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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)

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


March 2014

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