INITIAL THOUGHTS ON THE RESOURCE AUDIT: NE WALES

 

NEOLITHIC & EARLIER BRONZE AGE (4000-1000 CAL BC)

 

Alex Gibson

(Reader in British Prehistory, Department of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford)

 

Abbreviations

AP                   Aerial photograph

14C                 Radiocarbon

Cal BC             Approximate calendar years calibrated from radiocarbon dating.

EBA                 earlier Bronze Age (2000-1000 Cal BC),        

N                     Neolithic (4000-2000 Cal BC)

PPG                 Planning Policy Guidance (Wales)

SYBC              Sarn-y-bryn-caled, Welshpool

 

 

Domestic sites/Settlement

Strengths

1          House sites such as Trelystan, Walton and Gwernvale, and in the Bonze Age Glanfeinion, clearly show the potential for discovering well-preserved structural and associated artefactual and ecofactual domestic data.

2          Excellent survival of presumed BA house plans and field walls etc in Breconshire (eg. Mynydd y Garn) though direct dating is unresolved.

3          Flint does not occur naturally in the region therefore scatters identify areas of high potential

4          Palynological data identify areas of high potential.

5          Structural data usually comes from protected contexts below later monuments therefore the good preservation of later monuments (e.g. barrows) contributes to the potential preservation of earlier domestic data.

6          Excavated settlements have generally been recently explored, excavated to a high standard and have been well funded. They have good searchable archives and are securely and reliably dated.

7          Waterlogged sites may exist in upland bogs etc but have not generally been recognised (Abercynafon was disappointing in this area).

8          The application of new scientific techniques to the excavated material has shed new light on aspects of  N and EBA economy.

9          The potential for earlier settlements lying beneath later hillforts and defended settlements remains to be explored.

 

Weaknesses

1          Fieldwork identification is difficult given the flimsiness of structures and many Welsh soils are not conducive to standard geophysical prospection techniques or cropmark formation.

2          Site prediction is difficult and discoveries will usually be accidental.

3          Acid soils generally not conducive to the presevation of faunal and/or human skeletal data therefore there is an incomplete dataset for N/EBA economy/population studies.

4          Research funding can be difficult to obtain. Domestic data may be difficult to observe in a rescue environment.

5          PPG procedures are unlikely to contribute significantly towards our understanding of the settlement of the period given the emphasis of preservation in situ of such Guidance.

6          Poor preservation of bone has led to a reliance on charcoal for 14C dates. Some earlier dates may have been on oak charcoal and may therefore unreliable.

 

Opportunities

1          Good preservation of later monuments may preserve important domestic data however the discovery may be somewhat ad hoc.

2          Domestic evidence has generally been discovered through accidental rescue excavation of later monuments however, the identification of significant areas of artefact scatters offers the opportunity for targeted remote sensing techniques to be used to identify potential settlement areas.

3          The richness of the palynological resource (upland bogs, palaeochanels) also provides opportunities for identifying areas of potential settlement.

4          Some idiosyncratic enclosures etc noted on AP’s may benefit from trial excavation to recover absolute dating material.

5          The development of new scientific techniques such as lipid analysis offers an opportunity to fill in some blanks in our understanding of N/EBA economy.

6          Ecofactual data surviving in archives as well as the recent breakthrough in the 14C dating of cremated remains presents an opportunity for the development of a tight internal chronology for N & EBA Wales

 

Threats

1          The fragility of the resource suggests that data is unlikely to survive except in exceptional conditions and/or protected contexts. Unsympathetic agricultural regimes, improvements and developments must pose a substantial threat to the resource.

2          The accidental nature of many major discoveries means that excavators may not expect N/EBA domestic data and therefore be unprepared and/or under- resourced for its proper retrieval and for the optimising of the potential of the data recovered.

3          The general flimsiness and rarity of the evidence may weigh against its identification in pre-planning processes.

 

Artefacts & Industrial

Strengths

1          Flint does not occur naturally in NE Wales therefore any flint recovered from field walking is likely to be archaeologically significant.

2          Axe/battle-axe sources lie in close proximity to the region.

3          Stone axes and metal artefacts have been subject to provenance studies

4          Copper ore extraction sites have been identified in the area and have been researched.

5          Extensive metal analyses have been carried out.

6          Some recently well-excavated assemblages

7          New techniques have been applied at some sites

 

Weaknesses

1          Artefact scatters have generally received little attention in this area.

2          There is not a tradition of systematic field walking in NE Wales. Some areas with a long tradition of field walking (Walton Basin) have not been walked systematically nor published adequately.

3          Contexts of many metal finds are poorly understood

4          Fabric series for  N/EBA ceramics is patchy in some parts of Wales.

5          few secure absolute dates for earlier material.

 

Opportunities

1          The SMR provides a starting point for the identification of areas of rich flint scatter.

2          Local societies and individuals have demonstrated an interest in field walking and artefact collection. With correct encouragement and guidance this resource could be usefully tapped to identify discrete scatters and undertake systematic survey.

3          Archaeologically ‘blank’ areas between scatters may be as or more important than the scatters themselves and might warrant research excavation and/or geophysical prospection.

4          The development of techniques such as microwear analysis has thrown, and may continue to shed some light on aspects of N/EBA economy.

5          The Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities scheme may allow the opportunity to investigate find sites that might otherwise have gone unrecorded.

6          14C of cremated bone will allow tighter chronologies.

7          Archive material exists for provenance studies

8          Archive material survives for lipid analysis.

 

Threats

1          Continued ploughing of scatters and their environs may be damaging any associated evidence.

2          Artefacts may continue to be collected and remain unreported.

3          Unsympathetic curation of early collections may have contaminated and/or destroyed chemical/microscopic data.

 

Burial & Ceremonial Sites

Strengths

1          Some sites (particularly megalithic tombs, round cairns) have high visibility and good preservation.

2          Some high standard recent excavation and/or survey

3          A good and wide range of potential sites but they generally lack investigative research.

4          Some ‘new’ site types have been identified and investigated.

5          Excavations show that some sites have had prolonged use and therefore  chronological sequences can be identified and refined.

6          Good cropmark evidence and some earthwork survival in some parts of the region.

 

Weaknesses

1          Skeletal evidence generally does not survive in the acid soil

2          Little investigative work on some enigmatic monument types (large ring ditches & long barrows for example)

3          Poor absolute chronology

4          Earthen (rather than megalithic) sites poorly understood.

5          Megalithic sites often robbed/reused

6          The scale and degree of degradation of some sites may make detection difficult.

 

Opportunities

1          Development of new techniques (dating of cremations) will allow a developed absolute chronology to be constructed from archive material.

2          Earthen sites may be available for investigation.

 

Threats

1          Unsympathetic landuse regimes threaten (particularly) earthen sites.

2          Lack of investigative archaeology means that some sites remain poorly understood.

3          Funding of investigative fieldwork remains an issue.

 

General Comment

The region provides a good contrast between upland and lowland environments in terms of settlement/economy and burial/ceremonial. Set against a chronological framework comparison of these data may allow insights into the nature of society during this period.