The Modern Antiquarian. Ancient Sites, Stone Circles, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic Mysteries

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Silbaby (Artificial Mound) — Images (click to view fullsize)

<b>Silbaby</b>Posted by Dunstan

Silbaby (Artificial Mound) — Miscellaneous

I'd like to add my amateur opinion to the debate.

Like everyone else, I was quite excited by the idea of a newly discovered monument in the Avebury area. Having visited it though, I am convinced that it is purely a natural feature, formed by the Roman road cutting off a spur at the end of Waden Hill.

The roundness of the hill is unusual, as is the fact that the angle of its slope matches that of Silbury. However, both can be explained by its location.

The hill is on the edge of the flood plain of the River Kennet, as can be seen by the very flat ground at its base. This means that it has been eroded by the river over many, many years. This has had the effect of shortening the gradual slope of Waden Hill - the long tail of the hill has been washed away.

Any large scale erosion brought about by floodwater would cause a cliff of chalk to form, but this would fairly soon settle down into a slope. All soils have a natural angle at which they settle. This is called their 'angle of repose'. You can see this in action by pouring sugar onto a table - internal friction means that the pile will always settle into a slope of the same angle.

It so happens that the angle of slope of Silbury Hill is pretty close to the natural angle of repose of chalk soil. This is discussed in the English Heritage report on Silbury ('Silbury Hill', February 2005) which says that "Professor Chandler... considered the slope stability of the Hill and [noted that] it was close to the angle of repose".

In other words, whether due to design or because of erosion over the years, the slope of Silbury Hill is similar to that of a naturally eroded chalk cliff. That the slope of Silbaby is almost the same is no accident – it too follows the natural angle of repose for chalk – but due to the natural processes of erosion and slope formation rather than by the hand of man.

A similar angle of slope can be seen on the tree-lined banks of the Kennet by the Swallowhead spring, where the hill coming down from the West Kennet long barrow has been cut away by the stream.

Stukeley's print showing a 'barrow cut through by the Romans' is a bit of a red herring. Stukeley was clearly referring to a disc barrow – a small, banked Bronze Age mound – and not to a large hill. His engraving of the 'Avebury Serpent' shows this disc barrow clearly, together with the relationship between the Roman road and the tail of Waden Hill.

Overall, I'm sorry, but I'd say that Silbaby was a natural feature. Unusual, intriguing, and definitely worth protecting, but natural nonetheless.

On the other hand, I can't explain the alignment between Silbury, Silbaby and the Sanctuary…

Traeth Fawr (Round Cairn) — Images

<b>Traeth Fawr</b>Posted by Dunstan

Traeth Fawr (Round Cairn) — Fieldnotes

This is indeed a beautiful spot. A nice little beaker/bronze age mound overlooking a stunning bay, with all of Snowdonia as a backdrop. As other people have mentioned, there is not much to see of the barrow itself; just a few large stones, but it's a great place to be - either lounging on the soft turf on a summer's day, or huddled behind the nearby stone seat when the big winter southwesterly gales are piling up the surf.

If you check out the eroded slopes just below the barrow you can pick up little bits of mesolithic flint. They're mostly just waste flakes, but it's a tangible connection to the people who were here 7,000 years ago.

The best thing to do is to park up at Porth Cwyfan (the church in the sea), and walk for a couple of miles along the coast path. This is a great little walk. The church itself is quite special, and rightly popular with artists. Further along the coast you can see the wreck of the 'Bothilde Russ' at low tide, lost in a gale in 1903. There are usually a few seals watching you from the sea, and if you're lucky there may be ravens or pairs of choughs showing off their aerobatic skills.

Overall, a great place to be. Make the effort and go there - whatever the season, you won't be disappointed.

The Three Leaps (Stone Row / Alignment) — Fieldnotes

I agree with Stubob and Hamish. These 'standing stones' are about the size of a housebrick. Interesting perhaps, but not at all spectacular. Took me ages to find them too.

Maenaddwyn (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Images

<b>Maenaddwyn</b>Posted by Dunstan

Barclodiad-y-Gawres (Chambered Cairn) — Miscellaneous

The 'magic stew' at Barclodiad y Gawres has been widely accepted as an example of neolithic ritual.

