The Lia Fáil, the Stone of Destiny, vandalised

Ireland’s Stone of Destiny – The Lia Fáil – located at the sacred Hill of Tara, has been desecrated yet again in an act described as a ‘mindless act of vandalism’. The stone was subject to a hammer attack in 2012 and covered in paint in 2014.

Recognised as an important monument in ancient Irish culture and part of the country’s national identity, the Stone of Destiny was daubed with the word “FAKE” on all its faces. It is believed the incident occurred sometime between Monday night and Tuesday morning, 6-7 February. Local authorities now have the challenging task of removing the paint and restoring it to its former condition without damaging the ancient monument.

It is clear from the amount of Neolithic and Iron Age passage tombs and burial mounds on the Hill of Tara that is was in ancient times a very significant site, the spiritual centre of the land, seen by many as the threshold between this world and the next.

This is the third time the stone has been attacked in just over 10 years; clearly someone has issues with the Stone of Destiny. But why the word “FAKE”?

According to the Lebor Gabála (the Book of Invasions) the Lia Fáil was one of four mysterious objects which the Tuatha Dé Danann brought to Ireland from four mysterious cities in the northern islands of the world:

“From Failias was brought the Lia Fail, which is in Temair (Tara), which would utter a cry under every king that should take Ireland; From Goirias was brought the spear of Lug, battle would never go against him who had it in his hand; From Findias was brought the sword of Nuadu: no man would escape from it, when it was drawn from its battle-scabbard, there was no resisting it; From Muirias was brought the cauldron of The Dagda; no company would go from it unsatisfied.”

Today the Lia Fáil sits on top of An Forradh (The King’s Seat) at the Hill of Tara, this is where the Ancient High Kings of Ireland were crowned; according to legend, the stone will cry out when the rightful king of Ireland puts his foot against it.

The 9th century text known as ‘Baile in Scáil’ (The Phantom’s Frenzy) records how the semi-legendary High King of Ireland Conn Cétchathach (Conn of the Hundred Battles) went up on the royal ramparts on Tara at sunrise with his three druids, Máel, Bloc and Bluicne, and his three poets (filid) Ethain, Corb and Cessarnn. He stood on a stone which cried out under his feet but his druids were unable to reveal the meaning of the stone’s cry for fifty-three days. After fifty-three days had elapsed, Cessarnn, his chief poet, explained the name of the stone was ‘fál’ and that the number of roars was equal to the number of kings of Conn’s seed that would rule over Ireland.

Then a strange fog descended and a horseman approached who cast three spears towards them. On learning of Conn’s identity the horseman invited him to his dwelling. Here he met a phantom who identified himself as Lug mac Ethnenn and a young girl who is revealed as flaith hÉrenn, the Sovereignty of Ireland. She dispensed red ale from a vat and asked Lug to whom each drink should be given. Lug answered by naming each of the descendants of Conn who would be king of Tara.

The same prophetic function is performed three times in this text which confirms the descendants of Conn as legitimate kings of Tara; firstly the roars of the Lia Fáil; secondly they are named by Lug; thirdly by receiving the drink of sovereignty from flaith hÉrenn.

There are claims that the monument today heralded as the Lia Fáil is not the original stone.

Hill of Tara

According to medieval literature the Lia Fáil was located to the north of Duma na nGiall, the Mound of the Hostages.

The current monument was apparently erected in the 1820s as a memorial to local people who fell during the 1798 rebellion. This pillar had not been brought from near the Mound of the Hostages, as at first thought, but it had been found in a trench at the bottom of the Forradh, where it had apparently been lying prostrate for generations.

P W Joyce notes that generally coronation stones used by the Gaelic tribes were comparatively small and portable, he quotes the stone now under the Coronation chair at Westminster which is a flagstone about 25 inches by 15 inches and 9 inches thick. Whereas, the pillar presently standing at Tara is 12 foot long and about 2 foot in diameter which would make it unsuitable for standing on during a coronation ceremony.

Joyce came to the conclusion that the present stone is not the Lia Fáil which he suspects lies buried somewhere under the earth probably on the north side of the Mound of Hostages, the original position according to ancient literature.

In the tale Baile in Scáil, we noted Conn’s three druids are named as Mael, Bloc and Bluicne. Yet in another tale De Sil Chonari Moir (Concerning the progeny of Conaire Mór) two flagstones sited next to the Lia Fáil are named Bloc and Bluicne and open up to let the chariot through if the driver is destined to hold the kingship of Tara. The confusion of whether these names refer to druids or flagstones is resolved when we find that beside the Fort of the Synods (Ráith na Senad) there are three small stones that were set over the wizards and named Mael to the east, Bloc to the south, and Bluicne to the north.

Petrie’s plan of Tara

The three names also appear in the metrical dindshenchas of Tara:

“Westward from the grave of this dwarf
are Mael, Bloc and Bluicne – foolish their wisdom!
Over them are the three stones
that the Prince of great Macha flung”

Kevin Murray asks if these druids were turned to stones because their wisdom failed?

John Carey argues that the tradition recorded in the Baile in Scáil that the Lia Fáil was originally a flagstone may well be correct and other traditions which equate the Lia Fáil with the pillar stone at Tara may in fact be secondary.

So as we can see there is some doubt with regard to the authenticity of the pillar stone at Tara currently holding the name ‘ Lia Fáil’. The original stone would appear to be a flagstone that was first noted north of the Mound of the Hostages. The only way to resolve this to carry archaeological excavations.

However, fake or not, this does not give anyone the right to desecrate the current pillar claiming to be the Lia Fáil.

Hill of Tara stone vandalised – 08 Feb 2023
John Carey, Ireland and the Grail, Celtic Studies Publications, 2007
Kevin Murray, Baile in Scail, Irish Texts Society, 2004
P W Joyce, The Wonders of Ireland, 1911





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Thornborugh Henges Saved for the Nation

Historic England and English Heritage have secured the future of two massive henge monuments and their surrounding landscape, part of a Neolithic complex in North Yorkshire hailed as “the Stonehenge of the North”.

