Ancient History in South Wales

It’s no secret that South Wales has a huge number of castles, Roman ruins, and all kinds of fascinating relics from the more recent past. Traces from a more distant era are harder to come by but they can certainly be found if you know where to look. Our country parks and open spaces contain a number of quite spectacular ancient monuments, and most of them can be easily visited.

The most spectacular are probably the massive chambered tombs of St Lythans and Tinkinswood, both in the Vale of Glamorgan close to Dyffryn Gardens. The St Lythans tomb is just under 2 metres high and capped by a single piece of stone 3 metres wide and 4 metres long. It’s a very impressive site and a public right of way runs right past it, so visitors can have a close look. Both tombs are Neolithic in origin and have stood for thousands of years.

Y Garth, or Garth Hill, stands above the village of Taff’s Well and can be seen from almost any piece of high ground around Cardiff. Look closely and you might be able to make out two slight bumps on top. These are bronze age burial mounds, about 4000 years old. While it’s impossible to say who was buried underneath the mounds one thing is clear- to have commanded such impressive monuments in such an important position they must have been very important people indeed.

The Gower can lay claim to one of the most important archaeological discoveries ever made. The so-called Red Lady of Paviland is the oldest human burial ever found in Europe. Although the skeleton was later found to be male rather than female, it’s the age of the remains that is most impressive. The ‘Red Lady’ was laid to rest about 29000 years ago. The fact that he was buried with mammoth bones shows that the Gower was a very different place at the time! At low tide his cave can be visited, and the skeleton itself is on display in the National Museum in Cardiff.

No tour of prehistoric South Wales would be complete without a mention of Arthur’s Stone (Maen Ceti). This is another ancient tomb but it has a very different character to those in the Vale of Glamorgan. The capstone weighs an estimated 25 tonnes, making the whole structure extremely impressive. You can find it near the village of Rogerstone, not far from Swansea, or take a tour from the Gower Heritage Centre.