Tinkinswood Burial Chamber

Tinkinswood Burial Chamber: Megalithic Dolmen with Massive Capstone

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Just a few miles west of Cardiff, in the direction of Cowbridge in South Wales, is an ancient Neolithic site called Tinkinswood Burial Chamber, which dates back at least 6,000 years. It is well worth visiting, though many local people are unaware of it because it stands tucked away in a field, and hidden down a country lane.

Biggest capstone in Europe

The massive capstone of Tinkinswood Burial Chamber is composed of limestone and weighs around 40 tonnes and measures 7.4 m (24 ft) x 4.2 m (14 ft) and is said to be the largest capstone in Europe. It was built long before Stonehenge, an ancient stone circle that leads many to wonder how the giant megaliths were carried and erected – the same questions may be asked about the massive Tinkinswood capstone. It is thought that as many as 200 people would have been needed to lift the capstone and move it into place.

Tinkinswood was originally a huge mound of soil covered in grass but over the course of time, the earth has been washed away or removed, leaving the stones of the chamber standing exposed as they are today.

St Lythans Burial Chamber

Tinkinswood Burial Chamber is just outside the village of St Nicholas. It is down a side-road turning in the direction of Barry and signposted for Dyffryn. This road also leads to Dyffryn botanical gardens and, a bit further along, to another ancient site known as St Lythan’s Burial Chamber . St Lythans Burial Chamber is about one mile (1.6 km) south of Tinkinswood.

St Lythans Burial Chamber

St Lythans Burial Chamber (Photo: Public Domain )

Tinkinswood has a sign posted at the side of the road where there is a stile, which would be on your right if you are driving down the road from St Nicholas. Go over the stile and follow the path through the fields to a kissing gate, which you must pass through to enter the area of the Tinkinswood Burial Chamber.

Tinkinswood Burial Chamber is a megalithic burial chamber or dolmen that was built around 4,000 BC in the Neolithic period. A dolmen is a construction consisting of a series of large stones supporting a capstone on top.

Legends and superstitions about Tinkinswood

In Welsh folklore, Tinkinswood Burial Chamber is immersed in old legends and beliefs. The ancient structure is also known as Castell Carreg (“Stone Castle”), Llech-y-Filiast (“Slab of the Greyhound Bitch”) and Maes-y-Filiast (“Field of the Greyhound Bitch”).

Tinkinswood at night

Tinkinswood at night (Photo: Ben Salter )

One of the folk beliefs about Tinkinswood warns that if you spend the night there alone on the nights before May Day (1 May), St John's Day (23 June), or Midwinter Day, you would either die, become insane, or become a poet. Another legend says that a group of large boulders to the southeast of the site were once women who were punished for dancing on the Sabbath by being turned to stone.  Similar myths are associated with other dolmen sites, including the St Lythans burial site.

Cadw

Tinkinswood Burial Chamber is managed by Cadw, a Welsh Assembly Government department concerned with the protection and management of ancient sites, monuments and the heritage of Wales.

The Tinkinswood Burial Chamber site is generally well cared for with undergrowth, scrub, and grass around it cut back. The stones are kept free of weeds and the paths across the fields are easy to follow, though you need good footwear in wet weather when the ground can get very muddy and puddles tend to form inside the burial chamber.

Muddy puddle inside the chamber

Muddy puddle inside the chamber (Photo: Ben Salter )

There is a small forest next to Tinkinswood Burial Chamber and there are many bird species living in the area, including owls.

The atmosphere around the site is generally peaceful and the countryside is beautiful in its own way. It is hard to imagine that this amazing ancient site is just a short distance from the bustle of Cardiff city, the capital of Wales.

Excavated in 1914

Tinkinswood Burial Chamber was excavated in 1914, and inside the chamber 920 human bones were discovered, but these were mostly broken. It was deduced from this discovery that approximately 50 people of all ages and sexes had been buried there, and these people were probably from the settlement of villagers who lived nearby, in a village that no longer exists. Pottery in the Neolithic and Bell-Beaker style has also been discovered at Tinkinswood Burial Chamber.

Excavation date and brick pillar

Excavation date and brick pillar (Photo: Judy Davies )

Comments

I am always fascinated by dolmans, by the sheer enormity of the stones and the engineering involved. Yes it would take at least 200 people to lift, but I just don't see how there is room for 200 people to get their hands on it. Thanks for the story, I was not aware of this one.

Steve Andrews's picture

Thanks for commenting! I am glad you found my article of interest. Tinkinswood is well worth visiting.

 
The           

When I visited a few years ago, as well as sensing the described usage of the main part of the site, the two stones at the entrance were significant as the narrow portal through which the priestess led the corpse bearers.

Steve Andrews's picture

Thanks for sharing your insight into the past usage of Tinkinswood.

 
The           
Justbod's picture

I’d not heard of this site before, so thank you! It’s now on my ‘must-visit’ list. A bit of a shame about the supportive ‘pillar of bricks.’ I assume it must have felt to be needed, but a shame a less obvious way to support the capstone could not have been found.

 

Sculptures, carvings & artwork inspired by a love of history & nature: www.justbod.co.uk

 

 

 

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