Two construction firms Tarmac and Lightwater Holdings, have donated the henges and parts of the wider monument to Historic England, the government’s heritage advisor, with the site to be managed by English Heritage. The Thornborugh Henges will now be part of the National Heritage Collection. Prior to today’s developments the landowner limited access to the Beltane festival on 1st May but this transfer of ownership will permit access for the public. Sadly, the third and northern henge, the best preserved of all three, remains in private ownership.

Thornborough Henges

The Thornborough complex, located between Masham and Ripon in Yorkshire, is a designated scheduled monument, consisting of three aligned large circular earthworks, each more than 200m in diameter, a cursus, burial grounds and settlements, all dating from 3500 to 2500 BC forming part of a late neolithic/early bronze age ritual landscape considered comparable with Salisbury Plain in south-west England, and the most significant ancient site between Stonehenge and the Orkneys.

The three henges at Thornborough are at the centre of an important sacred landscape; the cursus is the oldest feature of the site, although its purpose as with all cursus monuments, remains unclear. Archaeological excavation of the central henge indicated that its banks were once covered with locally mined gypsum, with the resulting white glare highly visible for miles. A double alignment of pits, thought to be evidence of a timber processional avenue, extends from the southern henge. The obvious ‘dogleg’ in the alignment of the three henges has been said to mirror the three stars of Orion’s Belt.

Although the Thornborough Henges have remained remarkably well preserved over thousands of years, the central and southern henges were added to Historic England’s Heritage ‘At Risk’ Register in 2009 due to historic erosion caused by livestock and rabbits. Historic England has been working with the landowners for a number of years to secure the future of Thornborough Henges so that they can be protected for future generations and they are now hopeful that they will be able to remove them from the At Risk register.

Rabbits? In my opinion the biggest single threat to the Thornborugh henges has been the extensive quarrying of sand and gravel extraction by Tarmac which has got alarmingly close to the ancient site and without doubt impacted much of the monument’s setting to the north and west.

Planned quarrying at Thornborough

Until recently Tarmac planned to extend its gravel extraction to a 110-acre site less than a mile east of the henges at Ladybridge Farm. However, it was argued that this area may have been a location of a Neolithic settlement, possibly used by those people who built or used the henges and further quarrying would destroy this sacred landscape.

The hunger for further mineral extraction by the UK’s leading supplier of aggregates for road and building products continued. In 2002 the mighty Tarmac company claimed to intend to apply for planning permission to quarry Thornborough Moor, which would take industrial scale excavations on to the very edge of the designated scheduled monument. Various revised applications were submitted over the following years to be finally approved by North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) in 2007. Later that year NYCC withdrew permission after the campaign group Friends of Thornborough requested a judicial review claiming a number of procedural irregularities.

However, my understanding is that today’s announcement of transfer of ownership is due to an agreement struck between NYCC and Tarmac in 2016 when the council approved further quarrying for a limited period in return for passing the site to a public body and preserving the henges and 90 acres of surrounding land at the end of that period. I believe we have now reached that point.


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The Mythical Rings of Waun Mawn

Many thanks to Tim Dawson on his excellent blog for drawing our attention to a recent article published in the journal “Antiquity” in which Professor Tim Darvill, Bournemouth University, challenges the proposition by Mike Parker Pearson and his team that the four megaliths at Waun Mawn in Pembrokeshire, south-west Wales, is the remains of a bluestone circle dismantled in antiquity and transported to Salisbury Plain to form the “first circle of Stonehenge”.

Waun Mawn standing stone, Pembrokeshire (Copyright T. Darvill).

Mythical rings? Waun Mawn and Stonehenge Stage 1 by Timothy Darvill
“In a recent Antiquity article, Parker Pearson and colleagues (2021) presented results from excavations at Waun Mawn in south-west Wales, interpreting the site as a dismantled stone circle and source for some of the Bluestone pillars used in the Aubrey Holes at Stonehenge. Here, the author examines the evidence, showing that alternative interpretations are possible. Waun Mawn is argued to represent a series of smaller stone settings, typical of ceremonial sites in south- west Wales. Meanwhile the Aubrey Holes are shown to reflect a well-established regional sequence in which post circles are followed by pit circles. A Welsh ‘source-circle’ for Stonehenge cannot be excluded but, the author argues, the claim is unsupported by the current evidence.”

Darvill concludes that, “Rather than a stone circle, the evidence so far presented at Waun Mawn is susceptible to a number of alternative interpretations, including that presented here—that is, one or more stone rows, stone pairs, and standing stones, much like other small-scale ceremonial sites in west Wales. Stage 1 at Stonehenge follows the local traditions found in central southern Britain, with a large earthwork enclosure, a timber post circle followed by a pit circle, and cremation burials.”

>> Darvill, T. (2022). Mythical rings? Waun Mawn and Stonehenge Stage 1. Antiquity, 1-15.


In response to Timothy Darvill’s article, ‘Mythical rings?’  Parker Pearson and colleagues report new evidence from the Welsh site and elaborate on aspects of their original argument.

Plan of the unfinished and dismantled stone circle of Waun Mawn

Parker Pearson concludes that, ” ….. new analysis …. reveals that the stones at Waun Mawn have no geological match to the 43 surviving Bluestones at Stonehenge, it may be that none of Waun Mawn’s stones ever reached the Wessex monument. Waun Mawn, however, was most certainly a stone circle, albeit unfinished and partially dismantled.”

> Parker Pearson, M., Pollard, J., Richards, C., Welham, K., Kinnaird, T., Srivastava, A., . . . Edinborough, K. (2022). How Waun Mawn stone circle was designed and built, and when the Bluestones arrived at Stonehenge: A response to Darvill. Antiquity, 1-8. 

