slope of Bancbryn, Carmarthenshire. Subsequent research has indicated that this stone alignment shares common characteristics with examples in South West England and sits firmly within an area previously identified as containing a significant number of prehistoric cairns. A scheduling assessment conducted by Cadw has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to support a prehistoric interpretation. This article seeks to re-examine the evidence and utilise it to present a persuasive interpretation supporting a prehistoric explanation for this alignment.

Case for a prehistoric stone alignment at Bancbryn (continued)

20. “Because of uncertainties about the dating of stone alignments and the duration of their use it is impossible to determine which regularly associated monuments represent contemporary associations.”

Discussion: This is a problem associated with all stone alignments and does not detract from their significance.

21. “Cairns, however, frequently occur at the end of an alignment (especially type I alignments), at some point along the course of an alignment, or beside an alignment.”

Discussion: There is a cairn at the head of this alignment and another beside it. A further small number of mounds close to the alignment may also relate to it although because there are considerable doubts over their identification they have been omitted from the mapping in this paper. These mounds were depicted in an earlier publication. The presence of a cairn at the head of the alignment and another close by is yet another feature shared with the two longest Dartmoor alignments.

Stones leading towards the cairn at the head of the alignment

Stones leading towards the cairn at the head of the alignment

Stone alignment in foreground passing a small cairn

Stone alignment in foreground passing a small cairn

22. “During a recent survey of the Plym Valley, Devon, it was found that all seven stone alignments in the study area had cairns at their up-slope ends.”

Discussion: Cairns are often found at the upper end of single alignments. There is a cairn at the head of the Bancbryn stone alignment.

23.”Standing stones and cists represent further classes of monument that were in use at broadly the same time and which are also sometimes spatially associated with stone alignments.”

Discussion: Neither of the two longest Dartmoor alignments are known to be directly associated with separate standing stones or cists. The presence or absence of these features really does not affect the interpretation as many alignments are not connected with cists or individual standing stones.

24.”In most cases the axis of the stone alignment is eccentric to any associated monuments such as cairns, circles, cists, or standing stones, suggesting that the construction of the stone alignment post-dates the construction of these associated features. This is also the case where stone alignments cut across the top of cairns or cists.”

Discussion: The Bancbryn alignment occupies the space between two discrete clusters of cairn. The broad axis of the Bancbryn cemetery is 233°, whilst the Lletty’r-crydd cemetery is 142° and the orientation from the top of the alignment to the bottom is 214°. Inspection of the plans confirms this eccentric association.

25.”In many upland areas stone alignments lie within concentrations of monuments, usually just outside field systems of various classes within areas that are rich in burial and ceremonial sites.”

Discussion: This certainly describes precisely the situation at Bancbryn. The stone alignment lies within an upland area rich in burial and ceremonial sites a short distance from historic fields.

26. “Detailed surveys on Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor over the past few years have significantly increased the number of stone alignments recorded and our understanding of those already known. This is principally because most stone alignments are found in relatively remote areas and are not easily seen from aerial reconnaissance or casual survey”.

Discussion: Even on Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor which have been subjected to considerable archaeological attention, fresh discoveries of stone alignments continue to be made. Once discovered there is universal surprise that the structure had gone unnoticed for so long. The discovery of a stone alignment usually follows a change in vegetation or a particularly intensive piece of fieldwork. This type of archaeology is very likely to be overlooked by walk-over or desk based surveys.

27. “The former position of most fallen or robbed stones will be marked by their socket cut into the subsoil. Some alignments are wholly or partly preserved beneath blanket bog.”

Discussion: It is acknowledged that not all stones will be marked by sockets cut into the subsoil. The reason for this position is clear. Small stones could be erected firmly by insertion into the turf and topsoil alone without the need to disturb the subsoil. Large stones on the other hand would need additional support and a socket cut into the subsoil would have provided this. The absence of socket holes (should this prove to be the case) should therefore not represent a barrier to acceptance of the prehistoric explanation.

28. “Preservation is generally good and most recorded examples are fairly complete, with perhaps 60% of the stones still standing. Most contain some fallen stones.”

