Walking Historic and Ancient sites: the Areas around Three Cliffs Bay and Cefn Bryn – Thomas Alexander Husøy

In our final post this side of 2019, Thomas Husøy writes about some of the ancient sites that he has encountered on his walking adventures. We hope this inspires and encourages you to explore some of these amazing local places of interest…weather permitting!

 

The Gower peninsula is full of historical sites, and in this blog post, I will be discussing some of these sites, namely: Arthur’s Stone (Maen Ceti), the neolithic sites at Parc Le Bereos and some historical sites around Three Cliffs Bay.

Arthur’s Stone or Mean Ceti.

Arthur’s Stone, or in Welsh Maen Ceti, is a large Neolithic burial site on the North-Western edge of the Cefn Bryn Ridge. Cefn Bryn is a ridge on Gower, with the second-highest point of the Gower (186 m) and offers spectacular views over the Gower coast and towards Carmarthenshire, the Brecon Beacons, Glamorgan and Devon.

The main burial mound at Arthur’s Stone is a prominent landmark and has been a visitor attraction for the past half a millennia. The site consists of a large boulder, sitting on top of several smaller rock-pillars holding the large boulder up. The current boulder on top of the burial chambers used to be larger, however, parts of the rock have broken off, this part of the boulder is now laying around the site.

 

Arthur’s Stone.

Owing to its prominent position in the landscape, several legends and folktales surround Arthur’s Stone:

  1. When King Arthur travelled through Carmarthenshire, he discovered a small stone in his shoes and threw it away. The stone flew across the estuary and landed on Cefn Bryn, owing to the powerful touch of the king the stone grew in size as it flew across the estuary, and became the boulder we see today held up by smaller stones.
  2. Another piece of local folklore suggests that the rock travels down to the sea, in some cases this is a stream, for a drink. According to some, this is a daily event, albeit another variety suggest that this event takes place at New Year’s Eve.
  3. Folklore suggests that young ladies could use Arthur’s Stone to determine whether or not their partners would be loyal and worthy of keeping. This by taking advantage of the magic properties of Arthur’s Stone by doing a ritual; bring cakes made out of barley meal and honey, dipped in milk and place them on the stone. After placing the cakes on the rock the young lady must crawl around the stone three times if after the third time was completed the partner of the young man would appear if he did not he was not faithful and worth keeping around.

 

Parc Le Bereos.

On the South-Eastern side of Cefn Bryn, Camp Le Bereos is located, with a scout campsite on the grounds. Close to this there is a large partial restored Neolithic tomb, named Parc Cwm Long Cairn and is only a short walk from Parkmill and is dated to roughly 5850 BCE. It is considered to be of the Severn-Costwold type of burial chambers, the type takes its name from many of these structures being found in the areas around the Severn and Costwold, however, burials of the same type have been found in the Brecons and on the Gower. This type of burial chambers is recognized from their wedge shape. The structure of the cairn is rather large, and therefore it has been nicknamed Giant’s Grave.

 

Parc Le Cwm Carin.

The tomb was first discovered in 1859, and first excavated following this, sine this the burial site has been excavated several times. In the tomb, there was discovered remains of forty people in the tomb. These remains seem to be from both males and females, children and adult. The remains of the side suggested that the burial site was in use for somewhere between 300-800 years. Inside the structure, there is a passageway, often called a gallery, with burial chambers on each side.

Close to the Parc Cwm Long Cairn, you find the Catholm Cave, located approximately fifteen meters above the valley bottom where the Cairn is found.

 

Cathole Cave

 

This a large limestone cave, with two main entrances. In 2010 Rock Art dated to the Upper Paleolithic period was discovered in this cave, dated to be the oldest in the British Isles and potentially in North-Western Europe, next to the Rock Art there has been found Late Glacial Tools and animal bones from the Upper Paleolithic period. From the Bronze Age, there were found two human skeletons, an axe and pottery. Unfortunately, owing to vandalism the cave is now partly barred off.