L&M comment:

Regular readers of this blog will know where my thoughts on this lie; it is good to see a senior archaeologist coming out with an alternative view to Parker Pearson and his crew.
Archaeologists are trained to put their finds in to a context but with MPP there has been just too much speculation and wild leaps of faith, making the finds fit the theory without firm evidence. I have no problem with the concept of a stone circle being dismantled and moved a great distance in prehistory, but give us some facts Mike – not guesses and hunches.
I’m with with Darvill on this one, particularly with reference to the Aubrey Holes, see: The Quest for the Origins of Stonehenge

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Waun Mawn and Stone 62 at Stonehenge

There has been much coverage in the media recently about the identification of the source of the bluestones at Waun Mawn that we hardly need another post on the matter. However, as Waun Mawn as the source of some of the Stonehenge bluestones is something I’ve covered on this site I decided to include a comment for completeness on this issue. Although I’m sure this will not be the end of the matter…..

Waun Mawn

The Stones of Stonehenge (SOS) project, directed by Professor Mike Parker Pearson (UCL, Institute of Archaeology), was established to explore the origin of the stones used in the construction of Stonehenge: sourcing the huge sarsens and the smaller bluestones using geological analysis to identify their precise locations.

Some old core samples taken from a limited number of sarsens at Stonehenge in the 1950s identified their source as West Woods, 15 miles (25km) north of the monument on the edge of Wiltshire’s Marlborough Downs. Simple enough? Not really, this was from very limited sampling of the sarsens and provides no guarantee that all the sarsens are also from West Woods, but with further sampling being denied it will have to do. However, the “bluestones“, a term used for all exotic, i.e. non-sarsen, stones at Stonehenge representing at least 20 different rock types, is a rather more complex matter. You probably know the story by now, however, I will briefly recap how we got to this point.

Over a hundred years ago Herbert Thomas identified the source of some of the bluestones at Stonehenge as the Preseli Hills in south-west Wales. Debate has ensued ever since as to how these exotic stones travelled  around 150 miles (250km) to Salisbury Plain in England.

Some of the bluestones show signs of previous workings such as tenons (stones 67, 70, and possibly 69) and mortices (36, 150), groves (68) and tongues (66), seen as supporting evidence for a long held suspicion that these stones once stood in a previous bluestone arrangement before their movement to their final location on Salisbury Plain and incorporated into the Stonehenge structure. 

This notion was re-affirmed when two quarry sites at Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin were identified in the Preseli Hills but the dating evidence showed a discrepancy between the date the bluestones were lifted from the outcrops and their arrival at Stonehenge. In short there was a gap of several hundred years between the quarry date and Parker Pearson’s revised date for the first bluestone configuration which he envisaged standing in the 56 Aubrey Holes (the outer ring next to the ditch at Stonehenge) long before the sarsens arrived. All of this fitted together nicely with the bluestones having stood in a former stone circle somewhere near the quarry sites in Preseli. This has all been hyped up in the ‘Lost Bluestone Circle’ theory.

The Stones of Stonehenge team set out to find a dismantled stone circle near the quarry sites at Carn Goedog and Craig Rhos-y-felin. Today the nearby site At Waun Mawn has four unspotted bluestones configured in an arc suggesting they may once have been part of a stone circle, perhaps dismantled in antiquity. In contrast, today only three unspotted bluestones survive at Stonehenge (stones 44, 45 & 62). We don’t know how many stood in the original number.

Stonehenge stone structure (after Anthony Johnson, 2008)

A stone circle at Waun Mawn?
Having carried out excavations at Waun Mawn, the Stones of Stonehenge team claimed that six stoneholes and the four surviving bluestones (ten potential stone settings in total) may have originally formed part of a circle of 30–50 stones. This meant that other stone circles must have also been robbed of their bluestones to provide the 80-82 thought to have stood at Stonehenge in its full compliment.

In the interim report of the excavations of 2018 at Waun Mawan the team got a little over excited and suggested that one of the stoneholes (091) at Waun Mawn matched the pentagonal cross-section of one the bluestones (Stone 62) at Stonehenge. Had the team uncovered evidence of a direct stone lift from Waun Mawn to Stonehenge? Samples from a large flake of unspotted dolerite that is thought to have become detached from the stone during its erection or removal at Waun Mawn was sent for analysis to determine if it was of the same type of rock as that of Stone 62 at Stonehenge.

Similar conclusion jumping was seen during the excavations (2008-09) of the henge on the bank of the Avon at West Amesbury, termed “Bluestonehenge“. This henge was sited at the terminus of the Avenue which Parker Pearson saw as linking Stonehenge to Durrington Walls via the river Avon forming an ancient ceremonial route. The henge was surrounded by 24-26 stoneholes said to have held bluestones, making up the magic number of 80-82 when combined with the 56 that stood in the Aubrey Holes. One hole was said to bear the same distinctive groved shaped footprint as Stone 68 at Stonehenge.  However, not one chip or flake of bluestone was found at West Amesbury henge.

A new report in the Journal of Archaeological Science (Volume 45, October 2022) reports on the analysis of Stone 62 at Stonehenge and the bluestone flakes from stonehole 091 at Waun Mawn.

Using a portable XRF (a non-destructive testing techique), the team of Richard E.Bevins, Nick J.G.Pearce, Mike Parker Pearson and Rob Ixer examined the four unspotted dolerite bluestones standing today at Waun Mawn, along with two bluestone fragments from stonehole 091. The data obtained have been compared to data from spotted and unspotted dolerite outcrops across the Mynydd Preseli, an area known to be the source of some Stonehenge doleritic bluestones, as well as data from in-situ analysis of Stone 62 and ex-situ analysis of a core taken from Stone 62 in the late 1980′s.

This study has identified Stone 62 as coming from an outcrop nearly 7 km to the east-southeast of Waun Mawn known as Garn Ddu Fach. Unfortunately for the ‘Lost Bluestone Circle’ theory, not one of the four unspotted bluestones at Waun Mawn or the bluestone fragments from stonehole 91 have compositions which match Stonehenge Stone 62.

