Notes for a timeline of Welsh history and prehistory
The Mowers—Deep Welsh—Extensive View—Old Celtic Hatred—Fish Preserving—Smollet’s Morgan.
Next morning I set out to ascend Dinas Bran, a number of children, almost entirely girls, followed me. I asked them why they came after me. “In the hope that you will give us something,” said one in very good English. I told them that I should give them nothing, but they still followed me. A little way up the hill I saw some men cutting hay. I made an observation to one of them respecting the fineness of the weather; he answered civilly, and rested on his scythe, whilst the others pursued their work. I asked him whether he was a farming man; he told me that he was not; that he generally worked at the flannel manufactory, but that for some days past he had not been employed there, work being slack, and had on that account joined the mowers in order to earn a few shillings. I asked him how it was he knew how to handle a scythe, not being bred up a farming man; he smiled, and said that, somehow or other, he had learnt to do so.
“You speak very good English,” said I, “have you much Welsh?”
“Plenty,” said he; “I am a real Welshman.”
“Can you read Welsh?” said I.
“Oh, yes!” he replied.
“What books have you read?” said I.
“I have read the Bible, sir, and one or two other books.”
[To be corrected, amended, adapted, as necessary… ]
As I understand it, at the time that the Romans invaded Britain, (approximately the same time Jesus Christ was supposedly alive in Palestine) the people here, from the south coast, possibly all the way to the Shetlands ? spoke a language which would have been recognisable as Welsh.
The people were known as Britons, Brythons, and may have called themselves Cymro, although divided into many separate tribes.
The people of Ireland spoke a different, but closely related celtic language.
Subsequent to the Roman conquest, that was the end of that ‘pure’ Welsh, because the people became Romano-British, and many Latin words were added to the language, and the culture was changed by the powerful influence of that Empire, over four centuries.
A people from Ireland called the Scottii invaded the north, bringing their language, Irish gaelic, which subsequently became Scots gaelic.
When Rome collapsed, the Angles, Saxons and Danes invaded, bringing their language, so that the people who spoke Welsh/Romano-British were marginalised in Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Man, Northumbria, etc, and then the Vikings also invaded…
So the Welsh language was squeezed into Wales.
Then the Normans arrived, and Norman French became the language of the dominant aristocracy.
I forgot to mention the Christians, who came in two separate waves, one the so called ‘Celtic’ and the other, the Augustinian, from Rome. They also had their impact upon culture and language.
So that covers the last two thousand years, back to the Iron Age, and it’s surprising that any Welsh language survived at all.
But is it safe to assume that the people, prior to the Roman invasion, spoke Welsh, and had always done so, for the four thousand years since the first farmers arrived ?
I do not know the answer, the answers to what went on during that vast span of time, I don’t know if anybody does, that’s what this page is for, trying to educate myself… 🙂
Where to start ? Any date seems somewhat arbitrary. How about Doggerland… for no very good reason…
During the most recent glaciation, the Last Glacial Maximum that ended in this area around 18,000 years ago, the North Sea and almost all of the British Isles were covered with glacial ice and the sea level was about 120 m (390 ft) lower than it is today. After that the climate became warmer and during the Late Glacial Maximum much of the North Sea and English Channel was an expanse of low-lying tundra, around 12,000 BC extending to the modern northern point of Scotland.
Where were the people ? Who were the people ?
This land where I live was once called Annwn
in the old tales of its inhabitants.
The Lord of Annwn is Gwyn ap Nudd, which
translates as White, or Holy, the son of the
Mist, or Haze.
His people are called Plant Annwn, the
Children of Annwn, or the Tylwyth Teg, the
Fair or Beautiful Family.
What the English would call Fairies, and the
Irish, the Sidhe-folk.
Annwn is a strange enchanted realm, located
somehow underground, or magically comingled
with the ordinary world. An invisible dimension
but connected to the normal mortal world by
way of concealed entrances.
A parallel reality, where nothing is ever quite
as it seems, and where the laws of physics
Pwyll, the Prince of Dyfed, is sitting upon one
of the ancient tumuli, when a strange lady in
a golden robe rides by upon a white horse.
He follows her, and is drawn away into her
realm, where time has no meaning, since she is
Rhiannon, and when the Birds of Rhiannon
sing, men lose all sense of the passage of time.
The stories are filled with fantastic imagery
and enigmatic references and allusions to
characters, places, and events which were
possibly common knowledge at that time,
but are obscure today. The stories were
composed or collected by the bards.
The status of a master of the bardic lore and
skill was acknowledged symbolically by the
special chair upon which eminent bards were
The idea of these otherworldly folk has been
explained as the memory or spirits of a former
race, an earlier culture, displaced by invaders,
mixed with elements of prechristian religious
Other interpretations are possible.
