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26 November 2010
A prehistoric star map carved on a Welsh capstone?

A recent excavation programme at a standing stone known as Trefael, near Newport (south-west Wales) has revealed that what originally was a portal dolmen in later times was transformed in a standing stone, probably used as a ritual marker to guide communities through a scared landscape.
     This solitary stone has over 75 cupmarks gouged onto its upper surface.  Following the complete exposure of the capstone through excavation, it is now considered by several astronomers that the distribution of the cupmarks may represent a section of the night sky that includes the star constellations of Cassiopeia, Orion, Sirius and of course the North Star.  
     Until recently, little was known about this stone. About 40 years ago archaeologists had speculated that it may have once formed a capstone which would have covered a small burial chamber. In order to prove or disprove this, a geophysical survey was undertaken, the results of which revealed the remains of a kidney-shaped anomaly, possibly the remnants of the cairn that would have once surrounded the chamber, with an entrance to the east.
     Following this exciting discovery, a targeted excavation confirmed the site to be a portal dolmen, revealing also a significant cairn deposit within the eastern and northern sections of the trench. Uniquely, a clear vertical cut was found in section, running parallel with the dip of the former capstone suggesting that the cairn had been excavated into and the capstone set and packed within the existing cairn, probably used as a standing stone during the Early Bronze Age (c. 2000-1700 cal. BCE) when Western Britain was introduced to a new set of burial-ritual monuments.  
     Finds were not unexpectedly meagre and included medieval and post-medieval pottery sherds and two Mesolithic shale beads; identical to those found at the nearby Mesolithic coastal settlement of Nab Head.
     Further investigations planned for Summer 2011 will include palaeo-environmental sampling in order to assess the later prehistoric landscape setting, a contour survey of the monument and further excavation to the rear of the stone.
     
Edited from George Nash PR

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