The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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Bedd Branwen, Glanalaw, Treffynon, Anglesey

The site of Bedd Branwen by Eric Jones (Geograph).

The site of Bedd Branwen by Eric Jones (Geograph).

Os grid reference: SH 3611 8498. In a farmer’s field close to the west bank of Afan Alaw (river Alaw) near the hamlet of Glanalaw, Treffynon, Anglesey, stands the Bronze-Age ring-cairn known as Bedd Branwen, which is said to date back 4,000 years. It is named after the legendary princess Branwen or Bronwen, the daughter of King Llyr, and sister of Bran the Blessed (Bendigeidfran) from the Mabinogian. She was related to King Arthur. The cairn site is located on private farmland to the south-west of Bod Deiniol farm, close to the west bank of Afon Alaw – roughly half a mile south of Glanalaw, although a track/footpath runs past Hafan to Glanalaw hamlet and reasonable viewing looking south across the fields can be had from [here] with good zoom photography. However, you can probably walk across the fields to the cairn as long as the farmer doesn’t mind! The village of Treffynon is 1 mile to the east of Bedd Branwen, while Llanbabo and its ancient church are about one-and-a-half miles to the north-east.

Described as a ring-cairn or round barrow approx 24 metres by 28 metres – the kerb of which is still visible at the outer limit of the circle with a large, chunky standing stone (cist grave) at the centre which is now, sadly, cracked down the middle. The monument was apparently damaged back in 1813 by a local farmer who needed some stones for his house; at this time an urn was also dug up which was ‘said’ to have contained the ashes of a female – could these ashes have been those belonging to Branwen, the fairest and most beautiful woman in all Wales, if not the whole of Britain. Or, according to another account: she is one of the three most beautiful women in Wales!

But in reality the cairn pre-dates the legendary princess Branwen by a few thousand years or more, and other urns with grave-goods have been excavated here in more recent times – the early 1960s in fact. These urns almost certainly date from the Bronze-Age at around 2,000 BC. So, perhaps the discovery of the ashes of a female purporting to be those of the princess were ‘just a coincidence’. Today nothing is left of the earthern mound that once covered the cist grave, only the outline of this being still visible and some stones around the edge, though there are a few other curious stones in this field which ‘might’ well be associated with the monument. In the early 1960s excavation some more cremation urns were dug up along with pottery, grave-goods, and also a necklace made of jet. These antiquities are housed in Bangor Museum in north Wales. In the work ‘The Ancient Stones of Wales’, author Chris Barber describes the monument as a “dolmen” and also referrs to it by another name: Bod-Deiniol.

Branwen is a legendary and mythical character who figures strongly in the Mabinogian along with her father King Llyr (Lear) and her brother Bran the Blessed, who is known as Bendigeidfran in Wales, but it is a very sad tale. Princess Branwen is given in marriage by her brother to the Irish king, Matholwch, but after an insult to the Irishman by her half-brother, Efnisien, they soon begin to quarel and then fall out, and poor Branwen is treated badly by being put to work as his cook. Bran then makes war on Matholwch but is killed in the battle (MacKillop, 1998). Later, she manages to escape back to the Isle of Anglesey where ‘she dies of a broken heart’, and is allegedly buried beneath the mound and cairn that now bears her name (Bedd Branwen).

According to The Mabinogian (second branch) Bran the Blessed is credited as going on a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, but life ends badly for him; his severed head is buried on Tower Hill in London which then acts as a sort of talisman for the city against foreign invasion on the grounds that Britain should not rely on magic, according to the author Geoffrey Ashe in his work ‘The Quest for Arthur’s Britain’. Traditionally Bran is recorded as being the son of Belinus (Gruffudd, 1980). If that is the case, then he and his sister Branwen are descended through Manogan, King of Britain, with the Blessed Virgin Mary? And Belinus or Beli has sometimes been identified with the Celtic sun god of that name. But as we know the Mabinogian gives the father of Branwen and Bran as King Llyr, who has sometimes been identified with the legendary King Lear of Shakespearean fame.

Sources:

Ashe, Geoffrey., The Quest for Arthur’s Britain,  Paladin, St Albans, Herts, 1976.

Barber, Chris., Mysterious Wales, Paladin, London W1X, 1987.

Barber, Chris & Williams, John Godfrey., The Ancient Stones of Wales, Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, Gwent, 1989.

Gruffudd, H., Enwau Cymraeg I Blant – Welsh Names For Children, Y Lolfa, Talybont, Dyfed, 1980. 

MacKillop, James., Dictionary Of Celtic Mythology, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998.

Photo Credit: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1358949  © Copyright Eric Jones and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.


Dolmen du Couperon, Rozel, Jersey, Channel Isles

Dolmen du Couperon (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Dolmen du Couperon (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Latitude: 49.234347. Longitude: 2.035263. On the headland at the north side of Jersey, in St Martin’s parish, stands the ancient monument Dolmen du Couperon, a late Neolithic gallery-grave that was partially restored in the early part of last century. Also known as Le Couperon and Le Couperon Dolmen. The monument stands 50 metres across the field to the west of Rue de Scez and the 17th century brick-building known as the guardhouse. Just to the north of the monument is the beautiful Jersey coastline of Rozel Bay, and a few miles further west the little village of Rozel. Dolmen du Couperon stands at the side of a field overlooking the seashore of the north Jersey coastline, a haven for holiday-makers; the nearest town being St Helier several miles to the south-west. Although the monument has been partly restored a couple of times it is still in a reasonably good state of preservation.

The gallery of this ancient tomb is roughly 8 metres long, while the whole monument across is 4 metres wide. It is formed from two parallel rows of upright stones and, above them large slabs laid rather ‘haphazardly’ across make up the roof. And 18 smaller upright stones or peristaliths surround the grave (at each side) and indicate the width of the original low, covering mound, which was made of stones, although the kerb may originally have continued in a straight line, instead of curving round like it does today. When it was being partially restored back in 1868 and 1919 some of the outer kerb-stones seem not to have been put back into their former positions, in particular the stone at the east side is not in situ – the thinking being that it should perhaps have been halfway along the gallery, acting as a sort of ‘dividing stone’? And the portal stone has been positioned so as to block the gallery’s entrance at the east-side, but again this ‘may’ not be in its original position. The tomb is thought to date from the late Neolithic period (3,250-2,850 BC).

No significant artefacts were excavated from the gallery-grave, apart that is from fragments of flint and pottery. Could the tomb have earlier been robbed by treasure-seekers?; and of the few finds here no knowledge exists as to where these were taken to! But all in all this is a very nice ancient monument.

Sources:

Dillon, Paddy., Channel Island Walks, Cicerone Press Ltd., Milnthorpe, Cumbria, 1999.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jersey_dolmens#

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Couperon_dolmen_and_guardhouse

http://www.prehistoricjersey.net/Le_Couperon.shtml

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=10561


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Druid’s Altar, Clooncoe, Co. Leitrim, Southern Ireland

Druid's Altar at Clooncoe, Co. Leitrim, Ireland (Photo credit: Wikimedia)

Druid’s Altar at Clooncoe, Co. Leitrim, Ireland (Photo credit: Wikipedia).

Irish grid reference approx N1046 9305. In the wooded grounds of Lough Rynn Castle, a 19th century building that is now a luxury hotel in 10,000 acres of land, stands a prehistoric monument. At the place called Druid’s Hill in the far south of the castle grounds between Lough Errew and Lough Rynn, south County Leitrim, there is a curious prehistoric antiquity shaped like a chair or a table, locally called the Druid’s Altar (Cloch an Draoi) or Clooncoe Cist. Unfortunately, this megalithic monument, sometimes referred to as a cist-grave, cromlech or dolmen, has been hidden away and perhaps rather forgotten due to it’s location on private land. It is situated beside a pathway beneath trees not far from the south-western shore of the small round-shaped Lough Errew (Erril) and close to the eastern shoreline of the much larger Lough Rynn and, the elongated Lough Clooncoe is just to the south, while the village of Mohill is two and a half miles to the north on the R202 road.

This solitary megalithic tomb known as The Druid’s Altar or Clooncoe Cist is an odd-shaped antiquity, dating from the Bronze-Age, roughly 2,000 to 3,000 BC; and certainly it does resemble a ‘table and chair’. The very large ‘recumbant’ capstone, if that is what it is, is 1.8 metres (5 feet 9 inches) in width and may originally have stood upright, although we don’t know this for certain. Beneath this horizontal slab there are some smaller, low stones which support the structure and, beneath these there is a small stone chamber (cist) also spelt as ‘kist’, which would have perhaps held the remains of a tribal chieftain from prehistory. At the east side another massive slab stands almost up-right though it leans slightly outwards. This stone measures 2.2 metres (7 foot 2 inches) high, 1.3 metres (3 feet 8 inches) across and about 0.30 metres (nearly 1 foot) in depth; the top of the stone is curved or rounded and could well be a “grave marker”, according to author Paul Swift in his work The Lakes of Ireland, now being published in the famous Ireland’s Own magazine. Or could the standing stone be the doorway to the tomb?

