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Mynydd Hiraethog Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

Mynydd Hiraethog

Prehistoric, Burial and Ceremonial Landscapes

The fine burial mounds which dominate many of the moorland ridges of Mynydd Hiraethog represent not only the principal visible elements in the landscape surviving from the prehistoric past, but have also achieved a significance beyond the mountain itself. The prehistoric burial and ceremonial monuments of Mynydd Hiraethog have been the focus of intensive study, particularly since the 1970s, when the construction of the Llyn Brenig reservoir provided one of the rare opportunities of recent times to examine a range of contemporary monument types within a single landscape.

Publication of the results of this work have become influential in developing our understanding of the function of various monument types and the meaning to be read into their landscape setting, both in Wales and beyond. The subsequent reconstruction of a number of the monuments as part of an archaeological trail has brought the results of this work to a wider, non-specialist audience and has also enabled ideas about the landscape setting of a number of monuments to appreciated in the field.

Two distinct patterns can be identified within the landscape, both of which appear to have significance in terms of contemporary land use - the first characterized by the complex of both burial and ceremonial monuments occupying the moorland valley of the Afon Brenig and Afon Fechan, and the second characterized by the conspicuous hill-summit and ridge-top setting of burial mounds elsewhere on Mynydd Hiraethog.

A special and unusual aspect of the distribution of prehistoric burial and ceremonial monuments on Mynydd Hiraethog has been the identification of the ceremonial landscape established around the Afon Fechan in the head of the Brenig valley for a period of 500 to 600 years between about 2100 BC and 1500 BC, spanning the later Neolithic and early Bronze Age periods. The earliest monument within the complex, a simple mound of late Neolithic date occupies the summit of Tir Mostyn, highest local point near the head of the Afon Fechan. It is perhaps significant that no burials are associated with the mound, which may therefore have been intended to mark out the territorial claims of the community which built it. The other components which came to form part of the complex included four large turf burial mounds, three small stone burial cairns, a ring cairn, a kerb cairn and a large platform cairn. Detailed study of the complex has shown that it forms an essentially inward-looking group of monuments within a reserved, sacred landscape, conceived and built by a single community. The inclusion of the kerb cairn, ring cairn and platform cairn within the complex emphasises a concern with ceremony rather than simply a resting place for a selected portion of the dead. The siting of a number of the monuments on ridges and ledges, clearly visible from below, suggesting that the community which maintained this special landscape probably dwelt lower down the valley, further to the south. The presence of two possible destroyed Bronze Age stone circles in the Alwen valley, one within the area of the reservoir and one within the forestry, hints that elements of a similar ceremonial landscape within the second major river valley which penetrates to the heart of the moorland area.

The special nature of the Brenig valley is emphasised by the contrasting pattern of prehistoric monuments found elsewhere on Mynydd Hiraethog which are more characteristic of the region as a whole, with single or linear arrangements of burial monuments occupying more prominent and conspicuous positions on hill tops and ridges. A number of these monuments, such as Boncyn Crwn overlooking Dyffryn Aled and the monuments on Gorsedd Bran are visible for miles around. The siting of these monuments, though no doubt chosen for spiritual reasons, also appears to have some practical application. Their general distribution, as noted in the previous section on land use, appears to provide an indication of the extent of the grazing areas exploited during the Bronze Age, as well as no doubt for the first time providing a means of partitioning the landscape into territories under the control of a number of different communities living around the moor. A suggestion that the moorland may also have been used for game hunting at this period is perhaps indicated by the stone arrow-shaft smoother found associated with a Bronze Age burial in a barrow on Mwdwl-eithin, an unusual item which has sometimes been found elsewhere together with other items of prehistoric archery equipment.

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