Penywyrlod and Gwernvale in their early Neolithic context
March 4 @ 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
ORDINARY MEETING OF FELLOWS LECTURE
OUT OF LONDON IN CARDIFF*
The first stones: Penywyrlod and Gwernvale in their early Neolithic context
by William Britnell FSA and Professor Alasdair Whittle FSA
Penywyrlod and Gwernvale are two early Neolithic long cairns in inland south-east Wales, part of a distinctive distribution around the fringes of the hills of the Black Mountains. With other well known examples including Ty Isaf and Pipton, they share many elements of cairn and chamber architecture familiar from the Cotswolds, but put together in varied and distinctive ways. They also contain, like Cotswold monuments, human remains, but the Black Mountains group as a whole show distinctive and rather selective practices.
In recent decades, detailed investigations of long cairns and long barrows have been comparatively rare, so new research and fresh assessments of Penywyrlod and Gwernvale are significant for Neolithic studies in their own right. This work gains added value from being set now in an improving, but still imperfect, knowledge of the regional and wider contexts in western Britain, and so we begin by giving a sense of other recent and new research and discoveries in western Britain and of debate about Neolithisation processes.
Penywyrlod was only discovered in 1972, and was partially excavated first by Hubert Savory of the National Museum in Cardiff. Further small-scale, targeted excavation was carried out in 2015–16 by Bill Britnell on behalf of Cadw, with a view to long-term conservation. Gwernvale had long been known to antiquaries, and was the focus of a brief excavation involving Sir Richard Colt Hoare at the very start of the nineteenth century. Roadworks in the later twentieth century led to its more or less complete excavation in 1977–78 by Bill.
The recent work at Penywyrlod has provided further important detail on the architecture of the structure and its contents, its date, and its setting. It has also set up the opportunity to review the evidence from Gwernvale, especially from the pre-cairn surface, focusing on the wooden structures and probable pre-cairn midden or middens. We will draw on the work of colleagues (Seren Griffiths, Mick Wysocki, Elizabeth Walker, Alistair Barclay, Samantha Neil and Astrid Caseldine: all joint authors of our forthcoming Oxbow monograph) on chronological modelling, human remains, lithics, pottery, isotopic investigations and plant remains including cereal assemblages from pre-cairn Gwernvale, to give an idea of how new detail contributes to the broader picture of how our two cairns might have fitted into a wider world. Distinctive monumental and commemorative practices can be argued to be part of a strategy for the early Neolithic intake of a substantial portion of inland south-east Wales, probably from the 38th and 37th centuries cal BC onwards. We follow the story down to the seemingly late appearance of enclosures in south Wales, overlapping with the construction of the Gwernvale cairn perhaps in the 36th century cal BC.
*We hold annual meetings in conjunction with our regional groups in Cardiff, Exeter and York. Due to COVID restrictions these meetings are being held online but were still organised with support from our regional convenors and committees.
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