The written sources of the early Welsh stories,
probably date from 1200 -1300 A.D., containing
material from the 9th. or 10th. centuries and
possibly including some earlier fragments.
To what extent the material allows genuine
insights into prehistoric Celtic culture has been
disputed for a century and more, and still is.
Personally, I believe there is the possibility
that the Mabinogion tales contain material, not
just from Iron Age Celtic times, but from very
very much earlier. Some 7000 [?] years earlier, in
fact, because there is a mention of a time when
Ireland and Wales where only separated by two
shallow rivers, the Archan and the Li. We know
now, from the geological record, that that must
have been the case. But at the time the stories
were written down, the authors couldn’t have
So either they invented that detail – why ? – or
else it must have been passed down via oral
transmission from neolithic and mesolithic
times. There are also the tales of the sunken
offshore kingdoms. That land was inundated
approximately 4000 B.C. [?]
In the ancient Irish stories, Nuadu came to
Ireland with the Tuath de Danann, the people
of the goddess Danu, or Anu.
Having lost an arm in battle which was
replaced with one made of silver, he is called
Nuadu Argatlam, or Nuada ‘ of the silver hand ‘.
In the Welsh tales he is called Lludd Llaw
Ereint, which also means ‘ of the silver hand ‘.
With the coming of the Romans, he appears at
Lydney ( named after Lludd ) on the western
side of the River Severn, Hafren, ( itself named after a
goddess Sabren, or Sabrina ), where in late
Roman times, c. 365 A.D., a temple was
flourishing, probably a healing centre for wealthy
patrons, where was discovered an inscription
‘ D. M. Nodonti ‘, meaning ‘ to the great god
Nudons, or Nodons, or Nodens ‘, another cognate
of Nuadu, Lludd, Nudd.
After the Romans had been and gone, and
England had been conquered and settled, first
by the Anglo-Saxons, and then by the Normans
led by William the Conqueror, Nuadu
transmutes once again, his name Lludd or Lud
becoming Lot or Loth in Norman French, and
thus he enters the Arthurian legends, ( joining
Pwyll, who became Pelle, then Pelleas ) becoming
in Malory’s ‘ Morte d’ Arthur’ ( c.1469 ), King
Loth of Orkney.
The first known story-teller of Arthurian themes
on the continent of Europe was a Welshman
named Bleheris or Bledri, who frequented the
court of Guilhem IX, Count of Poitou and VIII
Duke of Aquitaine.
It is likely that Guilhem received the stories of
the Holy Grail from this Bleheris, and that they
subsequently spread from the Court of Poitou.
It seems that this Bleheris was one Bledri ap
Cadifor, whose father, Cadifor, was a great
personage of the time in West Wales, and was
looked upon as the ancestor of important
families of ancient Dyfed.
Cadifor seems to have been on quite friendly
terms with the Normans, being said to have
entertained William the Conqueror on his visit
to St. David’s in 1080.
In those days, St. David’s, on the south-west
extremity of Wales, was a very famous
pilgrimage destination. Two pilgrimages there
were considered the equal of one to St. Peter’s
in Rome. In the Age of Saints the peregrination
or ‘ soul journey ‘ was a major activity, and St.
David’s must have had contacts with much of
Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.
Cadifor died in 1089. His eldest son, Bledri,
probably lived between 1070 – 1150.
As many people have noted, the cycle of stories
surrounding the Holy Grail contain an esoteric
mystery, the tales being utilised to implant a
secret spiritual teaching concerning the Divine
Source, and the possibility of experiential
communion with it.
[This chapter discusses allusions in the Second Branch of the Mabinogi, Branwen, to Irish geography: the former rivers between Britain and Ireland called Lli and the Archan and the submerged kingdoms; the river Liffey and Dublin; and the origin story of the ‘five fifths of Ireland’. The last is compared with Lebor Gabála Érenn and Giraldus Cambrensis, with the Lot story in Genesis 19, with the stories of Cairbre Cattchenn and Túathal Techtmar, and with the ‘Treachery at Scone’. ]
As shown by Jennifer Isaacs in her Australian Dreaming; 40,000 years of Aboriginal history (1980) story can retain proveable data over tens of millennia. The discovery of dateable remains of giant marsupials in relation to indigenous early camp sites, some as far back as 30,000 years vindicated the reality behind many Dreamtime tales, previously dismissed by educated, white commentators as mere fables.
