Communities dig deep to unearth Vale’s archaeological mysteries

Monday 10 October 2011

St Lythans Burial Chamber

St Lythans Burial Chamber

The Neolithic sites of Tinkinswood and St Lythan’s in the Vale of Glamorgan have long been landmarks associated with an era shrouded in the mists of time. An innovative Cadw funded Community Archaeology project, in partnership with Archaeology Wales, hopes to shed new light on these iconic sites.

The project, which includes scientific excavations around Tinkinswood and at St Lythan’s for the very first time, will have the community at its heart. A local group led by the British Trust of Conservation Volunteers will actively take part in vegetation clearance, followed by a team of community volunteers assisting with the excavations, in a bid to enhance understanding and interpretation of these monuments and enthuse a younger generation in archaeology.

Excavation at the impressive Neolithic remains of Tinkinswood burial chamber originally took place in 1914, conducted by John Ward who was then the Keeper of Archaeology at the National Museum of Wales. The remains of 50 people were originally found inside the chamber: men, women and children. The monument is aligned length-ways towards the rising sun to the east and the curve of the forecourt may suggest that it was built to catch and hold the rays of the morning sun. There are large patches of rock exposed on the approach to Tinkinswood in an area known as ‘The Quarry’ – perhaps the source of the capstone used at Tinkinswood – the largest in Wales and a colossal 40 tonnes. This project will re-visit those investigations and examine other features in the immediate vicinity – excavating two possible fallen burial chambers and the quarry site in the nearby field.

St Lythan’s burial chamber, like Tinkinswood, is known as a Cotswold-Severn style tomb. It dates back some 6000 years to a time when farming was introduced and when people learned how to grow and produce, rather than hunt and gather their food. This period is widely regarded as one of the biggest changes in human history. But perhaps most significantly of all, these communities began to build tombs like the one at St Lythan’s. The chamber now consists of three upright stones with a capstone weighing up to 35 tonnes. How the capstone was raised, how long it was used and who was buried here are questions that remain unanswered since the site is unexcavated. Excavations at St Lythan’s will begin to unpick these questions, providing much needing dating evidence, and a chance for archaeologists to explore how Neolithic burial chambers were constructed.

People in the Neolithic are also known to have deliberately broken, and given away their most treasured possessions. An outreach project entitled Make and Break proposes to create an educational event in March 2012 as two local schools make – and then break – their own prehistoric artefacts, recreating a Neolithic ritual ceremony at Tinkinswood itself.

Along with Archaeology Wales, other partners in the project, which takes place throughout October and November, include the Council of British Archaeology, Cerddora, Cardiff University School of History, Archaeology and Religion and the National Museum of Wales.

The excavations are open to members of the public for site tours at weekends during October, November and December.

Full details can be found here.

For any further queries, contact Kaye Moxon at Cadw on 01443 336072.