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We’re often asked where the megalithic tomb (which we use for our banner image) is located. The tomb (of the sub-megalithic type) is located north of Whitesands Bay at St Davids Head, Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales and is known as Coetan Arthur. Here’s a full frame photo of the tomb.
Coetan Arthur sub-megalithic tomb
The Heritage Trust
Another taken with Whitesands Bay in the background
The Heritage Trust
And another with Carn Llidi in the distance
The Heritage Trust

The reconstructed Hochdorf Tumulus, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
The Heritage Trust
When the  550bce Hochdorf Tumulus was discovered in 1978 in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, it had been almost completely ploughed out except for a slight elevation in the ground. After its reconstruction in 1987 the mound now measures 60m (200ft) in diameter, is 6m (20ft) tall, and with a volume of 7,000 cubic metres (9,200 cubic yards) of earth and 280 tons of stone, is once again an imposing landmark in the surrounding countryside.
More here.

St Cornély: Patron Saint of Carnac with paintings of bulls surrounded by menhirs and dolmens on either side. Source Wikipedia

Today being All Saints’ Day, we wondered if there was a saint for megalithic structures; sure enough there is – St Cornély, Carnac’s patron saint. According to the ANCIENT-WISDOM website –

Carnac’s patron saint is St Cornély, who is also the patron saint of cattle, and a bull cult still lingers in the parish church on tumulus St. Michel, which displays an image of the saint blessing two paintings of bulls surrounded by menhirs and dolmens. The roots of this cult can be traced back to the earliest finds in the Carnac region at 6,850 BC, which coincidentally come from beneath the very same church.

While the Sacred Sites website records that –

The legend of Carnac which explains these avenues of monoliths bears a resemblance to the Cornish story of ‘the Hurlers,’ who were turned into stone for playing at hurling on the Lord’s Day, or to that other English example from Cumberland of ‘Long Meg’ and her daughters. St Cornely, we are told, pursued by an army of pagans, fled toward the sea. Finding no boat at hand, and on the point of being taken, he transformed his pursuers into stones, the present monoliths. The Saint had made his flight to the coast in a bullock-cart, and perhaps for this reason he is now regarded as the patron of cattle. Should a bullock fall sick, his owner purchases an image of St Cornely and hangs it up in the stable until the animal recovers. The church at Carnac contains a series of fresco paintings which outline events in the life of the Saint, and in the churchyard there is a representation of the holy man between two bullocks. The head of St Cornely is said to be preserved within the edifice as a relic. On the 13th of September is held at Carnac the festival of the ‘Benediction of the Beasts,’ which is celebrated in honour of St Cornely. The cattle of the district are brought to the vicinity of the church and blessed by the priests-should sufficient monetary encouragement be forthcoming.


We’re often asked where the megalithic tomb (which we use for our banner image) is located. The tomb (of the sub-megalithic type) is located north of Whitesands Bay at St Davids Head, Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales and is known as Coetan Arthur. Here’s a full frame photo of the tomb.
Coetan Arthur sub-megalithic tomb
The Heritage Trust 
Another taken with Whitesands Bay in the background
The Heritage Trust
And another with Carn Llidi in the distance
The Heritage Trust

Historic Scotland TV writes –

The chambered tomb of Maeshowe is in The Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. Along with the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, the Barnhouse settlement and Skara Brae prehistoric village, it allows visitors to understand the landscape and monuments of our ancestors more than 5000 years ago.

In 2011 laser scanners were used to record the site and create a three dimensional model to show the intricacies of this incredible site.

Writing in Current Archaeology, Carly Hilts reports that –

Orkney is world-famous for its spectacular Neolithic archaeology, and now visitors from all over the globe will be able to explore one of its most enigmatic monuments, after a new virtual tour of Maeshowe chambered tomb went live today (29 August).

In a video unveiled yesterday by Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the structure of the 5,000 year old monument has been recreated using 3D laser-scans carried out by the Scottish Ten project – a collaboration between Historic Scotland, Glasgow School of Art and CyArk, to document Scotland’s five UNESCO World Heritage Sites and five international sites using cutting-edge digital technology. This data will be used to help research and conserve the monuments.

