So I’ve been working on some other things in my spare time while not working on my novel The Old Manfor NaNoWriMo. One of those things is I have been continuing with design work upon The Perfect Dungeon (working title).
One of the ideas I had this week was for the Terror Trove. (That’s the working term – it is a sort of obverse image of the Treasure Hoard as I’ll explain in a moment.)
The Terror Trove originated as a secret mountainous cave area in the wet-desert just outside the main ancient city ruins around which the Perfect Dungeon story primarily revolves.
A man who was both a powerful Cleric and a powerful Wizard decided that he would take it upon himself to seek to discover and “hoard” every evil artefact and relic he could locate.
His original intention was to construct an “Apotroev” (a reverse treasure hoard – one that was magically and physically separated from our world and one that could never again be plundered) so powerful and so carefully hermetically sealed that the powerful items he placed there would be in effect forever cut off from and removed from the rest of the world. Thereby sealed away, never to be discovered or employed as a threat again these items were magically exiled from the world since the Cleric Wizard (named Arsoginserl, though also sometimes called Insarl the Illuminare) could find no method of destroying most of these things.
“Arsoginserl’s Apotroev” worked very well for centuries after his death, but eventually, due to earthquakes and due to the fact that some of these artefacts and relics were so powerful they began to consume and absorb one another the Apotroev weakened. The evil and magic in them thus multiplied many times in power and force effectively “irradiating evil and magic out into the surrounding world” just as a shielded bunker designed to store radioactive waste might leak if damaged or overwhelmed.
Eventually this was one of the reasons that led to the demise of the original and ancient city of Pesharan.
Anyway Arsoginserl’s Apotroev will be one of the potential sandbox areas attached to the Perfect Dungeon (which is actually a campaign series) if the players want to seek to find and explore it.
However by this point, nearly a millennium after it was originally populated and sealed most of the items have been consumed by the more powerful artefacts and relics and the “survivors” are at war with each other. All of the survivors are by this time either artificially intelligent or sentient or inhabited by evil spirits, or all of the above. And all of these surviving “items” desire to escape back into the wider world. Making them incredibly cunning and dangerous and desperate. Even exposure to the still sealed Apotroev itself has powerful, malignant, and long lasting side effects upon anyone approaching it.
Also buried in the Apotroev, in a secret compartment never discovered by even the most powerful artefacts and relics trapped there, are a number of preserved relics from Arsoginserl himself, such as his robe, his mitre, his crooked staff, his Roseheart, a book of Arsoginserl’s prophecies, a book of his personally created spells (otherwise unknown), his Communion Rod, other valuables, and the Benegemm (an experimental gemstone Arsoginserl himself had created with the help of an angelic ally) with which he hoped to one day cure evil and nullify evil magic. No one knows how far Arsoginserl got in the development and perfection of the Benegemm but it was reputed to have many marvelous capabilities and properties (even if it was still unable to cure evil) by the one account that ever mentioned it. Such as soft-burying and freeing the souls of certain undead creatures. Or encouraging certain criminals to take up a monastic or religious life. Or even to become a Cleric.
The story of the Benegemm is supposedly indirectly related to the famous tale of the thief Tarand Moirloss who later converted from his life of crime and became the famous Cleric Larlfast Urlinger. Moirloss accidentally touched the Benegemm hoping to examine it for potential value and was immediately struck “dead” for seven days. Moirloss recovered in his tomb chamber and was able to dig his way around the setting stone of his tomb and escape his premature grave. Moirloss then sought out Arsoginserl who gave him the legendary Seven Penances of Supernal Peril to complete after which Moirloss converted and was renamed Larlfast Urlinger the Upright. Urlinger is the same cleric often credited with having created the “quill of the thrice inscribed god.”
Though some say that Urlinger became a wandering Cleric-Wizard like his mentor and abbot Arsoginserl, and that the quill was actually constructed by another, a Sage and Hermit named Ramonil the Righteous.
