SPACES-Exploring Neolithic Landscapes in the Strumble-Preseli Area of Southwest Wales

Article excerpt

Since the days of Giraldus Cambrensis, North Pembrokeshire has fascinated antiquarians and archaeologists alike because of its rich prehistoric, early Christian and industrial age archaeology. For a century the area has been recognized as the source of exotic stones used in constructing Stonehenge, 220 km to the east, but while debate has focused on geological matters and how the bluestones reached the Wiltshire Downs, interest in the archaeological context of the `bluestone landscape' from whence they came has been remarkably slight. Peter Drewett of UCL carried out sample surveys in the mid 1980s (Drewett 1983-5), while more recently Cadw has been working to define and characterize the area's historic landscapes (Cadw 1998; 2001). In 2001 the present authors embarked on SPACES (the Strumble-Preseli Ancient Communities and Environment Study) with the aim of developing a broader diachronic understanding of the way in which ancient communities occupied and structured the landscape of the Strumble-Preseli area, a region that holds the answers to questions of national as well as regional interest. To date efforts have focused on the examination of Neolithic landscapes, already with surprising results.

Along the hills dominated by the igneous intrusions that so interested Neolithic communities (Shotton 1972) is a series of stone-walled enclosures morphologically and situationally comparable to confirmed Neolithic enclosures elsewhere in southwestern Britain. Regularly spaced at intervals of about 9 km, the most westerly is at Garn Fawr (FIGURE 1) ,where eroded walls link natural rock outcrops to form an irregular polygonal enclosure 150x100 m. Further east similar structures can be recognized at Gain Fechan, Mynydd Dinas, Carningli, Carn Alw and Moel Trigarn.


Near some of these enclosures are chambered tombs of various sorts, many being what Barker (1992: 77) refers to as `outcrop sites'. These simple megaliths comprise large stones raised at one end with a single orthostat as the main support. Although burials are known from early investigations, these structures stand apart from other kinds of chambered tomb in Wales; perhaps they are part of a wider tradition around the Celtic Sea seen also in the quoits or chocked stones of Cornwall (Bender et al. 1997: 153) and the boulder burials of southeastern Ireland (O Nuallan 1978). In Pembrokeshire these megaliths are closely associated with natural rock out-crops, as at Carn Wnda, Llanwnda (FIGURE 2). Local views from this megalith are dominated by a large single-pointed boulder 2.3 m high that seems to have been deliberately placed as a marker. Here, as Tilley (1996) has suggested for the Neolithic communities of Bodmin Moor, rock outcrops seem to have been powerful places.


Associations between other kinds of chambered tomb and stone outcrops can be seen at Carn Meini where the putatively simple passage grave of Llach-y-Flaiddast stands immediately west of the main bluestone outcrops. The tomb (FIGURE 3) is integral with the upper end of a linear feature, perhaps natural, dubbed the `stone river'. Running southwards from Carn Meini for 2 km and ending in the Gors Fawr bog 150 m below, this extraordinary feature comprises a broad gully filled with jumbled dolerite stones and occasional standing stones. …