Maeshowe is shown at the winter solstice, when the setting sun shines directly down the monument’s entrance tunnel to illuminate its central chamber. Covering every inch of the inner rooms of the tomb, the animation also tours the outside of the mound and reveals how it was constructed in a detailed cut through.

Full article here.


Britain’s largest meteorite and tumulus artefact? Image credit The Open University
Culture24 reports on the 20 August that –
A 30,000-year-old meteorite, thought to be the largest rock ever to have landed in Britain and preserved by the freezing conditions of the last Ice Age, will go on show within striking distance of the house where it was found in a 12-day visit to the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum.
The stone, which weighs 90kg, sat near the front door of Lake House, at Wilsford-cum-Lake, for at least 80 years. The Natural History Museum confirmed its meteorite status and kept it in storage after the house was sold. Researchers have been studying it ever since, concluding that cold and ice saved it from disintegration before it was built into a burial mound close to the house, where the local chalk environment helped preserve it further. Edward Duke, an antiquarian and excavator with his own private museum, may have been the man who found the meteorite during the 19th century, although photo evidence pictures it on the doorstep of Lake House when the property was owned by Joseph Lovibond, a brewer who had year-long stints as the Mayor of Salisbury in 1878 and 1890.
Professor Colin Pillinger, an expert on the Beagle 2 Mars spacecraft who has linked the meteorite to a smaller one found at Danebury Hill Fort in Hampshire, will also give a lecture on the discovery on September 11.
More here. See also our earlier feature Objects in space.
The 5th century Daisen Kofun, one of the largest of many tumuli in the Mozu Kofungun area, Osaka, Japan. Source Wikipedia
National Land Image Information (Colour Aerial Photographs) Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism
The Sainsbury Institute announces that there will be a lecture by Akira Matsuda on the 20 September 2012 from 6pm –
There are approximately 160,000 identified kofun, or ancient burial mounds built from the 3rd to the first half of the 7th century CE (Kofun period), in Japan. The archaeology of kofun is often considered a key to understanding the state formation in Japan and attracts large numbers of Japanese archaeologists specialising in them. While it may seem natural that archaeologists studying kofun are interested in how they were ‘originally’ built and functioned, far less attention has been given to what happened to those mounds after the Kofun period, with the exception of some considered to be the resting places of Emperors. This talk takes a biography approach to several examples of kofun and examines how they were perceived, understood and used in various ways from the post-Kofun period to the very recent past.
Details here.

Our 2012 Outreach Event began on Monday, 16 July with a visit to a 16th century (possibly much older) Welsh homestead; describe by one author (Francis Jones in his Historic Carmarthenshire Homes and Their Families) as, YNYSWEN, LLANEGWAD: Now an interesting farmstead on a slope near Pont-yr-ynys-wen, two and a quarter miles north-east of Pontargothi. Home of the land-owing family of Lloyd who traced to the Cardiganshire chieftain Gwyddno Garanhir, “Lord of Cantre’r Gwealod”. The present owners kindly provided us with tea and delicious homemade blueberry cakes before showing us round their unique and fascinating house. From there we travelled on to the charming fishing village of Solva, and the excellent Cambrian Inn for evening drinks and suppers of Welsh lamb and locally-caught fish.

Tuesday started off wet and grey so it was decided to visit the oldest working woollen mill in Pembrokeshire first (just a five minute drive from Solva). The mill is renowned for its traditional woollen products, still woven on site and now shipped all over the world. From the mill we then headed off to the Gors Fawr stone circle. Gors Fawr is close to the road, and with little walking involved getting to the circle itself is ideally suited for the less mobile.