 

Three Cliffs Bay.

 

Pennard Castle.

 

Two sites around Three Cliffs Bay will be briefly discussed here, the first one will be Pennard Castle. This castle is found on the eastern edge of Pennard Castle, on the Pennard Golf course. The overlooks the bay and has dramatic sheer drops towards the Northern and Western side of the Castle. The castle was originally built as a timber ringwork as a part of the Norman invasion of Wales and was used to secure the Lordship of Gower. The current castle ruins we can see today dates from the 13th century when it was rebuilt in stone by using limestone and sandstone. Pennard Castle is a small, but beautiful castle well worth a visit.

Finally, I will finish by mentioning Penmaen Burrows, located to the west of Three Cliffs Bay where another Neolithic burial site is located. Just like Arthur’s Stone, the Panmaen Burrows burial chamber is mostly buried and much harder to find as it buried again after excavations in the 19th century on account of blowing sand. The structure is built of a combination of conglomerate, sandstone and limestone.

 

 

Penmaen Burrows.

 

All of these sites are relatively easy to get through, albeit Penmaen Burrows is slightly tricky to find, and all of these are located on good public footpaths on the Gower and can be included in a hike or similar.

All photographs by Thomas Alexander Husøy.

 

Archaeology and Climate Change throughout Wales

This week, Amber Andrews reflects upon the impact of climate change on Welsh archaeological discoveries. More than this, she shares with us her experiences working with local heritage sites and how these can offer essential resources for academic study and future opportunities.  Amber completed her undergraduate studies here at Swansea in 2019. and is currently studying for her MA in Ancient History and Classical Culture.

Placements and Their Importance: Archaeology and Climate Change throughout Wales.

By Amber Andrews

Amber at Castell Bach, September 2019.

 

After much consideration of archaeological developments across Wales, it was a no-brainer for me to pursue research on Roman Wales in the final year of my undergraduate degree.  The idea for my dissertation, Roman Wales: The Impacts of Climate Change on Aerial Photography and Influence on New Archaeological Discoveries, came about due to the extreme weather Wales experienced during the summer of 2018. As climate change dried out the ground, hundreds of new archaeological sites ranging from prehistoric hill forts to medieval churches and buildings were exposed and then studied through the medium of aerial photography. These new discoveries shed exciting new light on our understanding of all eras throughout Wales’ history, as well as highlighting significant implications for its future. Writing a dissertation in this field, however, requires a vast amount of knowledge of the archaeological scene pre- 2018. This would have caused severe issues for the progress of the dissertation if I had not taken part in a voluntary placement during the summer of 2018.

Voluntary placements offered me a chance to attend archaeological sites and at one exciting site in Carmarthen I got to hold a newly unearthed 1st century Roman bowl (below); it was exquisitely intact. On the bottom of the bowl a flower had been carved into the clay before firing. Parallels of this mark had also been found across Europe indicating that Roman Wales had been more in tune with wider trading networks than has previously been assumed.

Bowl excavated in Roman Wales – 1st century AD

Archaeological site visits also allowed me to meet and discuss ideas about Roman Wales with a number of academics and volunteers who also came to have a look at the new discoveries. During one of these trips I met Dr Toby Driver – an archaeologist and aerial investigator. We discussed aerial photography at length as he had been busy over the earlier parts of the summer, taking flight paths over the lesser explored areas of Wales, searching for newly exposed archaeological sites made visible by the extreme, dry weather. Dr Driver’s expertise was invaluable as I researched my dissertation and he granted me access to reports and images that were not accessible to the public. I was also able to run ideas past him regarding archaeological practices and interpretations of the evidence.

