For the next 5 days we are dedicating the Journal to a single subject – the stone alignment at Bancbryn which lies within the Mynydd y Betws wind farm. You may already feel that you are familiar with the site, but we believe that anyone with an interest in prehistory will find this series of articles interesting and thought provoking in equal measure. During the coming week the case for a prehistoric interpretation will be presented in full and we hope you will feel able to get involved in the debate and look forward to hearing your views.
A STONE ALIGNMENT AT BANCBRYN, MYNYDD Y BETWS, CARMARTHENSHIRE (PART ONE)
by Dr Sandy Gerrard
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.
Bancbryn is a pronounced bolster shaped hill forming part of an area of upland known as Mynydd y Betws. The hill stands 1.7km west of Cwmgors , 2.5km south of Garnant and reaches an altitude of 324m at NGR SN 68672 10278. There are extensive views northwards towards the mountains of the Brecon Beacons from the summit although the outlook south and westwards is restricted by a number of substantial hills including Bryn Mawr, Tor Clawdd and Mynydd y Gwair. The local vegetation includes a mosaic of heather and molinia which are grazed and periodically burnt. The most recent fire to have occurred before the discovery of the feature was in 2011. During a walk in early 2012 a line of stones was identified on the southern slope of the hill in the area between two known and scheduled cairn cemeteries (CM333 and CM335). A further nearby platform cairn is scheduled as a separate monument (CM334). Visually the line of stones looked like a prehistoric stone alignment comparable in character to those known from the South West of England. A request for the alignment to be assessed for protection as a scheduled ancient monument was submitted to Cadw in January 2012. In August 2013 Cadw produced a report that concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support a prehistoric identification although no alternative explanations were offered. This article will seek to move the debate forward by assessing the monument using third party detailed criteria employed successfully elsewhere for this purpose.
The stone alignment at Bancbryn
A single line of stones measuring over 700m long descends the southern slope of Bancbryn. The alignment can be traced from a small stony mound measuring 6m in diameter and standing up to 0.8m high at NGR SN 68935 10329 to a large recumbent stone at SN 68522 09736. A total of 172 stones were identified during a recent survey although more are likely to survive beneath the turf and three were recovered during excavations. The stones themselves are generally small although a significant number stand over 0.2m high. 52.4% of the stones are edge-set and have clearly been placed along the length of the common alignment. The remainder are mainly recumbent with the largest portion of these surviving within a 30m length centred on SN 68731 10018. The alignment is not completely straight, includes at least 15 conjoined segments, is situated between two cairn cemeteries and passes very close to a scheduled cairn at SN 68802 10180. A small number of the stones are not earth-fast but sit within clearly defined sockets. Many of the stones, in common with those visible in the adjacent cairns, are rounded in shape but a significant proportion have straight edges. The spacing between the visible stones varies over the whole length of the alignment but there are discrete areas where consistent spacing is observable. The stone is local limestone and there are no indications that it has been cut or worked in any way. Excavations carried out on a short length of the alignment revealed three stones “embedded” into the subsoil but no photographs are currently available. No artefacts or radio-carbon dating material were recovered. The upper half of the alignment is precisely aligned onto Hartland Point in Devon and denotes one edge of a small zone of inter-visibility between the cairn cemetery on Bancbryn and Barnstaple Bay.
A 1:500 survey was carried out in December and January 2013. The survey was conducted using a prismatic compass and Disto D5 measuring device and a plan created in the field using an underlay protractor beneath drafting film. As well as the alignment, the area of coal mining earthworks adjacent to the cairn at the top was surveyed in order to inform interpretation of the stony mound at the top of the alignment.
Continued in Part Two