“This is probably one of the most impressive Bronze Age cairn remains in Wales. It has 18 upright slender jagged pillars giving the sense of a coronet, and has a footprint diameter of 8.7 metres. It is supposed that the cairn was used to intern the dead….”
“A round cist cairn with a collapsed central chamber, leading unusually to projected upright stones around the periphery of the structure. I spent two hours trekking to get to the location but it was definitely worth the effort. A remote but beautiful ruin in North Wales.”
“Isolated on a rocky eminence, Bryn Cader Faner is one of the wonders of prehistoric Wales,as stated by Professor Aubrey Burl, and it is certainly one of the most beautiful Bronze Age sites in Britain. It is a small cairn 8,5m (28ft) wide and less than 1m (3ft) high, with fifteen thin slabs leaning out of the mass of the monument like a crown of thorns. A combination of stone circle and burial mound, Bryn Cader Faner bears some resemblance with Carn Llechart, in Glamorgan (Wales), and it is probably the result of a fusion of traditions.
“Carefully placed in its dramatic setting so as to achieve maximum impact on travellers approaching from the south, this visually superb monument is well worth the long and demanding walk: a detailed map and a compass are essential. In the same area there is a complex of several cairns and settlements.”
“An iconic prehistoric burial monument, oft-illustrated for its ‘crown’ of upright slabs, set in a highly visible position in the hills of Merionydd. It sits on the upland reaches of a Bronze Age trackway, lined with other contemporary monuments along its route which begins at Llander on the coast.”
It is obvious that to describe the majesty of Bryn Cader Faner‘s megalithic coronet atop Eryri’s mountainous heartland would merely be to paraphrase and to plagiarise. I would not be the first, nor the last, to attempt to capture the ambience of this site revered by the Cymry for nigh on five millennia.
A simple Google search will offer far more description, explanation, history and opinion on this unique cairn a few miles east of Harlech.
It was botanist and linguist (and personal hero of mine), Edward Lhuyd, who, in the late 17th century, proposed in script for the first time that a cist (aka kistvaen, from cist (=chest) and maen (=rock)) was housed at the centre of the site.
My attempt here, as previously explained, is not to inform historically but to point out that before this time, Bryn Cader Faner was not documented in any descriptions of the area. Nor did it appear on any maps – despite other landmarks such as mounds and small lakes finding a place with cartographers. In fact, it isn’t until the mid 19th century (as far as I can find) that the site is pointed out and named at all on a map.
Being clear in situ for around 4,000 years, I find it impossible that the site was invisible to inhabitants and visitors after the site was abandoned of ritual and/or ceremonial purpose. In other words, despite not being placed on maps nor mentioned in writings, people have always known of its existence, and therefore surely, of its significance as a site.
I don’t half waffle!
Granted, any knowledge of who occupied the site’s central kistvaen upon the occasion of their death has long since dissipated with his or her skeletal remains. We also know close to nothing of the people who occupied the nearby dwellings or of who constructed the ruined stone circle that overlooks Llyn Eiddew Bach. Much like how the name of Bryn yr Hen Bobl (The Mound of the Old People, a neolithic burial chamber on the southern side of Ynys Môn) suggests a gap in the connection between those who used the site and those who first documented it, Bryn Cader Faner‘s secrets are likely forever lost. However, in comparison with its 4,000-year existence, only a minuscule proportion of that time has humanity forgotten it. For the most part at least, we’ve always known it’s there.
This map from the middle of the 20th century clearly shows Bryn Cader Faner‘s existence:
Of course, a few of the rock piles that we now know to be cairns are omitted on the above map due either to lack of knowledge or lack of perceived importance to the surveyor(s) of the time, but, as expected and rightly so, Bryn Cader Faner finds its place.
Even as far back as the turn of the 20th century, Eryri’s majestic coronet of some 20-30 diagonally-protruding peristaliths found its place on maps of the area, as is obvious from Bartholomew’s 1904 view of North Wales:
My point does not require me to delve any deeper than the above map. By simply being named in 1904, I can be sound in the knowledge that people knew of Bryn Cader Faner‘s significance at the turn of the twentieth century…. and that’s all I need!
In 2001 the Taliban, under orders from leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, destroyed the 4th century Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan on the basis that they were idols. At the time the 1,500-year-old statues stood 35m and 53m tall some 2,500m up into the Bamyan Valley. At this point I won’t go into too much detail of a previously unknown 19m Buddha found in 2008 behind the destroyed taller ones!
More recently, it is ISIS who has taken to the conscious destruction of an ancient site. This time, the site in question dates to around 1350BCE and lies around 30km southeast of Mosul. Nimrud is an ancient Assyrian city and is considered one of the world’s greatest archaeological treasures. It was destroyed by ISIS in early 2015 when videos were posted showing fighters using sledgehammers to smash ancient tablets, levelling of the area with a bulldozer and later employing explosives to destroy what remained of the almost 3000-year-old structures.
Irina Bokova, head of the Unesco, at the time proclaimed that the “deliberate destruction of cultural heritage constitutes a war crime. There is absolutely no political or religious justification for the destruction of humanity’s cultural heritage.”
Back to Bryn Cader Faner where, in addition to the minuscule damage obtained by 19th century ‘treasure hunters’ searching the central kistvaen, Gwynedd Archaeological Trust notes that the site was “damaged by the [British] army on manoeuvres in 1939”. Rather diplomatically put considering that the full truth exposes the site as being used for nothing more than target practice for the British army in preparation for the inevitable Second World War.
Critics may now point out the importance of the war effort overpowering the importance of a pile of rocks. To those I suggest scrolling up a tad to re-read Irina Bokova’s words….
I would find it a serious failure of planning on the part of the British military (who pride themselves, I’m sure, on their professionalism) were they not to have meticulously surveyed the areas used for their military training exercises. But surely, should such surveying have occurred, full knowledge would have been obtained of Bryn Cader Faner‘s historical significance…. right?
Might I therefore suggest that such significance was known yet completely disregarded by the fine British army during their training?
I struggle to displace thoughts in my head of soldiers treading the Bronze Age paths through the mountains laughing as they played like inquisitive pre-schoolers lazily tossing scared rocks and targeting standing stones with their new toys. Resistance to 4,000 years of North Walian weather undone in less than 4,000 milliseconds of nothing more than shooting practice. Even with its inflated use of tax-payers’ money in the 1930s, was no finance available for wooden targets rather than Bronze Age ones?
As we have seen with even the neolithic sites left untouched by the invading Roman army some 2,000 years ago, respect was paid by their new civilisation to the one they were about to essentially eradicate. It’s a shame that these latest of invaders to Wales in the form of the Anglo-British could not offer the same tactful sentiment of leaving our sites alone.
I suppose it is by an event perhaps described by some as a miracle that, despite the conscious destruction of the site by the British army, Bryn Cader Faner has maintained its majesty amidst the hills. In some ways, the fact it remains in such comparatively good condition stands as testament to the builders of the site some 1,000 years before the pioneers of Stonehenge and 1,500 years before the earliest Egyptian pyramid builders.
A crowning example of our ancestors’ legacy that today has become the inheritance of all those who call Wales their home.