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Saturday, 24 September 2016

Meini Gwyr

 Illustration from Pam Figgis's book on Prehistoric Preseli

We have been thinking about what the archaeologists were hoping to find at Pensarn when they started their dig a few weeks ago.  Tony has mentioned possible matches in Anglesey.  Maybe they were hoping to find something like this?  This is Meini Gwyr, close to the Glandy Cross petrol station, at SN14172658.  At present all you can see is two small standing stones and a faint raised embankment or circular cairn with a lower area in the centre.  But the excavations revealed an interesting structure with at least 17 standing stones, a passage down the middle, and kerbs or revetments.  There do seem to be segments and kerbs like this at Pensarn as well.......

This site is of course interesting because it is a part of the Glandy Cross complex, flagged up as one of the most important Early Bronze Age ritual complexes in West Wales.  Herbert Thomas knew about it, and of course this is the same area as his "Cilymaenllwyd" which he speculated as being the possible location for a proto-Stonehenge.  So MPP and his colleagues are by no means the first people to think about a large stone monument being erected in Pembrokeshire and then shipped off later to Stonehenge for some mysterious reason or other...........

The trouble is that in spite of much searching, no circle of sockets of other evidence has ever been found for a big stone circle in this area -- and neither has anybody found a stone working area or "Preselite" tool-making factory, although both have been mooted many times over the years.

From the Coflein web catalogue of sites in Wales:

Site Description
This is an interesting example of an embanked stone circle, a monument type not common to south Wales. Its occurence here shows that the Glandy Cross area was of exceptional importance in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. The circle consists of a broad, low, roughly circular bank 36.6m in diameter with a narrow entrance on the west. There is no ditch, and excavations by Grimes in 1938 confirmed there had never been one. Two stones of an original 17 still survive on the west side, 1m and 1.7m high respectively, standing 6.5m apart.

Information from Rees, S. 1992, A Guide to Ancient and Historic Wales - Dyfed, Cadw/HMSO, page 38.
For fuller discussion see: T. Kirk and G. Williams, ‘Glandy Cross: A Later Prehistoric Monumental Complex in Carmarthenshire, Wales’, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 66 (2000)

T. Driver, RCAHMW, 16th April 2010.


More info (Dyfed Archaeological Trust):

Meini Gwyr, also known as Buarth Arthur, is an embanked stone circle probably dating to the transition between the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age periods. The site is likely to have been used for religious rituals.
According to a late 17thC account by Edward Lhuyd, there were then fifteen stones in the circle ranging in height from three to six feet, but a further seven or eight were thought to have been 'carried off'. Apparently, there was also an entrance lined by smaller slabs.

The site was partially excavated in 1938 by Professor W.F. Grimes. Unfortunately most of the records were destroyed in a bombing raid on Southampton in 1940. The plan is based partly on ground and air photographs of the excavation. Grimes established that the circle, some 60 feet in diameter, originally consisted of 17 stones which, like the two surviving ones, were set at an angle into the inner slope of the bank about 3 feet height and 120 feet in the external diameter, with no trace of a ditch. The excavations confirmed that the entrance through the earthwork was formerly flanked by upright stones, set in a trench. The bank was set with stone curb extending for some 30 feet on either side of the entrance, in front of which was a clay-filled pit containing a large quantity of charcoal. There were no features or finds recorded from the interior, though this was only partly examined. Some fragments of early Bronze Age pottery came from a hearth set in a deep depression on the southeast bank.

Meini Gwyr stands at the centre of 'West Wales' most important complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age ritual and funerary monuments, lying on a ridge-way linking the wester end of the Preselis to the eastern Cleddau river and Milford Haven. This was a route by which the bluestones for Stonehenge may have been transported. Included in the complex are several Bronze Age burial mounds and cairns or various forms, and a 'henge' monument (akin to early elements at Stonehenge). Also, there is the site of 'Yr Allor' ('The Altar') comprising two, formerly three standing stones some 200 yards west of Meini Gwyr and apparently known by the 17thC. These stones may be the remains of a chambered tomb.