Welp, now we’ve seen everything. Just last week, a new cafe opened in Romania called Enigma that claims to be “the world’s first kinetic steampunk bar.” We have no way to verify if that’s true, but it certainly looks impressive from these photos, if you’re into that sort of thing. A slightly terrifying humanoid robot with a plasma lamp cranium bicycles by the door, and a variety of kinetic artworks churn and rotate on both the ceiling and walls. Watch the video to take a peek inside, and if you’re in town you can visit Enigma Cafe at Enigma at Iuliu Maniu, Nr 12, Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Photos by Zoly Zelenyak from The 6th-Sense Interiors. (via Steampunk Tendencies)
It’s been attributed to war, crop failures, political strife, and even an epic fire.
But new research in the heart of one of North America’s most influential prehistoric cultures suggests that its demise may have been brought about, at least in part, by disastrous “megafloods.”
The new findings come from a team of archaeologists and earth scientists who have been studying the land surrounding the ancient metropolis of Cahokia in what’s now southernIllinois.
At its peak — between around 1050 and 1200 — Cahokia was the continent’s largest and most prominent cultural center north of Mexico, wielding economic power and religious influence from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.
But by the early 13th century, signs of the city’s might began to wane as suddenly and mysteriously as they had first appeared.
“But [it] began to decline after A.D. 1200, when large floods became more frequent.”
Munoz and his colleagues made this discovery somewhat by accident, while researching the area’s agricultural history.
They extracted 10 deep cores of sediments from two sites in the Mississippi River floodplain aroundCahokia’s former boundaries, each cross-section representing 1,800 years of geologic history.
“When we were examining these cores, we noticed unusual layers that had a very fine and uniform texture, and contained almost no pollen, charcoal, or plant macro fossils,” Munoz said.
These strangely sterile layers turned out to contain the silty, small-grained clay typical of floodwater sediments.
“We designed this study so that if we saw the same kind of deposits in both [sets of] cores at the same times, then that would confirm that they were deposits from floods of the Mississippi River,” Munoz said.
“We found five out of five overlapping deposits with distinct particle-size distributions that were deposited at the same times, and thus concluded that these must represent Mississippi River floods.”
The layers above and below those bands of flood sediment, meanwhile, contained charcoal and other plant material that allowed the researchers to date the strata, and re-create Cahokia’s environmental past.
Until about 1,400 years ago, the evidence showed, the area where the ancient city would one day stand was prone to frequent and severe floods, with the Mississippi River rising at least 10 meters (about 33 feet) above its base level.
But then the climate shifted, and the great floods stopped.
“Beginning around A.D. 600, high-magnitude floods became less frequent, and indigenous peoples moved into the floodplain and began to farm more intensively and increase their numbers,” Munoz said.
By the mid-11th century, these settlements had grown into a metropolis that, at its zenith, housed at least 10,000 people in its central district.
However, Munoz’ team found that the city only continued to thrive at the pleasure of the Mississippi.
Starting around 1200, the data show, the climate of central North America became wetter again, and the large floods returned, inundating the region with increasing frequency.
Munoz’ team speculates that these “megafloods” would have devastated crops, ruined caches of food, and forced the temporary relocation of thousands of people.
While there’s no direct archaeological evidence of the disruptions that these disasters likely caused on Cahokians’ lives, Dr. Sissel Schroeder, a Wisconsin archaeologist who collaborated in the research, said that the return of the floods coincides closely with many signs of political instability and social upheaval in the community.
“We see some important changes in the archaeology of the site at this time, including a wooden wall that is built around the central precinct of Cahokia,” Schroeder said, in a press statement.
Population in the region soon began to drop, as well as agricultural production. Then, the construction of religious and elite structures that helped hold the community together came to a halt.
“Beyond the Cahokia site, our results demonstrate how sensitive large rivers like the Mississippi are to climatic variability — and how dependent human societies are on rivers.
“It isn’t clear yet how rivers like the Mississippi will respond to the climatic changes projected for the 21st century, because our historical records cover only the last 100 to 150 years, and do not represent the range of climatic variability projected for the next 100 years.”
