Looking Back: The Old Stones Of Din Lligwy

IMG_2317ed

We came here last week, Monday 2nd January 2023. I’d been here before – the north-easterly corner of Ynys Mon (Anglesey) and to this field above the sea, where there are ruins of a Norman chapel (12th century) and a Romano-Celtic settlement of the late 300s AD.

And with all these chronological markers in place, I should perhaps add one more and say that it was probably 60 years since I was last here. Sixty years. Ye gods! How time does fly.

Back then, we were visiting what my mother mistakenly called ‘a stone age village’. It was one of my big holiday excitements whenever we came to Anglesey.

IMG_2329ed

Above and below are the settlement’s two circular houses, inhabited during the later Roman era, but abandoned by 400 AD when the legions departed. So, mummy dear, not a Stone Age village at all, though unknown to me at the time of those childhood visits, there is in fact an impressive Stone Age monument very close by.

IMG_2327ed

*

As you can see, the stone houses have massively constructed walls, faced inside and out with huge slabs, and the space between packed with rubble. They probably supported conical, timber-framed and thatched roofs. (A reconstruction HERE)

IMG_2335ed

There are also at least 7 rectangular buildings associated with the houses. Two of these contained several smelting hearths and were probably iron-making workshops supplying the local Roman legions with tools and weapons. The whole site was then bounded by a pentagonal wall, well over a metre thick, and entered via a gatehouse. There were also further house remains outside the boundary wall.

To me it has the looks of a secure unit. Perhaps with workshops under direct Roman control. By the 4th century the locals could well have been growing restive; itching to arm themselves. This is just my hypothesis. Other interpretations are that the outer wall was for keeping cattle in, and that the defences were considered ‘light’.

*

But now a step back in more recent times and the way things were for the Ashford family circa 1960:

Din Lligwy

*

And finally a giant’s leap back – some 5, 000 years:

IMG_2367ed

It’s only a short walk from the Romano-Celtic settlement, and barely a stone’s throw behind a field hedge, but here we have a Stone Age cromlech, the burial place of some thirty Neolithic farmers, men, women and children. Among their remains archaeologists also found animal bones, flint tools and pottery.

The hugeness of the capstone is breath-taking. It’s reckoned to weigh 25 tons and, in consequence, it’s also thought that the stone was already in situ at the time of construction (a handy glacial delivery?) and that the tomb builders excavated underneath, wedging it on boulders to create the chamber. The whole was then probably covered with turves and soil, and as with similar monuments that were in use over a period of time, may also have included some kind of ceremonial forecourt. But however it was constructed, it surely took a massively concerted effort.

IMG_2358ed

*

Our visit over, we turned back to the car. Back to the present. Across the lane from the tomb was the misty view of the Great Orme on the mainland (named by the Vikings during the next invasion phase). Behind us was the  small place called Din Lligwy  – five millennia of human history documented in stone.

On my personal time-scale, I’d like to say I’ll be back there in another sixty years, but it seems unlikely. Still, you never know…

Lens-Artists: Looking Back This week Sofia sets the challenge.

copyright 2023 Tish Farrell

Communing With The Ancestors At Dyffryn Ardudwy

60 dyffryn ardudwy effect

Scan an ordnance survey map of Wales, and especially the county of Gwynedd where we were a couple of weeks ago, and you will soon spot a host of prehistoric remains: hut circles, standing stones and chambered tombs. They can be found on the coast, in the immediate hinterland and in the uplands of Snowdonia, thus giving an impression of a very busy ancestral landscape.

Of course there is no way of knowing if these are the scant remains of many more monuments, lost to collapse, deliberate destruction and/or repurposing by later populations, or if they roughly represent the sum of the stone-built prehistoric past. Another problem is dating them. For example, Neolithic chambered tombs appear to have served the whole community, were constantly re-used and so remained in use over a considerable period of time. On our recent Wales trip we found a good example in the little village of Dyffryn Ardudwy (OS grid ref: SH585235), one of a group of 6 similar monuments between Barmouth and Harlech.

The unusual feature here is there are the two burial chambers in close proximity, the earliest (far right in header photo) dating from around 6,000 years ago and built by Neolithic farmers. This was originally covered by a small oval cairn, but with a forecourt facing east. Shards of Neolithic pottery were found during excavations.

Sometime later, the larger easterly chamber was constructed, and the whole area including the earlier chamber and its surrounding cairn, was covered by a large trapezoidal barrow  some 100 feet (30 metres) long. This construction phase also included a forecourt facing east. These forecourts are thought to have provided the ceremonial setting for funerary rituals. The big scatter of rubble is all that is left of the mound. Over succeeding millennia it has doubtless provided a handy source of building material.

