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Pentre Ifan, Newport, SN 099370

View along facade to north east.


View SES.

View facing north.

View looking east through chamber.

Built around 2500BC (contemporary to Durrington Walls near Stonehenge and the erection of the sarsons), this stands on a gentle hillside, towards the top of a ridge in the Nevern Valley, looking out over the valley and the sea beyond. Above it is Cerrig Meibion Owen, curiously shaped, but a natural outcrop belying the name.

The Neolithic builders (though no skeletons have been found there) were slight and fine-featured: Mediterranean or Iberian. Originally covered by a cairn or long mound going down hill to the north. At the south, uphill, is the chamber itself, made of local, unshaped igneous rocks, it consists of a capstone on three supporters. Between the southern supporters is a third upright forming a door or portal; it does not touch the capstone and in theory can be removed. On each side of the portal are several upright stones forming a crescent-like facade opening up the slope.

In fact, packing stones round the portal stone would have made it impossible to enter the tomb at the end. The real entry must have been through the cairn, perhaps on the west side.

The capstone is 7½'/2.3m above ground and weighs about as many tons as it is long and at 16½'/5m, is one of the longest in Wales (that at the much older Tinkinswood site is estimated to weigh 40 tons).

Originally the area inside the chamber had been levelled off and was lower than the outside. The sides of the chamber were not open; there were additional uprights, and the sides filled in probably with dry-stone walling.

There are other features: there is a fallen 9'/2.74m long stone to the east; close by was a pit with charcoal. It is thought this monolith was a ritual object and that this activity area was ceremonial; the monolith was felled by digging away the soil to the north.

Before excavation there was little trace of the cairn, but when the topsoil was removed, stones were visible. It was long rather than round, about 40 yards/36.6m, most of it tailing down the slope behind the chamber, so it would have looked like a steepish mound going up to the level of the capstone. Two stone-lined and filled 'ritual' pits, 2'/0.6m deep, were also found to the east. It was suggested that the facade here was a later addition, but this was rejected by Prof Grimes who undertook the excavation in 1957/8.

The tomb, with it's crescent-shaped facade is similar to others in Ireland and the Irish Sea area - north-east Ireland, south-west Scotland and north Wales. The name given to them is the Portal Dolmen type of tomb; a small single chamber with two tall portals, a closing slab between and a big wedge capstone.

Above notes courtesy of Alison.

The layout would act as a mnemonic device to recount the community's history. The larger stones at the south of the tomb could represent social divisions, say families of the clan, or chiefs or founders. Perhaps, marriages and treaties were solemnised before them, one presumes a gathering would form facing the tomb from the south. The two linear arrangements of stones may act as memorials, those on the west side are more ordered with an apparent spacing arrangement, those on the east side having a 'busier' aspect and a fallen monolith. Could this represent a desecration? The close western grouping could indicate those who died together. The levelled area to the north of the tomb proper suggests dancing or performance, while the capstone is ideal to address or direct proceedings from. Instances where burials were placed around such areas could have been to allow the dead to participate with the living in the ceremony. The internal volume gives an indication of how many bones, sometimes only skulls and long bones, were expected to be stored in this type of tomb.

The orientation, with a 'congregation' facing north, and at night the pole star or perhaps aurora borealis, instead of a sunrise suggested a navigational aspect to this community.

Preseli Hills, Tinkinswood, Caerau hillfort, sonics and some mythology (even Arthur).


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