Done Pompeii, Ephesus and Angkor and still thirsting after archeological marvels? The founder of Timeless Travels magazine recommends 10 less well-known sites that can usually be savoured without the crowds
Monday 6 April 2015 01.00 EDT
Koh Ker, Cambodia
Lost to forest and abandoned for over a thousand years, you’ll find this little-visited site in northern Cambodia. It’s less than two hours’ ride from its more famous cousin, Angkor Wat, and well worth a visit to see more than two dozen temples emerging from the jungle. A highlight is a seven-tiered pyramid, 40 metres high, which is thought to have been the state temple of Jayavarman IV and is often compared to Mayan temples. The site was the capital of the whole Khmer empire from 928-944AD. •A new road means day trips to Koh Ker are possible from Siem Reap, but there are also now a few basic guesthouses and an ecolodge for those who want to stay longer
Little sister to the better-known Machu Picchu, Choquequirao is one of the most-rewarding travel destinations in the Americas. Only a few hundred people visit during the dry season (May to October), compared with thousands each day at Machu Picchu. At 3,000m, the site sits on a cloud-forest ridge, 61 miles west of Cusco in the remote Vilcabamba range. The city was built by Topa Yupanqui, son of the man who built Machu Picchu, Pachacuti, some time in the 15th century. It’s a two-day trek to Choquequirao from the town of Cachora (though a cable car link is planned), and exploring it and the outlying sites of Capullyoc, Hurincancha and Casa de Cascada with a guide will take several days. •Buses run from Cusco to Ramal, close to Cachora, where guides and pack mules can easily be hired
There are some wonderful treasures in the far east of Turkey and one of them is the site of Ani. Capital of the Armenian Bagratid dynasty until the 11th century, and situated on key trade routes, it flourished for over 400 years and at its peak was larger than any contemporary European city, with a population of over 100,000. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1319, and today its ruins are spread over a wide area, with the remains of spectacular churches, a Zoroastrian fire temple, palaces and city walls. Take a picnic and spend a day exploring the site. • Ani can be reached by taxi or hire car from the town of Kars, 46km away and served by internal flights from Ankara or Istanbul
This is one of the largest Roman settlements in Portugal – roughly halfway between Lisbon and Porto, near the village of Condeixa-a-Nova. It was a prosperous town in Roman times and, while not the largest Roman city in Portugal, it is the best preserved. Although only a small section of the site has been excavated, there are baths, luxurious houses, an amphitheatre, a forum, shops, gardens with working fountains and city walls to explore, with many wonderful mosaics still in situ. In its centre is one of the largest houses discovered in the western Roman empire, the Casa de Cantaber, which is built around ornamental pools in superb colonnaded gardens and has its own bath complex and heating system. There is also a good museum, cafe and picnic site. Pick up a guidebook from the museum and have a few euro coins in your pocket to make the fountains work. •Easyjet and Ryanair fly to Porto and Lisbon from about £50 return
Han Yangling, China
A smaller version of the Xi’an terracotta warriors, this often-overlooked site is the the tomb of E mperor Jing Di , who died in 141BC, and his Empress Wang. The site, 20km north of Xi’an, is well laid-out, with glass panels over the burial pits so you can see everything in situ, and there is also an excellent museum. The warrior figures here have individual faces; their arms were made of wood and they wore clothes. Sadly, both have disintegrated now, though examples can be seen in the museum. The pits are filled with figurines of courtiers and animals, and you can see the fossilised remains of wooden chariots. • Han Yangling is easily reached by taxi, from Xi’an international airport (25 minutes)
Frequently bypassed for the larger sites of Jerash and Umm Qais , Pella, in the north Jordan valley, is a multi-period site, occupied since neolithic times. It has some stunning Roman/Byzantine remains, and recent excavations have unearthed a Canaanite temple dating from 1700BC and early-bronze-age city walls dating from 3200BC. Take the time to climb to the top of Tell Husn, the southern mound overlooking the dig house, and you will be rewarded with a fantastic view across the excavations and the Jordan valley. •The site is 45 minutes by road from the city of Irbid (two hours from Amman). Buses run from Irbid to the present-day village of Tabaqat Fahl
Vatican Necropolis, Italy
Beneath the Vatican City lie the ancient streets of Rome and an ancient burial ground, the Vatican necropolis – originally a cemetery on the southern slope of Vatican Hill. Saint Peter is said to be buried here, after he was martyred in the nearby Circus of Nero. Emperor Constantine I built a basilica above the apostle’s grave in the fourth century AD, and excavations in the 1940s did find a number of mausoleums. To walk at ancient street levels through the necropolis is an exciting experience for those who love to step back in time. • Visits must be booked with the Vatican Excavations Office. Tours, in groups of about 12, last 90 minutes