Carn Meini, a source of the bluestones lies only 3 miles to the north. The site's name - 'Meini' ('large stone') and 'Gwyr' ('crooked') may refer to the varying size, shape or angle of the stones set in the circle. These were not 'bluestones' but another form of volcanic rock. Many such boulders are found locally and were originally deposited by glacial action. The alternative name 'Buarth Arthur' ('Arthur's Yard') is an example of a common legendary association of this figure with prehistoric stone monuments and is not regarded as significant.


TonyH said...

I made a visit to Meini Gwyr a few years ago with my photographer brother who lives in Pembrokeshire. The Glandy Cross complex is certainly intriguing and the views, etc, marvellous thereabouts. Wish I lived locally, rather than midway between Avebury, Stanton Drew and Stonehenge, where we know quite a lot already, but Glandy Cross etc is like (relatively speaking) a blank page, knowledge - wise. I also like that part of N pembrokeshire as it brings back to mind elements of the Peak District and the uplands of northern England, well away from so - called "civilisation". At least you have time to ponder up there....

chris johnson said...

Unless there has been some re-dating, this monument is much later than any putative time for moving stones to stonehenge - more than a thousand years later. Quite some time.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Very true, Chris. I can't get my head around why MPP wants a proto-Stonehenge at all, given that he now reckons that the bluestones were present on Salisbury Plain before 5,000 yrs BP. If he wants a proto-Stonehenge to have been put up, and having attained some sort of sanctity, to have been taken down and then moved to Stonehenge, that means we are talking about a construction date for it of between 6,000 yrs BP and 5,500 yrs BP. That's way back in the Neolithic -- far, far older than any of the big stone settings that we know about in Wales. In Pembrokeshire they were building cromlechs at the time, and were apparently not very interested in putting up single standing stones, let alone stone circles. The dates just do not make sense.

Neil Wiseman said...

Hi Brian,
I think what they're looking for is based on the hearth-dates of 54- or 5300 YBP. If those dates are accurate for the removal of the raw bluestones at Rhos-y-Fellin, and if the dates for their arrival in Wiltshire is 51- or 5000 YBP, then it indicates that the stones were most likely used elsewhere before being shipped out.

Lots of 'Ifs', yes, but the logic appears to be sound, ie: what went on with those rocks during the missing 3- or 400 years?

How they're going about selecting sites to search is above my pay-grade.


TonyH said...

Under the Heading, "GLANDY CROSS COMPLEX", N P Figgis says (page 87 of his revised, 2010 edition of 'Prehistoric Preseli'):-

Taking it as accepted that cursus monuments were very early, it has always seemed likely that the first sites in the area were axe - making sites on the east slope of Pentre Galar and at Yr Allor, the Llandissilio cursus (if confirmed...) and the passage - grave type chambered tombs. There are four of these........

Very recently a radio - carbon date obtained from a hollow near Pantymenyn has given a reading from the Early Neolithic - around 4300 BC. If it applies to human activities, it would be the earliest sign of Neolithic communities in Preseli (although late Mesolithic
people or natural 'bush - fires' might eqaully have been responsible).

It has always seemed slightly odd that Preseli, sticking right out into the sea - roads travelled by early Neolithic settlers, should have been ignored by them. Perhaps it wasn't? The large - scale setting for this early date is not yet known, but it may signal the presence of human activity in this significant area before even the axe - making tradition was developed - or may be relevant to the inauguration of axe - making in an area rich in suitable stone. It has been suggested that there may be a connection in Wales between cursus monuments and axe dissemination, and between this and river - ways; if so, these gfactors may contribute to the hypothesis that there was a cursus at the point where the Cleddau comes closest to a north - south trans - peninsular track.

Henges also have very early origins and again, in Wales, have been linked with axe - production.......

BRIAN JOHN said...

Neil -- or maybe below your pay-grade?