Extracted from "The Antiquary"
Published & copyright held by The Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society

Attention is drawn to relatively unknown sources describing the exploration of sepulchral remains on Allt Cunedda. There is the suggestion of the discovery in the nineteenth century of a contracted inhumation in a cist, in addition to the better known extended inhumation from beneath one of the tumuli. A period of archaeological activity on the hill in the 1930s is described during which a broken battleaxe was found.

The hill of Allt Cunedda in St. Ishmael's Parish, south east Dyfed rises to 192m. north of Kidwelly. Part of its summit is occupied by an Iron Age enclosure, to the northeast of which lie two ploughed-down tumuli of presumed second millennium be date. The grassy mound 100m. distant from the enclosure (SN40540897) measures 20m. north to south, its eastwest dimension reduced to 15m. by a hedge bank constructed over its eastern edge. It is 0.8m. high with a flat stone, 1.3 by 0.6m. embedded in the summit. The second mound lies 220m. to the east (SN40750901), close to the crown of the hill, and is 19m. across and 0.8m. high (fig.1). Both mounds are within a field system created after an enclosure award of 1854,1 the hedges of which restrict an otherwise extensive panorama across south west Wales.

The tumuli were the subject of one of the few documented mid-nineteenth century excavations in Carmarthenshire, and are known largely through an account in Archaeologia Cambrensis for 1851,2 and an entry in the Carmarthenshire Inventory of Ancient Monuments published in 1917.3 Attention is now drawn to additional sources of information concerning these and other excavations and discoveries on Allt Cunedda, from personal recollections, and little known newspaper and archive accounts.

The Archaeologia Cambrensis and Inventory Descriptions

The report in Archaeologia Cambrensis4 describes the opening of two barrows on 22nd April 1850. The first mound to be investigated is named as Banc Benisel, then 56ft across and 5ft high, with a 5 to 6ft diameter circular depression in the top presumably indicating previous explorations. Banc Benisel is referred to as the tumulus sited closest to the enclosure, about 300 yards distant. The mound covered a flat, hexagonallyshaped stone, 8ft 4ins long, 7ft across and 15ins thick. This sealed an oval pit, seemingly carefully dug, aligned northeast to southwest, on the floor of which was an extended, apparently articulated skeleton lying on its back, in a good state of preservation apart from the lower limb bones (fig. 2). The skeleton, described as that of a very tall human, interred in the prime of life, was clearly assumed to be male because of the identification of the site as the grave of 'Sawyl Benisel, King of the Britons'.5 The skull was noted as flat or depressed in front with a circular opening in the left hemisphere attributed to the blow of a weapon. Teeth were present. The second barrow, noted as being, further to the east is briefly mentioned as a 'general repository for the bodies of the slain, which had been burnt, and the ashes and earth mixed together in a heap'. The Inventory entry repeats verbatim part of the Archaeologia Cambrensis account which it ascribes to an unknown excavator, and records the discovery of an empty cist, by William Williams when ploughing Banc Benisel in 1881.6

Newspaper Accounts
On 26th April 1850, four days after the excavations started, The Welshman carried a report of the work which it states was carried out by Mr Fitzwilham, on whose land one of the tumuli stood, accompanied by Mr Fenton of Glynmel, Fishguard. This was John Fenton, son of the more famous early nineteenth century antiquarian, Richard Fenton. On the authority of the Inventory entry, the Archaeologia Cambrensis report is usually considered anonymous. However, prompted by the information in The Welshman, the Archaeologia Cambrensis note is clearly the first section of a long letter from John Fenton, which has been set out so as to appear as a separate item.7 The Welshman notes that the two excavated tumuli are marked on the Ordnance Map of Carmarthenshire. Most of the information on the excavation of Banc Benisel anticipates that in the 1851 Archaeologia Cambrensis letter but some additional detail is provided. As to the composition of the mound, 'the earth taken out contained large quantities of ashes apparently of wood or possibly furze as there were no pieces of charred wood visible'. The skeleton is explicitly described as male, and age at death is estimated at 30 years on the basis of the teeth. Precise measurements are supplied for the skeletal material. The skull 'was 21½ins in its horizontal circumference 6½ins broad and 7½ins long . . . The thigh bones were perfect and 20½ins long, and the fibula of the arm was, 11ins'. The remains were reinterred apart from the teeth and two or three vertebra which were kept as souvenirs. The excavation of the second tumulus is more fully described in the 1850 Welshman account than in the Archaeologia Cambrensis letter.

