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by Dr Sandy Gerrard
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its discovery, various outlandish alternative interpretations backed by spurious “facts” were offered and then silently withdrawn.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
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Sue Brooke updates us on the latest threat to Caerau hillfort in Cardiff. This story was originally published on her own website.
Well, here I am again. Mrs Angry from Caerau has raised her ugly head once more. Over the last nine years or so I have bored everyone close to me to distraction about that triangular shaped field in Caerau. It’s important. I used to spend hours wandering around up there trying to figure out what all the lumps and bumps were about. I researched it and learned loads about what it all meant. I kept the whole thing as quiet as possible from the public domain so that the area would remain protected due to it being preserved mostly in public record at that time. Eventually I started to share some of this locally, working with the children and young people of the local schools. This was primarily to keep the crumbling remains of St. Mary’s Church as safe as possible.
Then along came Cardiff University. To be honest they were a little behind me in this research but, eventually and not without some fear I talked with them about it. They had lots of money that they were willing to invest in this area and they were able to engage with the public in far greater ways than me. Eventually this triangular shaped field of ‘mine’ was to be given a little bit of status as an Iron Age (at least) hill fort.
If you know about this then you will know that hot on their heels came Time Team. They came, they made a mess and a telly programme then they left. All stuff designed to give this little old lady in Caerau a little bit of the wobbles. I had massive reservations about all of this. I was accused of ‘selling out’ by allowing myself to become involved in this. Overall my fears were allayed and, although the area has been mucked about with by young ladies and young men digging holes, it has actually been really beneficial to the local communities of Ely and Caerau. Cardiff University formed the CAER Heritage Project and they worked their socks off in order to engage residents in the whole of their work. What Time Team did, on your 55 inch flat screen telly, was to tell the whole of Ely and Caerau what an amazingly valuable historical monument they lived alongside. Thank you for that.
The church of St Mary, long a victim of vandalism was now being looked after. There are people involved in this who have pursued Cardiff Council and persuaded them to help keep the remains of this historic building together. They have given up their time to tidy up the area, to log the graves and to generally give this church the respect it has so sadly been missing out on.
Overall the community has benefitted. The view from the hill fort is amazing when you look out towards Cardiff. The CAER Heritage Project believe this to be an area that would have been important to Cardiff itself. Of course, my endless research means I disagree with this – not entirely but my belief is and always has been that the hill fort would have been more better placed as part of what is now the Vale of Glamorgan and valued as such.
A few years ago changes began to happen. A solar park was to be built quite close to the site. It would be fine, we were reassured. This won’t be visible from the hill fort and will not detract from the beautifully serene surrounds one bit, they said. Unfortunately the building of this solar park caused some major issues for those living on the approach road. Let’s set this in to some kind of context. As you walk toward the track that leads from Caerau all the way to Michaelston le Pit you will need to walk underneath the A4232 Ely Link Road. Sadly, way back at the end of the 1970’s this road was built by cutting around the hill fort site. It’s no longer possible to walk up-and-over as we used to as kids, but hey, way back then we didn’t really know any better, did we?
This bit of Caerau is such an excellent resource for the local people. It’s usual to see dog walkers, horse riders, the footballing kids of the future and joggers all wandering along to make use of the area. Families wander through as well as groups of children and young people off to have fun on their own. I was one of these children once, having lived all my life nearby.
This lovely tree lined, although slightly narrow road, takes you from Caerau down toward the link road. The hill fort area is surrounded by beautifully managed woods, protected as a special area and inhabited by the most amazing birds and wildlife. Even slow worms like it in there. The homes along Heritage Drive, just off Cwrt yr Ala Road were built on the site of the old Caerau Isolation Hospital.
Sadly this was built within the banks and ditches of the Caerau hill fort. But hey, we didn’t know any better then, did we?
As I just mentioned a solar park was planned. Renewable energy they said. Yes, a few solar panels in the field and most certainly not visible from the hill fort. They actually forgot to mention that the construction of this amazing solar park would mean driving lorries, very quickly, in a dust raising, dirty and frankly quite dangerous manner along Cwrt yr Ala Road. That lovely quiet tree lined but slightly narrow road in the image above. Most residents took this on the chin. It was good for the environment wasn’t it, to get away from the smoking chimneys of the coal-fired power stations.
Everyone wants renewable sources of energy, don’t they? I’ve since learned from a friend that should you have solar panels on farmland then it’s wise that you keep animals out of the field as you can’t really sell them on later or even, it is my understanding, use the field for agricultural purposes for some years after the panels have been removed. I could be wrong on this or hey, maybe I just don’t know any better.
I was up at the hill fort only recently. It’s still so lovely up there but obviously, since the trees are now without their leaves, it is possible to see the Ely Link Road. And, surprise surprise, you can see the solar farm.
