Saturday, June 4, 2005

Mystical Circles

High above the idyllic village of Llandrillo, set in the fertile countryside of Clwyd, North-East Wales sits the exquisite stone circle of Moel-Ty-Uchaf - the ‘high, bare hill’. Archaeologists classify moel-Ty-Uchaf as a cairn-circle; its 41 low stones surrounding a cist (or simple grave, perhaps of some prehistoric chieftain) originally covered by a mound of stones.

Unlike the enigmatic stone circles of Stonehenge or Callanish, few people come here save the occasional passing hiker en route to the heather-clad Berwyn Mountains. This is a place to sit and feel the mists of time disperse around you, revealing an age where myth and legend was part of everyday life. Yet this is no isolated monument, since the countryside of the British Isles is graced by many more examples. In fact so widespread are they that one may ask who built them, and to what purpose?

Man is believed to have first reached what is now known as the British Isles some 500,000 years ago, a time when much of the northern landscape was glacial. These first humans were ‘hunter-gatherers’, following a nomadic way of life governed by the seasonal migrations of the animals they hunted and the periodic advance and retreat of the ice. By 6,000 BC climate change had caused the glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise, isolating Britain from mainland Europe. Gradually the island inhabitants began to adopt the concept of farming originated in the Middle East, constructing permanent settlements and adopting embryonic socio-political structures to adapt to the new stability inherent in such agrarian societies. Massive communal tombs were erected and later, the first stone circles. It is believed these fulfilled a religious function, possibly linked to lunar and solar cults and may have been so shaped in mimicry of natural crop circles formed by spiral vortexes – events sure to have a profound effect on a prehistoric farmer tilling his soil.

This then was the dawn of civilization. The rest, as they say, is history and Moel-Ty-Uchaf still stands overlooking its valley – a monument to Nature itself.

CONTRIBUTED BY Robert Gladstone