Rhagor - Opening our national collections

The megalithic tombs of Stone Age Wales

Megalithic Tombs

[image: Pentre Ifan]

Pentre Ifan (Pembrokeshire), one of the most dramatic megalithic tombs in Wales. It would originally have been covered by a stone mound.

Wales is home to one of the best collections of megalithic tombs in the UK. As well as being visually dramatic, they provide an important source of information about life, and death, from over five thousand years ago.

The landscape of Wales is filled with ancient monuments. A thousand years ago castles were the most impressive features, a thousand years before that it was Roman forts and before that Iron Age hillforts. But the earliest monuments to survive to the present day are megalithic tombs - stone burial chambers, built almost six thousand years ago.

Megalithic tombs were built at a time when the population of Wales lived in small communities, using stone tools, and experimenting with the newly introduced ways of farming and herding. Today such a life sounds simple and unsophisticated compared to our own. However, the evidence of the megalithic tombs tells us that life was not completely uncomplicated at this time.

Wales's megalithic tombs consist, for the most part, of stone chambers composed of a large capstone perched on top of a number of uprights. These would once have been covered with a mound of earth or stone. Often they have a forecourt area in which ceremonies would have been performed.

The scale of the megaliths is their most striking feature. At Arthur's Stone on the Gower peninsula a rock over 4m (14ft) long and 2m (7ft) thick was lifted to create the chamber. At Tinkinswood (Vale of Glamorgan) a slab weighing over 36 tonnes (39 tons) was used.

Community crypts

[image: Reconstruction of daily life in Wales 6,000 years ago]

Reconstruction of daily life in Wales 6,000 years ago, based on excavations at Clegyr Boia (Pembrokeshire). For most people the daily routine focused on farming crops, gathering wild plants, and herding sheep and cattle.

That Stone Age people went to such lengths to build their tombs indicates their importance for communities at this time.

When completed the tomb functioned like a modern crypt, being slowly filled over the generations with the dead. The result was, in effect, a home for the ancestors.

South East Wales

[image: Dyffryn Ardudwy]

Drawing of Dyffryn Ardudwy (Gwynedd), by David Gunning. This monument was constructed in stages with the chamber on the right being the first to be built.

Tombs like these can be found in many parts of Wales. In south-east Wales there is an important group of tombs centred on the Black Mountains as well as in the Vale of Glamorgan. In south-west Wales, there are clusters in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire. Most impressive of all are the tombs of Anglesey, which are notable for their number and variety.

These tombs are the few that have survived agricultural clearance and robbing for building works - doubtless there were once many more in Wales, and perhaps there are a few more still waiting to be discovered.

Background Reading

[image: Arthur's Stone, on the Gower peninsula.]

Arthur's Stone, on the Gower peninsula. The massive stone that caps this chamber was set atop several smaller uprights in an impressive feat of Stone Age engineering.

The Tomb Builders: In Wales 4000-3000BC by Steve Burrow. National Museum Wales Books (2006)

Megalithic tombs and long barrows in Britain by F. Lynch. Shire Publications (1997).

Article Date: 14 May 2007

6 comments

Dennis Neo-ruit on 4 February 2014, 22:07

Last year, I visited a neolithic monument in Wales, the Pentre Ifan monument in picture on the right - top of this Page.

I am a soil scientist from the Netherlands , and since the universe consists of 99.9% dark matter, I believe a flooding catastrophe Happened in the Atlantic. Proofs of the catastrophe can be found on the right places (creative thinking needed in the Netherlands.

Some piece of land sunk/vanished (Atlantis, quantum spin distortion), as an result parts of Ireland and England came up due to isostasis/ balance distortion.

As a memory of this historic catastrophic happening, in my opinion and neolithic theirs, this monument was raised in according to witness points (rocks) in the landscape as an highly important forever lasting story teller of an world shaking once-in-lifetime event. it was worth the huge amount of energy put in to raise it up by the few survivors of the great flood!

Can anybody give me more details about the dating of this monument?
According to the great flood of Socrated it must be around 10.500 b.c.
The event may have been companied by thunderbolts of the gods. IN Holland blue baked stone clays can be found with burned pieces of vegetational woods in it!

it shows Atlantis (submerged), Ireland and England (more upheaved).


Alex Foster on 22 March 2011, 16:17

As far as I know there is little to no evidence of these having ever been covered with mounds and I believe there is only one with evidence of any human remains within its confines. It is more likely that these acted as markers on the landscape or as cenotaphs or memorials.

Amgueddfa Cymru on 24 June 2009, 13:40 (Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff)

Dear Brian -
Thank you for your comment, you may find The burial tombs of Stone Age Wales article helpful, along with the comments that have been submitted, as it explains a little about possible symbolism of the carvings on the Bryn Celli Ddu stone. Thank you for your interest in Amgueddfa Cymru

Brian Coggins on 24 June 2009, 13:08

The carved stone from Bryn Celli Ddu has fascinated me for over 2 decades. As it was removed to Cardiff Museum, what research has been caried out on the meaning or significance of these carvings? I have visited the site innumerable times, but seen the original stone only once at your museum. Presumably someone has studied it?

Steve Burrow - Earlier Prehistorian, Amgueddfa Cymru on 2 March 2009, 14:32 (Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff)

I haven't got any information on digs at Twm Barlwm, but would suggest contacting the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust. They hold an index of all archaeological monuments in southeast Wales and would certainly know if there had been any digs there.

Their website can be found at:
www.ggat.org.uk

gwyn jones on 2 March 2009, 14:15

Are there any published articles on archaeological digs at Twm Barlwm prehistoric monument in Gwent? Especially downloadable ones.

Leave a comment


Glossary

Capstone
The top stone of a monument, pillar, or wall.

Rate this article

Content:     

Images:     

Style and readability: