If it’s May, that can only mean one thing – the Neolithic Studies Group Spring Meeting (aka the Fieldtrip). Each year at about this time a group of like-minded souls descend upon an area rich in Neolithic sites to visit, ponder and muse upon past excavations, previous interpretations and current debate on a range of issues. It must be said at the outset, that not all of these issues are of an archaeological bent, but that’s half the fun. This year Northern Pembrokeshire was the venue for the group’s get-together.
Now, I have to admit that I for one had not been the Pembrokeshire before, and that this was part of the attraction; that and what sounded like some fabulous sites to visit. The weekend began at Castell Henllys, a reconstructed Iron Age fort. I know it’s a non-Neolithic site, but it is nevertheless impressive and one well worth visiting. The area and its rich archaeological heritage were outlined for the group by Prof. Tim Darvill of the University of Bournemouth and by the local organiser Dr Amelia Pannett. Our reward for this, if one were needed, was a splendid buffet supper of local produce.
The next morning saw the group set out in the spring sunshine to the first of the sites of the day, Garn Turne. This imposing chambered tomb has what is thought to be the largest capstone of any such monument, weighing in at an estimated 85 tonnes. The current interpretation of the site is that there was originally a single chamber with the large capstone supported by upright pillars or orthostats, with a façade of upstanding stones. At some time in the past, it is thought that the capstone collapsed or slipped backwards, dragging some of the orthostats with it. Recent excavations by Prof. Colin Richards (University of Manchester) and Dr Vicky Cummings (UCLAN) revealed a smaller chamber which seems to pre-date the main chamber, and a large pit within the façade. Interestingly, it appears from these excavations, that the capstone itself was quarried from this pit.
Our next port of call was Clegyr Boia, hill fort/settlement situated near St David’s. Situate atop small rocky outcrop this site is something of a puzzle. Seemingly accepted as a member of a group of later prehistoric defended enclosures common to the area despite excavations producing Neolithic material. Early 20th century work by Baring-Gould revealed features interpreted as huts and a midden. Finds included an arrowhead, a fragment of polished stone axe and a number of sherds of pottery. Several sherds from different features were shown to be from the same vessel, a depositional practice now known to be a common feature of the Neolithic. The enclosure’s ramparts were constructed directly on top of some of deposits containing Neolithic pottery, suggesting a contemporary date, although a firm calendrical date has yet to be determined.
We moved on to our third site of the day – Coetan Arthur. This tomb is close to St David’s Head and the promontory fort of Cllwdd y Milwyr (where luncheon was taken!). Once again we were impressed by the gravity-defying balancing act achieved by the builders of the dolmen, with the capstone supported on this occasion by a single orthostat. There enough evidence remaining to suggest that there was at some time in the past, a cairn associated with the tomb, although the full extent of this is unknown. Unlike Garn Turne, there is no evidence yet as to the source of the capstone, but there is flaking along its edge suggest working to shape it.
Just a short walk, well relatively anyway, is the unexcavated site of Carn Llidi. Featuring two small chambers set very close to the side of the hill, Carn Llidi is perhaps the least complete of the sites. The larger of the chambers has two upright orthostats supporting a comparatively small capstone and some of the stones scattered nearby are thought to be from an internal wall. The smaller of the chambers has three upright orthostats and the capstone has collapsed backwards, towards the hillside. It is interesting to juxtapose this with the remains of WWII infrastructure just a few feet away.
Our final site of day one was Carreg Samson, a particularly fine example of Pembrokeshire’s Neolithic tombs. Overlooking the coast and Strumble Head, Carreg Samson has much in common with the other tombs in the region. Upright orthostats supporting a capstone, in this case a large one, again performing a seemingly impossible balancing act. It was excavated by Frances Lynch in 1975, who found a setting for a now absent seventh orthostat. There was evidence of a two metre long ‘passage’ or route passing between two orthostats on the north-western side. In addition to this she also found that the monument had indeed been built within a large pit. Although it was not considered at the time, the more recent interpretation made by Richards & Cummings in their work at Garn Turne that the pit was the source or quarry for the capstone could equally apply here. An interesting aspect of the tomb’s construction is the use of both conglomerate and dolerite rock.
The day closed with a trip to the pub, well it was an NSG trip, and this time we retired to the Sloop Inn in Porthgain. There is much to recommend this hostelry, not the least of which was the food. It was much needed after a busy day in the field, so much so that one of our iron team (who shall remain nameless) ordered two dishes, only to find that the ‘lite bite’ was rather more substantial! He did remain undefeated and unbowed after his experience.