Gelligaer Common, on the border between Caerphilly and Merthyr Tydfil, has long been known for its Bronze Age burial cairns, and the remains of the medieval longhouses excavated by Lady (Aileen) Fox in the 1930s. Archaeologists have been studying it for so long that you would think that we have already discovered everything there, but you would be mistaken. At the begining of August archaeologists from the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust led a guided walk for Groundwork Caerphilly to look at some of the sites on the common, and they walked between two of them, Janine Reed of Groundwork spotted a prehistoric cupmark on a slab of sandstone.
Cupmarks are motifs typical of prehistoric rock art in Britain. Most British rock art originated in the Neolithic period, but it obviously still had a meaning in the Early Bronze Age, the date of the cairns on Gelligaer Common. The new find joins just three others known in Glamorgan – a cupmarked stone known as Maen Cattwg just outside Gelligaer village, another found in the Simondston Cairn excavated near Coity, Bridgend, by Sir Cyril Fox just before the Second World War, and one found a few years ago in a pile of boulders on Mynydd Marchywel north of Neath by GGAT Project Officer Jo Higgins. A fourth, in Bargoed, was described by Lady Fox in a letter written in 1949, but has now disappeared.
Janine was able to recognise the cupmark as she’d recently had Maen Cattwg pointed out to her. ´I was absolutely amazed and thought all my birthdays and Christmases had come at once!´ she said. ´I’m still astounded at our chance, but amazing discovery!´
Dr George Nash of the University of Bristol, a specialist on prehistoric rock art, comments:
´The cup is a fairly common motif used in a wider rock art tradition within Western Britain. Single cupmarks usually appear by themselves, (multiple cupmarks are rarish!). The stone on which it is gouged may be a fallen monolith – possibly a standing stone – again not uncommon within this part of the world (north-western Europe). It would be interesting to see if there are others nearby. I say this as I believe cupmarks and standing stones are very much part of a set of monuments associated with death, burial and other rituals. Both would have acted as markers within a landscape that had a spiritual meaning for the people who used it. I think that prehistoric communities would have processed through the landscape, walking from one monument to another on a carefully defined route and carrying out a set of carefully designed actions, probably at specific times of the day or points in the yearly cycle.´
He added that he could confirm that it is ancient from the way that it had weathered since it was made.