The data indicates that the Waun Mawn unspotted bluestones, and likely also the bluestone fragments from stonehole 091, can be sourced to Cerrig Lladron, 1.5 miles (2.37 km) southwest of Waun Mawn, suggesting that a very local quarry was used in the construction of the stone circle there.

The report also mentions that there is evidence that at least eight stones had been erected and subsequently removed from the Waun Mawn stone circle which in all probability also came from Cerrig Lladron.

From this report it is clear that we can rule out any connection between the sites at Waun Mawn and Stonehenge and the team must look elsewhere for the Lost Bluestone Circle.

Edited 09/08/22

Richard E.Bevins, Nick J.G.Pearce, Mike Parker Pearson, Rob A.Ixer
Identification of the source of dolerites used at the Waun Mawn stone circle in the Mynydd Preseli, west Wales and implications for the proposed link with Stonehenge
– Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports
Volume 45, October 2022, 103556

There are photographs of all the stones at Stonehenge on the excellent Stone of Stonehenge website by Simon Banton including Stone 62.


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Arthur’s Stone: Digging up the King

Legends claim that this monument is either the tomb of the legendary King Arthur himself, his son or a giant that he killed. Indentations on one stone are said to be the marks of the giant’s elbows when he fell dying, while the marks on another stone are said to have been made by Arthur’s knees where he knelt in thanksgiving after the duel. Alternatively the identations may have been made by Arthur’s fingers as he played quoits with the capstone; many cromlechs in Wales are named “Arthur’s Quiot” and it is tempting to think that the name may once have also applied to the mighty capstone at Dorstone. However, although legends have become attached to them we cannot be certain if these prehistoric monuments were oirginally named after the legendary medieval king or some other Arthur?

Arthur’s Stone

Located between the villages of Dorstone and Bredwardine in west Herefordshire, England, Arthur’s Stone is one of the most notable of all Neolithic burial monuments in western Britain. Constructed around 3,700BC it is Herefordshire’s oldest man-made structure with its 25 ton capstone supported on nine upright stones, once covered by a mound at least 100 feet long.

The monument is a northerly outlier of the Cotswold-Severn Group of chambered tombs yet similar to other monuments of the not-so-distant Black Mountains Group. As in common with many burial tombs, Arthur’s Stone is deliberately set slightly below the ridge line and not on the highest point of Merbach Hill’s summit.  The monument has elevated views to the south of the Golden Valley and the Brecon Beacons beyond, to the north it is bounded by Arthur’s Stone Lane, a small road that dissects what would originally have been the site of the tomb’s elongated mound. The remains of the ancient stone cairn of the monument continues unbroken along the southern side of the structure.

Arthur’s Stone geographical context

Now a team of archaeologists from the University of Manchester and English Heritage began excavating the near 6,000-year-old Neolithic chambered tomb from 1st July for the next four weeks. The team are setting out to find out just how big the structure was and what really happened at Arthur’s Stone. After looking at previous sites in the area they soon realized there was likely much more activity there than they initially thought.

Arthur’s Stone excavations

Julian Thomas, professor of archaeology at the University of Manchester, project lead, said that from earlier excavations of the surrounding area, the team found there were more expansive traces of the monument with evidence of a small, low-turf mound with a timber palisade around it in addition to traces of an avenue of upright timbers in a series of postholes, which could indicate the presence of a ceremonial path that led south from the monument into the Golden Valley, a valley beneath the hills where the tomb is located.

Limited excavations by George Nash in 2006 established that the monument was a long mound and not a round mound as initially thought. The first phase of this monument comprised a circular mound with a 10ft passage with a sharp right-angled turn leading to a small rectangular gallery with antechambers either side. The chamber and passage were incorporated into a long mound, aligned north-south, which extended well over 100ft in length with a south facing entrance. The design appears to have intentionally restricted visual access between the chamber and the facade beyond; the right-angled bend in the passage alignment appears to be a deliberate demarcation between the realms of the living and the dead, the point where the two realms would have come in to contact. However, no human remains have been found in the chamber itself, it is thought it may have been disturbed in early modern times.

We look forward to further news from the team.

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St Lythans Burial Chamber

Megalithic Kennels 
Several chambered tombs in Wales bear the “filiast” name, such as Twlc y Filiast, Gwal y Filiast (St Lythans) and Lletty’r y Filiast (Great Orme), meaning “Lair of the Grey Hound Bitch” but no satisfactory explanation for this odd association with greyhounds (more likley a She-Wolf) has ever been given. The designation is often explained as an association with the witch Ceridwen who has transformed herself in to a greyhound bitch (milast) in her pursuit of Little Gwion (Bach) which started at Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake) in Gwynedd, North Wales, in the Tale of Taliesin; these megalithic monuments were apparently named in her honour as a canine symbol.

St Lythans burial chamber which also carries the alternative name of Gwal-y-Filiast, The Lair of the Greyhound Bitch

An alternative explanation suggests that the South Wales cromlechs may be associated with the Arthurian legend of ‘Culhwch and Olwen‘ in which the legendary king and his hunting party pursue a giant boar across South Wales with their hunting dogs.

Chris Barber recalls a comment from a Mr J Smith Jnr in The Archaeology of the Great Orme’s Head, North Wales (1875) in which he calls Lletty’r y Filiast “a cromlech in which the bones of the mythical hag Keridwen are supposed to be interred”.

In discussing the cromlech at St Lythans Barber quotes Rev T Rees in A Topographical and Historical Description of South Wales (1815) who called it Lech-y-Filiast and states “that it has been conjected that it derived from the circumstances of the early Christians envincing their contempt for these vestiges of pagan worship by converting them into kennels for their dogs…”

Christian kennels for their dogs? Surely not!

St Lythans Burial Chamber
The chambered burial tomb known as St Lythans, or Maes-y-Felin, also carries the alternative name of Gwal-y-Filiast, the Lair of the Greyhound Bitch, is in South Glamorgan, near Barry, South Wales.

