Tandderwen, unmarked on Ordnance Survey Maps and barely visible to the naked eye today, continues to ask historians and archaeologists questions for which answers seem frustratingly far from being found. Dated to around 2000 BC, which places the site at near enough the beginning of the Bronze Age in Britain, the burial mound is rare in that it seems to show clear evidence of the transition between inhumation and cremation burials.
First excavated in 1985 by the Clwyd and Powys Archaeological Trust, archaeologists found buried within an oak coffin, carved from a single trunk. Within the coffin was an inhumation burial of a male from around 2000 BC. Grave goods consisted of a beaker and a flint knife, good dating evidence in fact. While barrows were often reused and added to over subsequent generations from their first cutting, it was still a curiosity to find that at a point not long after the original inhumation, a hole had been cut from the surface and another, much smaller oaken coffin deposited, this time with the cremated remains of a woman. In fact, the further discovery of another cremated body, a man this time, above the woman’s remains was of further interest, since this was a strangely ‘careless’ burial, the simple tipping of burnt remains into a hole, some of the ashes smearing the sides of the shaft as they were poured in.
What does this show? What does this tell us about the customs and beliefs of the people of this time? It’s truthfully, teeth-gnashingly frustrating. What happened that led people to move from inhumation burials, to cremations, in which coffins, and of course the more common urns of varying design were buried, with the remains collected within; and from that to what seems like a much more pragmatic, ‘chuck what’s left in a hole near where others are buried’ view? It seems that the site may have had some special meaning to a specific family, who returned to the site over subsequent generations, but what of the apparent lack of thought for the latter individual, simply thrown into the hole? Was this actually as matter of fact as it seems, or was it simply reflecting a greater focus on life than death, or perhaps the ceremony of death than the actual burial? Speculation and consideration is as close to the truth as we are ever going to get, I think.
But the story does not end there. It was found that the area was also used as a cemetery site in the early medieval period (dates vary from the 1st Century to the 9th). Described as a ‘rectilinear causewayed enclosure’ by the CPAT, surrounding the earlier Bronze Age ring ditch, a curious series of square barrows of single inhumations, as well as one example of adjacent burials, were discovered there. The questions this asks are profound.
What motivated a medieval people 2000 years later to use the burial site at Tandderwen to place their own to rest there? What did that ancient site mean to people separated by time as far from them as Christ to us? Have you ever wandered amongst the gravestones in a churchyard, and felt something as you step over the graves of those long since gone, if not entirely forgotten? What were you worried about?