The stone row at Bancbryn consists mainly of small stones standing under 0.3m high.
Cadw when asked to provide an alternative explanation interpretation for the Bancbryn stone row declined. Instead they stated “the currently accepted Welsh stone rows are characterised by much larger, upright stones in significantly shorter lengths”. This statement provides the catalyst for this short article looking at the distribution of single stone rows consisting of small and medium sized stones only. The Bancbryn alignment consists mainly of small stones together with a few medium sized ones. This is apparently seen as being the main obstacle by Cadw for its acceptance as a prehistoric stone row. This article looks at similar sites within Great Britain in order to establish whether Cadw’s position is justifiable. Before proceeding to look at the evidence it is worth briefly considering what Cadw might mean by “currently accepted Welsh stone rows”. Perhaps they equate acceptance with scheduled rows and certainly subsequent communications seem to confirm this view. Their response however overlooks the small number of scheduled Welsh rows which are composed entirely of small and or medium sized stones and raises the thorny issue of who decides which rows are acceptable and which are not. Generally acceptance comes from evidence based consensus which of course can understandably on occasion result in mistakes being made. Just because there is an interpretative consensus does not mean that the site under consideration has been accurately identified. It simply means that there is broad agreement that that is the most plausible interpretation. The more evidence that exists to support an interpretation the more likely it is to be accurate, but often the conclusive detail can prove elusive and we are inevitably left with uncertainty. It is however never good practise to ignore pertinent evidence. We have so very little to start with and therefore it makes sense to use whatever we have at our disposal. Cadw’s reluctance to consider all of the pertinent available information is astonishing and whilst wholly untrue, their implication that the row cannot be prehistoric because it is different to others, dismisses at a stroke the possibility of uniqueness and individuality. This is a great pity as it fails to recognise the very nature of both prehistoric and modern society.
Looking at the distribution of rows consisting mainly of small stones
Minilithic rows are defined as those consisting of only small stones. Some rows however whilst consisting mainly of small stones may include a few medium sized stones as well. This short article looks at the single rows in Great Britain consisting either only of small or small and medium sized stones only. Typically they will consist either wholly of small stones or be formed mainly of small stones (less than 0.3m high), but will also include some stones up to 0.8m high. This group of rows conforms most closely with the Bancbryn stone row and therefore provides an informative context.
Distribution of single rows consisting of small or small and medium stones. The row at Bancbryn is shown green (Base map: Google Maps).
A total of 50 stone rows composed of small or small and medium stones have been identified. They are exclusively found in South West Britain with marked clusters on Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor, Exmoor, mid and southern Wales. Rows of this character are found nowhere else in Great Britain. Archaeologically this is of considerable interest and might indicate the existence of people with shared interests whose particular ideas did not extend beyond this discrete and well defined area. The Bristol Channel seems to have been the focus, with rows being found on either side. Whatever the reason for erecting single lines of small stones this practise seems to have been limited to the South West of Great Britain. Bancbryn is situated comfortably in the centre of this distribution and should therefore not be seen as anomalous. It certainly should not be dismissed on the grounds of being beyond the recognised distribution for this type of row. The relatively ephemeral character of this form of row means that many probably remain to be identified and over time our understanding of their distribution and relationship to other broadly contemporary sites is likely to be enhanced.
The second part of Cadw’s objection to the prehistoric row interpretation concerns its length. At 717m long it is certainly the longest known example of this form of row. Rows as a whole vary considerably in length with the shortest at Nant-Y-Wern being 3.2m whilst the longest the Upper Erme row extends for an incredible 3320m. This is a recognised characteristic and therefore one that should not be dismissed without consideration. Long rows are found throughout the British Isles and even the rows consisting of small or small and medium stones demonstrate considerable differences in length.
The length ratios between all single rows and those composed of small and medium sized stones is very similar. It is therefore possible to be confident that rows of this form vary considerably in length and in particular that some will be very much longer than others.
Distribution of single rows consisting of small or small and medium stones measuring less than 50m long (Base map: Google Maps).
Short rows consisting of small or small and medium stones are common on both sides of the Bristol Channel. A total of 22 rows of this form are less than 50m long. Nine of these rows are in Wales making it difficult to reconcile this evidence with Cadw’s assertion that “Welsh stone rows are characterised by much larger, upright stones”.
Distribution of single rows consisting of small or small and medium stones measuring between 50m and 100m long (Base map: Google Maps).
Examples of rows of these lengths are less common on the northern side of the Bristol Channel, but nevertheless two examples at Cefn Moel Stones and Penmeiddyn confirm that rows of this form were being built in Wales.
Distribution of single rows consisting of small or small and medium stones measuring greater than 100m long (Base map: Google Maps).
Rows greater than 100m long are found in the uplands of Mid and South Wales, Exmoor, Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor. Apart from Bancbryn the two other Welsh examples, are the once scheduled but now destroyed example at Mynydd Llanybyther and Nant Gwinau.
Prehistoric single stone rows consisting of small or small and medium sized stones are currently only known in South West Britain. The row at Bancbryn is situated in the centre of the known distribution for this form of row and far from being unique or unusual it clearly forms part of a recognised well-defined group of stone rows. Whilst longer than other examples of this type of row this characteristic is far from unusual and fits in with the well documented variations in row length.