The Waun Llanfair Project


The core of the project is a palaeo-environmental study of an area of prehistoric funerary and ritual monuments in an area of upland above Llanfairfechan and Penmaenmawr, Conwy. These monuments include a major stone circle, The Druids’ Circle, two large ring cairns and numerous smaller cairns of various sizes and designs. Not far to the north of these is the Neolithic stone axe factory of Graig Lwyd with which this concentration of funerary monuments may have some association.

cefn coch

The palaeo-environmental work is being carried out by Astrid Caseldine of Lampeter University. In 2004 three peat columns were taken from deposits in and around the Waun Llanfair basin. Preliminary assessment shows that the columns cover a long chronological range, beginning some time in the Mesolithic period, but full study is yet to be carried out. Also in 2004 a new measured survey of the area was made and a number of new features were discovered. The programme in 2006-7 comprised sampling of buried soils from a variety of monuments for possible pollen analysis, radiocarbon dating and contextual study. This aimed to provide a chronological picture of activity in the area and allow an understanding of the use of this rather remote area of upland. The monuments chosen were two burnt mounds, two wandering walls and three cairns. Two of the cairns were simple stone mounds belonging to a scatter of such mounds around the basin. One of the cairns was a large kerb cairn with a (robbed) central cist, a scheduled ancient monument, and consent for the work provided by Cadw.

cairn flints

Cairn 407 and selected fints (scrapers and a truncated oblique arrowhead

The main programme of work was carried out in April 2006 led by George Smith of GAT and John Griffith Roberts of Cambridge University, with the help of local volunteers and undergraduates from Bangor University. Charcoal for radiocarbon dating was collected from the burnt mounds and from the kerbed cairn but none was found in either the two simple cairns or the walls. There were no buried soils beneath the walls but one was covered by basin peat and a general period may be assignable from the context in relation to the palaeo-environmental data from the column. Circumstantial evidence suggests that the walls may belong with medieval or early post-medieval pasturing rather than with the prehistoric monuments. Preliminary study of the buried soil samples indicates that they will be informative and one radiocarbon date so far obtained, from a burnt mound, shows a middle second millennium BC date. One of the simple cairns produced no dating evidence but the other covered a scatter of material of Late Neolithic date. This comprised worked flint, which included three flint scrapers, a knife and an oblique arrowhead and a scatter of worked Graig Lwyd stone, which included a narrow stone axe or chisel. It seems most likely that the cairn and the flint and stone tools are associated and this was a surprise as it had been surmised that these small cairns were of later second millennium date and associated with the nearby burnt mounds. The kerbed cairn, a typical Early Bronze Age monument, was also found to overlie a scatter of worked flint and Graig Lwyd stone although in this case the material lay in the soil buried beneath the cairn and its kerb and so seemed likely to belong to a general scatter that pre-dated the cairn, rather than being associated with its construction. These finds provoke new questions about activity in the area, suggesting the presence of some wider activity contemporary with the Graig Lwyd Neolithic axe factory, and possibly some association between Graig Lwyd and later funerary and settlement activity in the area. These questions may be better formulated when the palaeo-environmental studies are completed in the coming year.

George Smith (Gwynedd Archaeological Trust), Astrid Caseldine (University of Lampeter) and John Griffith Roberts (University of Cambridge)