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Tan-y-coed Chambered Tomb

The Vale of Edeirnion is a landscape of the greatest antiquity and the most astonishing beauty. With the Berwyn Range of hills and mountains overlooking the wide, winding River Dee in the valley below, it remains a breathtaking draw to those seeking beauty and calm in an otherwise furiously frantic world. And there is evidence that peoples have been here in the valley since at least Neolithic times. They buried their dead here, at Branas Uchaf, a chambered cairn, and here at Tan-y-coed between Cynwyd and Llandrillo.

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Our Neolithic ancestors buried their dead in chambers within this mound - asking the same questions we ask ourselves.

The chambered tomb at Tan-y-coed is actually part of a small group of Cotswold-Severn type tombs in north east Wales - only two others exist in the region. The quite glorious Capel Garmon Chamber in the Conwy Valley is perhaps the most complete example outside of their traditional area of prevalence in the south (they’re called Cotswold Severn tombs for a very good reason), and the ghost of Tyddyn Bleiddyn at Cefn near St Asaph. The presence of this type of Neolithic Camber in north east Wales, so far from their traditional heartland is a genuine curiosity, and one which we are unlikely to ever fully understand. Still, no mither. Here they are, here they are still. We can speculate as far as we fancy, of course. A migration of peoples from the south is the likely reason, while a flow of ideas along established trade routes is also a possibility.

 

Cotswold-Severn tombs are identified by the long trapezoidal mound, often upwards of 100m in length, as at West Kennet in Wiltshire. They also have a forecourt at the wider end of the mound, which would have probably held a continued ceremonial function. Burials in the tomb were inhumations, often deposited close to the entrance, which despite appearances, was often a side passage. Later burials were often deeper in the passages, often along an internal corridor.

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The capstone is still an impressive reminder of the effort and ceremony in building these enormous tombs.

Despite identifying Tan-y-coed as a Cotswold-Severn tomb, we know very little else. Little excavation of  Tan-y-coed has happened, if any, and our knowledge of the tomb has been largely external. It has been banged about rather, by centuries of farming and in the words of The Royal Commission, it is now ‘much mutilated’. What we have now, is a mound some 43m in length and ranging from 20m in width at its widest end to around 14m at the base. There is an impressive 3m long capstone remaining, buried within the earth of the mound at its western end and resting on a series of small boulders, probably placed there at a later date at its eastern end. This capstone covers a ruined chamber, long since robbed away. Generally, few grave goods were ever left alongside the bodies in a Cotswold-Severn tomb, and if robbery has occurred here, it's likely little of any value to the robber was ever found.

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There is little evidence now of the forecourt - a feature of Cotswold-Severn tombs.

Whatever drew our ancestors to this place in Neolithic times, continued to do so in the many centuries that followed. The Berwyns are littered with later Bronze Age monuments, including the wonderful  Moel Ty Uchaf Stone Circle. There is even evidence of Medieval settlements within the hills overlooking the valley. But here, beside the River Dee, many thousands of years ago, peoples facing the same questions we are confronted with today, laid to rest their families with ceremony and ritual, little different to how we today manage our end of days. I find that rather moving.