The Neolithic Age Of Monument Building
We humans have got a thing for building monuments that outlast us. During an Ice Age 22,000 years ago on the Russian steppes, people built circular 'bonehenges' from hundreds of huge mammoth bones. At roughly the same time as the pyramids and Stonehenge were being built, Native Brazilians were building a 50 metre high, 25 acre pyramid entirely out of seashells. There are over 35,000 sites of megaliths (large upright stone pillars) across Europe. We've always - and still today - need to say to future generations 'Hey, we were here. Don't forget us. Look how smart we were. Look what we did.'
Unlike their migrating Mesolithic hunter-forager predecessors, the Neolithic farmers who arrived in Britain 6,000 years ago had a very strong sense of place - farmers do, don't they? And they tended to be very religious, worshipping their ancestors out of respect, but also in the hope (expectation) that if they did right by them, then their ancestors would help to cause good weather, bumper harvests, and a productive family life.
They lived in small villages (Wittenham Clumps, for example, had more than a dozen round houses), but at Moel y Gerddi near Harlech , then as now, they lived in dispersed large, round farmhouses, often shared with animals, surrounded by walled farmyards, and, being farmers, lived and worked by seasonal patterns, their hard, lonely lives being interspersed at the two equinoxes and two solstices by large scale gatherings for religious ceremonies, market trading, 'marriage' making, feasting, partying - oh, and communal monument building.
To them, stone was associated with death, timber with life, so while Stonehenge has no animal bones, nearby Woodhenge has thousands of charred and gnawed bones. For several days (sometimes weeks) men, women and children donated their time to build as instructed by their priests or shamans, so monuments could be impressive in scale, but also had to be simple - Stonehenge is the exception, not the rule - and patiently built over numerous seasonal visits.
A large long barrow might need 10,000 man-hours, but that is 'only' 100 people working for 8 days on each of 12 visits (four times a year over three years). That seems achievable and realistic, but it's reckoned that Silbury Hill would have taken 18 million man-hours, and Stonehenge 30 million . This all required serious religious dedication, conceptual planning, logistical organisation, and sophisticated people management.
So what monuments did they build? If there are three defining factors of Neolithic monument building, then they are religious motivation, communal execution, and bigness. There are also three things they didn't do: build defences, build buildings, build complexly (with one major exception). Over roughly 1,500 years (so let's say equivalent to when the Romans left Britain to the First World War), and loosely chronologically, they built:
long barrows & cairns
Long barrows (earth) and long cairns (stones) were typically upto 300 feet long with a burial chamber inside. The long cairns of Penywyrlod (near Talgarth) and Ty Isaf are similar to Garn Goch.
oval mortuary enclosures
Widespread in Britain, some with proven Mesolithic origins, some late Neolithic. Characteristically oval, typically 50 by 20 metres, often with long barrows or cairns inside them.
Found across Britain, Ireland, north and mid-Wales with 15 in south Wales. 'A stony ring enclosing an open central area...[featuring] tumbled stones...on ridges dominated by higher ground...an E-W axis...built for public performance of ceremonial [with] suitability for arenas...connected with mortuary ritual...[but also with] wider social and economic...use'. Typically 8 to 20 metres in diameter, and located next to water. DAT identifies the remains of one south east of Garn Goch.
stone and timber circles
At Walton in Powys, there is a massive example of a timber palisaded enclosure, made with oak posts in continuous trenches and rings of post-pits, with a diameter of 800 metres that required 10 hectares of forest to be felled. At Durrington Walls, there are 98 massive upright sarsen stones underground with earthworks and timber palisades subsequently built on top. Stone circles are ubiquitous across Britain, often aligned to solstice sunrise, and with a central sacrificial altar.
Built on easily accessible, flat hill tops, oval or circular earthworks typically 200+ metres in diameter with spectator banks surrounded by religiously significant ditches, and featuring wide tracks (causeways) leading to four large entrances. Think of them as sports stadia, not least because nobody lived in them
Evolved out of causewayed enclosures, and into massive monuments like Durrington Walls, Avebury and Mount Pleasant, which have diameters upto 480 metres (the width of 7 football pitches)
Parallel earthen banks running, in the case of the Dorset Cursus, for six miles - no mean feat, but nothing compared to the kilometres of parallel lines of upright stones (some 2+ metres high, most 1.5 metres) at Carnac in Brittany
their crowning glory
Stonehenge, more or less as we see it today, but it's an outlier - the one that disproves the rule.
Where Garn Goch exhibits few, if any, characteristics of an Iron Age fort, it shares many characteristics with many Neolithic monuments, not least long cairns (it has one connected to the chain of long cairns stretching west from the Cotswold group), ring cairns (it features a long cairn inside its perimeter), causewayed enclosures (the most obvious design origin), henges and super-henges (it as large as them).
In the context of Parker Pearson and his team's work at Waun Mawn, Garn Goch can be seen not as an outlier, but directly on the ridgeways 'camino' from the more heavily populated south east to the major early Neolithic religious sites at, and around, Waun Mawn, and, similarly, having religious and social, not military, significance.
Top left: Dorset Cursus. Bottom left: Avebury. Middle: Granish Ring Cairn. Top right: Camster Long Cairn. Bottom right: The Trundle Causewayed Enclosure. See copyrights.