Prehistoric Funerary and Ritual Sites in Southeast Wales

Bronze Age Barrows


The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust Ltd.

For a technical description of how the work for this project was carried out click on the link below. Technical Report

Download a pdf version of the Prehistoric Funerary and Ritual Sites in Southeast Wales report.




In the Bronze Age, the old chambered tombs were completely abandoned for burial, which now took place in Round Barrows and Cairns. Ways of thinking about the dead seem to have completely changed since, rather than their skeletons being broken up after death, they were now buried in a single operation, either as they were, or after having been cremated. Most complete skeletons were buried in a crouched position. Cremations were usually enclosed in a pottery urn, and the dead person might have jewellery, weapons, tools or pottery buried with him or her. Sometimes there was more than one cremation in the same urn, or more than one skeleton might be buried in the same grave.

Most barrows now appear as rather unexciting mounds of earth, and many have been ploughed almost flat. However, a number of barrows were excavated at the beginning of the Second World War by Sir Cyril Fox of the National Museum and Gallery of Wales, and he was able to show how they were built. Although there was again a lot of variation between individual examples, there was usually a burial in the middle, either in a cist made from slabs of stone which were small in comparison with those used in the chambered tombs, or in a pit cut into the underlying bedrock. A couple of the barrows had a small empty pit in the middle instead. Over this, there might to a small cairn of stones or a stack of turves. In some barrows, rings of stones (kerbs) or wooden stakes were set around the central burial before it was covered by a mound of earth, earth and stones, or earth and turf. Most barrows were then used for other burials; these were either inserted into holes dug into the mound, or were made alongside the original mound which was then extended to cover them. A few barrows were surrounded by ditches, but this has been proved at only a few sites.

In the uplands, where there was little soil, the mounds more often took the form of cairns, constructed of stones. Some of these also have stone kerbs and cists.