Now, and this is the bit that is really making me rather very angry, I have learned – via social media – that we are now going to have – guess what ? OK, that’s unfair, how could you know – I didn’t – a LANDFILL SITE. Yes, that’s correct. Now, this is not your black bag rubbish type tip, this is an ‘inert waste’ tip. What exactly does ‘inert waste’ mean? So, for the next 5 to 6 years up to 20 lorries, very quickly, in a dust raising, dirty and frankly quite dangerous manner will be driving along Cwrt yr Ala Road each day. That’s up to 40 journeys along this lovely quiet tree lined but slightly narrow road.
I’m really pleased to be able to say that the local Labour Councillor for the area is doing his level best to stop this happening. Indeed the Welsh Lib Dem AM for South Wales Central and spokesperson on Enterprise, Transport, Europe and Business has assured me that she will ‘look into it’ but in the meantime the Vale of Glamorgan Council has, in their recent report on this completely outrageous planning application – available online and therefore well within the public domain – given me the opportunity to give you some quotes. In fairness I suggest you check this out for yourselves but, in the meantime here are a couple of my favourites:
The site is located in open countryside and within the Cwrt yr Ala Basin Special Landscape Area as defined within the Unitary Development Plan. The site also lies within the boundaries of the derelict mineral site, the former Ely Brickworks. In addition it is noted that the Caerau Wood hill fort, which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, is located to the north of the site within the neighbouring Cardiff Council Local authority area.
In terms of impact upon Vale residents this would be very limited as there is no residential development, within the Vale, close to the proposed site. With regard to impact upon Cardiff residents, and any significant effect on the environment by virtue of the nature, size and location of the development this is a decision for the Local Planning Authority (LPA)
So, there you are then. To me that translates as – yes, we know it’s an important area and we acknowledge this but let’s quickly move on. The second quote means that there are of course housing developments nearby but, come on, they are in Cardiff, not the Vale of Glamorgan so that doesn’t matter to us. In fact, just so you know and I may of course be pointing out the obvious here, there are many property websites used by estate agents and prospective buyers who will pick up on things like transport links, schools and, obviously, landfill sites. I’m not sure but I worry that the residents of the very beautiful vale village of Michaelston le Pit may find out that this may also affect them – just by being in quite close proximity to this tip site. In fact I spoke with an established and respected estate agent only this morning who advised me that although this may not actually bring down the price of a property nearby immediately it will certainly not improve it. The advice was to consult further with a surveyor. That’s not really what I wanted to hear and I am sure that nearby residents won’t be happy to hear the financial implications upon their hard earned mortgaged properties should they decide to sell.
I would suggest that there will be major concerns from Cardiff Council and their residents once this very well kept secret becomes public knowledge. I really hope so. The enjoyment of all to access the area from Cwrt yr Ala Road towards Michaelston le Pit will be impacted on, most certainly. The right of the Cwrt yr Ala residents to enjoy their homes will most certainly be negatively affected, I know this as I lived through the delight of the solar park development. The access to the hill fort and the 12th century church for community groups will be restricted and, perhaps the work to preserve the tower of the old church could be seriously undermined by these vehicles shaking the living daylights out of it. That would be such a shame for all those who clearly care so much about it. What about Caerau (Ely) AFC – their ethos of ‘ Working With the Ely Community, For the Ely Community ‘ could be seriously affected by safety issues. I’m sure it won’t be safe to be toddling along there trying to dodge these vehicles for the next, what was it – 5 to 6 years?
So what can be done? I’m not too sure really. Perhaps we can suggest that the Vale of Glamorgan Council may want to consider other options for this ‘inert waste’ landfill site. Perhaps, let’s just think a minute – the residents of Dinas Powys would be happy for it to be placed just a bit further over.
That other hill fort area known as Cwm George has plenty of room. I bet not many people use this – just a couple of walkers, now and then – and the Woodland Trust won’t mind, surely? Or, perhaps, what about that stretch of beach adjacent to Sully Island? Hardly anyone goes there. The residents of Sully wouldn’t even notice. Yes, I agree that these are areas of special interest and so very important to the residents but isn’t Caerau of equal value?
There is just one little final quote that I will share with you. I visited Cosmeston Lakes Country Park today and went in to the little shop to buy a book on the history of this area. On the wall, right in front of me was this final quote from the Vale of Glamorgan Council. It read – and I quote ‘A sad chapter in Cosmeston’s history saw the quarry used for several years as a landfill site for household waste’. The little book I purchased for £4 completed this with ‘Permission to tip household rubbish on the west side of Mile End Road was granted to Penarth Urban District Council in 1964 (with some waster tipping already underway several years before that).’
So, please tell me – does this mean that the Vale of Glamorgan Council recognise that they really DO know better?
