||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
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
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
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).