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Sunday, 20 December 2015

Breaking News: Stonehenge bluestones came from a Neolithic Temple at Bedd yr Afanc

Gentle reader, if you are a betting person, here is a racing certainty for you.  Put a quid or two down on it, and you can't lose........... 

In 2016 it will be announced to the world that the bluestones at Stonehenge were transported there from a large passage grave, tomb or "temple of the ancestors" located at Bedd yr Afanc, on the moorland near Brynberian.  The site is located very conveniently between Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog, and you can read a lot more about it by typing in "Bedd yr Afanc" into the blog search box.  Everybody knows that there is a rather unusual passage grave there -- just a small cluster of unspectacular stones in two parallel rows.  But the question is this:  what was there before it was destroyed?  Something like this?

The reconstructed (and somewhat elaborated?) mound at Newgrange in Ireland, within which is a passage grave. The facade is faced with quartz cobbles brought in from the surrounding countryside.

The Setup

In the writing trade, this is what is meant by a setup: presenting the elements that flesh out the story and lay the groundwork for the plot. They are conveyed by the writer in a way that establishes a character, world, or situation, while moving the plot and story forward at the same time.

This is perfectly relevant here, since this is all about storytelling....... and since, after five years of digging and storytelling, we are moving towards a climax.

The storytellers are already hard at work, laying out their clues. One quote from the latest article by MPP and his colleagues in "British Archaeology": "Somewhere, on the land between the bluestone quarries, we think there is a passage tomb, formerly built of bluestones, waiting to be investigated. Could this have been a tomb for the ancestors that was dismantled and moved to Salisbury Plain, the tangible history of a Welsh neolithic tribe carried to their new homeland in one of the most extraordinary journeys of prehistoric times? Only time will tell."

Another quote from the recent press release that accompanied the publication of the "Antiquity" article:  "Prof Kate Welham, of Bournemouth University, said the ruins of a dismantled monument were likely to lie between the two megalith quarries. “We’ve been conducting geophysical surveys, trial excavations and aerial photographic analysis throughout the area and we think we have the most likely spot. The results are very promising. We may find something big in 2016,” she said."

At the end of the "Antiquity" article:  "Might the bluestones have formed one or more monuments within Wales that were dismantled and moved in order to be incorporated, eventually, into Stonehenge? Such an act could have served to merge two sacred centres into one, to unify two politically separate regions, or to legitimise the ancestral identity of migrants moving from one region to another. Future research into Neolithic monuments within north Pembrokeshire may shed light on these possibilities." Note the the talk is no longer of an ancient stone circle, but of a "monument" which could well be taken to mean a passage grave site or tomb.

Again, about the imagined Carn Goedog "engineering features" in the Brit Arch article:  "Beyond the ditch we found a platform of redeposited soil that formed a 5m-long ramp leading away from the quarry and curling northwards down the slope towards the valley in which Craig Rhos-y-felin sits......"  Note the suggestion that stones were taken northwards and downhill -- ie towards Bedd yr Afanc.


The Dream Location 

We have already discussed Bedd yr Afanc on this blog, and Chris, Hugh and others have been pondering on its choice as the next big location for the travelling circus.  And it is indeed the dream location.  It's on a dry expanse of relatively flat land with ample space for a large structure -- and surrounded by land that is more water-logged.  It's in the right place, more or less equidistant between Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog.  There is a very substantial trackway across the moor, and if you like you can see it as connecting Carn Goedog and Bedd yr Afanc.  Although the stones of the passage grave remnants are not very large, they are varied in lithology, and seem to include dolerites and rhyolites and at least one stone that might be a gabbro.  No doubt the geologists will already be hard at work sorting out provenances.......

And then we come to the quartz cobbles that are needed in order to promote the view that Bedd yr Afanc was at one time equal in magnificence to Newgrange.  Take a look at this post:

and this one:

 But bits of quartz are of minor significance compared to the mythological value of Bedd yr Afanc.  The local story of the Afanc is one of the most famous in Welsh folklore, involving a very nasty water monster and a fair maiden, as set out here:

It's a great story, and if we like we can built into it all sorts of meanings and all sorts of associations with folk memories of Bedd yr Afanc as a sacred or revered site, involving heroism, sacrifice, death and burial.  So the passage grave is the place where the monster was buried -- and because of its mystical and religious associations it's not a great leap from there to creating a narrative which will justify its use as a "site of the ancestors" -- later to be dismantled and transported off to Stonehenge.

The possibilities are endless.  As we speak, Bedd yr Afanc is probably being prepared for stardom and is being lifted to the top of the National Park's wonderful heritage site list.    You can see Bedd yr Afanc from the new Visitor Centre, just up on the hillside:

Leaflets, guided tours, cups of tea, rolling Powerpoint presentations and videos, Welsh cakes, exhibitions of photos, jewellery made out of "monster rock" fragments -- once the Visitor Centre is completed, there is no knowing where it will all lead.  How about cuddly afanc monster toys?  Pots of pickled onions and bilberry jam marketed under the "Afanc" label.........

And anything they can do at Newgrange, we can do in Pembrokeshire.  Will a Lottery grant cover the cost, I wonder?

Excuse me -- I'm getting carried away.  But remember, folks, that you read it here first.  Put your money on it!  It's a racing certainty........


