Going west – Coetan Arthur

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Arthur’s Quoit came as something of a surprise.The huge neolithic tomb rises from the plateau behind St David’s Head, the angle and ridge on the capstone seeming to shadow the lines of Carn Llidi beyond. The capstone is around twenty feet long and  over eight feet wide, supported by a single orthostat that holds the point of the stone around five feet from the ground. At first glance, you assume that somewhere during its five thousand year history, the other two orthostats that would have supported it must have fallen and the earthen mound that covered it been eroded away. There are many such places where this has happened.

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A closer look, though, makes you question that assumption. It is true that there are stones strewn broken on the ground that could have been supporting stones… but the whole thing looks right, just as it is in this place. The contours of the capstone emulate the shape of the hill above far too well for it to be accidental. If the stone were raised on other supports, the visual similarity in form would be lost and we have seen this ‘shadowing’ of the landscape too often to ignore its importance.

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The oddest thing, though, is that the shadowing effect seems even more pronounced from inside the tomb. It is not the first time we have seen such ancient places arranged more for the vision of the dead than of the living. Knowing that the ancestors and their bones played such an important role in the life of the clans, perhaps this is not surprising. Were the tombs really places to bury the dead, hiding them from view…or places that were portals between the realms of life and death, gateways to an Otherworld that mirrors our own? Or perhaps they were places of initiation, where the gates of both life and death were symbolically opened? The only thing that is certain is that we will probably never know for sure.

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Later research seems to confirm that Coetan Arthur was one of a small number of earthfast tombs, where one end of the capstone touches the earth and no covering mound was built. The stones that surround the tomb could potentially have been used to seal the sides of the inner space and there are traces nearby of a barrow too. In fact, the whole area is littered with stones that seem to demand a closer look and a second visit.

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We never do research before we visit a site, preferring to ‘feel’ our way. It may seem an odd way of working, but it serves us well. Not only do we get the excitement of discovery every time, but we come without preconceived ideas and can find our own interpretations, uncluttered by the ‘official’ version. Whether or not we are right is always a matter for speculation, but then, the official version shares that same fate, even though it may be better informed at a factual level.

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Apart from anything else, the official version only looks at recognised archaeology… it takes little account of the spirit of the place, the hotly debated alignments or the natural formations which, if they are striking to our modern eyes, would have been neither missed nor ignored by the old ones who were so much more attuned to the land than we are today.

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So we explore, speculate, document and take hundreds of pictures…though usually find we have missed ‘that’ shot. Practice seems to hone awareness; details we would once have missed, we now look for and, though it sounds fanciful, the land speaks to us in ways we could not have dreamed when we began this journey so long ago.

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Our research is done once we are home and have talked through our impressions, looked at the pictures once more and played around with the symbolic ideas we have seen made visible in earth, wood and stone. The down-side to this approach is that we may miss things we would have liked to see… which means going back again for a second or third visit. This can be awkward when the sites are so far-flung across the land… but it is a fabulous excuse for returning to a place when we know that real understanding seldom comes from a first encounter.

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22 thoughts on “Going west – Coetan Arthur

  1. I remember talking about another arrangement of standing stones recently and your reply that there were even more precariously balanced examples. Well, having seen the first couple of photographs in this post, now I believe it. I can’t help being reminded of one of those traps for birds where someone pulls away the stick and the basket falls down.

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      1. You’re probably right given its five thousand years of standing there, although it could just be playing the long game and trying to lull everyone into a false sense of security.

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  2. Small typo, Sue. Not like you…
    “… official version … may be better informed at a factual level”.
    should, obviously, read
    “… official version … tries desperately to force the evidence to fit the current paradigm of interpretive dogma”.
    #damn-auto-correct
    You are welcome… 😉
    xx

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  3. I think your feeling of connection isn’t fanciful at all. It is a sense that most folk have let slip, but you’ve honed with practice.
    From a distance the stones look like hulking figures to me. 🙂 Perhaps I’m the one being fanciful!

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  4. Oh… neither do I! Research a place before I go. I used to, but now I prefer to experience it for myself first. And like you, sometimes I miss things, but special places draw you back, so I don’t have a problem with that. My problem is that I just don’t have the freedom to get out that much in the first place, although it does make it all the better when I eventually do. Looks like a very atmospheric place. I like to think that these places are portals, that maybe they were naturally places of power that the ancients recognised by building their great structures there.

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    1. I don’t get out much either… but when I do, I make the most of it. But that limited freedom is MUCH appreciated, isn’t it? Thankfully, Nick needs me less these days… but that’s another story 😉
      I agree, the ancients recognised those nodes in the land and chose such places to build… enhancing or making accessible what they had found.

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      1. Gosh you certainly do, Sue! I thought you were always flitting about between ancient churches and other ancient sites, as you always seem to have a new one to share with us! I guess you have learned how to use your time well.

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