Gors Fawr Stone Circle (circa 2,300-1,200 bce)
The Heritage Trust

As we left Gors Fawr the weather began to improve and the earlier greyness started to lift. Next stop was Carreg Coetan, and by the time we got there the sun had broken through to highlight this endearing little cromlech set in its own well-tended area of seclusion. Refreshments in Fishguard then on to Pentre Ifan, and finally to Carreg Samson – the latter still slightly shrouded in sea mist. Arriving back in Solva early evening there was time to freshen up before dinner at the Old Pharmacy restaurant in Solva where we were able to sample local seafood and, for the first time, the locally gathered samphire sea vegetable.

Carreg Coetan
The Heritage Trust

Two of our overseas attendees (with someone else’s curious dog) at Pentre Ifan

Carreg Samson still slightly shrouded in sea mist
The Heritage Trust

Wednesday was the day we had planned to visit Carn Menyn – the possible source of the Bluestones at Stonehenge. Starting first however with a visit to the 13th century ruins of the Bishop’s Palace in St Davids, and then the long drive to our destination in the Preseli Hills. All started well but, after an hour or so of walking, the ground became increasing wet and treacherous and a decision had to be made whether to carry on or turn back. Two attendees decided to carry on while the others turned back.

Two of our intrepid attendees setting off for the Carn Menyn Bluestone outcrop in the distance

Those who turned back and took a different route to our starting point were rewarded with an unexpected bonus. Following a sheep track for half a mile or so over rocky ground (with hidden streams gurgling away underground) they stumbled on what may be an unrecorded sub-megalithic tomb (not dissimilar, though much smaller, than Coetan Arthur which we use as our banner image above). The feature is yet to be confirmed as such, although it appears to have some of the sub-megalithic tomb characteristics described by George Children and George Nash in their book, Neolithic Sites of Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire & Pembokeshire.

A seemingly unrecorded sub-megalithic tomb (provisionally named Carn Koishi after the person who noticed it) with Carn Menyn visible in the distance

Thursday saw the remaining Outreach attendees visiting St Elvis Farm double-chambered tomb (now sadly displaced by a farmer who tried to destroy it some one hundred years ago) and then on to the more remote Carn Wnda tomb.

St Elvis Farm double-chambered tomb (note the church in the background now converted into a farm building)
The Heritage Trust
Carn Wnda tomb (an example of an earth fast tomb)
The Heritage Trust

All-in-all it was a fascinating Outreach Event and thoroughly enjoyed by those who attended. The venue for next year’s Event is still to be decided but sites of historic and traditional interest in Devon and Cornwall have been suggested. For those who could not make our Event this year we hope to see you at next year’s – either in Wales or possibly in Devon and Cornwall.

A piece of glass jewellery (profile) measuring 5mm in diameter and believed to have been made by Roman craftsmen. The item was found in a 5th century tomb at Nagaoka-kyo, Kyoto Japan
Image credit Nara National Institute for Cultural Properties/AFP


Glass jewellery believed to have been made by Roman craftsmen has been found in an ancient tomb in Japan, researchers said Friday [22 June], in a sign the empire’s influence may have reached the edge of Asia.

Tests have revealed three glass beads discovered in the Fifth Century “Utsukushi” burial mound in Nagaoka, near Kyoto, were probably made some time between the first and the fourth century, the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties said. The government-backed institute has recently finished analysing components of the glass beads, measuring five millimetres (0.2 inches) in diametre, with tiny fragments of gilt attached. It found that the light yellow beads were made with natron, a chemical used to melt glass by craftsmen in the empire, which succeeded the Roman Republic in 27 BC and was ultimately ended by the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. 

Perhaps something of an exaggeration to say the Roman ‘empire’s influence may have reached the edge of Asia.’ In the early 8th century Shōsō-in (正倉院) repository in Nara there are items originating from Tang China (via Korea) from as far away as India, Iran (Persia), Greece, Rome and Egypt. Persian textiles are particularly evident in the Shōsō-in, and their ancient designs are still to be found in some modern Japanese textiles. These imports might be seen more as desirable and exotic fashion statements rather than a direct, or even indirect, Roman or Middle Eastern influence.


More here.


