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Neolithic Pembrokeshire inw

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: Jud photo right IMAGE

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: Hubert W

ABOVE The new Pembrokeshire County History volume, to which Tim Darvil l (left) and Geof f Wainwright have contributed the Neolithic and Bronze Age chapter, shows that Pembrokeshire’s monuments are key to an understanding of wider issues in prehistory on a European, not just a county, scale. BELOW The distribution of recorded propped rocks, simple dolmens, and portal dolmens in Pembrokeshire.

no blueprint in the modern sense, nor any Platonic ideal to which everyone aspired. Instead, individual communities built individual monuments, similar but different; sometimes bigger and better than those made by others; always improvised according to local materials, resources, and circumstances. Builders not only reflected elements of their underlying beliefs but also, most likely, played out their desire to go one better, to show off. That being the case, we should celebrate diversity and difference, and recognise the human desire for one-upmanship, instead of classifying monuments according to their complexity and building a neat but misleading evolutionary sequence from the simplest to the most developed.

The types they are a-changi n’ That is not to say that Tim entirely abandons traditional monument typologies in his contribution to Pembrokeshire County History, but he does argue for simpler classifications. For example, dolmens, he says, are simply raised stones, something that could be achieved in many different ways. In South-west Wales three main approaches were used, all of which share a common desire to lift a massive slab of rock out of the ground and suspend it in the air, in a manner once romantically described by Jacquetta Hawkes as ‘floating above the burial chamber’.

Not that all of these monuments were burial chambers, however: some are simply ‘propped rocks’, achieved by lifting one end of a large slab and supporting it using a second upright block of stone so that there is a gap between the stone and its bedrock matrix. In Pembrokeshire, the most impressive example is at Garn Wnda, near Llanwnda, where a massive slab of dolorite is supported on its downhill side by a pointed upright.

Propped rocks make a statement. Prehistoric people would recognise that this slab of rock had been positioned by human hands. Nobody could mistake them for a natural phenomenon – or could they? Everywhere you look in the upland landscapes of Wales, you will see rocks and mounds that make you ask ‘is it natural or is it the work of people?’. It is possible that monument-builders in ➡

Issue 324

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