Parc Cwm long cairn
Parc Cwm long cairn (Welsh: carn hir Parc Cwm), or Parc le Breos burial chamber (Welsh: siambr gladdu Parc le Breos), is a partly restored, prehistoric, megalithic chambered long barrow, built between 6000 and 5800 BP (Before Present), during the early Neolithic period, in what is now known as the Gower Peninsula, about eight miles (13 km) west of Swansea, Wales.
The long barrow at Coed y Parc Cwm is one of the Severn-Cotswold type of megalithic chambered tomb. The cromlech is trapezoidal and consists of a cairn of rocks enclosed by a dry stone kerb. A bell-shaped forecourt, facing south, leads to a central passageway lined with limestone slabs, leading from which are two pairs of stone chambers, now fully exposed, where human remains were placed. Some corpses may have been placed in caves nearby until they had decomposed, before the bones were moved to the tomb.
The cromlech was rediscovered in 1869, by workmen digging for road stone. An excavation later that year revealed human bones (now known to have belonged to at least 40 people), animal remains and Neolithic pottery. An excavation in 1937, led by Professor Glyn Daniel, identified the site as a long barrow. Samples from the site have been radiocarbon dated and show the tomb to have been in use for between 300 and 800 years.
Parc Cwm long cairn lies in a former medieval deer park, established in the 1220s CE by the Marcher Lord of Gower as Parc le Breos—an enclosed area of about 2,000 acres (800 hectares) that is now mainly farmland. The cromlech is located on the floor of a dry narrow limestone gorge of about 500 acres (2.0 km2) of woodland. Pedestrian access is allowed and is free, with free parking available for 12–15 cars about 250 yards (230 m) from the site. An asphalt track passes close to the cromlech. Parc Cwm long cairn is maintained by Cadw (English: to keep), the Welsh Assembly Government's historic environment division.
From the end of the last ice age (between 12,000 and 10,000 BP), Mesolithic hunter-gatherers from Central Europe began to migrate to Great Britain. Wales was free of glaciers by about 10,250 BP and people would have been able to walk between Great Britain and Continental Europe on dry land until between c. 7000–c. 6000 BP, when the post glacial rise in sea level caused the Irish Sea to form, separating Wales and Ireland, and Great Britain to become an island. John Davies has theorised that the story of Cantre'r Gwaelod's drowning and tales in the Mabinogion, of the waters between Wales and Ireland being narrower and shallower, may be distant folk memories of this time.
The area became heavily wooded, restricting movement, and people also came to what was to become known as Wales by boat, from the Iberian Peninsula. These Neolithic colonists integrated with the indigenous people, gradually changing their lifestyles from a nomadic life of hunting and gathering, to become farmers, some of whom settled on the Gower Peninsula. They cleared the forests to establish pasture and to cultivate the land, developed new technologies such as ceramics and textile production, and they brought a tradition of long barrow construction that began in continental Europe during the 7th millennium BP with free standing megalithic structures supporting a sloping capstone, known as a dolmens, which are common over Atlantic Europe.
Barrow is an archeological term used to describe a prehistoric earthen and rubble burial mound of various shapes, with cairn the term used more precisely to describe a prehistoric burial mound of rocks. The barrow at Parc le Breos Cwm belongs to a category of long cairn tomb sharing similar characteristics, known as Severn-Cotswold, or Cotswold-Severn. Containing one terminal chamber, multiple chambers set laterally, or pairs of transept chambers leading from a central passageway—where human remains were placed and were accessible after the cairn was completed—with their huge capstones supported by orthostats, they were constructed during the Neolithic (New Stone Age) in an elongated trapezoidal, or wedge shape, up to 100 metres (328 ft) long, with a mound of stones or rocks revetted (or retained) by dry stone walling, which also defines a horned forecourt. The main concentration of Severn-Cotswold type cairns is to the east of the River Severn, in the Cotswold hills, Gloucestershire, England. They are also found in south east Wales, between Brecon, the Gower Peninsula and Gwent. Now more identified by their location, similar structures have been identified as the Severn-Cotswold type in Capel Garmon near Betws-y-Coed (North Wales), Wayland's Smithy (Oxfordshire) and Avebury (Wiltshire).
Parc Cwm long cairn was built between 6000 and 5800 BP—one of six chambered tombs constructed on the Gower Peninsula and one of 17 in what would become known as Glamorgan—about 1,500 to 1,300 years before either Stonehenge or the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt was completed.
The megalithic cromlech at Parc le Breos Cwm, known as Parc Cwm long cairn (Welsh: carn hir Parc Cwm), Parc le Breos burial chamber (Welsh: siambr gladdu Parc le Breos), the Long Cairn and the Giant's Grave, is a chambered long barrow. It was built between 6,000 and 5800 BP, during the early Neolithic, in what is now known as the Gower Peninsula—about eight miles (13 km) west of Swansea, south Wales and about one and a half miles (2.3 km) north of the Bristol Channel.