St Lythans burial chamber

Constructed around 4,000 BC, St Lythans consists of three large orthostats supporting a huge rectangular capstone measuring 14ft by 10ft with the chamber set at the east end. There is a hole in the western slab said to release the spirts of the departed interred within. Today only slight traces remain of an earthen mound, around 90ft (27m) in length, orientated east-west, said to have once covered this Neolithic burial chamber. Excavations in 2012 concluded that originally the burial chamber was buried within a large cairn of stones 98ft (30m) long and 39ft (12m) wide. The chamber itself has never been excavated. Maes-y-Felin, the field in which this cromlech stands, is said to be known as the “Accursed Field” as it is claimed nothing will grow there.

I struggle to accept that these cromlech’s were totally covered over by a mound. I believe that in many cases the tomb was built on a platform of stones or earth that formed a sacred platform that antiquarians and modern archaeologists rush to interpret as the remains of a mound forming a totally covered-over long barrow. Indeed we know many long barrows were entirely covered over, such as Belas Knap, Hetty Pegler’s Tump, the Kennet Long Barows etc, of the Cotswold-Severn Group. They generally have flat capstones. But surely the shapely capstones of those smaller cromlechs in Wales were meant to be seen; many mirroring a local landscape feature or pointing to an alignment on a distant hill. I believe the smaller cromlechs were an entirely different concept to the huge long barrows. Furthermore, very little funerary remains has been found at the cromlechs whereas the long barrows have been found to contain a large number of human remains.
However, both St Lythans and its near neighbour Tinkinswood are not typical Welsh cromlechs and both are categorised as belonging to the Cotswold-Severn Group and probably were long barrows; but where did that mound go?

Tinkinswood burial chamber

Tinkinswood Burial Chamber
The cromlech at St Lythans is often confused with Tinkinswood less than a mile away in the adjacent parish of St Nicholas. Tinkinswood is variously called Llech-y-Filiast, Maes-y-Filiast or Gwal-y-Filiast and well known for enclosing its burial chamber with the largest capstone in Wales, measuring 22ft in length and 3ft thick, estimated to weigh around 40 tons. According to Glynn Daniel Tinkinswood burial chamber was covered by a 130ft long mound orientated east-west. Excavations during restoration in the early 20th century revealed the remains of at least 50 people in the chamber. Neolithic pottery from this site was typical to that uncovered at other Cotswold-Severn type monuments. Artefacts dating to the Early Iron Age, Romano-British and medieval periods suggests that the monument may have been used as a shelter during these periods. George Nash observes that the monuments of Tinkinswood and Maes-y-Felin (St Lythans) are intervisible, i.e. each can be seen from the other, suggesting an unknown association.

Solstitial Alignment
A photograph of St Lythans Burial Chamber has won The Megalithic Portal Summer Solstice Photo Competition. The Winner ‘Mark_in_Wales’ tells us, “This light beam was photographed at 21:14 BST on the 20th of June 2022. St Lythans Burial Chamber is a highly accurate tool for determining the Winter Calendar and making this stunning Arrowhead light-beam at The arrowhead shape (known as an oblique arrowhead in academic circles) is extremely precise, with a straight back, curved cutting surface and hooked single tang. The light-beam is formed by only three stones and the angle of the wall it is being projected onto.”

This stunning photograph just goes to show that these megalithic tombs did not simply function as tombs, or kennels for dogs!

Further Reading:
Chris Barber and John Godfrey Williams, The Ancient Stones of Wales, Blorenge Books, 1989.
Glynn E Daniel, The Prehistoric Chamber Tombs of England and Wales, Cambridge University Press 1950 (first paperback edition 2013).
George Nash, The Architecture of Death: Neolithic Chambered Tombs in Wales, Logaston Press, 2006.

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Stonehenge: The Latest Theories

Giant glacial erratic hailed as ’missing piece’ of Bluestone puzzle
A giant bluestone erratic discovered earlier this year near Mumbles, on the south Gower coast, South Wales, has been hailed as one of the most important glacial discoveries of the last century provoking rather excited premature claims that “it proves beyond doubt that the Irish Sea Glacier was capable of carrying large monoliths of dolerite rock from Pembrokeshire up the Bristol Channel towards Stonehenge.”

Mumbles erratic (centre)

The huge boulder, measuring 2.2m x 1.3m x 1m and weighing at least 7 tonnes, was found on the rocky foreshore around the mid-tide mark, at a location yet to be revealed, by Mumbles photographer Phil Holden.

Dr. Katie Preece of Swansea University has identified the rock as dolerite, which are not found anywhere near Gower, and the source area could be North Pembrokeshire.

>> Pembroke Today – 29 January 2022

Forget all the hype about this being evidence that glaciers can transport large boulders, pillars and slabs of dolerite from North Pembrokeshire up the Bristol Channel towards Somerset and Stonehenge (Mumbles is a long way from Salisbury Plain); we are still awaiting results of analyse, see the Megalithic Portal page:

>> Mumbles Erratic – Megalithic Portal (Last update 15 Feb 2022)

Stonehenge Served as an Ancient Solar Calendar, new study suggests
In the 18th century antiquarian William Stukeley claimed the solstitial alignment of Stonehenge suggests that the site included some kind of calendar.

Several hundred years later Timothy Darvill, Bournemouth University, having analysed the sarsen stones, examining their numerology and comparing them to other known calendars from this period, agrees with Stukeley. He has identified a solar calendar in their layout, suggesting they served as a physical representation of the year that helped the ancient inhabitants of Wiltshire keep track of the days, weeks, and months.

Stonehenge Calendar

“The proposed calendar works in a very straightforward way. Each of the 30 stones in the sarsen circle represents a day within a month, itself divided into three weeks each of 10 days,” said Professor Darvill, noting that distinctive stones in the circle mark the start of each week.

>> Bournemouth University 02 March 2022

Stonehenge: Archaeologists unearth 10,000-year-old hunting pits

Researchers from the University of Birmingham and Ghent University have discovered thousands of pits believed to have been used by prehistoric hunters near Stonehenge.