There is no real evidence to say that the druids ever used this megalithic structure as an altar for their religious rituals – that is merely myth and legend that has no substance in reality. Or does it? The Celtic term for this monument is “cromlech” meaning “crooked stone” usually a single chambered megalithic structure, whereas Dolmen (Dolmain) is the term for a portal tomb, grave or quoit – also a single chambered tomb; this name tends to be more prevelent in France, Spain and in other countries, even as far away as India. The term “dolmen” could be the same as “tolmen”, a hole stone or holed-entrance stone.

Sources:

Swift, Paul., The Lakes of Ireland, Ireland’s Own no. 5,421 November 29th, 2013, Ireland’s Own, Rowe Street, Wexford, Ireland.

http://www.megalithomania.com/show/site/754/clooncoe_kist.htm

http://www.irishmegaliths.org.uk/leitrim.htm


Chun Quoit, Morvah, Cornwall

Chun Quoit, Cornwall

Chun Quoit, Cornwall

Os grid reference 4021 3395. On the windswept moorland of south Cornwall at the northern edge of Woon Gumpus Common stands the famous and well-preserved mushroom-shaped Neolithic burial chamber or portal dolmen, Chun Quoit, which is also sometimes called a cromlech (cromlech being a Welsh term). It’s not an easy monument to get to but it is probably best reached from footpaths coming off the B3318 (north road) to the west and walking in a north-easterly direction. The author John Hillaby in his book ‘Journey through Britain’ sums up the approach to the ancient burial chamber like this: “It loomed up over the horizon like a huge stone mushroom”. A quoit is the Cornish term for a burial chamber, of which there are several in this part of the country. The little village of Morvah lies about 1 mile to the north on the B3306 road, while the Cornish town of Penzance is 4 miles east on the Lanyon-Madron road.

In myth and legend giants used these megalithic monuments for games practise and, according to author Sally Jones in her work ‘Legends of Cornwall’, she says “It is easy to see why it was said to be the plaything of the local giants in their games of bob-button and why a group of Saxon kings are thought to have used it for a dining table” though “here” she is referrering to another megalithic tomb, Lanyon Quoit, a mile to the south-east. They are though just like giant tables with supporting legs and, so down the centuries have come to be called prehistoric ‘table tombs’. We can still see table tombs in old graveyards in Britain today

Chun Quoit - Morvah - Cornwall - UK

Chun Quoit, Cornwall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chun Quoit sits within a low, round-shaped mound 35 feet in diameter, all that now remains of the original soil mound (round barrow) that covered the burial chamber before erosion took over. A number of small outer boulders stand in this kerbed mound that was probably the forecourt. The quoit stands proudly over 7 feet in height with a huge boat-shaped granite capstone that sits quite comfortably on it’s 3 upright granite stones all roughly 5 feet high; but at one end it overhangs – looking precariously like it could slide off at any time – this is because a fourth upright stone has itself slipped to one side and does not “now” support the monument. The rounded (convex) capstone measures 10 feet by 9 feet and is over 2 foot thick; and is said to have a single cup-mark. Almost certainly it weighs several tonnes. It’s inner chamber is closed or blocked off by the 3 large upright stones thus stopping any would-be intruder from entering the grave and so allowing the body and soul of the dead chieftain to ‘rest in peace’. It obviously worked too because anyone would have great difficulty squeezing through to the chamber’s inner sanctum. Chun Quoit is thought to date back between 4,000-6,000 years to the Neolithic Age. The name ‘Chun’ means ‘House on the Downs’.

Some 300 yards (100 metres) to the east of Chun Quoit are the round-shaped earthworks of an Iron-Age hillfort, Chun Castle, which is more recent in date, roughly 2,000 years or so. But all around this area there are other prehistoric sites:- Lanyon Quoit, the sacred Men-an-Tol holed fertility stone with its adjacent phallic stone, and the Men Screfys standing stone, being just three other local antiquities within a couple of miles. This particular part of Cornwall appears to have been a Neolithic trading route to and from the coast of Brittany and probably northern Spain as well.

Sources:

Sykes, Homer., Mysterious Britain, Cassell Paperbacks (Cassell & Co), London, 2001

Hillaby, John., Journey through Britain, Paladin Books (Granada Publishing Ltd)., London, 1983.