I think that there is room for re-interpretation here.

The stew, for those who are unfamiliar, was identified by the excavators from small fragments of bones found mixed with the charcoal of a fire in the centre of the chamber. These included bones from wrasse, whiting, eel, frog, toad, natterjack, grass snake, mouse and hare. Since this mixture seems hardly edible it has been interpreted (in the typical archaeological way) as having a ritual purpose.

There is however another possible explanation, and a very down to earth one at that. The original excavators of the tomb, T. G. E. Powell and Glyn Daniel, noted that the bone fragments were consistent in size and type with the stomach contents of an otter. However, since it would be unusual for an otter to have all these bones in its stomach at one time, and then somehow regurgitate them in the chamber, they rejected this idea and hypothesised that the bones came from a stew instead, being small enough to sink to the bottom of the pot.

I agree that it would be strange for an otter to have eaten all these species in one go, but if the deposit had accumulated over time then it makes perfect sense. The bones are consistent with those found at an otter's 'spraint' (dung) site.

See http://www.ottersite.btinternet.co.uk/spraints.htm for an example of bones found in otter spraints.

Coastal otters tend to live in crevices in rocks, and like all mustelids they mark their territory with regular 'latrines'. It is feasible that an otter made its home in the chamber at some point in its 5,000 year history, and left its spraint in a particular place on the floor. This would explain the mixture of small bones, any of which could be in the diet of a coastal otter.

Incidentally, otters can still be found within 10 miles of the chamber, so this is not so far-fetched as it sounds. For that matter, people seem to use the site as a latrine even today!

So there you have it. Either a strange 'magical stew' or the more prosaic dung pile of an otter. The matter rests on how the excavation evidence is interpreted.

For those who would like to investigate further, Rhosneigr library has a copy of the original excavation report (as well as many other local history books) and is only a few miles up the road from Barclodiad y Gawres.

Barclodiad-y-Gawres (Chambered Cairn) — Images

<b>Barclodiad-y-Gawres</b>Posted by Dunstan

Barclodiad-y-Gawres (Chambered Cairn) — Fieldnotes

The alignment of the chamber at Barclodiad-y-Gawres has been puzzling me lately. The Irish passage graves - of which this is surely one - were sometimes aligned on the sun. Newgrange is the classic example, aligned on the midwinter sunrise.

The orientation of the passage at Barclodiad-y-Gawres is just about due north, as measured with a compass, which means that it cannot be aligned on any movement of the sun.

It is, however, aligned on a pair of low hills in the distance - Mynydd y Garn and Mynydd Mechell. The standing stones of Llanfechell lie at the foot of the latter.

The horizon on this part of Anglesey is remarkably flat and level, so these hills do stand out on a clear day. The obvious feature of the horizon is the great lump of Holyhead Mountain, but the passage points instead to the two smaller hills. I've attached a photograph of these from the passage.

Was this a deliberate alignment? Were these sacred hills? I don't know. Go there on a clear day, sit in the clear air of Anglesey, soak up the view and see what you think.

The Swastika Stone (Cup and Ring Marks / Rock Art) — Images

<b>The Swastika Stone</b>Posted by Dunstan

The Swastika Stone (Cup and Ring Marks / Rock Art) — Miscellaneous

Is the Swastika Stone really prehistoric?

The Swastika Stone is always held up to be the classic example of Bronze Age rock art in Britain, but is it really that old?

Whilst there is strong evidence for the use of the swastika symbol in general going back to the Neolithic, I'd make a case that the fylfot design of the Ilkley Moor Swastika Stone is mediaeval in date.

In a small church on Anglesey I recently came across a 13th Century gravestone with a carved image that is virtually identical to the Swastika Stone. I've attached a picture here.

Rock art is notoriously difficult to date, unless it is overlain with other datable material to give it context. Most dating is done on stylistic grounds. Since the fylfot design appears in a firmly dated mediaeval context on Anglesey, I'd argue that it is a mediaeval design. This means that a mediaeval date for the Swastika Stone is entirely possible, even probable. The chance of the design persisting almost unchanged across 2,500 years and from one side of the country to the other can be discounted.