From Ritual to Romance by Jessie L. Weston
A chapter in The Ancient Human Occupation of Britain states that the Last Glacial Maximum “saw an almost complete depopulation of England, Germany and the northern half of France, starting around 23,000 years ago, with the possible exception of rare ephemeral incursions into the southern half of Germany”. Humans probably returned to the region of the British/Irish peninsula about 14,700 years ago as the Ice Age started to end. Eighty percent of the DNA of most Britons, according to modern research, has been passed down from a few thousand individuals who hunted in this region during the last Ice Age. Compared to this, subsequent migrations from mainland Europe had little genetic impact on the British.
There have been several intermittent cold periods since the last ice age, the most severe were from about 12,800 to 11,500 years ago (Younger Dryas) and from about 6200 BC to 5800 BC (8.2 kilo year event), although likely to have affected population numbers, some settlements seem to have survived during these periods. During the Mesolithic period there was a miniaturisation of the flint artefacts, which has been attributed to differences in the prey of the hunters (this change in artefacts was at one time attributed to the arrival of a new people). About 4000 BC, the Neolithic Revolution reached Britain and Ireland, with domestication of animals, arable farming and pottery. Again, a new invasion was previously postulated by archaeologists but this now seems to have had only a minor effect on the isles.
A low estimate for population of Britain around 9000 BC is 1,100–1,200 people, in 8000 BC 1,200–2,400, in 7000 BC to be 2,500–5,000, and in 5000 BC to be 2,750–5,500.
Another method gives a much higher estimate, so that by 4000 BC the population of Great Britain was around 100,000 while that of Ireland was some 40,000, and by 2000 BC 250,000 and 50,000.
An early example of an origin myth of Great Britain put forth in The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, which was written in 1138, and claims to have been compiled from earlier material. As the book explains, the first inhabitants of Great Britain were a race of giants underneath Albion. The next inhabitants were Trojans under Brutus who landed at Totnes and defeated the giants. Brutus divides the island into Britain, ruled by himself, and Cornwall, ruled by Corineus. After the death of Brutus, Britain was divided into three parts (England, Scotland and Wales) ruled over by his three sons. The eldest, Locrinus, married Corineus’ daughter, and, when the two younger sons died, the whole island was ruled by him and his 98 successors. They continued until the arrival of the Romans. After the latter’s departure, the crown passed to Vortigern, who sought help from the Saxons in fighting against Constans. At a meeting with the Saxons, most of the British leaders were killed. King Arthur then led the fight against the Saxons, but the latter prevailed.
This account remained the standard view of the settlement of Great Britain until Polydore Vergil wroteAnglica Historica, completed in 1513. However, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work has continued to provide inspiration to later writers of fiction.
The Irish equivalent of Geoffrey’s History was the Book of Invasions, Lebor Gabála Érenn, compiled from earlier material in the late 11th century. It chronicles four mythical phases of immigration, with six invasions. The last of these was the invasion by the Gaels who came from the Iberian Peninsula; they were the sons of Mil (also known as Milesius, Míl Espáine, or the Soldier of Hispania). According to the legend, the ultimate ancestor of the Gaels was a Scythian king from what is now eastern Ukraine, whose descendants settled in Hispania.
The Gaels defeated the Tuatha Dé Danann, who inhabited Ireland and had themselves taken control from the Fir Bolg (banished to the Aran Islands) and the Fomorians (banished to Tory Island). Thomas O’Rahilly re-interpreted the text, dating the Gaelic invasion to 100 BC.
The only Irishman to survive the biblical Flood, Fintan was a mythical seer whose name is cited in many texts. The Bóchra/Bóchna of his patronymic is never identified; it may refer to his mother or may imply the sea. He may be yet another figure derived from the shadowy Find implied in Ptolemy (2nd cent. ad). According to the pseudo-history Lebor Gabála [Book of Invasions], Fintan was one of three men who accompanied the lady Cesair, whom he took as a wife, and her fifty women, forty days before the Flood. When the other two men died, all the women approached Fintan, who fled from them. A poem later ascribed to Fintan explains how he survived the Flood when all others perished by hiding in the hill of Tounthinna [Ir. Tulach Tuindi, Tul Tuinne] over the River Shannon (near Portroe, Co. Tipperary).
In another story Fintan details in a dialogue with the hawk of Achill how he escaped the Flood. He had been 15 years old at the coming of the waters, but survived for another 5,500 years. In surviving he had been transformed into a one-eyed salmon, an eagle, and a hawk before resuming his own shape. The hawk responds that it also is very old and has witnessed many of the events Fintan describes, including the exploits of Cúchulainn, the coming of Christianity, and the whole history of the Western world. Fintan is usually presumed to be a seer of great knowledge, partially because of his animal transformations and also because of his great age, and becomes a patron of history and poetry. His wife of later years is Ébliu (1), the sister of Lug Lámfhota.