After Banc y Benisel had been opened, the gentlemen went to the other tumulus which does not appear to have a distinguishing name. It was about the same diameter as the last but only about 18ins in elevation and without any depression in its crown. The opening into this was made at the summit in the centre, and about 3ft down, a large boulder stone was come to, when the approach of night put a stop to the proceedings. Several pieces of charred wood were thrown out with the earth in digging down. The operations being resumed the next morning, it was found that the stone had been placed over a large grave dug down through the rab to the solid rock, the surface of which seemed to be carefully levelled. It was filled with earth, which apeared to be saturated with the decompositon of animal matter. Nothing being found in this tumulus, the earth was carefully replaced and the hole filled up.

A further discovery on Allt Cunedda, of what may be a cist containing a crouched skeleton, is recorded in The Welshman for 31st August 1888:

On the land attached to this farm where 'Ancient Fortress' is marked on the Ordnance Map of 1842, the tenant discovered in 1848 the foundations of along circumvallation [presumably the enclosure] and near it a coffin constructed of stone slabs, containing a skeleton in a sitting position.

Personal Recollections of the Discoveries
In the Edward Owen collection at the National Library of Wales there is a letter to him from John Shankland of Kidwelly dated 31st May 1898.8 Shankland recollected that as a young lad he had heard that there was a rumour in Kidwelly that labourers employed by Fitzwilliam for draining had found a skeleton of large size. In 1896 Shankland had a conversation with an old man who was born, and lived for many years at a farm adjoining Allt Cunedda and who gave him an account of the finding of this skeleton. He said that there was a mound on Allt Cunedda which tradition claimed contained buried treasure. Curiosity prompted its excavation. The old man was present when the workers opened it. They came to a very large flat stone which gave them a lot of trouble to remove. When it was done the skeleton of a large, powerful man was discovered in a sitting position and facing south. Asked what became of the skeleton he said that Fitzwilliam had presented it to an anatomical museum in London. Shankland suggested the discovery would have been made between 1847 and 1850.

A tourist guide to the nearby village of Ferryside, published in 1900 refers to the opening of 'a grave formed of stone slabs' about half a century previously close to the enclosure on Allt Cunedda.9 Shankland contributed a note to the guide repeating the information given to Owen and naming an informant additional to the person who had lived on Allt Cunedda, one Griffith Evans of Water Street, Kidwelly who had participated 'in removing the stone from the grave of Cunedda'. Shankland mentions seeing an account of the work in the Carmarthen Journal. No mention of Allt Cunedda was noted in a search through editions of this paper from 1847 to 1850. Possibly Shankland had in mind the item in The Welshman, also a Carmarthen paper, on 26th April 1850.

George Eyre Evans, a field worker with the Royal Commission for Ancient Monuments (Wales), and noted Carmarthenshire antiquary, visited the tumuli in 1912 and talked to eyewitnesses of nineteenth century discoveries.10 On Thursday, 22nd August he toured Allt Cunedda farm with the tenant, William Williams, then aged 81. Eyre Evans refers to the local tradition which identifies the mound clipped by the hedge as the grave of Benisel, and records that Williams had come upon the remains of a stone cist, 'four flat stones like a box crushed in', when ploughing the mound 31 years previously (in 1881). Williams stated that these stones were just visible on the surface, that there was no trace of a capstone, and that the cist had been damaged previously. He showed Eyre Evans these stones, two in the western hedge of the field, and two by the farmyard gate. There were two long stones 50ins by 30ins and two shorter stones, 30ins by 16ins. On the 26th August 1912 one John Jenkins told Eyre Evans .. that in the year 1849, he saw the first opening of the cist in the tumulus, the stones of which were later-as already recorded removed by Wm. Williams. There was a large skeleton found there at the time tho J.J. is not certain that it was actually in the Cist. The bones especially of the legs were of large size. The skull 'wh. had a hole in it' was sent away to the Tower of London and never came back. J.J. saw the skeleton so soon as found and his memory is quite clear both as to year and site on Allt Cunedda.11

