It didn’t look right, even from a distance. There was a forlorn, forgotten feel to the place, even though it is readily accessible and, to judge by the wearing of the mud by the gate, frequently visited. There was something decidedly ‘odd’ about the Presaddfed Neolithic burial chamber, something you could not help but notice as soon as you got to the kissing gate. For a start, the stones looked too big, too closely packed compared to all the other dolmens we have seen. For another thing, many of the stones themselves seemed to be distinctly different from each other and that is unusual in itself. It is not as if they are short of stone around here.
On closer inspection, we found that there are actually two chambered tombs, just a few feet apart. The northern chamber has fallen and is now little more than a jumble of stones. The tomb to the south consists of a really sturdy-looking horseshoe of stones supporting the capstone with the help of a delicate point of stone. The capstone is almost two feet thick and thirteen feet long and looks as if it has its front end missing… deliberately removed? Broken? Or just the shape in which it was found. That too looks odd. As if something is missing.
A lot of things are missing really. When it was documented in the Archaeological Journal in the 19th century, the two chambers were recorded as being surrounded by ‘a great number of small stones’. These are no longer in evidence. Nor is any trace of the mound that would always cover such a chamber, though there is evidence of a flattened mound or earthwork a short distance away that is intriguing in itself.
I have been unable to find any details of excavation reports at the site and little seems to be known about the tombs, other than that a family struck by poverty called them home for some time during the 18th century when, it is to be hoped, the second chamber was still standing too. The massive blocks fit close together. The capstone is levelled, quite precisely, with small slivers of stone. The tight construction of the chambers would render them weatherproof, apart from draughts, except at the open end. Not much of a shelter, but far better than nothing at all.
The collapsed northern chamber now has only two of its uprights standing, but the capstone, leaning against them, has a thick layer of crystal running through it. It is possible that the north and south chambers were once enclosed in a single mound. It is a fairly unusual arrangement, although many such tombs have more than one chamber. A similar arrangement is found at the spectacular Trefignath tomb, just outside Trearddur, where archaeologists have been able to investigate and, through artefacts and dating techniques, establish the timeline for its construction. Trefignath was built in stages between 3750 and 3500 BC and it appears that Preseddfed dates to around the same era, although it may be as many as six thousand years old.
We wandered around the stones. On the one hand you might think that a quick look is enough…there is not really much to see. But it is not so. You have to look beyond the obvious to even begin to get a glimpse of what may really be there. Quite apart from the precision of the construction, you look at the stones themselves. We had realised at Stanton Drew that the stones chosen by the Old Ones for their circles and monuments are often distinctive. It is very well known that the builders of Stonehenge, for example, chose to carry tons of massive stones a hundred and forty miles from Wales to Wiltshire to include them in the circle. We knew that and, like everyone else, had wondered why.
At Stanton Drew, we had noted than many of the stones seemed to have been chosen because they reflected stone in another state. In some, you can see where the mud has been deposited as silt in riverbeds and almost see the water flow. Some look like gnarled wood. Others bear crystals and unexpected colours. It seemed as if the Old Ones had chosen some of the stones for their inclusions and others because they ‘remembered’ their origins in their textures, captured life in their forms and perhaps were somehow closer to the Otherworld.
There are always faces, shapes hidden in the contours of the rock. It may be just imagination that finds their lines…though we are not altogether convinced that all of them are accidents of nature. Some may have been ‘assisted’ into their shapes, others may indeed have been carved by wind, rain and glacier, but that does not stop us recognising familiar forms… nor would it have stopped those who worked intimately with stone from doing so. I think we both over-simplify and over-complicate things when we look at our ancestors as simply being primitive. First and foremost they were human beings and, within the scope of their own technology of stone, surprisingly sophisticated.
One of the things we have been experimenting with is sound. Sound has always been part of ritual, from conch shells to drums, cymbals and song. We use the human voice to bring sound and rhythm through the reading of poetry and prose. We had used sound to cense the ritual space for the very first Silent Eye weekend and felt for ourselves its effectiveness within a sacred context. We have used an ancient chant to greet the physical sun as a symbol of the Light and, more recently, we have begun to explore the effect of sound at the ancient sacred sites.
Crouching within the chamber, Stuart began the deep, resonant chant that seems to resonate with the stone. Except, it didn’t. The sound dissipated, withered and fell flat, no matter how earnest the effort. “I was expecting the chant to have little vibratory effect because the tomb was clearly, in part, wrecked. What I wasn’t expecting was for both the sound and the breath to be sucked from my being, like something or someone was thirsty…” he wrote.
It was unlike anything we have experienced before and took us by surprise. Sound anomalies are being investigated at a number of ancient places and although the majority seem to resonate, some do diminish or distort sound. It could well be the destruction of the second dolmen that was having an effect. Perhaps the chamber needed its twin in order to function. Or perhaps the forlorn feel to the place was the reflection of a broken heart.