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Road improvement works on the A4226 Five Mile Lane near Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan have revealed what was later described as “surprising” and “significant” Roman and Medieval remains.

The Vale of Glamorgan Council contracted-in Rubicon Heritage Services, who conducted an archaeological excavation of three sites resulting in the finds of a Roman mercenary buried with his sword, Iron Age farming tools, ancient burial sites and the remnants of roundhouses.

Bronze Age Burial site at Five Mile Lane © Rubicon Heritage Services

The site has been described as a “ceremonial and funerary landscape in the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods, through to farming in the Iron Age and being part of a wealthy Roman farmstead, to a Medieval burial ground which reused the earlier burial mound, and finally to the post-medieval agricultural landscape we see today”.

Roman Villa at Five Mile Lane © Rubicon Heritage Services

Other agencies assisting in the excavation included the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff University, Cadw and the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust.

Following proper analysis, all the artefacts will be placed into safekeeping with the National Museum of Wales.

Medieval Burial at Five Mile Lane © Rubicon Heritage Services

Mark Collard from Rubicon Heritage Services, said: “We’re very pleased to be able now to share the results in such an accessible format with the communities of the area.”

Rubicon Heritage Services’ have produced a fascinating e-book detailing the excavation entitled ‘Guide to the excavations at FIVE MILE LANE – 6,000 Years of Life in the Vale of Glamorgan’. It is available as a free PDF download from the Rubicon Heritage Services website. There is also an explanatory ‘map story’ that can be accessed here.

With thanks to Myghal Map Serpren

By Dr. Sandy Gerrard.

Following the discovery of the Bancbryn stone row in 2012 the Welsh archaeological establishment set about characterising it and after much deliberation concluded that it was not a prehistoric stone row for six main reasons:

  1. Rows are less than 200m long (Consultant reporting to Dyfed Archaeological Trust 14th February 2012).
  2. The overall alignment of the Mynydd y Betws alignment is sinuous in a form which is not typical for prehistoric ceremonial/ritual stone alignments which are….. predominantly straight’ (Cotswold Archaeology Report).
  3. The variable size and shape of the stones (Cotswold Archaeology Report).
  4. The stone density varies along the row, from stones every metre or so through to 10-15m gaps. (Cadw 24/01/2012).
  5. “Inconsistencies in the physical appearance of the stone alignment when compared with currently accepted Welsh prehistoric examples (Cadw response 15/08/13).
  6. The stones were not in sockets (Cotswold Archaeology Report).

Bancbryn stone row

Following the completion of a long term project looking at all the extant stone rows in Great Britain, it is now possible to access all the single rows using the same Welsh style criteria used at Bancbryn to find out how their unorthodox approach to interpretation affects our understanding of British stone rows.

A total of 174 accepted single rows most of which are scheduled as ancient monuments were put through the Welsh style interpretative mill and unsurprisingly only 32 were found to meet their strict criteria. The remaining 142 failed to clear at least one hurdle and many were rejected for several reasons. It is worth having a quick look at some of the fallers. Read the rest of this entry »

Figure 1. The stone row excavation. The large hollow beside the nearest stone was formed by flowing water, probably in the period immediately after the last glaciation (Scales 1m and 25cm).

In January 2012 a long line of small stones was identified amongst the prehistoric cairns on the southern slope of Bancbryn in South Wales. Survey work revealed that it led for 717m from a small cairn and terminated in a now recumbent boulder (Figure 2). In all 173 stones were identified and whilst many were recumbent most were edge set. The stone row was discovered just as the work on a new wind farm started and it was cut in two places by access roads. The timing of the discovery was unfortunate and rescue excavations carried out at the time predictably failed to reveal any dating evidence. The report produced by the excavators suggested that the feature was more likely to be of post-medieval date, but the evidence cited to support this contention was inaccurate, selective and just plain wrong.

Figure 2. Plan of the stone row showing the position of the excavation trenches.