In the 1930s J. W. W. Stephens, one-time Professor of Tropical Medicine at Liverpool University, then resident at Holcwm, Ferryside, carried out a series of excavations on Allt Cunedda. In 1983 Mr J. Morgan of Kidwelly recalled that, when in Stephens's employment in October 1935 he assisted in digging the mound cut by the hedge. He remembers that a stone block was found together with material identified by Stephens as charcoal. He thought no bone was recovered although there were 'things like strips'. Stephens associated the mound alongside the hedge with that excavated in 1850 covering the grave with the extended inhumation and hexagonal capstone.12 His notes state that 'at a later date the grave was reopened and the remaining bones found are now in Carmarthen Museum' but also that the skeleton was presented to a Dr Phillips of Newcastle Emlyn.13 Tantalizingly, Stephens's notes are cryptic and it is unclear whether he is referring to the recovery of bones from excavations he carried out himself or an earlier reexcavation which seems otherwise to be unknown No description of any excavations undertaken by Stephens at the mound by the hedge was noted in his papers.

In the Museum Collection, Carmarthen Records Office there is a photograph described as 'Allt Cunedda by Professor Stephens 1937', which is endorsed on the reverse, 'Allt Cunedda Parc Benisel and Tumulus from which a number of stones removed by Jack yr Allt years ago'. The poor quality photograph is of a field bounded by a hedgeline. In the foreground is an excavation containing boulders without recognisable arrangement. The scene of the excavation cannot be identified with certainty, but the photograph may be a west to east view looking towards the mound cut by the hedge in the distance. If so, it seems that the photograph is of an excavation of one of the many, apparently natural hummocks in the field, presumably mistaken by Stephens for a further tumulus.

The late W. Harries of Allt Cunedda Farm in 1964 remembered Stephens excavating both the mound cut by the hedge, and the mound close to the summit of the hill 220m. to the east. He recollected that bones had been recovered, from the eastern mound, the excavation of which Stephens records but without mention of bones. Apparently this excavation was undertaken on 4th October 1937 with R. Newstead, finding scattered charcoal and a big stone, and noting 'the hole under the stone extends inwards for 6ft 4 ins on the right hand side looking E'.14 Mr Morgan knows nothing of the work on the eastern mound. If bones were found by Stephens during his work on Allt Cunedda, it is always possible that Mr Harries confused the mounds from which they were recovered, and that perhaps the material, possibly in decayed condition, is to be associated with the 'things like strips' which Mr Morgan reported as found. Both gentlemen were recalling events many years before.

Stephens also mentions that the skull of the inhumation had been taken away and lost, and his obituary (he died in 1946) makes mention of his long but unavailing efforts to locate it in London and elsewhere.15 Eyre Evans recorded the tradition that the skull had been sent to the Tower of London16 although the 1850 account in The Welshman of the original excavation specifically mentions the reinterment of the remains apart from the teeth and some vertebrae. The fate of the skeletal material remains something of an enigma.

During Stephens's work on the hill he found in the vicinity of the enclosure 'a broken axe-hammer head and a socalled net sinker, i.e. a perforated stone disc about the size of the palm of the hand'.17 The records of the former Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, citing W. F. Grimes in January 1939, note that a fragmentary axehammer had been found on opening the mounds on Allt Cunedda.18 Professor Grimes recollects that the broken axe was brought to his attention about the time he was leaving the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff in 1938 to take up a post with the Ordnance Survey. It should be noted that Stephens does not specifically associate the axe with either of the mounds, but only with the general area of the enclosure. The axe fragment was submitted by Professor Grimes for petrological examination and the material was identified as basic tuff.19 The axe is broken across the hourglass perforation and the surviving fragment is 90mm. long and 49mm. wide at the point where the 38mm. deep shafthole pierces the head. All surfaces are polished. Its sides which taper to a slightly curved blade 39mm. long, are convex and both upper and lower faces are slightly concave (fig. 3). The axe appears to fall within Stage II of Roe's battleaxe sequence which has Beaker cultural associations,20 and should not be described as an axehammer, a term now reserved for less elegant implements.

