: Hubert W
: Christopher Catling photo
LEFT In place of complex typologies, Tim Darvill argues for simpler categories: (1) ‘propped stones’ exemplified by Garn Wnda, Llanwnda (A)
and King’s Quoit, Manorbier (B); (2) ‘simple dolmens’, like Carreg Samson, Mathry (C), and
Llech y Dribedd, Nevern (D); and (3) ‘portal dolmens’ with an H-shaped ‘portal’, as at Carreg
Coetan Arthur, Newport (E), and Pentre Ifan, Nevern (F). ABOVE Seen from afar or from close-up, outcrops on the Preseli Hills look like human-built walls, towers and gateways, standing ghost-like on the mountainside, perhaps stimulating the prehistoric imagination to ask what scenes have these hills witnessed in the past.
the past were imitating what they saw all around them but with subtle differences. Perhaps they saw these pre-existing mounds and outcrops as the monuments of an earlier and now extinct race of giants, predecessors, or ancestors. Our categorical distinctions between ‘cultural’ and ‘natural’ may not have existed, or been more porous, back in the 4th and 3rd millennia BC.
This is especially true of the Preseli landscape, and of similar landscapes in the Cambrian mountains at the heart of Wales, or around the Harlech dome, where volcanic activity has created some very distinctive rocks and glacial erosion has left numerous features that we are now able to explain geologically, but that might have been seen in the past as evidence of supernatural forces: long ridges and terraces created by the deposit of morainic material; kettle holes; rock stacks and shattered rock outcrops; the formations known as roche moutonnée, pingos, and drumlins – all could be mistaken for the deliberate constructions of former inhabitants of the landscape. Glacial erratics can look like recumbent standing stones, and a roughly circular pattern of erratics at Llyn y Gorlan long ago entered Welsh folklore as a primitive Gorsedd circle, popularly believed to be the site of an early Eisteddfod back in the mists of time.
A fascination with the meaning of these features may well have led to the ambition to imitate them, leading to a subtle interplay of natural and modified rocks. If so, this seems to have been an impulse widely shared, because propped rocks abound all around the Irish Sea basin and as far west as the Yorkshire Dales, not to mention on the near Continent. Many propped rocks occupy impressive settings and are visible from some distance away by sea and by land: Coetan Arthur, for example, is set on the cliffs above St David’s