Monday, October 8, 2007

Sub Megalithic burial chambers

These small rather primitive tombs are to be found hidden from view under great rock tors facing out to sea in Pembrokeshire. 'Houses of the dead' may be a symbolic explanation of the neolithic tombs that dot our landscape and the continent with such variety. To try and place them in some sort of date order is futile, they follow certain patterns, are given ritual significance by modern day archaeologists, but of course at all times they are enigmatic, they refuse to give up their secrets as to why they were constructed in a particular fashion.
Local variation, especially with the use of the rock material present within the geological environment is one factor, placement within the landscape is another, time periods are long, in one place new creative ideas may be at work, whilst in another backwater, the same rituals could have gone on for centuries with little change.
The Pembrokeshire 'cave' like tombs follow a simple pattern, not for them the high swerving grace of the Pentre Ifan tomb, no they are squat, hugging the ground, crouching into the rock faces. Aesthetically unpleasing though they may be to our eye they still present a very strong element of death and ritual within the landscape. Glyn Daniels in The Megalithic Builders of Western Europe calls them half-dolmen, demi dolmen, primary or earthfast. The last term is probably the best description, the back of the capstone resting on the ground, with a single or maybe more orthostats holding up the front of the capstone. The ground beneath the capstone was often dug out into a shallow pit, and presumably stone walls would have been built between the orthostats to protect the bones inside. There is no attempt at dressing the stones to a particular shape, only perhaps that a particular stone was chosen for the capstone. occasionally square in appearance, these stones could also be so arranged as to be diamond shaped so that the front 'point' would lead the eye to a particular aspect in the landscape. More often or not fat grotesque lumps of enormous heavy rock would be placed on tiny vertical stones - they always make me think of limbo dancing - close to the ground.

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