28

9

6

The building of such monuments suggests that Neolithic communities had both plenty of human-power and the spare time to do the building work.  And while the large chamber slabs most likely came from the immediate vicinity, they still had to be shifted and lifted.

From our consumption-heavy perspective is easy to think that stone age life was tough and impoverished. But the coastal region would have been very rich in resources – not only a range of seafood, especially shellfish, but also the wildfowl, fish and game of the salt marsh estuaries to supplement farm produce.

The immediate hillside area was anyway still occupied two plus millennia later by Bronze Age-Iron Age people. In the next field to the burial cairns are the stone foundations of two circular houses together with evidence of field terracing and an enclosure. So life went on there, though probably with settlers of quite different/or at least mixed cultural origins.

But one of the most beguiling features of the Dyffryn ‘house of the dead’ in our era is that it feels embraced. The path to it runs beside the village community centre and then beside the primary school, the setting is cared for, pastoral, almost domestic. It’s reminding me of a chambered tomb of the cromlech variety I once spotted on a lane skirting a Breton farmyard. The tomb had been incorporated into the outbuildings; the past very purposely repurposed and impressively too. Adaptive re-use as conservation persons are wont to say. I like it.

5

Related: Pentre Ifan chambered tomb.

The Things We Find When Lost

IMG_4238

Farrell Safaris are notorious for their cross-country deviations even when kitted out with a fully functioning map. And so it was on our recent Anglesey stay, and with an intended short (couple of miles) drive from Aberffraw to next-door Rhosneigr, that we managed to miss the turn and instead head off to who knew where.

Usually when this happens, Captain Farrell’s first resort is to keep going, perhaps in hopes that, if we do this for long enough, all will come right.  Fortunately this time we had savvy niece in the back seat, and she soon had our position pinpointed on her phone. We did indeed need to turn around. And it was while this was going on – i.e. finding a suitable turning space on a narrow country lane, that I spotted the Neolithic burial chamber in the far corner of a farm field.

Can we stop, says me, hoping for a better look over the wall and maybe a long-shot photo (poor light willing).

But once turned about, we soon saw that a proper visit was feasible. There were official signs in Welsh and in English ‘Ty-Newydd Burial Chamber’, a pull-in space on the verge and a stile.  Sister, cockapoo and niece were up for a visit, though the wind was brutal and it was starting to rain. In my rush to head the expedition as chief prehistorian I was ensnared in a hawthorn bush and held up proceedings. Meanwhile Captain Farrell gathered himself for unscheduled activity, and manfully brought up the rear.

We then tramped across the muddy field only to find the ancient capstone (a whopping 12 ft by 5ft/3.7 m by 1.5m) had been propped up on two unsightly brick pillars set on a concrete base. And while their solid intervention was doubtless necessary for many reasons, their presence jarred. The dreary light did not help.

IMG_4235

*

So it turned out that the original drive-by view had been more impressively mysterious than the close-quarters’ encounter. Ah well.

IMG_3387

IMG_3385

*

The tomb was excavated in 1935 and is considered typical of the funerary monuments built by the first farming people (see also the Barclodiad y Gawres tomb in an earlier post). Finds included a hearth with charcoal remains, some flint flakes, a burned flint arrow head, and a chip from a polished stone axe. But there were also pottery shards of the later Beaker People of the Bronze Age, and signs of a further chamber, which suggest the tomb was used, or re-used over a considerable time-span. The large cairn that once covered the tomb is long gone – ploughed out and/or its stones re-purposed. Instead, small concrete bollards have been set out to indicate its original extent. Useful guidance on the one hand, but like the brick supports, they felt intrusive somehow.

Anyway, we paid our respects to ancient souls who then, like us, must have been alarmingly blasted by the training jets taking off at nearby RAF Valley. The New Year’s holiday was over and ‘business as usual’ resumed. Out of the gale the engines’ roar filled the sky, the earth, the universe, my skull. It was noise so loud as to be physically shattering. I had that strange sense of someone walking over my grave and a horrid glimpse of what it must to be some innocent village dweller in a war zone; to be on the receiving end of the northern hemisphere’s mighty industrial war machine.

Several times during that day the soundtrack for Armageddon rebounded through my bones and being. It happened again in late afternoon as we walked on Aberffraw’s magnificent beach. And I wondered then, as I have done many times recently, what on earth the ancestors would think of us now. We who believe ourselves so very civilised?

IMG_4267

A Hawk T1 or T2 (?) caught over Aberffraw estuary. And the photos taken immediately afterwards – first looking towards mainland Wales, and the second across the Celtic Sea towards Ireland:

IMG_4268

IMG_4270

Lens-Artists: interesting things

This week Patti wants to see the kinds of scenes/objects that catch our eye or pique our interest. Please go and view her interesting choices.