Thursday, 8 March 2012

Tinkinswood and St Lythans Excavations

During the closing months of 2011, I was fortunate enough to have been one of the archaeologists working on the Tinkinswood and St Lythans excavations. Not a lot of archaeology goes on in the Vale of Glamorgan anymore; Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust did a number excavations here in the 1970’s and 1980’s such as at Cosmeston, but after that there was very little so this was a welcome opportunity.

The first of the two excavations took place at Tinkinswood. Tinkinswood is a Neolithic long barrow of the Cotswold-Severn variety and was built sometime in the early Neolithic c.4000BC. It has the largest cap stone of such a monument in Britain. There is a legend of a phantom horse associated with the monument; there seem to be similar legends associated with many monuments of such antiquity in Great Britain. The excavations themselves took place in the fields next to the monument where there is a curious earthern mound; the actual long barrow was excavated in 1914. 

It was suspected that there might be a second Neolithic barrow with a collapsed chamber in this field. This mound turned out to be a small Bronze Age barrow; pottery and flint was discovered as well as a Roman coin. A short distance away is a small clearing in the middle of a number of large stones; this was suspected of being a quarry and possible site for the production of the stones used in the long-barrow. A number of test-pits were excavated, but were generally inconclusive.

An interesting discovery in a test trench which I personally excavated were the articulated skeletal remains of an animal. The partial remains were laid out in a crouched, sideways position directly on the lias bedrock suggesting that they were carefully placed. Could this have been a ritual burial or something more casual? 

The next excavation was at nearby St Lythans. This is another Neolithic long barrow but the earth was cleared away centuries ago leaving the internal chamber exposed. Local tradition has it that the then exposed internal chamber was used in the eighteenth century as a dog kennel. This site has never been excavated so expectations were high. I worked on the forecourt area of the main chamber.

It was hoped that there might be a burial around the vicinity of the chamber entrance, but unfortunately there was not, although fragments of human bone were recovered, these were thought to have originally come from inside the chamber. Evidence of a dry stone wall facade in the forecourt area was discovered which adds a new dimension to our understanding of the layout of the site, and perhaps its use. The anatomy of the long barrow consisted of locally sourced limestones and it transpired that the barrow was originally 30 meters long and 12 wide. In terms of small finds there was Neolithic pottery, flint and bone.  

Both sites are well worth a visit and are especially nice on a summers evening, and there is another excavation planned for sometime later in the year at St Lythans.  

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