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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.

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.


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


March 2014

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