Discussion: Fallen stones are a feature of stone alignments. Those alignments that have not been restored tend to have a larger percentage of fallen stones. The 60% mentioned in the Monument Class Description is not dissimilar to the 54.2% edge set stones at Bancbryn and again reinforces the prehistoric explanation. The Bancbryn alignment in common with other upland alignments is fairly complete. Despite the apparent fragility of this resource, examples often survive surprisingly well and this is also the case at Bancbryn. The looseness of some stones is a characteristic that is shared with other alignments of this type.

29. “Because of the size of the stones used in most alignments they are very vulnerable to damage; small stones can be hidden from view by rough grass and bracken and are therefore vulnerable to being inadvertently knocked over or removed, large stones are highly desirable for walling, road building, or other construction work.”

Discussion: The small stones at Bancbryn were hidden from view by heather and molinia. This comment does not relate to the assessment process but does emphasise that monuments of this type are fragile.

 

Concluded in Part Five

A STONE ALIGNMENT AT BANCBRYN, MYNYDD Y BETWS, CARMARTHENSHIRE (PART THREE)

by Dr Sandy Gerrard

Abstract
In January 2012 a previously unrecorded alignment of stones was identified on the southern slope of Bancbryn, Carmarthenshire. Subsequent research has indicated that this stone alignment shares common characteristics with examples in South West England and sits firmly within an area previously identified as containing a significant number of prehistoric cairns. A scheduling assessment conducted by Cadw has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to support a prehistoric interpretation. This article seeks to re-examine the evidence and utilise it to present a persuasive interpretation supporting a prehistoric explanation for this alignment.

Case for a prehistoric stone alignment at Bancbryn (continued)

11. “It must also be borne in mind that the ends of a stone alignment may have been “restored” in the past to make them look more impressive”

Discussion: The Bancbryn alignment has not been restored. The survival of large numbers of recumbent slabs combined with the fact that the structure was not recorded by antiquarians means that it has not been interfered with in this way. This enhances its importance since it has not been modified.

bancbryn22

ABOVE: The terminal pillars at Drizzlecombe were re-erected in 1893.

12. “The spacing of stones along the length of an alignment is often uneven although again some allowance must be made for the possibility of lost or fallen stones and for the movement of stones since they were erected.”

Discussion: The spacing of stones along the Bancbryn alignment as a whole is typically uneven but within some segments spacing is sometimes rather more regular. Some of the stones are also slightly out of line. These characteristics are also shared with SW English alignments.

Regular spacing evident along this length of the alignment

Regular spacing evident along this length of the alignment

13. “The number of stones in an alignment is loosely related to its length, but three stones is the minimum for any alignment”.

Discussion: 175 stones (including three found during excavation) have been recorded at Bancbryn. This is the equivalent of one stone per 4.17m. In common with other long alignments stones have been lost or are buried but this number compares very favourably with Butterdon Hill where the figure is one stone per 3.67m and the Upper Erme where an average spacing of 3.60m has been noted. The broad similarities in stone spacing is of significance and provides further evidence of a direct parallel between the Bancbryn alignment and the longest Dartmoor stone alignments.

14. “The terminals of many stone alignments are elaborated in various ways, although it must be emphasized that the attention given to alignment ends during “restoration” work makes assessment difficult.”

Discussion: The cairn at the upper end and the large stone at the lower end represent elaboration which has not been affected by restoration. Single alignments often have cairns at their upper end and a large stone at the bottom. Indeed this is the classic form of the site and both features are present at Bancbryn.

15. “The use of larger than usual stones at terminals has already been noted, and in the case of stone alignments with two rows of uprights a large stone is sometimes set between the rows at one or both ends to block entry to the space between the rows of uprights. These are known as blocking stones.”

Discussion:-Blocking stones are a feature of double or multiple alignments only. The Bancbryn alignment is of the single alignment type.

16. “Local stones were generally used in the construction of stone alignments.”

Discussion: Local limestone stones were used in the construction of the Bancbryn alignment. Some of the differences in appearance between the Bancbryn alignment and those built in other geological zones may simply be the result of the different character of the available stones

Limestone blocks were used in the construction of the Bancbryn stone alignment

Limestone blocks were used in the construction of the Bancbryn stone alignment

17. “There is no common orientation discernible among known alignments, and in many cases the terminals are not inter-visible suggesting that these monuments were not established as sighting-lines.”