By 8000 BC temperatures were higher than today, and birch woodlands spread rapidly. Rising sea levels caused by melting glaciers had cut Britain off from Ireland by about 12,000 years ago, whereas the land bridge between Britain and the continent lasted much longer. The plains of Doggerland were thought to have finally been submerged around 6500 to 6000 BC, but recent evidence suggests that the bridge may have lasted until between 5800 and 5400 BC, and possibly as late as 3800 BC. The warmer climate changed the arctic environment to one of pine, birch and alder forest; this less open landscape was less conducive to the large herds of reindeer and wild horse that had previously sustained humans. Those animals were replaced in people’s diets by pig and less social animals such as elk, red deer, roe deer, wild boar andaurochs (wild cattle), which would have required different hunting techniques. Tools changed to incorporate barbs which could snag the flesh of an animal, making it harder for it to escape alive.
Tiny microliths were developed for hafting onto harpoons and spears. Woodworking tools such as adzes appear in the archaeological record, although some flint blade types remained similar to their Palaeolithic predecessors. The dog was domesticated because of its benefits during hunting, and the wetland environments created by the warmer weather would have been a rich source of fish and game. It is likely that these environmental changes were accompanied by social changes. Humans spread and reached the far north of Scotland during this period. Sites from the British Mesolithic include the Mendips, Star Carr in Yorkshire and Oronsay in the Inner Hebrides. Excavations at Howick in Northumberland uncovered evidence of a large circular building dating to c. 7600 BC which is interpreted as a dwelling. A further example has also been identified at Deepcar in Sheffield, and a building dating to c. 8500 BC was discovered at the Star Carr site.
The older view of Mesolithic Britons as nomadic is now being replaced with a more complex picture of seasonal occupation or, in some cases, permanent occupation. Travel distances seem to have become shorter, typically with movement between high and low ground.
Radiocarbon dating of a butchered brown bear bone, which has been stored in a cardboard box at the National Museum of Ireland for almost 100 years, has established that humans were on the island of Ireland some 12,500 years ago – 2,500 earlier than previously believed.
Since the 1970s, the oldest evidence of human occupation on the island of Ireland has been at Mount Sandel in Co. Derry. This site has been dated at 8,000 BC, which is in the Mesolithic period, indicating that humans had occupied the island for some 10,000 years.
However, new analysis of the bear patella – or knee bone – originally found in Co. Clare in 1903 gives us undisputed evidence that people existed in Ireland during the preceding Palaeolithic period at 10,500 BC, some 12,500 years ago.
Almost no evidence survives of Neolithic sea-going craft. But the Scottish islands are separated from the mainland by deep waters, at distances beyond any deer’s swimming capability.
“All terrestrial fauna must have been deliberately introduced by seafaring people,” Dr Mulville says. “These people were sophisticated, skilled farmers, with large settlements. The islands were popular places to settle, with sufficient resources to allow people to thrive. The coastal environments offered a wide range of marine, coastal, terrestrial and aerial resources and these people utilised them all.”
Europe’s red deer probably survived the ice ages somewhere in the Iberian peninsula, and spread across the continent as the glaciers retreated. They were the ancient European’s first animal resource, until the arrival of farming from the Middle East. Although the genetic lineages of the island deer were unique, one at least matched deer fibre found in the clothing of Ötzi the Iceman, the copper age humanwho died on an Alpine glacier 5,000 years ago.
“This evidence suggests we have misunderstood our relationship with this species. Perhaps humans managed deer, having long-term relationships with herds that allowed them to plan, capture and transport deer on longer voyages.”
The study, the scientists say, presents “the first attempts to understand the deliberate translocation of faunal species into insular Britain and track the source for these introductions.” And, they concede, the antlered invaders came from “a currently unidentified source population.”
Settlement in Wales was apparently intermittent as periods of cooling and warming led to the ice sheets advancing and retreating. Wales appears to have been abandoned from about 21,000 years ago until after 13,000 years ago, with a burial found at Kendrick’s Cave on the Great Orme dating to about 12,000 years ago.
The Lebor Gabála Érenn at a Glance: an Overview of the 11th Century Irish Book of Invasions
This gentleman’s blog has a useful analysis…
The Lebor Gabala Erenn Interpreted As Legendary History
We know that the process by which Ireland was peopled was many layered. This is also the assumption of its origin story, Lebor Gabála Érenn (the Book of Invasions).
Here are my raw and speculative conjectures on how this originally oral tradition of legendary history might be connected to reality:
* The Fomorians may have been the Mesolithic hunter-gatherer people of Ireland. They were by tradition a seafaring people and in some traditions arrived from North Africa both of which would be consistent with what we know of the Atlantic Mesolithic people who left traces such as mtDNA V from North Africa to Arctic Saami people of Finland.