Over a period of years, the arguments deployed by the excavators have been successfully dismantled, whilst at the same time detailed characterisation of the site and extensive research into stone rows nationally has resulted in a strong case to support its prehistoric origins. It was possible to demonstrate that this form of row is found only in SW Britain with examples recorded on both sides of the Bristol Channel (Figure 3).

Perhaps the most exciting discovery at Bancbryn was the very precise visual relationship with Hartland Point in Devon.  Work elsewhere has now demonstrated that precise visual relationships with prominent natural and broadly contemporary artificial sites is commonplace and indeed a characteristic of the longer rows.

Figure 3. Distribution of long stone rows greater than 100m long consisting mainly of small stones.

So, from the fiasco at Banbryn some good has come as it has spawned both renewed interest in this enigmatic type of site and provided a new focus permitting a better understanding of the rows.

In 2017 there was an opportunity to have another look at the Bancbryn stone row. Funding from the Section 106 wind farm agreement provided resources for an examination of a small number of sites on Bancbryn and as well as the stone row, two cairns and a solitary stone were partly excavated. A report on the work is now available and can be downloaded here. A shorter guide to the archaeology on Bancbryn and vicinity is available here. Both reports are published by Dyfed Archaeological Trust who organised and carried out the excavation work.

One of the cairns was found to have a kerb and is probably of Bronze Age date, another was probably early medieval in date, had ard marks below and surprisingly contained some Roman glass. No dating material was found associated with the stone row, but it was possible to refute the previously suggested historic interpretations and demonstrate that the surviving evidence was entirely consistent with a prehistoric date.

The lack of dating evidence, whilst disappointing, was not a surprise as stone rows are notoriously difficult to date and it is worth remembering that none of the Welsh rows have been dated either. Indeed, only the row at Cut Hill on Dartmoor has been dated with any degree of precision. Most importantly nothing was found to disprove the prehistoric interpretation, whilst at the same time the form, character and context of the row is entirely consistent with a prehistoric date. Hopefully this work will now mean that this incredibly fragile and enigmatic monument will receive the care and consideration that it deserves.

Following recent changes to the heritage legislation in Wales, plans now appear to be afoot to “evaluate whether the structures underpinning the sector are fit for purpose” (Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure).

Pentre Ifan in Pembrokeshire

Regular readers of the Heritage Journal will be aware of the various concerns raised over the years regarding the existing medieval feudal structure and hope that the Committee set up to look into the matter will take the opportunity to modernise the archaic structures that currently riddle the Welsh heritage sector. Providing genuine positive changes are made with protection and sensitive management of the heritage at its core, this would seem to be a long overdue step.

If on the other hand it’s just another excuse to wield the axe, or tinker with job titles then almost certainly the result will be another lost opportunity. Apparently the heritage sector in Wales contributes more to the economy than agriculture and it would therefore seem sensible to treat it with the respect it deserves and fully recognise its importance.

Chances are you have never visited this stone circle or even heard of it. It is tucked away in a secluded spot in Mid Wales (NGR SH 9993 0010). For thousands of years it has stood within an unspoilt rural setting. This may be about to change.

Plan of the Y Capel stone circle (After Butler and Butler, 1978).

Plan of the Y Capel stone circle (After Butler and Butler, 1978).

Windfarm developers have set their sights on the hillside on which it stands and have drawn up plans to surround it in 130m high wind turbines. The developer’s archaeologists acknowledge that these industrial scale monsters “will certainly result in harm to the overall value of the monument”, but conclude that “the fundamental value of the monument, the heart of its significance will be unaffected”. Essentially what they are saying is that because the scheduled ancient monument is not going to actually host a turbine that everything will be fine. Acceptance of this position opens the doors to development right up to the edge of every scheduled monument in the country.

Visual setting for prehistoric monuments is particularly important and to dismiss it as insignificant betrays a lack of understanding of these so ever special monuments. In this instance it certainly ignores the crucial views towards the impressive Breidden Hill near Welshpool, betraying in the process a total lack of understanding of the sites significance and place within the landscape.  Furthermore, the transformation of this rural landscape into an industrial one will inevitably also impact on associated physical remains. If this proposal proceeds, damage will result and no amount of mitigation or clever words will prevent this.

