A 4000 year
old 'flower' burial on the Black Mountain (March 2006)
View of Fan Foel from Llanddeusant
The Pottery Urn
New results from the excavation of a Bronze Age
burial mound on the Black Mountain in Carmarthenshire, have provided
a detailed insight into a moving burial ceremony over 4000 years
The excavation took place on Fan Foel, above Llyn
y Fan Fach, itself the origin of the ‘Lady in the Lake’
myth, and it was carried out by, Llandeilo-based, Dyfed Archaeological Trust.
Prior to the excavation, it was noticed that the monument was being
slowly destroyed by a combination of the weather and the hundreds
of walkers who climb the mountain every year.
‘Visitors were collecting stones from the
monument and creating their own mini-cairn’, explained Gwilym
Hughes, Director of Dyfed Archaeological Trust. ‘The only solution
was to excavate and record the vulnerable parts of the site and
protect the remainder from further damage’.
The fieldwork was undertaken in the summer of 2004
with funding from Cadw and the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority.
At the centre of the burial mound, the archaeologists examined the
contents of a large rectangular stone built cist that had been covered
by a large capstone. The cist contained cremated bone, a pottery
urn, a bone pin and several flint tools. The bone includes that
of a young child, perhaps no more than 12 years old. However, a
surprise was that the deposit also contained the burnt bones of
two pigs and possibly a dog. The cremated bone has now been radiocarbon
dated to about 2000BC by the University of Groningen in the Netherlands,
thanks to the award of a grant from Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum
of Wales. Further radiocarbon dates tell us that a second burial
was later inserted into the side of the burial mound.
The latest analysis has been of the soil surrounding
the burial by specialists from the University of Lampeter. The dentification
of microscopic pollen grains in the soil have shown that the burial
was accompanied by a floral tribute of meadowsweet, which has attractive
clusters of cream-white flowers. According to Adam Gwilt, Curator
of the Bronze and Iron Age Collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National
Museum Wales, the discovery, ‘gives a tenderness to otherwise
remote and impersonal burial rites’. Incredibly, precisely
the same burial ritual, with cremated bone, pottery and meadowsweet
flowers in a stone cist, have been found as far away as the Orkneys
and Perthshire in Scotland. Clearly the upland areas of Britain
in the early Bronze Age maintained common traditions when it came
The pollen analysis at Fan Foel has also given
a rich insight into the vegetation of the mountain at the time of
the burial. ‘The landscape was already largely open heathland
and grassland when the cairn was built’, says Astrid Caseldine
of the University of Lampeter. ‘However’, she adds,
‘there was also evidence that the heathland had been deliberately
burnt, which may represent ritual activity associated with the burials’.
At Fan Foel the burial mound would have been visible
to the scattered farming communities that were located in the area
around Myddfai and Llanddeusant 4000 years ago. We can only speculate
as to who the young child was or why he or she died. Perhaps he
or she was the child of a local chieftain; certainly someone commanding
a status that required a complex burial ritual and subsequent memorial.
There is no doubt that the rugged peaks of the Carmarthenshire Vans
will continue to conceal many of their secrets and fuel the great
myths and legends of this outstanding landscape.
The cist at Fan Foel during excavation