Takht-e Soleyman, Iran
Takht-e Soleyman, meaning Throne of Solomon, is a breathtaking site built around a mineral-rich crater lake 30km north of Takab in Iran’s West Azerbaijan province. The earliest remains date from the Sasanian period, from 224 to 651AD. Set in a vast, empty landscape 2,000 metres above sea level, the site includes the remains of a Zoroastrian fire temple complex and a 13th-century Mongol palace. It is surrounded by an oval wall with 34 towers and two gates. The lake is 60 metres deep and so filled with minerals that it contains no life and is undrinkable. Don’t miss the small museum, housed in an Ilkhanid (a 13th-century building), with fine examples of tile, ceramics and stucco decoration. •The site is about two hours by taxi from the city of Zanjan, which is served by buses and trains from Tehran
Fatehpur Sikri, India
This surprisingly intact walled and fortified Mughal city is 40km west of Agra and the Taj Mahal in Uttar Pradesh. Built by Emperor Akbar in 1571, it was the Mughal capital for 14 years before being abandoned for lack of water. A stunning royal complex of pavilions and palaces include a harem, a mosque, private quarters, gardens, ornamental pools, courtyards and intricate carvings. It is the best-preserved collection of Mughal architecture in India. Don’t miss the Rumi Sultana palace, the smallest but most-elegant structure in the complex, and the secret stone safes in the corner of the Treasury, which also houses a museum opened just last year. •The complex is an easy day trip from Agra: take a bus or train to Fatehpur station, 1km from the site
The amphitheatre of Pula is the only Roman amphitheatre to have four side towers and all three levels preserved. Built between in 27BC and 68AD, it is one of the six largest surviving Roman arenas in the world, and the best-preserved ancient monument in Croatia. Overlooking the harbour in the north-east of the town, it seated 20,000 spectators. In summer there are weekly re-enactments of gladiator fights, and it is also used for plays, concerts and the September Outlook festival. Look out for the slabs that used to secure the fabric canopies that sheltered spectators from the sun. •Ryanair flies to Pula from Stansted from £117 return
Carl L. Thunberg is a Swedish archaeologist and historian, born in Stockholm 1963, with master’s degrees completed at the Universities of Gothenburg and Uppsala. His two main areas of specialisation are ancient Scandinavian monuments and the transitional period between the Viking Age and the Nordic Middle Ages. Academia Page
The Spir Mountain cairns are located near to the Swedish city of Örnsköldsvik in Norrland. These two exceptionally well preserved Early Bronze Age cairns are arguably the finest examples of this region, and aesthetically, they are equal to the best prehistoric monuments that Sweden has to offer.
Forgotten monuments in a wild landscape
Norrland’s ancient monuments are often – in comparison to southern Sweden – relatively inaccessible, and to reach these particular examples one must climb a rugged mountain covered with pine trees.
In the main, the information concerning the most northerly Swedish prehistoric sites is outdated, and was brought together in the 19th and early 20th centuries (e.g. Ekdahl 1827-1830; Sidenbladh 1864, 1867, 1868; Olsson 1911, 1914). However, these inventories are often the only references available, as can be seen from the FMIS system of the Swedish National Heritage Board.
Monuments to the dead
The vast majority of the cairns appear to have been built as monuments to the dead, mainly during the southern Scandinavian Bronze Age; circa 1800-500 BC. They occupy prominent positions overlooking the surrounding area, and some researchers speculate that they had a function as tribal markers for family group territories (Baudou 1959, 1968; Burenhult et al 1999).
Unlike the cairns from the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age which appear to contain cremation burials, the Early Bronze Age examples like one of the Spir Mountain cairns (RAÄ Grundsunda 109:1), have internal burial chambers with cists containing skeletal remains, accompanied by various grave goods. In some cases the cairns have been used repeatedly, and have been expanded out from their original structures (ibid).
Many of the cairns were constructed near or overlooking what was once the sea shore; some 30-50 metres above present sea level (ibid), and it is interesting to note that Spir Mountain had once been an island within a bay during the Bronze Age.
Norrland’s coastal cairn-zone is usually considered to extend from northern Uppland to Piteå in Norrbotten, a distance of about 860 kilometres. The coastal cairn-zone in Ångermanland is particularly rich, and includes about 700 registered sites.
