Pentre Ifan is one of the most striking and well-visited Neolithic monuments in Wales.
The monument itself is impressive, but the views out to sea and of the nearby rock outcrops of Carneddau Meibion Owen, make this a must-see archaeological site. Pentre Ifan unsurprisingly continues to feature heavily in interpretations and reinterpretations of the Neolithic in western Britain.
Recently, Cadw launched a CGI reconstruction of how the burial chamber might have originally looked like in the early Neolithic.
To understand the site we rely on the excavations of Professor Grimes. The facade was never a portal for living people, but perhaps an entrance into the afterlife (or place through which beings from the otherworld can enter this one…). Originally, the uprights would have been enclosed within a trapezoidal cairn. Yet there remains much that is poorly understood about this monument and its immediate environs.
This site certainly deserves archaeodeath attention and it most certainly requires lots of photographs to communicate the striking experience of visiting this monument. Beyond that, I have three points from an archaeodeath perspective:
First, it is notable that this is again a site so meddled with that, had their been mortuary deposits in and around the chamber, none have survived. Again, this begs the question is absence of evidence the evidence of absence? Was a mortuary dimension the primary one? Was burial merely one of many uses for these monuments? Or was the disposal and commemoration of the dead the key dimension but simply difficult to discern because of subsequent reuse and disturbance? Might another observation and question be added: might the relationship between relatively ephemeral deposits of human bodies (cremated or unburned) and the monumental architecture provide the pivot around which we understand the roles of dolmens in the Neolithic? While we should be naturally suspicious of regarding these as ‘burial monuments’, I think we can go too far in dismissing the mortuary dimension of these monuments.
Second, what of the biography of this monument? Was it really a one- or two-phase construction and what of its ‘afterlife’ down the centuries? Unfortunately, while Cadw have tackled how it once looked, they haven’t really tackled how its appearance evolved through time…
Third, there is the usual old-fashioned Cadw sign and newer heritage board. At Neolithic monuments, I always show interest in whether the sites attract modern ritual activity. Whether this happens or not at Pentre Ifan, when I visited there were no signs of modern depositional activity. However, there was a lost infant’s shoe placed on the stone by the heritage board. I presume this was simply a lost item of footwear rather than a memorial offering to a lost child; then again, how would I know either way?