The identification of Banc Benisel (fig. I)
This section seeks to establish whether Banc Benisel, which covered the extended inhumation can be identified with either of the two tumuli presently known on Allt Cunedda. The 1831 one inch Ordance Survey map shows only two tumuli on the hilltop, in the same position as the existing mounds. The 1850 Welshman article notes that the tumuli excavated by Fenton were those marked on the Ordnance Survey map of Carmarthenshire. Therefore it seems reasonably certain that Fenton dug the two mounds currently known on Allt Cunedda, and not any other monument recognisable in the midnineteenth century which has subsequently disappeared.

In the 1851 Archaeologia Cambrensis letter, the position of Banc Benisel is indicated by two facts: it is described, firstly as the tumulus closest to the enclosure and secondly, as sited about 300 yards from the enclosure. Having established that there were unlikely to be tumuli, other than those presently known involved in the 1850 excavations, these two facts appear to contradict each other when the actual position of the monuments on the ground is examined The mound which is closest to the enclosure, that cut by the hedge bank, is only just over 300 feet, not yards, distant from the earthwork. The easternmost mound is however just over 300 yards from the enclosure. It is likely that the units of measurement are confused in the 1851 account, and Banc Benisel is to be identified with the mound cut by the hedge on the basis that this is the tumulus closest to the enclosure. Some support for this view is derived from the tradition noted by Eyre Evans which described the mound by the hedge as Banc Benisel.21 The same association is made by Stephens22 although it is unknown whether his view was based on the results of any excavation he may have carried out, at this mound, or whether he was merely following the Inventory entry23 which undoubtedly was prepared by Eyre Evans. Stephens's discovery of a large stone and pit at the eastern tumulus is equivocal24 since he could be describing either the grave and covering stone at Banc Benisel or the 'large boulder stone' covering the 'large grave' found during Fenton's second tumulus excavation on the hill.25

The burial rites on Allt Cunedda
Claims that a skeleton in a sitting posture was found in a grave of stone slabs on Allt Cunedda before 1850 might in themselves appear tenuous both because they were only made many years after the supposed event,26 and because Fenton failed to mention such a discovery when writing in 1851. These sources might be suspected of inaccurately recalling the 1850 discovery of the extended inhumation. Nonetheless a skeleton in a sitting posture, presumably a contracted burial should not readily have been confused with an extended interment. Also the reports of a contracted burial in a grave of slabs on the Allt are supported by William Williams's description of a short cist uncovered in Banc Benisel in 1881,27 and the exposure by modern ploughing of a short cist on the lower slopes on the hill to the south west.28 (fig. i) The presence of a short cist in Banc Benisel, in addition to the large grave pit raises the possibility of more than one phase in the construction of the mound.

The Archaeologia Cambrensis description of the work in 1850 indicates that a cremation deposit was found at the eastern mound. No confirmation of this is reported by Stephens after his probable reexcavation of this monument, although Mr Harries thought bones had been found. The Welshman account appearing within days of Fenton's excavation makes no mention of a cremation, only earth 'saturated with the decomposition of animal matter', and perhaps there is some doubt as to whether a cremation burial was really located. The indication of contracted inhumations in short cists suggests that some of the funerary activity on Allt Cunedda may have had Beaker cultural associations, an idea supported by the find of a battleaxe fragment on the hill top. This complements a number of sites near Laugharne, a multiple cist cairn at Plashett,29 the Orchard Park short cist crouched burial30 and the contracted inhumation in a short cist near Coygan Camp,31 indicating the influence of Beaker traditions on both sides of the Towy/Taf estuary littoral, although the distinctive Beaker ceramic form has yet to be found. Extended inhumation is the least common second millennium bc burial rite but the Banc Benisel burial can be paralleled elsewhere along the west Wales coast, apparently at Whitehill barrow, near Lydstep,32 and the Corston Beacon inhumation accompanied by a flat dagger.33