One of the pits, which was 13ft (4m) wide and 6.5ft (2m) deep, was the largest of its kind in north-west Europe, the archaeologists claimed.

The researchers said the pits, dating from between around 8,200 BCE and 7,800 BCE, showed hunter-gatherers had roamed the landscape during the early Mesolithic period, when Britain was re-inhabited after the last Ice Age.

>> BBC News Wiltshire 12 May 2022

I am a little wary of the discovery of all these new pits in the Stonehenge landscape; I’m not sure we really have an understanding what many of them they were used for?

Stonehenge Built on Land Inhabited by Deer and Wild Boar
Hunting pits in the Stonehenge landscape ties in nicely with a recent report that the monument on Salisbury Plain was ‘built on land inhabited by deer and wild boar 4,000 years earlier’

Red deer, elk and wild boar would have roamed the Stonehenge area 4,000 years before the stones were constructed, according to new research.

Scientists from the University of Southampton have examined Blick Mead, a Mesolithic archaeological site about a mile away, and found that the area had not been covered in dense, closed-canopy forests as previously thought. Instead they believe it would have been populated by grazing animals and hunter-gatherers.

>> Salisbury Journal 30 April 2022

Stonehenge Altar Stone May not be from Wales
The Altar Stone at Stonehenge is enigmatic in that it differs markedly from the other bluestones. It is a grey–green, micaceous sandstone and has been considered to be derived from the Old Red Sandstone sequences of South Wales.

Previous studies have been based on presumed derived fragments from the Stonehenge debitage that have been identified visually as coming from the Altar Stone.

The Stonehenge Altar Stone lying under the fallen sarsens of the Great Trilithon

A new study has conducted Portable Xray fluorescence (pXRF) analyses on these fragments (ex situ) as well as on the Altar Stone (in situ). Importantly, pXRF being a non-destructive technique, does not compromise the integrity of the ancient monument.

A notable feature of the Altar Stone sandstone is the presence of baryte (Ba) in both the debitage and the Altar Stone. These high Ba contents are in marked contrast with those from a small set of Old Red Sandstone field samples, raising the possibility that the Altar Stone may not have been sourced from the Old Red Sandstone sequences of Wales.

This raises questions over the potential source of the Altar Stone, and any possible transporation route, as there are not currently any reports of baryte-bearing sandstones in the Old Red Sandstone sequences of Wales or the Welsh Borderland.

>> Linking derived debitage to the Stonehenge Altar Stone using portable X-ray fluorescence analysis by Richard E. Bevins, Nick J.G. Pearce, Rob A. Ixer, Stephen Hillier, Duncan Pirrie, and Peter Turner.
Mineralogical Magazine (2022), 1–13

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Tracking the Beltane Sunrise

In the late 1960’s John Michell “rediscovered” the St Michael Line. Michell noted that Burrow Mump was 11 miles from Glastonbury Tor, both orientated at 27 degrees north of east, to the Beltane sunrise on 1st May. Extending this line in both directions it marks the longest continuous stretch of land in southern England.

The so-called Ley Line, running from St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, passing through many hilltop sites dedicated to St Michael, to the east coast of Norfolk, is known as the St Michael Alignment.

However, the line also passes through many megalithic sites such as the Hurlers and Avebury, so perhaps the Beltane Line is a more appropriate name.

Is the Beltane Line just a coincidence of aligned sites or the route of a genuine long distance earth energy line?


The Sun and the Serpent tells the story of how Paul Broadhurst and Hamish Miller traced this alignment by dowsing two earth energy lines they termed the Michael and Mary Lines.


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Waun Mawn: The bluestone circle that never was

After all the hype that the Stones of Stonehenge Project had identified a bluestone circle in Preseli, south-west Wales, that was dismantled in the Neolithic period and the monoliths transported to Salisbury Plain to be used in the first stone setting at Stonehenge around 3,000BC, the team has now rejected Waun Mawn as the Lost Stone Circle:

February 2021
“The discovery of a dismantled stone circle—close to Stonehenge’s bluestone quarries in west Wales—raises the possibility that a 900-year-old legend about Stonehenge being built from an earlier stone circle contains a grain of truth. Radiocarbon and OSL dating of Waun Mawn indicate construction c. 3000 BC, shortly before the initial construction of Stonehenge. The identical diameters of Waun Mawn and the enclosing ditch of Stonehenge, and their orientations on the midsummer solstice sunrise, suggest that at least part of the Waun Mawn circle was brought from west Wales to Salisbury Plain. This interpretation complements recent isotope work that supports a hypothesis of migration of both people and animals from Wales to Stonehenge.

  • The original Stonehenge? A dismantled stone circle in the Preseli Hills of west Wales, Antiquity 2021 Vol. 95 (379):pp.85–103, 12 February 2021 – Mike Parker Pearson, Josh Pollard, Colin Richards, Kate Welham, Timothy Kinnaird, Dave Shaw, Ellen Simmons, Adam Stanford, Richard Bevins, Rob Ixer, Clive Ruggles, Jim Rylatt and Kevan Edinborough.


January 2022
In summary, the 2021 excavations provide evidence that only 30% of Waun Mawn’s stone  circle was ever completed, leaving large gaps on the west and south sides. Features along  the southern perimeter can be identified as holes that were dug but never held stones,  revealing that building of the circle stopped in mid-construction. Eight standing stones were  subsequently dismantled, leaving just four in place. It is unlikely that there were ever more  than 17 stones erected within this circle, resulting in between eight and 13 being taken  away in prehistory. It is possible but unlikely that there was another dismantled circle within  the larger, 110m-diameter circle; early stone circles of this type, such as Stanton Drew, tend  to have smaller circles beyond them and not inside them. In these circumstances, if Waun  Mawn provided some of the bluestones for Stonehenge, these can only have been a small  portion of the total.”

  • Waun Mawn and Gernos-fach: the Welsh origins of Stonehenge project Interim report of the 2021 season – Mike Parker Pearson, Chris Casswell, Jim Rylatt, Adam Stanford, Kate Welham and Josh Pollard. [Full report available at Tim Daw’s  posted 12 January 2022]
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Lindow Man: The Last of the Bog Bodies?

