Multi-period Cairn - Anglesey

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SH 25862 80558 (GPS 48min)
Visited August 2001

Trefignath, built on a rocky outcrop, is one of a group of "Long Graves" found on Anglesey. Prior to 1980, Trefignath was seen as the remains of a long cairn which had contained a lengthy gallery. There was a problem with this idea however, as the gallery at Trefignath had obviously had septal stones completely blocking the gallery in several places. This feature was not found in any of the Scottish or Irish tombs with segmented galleries that were seen as parallels to its construction. 

An excavation that was necessitated by the decay of the supporting props in the eastern chamber by 1977 solved the mystery - Trefignath had been constructed in phases, it was a multi-period monument.

The earliest  tomb at Trefignath is at the west, this is thought to have been a small Passage Grave. This had a box-like chamber of five orthostats sitting in prepared stone holes on the highest point of the outcrop, it is thought that the chamber and passage were roofed by two capstones. The chamber was covered by a ragged circular cairn with the short passage opening to the north. No burial deposits were found on the bare rock floor of the chamber. The tomb is thought to have been built immediately after the cessation of domestic habitation of the site which has been carbon dated to about 3100bc using material found below the cairn.
The second chamber was built to the east of the first, it is a simple rectangular box chamber with two low portal stones and a single capstone, although it is likely that the portals supported a now-vanished lintel. Holes were dug for only two of the stones, the others being jammed into natural breaks in the uneven rock floor. The cairn of the first chamber was extended to cover the new chamber, but the new cairn had retaining edges of quarried stone, and it had a horned forecourt around the portal of the new chamber. The old chamber was not sealed on the building of the new cairn, however, the outer walling of the new build was consolidated into the passage of the old tomb, maintaining access.
No date is available for this second phase of construction, but a sherd of southern English Grooved Ware made of non-local clay was found in a floor crevice, suggesting that the second chamber remained accessible into the later half of the Neolithic.
The third phase of construction saw the building of another chamber immediately to the east of the second. This third chamber was a slightly more elaborate version of the second, another rectangular box, but this time with two capstones and four portal stones, the outer pair of which were an impressive 2m tall. The building of the third chamber and cairn completely sealed the entrance to the second chamber, submerging it in the body of the extended long cairn. Like the second cairn, this new one had a horned forecourt arrangement and it was edged with a retaining wall of quarried blocks.
Whilst the originating tradition of the first chamber is fairly clear, several sources have been considered for the later additions. The simple rectangular chambers and portal stones of these chambers are similar to early Scottish Clyde Cairns,  the tall outer portals of the third chamber, in particular being strongly reminiscent of this type of monument. But the cairns of the later chambers, with their retaining walls and horned forecourts are more characteristic of the construction of Cotswold Severn tombs, a style whose influence extended to the North Wales area. 

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