Discussion: Understanding of orientation has progressed since this was written. Work by Jeremy Butler on the Dartmoor alignments has identified that there is tendency for them to be orientated upwards towards the north-east quadrant. The Bancbryn alignment conforms to this as do the stone alignments on Bodmin Moor. In common with many alignments the terminals at Bancbryn are not inter-visible.

18. “The function of stone alignments is not known; they are presumed to be ritual or ceremonial structures.”

Discussion: This statement does not help with the assessment process though it worth emphasising that Cadw in 2006 described the area as “a complex interconnected ritual landscape” (Cadw, 2006). Such landscapes often have stone alignments within them.

19. “Stone alignments are generally dispersed monuments, although occasionally up to four examples may be found within a few hundred metres of one another as at Shoveldown, Dartmoor, Devon.”

Discussion: There are a significant number of alignments within the area. All lie north of Bancbryn with Saith Maen some 15km away being the nearest. The others are Cerrig Duon (19km), Nant Tarw (20km) and Trecastle Mountain (25km). Two of these sites consist of alignments comprising only very small stones.

 

Continued in Part Four

A STONE ALIGNMENT AT BANCBRYN, MYNYDD Y BETWS, CARMARTHENSHIRE (PART TWO)

by Dr Sandy Gerrard

Abstract
In January 2012 a previously unrecorded alignment of stones was identified on the southern slope of Bancbryn, Carmarthenshire. Subsequent research has indicated that this stone alignment shares common characteristics with examples in South West England and sits firmly within an area previously identified as containing a significant number of prehistoric cairns. A scheduling assessment conducted by Cadw has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to support a prehistoric interpretation. This article seeks to re-examine the evidence and utilise it to present a persuasive interpretation supporting a prehistoric explanation for this alignment.

Case for a prehistoric stone alignment at Bancbryn

There is a considerable body of evidence to support a prehistoric explanation for the stone alignment. If as a starting point one believes in the possibility that the prehistoric peoples on either side of the Bristol Channel shared cultural links and beliefs then there is no reason to doubt that archaeological remains belonging to that period will share similar characteristics. Much has been made of the fact that the alignment is longer than other Welsh examples and therefore unlikely to be prehistoric, because Welsh examples are shorter. The irony of this position is hard not to notice. If the alignment had been largely destroyed it would have perhaps been more readily accepted.  Fortunately, despite recent incursions the alignment survives very well and this should aid analysis of it. The case for a prehistoric origin for the alignment at Bancbryn is a solid one based on several separate strands of evidence that are cumulatively compelling. Indeed given the scrutiny lavished on this alignment, one wonders how many of the currently scheduled examples could offer such robust and convincing evidence to support their identification.

Any interpretative assessment needs as a starting point to define and agree the characteristics of the type of heritage being scrutinised. The most detailed and readily available resource for this purpose is the Monument Class Description for Stone Alignments published by English Heritage and available at http://www.eng-h.gov.uk/mpp/mcd/index.htm . This document was specifically written to permit the objective assessment of stone alignments for scheduling purposes and therefore would seem the most appropriate tool to inform this discussion. Quotes from the Monument Class Description appear below in italics.

1. “A stone alignment comprises a single line, or two or more roughly parallel lines, of upright stones set at intervals along a common axis or series of axes. The number and size of stones in known alignments varies greatly, but the minimum number of stones required to form an alignment is three. The word alignment here refers to the juxtapositioning of the stones forming the monument itself rather than to any supposed or observed orientation on other monuments and/or topographical features.”

Discussion: This definition is not entirely accurate as some accepted rows consist entirely of recumbent stones, whilst many include significant numbers of horizontal slabs and edge-set stones. The Bancbryn alignment includes a single line of at least 175 stones of which a small number are upright, 52.4% are edge-set and the remainder are recumbent. These stones are set or lie at intervals along a series of axes and in common with the small stones forming Dartmoor alignments the edge-set stones are aligned along the prevailing axis.

The stone alignment at SN 68835 10223

The stone alignment at SN 68835 10223

2. “Stone alignments are rarely absolutely straight; many are slightly curved or comprise conjoined segments of different orientation. In general, however, each stone alignment has a single and distinct axis, albeit a rather broad one in some cases.”

 Discussion: The Bancbryn alignment in common with all long stone alignments is not absolutely straight and comprises conjoined segments of different orientation. Preliminary analysis of the plan has identified 15 segments each with a slightly different alignment. The alignment as a whole is broadly orientated at 214° and varies between 198° and 230° with most of this variation being found at the upper end.