Part I

Pools of Violence
On 13 May 1983 two men working on commercial peat extraction at Lindow Moss, near Wilmslow, Cheshire, noticed a round object about 20cm diameter on the conveyor belt of the elevator. It was their responsibility to remove any objects that could damage the shredding mill. They joked it could be a “dinosaur egg” but after washing it off with a hose they found it to be a human skull with an eyeball and some hair still intact. The skull was taken to the police.

Lindow Moss

At that time the Macclesfield Police had been investigating an unsolved murder. During an interview two suspects of another crime told the police of a former cellmate who had boasted of murdering his wife. The man claimed to have disposed of his wife’s body twenty years earlier in 1960 by dismembering her body and burning her remains. At that time he lived in a property that backed on to Lindow Moss; the skull was found just 300 metres from his back garden. Earlier that year in January when first interviewed by the police the man denied murdering his wife and investigations in the garden failed to produce any evidence; to date, remains of his wife’s body have never been found. But when the police informed him of the discovery of the skull in May he made a full confession.

Yet when the police submitted the skull to archaeologists to determine its age it proved to be around 1,800 years old meaning the woman lived during the 2nd century, the Romano-British period. The skull was therefore not related to the murder enquiry at all but the man was convicted of the murder of his wife owing to his confession. The skull was said to have belonged to a woman of 30-50 years age and named accordingly as Lindow Woman (or Lindow I) by archaeologists.

The discovery of Lindow Woman has striking similarities to a find in a peat bog some 25 years earlier a little further north in a peat bog near Salford. On 18th August 1958 John Connelly, an employee of the Lancashire Moss and Litter Company, was walling peat blocks in an isolated spot when he noticed a black ball-shaped patch with matter inside and then what appeared to be a bit of neck. After making a rough search he found a piece of bone with teeth attached. No other body parts were found at the bog.

The remains were discovered just inside the Worsley boundary, about two miles from Astley Green. Worsley Moss is part of the Chat Moss peat bog complex in Salford, Lancashire, as such the head was named Worsley Man.

Initial examination suggested the head belonged to a male aged between 24-40 years of age and had been in the peat bog for probably less than a year. The head was then examined by a Home Office pathologist who determined that the remains consisted of “a portion of skull, an upper and a lower jaw, the first two and a half cervical vertebrae, some skin above the right ear, a two-inch section below the right ear, a one- inch strip of skin on the right side of the neck and a separate tooth”.

He suggested that Worsley Man was probably somewhere between one hundred and five hundred years old. As the cause of death had not been determined the coroner returned an open verdict and suggested the remains should be retained as a historic relic. They were donated to the Pathology Museum at the Manchester Medical School who passed the head of Worsley Man on to the Manchester Museum in 1992.

Further studies using modern technology have since revealed evidence of decapitation and a twisted cord embedded in the neck tissue suggestive of a ligature. The lack of decay is indicative that the head entered the bog soon after it was severed from the body. Evidence of sharp force trauma indicates Worsley Man experienced a violent death and suffered a minimum of three devastating blows: a non-fatal sword blow behind the right ear, a forceful axe wound on the top of the skull and finally decapitation. None of these injuries could be ascribed to damage caused by the peat cutters.

A sample of facial tissue was dated at 1,800 years old placing the man firmly within the Romano- British era. Further investigation carried out in 2010 subjected the head to a CT Scan which revealed a fragment of a sharp object embedded in the neck tissue. At first this was considered as the tip of a ceremonial bone spearhead. However, the “spear” in the neck appears to have been the fractured end of the temporal styloid process from the right-hand side of the head (a slender pointed piece of bone just below the ear) which sheared off during decapitation.

We don’t know if this was a formal execution or sacrifice. However the sheer number of blows inflicted on Worsley Man, which can only be described as overkill, seems to eliminate organised execution. Yet, as stated above, Worsley Man has striking similarities with Lindow Woman (Lindow I), and these are not the only examples of heads found in peat bogs. Had the peat cutters unearthed evidence of a cult of the head in northern England

Lindow Man
On 1st August 1984, one year after the head of a woman had been pulled out of Lindow Moss, a man working on a peat cutting machine at the same peat bog pulled a long thin object off a conveyor belt. When the object hit the ground the loose peat fell off to reveal a human leg. The police were informed and the next day the county archaeologist Rick Turner visited the site and examined the cutting where the leg had been found.

At the edge of the cutting Turner noticed a flap of skin sticking out of the peat. On 6th August the block of peat containing the skin was lifted and taken to a local mortuary. Further peat was removed to reveal the remains of a body, which Turner suggested was at least a thousand years old. It was then moved to a special storage facility at the British Museum in London. Once all the peat had been removed it revealed the upper torso of a man with the head intact. He was named as Lindow Man (Lindow II). He was naked except for a fox-fur armband. Around his neck was a twisted cord made from animal sinew, on the top of his head and around his neck were signs of physical trauma.

Forensic examination of Lindow Man revealed the following injuries:

A v-shaped laceration to the top of the head delivered from a ferocious blow with a blunt edged weapon (possibly an axe) which pushed fragments of the skull into the brain. This blow was not fatal as bruising started to occur around the wound which suggests that although it no doubt knocked him unconscious Lindow Man could have have lived for several hours after delivery of the blow.

A laceration to the scalp at the back of the head was probably the result of a blow with a blunt weapon which fractured his skull. Other injuries include ligature marks to front and sides of the neck indicating the sinew necklace was used as a garrotte; a clean cut wound on the right side of the front of the neck made by a sharp instrument into the jugular vein; possible stab wound to right upper chest; several broken ribs; a fracture of the spine at the neck with his head twisted to the right at the point of break.