Three years after it was written the report on the work carried out at the Bancbryn stone alignment has been released. You can see it for yourself here and a response to it here. Despite promises that only 10m of the alignment would be destroyed and that it would be treated as if it was prehistoric, this does not appear to have happened. Around 35m of the stone alignment was finally destroyed and of this only 5m was excavated, the rest being lost with no record being made at all as a result of a mix up regarding its course. As if this was not bad enough the report’s conclusions are consistently contradicted by a catalogue of mistakes, exaggeration and the use of blatantly biased carefully selected information. Much has been made of the fact that the excavated stones were not associated with sockets, however in at least one photograph a large stone appears to sit within a cut and another one is on top of an unexcavated hollow.
The reasons for doubting the prehistoric interpretation are remarkable. Apparently the Bancbryn stone alignment can’t be prehistoric because the stones are of variable size, small, embedded into the subsoil and the alignment itself is sinuous in form. So there we have it after years of waiting we have finally been told that it can’t be prehistoric because …. well err…. it shares precisely the same characteristics as most of the scheduled stone alignments in the United Kingdom. This would be laughable if it was not so serious.
A guest post by Dr Sandy Gerrard
Over the past few years the sorry events at Bancbryn on Mynydd y Betws have featured frequently in the Heritage Journal. For some time now the local County Council have been asked to answer three simple questions. They have steadfastly refused to do so. If the job had been done properly they would not be difficult to answer, but sadly after months of asking the questions remain unanswered. The three questions were:
- Why was Cadw not consulted on the scheme of works used by the developers?
- Why did the scheme of works regarding the stone alignment fail to mention the site and instead refer to a Roman site in Gloucestershire?
- Why has no excavation report been produced?
Having failed to get answers from the council the Ombudsman was approached and their response might surprise you.
“The Ombudsman considers complaints of maladministration on the part of public bodies which causes hardship and injustice to members of the public. We normally take this to mean that an individual has suffered personal hardship or injustice as a result of the maladministration by the body. It does not appear to me, from the information available, that you have suffered personal hardship or injustice as a result of the matters you complain of. Therefore, the original matter you complain of is not one that the Ombudsman can consider under the restrictions imposed on him by law under the Public Services Ombudsman (Wales) Act 2005.”
So next time you uncover dodgy goings on at county hall remember unless you are going to personally suffer hardship or injustice they simply don’t want to know and they would prefer it if you walk on by. You would have thought this country would have had enough of this type of attitude by now – but apparently not.
The modern archaeological industry is built upon the premise that sites selected for destruction should be recorded before they are destroyed. Following excavation the record is then deposited and the site is consequently “preserved by record”. At Mynydd y Betws the Bancbryn stone alignment was promised such treatment. Sadly whilst the first part was apparently completed the second was not. Carmarthenshire County Council have over the years been repeatedly asked for a copy of the excavation report and whilst most of these requests went unheeded recently a response was received.
“I have not had sight of any such report as part of my investigations, although I do not consider that it has undermined the fact that works have been carried out with due diligence within the development site, and that the condition imposed on the planning consent, and the reason for it, has been discharged in a way that is, on balance, proportionate and pragmatic”.
Basically they are saying that a report was not produced but this does not matter. What happens next time a developer says they will not fund the post-excavation. Carmarthenshire County Council have already set a dangerous precedent. For a site to be preserved by record there needs to be record otherwise the site has simply been destroyed and no amount of fine words will alter that fact.
To be clear a preliminary report was produced, but this included no photographs or drawings of the excavated areas. Instead photographs and drawings were limited to the areas beyond the excavation. How many modern excavation reports include only images of the areas beyond the area being investigated and none of the excavation itself?
By Dr Sandy Gerrard
The opportunities to be involved in the decision making process are apparently endless these days. Our opinions are sought on everything by both the private and public sectors. Sometimes we are simply asked what we think about a particular issue or perhaps how we intend to vote. The information collected is analysed and supposedly the results help to make life better for us all.
In the archaeological world sometimes a consultation is carried out to collect expert opinions on what something might be. This was the case at Bancbryn where the inept Cadw officers, perhaps hoping to shift the responsibility for deciding what “that line of stones” might be, decided to ask some “experts” what they thought. They duly sent out information on the alignment and asked the “experts” what they thought it might be. As is the Cadw way they were very selective with the information they sent, and withheld or “forgot” to send the paper which presented the prehistoric case.
Inevitably, given that the “experts” were only sent information that supported a historic context for the alignment they all responded saying they thought it must be of historic date. They helpfully all added a few comments which sadly suggested that they were rather less expert in this field than one might have hoped, as many of their remarks betrayed a total lack of knowledge of the resource being assessed.
As far as I can tell no one with any real expertise in stone alignments was consulted and certainly nobody was sent the information needed to carry out an objective, balanced and impartial assessment.
How would you feel if you turned up at hospital with a broken ankle to be seen by an eye consultant who had been given notes on another patient?