Chambered tombs

Long Barrows


Passage Graves

Prehistoric Funerary and Ritual Sites in Southeast Wales

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.





A search was made of the HER and all sites with a possible prehistoric funerary and ritual function were extracted. The total of PRNs before fieldwork was 390. As inspection of the extracted data indicated that not all sites of this type had been extracted by the initial database query, it proved necessary to supplement this with a manual search to ensure that all relevant sites had been included. Data was also added on known sites within the area which had not up till then been entered on the HER Some of these are derived from environmental impact assessment reports, but a number of sites have also been added from the RCAHMW's Brecknock Inventory and the work which they did for the OS resurvey of the Brecon Beacons. All HER information was checked and corrected if necessary, and duplicates were eliminated as far as was possible from existing information. Straightforward duplication, with the same monument recorded twice, was relatively easy (if time-consuming) to deal with, by examining descriptions, sources and NGRs. More difficult were sites recorded over a period of time at similar, but not identical, NGRs; it is not usually clear whether this has been caused by different estimates of position made in featureless moorland or thick forestry by different people, or whether there were actually separate monuments involved.

As far as possible the identity of the landowner was established via the Land Registry, to eliminate the need for time-consuming enquiries in the area; owners who could be traced were contacted by letter, and arrangements made to visit the sites. Where land was unregistered, the landowners were found through house-to-house enquiry.

Field Visit

An attempt was made to visit each PRN, apart from known duplicates and sites for which there was uncontrovertibly evidence for destruction, the total number of planned site visits being 370. Permission could not be obtained only in the case of three sites, but some of the sites in forestry could not be located, either because they had been destroyed or because thick planting prevented access. However, a number of sites were located that had not been seen since the OS survey of the 1950s, which took place largely before afforestation.

The sites were located by GPS, enabling the NGR for each monument to be corrected if necessary, allowing for future relocation in the field by subsequent workers. Occasionally it was not possible to obtain a reliable GPS reading, because a sufficiently good signal could not be obtained. Where sites were not at the NGR marked, a search was made of the area to see whether they can be located. The GPS was also used to obtain a height OD where this was not previously known, but as this function is less reliable than the NGR, it was not used to supplant existing data and where used, was corrected to the nearest 5m.

Each site was recorded using a pro-forma, noting present description, measurements, position, aspect and prospect, and present land use. The survival, amenity value, condition, fragility and vulnerability were assessed on a separate pro-forma. Horizontal measurements were taken using a measuring tape, but it is normally only possible to estimate the height, where possible against something of known height, such as a photographic scale. Photographs were taken using black-and-white print and colour slide film; in the later part of the study, digital images were also taken. A sketch was made for unscheduled monuments where the monument contained any distinguishing features and a RCAHMW survey did not already exist. Scheduled ancient monuments were not necessarily recorded in the same detail where a good recent description already existed. Any new sites noted during the course of the field visit were recorded using the same methodology.

Database Enhancement

The data obtained from the field visit was then transcribed into the database. As part of the database enhancement, new PRNs were added as required, in order to individuate possible funerary cairns in cemeteries and cairnfields where only the group had previously been recorded, or to identify cemeteries when only the constituent barrows or cairns were recorded. The total number of new PRNs added through this process and the recording of completely new sites was 102.

The condition of the monument was assessed according to the criteria established by RCAHMW:

However, in the database, where the category field has been written out in full, two sub-categories have been added to 'unknown'; 'besanded' and ´submerged´, for where sites have disappeared beneath sand dunes and reservoirs respectively.

Classifying the condition of cairns in particular contains an unavoidable element of subjectivity: it is necessary to make a judgement on how high the cairn originally rose. In most cases the data to do this are lacking, so that the judgement has tended to depend more on completeness of area rather than any estimate of significant original height.

Completed Database and Report

The new descriptions made as a result of the survey can now be found in the Regional HER database, which can be consulted at the Trust's headquarters in Swansea. Visit the HER web page here

The report consists essentially of a gazetteer of sites, with an introductory section detailing the breakdown of monuments by site type, and appendices listing sites with known finds and sites with environmental potential. The gazetteer of sites excludes rejected sites, but includes lost or doubtful sites. Two overview reports have been prepared, one for Glamorgan and one for Gwent, and it is intended to publish these in appropriate journals.