Parc Cwm long cairn is one of the Severn-Cotswold type of Neolithic funerary monument, trapezoid shaped and about 72 feet (22 m) long, the cromlech tapers from 43 feet (13 m) wide at its entrance to the south, to about 20 feet (6 m) at its northern end. The cromlech consists of a long mound of locally obtained rocks and cobbles, revetted by upright limestone slabs and a kerb built using a coursed, dry stone wall method. Its earth covering and the upper part of the cromlech have been removed, leaving the laterally set chambers fully exposed. No capstones have been recorded.
At the entrance to the tomb the kerbs sweep inwards to form a pair of deep protrusions, or horns, marking out a narrow bell-shaped forecourt. An 18 feet (5 m) long central north–south passageway leads from the forecourt into the cairn. Each side of the passageway is lined with limestone orthostats with coursed drystone infill. Two pairs of rectangular transept chambers lead from it, averaging five and a half feet (1.6 m), east–west, by three and a quarter feet (1.0 m), each with a shallow sill at its entrance. Originally the transepts would have been covered with either one large, or several smaller capstones, and enclosing the chambers that contained human remains.
The cromlech was built beside a stream—the likely cause of the polished appearance of the outer stones on its south eastern edge and a possible cause of its collapse—over the centuries the stream has eroded through the limestone bedrock and now flows underground. Unusually among the Severn-Cotswold type, Parc Cwm long cairn is aligned north–south, one of only two known of the type not aligned east–west (the other being Cae'rarfau—about one mile (1.6 km) north west of Creigiau, Mid Glamorgan). The north–south orientation is the same as that of the gorge in which it stands, and that of the stream that once flowed past it, which is a likely explanation for the alignment.
Workmen digging for road stone rediscovered the site in 1869. It was excavated that year by Sir John Lubbock, Lord Avebury, who believed it to be a round barrow. The excavation revealed human bones, animal remains and sherds of "plain Western Neolithic pottery", which are held in the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, England. The human bones recovered were originally thought to be of 20 to 24 individuals—all adult except three—that had been disturbed by repeated access or subsequent interments. An excavation in 1937 led by Professor Glyn Daniel identified the site as a chambered long barrow.
The cromlech was partly restored following the excavation led by R J C Atkinson during 1960–1961, the details of which were published in 1998 by Alasdair Whittle and Michael Wysocki. The results of radiocarbon dating samples from the cromlech have shown that the tomb would have been accessed repeatedly, as it was in use over many generations—for between 300 and 800 years—and that the human bones are the disarticulated remains (that is, not complete skeletons) of a minimum of 40 people: male and female adults; adolescents; children; and infants.
As well as places to house and to honour their dead, these cromlechs may have been communal and ceremonial sites where, according to Dr Francis Pryor, people would meet "to socialise, to meet new partners, to acquire fresh livestock and to exchange ceremonial gifts".
Few human remains survive in Britain from the early Neolithic (c. 6400–c. 5850 BP), although they are comparatively well preserved in the Black Mountains, Gower and the Vale of Glamorgan, where up to 50 individuals of all ages have been interred—men, women and children—in each cromlech.
At Parc Cwm long cairn a variety of mortuary practices was evident and the deliberate ordering of skeletal parts noticeable. Whittle and Wysocki (1998) note that cremated human remains were placed in the front, right (south, east) chamber. Some of the skeletal remains of the over 40 individuals recovered from the cromlech showed evidence of weathering, and of biting and gnawing by animals, suggesting that corpses had lain exposed to decompose and were interred in the burial chambers defleshed, as parcels of bone. Skeletal remains found in the passageway were part articulated, showing no sign of animal scavenging, suggesting that they had been placed in the cromlech as fleshed corpses. Whittle and Wysocki (1998) note that among the human remains are the bones of "8 dogs, a cat, a red deer, pig, sheep and cattle". They speculate that the two caves near the cromlech were used as depositories for the corpses prior to decomposition and when the bones were gathered up from the caves for reinterment, bones already lying in the cave were collected, unwittingly, too. One of the red deer bones has been radiocarbon dated to between 2750 BP and 2150 BP, which shows that at least some of the bones entered the site long after it had been abandoned.
Human lifestyles changed in North-West Europe around 6000 BP from the Mesolithic, nomadic lives of hunting and gathering to the Neolithic, agrarian life of agriculture and settlement. In his contribution to 'History of Wales, 25,000 BC AD 2000' Stephen Aldhouse-Green notes simultaneous "marked transformations in material culture, ideology and technical practices"—known as the Neolithic revolution.
All indications from the analysis of the human remains found at Parc Cwm long cairn are that the lifestyles of the people who were to be interred in the cromlech either continued to be one of hunting and gathering or was, more likely, one of herding, rather than agrarian-based:
- Musculoskelatal analysis showed significant gender lifestyle variation. Greater leg muscle development was found in males of the early Neolithic period generally—possibly from hunting, or herding. Stephen Aldhouse-Green notes that males analysed from Parc Cwm long cairn were found to be "particularly robust" when compared to females. In contrast, no such variation was noticeable in the remains found during excavations from other nearby sites, for example the Tinkinswood burial chamber, in the Vale of Glamorgan (Welsh: Bro Morgannwg).
