Books, Prehistory, Archaeologia Cambrensis 1870 Page 51
Archaeologia Cambrensis 1870 Page 51 is in Archaeologia Cambrensis 1870.
With the exception of Cornwall there is, perhaps, no county in England and Wales so rich in Celtic remains as Anglesey, or possessing so varied a form of megalithic structures, cromlechs or cistvaens, mein-hirion or chambered tumuli. Many of these have been ably described of late, and figured in the pages of the Archceological Journal and Archaologia Cambrensis; but hitherto one of the most interesting has not been so fully described as it deserves, from its size and peculiar features. In the park of Plas Newydd, the seat of the Marquis of Anglesey, towards the southern end, and on the left hand of a path leading to the kitchen gardens, there is to be seen a large green mound or tumulus with two oak trees of considerable size growing upon it. No one can pass without being struck with its appearance, situated as it is in a valley of surpassing beauty, surrounded by magnificent trees of all sorts. The vista to the south-east is terminated by the grand range of Carnarvonshire mountains, Snowdon with its triple head above all the others. The visitor, descending to examine the mound, will find on the east side that excavations have been made in former times, disclosing an entrance to the interior chamber or cist which once contained the bones or ashes of the great warrior, in whose memory this stupendous mound was erected. We may speculate whether he was one of the heroes who died on this spot fighting against the victorious legion of the Romans led by Paulinus Suetonius; more probably he may have been one of an earlier race. The mound itself, as is usually the case, is formed of earth and the small fragments of limestone which abound. in the surrounding soil. The cist is composed of large flat slabs of limestone, the dimensions of which are accurately given in the plan, from drawings and measurements taken by the Rev. W. Wynn Williams, jun., of Menaifron. The peculiar feature of this sepulchral chamber is the front stone closing the entrance to the cist. It faces the east, and is perforated in two places. This stone is now broken in half; but the lower portion remains in its original position. It has two circular holes, about ten inches in diameter, artificially made in it; the upper portion of the stone having been broken, and probably removed, when the mound was first excavated. We cannot with any certainty say that the stone had been of one piece, or that the holes had been perfect circles. About three-quarters appear to remain; and from the circumstance that this stone, on the north side, reaches within seven niches of the covering stone at the top, we may, I think, conclude that it was originally one perfect stone, which closed the entrance to the chamber. The holes are chamfered off on the outside. The entrance is about 2 ft. 3 ins. high, and 5 ft. wide.
Of late attention has been called to such perforations occurring in the front or side-stones of sepulchral chambers in India and other parts. I have endeavoured to ascertain how many similar structures are to be found in this country. I am indebted to my relation, Mr. Albert Way, for the account of one presenting the same peculiarities of form and structure. It has been published in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries1, in the description given by the Rev. S. Lysons of a chambered tumulus at Rodmarton, Gloucestershire. This mound was of a kind known as " long barrows". Its dimensions were as follow: length, 176 ft.; width, 71 ft.;. height, 10 ft. The entrance to the north chamber was closed, nearly to the roof, by a barrier of two stones placed side by side, upright, in the ground, and hollowed out on their two inner and adjoining edges, so as to leave a sort of porthole of an oval shape.
Note 1. Proc. Soc. Antiq., 2nd Series, vol. ii, p. 275.
The dimensions of the Plas Newydd tumulus are about 150 ft. in length, 105 ft. in width, and 14 to 15 ft. in height. Mr. Blight mentions a cromlech at Trevethy1, in Cornwall, with a circular hole in the covering stone. Other instances, in Britanny and elsewhere, are noticed in the Archaelogia Cambrensis.2
Note 1. Described by Norden, a.d. 1584. Model in British Museum. Note, p. 291, Leslie Forbes.
Note 2. Arch. Camb., 3rd Series, vol. xv, p. 198, by Thorne; one at Trie, one at Beauvais.
Col. Meadows Taylor, in his most interesting account of the cromlechs in the Dekhan in India, published by the Royal Irish Academy1, describes a large group of cromlechs in Shirapoor, on the Bheema and Krishna rivers. They are called by the natives "Mori Munni" or Mories' houses, and regarded as vestiges of a supposed dwarf race of great strength. These Druidical, Celtic, Scythian, or Aryan remains are most instructive. Many of the closed kistvaens had round holes in the centre slab, on the south side: diameter, from 9 to 4 ins. Col. Meadows Taylor states that this peculiarity is found to exist in similar remains in Britanny and in England, Kits Coty House, in Kent, being a well known example; and such objects exist also in Circassia, according to Bell.2
Note 1. This memoir was first given by Col. Taylor in the Transactions of the Bombay Asiatic Society, Jan. 1853. The kistvaen with a circular aperture has been figured in Col. Forbes Leslie's Early Bac. of Scotland, ii, p. 290.
