Tinkinswood Project 2010-2011

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In 2010-11, I co-directed a community archaeology project at Tinkinswood and St Lythans chambered tombs in south Wales.

For a full project summary and a description of the excavation, finds and school outreach project, follow this link to an Open Access article in the Journal of Community Archaeology and Heritage:

A Site’s History Does Not End: Transforming Place through Community Archaeology at Tinkinswood Chambered Tomb and Surrounding Landscape, Vale of Glamorgan.

The below is a shortened summary of the project written for the Western Mail in 2012; the full online piece can be read here.

GOOGLE Llyn Fawr and you come up with almost as many references to rainbow trout as you do the fabulous Iron Age artefacts that were discovered when the reservoir was created in the early years of the 20th century.

Search further and you find the modern antiquarian wondering how many of the fishermen – or any of the visitors to this local Rhondda Cynon Taff beauty spot – have any idea about what once happened here.

This is exactly the kind of challenge that Cadw is facing when it comes to explaining what prehistoric sites are about and why they are relevant.

Frequently atmospheric and located in beautiful countryside, it is easy to get lost in the myths and legends that can surround prehistoric stone circles, burial chambers and such-like. These have their place of course in creating local folklore and identity but there are other stories to be told.

Stories about real people, about their lives and what mattered to them, and, perhaps most significantly, stories that are based on evidence.

As Cadw’s community archaeologist – with a special interest in the neolithic period (between about 6,000 and 4,500 years ago) – I have been looking afresh at the prehistoric burial chamber at Tinkinswood in the Vale of Glamorgan to re-interpret its meaning for the 21st century.

By working with volunteers to clear and excavate, and with local schools to look at prehistoric pots and rituals, we have been able to excite whole new audiences who might otherwise not have known – or cared – about these sites.

Tinkinswood burial chamber was excavated by John Ward for the National Museum of Wales in 1914.

It is an incredibly impressive site with a curved forecourt and a capstone believed to weigh more than 40 tonnes, which was probably quarried in the neighbourhood.

Human bone was found inside the single stone chamber and pieces of neolithic pottery were excavated in the forecourt, but none of this is now visible on site.

In recent years, posies of flowers and candles have been left as marks of respect for our ancestors, but the site had become overgrown and the detail obscured.

Our project began with a group from the local British Trust for Conservation Volunteers clearing scrub, making it possible for visitors to make a complete circuit of the monument for the first time since the 1980s.

Skilled volunteers erected fences and stiles so that visitors could explore the adjoining fields and join in the archaeological investigation of two possible fallen burial chambers nearby. Enthusiastic support from Wenvoe History Group, local volunteers and students from Cardiff University brought together people from all walks of life to share trowels and tribulations, but above all their passion for the past.

We didn’t find neolithic material as expected, but we did discover interesting bronze age and Roman relics – including a Roman coin. The possible neolithic burial chamber was actually a bronze age barrow with a Roman burial cut into the upper levels.

This shows that the Tinkinswood area was being used for burial long after the neolithic chambered tomb had been closed and new forms of burial tradition were introduced.

As a result, our understanding of the surrounding landscape has been transformed – with people continuing to visit the area well into the Roman period. We knew we had changed local perceptions of Tinkinswood but we wanted to reach younger audiences to help them value their local heritage.

As future guardians of the historic environment, we knew we had to make Tinkinswood meaningful for schoolchildren by relating the past to the present at both a practical and emotional level.

What better way than to host a “make and break” activity?

Two local schools got to make pottery vessels and then break them in the forecourt at Tinkinswood re-enacting a ritual that archaeologists think happened nearly 6,000 years ago after the tomb had been sealed, in memory of those buried within.

Those schoolchildren won’t ever look at prehistoric sites with blank faces in the future!

Ffion Reynolds



2 thoughts on “Tinkinswood Project 2010-2011

  1. I am involved in Peterston-super-Ely Primary School just down the road and the children would be fascinated to take part in the project, is there any spaces left.

    Posted by sarah | January 21, 2012, 7:26 pm

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