Welsh Journals

Search over 450 titles and 1.2 million pages

THE STANDING-STONES OF PEMBROKESHIRE (based on a paper read to the Society on 30th October, 1964) by J. M. LEWIS, M.A. Standing-stones are the commonest, but in many ways still the most puzzling of the megalithic monuments of Wales. They have, with a few notable exceptions, 0 received little systematic study. This is understandable. Their numbers are forbidding: e.g. there are over seventy reputed sites in Pembrokeshire and nearly a hundred in Car- marthenshire alone (2) Furthermore, their simplicity makes classifi- cation difficult, and any close study short of excavation (which is expensive, and can itself be singularly unenlightening) often seem pointless. For clearly, there can be no guarantee that a stone as it exists today was ever a structure complete in itself. Some are certainly the last surviving uprights of burial chambers; others may once have stood within or outside the circumference of cairns, or circular earthworks. What is more, monuments so essentially simple can hardly have all had the same purpose, or be confined to one period of time. Some have proved to be prehistoric; but the practice of erecting stones is also known to have been current in Early Christian times, while the practice of putting up rubbing-stones for cattle was apparently common well into the latter half of the 19th century. Taking all this into consideration, can anything be gained, it may be asked, from studying these stones at all ? Nearly a century ago, in a paper on Pillar-stones in Wales (3) Barnwell wrote: "a monument of this kind might be either a funeral memorial, or an object of worship, or a boundary stone, or commemorative of some particular event, such as a battle. It is indeed probable that such stones may have served various purposes". The same admirable caution is equally appropriate today. It has nevertheless seemed worthwhile to attempt a survey of the standing stones of the county, and a review of the evidence, such as it is, as to their purpose, date, and cultural associations. They have long formed the subject for speculation. Giraldus Cambrensis thought that some of them mark the sites of victories by Harold over the Welsh, and that these stones were inscribed Hic Haraldus victor fuit. This no doubt accounts for the fact that certain of them are still known as "Harold stones". But Fenton, in common with responsible opinion since his day, found on them "nothing that the most visionary antiquary would have tortured into a character of any meaning" (4) A rich folklore has also inevitably gathered round some of them. (5) However, for the present purpose, it is proposed to ignore their associations, and confine attention as far as possible to the stones themselves.