Jones, Sally., Legends of Cornwall, Bossiney Books, St Teath, Bodmin, Cornwall, 1980.

http://www.stone-circles.org.uk/stone/chun.htm

http://www.cornishancientsites.com/Chun%20Quoit%20&%20Castle.pdf


Sweyne’s Howes, Rhossili, Gower Peninsula, Wales

OS grid reference SS 4209 8982. About one and half miles north-east of Rhossili village at the far western-side of the Gower Peninsula – and at the bottom of the eastern scarp of Rhossili Downs – are two ‘former’ portal burial chambers (dolmens), standing around 100 metres (330 feet) apart, and called Sweyne’s Howes or ‘Sweyne’s How’, ‘Swain Houses’ and also ‘Sweye’s Houses’. The place-name Howes or How means or refers to burial mounds or tumuli.

Sweyne was the name of a Scandinavian warlord who lived and died in this area in the 11th century, but the megalithic monuments pre-date him by three thousand years or more. However the chambers (north and south) are now in a poor condition, the northern chamber being the best preserved of the two. Both burial chambers can be reached on footpaths heading north from Rhossili, close to the often windswept Gower coastline. The village of Llangennith lies 3 miles to the north-east, while the city of Swansea is 17 miles to the east on the A4418.

The northern burial chamber or dolmen stands upon an oval-shaped mound which is a cairn measuring roughly 60 feet by 42 feet though it is now in a ruinous condition – as is the chamber. However it’s condition is resonable. Two upright slabs support a capstone that has slipped down on it’s side and, in the middle, there is a fallen upright stone and a smaller recumbant stone. It’s portal has gone. There are slight traces of a kerb and also a few outer stones still (in situ) stand close by. The south burial chamber of Sweyne’s Howes at Os grid reference SS4205 8976 has been largerly robbed away. It’s alomost circular burial mound with a very damaged and jumbled arrangement of stones that make up the cairn measures 70 feet by 50 feet. Nothing much remains of the burial chamber, sadly. The large capstone now lies flat though two of the uprights ‘still’ stand on their own beside it. Both monuments date back at least 5,000 years to the Neolithic period of prehistory 2,000-3,000 years BC.

Sweyne or Swain, was according to legend, a Scandinavian warlord of the early 11th century AD. He was probably the founder of Swansea (Sweyn’s-ey) but he came to live on the western side of the Gower Peninsula and died there. Whether he was buried in one if the mounds that make up Sweyne’s Howes we do not know. It seems most unlikely because these two monuments pre-date him by several thousand years. But there was apparently a king of that name who died in south Wales about c 1014 AD, so there could be some truth in the story. There are other numerous prehistoric monuments in the vicinty of Rhossili Downs, dating from the Bronze-Age to the Iron-Age, that are worth exploring, including cairns, round barrows and a ring-fort.

Sources:-

The Gower Society,  A Guide To Gower, Gower Society Publications, 1989.

Houlder, Christopher, Wales: An Archaeological Guide, Faber And Faber Limited, London, 1978.

The National Trust, The Gower Peninsula (An illustrated souvenir), 1991.

Barber, Chris & Williams, John Godfrey., The Ancient Stones of Wales, Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, Gwent, 1989.

Click on the link for a photo of Sweyne’s Howes north http://www.aenigmatis.com/prehistoric-sites/wales/sweynes-howes-north.jpg

 


Trethevy Quoit, Tremar, Cornwall

Trethevy Quoit, Cornwall.

Trethevy Quoit,

OS grid reference SX2593 6881. Some 2 miles to the west of the B3254 road between Liskeard and Launceston and 1 mile east of Tremar Coombe, on the edge of Bodmin Moor, stands the prehistoric burial chamber or portal tomb called Trethevy Quoit. The monument stands in a field along a short footpath at the west-side of Tremar village, not far from Trethevy Cottage. The town of Liskeard is 5 miles to the south and the village of St Cleer is 2 miles to the south-west. Trethevy Quoit or ‘Dolmen’, to give it it’s other monument name, dates back at least 5,700 years. Locally it is called ‘The Giant’s House.

Trethevy Quoit is still quite an impressive prehistoric monument standing at 9-10 foot high with it’s huge sloping capstone that looks as if it is poised to slide down to the ground at any moment! It is the largest and most impressive in Cornwall. The massive capstone is 12 foot long and is said to weigh 10 tonnes. It is supported by five upright stone slabs all roughly nine feet high and one other slab that does not connect with the capstone; originally there were seven uprights. Near the top of the capstone there is a large round hole, but what this was for is uncertain, maybe for astronomical purposes or to catch the sun’s rays at cerain times of the year (soltices), or perhaps it was made in more recent times?