I'm happy to be challenged on this, but in the absence of any positive evidence I would not regard the Swastika Stone as ancient.

Danesborough Camp (Enclosure) — Images

<b>Danesborough Camp</b>Posted by Dunstan<b>Danesborough Camp</b>Posted by Dunstan

Danesborough Camp (Enclosure) — Fieldnotes

Danesborough is an iron age hillfort, which if it were in say, the Welsh Marches or the Berkshire Downs, wouldn't get much more than a second glance from all but the most dedicated researchers. However, since it is no more than a stone's throw from Milton Keynes, an area not rich in prehistoric remains, it is worth a visit if you're in the area.

It is situated in Aspley Woods. Whilst the trees and bracken make it difficult to appreciate the scale of the site, they do make for a very nice walk to get there. You can wander through the forest for literally miles if you want to.

The hillfort itself is fairly standard: with a bank, ditch and counterscarp bank all visible. In places the top of the bank is still 12-15 feet above the silted bottom of the ditch. The land falls away fairly steeply on the southeast and northwest, making quite an impressive defended site, close to the pre-roman route of Watling Street.

The soft, sandy soil of the area (the nearest village is Woburn Sands - an accurate name) mean that there are numerous hollow ways and sunken tracks, which combined with the trees make interpretation difficult. There are entrances to the northeast and southwest which may be original, but it is difficult to make out any traces of outworks or other defensive gateway structures owing to the bracken and the confused nature of the ground.

There is no best place to park and no best route to Danesborough. It is at least half a mile from the nearest road, and the paths can be muddy. Get yourself a decent map, park up in either Woburn, Woburn Sands or Bow Brickhill, and enjoy the peace and quiet of the woods on the walk there.

Glyn (Burial Chamber) — Fieldnotes

This site is known as 'Glyn' in Frances Lynch's 'Prehistoric Anglesey'. It isn't the easiest site to find, nor the most accessible, but it is certainly unspoilt and away from the crowds. It is about 100 yards south of a well made footpath, but still difficult to find. I strongly recommend the use of a detailed OS map.

The whole area consists of a limestone pavement (imagine a miniature Burren) which seems oddly out of place on Anglesey. The chamber itself appears to be a large slab of the local limestone which has been propped up with small uprights to form a small space underneath.

Incidentally, it took me two attempts to find the chamber. On the first trip I got a little lost and ended up wandering about north of the path. In the woods and fields there are a number of walls and hut circles, very similar to those on Holyhead Mountain. I haven't been able to find any information on these, so they may be prehistoric or they may be post-roman, but you can feel like a proper explorer as you trace their outlines in the trees.

Overall it is a nice site. Not spectacular, and probably not worth making a long trip for, but if you're in the area (say, at Lligwy or Pant-y-Saer) then it is definitely worth a look.

Lain Wen Farm Inscribed Stone — Miscellaneous

This is a Dark Age christian memorial stone from around the 6th century CE. The RCAHMW gives the inscription as 'CUNOGUSI HIC IACIT' [Latin for 'Cunogusus lies here']. The letters are still fairly easy to make out.

There is a rumour that the stone has a cup mark on one side, making it a re-used prehistoric menhir, but I couldn't find it.

Apparently the name Cunogusus is preserved in the name of the nearest village, Pencarnisiog, which if true would be a wonderful example of continuity over the last twelve centuries.

Mynydd Bach (Round Cairn) — Miscellaneous

Frances Lynch, in 'Prehistoric Anglesey' calls this site Mynydd Bach, after the name of the headland it stands on. It was excavated at the same time as Barclodiad-y-Gawres, but little was found, and it has been tentatively dated to the Beaker period. It's a lovely little cairn, and in its own quietly understated way is more atmospheric than its more famous neighbour.
I'm a gentleman adventurer and an antiquarian of the old school.

I'll only post if I feel I can add something new to the site. All my opinions are my own, but as Colt Hoare might have said - "I speak from facts, not theories".

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