The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


Dolaucothi Roman Mines, Pumsaint, Carmarthenshire

SN6629 4031. Dolaucothi (Ogofau) Roman gold mines are located near the village of Pumsaint (five saints), close to the A482 road, 8 miles south-east of Lampeter and 7 miles north-west of Llanwrda. The mines are at the east side of the village beneath the slopes of Allt Gwmhenog on the eastern bank of the river Cothi. The ancient site is on the Dolaucothi Estate and is owned by the National Trust. The first activity here was probably in the Bronze-Age, but the Romans exploited the gold here from the late 1st century AD, and mining was still going on in Medieval times and, even more recently!

Dolaucothi Gold Mines: entrance

Dolaucothi Gold Mines: entrance (Photo credit: Pete Reed)

The Romans started mining gold here when they conquered Wales in the late 1st century AD and probably built a fort close by in 78-80 AD to protect what they saw as a vital asset. The new governor of Britain, Sextus Julius Frontinus, moved to build a number of strategically positioned forts across southern Wales – Coelbren, Pumsaint and Llanio (Bremia) being just three of them – others soon stretched out across the length and breadth of Wales from Caerleon in the south-east to Segontium in the north-west, which in the west were later served by the Roman road, Sarn Helen. The gold was shipped overseas to the mint at Lyons in Gaul and made into coinage that quickly saw its way to the heart of the Roman empire, Rome, and beyond.

To begin with opencast surface trenches were dug, but then later deep tunnels were dug down into the solid rock of the hillside of Allt Gwmhenog, some of of which were 50 foot deep and upto 300 feet long, allowing for better access to the gold-seams. But this meant sheer brute strength was needed because the workers were only using simple picks and chisels, which would take many days to excavate just small areas. On the hillside to the north the Romans built aqueducts, one of these being 7 miles long running along a gorge by the river Cothi, while another ran up the valley of the Annell for 4 miles. At intervals there were stone tanks or reservoirs for holding the water – these are still visible along the hillside as are the channels and stone ledges from the foundations of the aqueduct. Evidence suggests that the Romans abandoned the gold mines in the late 3rd century AD, but some form of mining continued in post-Roman times and even in to the Medieval period. In the 1930s a Roman water-wheel was excavated from deep down in the mine, and back in the 18th century a hoard of gold artefacts were found including brooches and snake bracelets. These treasures are now in the British Museum in London.

Carreg Pumsaint - geograph.org.uk - 396874

Carreg Pumsaint – geograph.org.uk – 396874 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Near the entrance to the Roman mine on a low mound there is a small standing stone (Carreg Pumsaint) which, according to legend, is associated with five Celtic saints who lived as a hermits here in the 6C AD. There names were Ceitho, Celynin, Gwyn, Gwynaro and Gwynog. They were the sons of Cynyr Farfdrwch, a prince of Pembrokeshire, at the time of St David. Legend says the brothers fell asleep in the mine, vowing only to awaken when a truly virtuous bishop is once again seated on the throne of Menevia. Yet another legend claimed they would only awaken when King Arthur returns to Wales. There are said to be five hollows in the stone where the saints lay their heads – although today there only seem to be four hollows in the stone. Long ago there were five healing wells located in the Cothi river at Cwm Cerwyni half a mile south-west of Pumsaint church, each well being dedicated to one of the saints. The wells were at one time a place of pilgrimage.

Source:-

Houlder, Christopher., Wales: An Archaeological Guide – the prehistoric, Roman and early medieval field monuments, Faber, London, 1978.


La Gran’ Mere Du Chimquiere, St Martin, Guernsey, Channel Islands

La Gran'mère du Chimquière, Statue menhir, St ...

La Gran’mère du Chimquière, St Martin, Guernsey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Latitude 49.437841 Longitude 2.554598. Located about 2 miles south-west of St Peter Port on the island of Guernsey is the parish of St Martin with it’s medieval church. The church stands beside Le Grande Rue, a site that was originally a pagan one but was Christianised in the 6th century AD by Celtic missionaries from Wales and the west of England. In the churchyard there is a large granite standing stone menhir that was carved into a female form some four thousand years ago and is said to represent an earth goddess or earth mother figure, hence the name La Gran’ Mere – the grand-mother.

The granite statue menhir stands guarding the entrance to the churchyard of St Martin’s parish church and is between 5-6 feet high. Dating from around 2,000 BC when it was probably a square-shaped standing stone or “long stone”, it was fashioned into a female figure with head and shoulders in either the Celtic or Roman period. The carvings are of a typical female figure, an earth mother form that depicts a pagan fertility goddess which, rather strangely, guards and protects a Christian church. Perhaps the old pagan goddesses still have their uses!

Newly married couples would, and still do, place coins or flowers on the statue’s head and shoulders to bring them luck, seeing it as a fertility symbol perhaps. In the 16th century a disgruntled churchwarden decided to split the stone in two, regarding it as a pagan relic, but the local people rallied round and restored the statue. The split in the stone can still be seen today. There is another similar standing stone figure in St Marie’s churchyard at Castel on the west coast of the island, although that one is much more defaced.


King Orry’s Grave, Laxey, Isle of Man

Grid Reference: SC 4389 8439. At the north side of Laxey village, about 70 yards to the north of the junction of the A2 road and Ballaragh road, stands the largest prehistoric monument on the island known as King Orry’s Grave, a section of which is in a garden. The original name for the monument was apparently ‘Gretech Veg Cairn’. It is actually a chambered long barrow from 4,000 years ago in the Neolithic age. There is uncertainty as to just who King Orry was, and why this monument should be associated with him, but probably he was the legendary King Gorse or Gorred of Crevan, a Viking who died here in the 11th century AD. However, as we already know, the long barrow pre-dates King Orry by thousands of years.

King Orry’s Grave, Laxey, Isle of Man

The chambered long barrow with it’s single chamber at the top end is formed by two standing stones with a lintel slab that has now fallen. Here at the west end the cist burial would have been located beneath a cairn, but whether this long barrow ever had a mound over it we do not know for certain, so perhaps it would be safe to say that it did. There is a well preserved U-shaped forecourt that is 12 metres long and 4 feet wide, and is formed by 6 stone slabs, two of which are quite long. The eastern section of the moument has a second barrow with possibly two chambers, a forecourt and entrance, and a line of cists running roughly north-east to south-west.

But, unfortunately this section has a road running through it and has largerly destroyed this part of the monument, it’s cairn of stones having been robbed-away to be used in the building of the two cottages close by in 1868. The western section of the long barrow was originally in a private garden and had never been excavated but, in the 1990s, the cottage and garden were purchased by MNH (Manx National Heritage), allowing access for visitors to the main part of the site, which is some 30 feet in diameter; the whole site being over 170 feet in length.

The site was first excavated back in 1830 when the cist was uncovered and, more recently in 1953-4 when only one burial of unburnt bones was found along with a few grave goods, including a pottery bowl and some flints.

Source:-

The Manx Museum And National Trust: Fourth (Revised) Edition, The Ancient Monuments And Historic Monuments Of The Isle Of Man (A General Guide), Douglas, 1973.