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Foeltrigarn;Moel Trigarn;Foel Drygarn Hillfort

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Map ReferenceSN13SE
Grid ReferenceSN1577133600
Unitary (Local) AuthorityPembrokeshire
Old CountyPembrokeshire
PeriodIron Age
Frequently photographed and one of the most dramatically sited and visually striking Iron Age hillforts in Wales, Foel Trigarn occupies the easternmost ridge on Mynydd Preseli, its characteristic silhouette dominating much of the east Pembrokeshire skyline. Three main enclosures can be traced, defined by stone walls or stone-revetted banks, with traces of a ditch around the inner rampart. The earliest was probably that on the very summit, an oval fort set against natural cliffs on its southern side, enclosing 1.2 hectares and with main gates on the east, west and south sides. Attached to this first enclosure, and probably representing later periods of expansion, are a second enclosure on the north and east side which mirrors the outer ramparts of the first, and a third outer annex to the east. The most striking characteristic of Foel Trigarn is its pock-marked interior, the sites of at least 227 levelled house platforms where Iron Age houses once stood. There are also fainter traces of a further 42 uncertain platforms bringing the total closer to 270 house sites. It is highly unlikely that all these house sites were occupied at the same time. The entire hillfort was probably occupied and expanded over many centuries, rather than being used by a single leader or group of people. We are effectively seeing the remains of a complex and long-lasting prehistoric village, with all its phases of occupation on show. Early excavations in 1899 by S Baring Gould unearthed Iron Age and Roman pottery and artefacts which included spindle-whorls, fine glass beads and a jet ring from some of the house platforms. Sling stones were also found in `?great numbers'some in piles..? (Baring Gould et. al., 1900, 210). A new survey by the Royal Commission and researchers from Portsmouth Polytechnic (in 1988) provided the first detailed plan.

On the summit stand three massive stone cairns after which the hill is named. These are interpreted as Bronze Age burial cairns, massive communal monuments covering the bones, or ashes, of one or several special individuals. Similar examples of pre-existing cairns surviving within later stone forts can be seen at Carn Goch in Carmarthenshire, Pen Dinas, Aberystwyth in Ceredigion and at Tre'r Ceiri on the Llyn Peninsula, Gwynedd. As these cairns were never plundered for their stone, despite being surrounded by hundreds of houses, we must conclude that the occupants venerated their distant ancestors, while at the same time deriving power and social status from the acquisition of such a prominent, and sacred, hilltop.

The size and complexity of Foel Trigarn, one of the largest north Pembrokeshire hillforts along with Carn-ingli, Garn Fawr and St David's Head, suggests a role and function distinct from the numerous smaller hillforts like Castell Henllys. It is likely that this was a significant centre of population in its time, its design and construction initiated and overseen by a powerful regional leader. If, as one interpretation of the place mentioned by Ptolemy indicates, the Octapitai tribe occupied St David's Head, perhaps a similar group whose name was never recorded by the Romans sited their `tribal capital? here, commanding the Iron Age lands hereabouts.

Sources: Baring-Gould and others in Archaeological Cambrensis 5th series 17 (1900), 189-211

T. Driver, RCAHMW, 21 September 2009