Note 2. Travels in Circassia, i, p. 154.
Mr. R. A. Cole mentions, in his account of the cromlechs of Southern India, a double one with a hole in each end.1 I may here, however, remark that Kits Coty House [Map] has no hole or perforation in the front, or in any of the other stones of which it is composed;2 but it is remarkable as being composed of three upright stones instead of four, making it an open cromlech; or, as Meadows Taylor goes on to say,— "I here make a distinction between kistvaen and cromlech. They are similarly constructed, except that the former, whether with or without a top, has always four sides, and the latter only three. In none of the open cromlechs could anything be found, and the original earth of the floors remained undisturbed. In the closed or four-sided cromlechs were found human ashes, portions of bone, and charcoal mixed with pieces of broken pottery, red and black, with the invariable pandre matti, or black earth mould, brought from a distance."
Note 1. Trans. Ethnological Society, vol. vii, N. S., p. 299.
Note 2. See a good representation of Kits Coty House in Col. Forbes Leslie's Early Races of Scotland, ii, p. 275.
Forbes Leslie, remarking upon this memoir by Col. Meadows Taylor, observes that these kistvaens are altogether above ground. They never appear to have been under a mound like the dolmens. They were probably used as sacrificial altars. Speaking of the closed kistvaens of the Dekhan, with the round hole in one of the stones which forms the end or side of the monument, it may have been intended for the spirit to pass through in progress to the new body which it was to occupy in its destined transmigration; and, as Col. Leslie presumed, through this opening the spirit was expected to convey the arms, ornaments, and valuables, deposited for its use, but still found in such tombs.1 The Hindus believe that the soul of a person deceased exists, but in ethereal or unsubstantial form, until certain necessary funeral ceremonies are performed. It then passes into a more substantial form, described as about the size and length of a man's thumb. The ceremonies are continued daily for ten days; then once a month until the final ceremony takes place at the end of the year. The soul is supplied with food daily, cakes of rice and milk, rich libations of water.2
Note 1. Ibid., p. 290.
Note 2. Carey's Rádmayân, iii, p. 72.
It is not disputed, I believe, that the Druids believed in the Pythagorean doctrines, the pre-existence of souls, and their transmigration from one vehicle to another.
Pennant, in his account of the cromlech and tumulus at Plas Newydd, writes as follows: "Not far from the cromlech is a large carnedd. Part has been removed, and within was discovered a cell abont 7 ft. long and 3 wide; covered at top with two flat stones, and lined on the sides with others. To get in I crept over a flag placed across the entrance. On the top of the stone were two semicircular holes of size sufficient to take in the human neck. It is conjectured that above might have been another; so that both together might perform the office of a stock. It is indeed conjecture, yet not an improbable one, that in this place had been kept the wretches detained for sacrifice; as it is well known that they performed those execrable rites, and often upon captives who had suffered long imprisonment, perhaps in cells similar to this."1
Note 1. Tour in Wales, ii, p. 238.
On comparing Pennant's engraving of the Plas Newydd large cromlech, near the stables, published near one hundred years ago, with the present appearance; also finding in Pughe's Cambria Depicta (1816), this account,—"Some time before I saw it (the cromlech) it was supposed that some part of its supporters had given way on one side, which greatly alarmed the family. It was in consequence propped up with pieces of thick timber,"—I am inclined to think that the projecting stone at the north-east end, supporting the capstone, has been placed there as a support, of late years, by the Anglesey family. The stone is placed at an angle most unusual in all cromlechs, and it is not figured in Pennant's view.
Had Pennant lived and written in these days, he would, with his acute mind, most probably have compared the holed stone in the sepulchral chamber at Plas Newydd with the kistvaens of the East. In their perforated entrance-stone he would have traced the link between East and West, and in his mind's eye have followed the great migration of peoples from the plains and hills of India, gradually spreading their religious rites, manners, and customs, as far as the bleak islands of the far West; leaving their stupendous stone structures, as they passed, an indelible witness of their passage, and of the cradle from which they sprang. He might also have found reason to doubt whether the religion of the Druids was in fact, as had been alleged, tainted with the horrid rites of human sacrifice.
