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Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Periods

To most people, the first human development in the landscapes of Eryri began with the retreat of the last Ice Age, the Devensian. This is not the case, in fact there were people present in Wales well before the Ice Age and indeed during it. Unfortunately, almost all evidence of earlier remnants of human activity would have been ground away by the tremendous erosive powers the ice sheets of the Devensian period. However a human tooth was found at the Pontnewydd cave near Llanelwy (St Asaph), it is the most north-westerly site of its period in Europe, and the only lower Palaeolithic site yet discovered in Wales.

Although warm spells gone intermittent respite from Devensian ice age e.g. about 62,000 and 27,000 years ago and allowed some human habitation in the South of Wales parts of the North remained gripped in the clutches of the ice, with only a few frost shattered islands of rock protruding out of frozen sea.

Flynnon Beuno and Cae Gwyn caves, near Tremeirchion both show evidence of human activity from the upper Palaeolithic. Flint implements-scrapers, blades and chisels the particular point of interest of these is that they were much more delicate than before in their use was specialised between 25,000years and 15,000 years B.C. Most of Wales was under ice, as the Deviation went into its most serve climatic period, it is probable that there was no human habitation even in the South of Wales until the Lake Glacial period 12,000 years to 8,000years B.C. a period when the ice was slowly retreating. It is from this period onward that unbroken human habitation begins.

 


The initial settlement of Britain was probably across the land bridge that spanned what in now the straits of Dover. The climate of the period would have been of Tundra with typically Boreal animals and plants in abundance, animals such as reindeer and bison would have roamed the valley and the slopes to the north. Stone tools were used in this period and their complexity and appearance was enhanced gradually.

It would have been quite a bit later that the first re-habitation of the land took place in this area. Furthermore, people's presence in the area at this time is debatable, due to the harshness of the climate.

Rapid climatic improvement and the coming of trees took place from about 7,000 to 4,500 B.C.; temperatures were about 2C to 3C higher than today. This epoch is known as the Boreal Period and in this period of rapid improvement of the climate some tremendous changes took place. A Pine/hazel/birch forest replaced the Birch and Pine forests; this forest itself gave way to Pine/hazel woodland, then at a later stage this was replaced by an Oak/alder forest. Just as plant succession was altered, there were also changes in the fauna; herds of wild oxen, red deer, wild boar and a scattering of hares replaced the vast herds of reindeer and bison.

 

 


Mesolithic Peoples 10,000 years to 6,500 years

Most Mesolithic sites are to be found along today's coastline; however, it is probable that a number of sites on what would have been low-lying areas have been submerged with the rise in sea levels. Why did development mainly take place on these coastal sites. It was probably a combination of factors. One main reason was climate; just as today the population of this era realised that the weather was better on the coast. Secondly, there was tremendous difficulty of movement in heavily wooded areas. Apart from being difficult to negotiate the woods and forests were full of dangerous beasts. Pollen analysis shows that trees were being cleared during the Mesolithic as the results of fire. It is probable that the first use of fire for clearing was to farm open glades in the forest around settlements and that later large-scale systematic clearances of the uplands took place.

However, the mountains of Eryri were to suffer increased levels of rainfall later on in the Mesolithic Period. This heavier rainfall coupled with the modified landscape of treeless hill slopes led to severe water logging and the start of rapid peat accumulation. Many of the woodlands in Eryri can be traced back to this period in prehistory; they are not a natural landscape.

These peoples were hunters gatherers, their 'way of life' contained to develop albeit slowly until about 6,500 yrs B.P. It was about then that farming groups-in search of ever more land arrived in Britain. These people could grow crops and looked after trained animals, more people could be fed in thin way then by hunting and gathering. Therefore, their population growth was rapid and they quickly took over form the dispersed Mesolithic hunters.