Thursday, 13 November 2008

Pentre Ifan burial chamber

Here is Pentre Ifan burial chamber - icon of Welsh archaeology and in every holiday brochure from these parts . . . It is a Neolithic burial chamber (a closed portal tomb) dating from around 3,500 BC.

Although this is a massive capstone, weightwise, compared with Carreg Coetan Arthur down in the valley, it looks quite elegant, with its long tapering snout. It is orientated north-south, but whether this was to deliberately emulate and echo the slope of Carn Ingli behind it is debatable. The "blocking stones" are at the South end, and as you can see from the information board below, it was truly impressive when covered over with its original mound and with the curving facade. Light grey boulders and slabs are still strewn across the site, and incorporated into the local field boundaries, as shown in the photos below. As you can see in the line drawing below, it originally had smaller stones incorporated into its structure, and had drystone walling too, which gives it some links with a group of burial chambers known as the Cotswold-Severn group, from their geographic distribution.

Looking out to sea beyond Newport, with Pen Dinas on the left. Viewed from Pentre Ifan.

Stones everywhere. Here these top some dry-stone walling seperating fields by the entrance into Pentre Ifan.

Click to enlarge and read about the burial chamber and its history.

From the "business end" - showing where it was blocked following its final usage. If you look at the picture above, you can see the blocking stones and how it would have looked when it still had the mound in place.

From another angle. There were originally two other blocking stones to the left of the three supporting the capstone, and a facade which curved to form a forecourt, which has renonences of the 'horned cairns' of the Carlingford culture in Ireland.. The cairn was originally about 40m in length. Sian Rees describes it thus: "Within the cairn were a number of enigmatic features. East of the chamber was a slumped stone, probably once upright but deliberately felled before the cairn was built; in front of it was a pit within which were signs of burning. Further north were two square slab-lined pits and along each side of the cairn towards the south was an irregular line of small stone-holes, one of which still had its upright stone in position. The function of the stones is uncertain. Similar, but more closely-packed lines of stones have been interpreted as revetment stones at other chambered tombs, but the space between the stones makes this interpretation unlikely here; presumably they were either simple markes, or, along with the slab-lined pits, were connected with burial rites or the consecration of the tomb."

There were sadly no burial traces found, so we may only hazard a guess as to whether burials or cremations were practiced here. Surely a tomb of this importance would have remained in use over an extended period of time. Artefacts associated with this tomb were also disappointing - a few sherds of plain round bottomed brown pots and some fragments of flint including a triangular arrowhead.

A view for my eldest daughter, who has an essay to write about how burial chambers are believed to mimic the landscape they are in - in this case, Carn Ingli.


Rowan said...

Fascinating post, the line drawing makes it clear how little remains of the original - what is left is very impressive though.

Sage said...

Saw you went to Newport, but not certain which one until I saw the Pentre Ifan pictures. Lovely, lovely countryside round there.