Thursday, March 6, 2014

5500 year old Trefael stone reveals it secrets

Located within a windswept field near the village of Nevern in South-west Wales, a team of archaeologists from the Welsh Rock Art Organisation (WRAO) have been excavating a site known as Trefael and making exciting new discoveries.

This monument was up until 2009 classified as a damaged standing stone probably of Early Bronze Age date (c 2,200 BC) and as a result received little attention. It had also been recorded that the stone was decorated with 45 shallow cupmarks, but later assessment uncovered a further 30 (an area of damage which has obliterated part of the surface means that the total number will never be known).

Capstone of portal dolmen

The Trefael stone  is now believed to be a capstone which would have once been supported by a series of upright stones forming a Neolithic burial chamber, probably a portal dolmen, one of Western Britain’s earliest burial monument types.

In 2009, an archaeological team led by Dr George Nash of Bristol University and colleagues Carol James, Adam Stanford and Thomas Wellicome, undertook a geophysical survey and discovered the probable remains of a portal dolmen. As a result of this non-intrusive survey, the team continued to excavate the site for another two seasons.

Bronze Age cremation

In 2012, cremated bone weighing around 1.9 kg was discovered in one  of the trenches that stood close to the standing stone. The cremation, located within a stony deposit was accompanied by later prehistoric pottery, probably grooved ware.  The survival of the cremation and the pottery is made more remarkable considering the surrounding soil is extremely acidic and the area had been ploughed during historical times.

The cremation and the surrounding deposits were carefully excavated and lifted by Welsh archaeologist Catherine Rees and sent to osteoarchaeologist Dr Jacqueline McKinley of Wessex Archaeology for dating and analysis.  The burial was also radiocarbon dated and revealed a date-range of 3653 + 45 years BP (calibrated to a date range of between 2200 and 1900 cal. BC [SUERC 45386]).

Relationship between Neolithic and Early Bronze Age mortuary practices

The cremation burial, one of only a handful within this part of Western Britain to be dated using modern chronometric dating techniques clearly shows that Trefael was more than just a standing stone. Careful archaeological excavation over three years proved that the site encompasses a 3000 year architectural history.

Along with an excavated burial chamber, the cremation belonged to a Bronze Age cairn, and represent just several of a number of significant discoveries from this remarkable site and clearly shows a relationship between Neolithic and Early Bronze Age mortuary practices.

The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park‘s Culture and Heritage Manager, Phil Bennett said:

“As an Archaeologist it is so rewarding to see opportunities to better understand the rich and varied archaeological heritage of the National Park. In particular we welcome the opportunity to enable visitors, residents and young people to better enjoy and learn about their National Park“.

“The more we learn about the ancient landscapes of the National Park the more likely it is that people will respect and want to protect them. In supporting work by Dr Nash and others the National Park Authority believes that such work will highlight and enhance the importance of the National Park’s prehistoric past“.

Past Horizons. 2014. “5500 year old Trefael stone reveals it secrets”. Past Horizons. Posted: January 19, 2014. Available online:

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