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Archaeology Cymru: Secrets of mysterious Neolithic stone burial chamber in Barry revealed

This week we move just a few miles North of Barry, and visit its ‘District’ again.

I have chosen thanks to the image by Michelle Harrhy, the location of St. Lythan’s chamber.

The St. Lythan’s chamber was constructed some 5,000 years ago in a period that archaeologists call the Neolithic. The Neolithic was a time of building stone monuments on a grand scale. There were once many of these such chambers across the Barry and District area, but now very few survive in such an amazing state of preservation such as the one at St. Lythan’s. There is a larger one on display at St. Nicholas (Tinkinswood) and fairly intact, with others in a collapsed state opposite to the entrance of Cottrell Park and Bonvilston.

They are chambers, sometimes referred to as burial chambers, but the archaeologist Professor Colin Richards, an authority on Neolithic sites, believes like myself that these sites were only used for burial in their last stage of usage just under 5,000 years ago. Who knows what they were originally used for?

The example today at St. Lythan’s consists of just three upright sedimentary mudstone rocks and an impressive capstone. Yes, all free standing and has been in this state for 5,000 years.

There is an indication of a mound leading towards the ‘chamber’ from the East, with the capstone being in excess of 10 tonnes in weight.

The chamber as such has never been excavated by archaeologists internally, it was reported some 200 years ago that there were human remains still on display inside but these are likely to date from more recent times.

A very interesting legend to fit in with local curiosity is that the field was called Maesyfelin (the Mill Field), because the capstone is said to rotate three times, whilst the three stones underneath go for a bathe in the local brook.

And of final note to add a little bit of spice, the chamber is also known as ‘Greyhound’s bitches lair’, as once it is purported that Greyhounds were once housed in St. Lythan’s chamber.

Karl-James Langford FSAScot

Archaeology Cymru

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