It may not be out of place to notice here that recent research leads to the belief, or rather to the confirmation of the fact, that all megalithic structures, whether sepulchral or for religious rites and ceremonies, were first known in the East.
Most of the cromlechs in Anglesey appear to have been originally chambered cists covered over with a mound of earth, like this tumulus at Plas Newydd. The great cromlech near the stables at Plas Newydd bears all the appearance of having been covered over, and a circle of large stones arranged round the mound. Some of these stones are still to be seen. The very curious and interesting chambered tomb at Bryncelli, about a mile distant, was covered with a mound in the memory of man.1 When first opened it contained, as has been stated, the bones of those who had therein been buried, arranged on stone seats round the central cell, which was supported by a stone pillar. The bodies, probably, were introduced through the long narrow passage which communicated with the outside of the mound, like the entrance at New Grange in Ireland.
Note 1. "Barclodiad y Gawres," by the Rev. H. Prichard, Arch. Camb., Oct. 1869, p. 403.
I cannot find any authentic mention of urns having been found in or under cromlechs.
The urn-burials, which are frequent in Anglesey, seem to have been placed in a rudely formed cell composed of flat stones, to prevent the pressure of the earth and destruction of the urn. A small mound was frequently raised over the urn, as at Bronwen's tomb on the banks of the Alaw, and at Porth Dafarch.1
Note 1. Arch. Camb., 3rd Series, xiv, pp. 222, 233.
Anglesey has many large upright stones or meini-hirion scattered in all parts. These seem to have marked battles fought in the vicinity, or to have been raised over the tomb of a slain warrior. Wherever they are seen tradition points out some memorable conflict that had there occurred in ancient times.
Mr. Barnwell, in a recent memoir in the Archaeologia Cambrensis, has stated that the great question whether all cromlechs are the perfect or imperfect remains of sepulchral chambers, or the works of Druidic hands, must in the year 1869 be considered finally and satisfactorily settled; the theory of Druidic altars being, it is hoped, finally disposed of.1
Note 1. Arch. Camb., xv, p. 118.
If Mr. Barnwell means to affirm that all megalithic structures were originally sepulchral, I must, I fear, differ from him. At one time all stone structures were called Druids' altars. Now it is contended that none were ever used for religious rites and ceremonies. We may thus run into another extreme. If we take a wider view of this question, and examine into the nature of the stone altars, circles, and avenues, found existing in other countries as well as our own, we must pause before we come to such a conclusion. The earliest notice of stone structures is contained in the Bible history. There they are all connected with worship, either of Baal or of the Supreme Deity. They were of unhewn stone (altars of sacrifice), set up on high places or near groves. We read in the Book of Deuteronomy, "Ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars" (upright stones), " and burn their groves with fire."1 Joshua set up a stone as a witness ; and many other allusions to megalithic monuments occur in Scripture, too numerous to quote.
Note 1. 2 Deut. c. xii, v. 3. See also Smith's "Dictionary of the Bible, under "Stones."
Kits Coty House, an open three-stone cell, bears no appearance of being sepulchral; and I am informed that many cromlechs existing in Cornwall and Britanny are apparently of the same character.
I append a list of known cromlechs and meinihirion in Anglesey, as far as I can ascertain them, with, the assistance of the Rev. W. Wynn Williams and the Rev. Hugh Prichard. Cromlechs existing in Anglesey. — 1, Plas Newydd; double. 2, Bryncelli [Map]; a tumulus, not sepulchral chamber. 3, Tumulus at Plas Newydd. 4, Bodowyr [Map]. 5, Trefor, double. 6, Lligwy. 7, Bodafon. 8, Llanfechell; top stone fallen. 9, Henblas; query, whether artificial or natural, probably the latter. 10. Ty Newydd [Map], Llanfaelog; double. 11, 12, 13, Crigyll; three small cromlechs. 14, Mynydd y Cmvvc, Llanfaelog. 15, Trefigneth ; triple. 16, Presaddfedd. 17, Pant y Saer; lately destroyed. 18, Treban, Ceirchiog. 19, Tref Arthur, Holyhead ; a few stones remain. 20, Cromlech at Rhoscolyn, Llan- geinwen; a few stones remain. 21, at Tan twr and Caer-llechau some stones remain. 22, Lon Caerau Mawr; ditto. 23, Perthi-duon, Llanidan; fallen. 24, near Plas-bach, Trefdraeth; a few stones remain.
W. O. Stanley. Penrhos. Oct. 1, 1869.