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Friday 26 October 2018

Castell Mawr and the curse of Stonehenge

This paper places on record the excavations undertaken at Castell Mawr in 2012 and 2013.  At the time Prof MPP and his team were very keen indeed to establish solid links between prehistoric features in the Brynberian / Crosswell area and Stonehenge, with -- as we all know -- frequent pronouncements on what the next great leap forward was going to be.  The work was part-funded by the National Geographic Society, so spectacular results were anticipated..........

Use the search facility on this blog to find earlier posts.

Parker Pearson, M., Casswell, C. and Welham, K., 2017. ‘Excavations at the Castell Mawr Iron Age hillfort, Pembrokeshire’, Archaeologia Cambrensis 166, 141–73.

The article is freely available here:–Pearson%20et%20al.pdf


Castell Mawr is a small hillfort in the community of Eglwyswrw, Pembrokeshire. Thought to have been built on a Late Neolithic henge, it was investigated with four trenches in 2012–13. These excavations revealed that Castell Mawr’s main period of construction and use was in the Earliest/Early Iron Age during the late eighth–late fth centuries BC with hints of an earlier human presence on the hilltop in the Late Mesolithic and Bronze Age. No definite evidence of any Neolithic activity was found, however, and the earthworks all date to the Iron Age. The hillfort’s Iron Age sequence started with a roundhouse, followed by a pair of concentric timber palisades built during the late eighth–late fth centuries BC. An enclosing rampart was constructed around the hilltop, followed by a cross-bank. The final activity post-dating the cross-bank dates to the fifth century BC, slightly earlier than or contemporary with initial construction at nearby Castell Henllys. The Castell Mawr/Castell Henllys sequence confirms Murphy and Mytum’s (2012) model for long-term processes of settlement development in west Wales.

In their Introduction the authors say: 
The possibility that Castell Mawr might have initially been constructed as a Neolithic henge led to a research programme of earthwork and geophysical survey and excavation of this site in 2012–13 by the Stones of Stonehenge project. The hillfort lies close to two sources of Stonehenge bluestones, one almost 4 kilometres to the south at Carn Goedog (Bevins et al. 2013) and the other just a mile away to the south at Craig Rhos-y-felin near Pont Saeson, Nevern (Pembs.) (Ixer and Bevins 2011; Parker Pearson et al. 2015). Thus it was thought that identification of a Neolithic henge beneath the earthworks of the hillfort might shed light on the social and economic context of the locality from which many of Stonehenge’s bluestones were sourced.

So there is no doubt where the authors were coming from or about what motivated them, so it is to their credit that following the presentation of the finds from the dig they admit that it was all a wild goose chase.  MPP says this in the conclusion to the paper:
There is little evidence of Neolithic activity, as had been anticipated, and the OSL dates from the outer earthworks indicate that these were not constructed until the Iron Age. Thus it is highly unlikely that Castell Mawr was ever a Neolithic henge.

But then, in talking about the local setting of Castell Mawr, MPP cannot resist popping this in: Another site with radiocarbon dates from this same Earliest/Early Iron Age period is the bluestone source at Craig Rhos-y-felin, Nevern, where a small, open site without any evident above-ground structures was occupied probably occasionally during the period from the late eighth to the fourth century BC (Parker Pearson et al. 2015, 1342, table 1). 

That is completely gratuitous and meaningless in the context of Castell Mawr -- he might just as well have cited every other site in north Pembrokeshire with radiocarbon dates falling into approximately the same time slot.  But the tactic was, and still is, to keep on mentioning the putative bluestone quarries, even where there is no reason whatsoever for doing so, so that the myth of their existence and their "importance" is kept alive.


chris johnson said...

Good to see that the excavations are being written up and professionally too as far as I can judge.

The evidence that such a prominent place as Castell Mawr was NOT a significant site in the later Neolithic/early Bronze Age is surely important. Had the surrounding area been busy with highly organised quarrying teams and monument builders then surely Castell Mawr would not have been overlooked. The evidence (lack of evidence) points to quiet times - disappointingly so.

BRIAN JOHN said...

Quiet times disappointing, Chrius? Isn't that what we all strive for.....?

TonyH said...

Quite a lot of hillforts, through continuity of settlement, are sited where earlier prehistoric activity occurred e.g. a very recent ITV programme produced by Griff Rhys Jones [Griff's Great Britain: 8/8 Borders] showed a Shropshire hill fort with very early occupation by man.

On the MPP front, I could not resist looking up the lyrics to a very melodic and harmonic '80's pop song by Freiheit from Germany which include these lines:-

The hopes we had were much too high
Way out of reach but we had to try
The game will never be over
Because we're keeping the dream alive

Worth a listen.