Tinkinswood Burial Chamber: Megalithic Dolmen with Massive Capstone
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 (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 (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.
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 (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 (Photo: Judy Davies)
Tinkinswood Burial Chamber is considered to have been used as a communal burial site, and it is thought that the corpses were first left exposed to the elements before the bones that remained were moved inside the burial chamber. There is a large circular pit in the ground behind the chamber, which today people who use the site tend to light small fires in, and it is possible that long ago the bodies of the dead were first placed into this pit.
Restoration work was also carried out at the time of the excavation and a pillar of bricks was added to make sure the capstone was adequately supported.
Julian Cope and The Modern Antiquarian
Window display for The Modern Antiquarian (Photo: Dom Pates)
Rock star turned author Julian Cope is famous not just for his songs and music, from when he fronted the rock band The Teardrop Explodes and his long solo career, but for his research and writings about ancient sites. Cope travelled all around the UK while researching for his best-seller The Modern Antiquarian (1998) , and Tinkinswood was included in the sites he spent some time at and then wrote about in his book.
The Tikinswood Burial Chamber continues to attract visitors from across the country and abroad. It is well worth visiting this special ancient site if you ever get the opportunity.
Featured image: Tinkinswood interior (Photo: FruitMonkey)