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Early and Middle Bronze Age Eryri

The general definition of the term Neolithic is an era when communities of farmers lived and worked with the use of stone tools. In Wales, the Neolithic period did not come to an end until about 1,990 B.C. Although metal objects were certainly available in Wales from around 2,500 B.C, onwards, they were not generally available to the whole population until a much later date. The first metal articles were initially made out of copper; however, a little later the metalworkers realised that the addition of tin hardened and toughened axes and blades - this is material we know as bronze.

The arrival of bronze implements in Britain has in the past been linked with the settlement of a new group of people. The Beaker People or Folk have been given this designation because of a distinctive form of pot or beaker used by them in their burials. For many years the traditional view of prehistoric Britain was that a succession of invasions by a number of differing migrants brought about the change in material culture.

However, views have changed in recent years, and archaeology confirms that a new racial type may be found in a number of the burial sites containing beakers - these people were physically robust and had broad shoulders. However, it seems likely that no invasion took place just gradual in migration of small groups, bringing with them their cultural influences.

These influences were enough to change the culture of the inhabitants without threatening or overwhelming them; change was therefore a far slower mechanism than that was previously thought. One should allow far greater importance to the concept of continuity of life, habits and culture passing along through the existing peoples to the newer arrivals.

It cannot be said that changes in culture did not occur, one change that did take place was the decrease in the number of communal burials. This may be as a result of the evolution of aristocratic groups or the development of priestly orders - either set might have been capable of developing their power and limiting the access to the burial sites.

 
This decrease in communal burial had already started in the late Neolithic Era and should not be seen as an alteration to the usual culture of the area inaugurated by the Beaker People. A further alteration to the culture of this period can be seen with an apparent increase in distinction between ceremonial and burial sites.

There is one change that took place at this time of which we can be a little more certain; the use of pollen analysis shows us the impact of the Bronze Age had on the landscape. The increased presence of bronze implements among the people had a great effect on the vegetation. Felling and clearing of woodland increased and this led yet again to further expansion of the areas of open land.

Other impacts were to have an even more profound effect on the landscape. One big effect was the introduction of the metal plough, this was important enough, but the discovery of the wheel and the use of manuring to maintain or increase soil fertility also had tremendous impacts on agriculture and the use of land.

The use of metal also had a further effect on the landscape, with copper being mined at a number of sites - almost certainly on Anglesey and the Great Orme. It is difficult to state whether the copper lodes on the flanks of Snowdon or at Nant Peris were mined at this time.

What must be realised is that the society present in Eryri at this time was far more ordered and developed, than was thought to be possible, compared to earlier societies. As more and more evidence is collected on these peoples, our understanding of their levels of development and sophistication seems to increase each time. We may never appreciate their achievements, their depth of understanding and their development in full. What is certain is that they could quite happily survive and thrive with what we once regarded as 'primitive' tools and systems of agriculture.

 


Growth in population at this time attests to the success of their agricultural practices. Population levels in Eryri were probably much higher than that was previously thought.

Coupled with these advances, the climate of the Early and middle Bronze Age in Eryri was quite reasonable. Settlement would have expanded and new settlements would probably been founded. The cultivation of land and the formation of these would have taken place on successively higher levels. In the Middle Bronze age cereal cultivation (wheat and barley) occurred at some settlements that are over 500m above sea level. Such sites are found at Cefn Graeanog, Llanllyfni.

However, these upland settlements would have been the first to be abandoned as climatic deterioration took place. Cereals could not have been grown in these areas as we approach the Late Bronze Age. These settlements have been left unscathed by later developments. With deteriorating climate came the gradual accumulation of peat, and the washing down of soils; these have covered many of the sites and field systems. However, it may be said that in many areas, the landscape of Eryri is indeed a 'fossilised' Bronze Age Landscape.

That the peoples of this period travelled up the valley and occupied the area can be seen in the finds. At Glyn Rhonwy, Llanberis (O.S. 565 608) a horde of four palstaves were found; below Dinas Mot (O.S. 626 563) a flat bronze axe was uncovered. At the mouth of the valley at Glangwna, Llanrug (O.S. 502620) a palstave was found. During the excavations on the Roman fort of Segontium, a number of bronze age articles were uncovered - including a flanged axe, a socket axe and spear head. This reflects the notion that the area around Segontium had many advantageous factors; if not as a defensive site, then at least a prime site for occupation. Probably the most intriguing find is however the unearthing of a Bronze Age Hammer axe high up on Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon).