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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.

 

Welcome to the first in an occasional series, looking through an A-Z of ancient sites in the UK. Some will be well-known, others much less so, but we hope that each site featured will show an aspect of our ancient heritage that inspires people to get out and visit.

This first article has been submitted by a new contributor to the Heritage Journal, Katherine (Cait) Range. Katherine lives in Texas, USA but has frequently visited the UK to satisfy her passion for our heritage, of which prehistoric sites form a large part. We look forward to further articles from Katherine in the coming  months.

Apron Full of Stones

This intriguingly named site is a large ring cairn, located on the eastern edge of Kingsdale Beck, east of Kirkby Lonsdale near Ingleton, in the Yorkshire Dales.  (map link)

Apron3560127

© Karl & Ali and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons

Excavated in 1972, the cairn was built within a single period, most likely Bronze Age (as suggested by a small collection of flints), and its kerb is formed of boulders. A cremation burial was found during the excavation but there were no grave goods in accompaniment. An interesting fact is that the stones are gritstone and sandstone which seems strange in an area that is largely limestone. One suggestion for this is that the stones represent glacial deposits which had been scattered over a wider area. Those stones were then gathered, possibly as a precursor to farming activity, and then used to construct the cairn. It has also been suggested that this is not a cairn at all but may be a small henge. This idea, however, has not been pursued beyond a suppostion.

© Dave Dunford and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons

The locals in times past tended to devise fantastic tales that would explain the reasons for the existence of many of these sites. And such is the case with this one. Legend has it that the Devil was collecting stones in his apron in order to build a bridge over the Lune at Kirkby Lonsdale when his apron string broke and the stones fell out on the edge of Kingsdale Beck. The tale goes on to tell that the Devil was building this bridge at the request of an old woman who wanted to cross the Lune to search for a stray cow. The Devil, not being one to do a good deed for nothing in return, had extracted the price to be the soul the first creature to cross the bridge (assuming it would be the old woman). But the old woman was as cunning as he and as she came along to the bridge the next day, she threw a bun across first and a dog leapt out in front of her to get it. The Devil was thus cheated of his payment of a soul.

Sources:

1. “The Yorkshire Dales: South and West” by Dennis Kelsall and Jan Kelsall (Cicerone Press Limited, Feb 15, 2012)
2. megalithic.co.uk
3. outofoblivion.org.uk
4. geograph.org.uk

Clava Cairns. Image credit and © Chris Brooks

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