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Garn Goch CIC

Not The Truth & Not The Whole Truth?

Right, so now we're going to pick up a few points from his mere 11 pages of text in his article for Archaeologia Cambrensis 1974 (the adjacent articles run to 24 and 30 pages). It's 'object', he says, is providing 'detailed factual descriptions', but then he himself admits they are 'only rough'. Anyway:

1.    There is no discussion, never mind evidence, about whether Gaer Fawr was a 'fort'. He neither questions nor proves that. It's like a cricket fan assuming a game played with a round ball must be cricket. Coflein says Tre'r Ceiri has 'a formidable single rampart which still stands up to 4m high in places. Where nearly intact, the top of the rampart still has its parapet walk reached via a number of sloping ramps from the interior,' but Garn Goch has none of those features, and clearly never has had them. Tre'r Ceiri was a 'proper' fort, and proof of that is that it was used by the Romans throughout their time here, whereas Garn Goch was more or less abandoned about 4,500 to 5,000 years ago.

2.    Hogg claims there were at least 8 posterns (entry/exit places) (and Coflein copies this), which he describes as 'ruinous', and we describe as invisible. Why would he make such a claim? Because Tre'r Ceiri had posterns, so Garn Goch must have them too - in the eye of that beholder anyway. In fact, Garn Goch only one that can be accurately described as a postern ('a secondary door or gate in a fortification...often located in a concealed location which allowed the occupants to come and go inconspicuously'). It's on the south side, and was made to allow direct access to the land and post-galcial lake at the bottom. There are no signs of gate posts, nor holes for gates hinges, so was not part of defensive arrangements. More importantly, he fails to notice 'elephant sized' entrances east and west that are entirely inconsistent with a fort, and entirely consistent with an early Neolithic causewayed enclosure. Forts want to keep people out, so have restricted entrances. Causewayed enclosures wanted to welcome lots of people in, so have numerous wide entrances - as Garn Goch does.

3.   He admitted he could not date anything on Garn Goch with any confidence, and openly stated that there are 'very tenuous features',  yet still claimed that it is an Iron Age fort.

4.    He focused on foundations which he hazarded might be Iron Age, Neolithic or, he said, may be mediaeval.  Is it reasonable to expect an archaeologist to know whether something is 600 years old or 6,000 years old?

5.    He concludes that the central foundations are of a round house, yet only a moment's observation shows that it would have been a rather damp house as it lies about a metre below the level of the central lake, and it is obviously where the stream begins to run down the hillside. It is man-made for sure, but is an elongated oval, not round at all, and makes much more sense as, for example, a pool for ceremonial baptisms or votive offerings.

6.    His conclusion about the main, massive cairn is that it is 'anomalous' (his word), yet it is anything but anomalous. It is the raison d'être, at least the origin, for the whole site, and he fails to notice that there are multiple burial cairns, not just one. And why is it 'anomalous' (that is deviating from the normal)? For the simple reason that most other Iron Age hillforts don't have massive stone burial cairns in their midst. It's not 'anomalous' if it's not an Iron Age fort. At a religious site, a large cairn is the very opposite of 'anomalous', although to be fair Tre'r Ceiri does. Sort of. Coflein, following Hogg, states that at Tre'r Ceiri the 'large stone cairn...probably dates to the Bronze Age', which is a little surprising when they didn't build large burial cairns in the Bronze Age, but Coflein itself provides the evidence that it wasn't a ‘cairn’. It was a carefully constructed building with outer and inner ‘stone revetted’ walls (ie with smooth faced stones), and a 6.5 metre high second storey. It was a burial monument, and, not surprisingly, robbed for its grave goods.

7.    He says 'there are short lines of small boulders deliberately placed', but then says they don't 'fall into any defined pattern', so leaves them 'unsurveyed'. If there was one thing to be properly surveyed, wasn't it the 'walls'?

8.    Of four metre long, 0.8m high mounds, he suggests they were 'intended to encourage the growth of rabbits'. It beggars belief!

9.    He concludes that it is 'unlikely' the two forts were 'occupied at the same time', but, somehow, thinks they were also 'roughly contemporary'. He more or less concludes the smaller one is not a satellite fort, and states that there is no established track between them when, in fact, there is. He's confused, and, consequently, is confusing.

RCAHMW certainly did not get good value for its 'generous grant' to fund this 'research', and it is surprising that Coflein, BBNP and others have regarded it as authoritative without interrogating its weak content, and lack of credible descriptions and conclusions. For example, the Archwilio entry for Garn Goch repeats three of Hogg's points before valiantly talking of 'gateways' when there is no evidence that there has ever been the construction and architectural constituents of defensive gates, six 'posterns' (her speech marks) when there is evidence of only one, medieval foundations when there is absolutely no evidence they are medieval, and 'ramparts' when there is absolutely no evidence that there was anything more, even at the western ends, than piled stones.

It has to be said that the one visible 'postern' is, indeed, a narrow gateway typical of Iron Age forts, but Hogg said it was not part of defensive arrangements. More analysis is required to resolve the issue one way or another.

However, to be fair it must be said that if Garn Goch were merely one of almost 700 Welsh Iron Age hillforts, then it is perfectly understandable that it has received scant attention from publicly funded heritage and archaeological organisations, and that Brecon Beacons National Park, its current managers, should do their best to promote it as such. 

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