A short report of a visit earlier this year to the Tair Carn Isaf cairn cemetery in Carmarthenshire, by our very own Dr Sandy Gerrard. 

On a spur on the western slopes of Tair Carn Isaf is a small cairn (SN 68063 16834) composed of “fresh” looking rubble. Examination of the surrounding heather indicates that it once extended a bit further, but compared to its neighbours it is rather inconspicuous and is probably overlooked by most visitors to the area. The neighbouring cairns are much larger and more prominently positioned on the nearby higher ground. What this cairn lacks in size is more than made up by its very special setting.

A very precise visual link to a neighbouring cairn together with another to a sea triangle are particularly noteworthy whilst the spectacular views of the Gower, Lundy,  Caldey, St. Govan’s Head and Preseli further enhance the atmosphere and contribute to the feeling that views were important to the people who built this cairn.

The sea view and more distant views will be considered in the future. This time, the very precise visual links between this cairn and another, Tair Carn Uchaf III (SN 69249 17378) are presented. For those who are sceptical about the importance or even the existence of visual links in Neolithic/Bronze Age studies, this example may help overcome these doubts. This cairn was carefully positioned to benefit from a multitude of visual treats at the limit of visibility and it is hard to believe that this could not have been deliberate. The very particular view of Tair Carn Uchaf III and the manner in which it alters dramatically as you move around the cairn are similar to those encountered at stone alignments and further emphasises the importance of special, particular and evolving visual links. Logic tells us that given the care taken to create these treats that these must have played some part in the beliefs of these people.  The photographs below attempt to illustrate the phenomenon, but sadly cannot replace the on-site experience.

Tair Carn 1 context

Photograph showing the viewpoints from which photographs A – D below were taken towards Cairn 1 (Tair Carn Uchaf III).

Tair Carn 2 W edge

Photograph A. View from point A towards Tair Carn Uchaf III. This is the view from the western edge of Tair Carn Isaf A. The cairn is clearly visible silhouetted against the sky.

Photograph B. View from point B towards Tair Carn Uchaf III. This is the view from the southern edge of Tair Carn Isaf A and is the same view as from the centre of the cairn. The cairn is now clearly and perfectly framed by two separate hillslopes. This framing feels deliberate and represents powerful evidence for the importance of particular and special views on the limit of visibility.

Photograph B. View from point B towards Tair Carn Uchaf III. This is the view from the southern edge of Tair Carn Isaf A and is the same view as from the centre of the cairn. The cairn is now clearly and perfectly framed by two separate hillslopes. This framing feels deliberate and represents powerful evidence for the importance of particular and special views on the limit of visibility.

Photograph C. View from point C towards Tair Carn Uchaf III. This is the view from the south eastern edge of Tair Carn Isaf.  Approximately half of the distant cairn has vanished behind the foreground slope of Tair Carn Isaf. The rapid disappearance of the distant cairn happens over a handful of metres and emphasises a particular visual treat created by movement.

Photograph C. View from point C towards Tair Carn Uchaf III. This is the view from the south eastern edge of Tair Carn Isaf.  Approximately half of the distant cairn has vanished behind the foreground slope of Tair Carn Isaf. The rapid disappearance of the distant cairn happens over a handful of metres and emphasises a particular visual treat created by movement.

Photograph D. View from point D towards Tair Carn Uchaf III. This is the view from the eastern edge of Tair Carn Isaf A.  Within the space of less than 10m the perfectly framed Tair Carn Uchaf III has vanished behind the near slope.  This remarkable series of photographs provides evidence of a recordable visual link between these two cairns. It is hard to believe that this was a coincidence given that if the cairn had been positioned a metre further to the west this visual feast would not happen.

Photograph D. View from point D towards Tair Carn Uchaf III. This is the view from the eastern edge of Tair Carn Isaf A.  Within the space of less than 10m the perfectly framed Tair Carn Uchaf III has vanished behind the near slope.  This remarkable series of photographs provides evidence of a recordable visual link between these two cairns. It is hard to believe that this was a coincidence given that if the cairn had been positioned a metre further to the west this visual feast would not happen.

Acknowledgements

The precision and character of the visual link between the two cairns was identified by Simon Charlesworth who generously shared his discovery with me taking the time to show me what he had found. I am very grateful for his help and trust I have not misrepresented his ideas.