When I submitted my dissertation I began to think about future career opportunities. I contacted Toby to see if I could join him on his work and this led to me gaining more experience on another voluntary placement during the summer of 2019 with the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales. Simultaneously fortunate, yet also not, the weather during the summer of 2019 did not go to the same extreme as in 2018, but there were other opportunities for developing our understanding of the archaeology throughout Wales such as working with The CHERISH Project. This five-year project, run by the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales and the Centre for Archaeology and Innovation in Ireland, aims to close gaps in our archaeological knowledge along the coasts of Wales and Ireland as many potential sites are at risk of being affected by climate change. During my work for them I successfully developed a range of skills such as the ability to use computer software to process LiDAR information taken by flight paths beaming lasers onto the ground. I focussed on six coastal islands around Wales by creating both Digital Surface Models and Digital Terrain Models, as well as creating 3D images of the islands, that highlighted the archaeology present in a clear and aesthetic way. These images are in the process of being placed into the Royal Commission’s archives, as well as being posted on the Coflein website for the wider public to use, to bring attention to the wonderful archaeology present around the Welsh coastline that could be at risk from climate change.

Placements such as these cannot be underestimated. Their benefits are palpable and give you experience in a working environment that can be extremely rewarding whilst gaining new skills. More than this they are opportunities to gain work experience with a range of experts, expand your contacts for future opportunities, and broaden your outlook on academic and real world circumstances.

OLCAP Workshop

Mapping Landscapes and Monuments

Saturday 9th November, Singleton Park

On a sometimes wet and sometimes gorgeous autumnal Saturday, OLCAP ran its first Master’s workshop aimed at level six (third year) and MA students. For our first event we went back to basics to practice mapping monuments. The main aim was to get students thinking about the types of skills that they might need to fulfil their career aspirations as well as to get them thinking critically about space, maps and the landscape.

Using Singleton Park as our base, and armed with wellies and rain coats, we spent the day measuring and recording parts of the Gorsedd stone circle that was built in 1925 and expanded for the 1964 Eisteddford. The “master” who kindly donated his expertise for the day was Alex Makovics, a GIS specialist, surveyor and archaeologist. Alex has worked all over the world surveying a range of environments from the deserts of Egypt and Sudan to the jungle of Laos and now with the GIS office for Keep Wales Tidy.

Measuring and recording one of the circle stones.

Our students, from History, Egyptology and Ancient History worked in two groups to measure, record and draw the key contours and features of the central “altar”  and one of the taller stones in the circle. We got to grips with drawing skills, using tape measures, string, plumb bobs, wooden stakes, and grid paper. Precision, patience, problem solving and teamwork were key!

Our students were also able to practice setting up and levelling an auto level to measure heights – easier said than done. Our main challenges were keeping dry, making sure that the grass did not interfere with measurements we needed to take on the ground, and trying not to get too distracted by the many dogs that wanted to join in! Over the space of four hours we were able to mark out grids on the ground, measure and fully record our “excavation” units.

Alex Makovics guiding the students as they get to grips with the auto level.

We rounded the workshop off with a short talk from Alex who shared with us some of his favourite maps. Highlights included data collated to visually represent the spread of cholera in 19th century London (the led to stemming the disease), the dramatic depletion of army recruits involved in the Napoleonic War (see the map below!), the density of hedge rows across Wales, and an intriguing example of map misuse that juxtaposed voting patterns with wild boar populations in modern day Poland. What a great way to get us thinking about how precise measurements of the minutiae can feed into the bigger picture!

Alex sharing some striking maps from a range of historical periods with us. This one charts the decline in army numbers during the Napoleonic Wars.
The Napoleonic army on the march! The beige line charts their march to Moscow and the black one their return. The width corresponds to their declining numbers.

A huge thank you to Alex for joining us, to Alex Langlands (History, Swansea) for supporting the event by sharing equipment needed to undertake our surveys, and to our wonderful students for taking part!

Team Selfie!

We look forward to our next workshop next term that will focus on digital epigraphy. If you would like more information about it or to sign up please do not hesitate to get in touch with us via email: (ersin.hussein@swansea.ac.uk or christian.knobluach@swansea.ac.uk)

In the meantime, for more information about the affiliated projects mentioned in the post see the links below:

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