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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

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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.

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