There were only a few thousand European hunter-gatherers in Ireland prior to the Neolithic revolution.
By tradition they were the first people in Ireland after Noah’s flood before the Partholón and only after the Cessair (discussed below).
Western European hunter gathers persisted in Ireland past the fall of the first farmers for about 6,000 years, and would have been racially much more distinctive than later waves of invaders would have been from each other which could account for their physical descriptions as rather grotesque despite the fact that they can produce children with the invaders.
Incidentally, while Ireland was not depopulated by a flood, it was completely depopulated for thousands of years from about 28,000 BCE to 15,000 BCE when it was covered by ice sheets (a frozen flood for those who would like to stretch for a literal correspondence) and then not immediately repopulated when the ice sheets retreated.
* The Partholón may have been the first farmers of Ireland descended from the Cardial Pottery wave of the Neolithic Revolution and arriving via Iberia ca. 4500 BCE whose demise in the story corresponds to the collapse of the first wave farmers of Ireland about ca. 3300 BCE from a peak population ca. 3700 BCE of about 100,000-200,000 people. Their legendary route, by sea from Anatolia to Greece to Sicily to Iberia isn’t far from the Cardial Pottery route.
The proprietor of the Old European Culture blog would associate this wave with the first metal age arrivals many centuries later, as they reputedly bring gold to Ireland, but I would note that they do not necessarily more practical metals and that panned gold has a tradition of being retrieved from Caucasian springs since very ancient times and takes less skill to extract than copper or tin.
Still, he has a point. Gold was a distinctive feature of Bronze Age Ireland and was rare before then. But, first wave Neolithic people in Ireland, like the Partholón, was a civilization that collapses before subsequent invaders arrived, while Bell Beaker culture was conquered without collapsing in Ireland, and had origins in Anatolia but not in the steppe.
* The Nemed may have been the first Bell Beaker People to arrive in Ireland, by tradition, from the Caspian Sea who clash with the Formorians in multiple battles, and then leave for “the north of the world”, for Britain and for Greece.
The Greek branch, the Fir Blog return to Ireland after a couple of centuries, and nine of their successive kings rule Ireland for the next 37 years.
Their successors, the Tuatha Dé Danann are also descendants of the Nemed, in particular, those who went “into the north of the world” who wrest Ireland from their kin the Fir Bolg and rule another 150 years.
In real life, the Bell Beaker people arrive in Ireland around 2500-2200 BCE, but it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the continent-wide Bell Beaker civilization, which I’ve speculated may also have links to the Greek Minoans (like the Fir Blog), comprised factions within themselves who waxed and waned in the Irish political sphere over a period of fifteen centuries or more, about a factor of ten longer than in the story.
The Fir Blog are also said in legendary history to be contemporaneous with the Israelite Exodus, which would be about right in this chronology.
* The Milesians, finally, would represent the Celtic speaking Gaels, who arrive in Ireland in reality sometime between the 9th and 4th centuries BCE, quite possibly from Iberia as tradition suggests. This transition, historically, as in the myth, may have been comparatively peaceful reaching a treaty after an early spat of fighting.
The association of the Tuatha Dé with the underworld may reference not only their sídhe burial mound practices (in contrast to Indo-European cremation), but also their background as miners of metal from the ground.
This analysis doesn’t leave a place for the first wave of invaders, the Cessair, who are descended from Scythians, which would be a likely place of origins for the ancestors of the proto-Celts. This story appears to be derived from the history of the Gaels in the History of the Franks origin story, and the History of the History of Britain’s origin story likewise associates this story with the Gaels. Also, notably, these people do not encounter the Fomorians whom later waves of Irish invaders do encounter, and provides origin stories that could plausibly be for all of the people of the world, or at least, all of the Indo-European peoples. This story, therefore, may be out of order and actually represent the prehistory of the Milesians Gaels before their arrival in Ireland, rather than the true first wave of invaders of Ireland.
This analysis gives both populations with genetic steppe origins – the Bell Beakers and the Celts, a steppe origin in legendary history, while denying it to each of the populations which probably didn’t have a steppe origin but did expand out of Anatolia as in legendary history.
There is a complicated discussion which I have not been following
How did the Bell Beaker FOLKS spread across Europe
The first invasion mentioned is that of Cessair, a granddaughter of the Biblical Noah who arrived with only three men and a multitude of women forty days before the Flood but perished soon after together with all her followers except for Fintan mac Bóchra, who survived the centuries in the shape of various animals and witnessed the whole of Irish history.