Trethevy Quoit - Liskeard - Cornwall - UK

Trethevy Quoit  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is also some uncertainty about the age of the monument; some historians say that it is from the middle to late Neolithic Age around 3,700-3,500 BC (the middle Stone-Age), while others think that it dates from the Bronze Age (about 1,800-1,200 BC). The back of the burial chamber has now fallen inwards, while at the front there is a large portal stone and a flanking stone that stands clear of the monument. But it seems that the funery entrance was not at the front but at the side where there is a square-shaped opening at the bottom corner to enable bodies to be placed inside. Originally a huge oval-shaped mound of earth would have ‘probably’ covered the stone chamber and was thought to have been over 6 metres in circumference – there is still a slight raised bank around the sides and evidence of the mound is still visible today. This was almost certainly the burial place of a chieftain or some high-ranking individual from a prehistoric tribe that inhabited the area thousands of years ago back in the mists of time.

About 1 mile to the north-west stand ‘The Hurlers’, three early Bronze-Age stone circles.

Sources:-

Darvill, Timothy, Glovebox Guide – Ancient Britain, AA Publishing, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 1988.

Hogg, Garry, Odd Aspects of England, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1968.

Bord, Janet & Colin, Ancient Mysteries of Britain, Diamond Books (Harper Collins Publishers Ltd), 1994.


Dolmen De Weris, Wallonia, Belgium

WERIS Dolmen de Wéris (5)

Dolmen de Wéris 1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Latitude 50.333648. Longitude 5.523543. The Neolithic dolmen or burial chamber called Dolmen de Weris no 1 is located near the northern end of the Rue des Dolmens highway in the area called Durbury – close to the Morville and Tour country roads, about a mile to the north-west of the little village of Weris, in the Wallonian province of Luxembourg, Ardennes, eastern Belgium. The megalithic structure stands beside the road partly hidden by trees and is easily missed. This burial chamber is called the Northern Dolmen, Allee Couverte Norde, or Dolmen de Nord. Running in a straight line to the south there is an avenue or double row of menhirs (standing stones) – the monument more or less forms the northern junction of the megalithic avenue itself.

This ancient monument is an impressive structure standing at 5 feet high made from pudding-stone with a massive capstone, sadly now broken, weighing 30 tonnes. It is supported by four huge rectangular-shaped stone blocks or orthostats, two of which weigh up to 20 tonnes. There is an equally impressive gallery (corridor), although quite short, and a rectangular-shaped ante-chamber 33 feet long, which has suffered some damage.  At the eastern end there is a blocking stone, while at the western end a wide portal (entrance) where, on the ground lies a recumbant stone, which originally blocked-off the entrance? Just inside the entrance is a strange curved stone (half-moon shaped) that is broken down the middle. This is called a ‘spirit hole’ or ‘kennel hole’. Near the eastern side there is a single standing stone or, what is perhaps a ‘mark stone’. Originally a mound of earth lay on top of the dolmen but this has now gone. There are a total of 16 stones at this site, which is said to date from 3,000 years BC.

At the south side of the dolmen are two stone rows or an anvenue of 30 menhirs that form an alignment with this – the northern dolmen – and with a curious stone to the north-east called ‘the Stone of the Ancients’ or ‘White Stone’ that is often referred to as a standing stone but, in fact, it is a naturally-formed stone some 3 metres high that leans at a 45 degree angle and stands on a hillside. At the bottom of the hill another stone ‘the Devil’s Stone’ or ‘Devil’s Bed’ is a flatish stone that is 0.6 metres high by 2.45 metres long.

About 2 miles to the south-west near the Route de Erezee (N841) north-east of Wenin we have the Weris (Southern) Dolmen no 2 which is, sadly, now collapsed although the entrance is still quite noticeable. This dolmen is a collection of 20 stones 23 feet long and in a very ruinous state, but similar to the northern dolmen in that it is also a gallery-tomb.

In 1906 the northern Weris dolmen was excavated. Parts of three skeletons were discovered along with other artefacts. However, its stones were not put back into their original positions (in situ) and other damage was caused to the monument. Though, by the looks of things, the archaeologists haven’t done such a bad job! The huge capstone was probably broken at this time as was the spirit-hole?