Map showing the proposed position of the turbines around Y Capel stone circle. The map is to scale and the turbines are shown at actual size in plan view. They would tower over the stone circle.

Map showing the proposed position of the turbines around Y Capel stone circle. The map is to scale and the turbines are shown at actual size in plan view. They would tower over the stone circle.

References

Butler, F. and Butler, J., 1978, ‘Y Capel: A stone circle near Cefn Coch, Llanllugan’, Archaeologia Cambrensis, CXXVII, 122-3.

Further Information
Archwilio
Coflein
Megalithic Portal
Modern Antiquarian

Details of the proposal can be found here.

by Dr Sandy Gerrard

Where heritage and development collide - the odds are stacked against the archaeology

Where heritage and development collide – the odds are stacked against the archaeology

At Bancbryn the archaeological establishment set about trashing the idea that the alignment of stones separating two scheduled cairn cemeteries could be important. Before waiting to see any evidence, the possibility of it being significant was being privately and publically dismissed. Over the months that followed its discovery, various outlandish alternative interpretations backed by spurious “facts” were offered and then silently withdrawn. Important files were shredded, correspondence ignored, evidence avoided and reports buried. Interestingly the various organisations do not apparently see that any of this represents a problem.

Presumably, this is because this is simply business as usual. This whole mess helpfully provides an insight into the way Welsh heritage is regularly carved up by those entrusted with its care. No matter what camouflage is deployed; these organisations are primarily concerned with enabling the controlled destruction of the historic environment. Over the years they have cleverly created the illusion that they are in the protection and conservation game – however the facts at Bancbryn and elsewhere in Wales betray their true role. Cleverly worded reports and excuses are their stock in trade – all designed to ensure the controlled and unimpeded destruction of our archaeology. After all if the “expert” at Cadw says something is not really that important, then surely it must be true? Well no. The Cadw “expert” is very unlikely to have the necessary expertise to assess its importance properly, but on the other hand they are extremely likely to have the prowess to write the sort of report suited to the desired outcome. By these means archaeological sites are regularly sacrificed on the altar of progress and economic development.

To avoid any uncertainty or confusion, Cadw are part of the Welsh Assembly Government and are entrusted with the role of ensuring that the government’s development initiatives are not jeopardised by inconvenient archaeological remains. Cadw’s position within the Welsh Assembly severely limits their abilities to be the honest broker and instead their role is often to ensure the smooth and orderly destruction of the historic environment. To do anything else would be a risky strategy indeed. With all this in mind the Bancbryn debacle sadly makes complete sense and was inevitable.

by Dr Sandy Gerrard

image-1

On the island of Hoy in the Orkneys a massive sandstone boulder (8.5m long by 4.47m wide) sits stranded like a whale at the bottom of a steep cliff. This stone is called the Dwarfie Stane and at some time in the past a tunnel was cut into its western side and a small chamber formed inside the rock. Up until 1935 a broad consensus had emerged that the chamber had been formed to provide accommodation of some sort. However, during a visit to the stone in the summer of 1935 by Charles Calder of the Royal Commission and a Professor Bryce a brand new, a revolutionary idea was born… “that the Dwarfie Stane is the first and only example in the British Isles of a completely rock-cut tomb of the late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age”. The evidence to support this radical departure from the established interpretation was two analogies from the Mediterranean, some parallels in “intervening countries” and “certain features in some of the monuments in Orkney itself.” The full justification can found here, but essentially comparisons were made with rock-cut tombs in the Mediterranean and with some of the much closer stone built tombs on Orkney. Calder emphasised the significance of the Dwarfie Stane saying at one point that it may even be more interesting than Maeshowe because it is “absolutely unique”.

The “Absolutely unique” Dwarfie Stane.

The “absolutely unique” Dwarfie Stane.