One of the more obvious shifts in orientation

One of the more obvious shifts in orientation

The same orientation shift after return of vegetation

The same orientation shift after return of vegetation

3. “Stone alignments vary in length from about 40m, up to over 3000m, one of the longest being the example on Stall Down, Dartmoor, Devon. The most common length is about 150-200m.”

Discussion: The alignment at Bancbryn is just over 700m long and therefore within the accepted range for this type of monument. The length is certainly longer than currently accepted Welsh alignments but given that the longer examples are very rare it would not be surprising for only a very small number to survive within Wales.  On Dartmoor where at least 77 stone alignments have been recognised only four are longer than 700m. This represents a mere 5.2% of the total. By contrast the number of accepted alignments in Wales is at least 15. Acceptance of the Bancbryn alignment would mean that 6.25% of the known resource would be of the long variety – interestingly a very similar percentage to the situation on Dartmoor. Wales has far fewer stone alignments than Dartmoor and it is therefore hardly surprising that this very rare form of the monument has up until now proved elusive.  It is, however, surely not valid to state that the alignment does not conform to the expected form when in fact viewed as part of the whole resource it does so perfectly.

The Butterdon Hill stone alignment on Dartmoor measures 1973m long

The Butterdon Hill stone alignment on Dartmoor measures 1973m long

4. “The size of the stones used in the construction of stone alignments varies greatly, both between monuments and within the length of individual structures”

Discussion:  Most of the stones within the alignment are relatively small (between 0.30m and 0.50m) although some are more substantial.  The average stone height and size is similar to many South Western English and some Welsh stone alignments.  The variety of stone size within the Bancbryn alignment is a recognised feature of prehistoric examples.

Different sized stones are a recognised feature of stone alignments

 The stone alignment at SN 68835 10223. Different sized stones are a recognised feature of stone alignments

5. “Stones which project less than 1m above ground level are most common, although a few alignments, mostly short ones, contain only very large stones over 2m high.”

Discussion:  Many of the Welsh alignments fall into the recognised group of short alignments with large stones. It is clear however that the different types are not mutually exclusive. In SW England short alignments of large stones and long alignments consisting mainly of small stones exist. There is no evidence to suggest that where examples of one type are found the other will not be. Stone alignments with very small stones are known within the Welsh archaeological resource and therefore the small size of the stones at Bancbryn represents no obstacle to a prehistoric explanation.

6.  “Where slabs of stone were used they were usually set with their long axis on the orientation of the alignment”.

Discussion: The edge set stones at Bancbryn in common with other alignments are predominantly set with their long axis along the orientation of the alignment.

7. “There is little evidence that the stones in any stone alignments were deliberately placed in graduated order of size”.

Discussion: The stones have not yet been individually measured, but visual inspection would suggest that the stones have not been placed in graduated order of size.

8. “In many cases the stone at each end of an alignment, terminal stones, are larger than those used elsewhere in the monument.”

Discussion: The largest stone within the alignment denotes the south western end. This stone is now recumbent and measures 0.62m by 0.52m by 0.25m. This feature provides particularly strong evidence to support a prehistoric identification.

The recumbent terminal stone

The recumbent terminal stone

9. “In other cases the end of an alignment may just fade out with a series of small stones then nothing.”

Discussion: This means that terminal features do not always survive but at Bancbryn characteristic terminal features have been identified. The presence of these features enhances the prehistoric interpretation.

10. “When assessing and measuring alignments it is important to check the ends very carefully to determine whether the visible terminals are likely to be the real ends of the monument or whether the line may continue under a blanket of peat or as a series of small stones”

Discussion: The areas of the alignment towards the ends have both seen more disturbance than the central length which survives very well. The north eastern end had been disturbed by historic trackways and more recently by wind farm infrastructure whilst the south eastern end has also seen vehicular damage. Despite this the terminals are well defined.

Part of stone alignment has recently been destroyed by wind farm infrastructure

Part of stone alignment has recently been destroyed by wind farm infrastructure

Continued in Part Three

Archives

July 2014
S M T W T F S
« Jun    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Follow Us

Follow us on Twitter

Follow us on Facebook

Twitter Feed

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,338 other followers

%d bloggers like this: