Translated as 'The Grave of Arthur', Bedd Arthur is another of those prehistoric sites said to have been thrown by Arthur himself, as a giant, on this occasion from from Dyffryn Circle. 2
|Bedd Arthur (Wikipedia Commons)|
In concluding that the Stonehenge Bluestones had indeed come from west Wales, Thomas ignited interest in the tale of the magician Merlin transporting the Giant’s Dance to Salisbury Plain as told by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th century. Although often criticised by historians for his wild elaborations, Geoffrey was essentially correct in stating almost eight hundred years before Thomas that stones at Stonehenge had indeed come from the west.
Aubrey Burl avoids Bedd Arthur altogether in his grand opus The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany and argues that the oval/horseshoe arrangement at Stonehenge as seen in the sarsen Trilithons and mirrored in the Bluestone settings has more in common with monuments across the channel on the Atlantic coast region of Brittany. 4 An odd omission from an excellent book; clearly the ever cautious Burl refuses to gamble on the prehistoric origins of Bedd Arthur for the simple reason that no one knows exactly what this enigmatic arrangement, of uncertain date, represents.
So what is Bedd Arthur? The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) records Bedd Arthur as "A subrectangular enclosure...... formed of earthfast stones …... backed by a low bank, surrounding a levlled interior. An explicitly ambiguous monument that has only been compared to the 'Churchyard' on Skomer Island." The “Churchyard” is one of those enigmatic rectilinear monument typically dismissed as a livestock enclosure because we don't really understand its purpose. King Arthur's Hall on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall is another.
|The Golden Road|
It is apparent that the Bedd Arthur monument once consisted of an oval bank and ditch, features which are barely visible today, with 13 erect stones, all leaning inwards, with 2 or 3 fallen and partially buried. The stones are all relatively small varying in height from 3 ft to 10 inches. The major axis has been recorded as 59 ft long with a maximum width of 31 ft. The number of stones and the shape seems to vary with each report.
Bedd Arthur has been described as Preseli's most eccentric monument, unlike anything else, situated high on the hills directly across the saddle from Carn Meini. 5 Rectilinear monuments are typically recognised as being associated with ritual and ceremonial sites of the Early Bronze Age, with a possible origin in rectangular Neolithic mounds and may have been a hengiform expression of this. 6
However, Bedd Arthur is very high in the Preselis for a typical henge monument but it stands on the path along the top of the Preseli ridge at the crossing of trackways running east-west and north-south, henges being frequently located close to routeways. The Golden Road for example runs along the entire spine of the Preseli mountains, a route said to be 5,000 years old dating back to the Neolithic period. Bedd Arthur lies below the pathway to the south east. Significant that Preseli was situated on the major prehistoric trade route from Ireland to Wessex, the ridgeways presenting an alternative to the unpredictable coastal route around St David's. Ceremonial battle-axes made of Preseli bluestone have been found far from the source area, as far apart as Devon, Sussex and Suffolk. A Preseli battle-axe was found in a Beaker barrow at Wilsford near Stonehenge demonstrating that transportation of bluestone between the sites was not an uncommon event.7
|Illustration from Timothy Darvill, Stonehenge: Biography of a Landscape (2008)|
The central stone at Bedd Arthur appears to mimic the shape of Foel Drygarn; many megaliths, such as cromlech capstones, seem to have been deliberately placed to reflect a landscape feature as if to draw one's eye in a certain direction. When viewed from this central stone, the tallest stone currently points towards the peak of Foel Drygarn just off the current position of the midsummer sunrise. It is claimed that during the Neolithic period, c.2,500 BC, the axis of Bedd Arthur would have pointed at the position of the midsummer sunrise, then at about 47 degrees east of north depending on the horizon elevation.9
The alignment is the significant feature; it shares the same orientation as Woodhenge, Stonehenge Bluestone oval and the conjectured oval at Bluestonehenge, toward the midsummer sunrise during the same prehistoric period, thus confirming the prehistoric origins of Bedd Arthur.
© Edward Watson 2014
Notes & References:
1. N P Figgis, Prehistoric Preseli: A Field Guide, Atelier Productions, 2001.
2. Leslie V Grinsell, Folklore Of Prehistoric Sites in Britain, Thomas & Charles, 1976.
3. Research by the Open University led by Richard Thorpe in the late 1980s pinpointed an area no more than 3 km across centred on Carn Meyn as the source of the dolerite bluestones used in the Bluestone oval/horsheshoe at Stonehenge.
4. Aubrey Burl, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press; 2nd Revised edition, 2000.
5. Figgis, Prehistoric Preseli.
8. Henry Rothwell, Bluestonehenge – Oval or Round? Digital Digging website
9. Robin Heath, Bluestone Magic, Bluestone Press, 2010.
* * *