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Neolithic Eryri

The term Neolithic can be explained as the era of farmers who were without metal tools. Up until the 1950's this period was considered to have lasted from about 2,300 to 1,900 B.C. However, the introduction of radiocarbon dating has allowed archaeologists greater insight into this period. The era is now thought to have begun much earlier, around about 4,500 B.C., with the changes taking place far more slowly and gradually than once was thought.The Neolithic farmers were both pastoral and agrarian; they needed far more open land than the hunter-gatherers of the Mesolithic. Although there is some evidence that pastoralism actually began in the Mesolithic.

The Neolithic farmers increased the amount of woodland clearances, felling and burning the woods at a steady rate as population grew. The initial stages of clearing would have produced a patchwork of open spaces amongst the woodland. However, after 3,000 B.C the amount and extent of clearing really intensified, probably due to a rapid growth in population creating a need for more food. Coupled with the intensification of the clearing, the increased level of grazing by animals did not allow woodland generation to take place. In time, the clearings coalesced and were to develop into large open expanses of grassland.

One of the main reasons behind this increased impact on the landscape was the use of polished stone axes. The Palaeolithic and Mesolithic peoples did have stone implements; however, a polished stone axe was far more potent, indeed they were almost as effective as axes made of steel when used on soft woods such as birch. Studies have shown that large areas of woodland; could be felled very quickly, by men wielding such axes as these.


 
Another factor to the growth of clearings in Eryri was the ease of obtaining these particular axes; indeed, the stone for the implements was to be found locally. The rocks hewn from the ancient quarries of Y Graig Lwyd at Penmaenmawr were stronger than flint, but the rock fractured in the same way. Once the rough shape was 'flaked off` the edges could be worked upon, as could its shape. The surfaces were polished lower down the mountain; this would have taken a far longer period. Polished stone axes from Penmaenmawr have been found in many areas of Britain.

Megalithic Tombs are some of the most striking archaeological remains in Eryri, they also point to an indisputable amount of contact between Neolithic communities. Along the west coast of Eryri, the tombs found are much more varied then some other areas, such as the Cotswold - Severn Group. The most significant are the 'portal dolmens`; these have huge capstones and high entrances and are related to those found in South-east Ireland.

Of a later date than the 'portal dolmens', the massive passage grave of Barclodiad y Gawres, on Ynys Mon has similarities to the tremendous tombs of the Boyne valley. This distribution shows that the builders of the tombs were no stronger to seafaring.

The main use of the tombs; were as sites of communal burial, some fifty individuals were found at one tomb site. However, it is likely that the sites were also places of communal ritual. That the tombs or cromlech were the focus for quite different groups or clans is difficult to prove, as would be the likely estimate of how many people these cromlech sites 'serviced'. However, the number of people required to build such tombs is a little easier to appraise.

 


Due to the acid nature of the soils, little if any remains of their abodes can be found. What little that does exist to the present shows one exactly why one encounters such difficulty in finding evidence of their occupancy - the timber framed houses with their wattle and daub walls, are not the most enduring forms of buildings; the materials would have been assimilated back in the ground very quickly indeed, even those with stone footings. Many sites such as the timber house at Llandegai have primarily been detected by chance; an Industrial Estate was being built there.

At sites such as this, only the locations of the pole holes of the upright frame poles can be found. However, with greater sophistication in Archaeological survey techniques, coupled with the identification of potential sites - greater comprehension and appreciation of the period should be achieved. At the moment they have barely scratched the surface as regards to Neolithic history in the area. The finds are limited to stone axes and chert implements found near the mouth of the valley in the lower Seiont area. Who knows how many locations have been destroyed over the years, or damaged by later sites?

Also what is not known, or is rather difficult to define is the origin of the use of the trackways through the mountains. A 'neolithic' pathway is almost certainly found heading up the valley and over Pen y Pass.