Largely unnoticed and ignored by the daily influx of visitors to Stonehenge are three round white concrete discs set into the tarmac of the site’s car-park. Measuring about a metre across these discs mark one of the most interesting yet least understood phases of the development of the Stonehenge landscape. During excavations for the building of the car-park, three pits were discovered which contained pieces of bone and fragments of charcoal – the pits had evidently held large wooden posts. When this pine charcoal were carbon dated it was found to be some 10000 years old, over twice the age of any other structure at Stonehenge. At this time the during the Mesolithic period the whole area would have been covered with forests of birch, pine, hazel, oak and elm with scattered patches of open grassland. As yet we know little about why these three timbers were erected, whether an area was cleared, whether it was a natural forest glade, or even how tall the timbers were. If and when the whole Stonehenge area is redeveloped, with the road, car-park and visitors centre removed, we may find further clues to explain the function of this enigmatic structure.
Recent work on the four major areas of the spread of agriculture in Neolithic western Europe has revealed that they are both chronologically and economically much more abrupt than has hitherto been envisaged. Most claims of a little agriculture in Late Mesolithic communities are shown to be incorrect. In most places, full sedentary agriculture was introduced very rapidly at the start of the Neolithic. “Transitional” economies are virtually absent. Consequently, the long-term processes of internal development from forager to farmer, so often discussed in Mesolithic-Neolithic Europe, are increasingly hard to sustain. The spread of agriculture by immigration is thus an increasingly viable explanation. The crucial role of boats for transport and of dairying for the survival of new farming settlements are both highlighted. Farming migrations were punctuated and sporadic, not a single wave of advance. Consequently, there was much genetic mixing as farming spread, so that agricultural immigrants into any region carried a majority of native European Mesolithic genes, not Near Eastern ones.
This farming spread must have been by boat. There were no native aurochs on Zealand (Aaris-Sørensen 1980), so the early cattle at Åkonge were definitely imported. Farther north, agriculture was probably carried by boat up the coasts, an easier method of travel than overland (see above). Baltic crossings would require longer open-water voyages than in the Cardial or LBK. Irish curraghs can, however, make substantial voyages and weather considerable seas (Hornell 1938, sec. 5:17–21), and a large one has even crossed the Atlantic (Severin 1978). The role of dairy products in such moves has been stressed above. If fresh milk (rather than yogurt, cheese, etc.) was to be consumed, the consumers must have the lactose-tolerant gene present in some modern peoples. Swedish researchers have recently located this gene in 13 archaeological skeletons, the oldest being Middle Neolithic (directly dated to 5308–4980 cal BP; Malmström et al. 2008). If this gene was present earlier (and elsewhere in Europe), this would have made the daily food production from a lactating animal even more valuable to migrants.
Transport by Irish curragh. Top, pigs ready for embarking; the animals have their feet tied to prevent movement. Photo by T. Mason, from Jones (2004, fig. 157). Bottom, short-distance towing method; the cow has been tied up to prevent it from struggling. Photo by and courtesy of John Waddell.
3.4 Prehistoric skinboats in western Britain
Appropriate raw materials such as seal skins and tools suitable for the construction of skinboats are present within the prehistoric archaeological record; stone tools, including scrapers and burins for working wood and hide, and bone needles and animal sinew for fixing and sewing. The technology of working hides for skinboats is very similar to, and most likely evolved from, the manufacture of animal-skin clothing (Buijs 2004). Indeed, skinboats could have been built before the tools necessary for the construction of logboats had evolved (McGrail 2001, 11).
Currachs and umiaks are pulling boats, capable of rowing in any direction despite the weather, but are subject to much leeway in strong winds because of their shallow draft and light weight. Rowing courses must allow for this sideways drift and this would be normal for an experienced boat crew. A recent study suggests that a paddled boat, similar to the currach, could make the trip from Brittany around the west of Ireland to Orkney in less than two weeks (Callaghan and Scarre 2009). Skinboats such as currachs and umiaks are too flexible for a functional sail and their shallow draft restricts downwind sailing courses. A small sail, or downwind rig, could have been set for sailing before the wind. Such sails would significantly improve the propulsion of skinboats. Evidence for the use of sails on skinboats is demonstrated historically on currachs, umiaks and kayaks (Arima1987; Hornell 1938; Synge 1992) (Figure 5).
Figure 5: A mast, for attachment of a down-wind rig, attached to an umiak in Wakeham Bay, Nunavut, Quebec, c.1897. Used with permission (© Library and Archives Canada, Albert Peter Low Collection, Ottawa, Ontario. PA-051464).