Two remarkable structures
During the investigations of prehistoric sites in Ångermanland, the project reached the Spir Mountain and its cairns in 2013. The first visit was an overwhelming experience, standing before two remarkable structures of dry stone masonry with spectacular views across the surrounding landscape. The larger of the cairns (13m in diameter) is exceptionally well preserved, and almost perfectly circular. The stone required for construction must have required an immense investment of labour. The smaller cairn is just to the east and is 6m in diameter.
There are few known settlements that can be associated with the coastal cairns, but it is likely that the area’s inhabitants must have had an economy based on fishing and seal hunting (Baudou 1968). In Västernorrland there are cairns dating from the Earlier Bronze Age through to the Iron Age, with some still in use as late as the Viking Age, long after the tradition disappeared in many other places in Sweden and other parts of Scandinavia (Baudou 1959, 1968; George & Vinberg 2006).
Although the groups of coastal cairns in Norrland, with their contextual continuity, must represent the cultural remnants of a resident population, until further modern research takes place in this landscape it is difficult to fully interpret the sites and identify the cultures that created them.
Baudou, E. 1959. Till frågan om de norrländska kuströsenas datering. Fornvännen: Journal of Swedish Antiquarian Research (1959): 161-176. KVHAA.
Baudou, E. 1968. Forntida bebyggelse i Ångermanlands kustland. Arkeologiska undersökningar av ångermanländska kuströsen. Arkiv för norrländsk hembygdsforskning XVII. Härnösand.
Burenhult, G (ed.). 1999. Arkeologi i Norden. Bokförlaget Natur & Kultur. Stockholm.
George, O. & Vinberg, A. 2006. Arkeologisk undersökning av gravröse vid Älandsfjärden. Rapport 2006:10. Länsmuseet Västernorrland & RAÄ. Härnösand.
Ekdahl, N. J. 1827-1830. Berättelse till Kongl. Witterhets, Historie och Antiqvitets Academien om de Wettenskapliga Forskningsresor, som blifvit företagna åren 1827, 1828, 1829, 1830 i Norrland … (etc). Antikvarisk-topografiska arkivet: N. J. Ekdahls samlingar.
Olsson, E. 1911. Berättelse öfver arkeologiska undersökningar i Ångermanland. KVHAA.
Olsson, E. 1914. Översikt av de fasta fornlämningarna i Ångermanland. Fornvännen: Journal of Swedish Antiquarian Research (1914): 49-80. KVHAA.
Sidenbladh, K. 1864. Några fornminnen i Norra Ångermanland, antecknade sommaren 1864 av Karl Sidenbladh Phil.stud.Norrl. KVHAA.
Sidenbladh, K. 1867. Berättelse till Kongl. Witterhets, Historie och Antiqvitets Akademin om de antikvariska undersökningar gjorda under 1867. KVHAA.
Sidenbladh, K. 1868. Fornlemningar i Ångermanland och Medelpad 1864-1868. KVHAA.
I don’t know how many of you RPG players who frequent my blog are old enough to remember the Empire of the Petal Throne (in Tekumel).
I’m old enough to remember both it and the original Blackmoor, and I bought and played both, though some short time after their original releases.
In any case I always thought Empire of the Petal Throne, not just the D&D setting, but the entire milieu (fictional and gaming) was one of the very most interesting fantasy mileus/worlds ever invented.
So in honor of this I will be making some posts, today and in the near future, on this brilliant and fascinating fantasy setting, and world.
Anyway, to you younger players, or to you older players who still remember this world and this setting, you should find this interesting.
At what point does a world become real? You can detail the languages, cultures, personalities, political systems, histories … but beyond all this is something more that can bring a world alive in the imagination … and make it almost exist.
The world of Tékumel is complex—steeped in history, hoary tradition, a complex clan and social system, myriad flora and fauna. There is a proverb for every time and place, several complete languages and their beautiful scripts, and thirty-four forms of the personal pronoun ‘you’ in Tsolyáni.
This section holds canonical information (recognised by Professor Barker as ‘official’ or ‘real’ Tékumel) about the world of Tékumel that has been previously published in various game systems, sourcebooks and novels. Over time The Eye of Illuminating Glory section will become a comprehensive overview of all aspects of the world of Tékumel: history, races, maps, cultures, language, militaria, arcana and more.
