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Sub-megalithics in West Wales (or not?)

The term sub-megalithic or earth-fast was coined by Glyn Daniels and to quote him;

"What we have called the 'sub-megalithic' tombs, however, are in a different category. The essential constructional pecularity of these tombs is that the capstone instead of resting on two orthostats and appearing roughly level, has one end resting on the ground-the whole monument being triangle in section. For this strange and fairly rare kind of monument, which exists in Western France, Wales and Ireland - many names have been suggested such as primary, earth-fast,demi-dolmen or half-dolmen".......

There is a small group of sub-megalithic or earth-fast cromlechs to be found in Pembrokeshire and further afield. They are simply designed with the capstone normally supported by one or several orthostats with the back of the capstone resting on the earth or a ledge, they are very low to the ground the underlying ground having been dug or excavated out and the capstones raised on small uprights.

Garn Gilfach; Strumble Head( at Llanwnda backs on to a rock face, and the tomb itself is cut into the underlying rock but is supported by four uprights. Apparently it has an impressive view overlooking the lowlands to the south and west and St.David Head.

Garn Wen; Strumble Head( has a similar set of four earth-fast cromlechs, set low amongst verdant vegetation and overlooked by houses, these cromlechs are not very prepossessing. But again large low capstones supported by uprights and backing onto the ridge called Garn Wen with views out to the sea, the landscape setting would have been perfect.

Garnwynda; Strumble Head
Further along the coast and there is the single cromlech called Garnwynda. ( Set against the rock face, it is rather 'hidden' and this feature is probably one of the strange things about this type of cromlech. It has only one upright supporting its large capstone, and according to Nash/Children is the only tomb of this type not to have intervisibilty with other tombs, though again it faces out to sea and commands a fine view. An excavation revealed evidence of a cremation dating it probably to late Neolithic early Bronze Age.

Carn Llidi;
But it is the St.David's Head group that is intriguing, for we have three earth-fast cromlechs showing that it is not necessary to alway have the tomb against a rock face. Two cromlechs are to be found up on Carn Llidi, one facing you as you approach the old gun emplacements has its capstone resting on the earth, whilst the tomb behind against the rock face, seems to have had the capstone slip from the rock ledge behind, this is what Daniel believes, and it looks fairly obvious.

Coetan Arthur;( which is the third, a splendid tomb set amidst a jumble of rocks just under the promontory fort at the the tip of St.David's Head. There is a puzzle here, for it may not necessarily be an earth-fast tomb, for according to Nash/Children there are another two uprights lying on the ground not too far away and these could have supported the back of the tomb. It faces inland and looks up towards the valley. One fact about these particular type of tombs is whether they were covered with a mound, it seems unlikely given their locations and the thin soil on the rocky outcrops, Daniels has said that the tombs "were probably originally surrounded by a low accumulation of stones sufficient to ensure that the chambers were efficient burial vaults and that they were not disturbed by beasts of prey".

Why 'hidden', there are an interesting set of tombs called the Morfa Bycham A,B,C, & D, set amongst rocky debris and well hidden by merging into the surrounding landscape, a trait that can be seen at some of the above tombs. What does this tell us? Nash is of the opinion that they were deliberately concealed for ritual reason, only those with special knowledge would be able to find them, though it seems to me that should any hostile people come in from the sea, after all Ireland is just over the water, they were concealed from any hostile act, something we see much later in the history of Britain.

The Megalith Builders of Western Europe - Glyn Daniels;
Neolithic Sites of Cardiganshire, Carmathenshire & Pembrokeshire - Geo.Children and Geo.Nash

p.s The Devil's Quoit at Manorbier has the classic earth-fast' credentials, being on the same coastline as the others and overlooking the sea on a steep hill, though whether it has a fallen third orthostat needs to be considered.

moss Posted by moss
27th September 2009ce
Edited 29th September 2009ce

Comments (3)

This is a very informative blog Moss; I have read it a couple of times - thank you. I have just stayed in south Pembrokeshire for a week, quite near to Manorbier and found the King's Quoit (Devils Quoit). It is red sandstone which is perhaps unlike the cromlechs further north. What you might find interesting though (I don't know if you have been there) it is on the coastal path which leads up from the little cove below but there is also a second path through the bracken on the cliff. I followed this and it comes out at the Norman church of St James the Great. This church is not in the village of Manorbier but on the hillside at the same level at the Quoit. In a leaflet I picked up in the church it says "the oval shape of the churchyard suggests a religious site of great antiquity". Or perhaps an ancient burial ground. tjj Posted by tjj
11th October 2009ce
I think you'll find early 'celtic' churches all along this coast, the monks came from St.Illtud's monastery at Llantwit Major, St.David was one amongst others.
St.Non's chapel at St. David is supposed to be built inside a stone circle....
and there is another ruined church inside a stone circle at Scleddau, not too far from Fishguard, though how true this is I'm not sure.....
moss Posted by moss
11th October 2009ce
Thanks Moss,
I did actually make it up to St Davids and visited St Non's Well - then did a circular walk along the coast and back up to St Davids. Someone I spoke to at the Information Centre said the story goes that St Non gave birth to David at sea in a storm.
I intended to go back later in the week to explore St Davids Head (two buses involved via Haverford West) but opted for a ferry across to Caldey Island instead.
tjj Posted by tjj
11th October 2009ce
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