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Some background information about St Lythan’s burial chamber…

St Lythans is a beautiful Neolithic chambered tomb, which stand today in splendid isolation. This site is located in quite a commanding position in the landscape set at 70m OD on ground falling gently to the north-west near the head of the Waycock Valley.

A close-up of the chamber at St Lythan's

Although smaller than Tinkinswood burial chamber down the way, St Lythans is much more imposing, as it is higher and not crowded by trees in its immediate surroundings. Its great slabs were probably obtained from a spot about 90 metres to the south, where there is still to be seen an exposure of mud-stone. The cairn itself is set along the axis of the hillside. It is a conspicuous monument, which has been variously described and assessed since 1874, but never excavated. It has been under the guardianship of Cadw since 1918.

St Lythan’s is oriented east-west, and a mound of earth or stones may have once covered it, although some think that since the chamber is so unusually high it may never have been completely covered.
Although the site has never been excavated, human remains and pottery were found in 1875 when the interior of the chamber was cleared out. All the slabs are of mudstone and are striking in appearance. The insides of the two portal stones have been smoothed and the back stone has a port-hole on its top; a similar feature is found on the Trethevy Quoit, Cornwall.

The remains comprise a rectangular chamber set in the east end of a long mound, which is spread to about 27 metres east-west by 11 metres, with a maximum height of about 1 metre. The sides of the flat top seem parallel, about 7m apart, and the west end tends to a square shape, suggesting that the whole monument may have resembled Tinkinswood in plan, but there is no trace of revetment drystone as at Tinkinswood.

All three slabs support the single great capstone, which is pitched slightly upwards to the east; all are of the same mud-stone used at Tinkinswood. Human remains and coarse pottery were found in 1875 in the debris thrown out from the interior, which partly fills the hollow of the original forecourt in the east end of the mound.
Severe erosion by cattle in 1992 lead to the exposure of sub-soil cairn material within the chamber and on the north side. This lead to the chance discovery, as surface finds, of a fragment of polished stone axe and several flint flakes – some retouched – by Toby Driver in 1992. These joined a fine leaf-shaped flint arrowhead, found independently in the same erosion feature, and placed in the National Museum Wales, Cardiff. The finds were published in Archaeologia Cambrensis, 1992, and constitute a significant addition to the poorly-recorded finds noted by Lukis in 1875. Following the discovery of these finds, conservation was carried out on the badly eroded tomb in the early 1990s with soil and turfs replaced to cover the exposed areas.

In the early 19th century it was called The Greyhound-bitch kennel and was used as an animal shelter. There is a tradition that the field in which the stones stand is cursed, and that nothing will grow there. The stones themselves were believed to grant any wish whispered to them on Hallowe’en. Another legend says that the wedge-shaped capstone spins three times each Midsummer’s Eve; this story fits with one of the chambered tomb’s Welsh names (Maes-y-Felin), which translates as ‘The Mill in the Meadow’. The same night all the stones are said to go bathing in the river.

St Lythan's burial chamber

This post is based on various sources.

About FfionR

I’m Ffion, archaeological researcher at Cardiff University and Heritage and Arts Manager for Cadw, the historic environment service for the Welsh Government. At Cadw, my role is to oversee projects that link heritage with the arts, inspire new ways of engaging people with our built environment and to link people with their local heritage and archaeology.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Some background information about St Lythan’s burial chamber…

  1. We chanced upon the two burial chambers when visiting Duffryn Gardens .It was so easy to get to see them and we loved the “wind-up,” interpretation boxes. Are all the artefacts in Cardiff museum?
    Thank you
    Ruth Jeffries (Ledbury, Herefordshire)

    Posted by Ruth Jeffries | August 11, 2015, 10:17 pm
    • Hi Ruth, thank you for your kind words! I enjoyed writing the text for the black boxes. Yes, all the artefacts are with the National Museum in Cardiff. Hopefully some will be on display again when the new archaeology space opens at St Fagans Museum in 2016/2017. Ffion

      Posted by FfionR | August 12, 2015, 6:07 am

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