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NOTE: The above is a 3D image of the fort. Please click into SketchFab and follow derekphillips. He has some more work relating to historic sites.
Bronze Age burial cairns. Oval multivallate Iron Age hillfort. Possible prehistoric village.
The name can be translated roughly as “The hill of the three cairns” and although the cairns within the hillfort have tentatively dated to the Bronze Age there is some debate that they may even date back to the late Neolithic period.
The site is situated on Moel Trigarn, at the end of the Preseli’s range and has extensive views including overlooking the sea, St. George’s Channel, and towards Ireland. Foel Drygarn is a large hillfort for the area and there is some speculation that it may have been a tribal centre for the Octapitai Tribe during the Iron Age.
Foel Drygarn is defended by three ramparts constructed of earth and stone. There are traces of a ditch located outside the inner rampart only and this is believed to have been cut during the initial stage of construction. The two outer defences, mainly located on the north and east sides, show signs of being later additions – possibly when the Romans made incursions towards this area?
The site encloses 1.2ha and the entrances are located on the south, east and west sides. Within the main enclosures there is evidence of 227 hut platforms, leading to the hypothesis that this was a main tribal centre. There are a further 42 platforms which do not adhere to dwellings and their function is as yet unknown.
Also within the main enclosure are three large burial cairns, as follows –
These, as mentioned, have been dated to the Bronze Age, with an hypothesis of placing them in the Late Neolithic period, however, it is also considered that they may be contemporary with the fort, belonging to the Iron Age. Further investigations will reveal it true dating.
Looking through the images that have been posted online regarding the site, I am surprised to see people walking all over these cairns. As burials I would give them the due respect, and stay off them so as not to damage the monument – but there again, the OS pillar, located on top of the central cairn, does invite people to go and read what is scribed upon it…..a bit of a quandary!
The fact that stone has not been robbed from these burial cairns during the various construction phases of huts, walls and other buildings in it’s past, demonstrates a level of respect for the cairns and those buried there, by the people of the past.
As previously mentioned, it is believed that this hillfort belonged to the Octapitai Tribe, a possible sub-tribe of the Demetae. The tribe’s history has been lost to time however they are mentioned by Ptolemy, so their name lives on!
The tribe held land in the St. David’s head region in southwest Wales, and although the Roman’s never ventured into their territory, as far as we know, could they have collaborated with them to be left alone in peace and ruled as client kings? We may never know. But thanks to Ptolemy we know of their existence.
Due to our lack of knowledge of the Octapitai and with the site only having one excavation undertaken back in 1899, the timeline of this site is a bit thin, but as you can see, many images have been taken for research purposes.
Timeline of the site –
4000-2300 BC Neolithic: Possible dates for cairns and/or hillfort.
1600-700 BC Bronze Age: Possible dating for the three burial Cairns.
800 BC – 43 AD Iron Age: Contour hillfort constructed.
1927 Research image.
1989 Aerial photograph.
1991 Aerial photograph. Research image.
1995 Research image.
1996 Aerial photograph.
1998 Aerial photograph.
1999 Aerial photograph.
2002 Aerial Photograph.
2006 Research image.
2009 Research image.
2010 Research image.
2012 Research image.
2013 Aerial photograph.
2015 Aerial photograph.
2017 Research image.
The archaeology, uncovered in 1899, is puzzling in that it throws up some interesting questions regarding the Romans and their influence within the area.
Only further archaeological investigation will answer the mountain of questions that we have about Foel Drygarn. And possibly answer, once and for all, the debate surrounding the dating of the site and cairns, and phases of construction.
Further questions –
If you can, visit the site, enjoy the views and check out the defences!
References & Bibliography.
Coflein. 2023. Foeltrigarn; Moel Trigarn; Foel Drygarn Hillfort. Available at https://coflein.gov.uk/en/site/94948/
Cummings. V., & Whittle. A. 2017. Places of Special Virtue: Megaliths in the Neolithic Landscapes of Wales. Oxbow Books.
Driver. T. 2018. New Perspectives on the Architecture and Function of Welsh Hillforts and Defended Settlements, Internet Archaeology 48. https://doi.org/10.11141/ia.48.9.
Knight. G. 2011. Merlin and the Grail Tradition. Skylight Press.
Lewis. S. 1840. A Topographical Dictionary of Wales: Comprising the Several Counties, Cities, Boroughs, Corporate and Market Towns, Parishes, Chapelries, and Townships, with Historical and Statistical Descriptions · Volume 2. S. Lewis.
Parker Pearson. M. 2012. Stonehenge: Exploring the Greatest Stone Age Mystery. Simon & Schuster UK.
Phillips. A. 2014. Castles of Wales. Amberley Publishing.
Phillips. G. 2019. Wisdomkeepers of Stonehenge: The Living Libraries and Healers of Megalithic Culture. Simon & Schuster.
Wainwright. G. 2003. Forward. In RCAHMW. 2003. The Archaeology of the Welsh Uplands. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales. p. 7.
Foel_Drygarn_527375. Foel Drygarn Hillfort, near to Crymych, Pembrokeshire. By Dave Price, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11631719
Foeldrygarn in the eastern Preseli Hills. Foeldrygarn_in_the_eastern_Preseli_Hills_(geograph_3448384). By Jeremy Bolwell, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90350272
At the centre of the hillfort are three huge stone cairns. 1920px-Foel_Drygarn_Hillfort_Cairns. By Hoddyfool – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=82585675
Gap in the rampart on Foeldrygarn hillfort. Gap_in_the_rampart_on_Foeldrygarn_hillfort_(geograph_5192442). By Humphrey Bolton, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90350498