Further peat cutting at Lindow Moss was periodically monitored by Turner but no further discoveries where made until 1987 when over seventy body parts were found, including the back of an adult man, a hand and a leg (Lindow III). In June and September the following year parts of the buttocks, left leg and right thigh of an adult male were found in the bog (Lindow IV). As these parts were found just 15 metres from the discovery site of Lindow Man they were considered to be the missing parts of the same body, broken up during the peat excavation process.

Comprehensive sampling has indicated that Lindow Man died in the First Century (2 BC – AD119). His hair, now red due to the staining from the peat bog, was well groomed, beard and moustache trimmed and his nails filed. Residues of green pigmentation from high levels of copper on his skin was initially considered to be evidence of the ancient practice of body paint as observed on Iron Age peoples by the Romans and recorded by ancient historians. However scientific analysis has shown that these residues occur in peat bogs when organic remains are exposed to acid where oxygen is absent; it therefore seems unlikely that Lindow Man had been painted green as some early reports claimed.

Bog Bodies of Northern Europe

Bog bodies are found throughout the peatlands of Northern Europe. Lindow Man is without doubt the finest preserved example found in Britain, yet debate continues as to whether these bog bodies were victims of execution, murder or ritual sacrifice. Capital punishment for unlawful crimes, an execution victim, would usually be fulfilled in one blow, such as a straight beheading with a sharp weapon such an axe or sword. Occasionally it would take more than one attempt, but wounds would be concentrated in the same area as they literally hacked off the head. Unlawful killing would also typically result in death by a single blow, however it is possible several blows could have been dealt if a struggle ensued or torture was involved.

Yet many of the bog bodies have received significant weapon trauma; a forceful blow to the head that stunned the victim but was not usually fatal. Then the throat was cut, followed in many cases by decapitation. The garrotte found on many bog bodies indicates strangulation. Finally, if there was any chance of any life left in the victim he was thrown in the peat bog and drowned. This has been described as massive “overkill” and linked to the Celtic triple death. A ritual death and deposition in a liminal zone such as a peat bog, the threshold between water and land, the boundary between worlds, suggests sacrifice. The healthy condition of Lindow Man suggests he had been specifically selected, possibly from a young age, for this ritual ending and like many sacrificial offerings, probably went to his death without struggle.

Evidence of Celtic Triple Death?
We find literary evidence of these peculiar practices in Celtic literature such as the Four Branches of the Mabinogi. Although in their current form the “Four Branches” are held in Middle Welsh prose written down between the 11th and 13th centuries, these tales seem to be based on pre-Roman cultures which have been described as “one of the oldest and most complete repositories of British Celtic Myth”. The Second Branch features the Cult of the Head in which Bendigeidfran (Brân) is decapitated yet his head lives on after its removal from his body:

And then Bendigeidfran ordered the severing of his head.

‘Take the head’ said he ‘and bring it to the White Hill in London, and bury it with its face towards France. And you will be on the road a long time. In Harlech you will be seven years in feasting, the birds of Rhiannon singing to you. The head will be as good company to you as it was at its best when it was ever on me. And you will be at Gwales in Penfro for eighty years. Until you open the door facing Aber Henvelen on the side facing Cornwall, you will be able to abide there, along with the head with you uncorrupted. But when you open that door, you will not be able to remain there. You will make for London and bury the head. Cross over to the other side.’ [Trans. Will Parker]

In the Forth Branch, when asked how he can be killed Lleu Llaw Gyffes describes three conditions that will bring about his death:

‘It is not easy,’ he continued ‘to kill me by a blow. It would be necessary to spend a year making the spear to strike me with – and without making any of it [at any other time] except when one was at mass on Sundays.’

‘I cannot be killed inside a house, nor outside,’ he continued ‘I cannot be killed on horseback or on foot.’

‘Aye,’ said she ‘[so] in what way can you be killed?’

‘I’ll tell you,’ he replied. ‘By making a bath for me by the side of a river, making a curved, slatted roof over the tub, and thatching that well and without [leaving] any gaps. And bringing a buck,’ he continued ‘and putting it next to the tub, and me putting one of my feet on the buck’s back, and the other one on the side of the tub. Whoever would strike me [while I am] like that would bring about my death.’ [Trans. Will Parker]

Will Parker describes the Four Branches as containing all the “hallmarks of a primitive ‘magical’ consciousness, the legacy of its origins in the pre-Christian past”. Indeed, The Four Branches recall the ordeals of the Gods; The Children of Dôn and the family of Llyr. Lleu Llaw Gyffes, the hero of the Fourth Branch clearly relates to Lugus ‘the Gaulish Mercury’ and in the Second and Third Branches features Manawydan fab Llŷr, who also appears, probably owes his origin to a maritime cult prevalent in the Irish Sea area during the early centuries of the common era (Manannán mac Lír.

Indeed, Celtic scholar Anne Ross saw Lindow Man as a Druid Prince kept and nurtured for this special occasion. Ross argues that to the Celts the number three was sacred which may be reflected in the apparent triple death inflicted on these sacrifices to the gods of the Celts.

In the Pharsalia Lucan talks of three Gaulish gods, Teutates, Esus and Taranis that each required a certain form of sacrifice: drowning, hanging or stabbed to death or both, and burning respectively. A sacrificial victim could be offered to one god and killed by that god’s preferred method, or as seems likely with certain offerings such as Lindow Man, they were given to more than one god and several ritual methods of death, one after the other, used accordingly.

And now Lindow Man, this offering, this gift to the gods, sits in a class case presented to the public as a lonely exhibit at the British Museum in London as one of their most popular displays. For me this is a sad sight, I really am uncomfortable with this man being a museum piece to satisfy mankind’s morbid fascination with death. But that’s just me, I really don’t enjoy displays of human remains.

Lindow Moss – land of the peat cutters

It was noted above that no further bog bodies have been discovered at Lindow Moss since the late 1980s. It is now very unlikely there will be another discovery of this type at Lindow Moss as the owner has agreed to cease peat cutting and restore the bog. Lindow Man really could be the last of the bog bodies.

Continued in Part II – Landscape of Devastation

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