Thanks are due to the staff of the National Library of Wales, Carmarthen Record Office and Carmarthen Museum, the Librarian, Tower of London, to Miss P. Ward, Dr C. S. Briggs, National Monuments Record for Wales, and Mr C. Stenger, Dyfed Archaeological Trust. Miss M. Bowen Evans drew attention to one valuable reference. Mr W. G. Thomas, editor of Archaeologia Cambrensis readily gave permission for the reproduction of an illustration from the journal. Dr. H. S. Green, National Museum of Wales, Mr C. H. Houlder, RCAHM (Wales), and in particular Professor W. F. Grimes were most helpful in securing information about the battle axe. Fieldwork was assisted by a grant from the Board of Celtic Studies.


1. Carmarthen Record Office.
2. J. Fenton, 'The Grave of Sawyl Benisel, King of the Britons', Archaeol. Camb., vol 2, (1851) new ser, pp. 159162.
3. Royal Commission for Ancient Monuments (Wales), Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Carmarthenshire (1917) no 716 (RCAM henceforth).
4. J. Fenton ibid.
5. For the identification and local traditions relating to Sawyl Benisel see Francis Jones, The Holy Wells of Wales (Cardiff 1954), P. 166.
6. RCAM ibid.
7. J. Fenton ibid pp. 159 .
8. Edward Owen collection 18038E NLW.
9. H. C. Tierney, Guide to Ferryside, Carmarthenshire (Carmarthen1900) unpaginated.
10. G. Eyre Evans, 'Note Books on Antiquarian Matters in Carmarthenshire' X, 13457A NLW.
11. Idem.
12. J. W. W. Stephens papers. File labelled 'Ancient Monuments', NLW.
13. Idem, Carmarthen Museum now has no records of bones from Allt Cunedda. Pers. com. Curator.
14. Idem. The mound excavated on 4.10.37 is located accurately by measurements taken by Stephens relative to field boundaries. It is definitely the easternmost of the mounds presently identifiable, at SN40750901.
15. Idem.
16. G. Eyre Evans ibid. An inventory of antiquities at the Tower of London prepared in 1857 lists no skeletal material. Pets. com. Librarian, Tower of London.
17. J. W. W. Stephens ibid.
18. O.S. card SN40NW2.
19. J. F. S. Stone and F. S. Wallis, 'Third Report of the SubCommittee . . on the Petrological Identification of Stone Axes', Proc. Prehist. Soc., 17 (I951) PP. 99I58, np 778. O.S. card SN40NW 15 also refers. The axe is now in Carmarthen Museum.
20. F. E. S. Roe, 'The BattleAxe Series in Britain' Proc. Prehist. Soc., 32 (1966), pp. 199245.
21. G. Eyre Evans, ibid.
22. J. W. W. Stephens
23. RCAM ibid.
24. J. W. W. Stephens ibid.
25. The Welshman 26th April 1850.
26. The Welshman 31st August 1888; Edward Owen ibid; H. C. Tierney ibid.
27. G. Eyre Evans ibid.
28. Archaeol in Wales, 14 (1974), P 11, no. 14. This cist has now been removed.
29. H. N. Savory, 'Copper Age Cists and Cist Cairns in Wales'', pp. 117139, in Prehistoric Man in Wales and the West, eds. F. Lynch and C. Burgess (Bath, 1972).
30. J. F. Jones 'Orchard Park Beaker Burial', Carmarthen Antiq. vol II (1951) pp. 5759.
31. M. Curbs, The Antiquities of Laugharne (1880) pp. 13637.
32. J. Dearden, 'Some Remarks on the Opening of Certain Tumuli near Tenby', Archaeol Camb. vol. 2 new ser. (1851) pp. 29i94.
33. C. Fox and W. F. Grimes, 'Corston Beacon: An Early Bronze Age Cairn in South Pembrokeshire', Archaeol Camb. Ixxxiii (1928) pp. 137174.

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