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Unearthed 9,000 year-old encampment ‘on a par with the oldest mesolithic site’ in Wales

17 Feb 2021 4 minute read
Cllr Ann Davies, pictured outside Rhuddlan Castle, pushed for the dig to take place before the area was developed Pic: Jez Hemming

Jez Hemming, local democracy reporter

A county councillor’s determination has led to the discovery of a 9,000 year-old encampment “on a par with the oldest proven mesolithic site” in Wales.

The site, on Castle Hill, off Hylas Lane in Rhuddlan, yielded a total of 314 stone artefacts on a site which is believed to have been a sandy-ridge overlooking the floodplain of the Afon Clwyd.

Many of the finds were flakes of chert (hard, fine-grained sedimentary rock) and flint but rudimentary tools were also discovered.

Expert Richard Cooke of Aeon Archaeology, who dug the site with his colleague Josh Dean, believes the artefacts came from a group which was passing through and made camp by the river more than 9,000 years ago.

He said: “We found a lot of worked flint from the mesolithic period.  There were three post holes, material from which was carbon dated at between 9220-9280 years old – plus or minus 30 years.

“Not many of these mesolithic sites have had samples carbon dated so this is on a par with the oldest proven mesolithic site in Wales.

“It was a ridge of high ground – just a sandbank probably. These Mesolithic people were hunter gatherers and didn’t have fixed settlements.”

‘Wealth of history’

Mr Cooke believes post holes found on the site would have contained structures used to hang meat for butchery of the animals they caught or some other utilitarian purpose such as skin drying.

He added: “They were well developed people who came before the first farmers.”

The site on Hylas Lane had been a target for developers for around 10 years according to Denbighshire county councillor Ann Davies, who lives in the town.

Despite being against development, when planning consent for a detached home with garage was originally given in 2017, she ensured there would be some archaeological oversight.

Called an “archaeological watching brief” it meant groundworks could only be conducted in the presence of an archaeological contractor.

Cllr Davies had an inkling there may have been something special lurking underground on the site, which is in the shadow of Rhuddlan’s famous castle, built by King Edward I in 1277.

Rhuddlan has the highest concentration of mesolithic sites in Wales and a dig in the 1970s at nearby Ysgol y Castell had been relatively fruitful at unearthing ancient artefacts.

The plot is also near Twthill, the site of an 11th-century motte (mound) believed to be the site of the town’s first castle.

An area of the site excavated with some of the artefacts that were discovered Pic: Aeon Archaeology

However, she was taken aback when more than 300 artefacts were discovered on the site, which was carbon dated and deemed “on a par with” Wales’ oldest site in Pembrokeshire.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We have a wealth of history in Rhuddlan and I have always been passionate about protecting our local heritage for future generations.

“In 2017 a planning application was granted to build a property on Hylas Lane, in close proximity to the castle and the ancient monument site of Twthill.

“It was agreed an archaeological dig be carried out before any work could commence.

“The dig was carried out in October 2020, the findings of which are of great historical interest.”

Among the finds were scrapers made of flint and chert, possibly used by butchers to cut meat and scrape hide, and microliths – small shaped blades which were often used as cutting and slicing tools.

The was also a “notch” – a small tool which could have been used to shape wood.

Cllr Davies added: “I am delighted this historical find has been highlighted and I will be pressing for these artefacts to be displayed in the local archives centre.”

The mesolithic period of pre-history, sometimes called the middle stone age, came between the paleolithic period (old stone age) and neolithic (new stone age).

The tell-tale sign of this period, between 9,600 and 4,000 BC, was the use of small chipped stone tools (microliths) and retouched bladelets.

They were also an artistic people, with examples of cave painting having been recorded in Spain and early hewn slabs made into rock constructions called megaliths.

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