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Plan of the Dwarfie Stane and the two Mediterranean parallels (After Calder and Macdonald, 1936, 218 and 223).

Plan of the Dwarfie Stane and the two Mediterranean parallels (After Calder and Macdonald, 1936, 218 and 223).

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Actual evidence to support this appealing interpretation is however wholly lacking, but despite this, the site information board boldly states “It was actually a tomb, related to the many chambered tombs found through-out Orkney”.

So in Scotland uniqueness is celebrated or at the very least acknowledged as existing, whilst in Wales anything perceived as not precisely fitting the mould is summarily dismissed. When I asked a Cadw officer what they thought the Bancbryn stone alignment might be, they provided no answer and instead stated that they did not believe it could be prehistoric because Welsh alignments “Are characterised by much larger, upright stones in significantly shorter lengths”. Even if this was true (and it is not) this is not a remotely sound reason for dismissing the alignment. Diversity is at the heart of archaeology and Cadw’s failure to recognise the possibility of differences in the character of the archaeological resource is truly alarming.

At Bancbryn we do not need to go as far the Mediterranean to find precise parallels – they exist on the other side of the Bristol Channel and to ignore them as Cadw have done is both astonishing and indefensible.

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Distribution of single long stone rows composed of smaller stones in Great Britain.

Distribution of single long stone rows composed of smaller stones in Great Britain.

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Bancbryn (green) sits comfortably within the part of Great Britain where single long rows composed of smaller stones are found. It seems peculiar that Scottish archaeologists are happy to accept parallels from the Mediterranean to help them understand their archaeology, but Welsh ones struggle to recognise those on their own doorstep.

Reference

Calder, C.S.T. and Macdonald,G.,1936, The Dwarfie Stane, Hoy, Orkney: its period and purpose. With a note on “Jo. Ben” and the Dwarfie Stane’, Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol. 70, 1935-6. Pgs. 217-38.

The arrival of the Welsh online resource for scheduled ancient monuments means that we can now see what is scheduled and what is not in England, Scotland and Wales. The new Cadw website shows us which parts of Wales are scheduled and provides some information together with reasons for the decision. Access to the various monuments is via an easy to use zoomable map and within a couple of clicks the information is available.

CADWMap

Compared to the Scottish and English sites the amount of information is very limited and a love of the copy and paste facility has unfortunate consequences.

Most worrying, however, is the phrase used to introduce each monument. In almost every instance the text starts “The monument consists of…”. This is a potentially dangerous choice of words as it implies that any archaeological features not mentioned in the text are not included within the scheduling.  Elsewhere in Britain the term “includes” is used and therefore ensures protection of any overlooked elements. This may seem pedantic but the effect maybe to seriously undermine the purpose of the legislation designed to protect our archaeology.

A second point of concern is the uncertain tone expressed in the documentation. Caveats abound in the descriptive text with for example the words probable and probably liberally scattered around. Whilst we all accept that uncertainty comes with the archaeological territory, these are primarily legal documents written to ensure the protection and management of important archaeological sites. In this context it is surely unhelpful to emphasise the uncertainties. After all a landowner reading that a pile of stones of stone on their land is only probably a Bronze Age cairn might think that it would probably be OK to remove it or at the very least take less care of it. Indeed the Schedule of Ancient Monuments should only include those sites considered to be of national importance, so why the constant insistence on emphasising the uncertainty?

Compared to the Scottish and English contributions this web resource does not compare favourably. It feels like a rushed job designed to meet a target and the large numbers of typos betray a lack of attention to detail. But please do not take our word for it. Have a look for yourselves:

Côf Cymru – National Historic Assets of Wales

Historic Environment Scotland

Historic England

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.

 

Sad news to report again, this time that the Maen Penddu standing stone in the Conwy Valley, North Wales, has been severely vandalised. Recent photos show several carvings have been made on the stone. The cross was reported last year, but the rest seems to be more recent. The damage has been reported to CADW.

Damage to Maen Penddu

Photo by Matt Jones

Damage to Maen Penddu

Photo by Matt Jones

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