You are about to enter the world of Tékumel, the incredible work of imagination by Professor M.A.R. Barker.
If you’ve never encountered Tékumel before, you’ve stumbled upon an entire world the equal of Tolkien’s Middle-earth in detail and wonder: thousands of years of history, entire languages, rich cultures, unique creatures, bloody conflicts and fascinating mysteries.
Whether a new visitor or an old fan, there’s a world to explore here at the official home of M.A.R. Barker’s Tékumel:
Lots of fascinating information to immerse you in the rich science-fantasy world of Tékumel. We’ll explore the world’s history, the most common gods worshipped, some of the strange beings that share the planet with mankind, and a comprehensive collection of maps of the northern continent.
Well known on the Continent and scattered along the coasts of Wales, Cornwall, and Ireland, dolmens are an immediately recognisable form of chambered tomb. They represent remarkable achievements for their Neolithic builders, crowned with stones weighing as much as 160 tonnes. Vicki Cummings and Colin Richards investigate how these distinctive monuments were constructed – and what happened when a project did not go to plan.
Of all of the kinds of chambered tomb that are found in Britain and Ireland, dolmens are perhaps the most iconic – and the least understood. Yet their composition is very simple: to create a dolmen, you simply place a large slab or ‘capstone’ on top of three or more upright stones, creating an open, box-like chamber. So far, so straightforward – except for the small matter of raising the capstone. In order to get a better idea of how these dolmens were engineered, we began a campaign of excavations at Garn Turne Major in Pembrokeshire, home to the largest surviving capstone from a British megalithic monument.
Weighing in at around 80 tonnes, the Garn Turne Major capstone is a truly massive slab of rock. To put this in perspective, the great sarsen stones at Stonehenge weigh on average 25 tonnes. But even Garn Turne cannot compare with the absolutely colossal capstone at Brownshill, Co. Carlow (Kernanstown), which at 160 tonnes ranks as one of the largest known anywhere in Europe.
Tomb with a view
Building these mighty monuments using prehistoric technology was an incredible feat – something their proud creators were apparently eager to highlight. The capstones often balance precariously on the tips of the supporting slabs beneath. Was this showboating designed to draw attention to the prowess of those assembling sites like these? To us, this delicate arrangement indicates that the cairn material sometimes found around such monuments served a radically different purpose to the traditional view: these are not the vestiges of a lost burial mound, but packing to keep the uprights in place.
It has long been assumed that all chambered monuments were encased within a mound or cairn. In the case of dolmens this would mean that the stone frame was only visible because the mound had weathered, or been robbed, away. There is very little supporting evidence for this, however; sometimes you find a small platform of cairn material around the base of the dolmen, but often there is nothing at all. Rather than the material having been removed at a later date, it seems much more likely that these fantastic constructions with their impressive capstones were meant to be admired, not obscured. Dolmens are visually spectacular sites, with a design geared far more towards ostentatious display than the practicalities of a burial space.
Previous studies of dolmens have tended to focus on architecture and burial chamber contents – both complex subjects, not least because extensive local variation makes it difficult to slot these monuments into any neat typological scheme. Their design has also frustrated generations of archaeologists attempting excavation; dolmens are effectively open boxes that have been exposed to the elements – and curious fingers – for millennia. Few dolmens produce the quantity of material that is typically found in other forms of Neolithic chambered tomb. When material is recovered, analysis is complicated by the fact that these sites clearly saw depositions over very long timescales, often thousands of years.
Our project took a different approach, exploring how dolmens were constructed. We think that, first, prehistoric builders identified a suitable rocky outcrop and prised off the upper surface to create their capstone – hence most of them have a natural, weathered upper surface, while their underside is flatter. Sometimes glacial boulders were used instead, but the underneath was still carefully shaped, to help them balance on the upright supports. These uprights were also quarried stones, with their inner sides smoothed and the outer left natural.
This deliberate working of the surfaces makes dolmens the earliest form of monument in Britain and Ireland to incorporate quarried and shaped stones. While excavating at Garn Turne Major we found debitage created when its huge capstone was flaked into shape using massive hammerstones. Dating back to 3790-3640 cal BC, this represents the oldest-known evidence of stone-working in Britain, pre-dating Stonehenge by around 1,000 years.
