Sometimes a view looks just right and satisfying. The solid silhouette of Maesyfelin burial chamber outlined against the sky and the rising sun on a cold and frosty Sunday morning felt right. I would like to say that I had walked miles for this lonely and unique view. But that wouldn’t be right. I had parked the car tight up against the hedge in a narrow lane, walked through a gate and there it was, proud on the brow of a low hill. Perfect.
The chamber is also known as St Lythan’s, named after the village nearby. Maesyfelin – Mill Field; Gwal-y-Filiast – Greyhound Bitch’s Lair, after it was used as a kennel in the early 19th century.
Maesyfelin has been classified as a chambered long cairn, stands at the head of the small Waycock Valley about 70m above sea level. It is orientated east to west, with the entrance opening to the east. The current stones may have stood at the eastern end of a long mound, which was approximately 27m long and 11m wide. Though there is little evidence of this this today, and I had to look carefully to find the shape of the original barrow. The exact shape of the original mound is uncertain, and may have been similar to nearby Tinkinswood. A plan published by RCHMAW shows the mound may have had horns on either side of the eastern ned, similar in shape to the burial chamber at Parc-le-Breos.
The chamber itself is unusually high, with a maximum internal height of 1.8m. This height has led to some question as to whether it was every fully covered with the mound. The three upright stones give the chamber an internal measurement of 2.6m x 1.3m. Each of the 3 stones helps to support a large capstone which has been measured at 4.2m x 3.3m by 0.7m thickness. A sizeable piece, and a hefty weight. The stones seem to be local mudstone, and may have been quarried nearby.
Surprisingly for such a prominent burial chamber it has never been fully excavated. The first record is by J.W. Lukas in 1875, when he found fragments on unburnt human bone and some coarse pottery outside of the tomb. This may have come from clearance of the inside of the tomb so it could be used as an animal chamber. In 1992 animals caused severe erosion of the soil inside the chamber and on the north side, resulting in the discovery of polished stone axe and several flint flakes. These are now in the National Museum of Wales. The lack of dating evidence makes it difficult to age, but the chamber was probably built between 3-4,000 years ago.
Then in 2011 things changed. A join community archeology project led by CADW and Archeology Wales changed all that (I’ve provided links below to the dig blog site and final journal paper). The team opened trenches around the current mound and found that evidence of the original revetment defining the cairn surrounding the burial chamber. The cairn the to south of the chamber entrance would have been defined by a façade constructed from dry stone walling that was built up against the outer edge of the cairn surrounding the chamber. This façade would have extended either side of the chamber and would have formed a striking feature similar to that at Tinkinswood. Finds by the team included Neolithic pottery fragments, the fragment of a bone needle, struck flint and human bone and teeth.
You can’t go far in Wales without coming across a a story associated with the local landscape, and Maesyfelin is no different. one of these traditions alludes to the origin of the chambers name. If you spend the night at the chamber on Midsummer’s Eve, you will witness the capstone spin around three times above the standing stones, reminiscent to a mill stone. Then once the capstone has finished turning, all the stones travel to the River Waycock to swim, prior to returning to their place in the field. Now that would be quite a site!
Another tradition related to Druids laying a curse on the surrounding fields leaving the land barren and unable to grow anything. The reason for the curse is unknown toady and I think it’s effect has now worn off as the field it a now a rich green sward. Another tradition has it that the stones have the power to grant wishes. But only if you stand before the chamber on Halloween nights and whisper your desire to the stones.
Hidden Glamorgan. http://glamorganhistoryandarchaeology.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/tinkinswood-and-st-lythans-excavations.html. Accessed 31.12.2017.
Nash, G. (2006) The Architecture of Death. Logaston Press.
RCAHMW (1976) An inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Glamorgan. Vol 1 Part 1. Stone and Bronze Age, HMSO.
Reynolds,F. (2014) A Site’s History Does Not End: Transforming
Place through Community Archaeology at Tinkinswood Chambered Tomb and Surrounding Landscape, Vale of Glamorgan, Journal of Community Archaeology & Heritage, 1 (2): 173-189.
Reynolds, F. Final Dig Diary St Lythan’s. https://tinkinswoodarchaeology.wordpress.com/2011/12/04/final-dig-diary-for-st-lythans/ Accessed 31.12.2017.
Whittle, E. (1992) A Guide to Ancient and Historic Wales: Glamorgan and Gwent. HMSO: London.