Britain’s largest meteorite and tumulus artefact? Image credit The Open University
Objects in space is the title of an exhibition now running at the The Royal Society in London until 30 March 2012. The exhibition, “…showcases what is believed to be Britain’s largest meteorite, never previously seen in public, alongside letters and books charting the history of scientific interest in meteorites.”
The meteorite in question fell to earth some 30,000 years ago, measures some 0.5 metres across and weighs an incredible 93 kilograms. The meteorite has been kept at Lake House in Wiltshire (formerly the house owned by the Duke family until the widow of the Rev. Edward Duke (1814–95) an archaeologist and colleague of Richard Colt Hoare, also an archaeologist, sold it). Dr Colin Pillinger, professor of planetary sciences at the Open University and Michael Faraday Prize lecturer this year, has suggested that, “The men whose house this [the meteorite] was found at spent a lot of time opening… burial sites 200 years ago for purposes of excavating them. Our hypothesis is that the stone probably came out of one of those burial chambers.”
If that is the case it may be the only known example of a meteorite being found in a tumulus in Britain. Meteorites however, “…have been found in Egyptian tombs and the hieroglyphic symbol for meteorites has been translated as siderite, or “iron from heaven”. A dagger of meteoritic iron was found in King Tutankhamen’s burial chamber. When a meteorite fell near Phrygia in about 2000 B.C., it was revered as a divine object for years. According to Titus Livius, the stone was later transported to Rome and worshipped for another 500 years.

“The occurrence of meteorites on archaeological sites in North America has been known since the early 19th century. While searching for the northwest passage in 1818, John Ross discovered a previously unknown band of Eskimo on the northwest coast of Greenland using a variety of cutting tools with blades of meteoritic iron. That same year a `plate’ of iron from Ohio was the first of a series of meteoritical iron artefacts found on Hopewellian (200 B.C. – A.D. 500) sites in the eastern United States.

“The Camp Verde and Bloody Basin meteorites are thought to be transported specimens from Meteor Crater in north central Arizona. Both meteorites were discovered on sites located approximately 100 km southwest of the crater. Camp Verde was found on top of a mesa in the corner of an ancient dwelling. The meteorite had been wrapped in feather-cloth and placed upon a stone cyst. Stone cysts were sometimes used for child burial. Both Bloody Basin and a meteorite from Mesa Verde in Colorado were found in dwellings with apparently little or no special significance attached to them by the inhabitants. Two meteorites from Chihuahua, Mexico were located inside ruins that may have been constructed around the stones. The Huizopa iron weighed 108 kg when it was discovered in 1907, and the 1545 kg Casas Grandes was found wrapped in mummy cloth similar to the burials located nearby.”

Quoted from The Prehistoric Use of Meteorites in North America by Glen Akridge. Glen Akridge is a member of the Cosmochemistry Group at the University of Arkansas. See also the feature in the American Association for the Advancement of Science.



All emotions as well as quiet,
moss-covered Time
are raining behind your face,
which bears the weight
of two thousand years
behind your deep eyes.
Your mouth is tightened
by a great secret.

You do not cry or laugh
or become angry because
you are always crying,
laughing and angry.

You do not have thoughts
or feelings. You absorb those
continuously. Then they
precipitate in you forever.

Born directly out of the earth,
you were a human thing
before human beings.
There was a shortness
in one of God’s breaths,

and therefore, incomplete,
you can take pride
in a beautiful simplicity
and health.
You store away the universe.

Shuntaro Tanikawa

(Translated by Diane Furtney and Asuka Itaya)

Haniwa (埴輪) are hollow terracotta ‘cylinders’ whose upper part are in the shape of humans, animals, houses etc; they would have stood with others in a protective circle (structurally and symbolically) around Japanese tumuli. The haniwa above dates from around the 6th century ce. I’s thought that the practice of placing haniwa around Japanese tumuli was influenced by, “…the ancient Chinese custom of burying servants and goods with the dead ruler.” Haniwa would have been filled with earth, with the lower part buried so that only the decorative top was visible.

See also the haniwa feature on The British Museum website.


June 2022
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