Conditions in the Irish Sea, the Minch and the Atlantic are cold, frequently changeable and always unreliable. Boats operating within this environment must out of necessity be seaworthy. In general, skinboats are more seaworthy and sea-kind than their wooden counterparts and thus more suitable for operating along the western coasts of Britain. While no direct archaeological evidence exists for skinboats they are clearly the most suitable vessels for transport on the sea and the technology and skills for their manufacture are present within the archaeological record of Britain from at least the Mesolithic. Skinboats may have been the workhorse boat of prehistory.
7. Landing Places in Prehistory
A prehistoric coracle in Fife
When people first took to the water, it’s likely they did so in boats carved from the trunks of large trees. The first “logboats” are thought to predate both pottery and agriculture by thousands of years. Their invention opened up new lands to settlement and made long distance travel easier, but during the Bronze Age, which lasted from roughly 2000 to 500 BCE in Northern Europe, logboats began to change. According to archaeologist Ole Thirup Kastholm, of Denmark’s Roskilde Museum, the changing boat designs were a symptom—and reflection—of the broader cultural transformations that were sweeping across the continent.
During the Bronze Age, early European societies were beginning to exchange goods and ideas across the continent. Fueled by a demand for tin and copper—the base metals needed to smelt bronze—massive trade networks began to grow. “Some trading networks went as far as from the North to the Mediterranean,” says Kastholm.
Good detail of early Neolithic farmers community tomb in Spain
4000 BC BANC DU CAUSEWAYED ENCLOSURE, NEW INN
This drawing is a true scale representation of Rock Art on the horizontal surface of a large, earth-bound slab of sandstone in the townland of Derreennaclogh, Co Cork, Ireland. Archaeologists believe that carvings on this stone – and on very many others in Ireland and across the Atlantic coastline of Europe – were made by early farmers during the Neolithic or Early Bronze Age period, anywhere from 5,000 to 3,000 years ago. The carvings shown here were only discovered in the recent past: they had lain under a covering of peaty soil for hundreds or, perhaps, thousands of years and had therefore not suffered the natural weathering that many other examples of Rock Art exhibit. In one section – shown as ‘weathered rock’ on the drawing, the surface had previously been partly visible, and the curved lines which could be seen on this area led the finder of this piece to carefully pull back the overgrowth to reveal a remarkable Rock Art panel – perhaps one of the most complex and best preserved in Ireland.
Someone’s thoughts and list of Standing Stones on Anglesey, some photos.
Standing stones and circles were constructed during the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age (c. 3500BC – 1400BC) a time that spanned over 2000 years.
Nothing much is known of the religious beliefs of the people that constructed such monuments and nothing is certain about their function. Such stones have proven difficult to date; however, due to findings of pottery found underneath some of the excavated stones, we can assume they were probably erected during the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age – which would link them perhaps to the Beaker Culture, or an earlier period.
Until recently, menhirs were associated with the Beaker people, who inhabited Europe during the European late Neolithic and early Bronze Age — later third millennium BC, ca. 2800 – 1800 BC. However, recent research into the age of megaliths in Brittany strongly suggests a far older origin, perhaps back to six to seven thousand years ago.
This is an extensive list of all standing stones and cairns in Wales.
Megalithomania.com is a site originally dedicated to Irish megaliths, but now expanded to include all sorts of antiquities that are of importance/interest. It now covers historic and prehistoric sites across Ireland, including Neolithic, Bronze Age, Early Christian and Medieval monuments.
Dartmoor Standing Stones
Folklore of stones of Glamorgan
Early Bronze Age quarry activity.
Bronze Age Copper Mine, Cwmystwyth, Ceredigion.
Ten Welsh copper mines as much as 4,100 years old have been found, says the Cambridge Archaeological Unit’s Simon Timberlake. “Their working reflects a whole phase of looking for copper around the British Isles,” he says.
However, he says, “a lot of these mines are very small, in fairness. They’re nowhere near as big as the Great Orme.”
By about 3,500 years ago, the last of these mines had petered out. Some may not have had rich deposits to begin with. Others were either exhausted or flooded when miners reached the water table.
Like the other, smaller mines, the Great Orme got its start as a system of surface workings. Miners simply dug out the green and black veins of copper ore that they saw on the surface.
But soon after, the miners decided to follow the veins of copper malachite both horizontally as well as down… and down, creating the winding, narrow tunnels that we see today.
The most intensive period of production was for two or three centuries around 3,500 years ago, although radiocarbon dating shows that the mine kept operating for another millennium.
The Mold Gold Cape, found at Bryn yr Ellyllon, near Mold, North Wales. From around 2000-1600 BC. Hammered from a single ingot of gold, about the size of a golf ball.
