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Bridgend in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages

Bridgend in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages

by Dr Edith Evans Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust

We know that there have been people in what is now the Bridgend area since the year 208, when footprints from the Neolithic period (New Stone Age) were found on the beach at Kenfig.

The sea had washed away deposits from over a layer of peat on the beach during a storm.  The sea level was lower in the Neolithic period, so this peat would then have been an area of marshy ground, where people were coming to hunt and fish.  Radiocarbon dates on the peat show that it was probably laid down about 6,000 years ago.  From the remains of pollen and microscopic marine organisms that it contains, we can tell that the peat started to accumulate when this land was saltmarsh, before it started to turn into freshwater fen, probably when sand dunes accumulated and stopped the tides from washing over it.

At Tythegston and Coed Parc Garw are the remains of the chambered tombs where Neolithic people were buried.  The chambers and entrance were built of large slabs of stone with a huge slab as a capstone over the top, and would have been covered with a mound of earth.  What we know about the tombs in Bridgend is limited, because neither of them has ever been excavated.  However, we know from elsewhere that the bodies were probably left in the open until the flesh had disappeared off the bones, which were then collected and placed in the chambers.

We have much less information about where people lived, however, in 1951, the National Museum of Wales excavated a small house or hut at Mount Pleasant on Newton Down near Porthcawl.  It was oval or rounded oblong in shape with drystone walls and would have had timber posts to support the roof.  The most recent study of the pottery found associated with it suggests that this building may date to the Middle Neolithic (round about 3,600 BC).  We know that the building must have been at least 5.5x2.5m inside, but we can't be sure because the west end was later demolished when a new structure was built over the top. 

This new structure was a Bronze Age cairn.  It was similar to two others near Brackla, Pond Cairn and Simondston Cairn, which were excavated by the National Museum in the run-up to the Second World War, when Brackla was being developed as a Royal Ordnance Factory.  Pond Cairn, and probably also the cairn at Mount Pleasant, were both ring cairns, each with a cremation in a pit in the centre surrounded by a wide ring made up of pieces of stone.  However, at Mount Pleasant it is difficult to say for certain because the cairn had been damaged by ploughing.  Another cremation, in an urn, had been placed over the central pit at Pond Cairn and covered with a small heap of stones, before a mound of turf was built over the top, with a space between it and the ring.  Unlike the cairn at Mount Pleasant, Pond Cairn had not been covered by a mound of earth.  Simondston Cairn had a stone cist in the centre containing two urns, each with the ashes of an adult and a child.  It was covered with a low mound made up of pieces of stone, with larger kerbstones arranged around the outer edge.  More burials had later been made in the sides of the cairn.

Although there is nothing to be seen at any of these sites now, Bronze Age burial mounds are still visible in other parts of the county, consisting either of stone (cairns) or earth (barrows).  There is a line of stone cairns down the ridge of Llangeinor Common, and a group of barrows in the field next to Sker House, for instance.  The barrows at Sker House have not been excavated, but one of them was disturbed when the track to Sker House was widened, and a stone mace was found.  One other site that has been excavated is the standing stone outside the Leisure Centre at Bridgend.  When this was moved in 1964 to make way for the Centre, the National Museum found that there was a Bronze Age cremation under it as well!

Bronze Age remains are still being discovered.  A community archaeology project on Bryn-y-Wrach made a thorough investigation of this small area of common land, where we knew of one mound which we thought was probably a cairn, although for a time it had disappeared under a manure heap!  The group made a detailed plan and carried out a geophysical survey, and then undertook a small excavation to expose the surface of the stone mound.  As a result of this work, we can now be fairly confident that it is indeed a Bronze Age cairn.  The group also looked at a rough patch of stones on the common, and came to the conclusion that it too had been a cairn.  In this case, most of the stone had been taken away in the past, probably by people building roads or walls.

Written by Dr Edith Evans - Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust

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