Garnwern – A Neolithic Cemetery

As we were finishing a section of our walk along the Coastal Path from the lighthouse at Strumble Head to Fishguard I spied a sign pointing to a burial chamber. Now I love a Neolithic burial chamber and on this holiday Aunty had successfully steered me away from any. But it was now in my sights. Usually burial chambers are located in areas of splendid isolation over looking mountainscapes and wild vistas, requiring a fair amount of determined effort to reach them. This group of burial chambers couldn’t have been more different. The approach from the coastal path almost takes you along a narrow overgrown footpath with a field on one side and a trench of back gardens on the other. Then bang we there confronted by a fantastic low burial chamber, then there was another one beyond that, and a third. Never come across this many tombs so closely grouped together in such a small space. 

The first chamber approaching from the footpath.

As you approach the the first tomb nestled amongst the Bracken and brambles you notice how low it is. The massive capstone is supported on three sides by low stones and on the fourth it is resting directly on the ground giving it a tilt or slope. It’s only about a metre or so high and it is open to the west. To get inside you’d have to get on all fours and crawl, which may have been necessary as part of the ritual for which these tombs were designed. The second two seems to be smaller but has been built very similar, with three supporting side stones and the Large capstone resting on the floor on the fourth side. there is only one stone supporting the capstone on the 3rd to, with the others possibly have already fallen during the 4000 years since been built. There is some controversy about whether each term would have been covered with a mound but it is not absolutely clear. However there is a suggestion in some of the latest research at the tunes were always designed to have the capstone visible when they were still in use before their final closure. 

The middle tomb viewed from the west.

The Strumble Head peninsula is not large but it seems have concentration of tombs with at least 10 tomb complexes within short distances or each other. Whether they were all in use at the same time is difficult to prove. If they were then they create an extensive and complex ritual landscape that is difficult for me to understand, and so I’ll leave that to the boffins. However, if we consider that the Neolithic lasted for over 2000 years, it seems, to me least, that they have have been built and used by different communities over that time period. Today we don’t use the same buildings and complexes from 2000 years ago. 

The third tomb is perhaps the least conspicuous. The other two tombs are visible behind.

Today at Garn Wen there are 3 tombs that are visible, but there may have been more. At the start of the 20th Century the local history society claimed to have found 9, but subsequent work has shown many of these to be ground rock that could have been misidentified as capstones, especially if they were not excavated. However Nash suggests that he has found more during a recent visit. 

The Garn Wen cemetery would have had, during its use, uninterrupted views across the sea to Dinas Head to the east but, immediately west, a large glacially smooth rock outcrop impedes the view, what Is revered to as a closed landscape. The tombs are oriented approximately north-south and are sited immediately beneath an extensive rock outcrop. This outcrop obscures the view to the west, but there would be clear views over to Strumble head, now in turn obscured by the houses. Nash (2008) suggests that the builders may have been concerned with concealing the position of the tombs by hiding them directly underneath the rock outcrop. Nash also proposes that the cemetery of Garn Wen, may once have comprised as many as another nine or more monuments, serving a large community. 


Rees, S. (1992) A Guide to Ancient and Historic Dyfed. HMSO:London.

Nash, G. (2008) Encoding a Neolithic Landscape: The Linearity of Burial Monuments along Strumble Head, South-west Wales. Time and Mind: The Journal of Archeology, Consciousness and Culture. 1(3): 345-62.

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