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CPAT - Windows on the Past

The Middle and Later Bronze Age - 1500 - 600 BC

As we have seen, we have yet to identify the evidence of upland settlement in the earlier Bronze Age which has been found with such success in other parts of Britain. In a region where suitable building stone is relatively scarce the search may prove difficult, but it must be hoped that the current programmes of upland survey being funded by the Royal Commission will help to identify potential sites of this period whose dating can be tested by excavation. Another surprising gap in the local archaeological record is the apparent absence of burnt mounds — mounds of burnt stone resulting from cooking and perhaps industrial activities during the Bronze Age — well known from other regions of Wales and elsewhere in Britain and Ireland.

The familiar funerary traditions of the earlier Bronze Age fell into decline during the Middle Bronze Age in many parts of Britain, and although there is some evidence of continuity at Trelystan and Four Crosses, and of a cremation cemetery beneath the medieval church at Pennant Melangell, little is known of the ways in which the dead were disposed.

A period of crisis arose at around 1200 BC when rainfall and soil exhaustion combined to make agriculture impossible on higher ground. The Severn valley, with its interpenetration of upland and lowland environments, is likely to provide a particularly rewarding area for studying this process. The recent chance discovery at Glanfeinion of the first Middle Bronze Age house site in central Wales emphasises the potential difficulty of identifying settlements of this period, however. Earlier discoveries of pottery in domestic contexts have equally been made by chance, as in the case of a number of pits during excavations at the Porth, New Radnor. Except by chance, it seems likely that further unenclosed, lowland settlements of this kind will only be identified from cropmarks discovered by further aerial reconnaissance.

The evidence of climatic deterioration need not imply the total dislocation and economic collapse that has been claimed for some areas of Britain, but the early development of defended settlements in the Welsh borderland, evident at the Breiddin and Llwyn-Bryn-dinas, for example, suggests a nervous society in which it was wise to lock up your cattle and your daughters. Starving, dispossessed upland farmers or strangers fleeing the troubles of a turbulent Europe have all been evoked to explain the new atmosphere of anxiety and fear evident in many parts of Britain where people were now beginning to live behind protective palisades.

Glanfeinion

The exciting new discovery of a Middle Bronze Age house site came to light during the construction of a gas pipe-line near Llandinam, Montgomeryshire. The house, represented by a ring of timber posts enclosed by an outer drainage ditch, possibly represents part of a small unenclosed settlement. Numerous fragments of pottery from decorated bucket and barrel-shaped urns indicate that the house probably dates to about 1200 BC. Charred cereal remains suggest a farming settlement.

Glanfeinion

Left: Mr Ron Roberts (left), British Gas Project Engineer, and members of the excavation team at the Middle Bronze Age house site discovered by chance during the construction of a pipe-line at Glanfeinion, near Llandinam, in 1994. © CPAT

Bronze Age settlement sites continue to be elusive in the region, despite the considerable evidence of activity suggested by chance finds of Middle Bronze Age metalwork including axes and spears. Monitoring of topsoil stripping during the construction of pipe-lines and other engineering works potentially provides good opportunities for the discovery of this and other types of sites which are poorly represented in the archaeological record.

Excavations were funded by British Gas (Wales), and carried out with the permission of the landowner.

The Breiddin

Breddin socketed axe

Right: Late Bronze Age socketed axe found at the Breiddin hillfort. © CPAT

Extensive excavations were undertaken on part of this large and imposing hillfort in advance of stone quarrying between 1969–76. The hilltop was first settled and defended in the later Bronze Age, in about the 10th–9th century BC. There is evidence that bronze-working was carried out at the site at this period.

Occupation of the hilltop continued into the Iron Age and also within the Roman period, possibly after periods of abandonment. Excavations on the site of a natural pond within the hillfort produced a rare and important assemblage of Iron Age wooden artefacts including wooden bowls, a mallet head and a toy sword.

Breddin hills

Left: The Breiddin hills, north of Welshpool, Montgomeryshire, viewed from the south-west, marking one of the main gateways to the upper Severn valley. The main hillfort lies on the hill above the cliff to the left. © CPAT

Excavations were funded by the Welsh Office and were undertaken with the permission of Criggion Estates and ARC Western.

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Iron Age


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