Neolithic and Bronze Age migration to Ireland and establishment of the insular Atlantic genome
Lara M. Cassidy, Rui Martiniano et al.
The Neolithic and Bronze Age transitions were profound cultural shifts catalyzed in parts of Europe by migrations, first of early farmers from the Near East and then Bronze Age herders from the Pontic Steppe. However, a decades-long, unresolved controversy is whether population change or cultural adoption occurred at the Atlantic edge, within the British Isles. We address this issue by using the first whole genome data from prehistoric Irish individuals.
A Neolithic woman (3343–3020 cal BC) from a megalithic burial (10.3× coverage) possessed a genome of predominantly Near Eastern origin. She had some hunter–gatherer ancestry but belonged to a population of large effective size, suggesting a substantial influx of early farmers to the island.
Three Bronze Age individuals from Rathlin Island (2026–1534 cal BC), including one high coverage (10.5×) genome, showed substantial Steppe genetic heritage indicating that the European population upheavals of the third millennium manifested all of the way from southern Siberia to the western ocean.
This turnover invites the possibility of accompanying introduction of Indo-European, perhaps early Celtic, language. Irish Bronze Age haplotypic similarity is strongest within modern Irish, Scottish, and Welsh populations, and several important genetic variants that today show maximal or very high frequencies in Ireland appear at this horizon. These include those coding for lactase persistence, blue eye color, Y chromosome R1b haplotypes, and the hemochromatosis C282Y allele; to our knowledge, the first detection of a known Mendelian disease variant in prehistory. These findings together suggest the establishment of central attributes of the Irish genome 4,000 y ago.
There have only been a few attempts at assessing the performance of logboats. With a maximum of one paddler and 133kg of cargo or four light adults, a top speed of 2.5 knots could be achieved in the Carpow logboat (Strachan 2010, 120). It does not seem likely that these vessels could have regularly crossed the Irish or North seas, let alone made the notoriously difficult crossing to St Kilda which apparently first occurred during the Bronze Age (Fleming and Edmonds 1999) although proper experimental voyages would be required.
The evidence for land transport is equally fragmentary. The surviving tripartite wooden wheel made from ash found in a bog at Blair Drummond, Perthshire has been dated to 1255-815 BC (Piggott 1957; Sheridan 1996) and represents the only surviving wooden evidence for wagons or chariots. There are no surviving Bronze Age trackways in Scotland which would have accommodated wheeled vehicles. The dating of the domestication of the horse for riding rather than straightforward consumption is still under debate. The discovery of bronze horse- and chariot- gear in Late Bronze Age hoards such as atGlentanar, Aberdeenshire (Pearce 1971) and Horsehope, Peebleshire (Piggott 1955) together with the far more extensive evidence in continental Europe during the late 2nd-early 1st millennium BC indicates that chariots or wagons were being drawn by horses (see Pare 1992, 18-42) and presumably horses were being ridden in some capacity.
A term designating those languages of the Celtic branch which include Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Manx, and the extinct Celtiberian of Spain. So-called because of their use of the “k” sound, while the so-called “P-Celtic” or Brythonic branch uses the letter “p”:
- fir (man)
- fionn (white)
- gwr (man)
- gwyn (white)
And so on.
The Sea People
The prehistoric period ended with the arrival of the Roman army, who began their campaigns against the Welsh tribes in 48 AD with an attack on the Deceangli in north-east Wales. Wales was divided between a number of tribes, of which the Silures and the Ordovices put up the most stubborn resistance. TheRoman conquest of Wales was complete by 79 AD. The reports of Roman historians such as Tacitus give a little more information about Wales in this period, such as that the island of Anglesey was apparently a stronghold of the Druids. The impact of the arrival of the Romans may have varied from one part of Wales to another; for example there is evidence that some hillforts, such as Tre’r Ceiri, continued to be occupied during the Roman period.
550 – 650 AD Yr Hen Gogledd https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernicia
Nothing approximating the burial ritual described by the compilers of the tales has ever been found to date to the assumed period of the action. Interestingly, as a form of negative evidence, some quite common prehistoric Iron Age objects connected with weaponry and horse-management are unknown to the compliers of the stories.
This is an essential modern reader on the development of our concepts of the most ancient past of Ireland. Mallory situates the texts that have come down to us in their learned, scholarly tradition from the 7th-8th century onwards: but an equally venerable tradition of secular story- telling must have informed the monastic authors who compiled the myths and tales. The book is formidably referenced and thorough. You may by the end, given the steadfast bloodthirstiness of the warrior-heroes who feature, feel worn out by some hours spent in the company of your less-than-friendly neighbourhood psychopaths but Mallory will be a sympathetic guide.