- Evidence obtained from stable isotope analysis showed that plant foods, including cereals, formed only a small proportion of their dietary protein, with the majority derived from animals i.e. meat, and milk or blood
- Human tooth remains were analysed for evidence of decay and for arrested development. Arrested development tends to imply periods of nutritional shortage, which could indicate failed harvests, and decay tends to imply either that there were periods of food shortage, or that the diet consisted of higher proportions of carbohydrate or softer cooked meat, or both. Analyses showed no sign of periods of decay or arrested development, indicating a lifestyle that was not dependent on farming cereals.
Whittle and Wysocki (1998) suggest some corpses may have been placed in caves near the cromlech until they had decomposed, before the bones were moved to the tomb—a process known as excarnation.
The Cathole Cave, Cat Hole Cave or Cathole Rock Cave, is a steep, limestone outcrop, about 500 feet (150 m) north of the cromlech, along the Parc Cwm valley, half way up the gorge—about 50 feet (15 m) from the valley floor. The cave has two entrances, with a natural platform outside the larger of the two, which is a deep triangular fissure penetrating the hillside and narrowing towards the top.
The cave has been used as a Neolithic ossuary and as a shelter by bands of Mesolithic hunters. During the first excavation of the cave in 1864, finds were only made from the Mesolithic to medieval periods. In his 'The Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society vol.25 (1959), pp.260–69', Charles McBurney notes that "In the Post Glacial period the cave was much used by Mesolithic hunters", which was confirmed by John Campbell's excavation of 1977.
A more recent excavation, by Aldhouse-Green, in 1984, revealed the earliest finds from the cave: two tanged points that may date to c. 28,000 BP. This was an interglacial period roughly contemporary with the c. 29,000 BP Red Lady of Paviland—the oldest known human burial in Britain—found in a cave between Port Eynon and Rhossili, about eight miles (13 km) west of Cathole Cave.
Late glacial tool finds from the Upper Palaeolithic date to c. 12,000 BP: flint blades known as Cheddar points; smaller bladelets known as Cresswell points; scrapers; burins or lithic flakes; flint and bone awls; and a bone needle. Flint rarely occurs in Wales other than as small pebbles on beaches, or in drifts. Flint tools would have to have been brought to the Gower from other areas, such as those now known as southern or eastern England, or Antrim, either as finished tools or as incomplete, or unworked, nodules. Animal remains were found at the same level as the Upper Palaeolithic tools, providing evidence of the climate c. 12,000 BP: Red Fox; Arctic Fox; Brown Bear; Tundra Vole; and possibly reindeer. Animal remains excavated during the nineteenth century include mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, Red Deer and Giant Deer, which are yet to be accurately dated.
There are several finds of items dating to the Bronze Age: a bronze socketed axe; two human skeletons; and shards of pottery, from burial urns and other vessels.
Llethryd tooth cave
The Llethryd Tooth Cave is a Bronze Age ossuary site in a limestone cave, about 1,500 yards (1.4 km) north, north west of the Parc le Breos cromlech, on private land along Parc Cwm valley, near the village of Llethryd. The cave was rediscovered by cavers in 1961, who found human bones. An excavation was carried out by D.P. Webley & J. Harvey in 1962 that revealed the remains of six adults and two children, dated to the Bronze Age. Other finds are now held at the Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, Cardiff: Early Bronze Age collared urn pottery; flaked knives; scraper; flint flakes; bone spatula; needle & bead; and animal bones. At nearly a mile (1,525 m) long, the Tooth Cave is the longest cave on the Gower. It is kept locked for safety reasons, as it has tight and flooded sections.
Parc Cwm long cairn is in Coed y Parc, midway between the villages of Llanrhidian and Bishopston (Welsh: Llandeilo Ferwallt)—north west to south east—and Ilston (Welsh: Llanilltud Gwyr) and Nicholaston—north east to south west—about one mile (1.5 km) north west of the village of Parkmill, a small rural settlement in the Gower Peninsula. Parkmill is about eight miles (13 km) west of Swansea, South Wales and about one and a half miles (2.3 km) from the north coast of the Bristol Channel.
The cromlech lies on the floor of a dry narrow limestone gorge, at an elevation of about 50 feet (15 m) above sea level, in about 500 acres (200 hectares) of woodland—the remnants of a former medieval deer park, Parc le Breos, from which the cromlech derives its alternative name (Parc le Breos burial chamber). The park was established in 1221–32 CE by John de Braose, Marcher Lord of Gower as an enclosed area of about 2,000 acres (800 hectares). The park is now mainly farmland and has a 19th century Hunting Lodge, which is now an hotel and pony trekking (horse riding) centre called Parc le Breos, built about 1,200 yards (1.1 km) north east of Parc Cwm long cairn.
Coed y Parc is owned and managed by Forestry Commission Wales. Pedestrian access is allowed and is free, with free parking available for 12–15 cars about 660 feet (200 m) from the site. On the opposite side of the lane to the car park a kissing gate, wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through, leads to an asphalt track that runs past the cromlech and the length of the gorge, allowing flat, disabled access to within about ten feet (3 m) of the site. Parc Cwm long cairn is maintained by Cadw (English: to keep), the Welsh Assembly Government's historic environment division.