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Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Expanding settlement in Wales



Here are three more maps from the SEA6 report (2005).  The maps are ten years old, but still pretty accurate.  They show the extent of settlement, so far as we can interpret it from archaeological traces, in the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods.

The Palaeolithic lasted for a very long time, and the main cave sites are associated for the most part with the outcrops of Carboniferous Limestone.  People were certainly living in Wales around the time of maximum ice extent during the Devensian (23,000 - 20,000 yrs BP).  They lived close to the ice edge, and probably at times within sight of it, and prior to the maximum extent of the Welsh Ice cap and the Irish Sea Glacier they must have lived within the "glaciated area" as the ice advanced and forced them southwards.  Many of their settlement sites will have been obliterated or buried -- some will certainly be discovered in the future.

By the time of the Mesolithic people must have re-established themselves right across Wales.  Did they live preferentially close to the coasts?  Maybe, because movement was easier there, and because fishing could supplement food supplies, but we see that there are also many settlement sites far inland, and I assume that there must have been thousands of others -- maybe also including Rhosyfelin?  Some will have been ephemeral, and others must have been permanently occupied.

In the Neolithic there were hundreds if not thousands of settlement sites all over the place.  There is not much evidence that the coast was preferred......

All of this evidence summarised in the maps must be interpreted with caution, since much of it is based upon "chance" discoveries, and agricultural practices within the last few centuries have certainly obliterated vast numbers of sites.  So in some areas an assumption that Neolithic people preferred uplands or "wild places" must be taken with a pinch of salt......

5 comments:

chris johnson said...

Very interesting posts.

Similar remains along what is now the West Coast from Brittany to Orkney, including Cornwall, Ireland, Wales, etc would lead normally to the conclusion that there was a lot of communication going on. For much of our history you could have walked it, so communication was easily possible.

The dating schemes like to focus in on the neolithic, when the ocean had broken through on all sides and as far as we know there were no ocean going boats. Communication was much more difficult, impossible even.

The most obvious hypothesis would be that we have got the dating wrong and that Pembrokeshire was occupied much earlier people with a megalithic mindset. The dates in Brittany do extend back into the mesolithic, and the Prescellies were occupied in mesolithic times too as recent work by the other two archaeologists has shown.

The Cleddau river which births in the Precellies, as does the Nyfer, would have been major rivers in the period after the melt and anybody moving about would have been drawn up the rivers to the mountains. I do recall the twinkle in Mike's eye when he talked about the mesolithic and this is the connection that we would love to find.

We need to remember I think that the data points for the chronology are few and far between, and there has been a major bias towards an association with early farmers some 5000 years ago. The evidence staring us in the face, although many data points are under water, is that the history of these stone monuments is likely a lot older than we thought it was.

TonyH said...

Figure 12, Paleolithic sites, shows marked 23, Gwernvale. I was aware this is primarily known for its Cotswold - Severn Neolithic long barrow, having passed it on many motorcycle trips to and from Aberystwyth in the early - mid 1970s (another story!).

Delving into the Net reveals:-

digitaldigging.net/gwernvale-long-barrow-crickhowell-Powys


Written by non other than TIM DARVILL, it tells us a full excavation HAD to be done in 1977, due to the realignment of the A40 road (reminiscent of the discovery of much of what we know at Durrington Walls in the late 1960s).

Wiltshire's vigorous, and rather ahead of - his - time, country gentleman - digger Colt Hoare was first on the scene in 1804. Bill Britnell, fairly notable archie in Wales I believe, excavated it fully. "The long barrow had been built on top of an extensive and long - lived settlement" (Darvill). Finds are in the National Museum in Cardiff. Presumably, some Paleolithic artefact(s) was found on this fairly low - lying site. Anyone know more? Geo??

TonyH said...

Gwernvale, just outside Crickhowell, apparently lies on an ancient road, perhaps older tan the Roman Via Julia, according to one of the internet sources I found. So a prehistoric settlement there may have had links both towards the (much closer) sea and westwards and broadly northwards. Perhaps a preferred Bluestone Route, at least in MPP's vivid imagination?

Geo Cur said...



Tony , an old story in more ways than one . The buried soil below the later barrow produced lithics that were considered to be upper Paleolithic ,dunno if that is still the case . Certainly Mesolithic flints , a pit and carbonised emmer wheat ,hazel nuts and apple , blackberry seeds were among the food remains found below the surface of the barrow . Dates were 5700 BC , much later there were timber structures similar to that found at other long barrows/cairns , predating the actual barrow /cairn .
The excavation report is in Antiquity 1979 .

Geo Cur said...

Tony , an old story in more ways than one . The buried soil below the later barrow produced lithics that wee were considered to be upper Paleolithic , I don’t know if that is still the case . Certainly Mesolithic flints , a pit and carbonised emmer wheat ,hazel nuts and apple , blackberry seeds were among the food remains found below the surface of the barrow . Dates were 5700 BC , much later there were timber structures similar to that found at other long barrows/cairns , predating the actual barrow /cairn .