Deconstructing Garn Turne
In the summers of 2011 and 2012 we opened a large trench at Garn Turne, which revealed multiple phases of activity, including the remains of at least two dolmens. When we first arrived on site, the monument’s forecourt – an open area perhaps for assembly – appeared to have a natural outcrop in the middle of it, an arrangement unparalleled at other dolmen sites in Britain or Ireland.
Our investigation revealed that this ‘outcrop’ was in fact a quarried stone, sitting on the edge of a pit – probably its source – that contained traces of intense burning. Charcoal from this area was radiocarbon dated to 3702-3639 BC. The stone, which we named the Floss Stone after a dog belonging to one of the diggers, was partly set on a rammed-stone platform that had been cut by another large pit, which lies directly in front of Garn Turne Major and probably once housed its capstone. Radiocarbon analysis of burnt hazel found in this second pit suggests the dolmen was constructed in c.3787-3656 BC or 3761-3643 BC. Stratigraphically there is evidence that the Floss Stone was quarried and moved before Garn Turne Major’s construction – perhaps it was initially intended to be part of the monument, or played a role in the building process, but it could have been a special, sacred stone in its own right.
This was not the only activity pre-dating Garn Turne Major, however: we also found evidence of a smaller dolmen, dubbed ‘Garn Turne Minor’, directly to the north-west. Prior to excavation, only its capstone was visible, but our trenches revealed a number of collapsed orthostats alongside this. It seems that the monument had once stood in a large pit, much like Arthur’s Stone on the Gower, but at a later date, after it had collapsed, the dolmen was surrounded with a platform of stones and soil, hiding the pit and toppled uprights. A series of smaller standing stones were erected around the fallen capstone – perhaps commemorating the monument, or marking its destruction.
Our site was not isolated in the historic environment. We also identified a series of standing stones in the immediate vicinity, placing the dolmens in a broader monumental landscape. Garn Turne Major’s forecourt, constructed partly in the remains of the massive quarry pit in front of the monument, was apparently added at a later date. Analysis of this layer of the pit yielded dates in the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age (2464-2210 BC, and 2618-2470 BC). Another radiocarbon date from higher up in the pit is from the Iron Age (800-547 BC), which – together with the discovery of iron slag – suggests that the dolmen had a long and eventful use in prehistory.
One thing that became clear during the course of our investigation is that things did not always go to plan when building these monuments. There are many surviving examples of dolmens where problems in the construction process can be seen. Garn Turne Major was apparently never completed after its capstone collapsed. At Brownshill the builders seem to have had even greater difficulty getting their project off the ground: perhaps overambitious in estimating the weight they would be able to lift, ultimately the workmen had to make do with only elevating the front part of their record-breaking capstone, while to this day the rear remains firmly rooted to the ground.
It is not surprising that disaster struck when working with such massive and unwieldy materials. At other sites there is clear evidence of capstones breaking, collapsing, or slipping off their supports. The Neolithic builders do not seem to have helped themselves, however. Many times we have observed monuments where prepatory groundwork was shoddy at best: upright slabs had not been firmly bedded in the ground, but were effectively propped against one another for support, like a house of cards. It is no shock, then, that once a massive capstone was placed on top these unstable constructions often went awry.
Chocks away: raising the capstone
How did people manage to shift such enormous stones 6,000 years ago? During the Neolithic period, building materials for monuments were most likely moved using a combination of ropes, levers, wooden rollers, and grease, with people and possibly animals such as oxen providing the muscle. When constructing a dolmen, however, no such shifting was required.
Our excavations have shed some light on how the feat was achieved. After the capstone had been quarried from the bedrock, the monument could be built directly above it, allowing the stone to be raised in situ using levers. Once one end had been raised even a few inches, chocks (probably a combination of timbers and stones) could be placed underneath. The builders could then lever up the other side and put more chocks under it. Repeating this process would slowly elevate the capstone until it was in the right position.
It was then time to remove carefully small portions of this material in order to put in the upright supporting stones. Finally, when all the uprights are in place, any remaining chocks could be removed and – voila! – you have a finished dolmen. This method is much easier than dragging the capstone up a ramp and onto the uprights – though it was during this final phase of construction that everything went wrong at Garn Turne Major: when the final support was removed, the uprights could not hold the capstone’s weight, and the monument collapsed.