BRIAN JOHN said...

I got this comment from George Nash on another thread -- he tells me he had problems uploading it. So I'm putting it here as well, since it's relevant to this post. Thank you, George!

I can tell you now that Bedd yr Afanc and the landscape around includes nothing more than a small gravel island on which a gallery grave - Bedd yr Afanc stands. The monument, one of two or three within Wales stands within a bog in the bottom of a classic U-shaped valley. The site was excavated by Grimes in the 1930's who found nothing more than what is visible today (plus a few pieces of flint). In 2011/12 I got permission to undertake a geophysical survey in and around the dry areas surrounding Bedd yr Afanc. The research area was 0.5km square. Due to ground conditions, the survey was abandoned. However, I did manage to undertake a ground survey of all the large stones around site and discovered several interesting patterns, both relating to possible prehistoric land tenure and a possible remains of a second monument (alas, not a passage grave or a gallery grave). My report is available and will be published soon.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Please, George, don't call this a classic U-shaped valley. It ain't that at all. This is a wide depression on the north flank of Mynydd Preseli that owes little or nothing to glacial erosion by streaming ice.

Hugh Thomas said...

Bedd y Afanc > Stonehenge ..... One is an enigma sitting in a beautiful landscape the other is Stonehenge . At Stonehenge herding of the masses and the selfie rules.... It will be interesting to see the new visitor center focussing here and all the visitors from all over the world up to thier knees in mud .... ;)

Jon Morris said...

I would be surprised if they found anything significant at that location.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Well folks, in case anybody takes this too seriously, let me assure you that this is all a wizard wheeze and a jolly jape on my part, at least relating to the consequences of the archaeologists bringing all their resources to bear on a detailed investigation of Bedd yr Afanc. Like George, I'm pretty convinced they will find nothing -- but that probably won't stop them from trying...... and remember, all they need in order to "prove" things are a few pits in the ground which can be flagged up as "orthostat settings", a few stones that can be labelled as "the ones they left behind", a few flattish areas that can be labelled as "terraces" or "platforms" and a few radiocarbon dates that can be invested with significance.........

Myris of Alexandria said...

Ho ho ho
I see Father Christmass sic, (what is that in Welsh?), has come early to wicked wet Wales.
Perhaps you can share your insights with old Father Wainwright when you go round for drinkies in the next couple of days. Better, what about a joint paper John and Wainwright, no need for peer reviews for something that august! Is it poor-(sic) or pre-tentious?
There will be future quarries aplenty, refound 'tired stones' atop all the hanging, singing valleys and an oh so lost sheep will, whilst joyously recanting, re-enter the archy fold. Trust me,says he, who is beloved of SA.

Where is the Inquisition when you need them?
Yes, Tony, I too have to think, sadly, of Norwegian Blues.

TonyH said...

Sacre bleu!

As Max Bygraves was my spiritual cockerney father, this is all great stuff for the Music Hall masses. I feel a song coming on......Tiptoe through the tulips....not the red ones, but the blue ones......tiptoe through the tulips with me...and Mike makes three.

TonyH said...

George Osborne says he got permission to undertake in 2011/12 a geophysical survey of the dry areas surrounding Bedd Yr Affanc.

Sounds as though the now Professor Kate Welham of Bournemouth University may have superior geophysical equipment, and may have already used it within the wet area within which the monument stands. Ground penetrating radar, even?

Myris may be alluding to a certain Professor Timothy Darvill, Head of Department at Bournemouth University. Is he about to ride back onto the Presellis, guitar strapped across his back, swivelling his gun pieces? Sacre bleu. It's gonna be a blue, blue Christmas, just thinkin' about it, Tim.

BRIAN JOHN said...

George Osborne? Heaven forbid that he should ever set foot in Pembrokeshire -- he would probably be lynched. Assume you mean our friend George Nash -- who has worked on the Trefael Stone etc.

PeteG said...

Welsh post holes discovered near Stonehenge ;)


Hugh Thomas said...

It has come to my attention that EH are investing in a new form of technology of a special suit to be worn by highly trained burrowing bunnies to investigate Bedd Y Afanc. This new technology has built in cameras (although they are having trouble positioning the tripod and zoom lens) , soil and stone testing capabilities ( although the trowel and hammer drill keep falling off and the bunsen burner is causing health and safety issues).
The hitech bunnies can be remotely controlled (although the antenna is causing more problems as they keep breaking off and for some reason it keeps broadcasting Nat Geo channel instead of broadcasting scientific info ).
It is not expected (yet) that this new leap in tech will replace archaeologists and the makers are at pains to avoid digging a hole for themselves and avoid tunnel vision . A spokesman for the Bedd Y Afanc protection agency (Sherlock Bones )stated
"Whatever they use at the site , there is no Stonehenge debitage layer at Bedd Y Afanc as it all sedimentary my dear Watson ".... Right Im off..... ;)

chris johnson said...

George makes mention of a report "available" but not yet published. This would be an interesting read.

PeteG - thanks for your link. It is curious how you dig a pit one metre deep with a totally flat bottom - or why for that matter.

Phillipsi Morganwg said...

For Myris,
Translations as follows:

Father Christmas = Tad Nadolig;
Santa Clause = Sion Corn;
Merry Christmas and a happy new year = Nadolig Llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda.

Go steady,