Visual Mapping

We have started to look at the Carn Menyn area of Mynydd Preseli, both at distance and in close-up, as if with Stone Age eyes. What would Neolithic people have seen, what would have “caught their eye”, in this wild tract of land? What could they see on the horizon from their monuments, and from each rocky carn (outcrop)? How do their monuments visually relate to one another and with the natural topography? What is intervisible, what is hidden, and from where? Are some features simulacra – natural topographical shapes that accidentally suggest human or animal forms, a factor known to have been viewed with significance in early cultures worldwide?

In our audio-visual mapping, we are trying to direct our cameras and our audio-recording devices toward elemental, timeless perceptions in this ancient area to see if sensory data can help illuminate what made this tract of land and the bluestones so special to prehistoric peoples. We feel this overall process will help attune our modern senses to primary landscape perceptions as well as provide possible archaeological information (literally “in-sights”).

The following selection of images represents merely a small and fairly random sample of the visual material obtained on our field trips, which continue. The visual mapping, perhaps in the Pilot Study but certainly in the full project, will eventually also involve plotting intervisibility on large-scale maps and creating graphic representations of features in the landscape.

fig.1 - Gors Fawr is a circle comprised of short stones situated 4.6 km SSW of Carn Menyn, beneath the Preseli upland as a whole. Because the monument is intervisible with features on Preseli, we have included it in the Pilot Study’s area of investigation.

fig.2 - Gors Fawr viewed from the south. It can be seen that the Carn Menyn and neighbouring cluster of rocky outcrops on Preseli form the central skyline as viewed from the circle. This phenomenon of a possible “holy hill” visible on the extreme horizon to the north of a stone circle’s position recurs time and again throughout the British Isles. So the monument was probably not randomly located.

fig.3 - Here we partially decode the northern skyline seen from Gors Fawr. This example points up the general need for an “extended heritage awareness” regarding Stone Age monuments: in this case, if the trees at the bottom of the frame grow much taller, they will partially obscure the skyline view, thus damaging a possibly important aspect of the full significance of Gors Fawr.

fig.4 - This pair of standing stones are located a few hundred metres to the north of the Gors Fawr circle, and may be its outliers. Viewed as an alignment like this, they point to a hilltop (now obscured by the nearby trees visible in this picture) over which the midsummer sun rises.

fig.5 - Naturally, the two standing stones can be viewed not only as an alignment but also as a kind of “portal” – here we see them framing part of the Preseli upland. It is perhaps significant that the two stones pretty much mark the perimeter of the bogland area in which the Gors Fawr circle is located – a change in the character of the local landscape. S.P.A.C.E.S. also think it possible that the collection of stones here mark a station along the route by which the bluestones destined for Stonehenge were transported off Preseli.

fig.6 - Lichen patterns on one of the two outlying standing stones at Gors Fawr

fig.7 - Up on top of the Preseli upland, views can range from minimalist scenes like this to rugged, rocky chaos.

fig.8 - So, by contrast, Carn Breseb and its surrounding smaller carns make the Preseli upland seem like a lunar landscape.

fig.9 - Carn Ddafad-las, one of the Preseli outcrops where it is thought at least one of the Stonehenge bluestones was sourced, looks almost like a fairy castle in the misty rain that so often obscures Mynydd Preseli…

fig.10 - …but reveals its true rocky nature in clear light.

fig.11 - The eastern crest of Carn Menyn. The Carn Menyn complex of natural rock outcrops, thought to be the source of the majority of Stonehenge bluestones, ranges in a long arc from the east to the west along the southern rim of Mynydd Preseli, with its rocks cascading down a steep slope to the south.

fig.12 - Part of an area on the crest of Carn Menyn where the S.P.A.C.E.S. archaeologists think they have identified a prehistorically marked-off area associated with a specific source of Stonehenge bluestones.

fig.13 - Sun rising over Carn Menyn crest. A timeless scene that would have been familiar to Stone Age eyes.

fig.14 - Part of the southern slopes of Carn Menyn. Amid the tumble of rocks a single tree stands – one of only two that grow on Carn Menyn, similar to what is thought to have been the case in Neolithic times.

fig.15 - A closer view of the lone tree – a tangled interplay of organic and inorganic. (See also Acoustic Mapping.)

fig.16 - Part of the westernmost outcrop of the Carn Menyn complex

fig.17 - Another part of the westernmost Carn Menyn outcrop

fig.18 - It was not known until very recently that there was any prehistoric rock art at all on Preseli, but a few examples have now been discovered. These hollows (“cup marks”) are engraved on a stone that may once have been standing but that has now tipped over. Here, uniquely, we use shifting, angled lighting to better display this intriguing new discovery. (See also Acoustic Mapping.)

fig.19 - The towering northern end of Carn Gyfrwy, close eastern neighbour to Carn Menyn.

fig.20 - Vividly-coloured lichen sheltering within the rocky folds of Carn Gyfrwy.

fig.21 - Autumn sunrise over Carn Gyfrwy.

fig.22 - Looking northeast from within the long morning shadows of Carn Gyfrwy, showing Carn Ddafad-las at left and Foeldrygarn at right. Foeldrygarn is one of the commanding landscape features on the northeastern edge of the Preseli upland, and is crowned by two large Neolithic chambered monuments that have yet to be archaeologically investigated. This hill is not being visited as part of the limited scope of the Pilot Study, but would be in the full Landscape and Perception project.