A Welsh Landscape Through Time

Today, we’re travelling through Neolithic Wales with author and archaeologist Jane Kenney.

Exploring Neolithic buildings throughout the Welsh landscape, we discover just how important Wales is to understanding prehistoric Britain. Enjoy!

Early Neolithic rectangular timber buildings, interpreted as houses or halls, are well known from Ireland, where many have been found through commercial archaeology. They are also prominent in Scotland, where they are particularly large. Even in England, where they have previously been scarce, more have been found in recent years. Wales is often left out of discussions of this site type, but these houses or halls are also found in the Principality, especially in North Wales.

A small Early Neolithic rectangular building was found at Clegyr Boia in Pembrokeshire in the 1950s but the first of the larger buildings was found at Llandygai near Bangor, Gwynedd, in the 1960s (Llandygai I). In 2005, about 500m away, was found another, almost identical building, at Parc Bryn Cegin, Llandygai (Llandygai II). Two years later one was found at Parc Cybi, Holyhead, Anglesey, and between 2014 and 2016 a group of four such buildings were found at Llanfaethlu near the north coast of Anglesey. Groups of these buildings are rare, even in Ireland, where so many have been found, so the latter site is of particular importance.

The two structures from Llandygai and the one from Parc Cybi are very similar in design, with pairs of aisle posts dividing the buildings into three bays, one larger than the other two. At Parc Cybi there was an additional room added to the eastern end. The Parc Cybi and Llandygai II buildings were on exactly the same orientation (WSW to ENE); Llandygai I was aligned SW to NE. House 1 at Llanfaethlu was also aligned WSW to ENE with some similarities in design to the three previously mentioned. It would seem that there was a certain accepted style of building in this region and an emphasis on a specific orientation.

Llandygai I may have burnt down, Llandygai II was partially dismantled, as was the Parc Cybi building. The latter seems to have had feasting in the dismantled remains as two pit hearths, full of Early Neolithic pottery, cut structural elements of the building. This building also had a significant relationship to a nearby tomb, known as the Trefignath Chambered Tomb. The tomb was excavated in the 1970s and had three phases of development. It appears that a small chambered tomb was built and the house/hall was constructed aligned on this. The tomb was then rebuilt with a long cairn and a new chamber that took on the alignment set up by the house/hall. The alignment was emphasised when the tomb was extended and another chamber built. It is rare to get a chance to excavate an Early Neolithic building close to a tomb and this suggests that they were conceptually connected.

These buildings, whether they were mainly domestic structures or had broader social functions, were clearly an important part of Early Neolithic life across Britain and Ireland, though they were only built and used over no more than three centuries at the start of the Neolithic period. The Welsh sites deserve a wider consideration as they have much to add to the debate about this site type. 

A reconstruction of the house/hall at Parc Cybi by Helen Flook.

A Welsh Landscape Throughout Time: Excavations at Parc Cybi, Holy Island, Anglesey
By Jane Kenney

Holy Island is a small island just off the west coat of North Wales, an archaeologically rich region. Between 2006 and 2010, excavations across over 20 hectares were investigated, revealing a busy and complex archaeological landscape, which could be seen evolving from the Mesolithic period to present day. This book examines the information unearthed by the archaeological investigation that revolutionised our understanding of how people have lived in, and transformed, the landscape of Holy Island, and it’s broader significance for similar sites across Britain and Ireland.

Jane Kenney is a senior archaeologist at Gwynedd Archaeological Trust. She obtained her PhD from Edinburgh University in 1993, and excavated on sites of all periods in Britain and abroad before settling in north-west Wales. Since then she has been fortunate enough to run two large-scale excavations, including Parc Cybi, on both of which Early Neolithic buildings were found.

Oxbow Books | 9781789256895 | Hardback | £45.00
Available through Oxbow Books