Penybont and District Local History Group Notes of Meeting 4th April 2016 Main Topic: The Archaeology of the Radnor Valley – Mysteries of the Walton Basin Speaker: Dr Marion Evans

Geraint welcomed another packed room  and a number of new people, some whom had come specially for this topic which has an appeal beyond the District.

Derek said that the Notes on the last session would be out soon.

Geraint welcomed Marion who having overcome the challenges of a new projector and having fallen, chipped a bone in her leg, introduced the topic by referring to a picture of the Walton Basin.

The picture which can be found at: http://www.cpat.org.uk/resource/booklets/walton.pdf  page 5

shows a central circle of land with a 5 kilometre diameter with the Radnor Forest to the West and climbing steeply in the north-west. New Radnor lies to the west of the area, with Old Radnor to the south. To get a really good view of the Walton Basin is worth going to the Harp Inn at Old Radnor and the basin lies in front of you as you look over the edge. A brook runs through the centre of the Basin running from West to East (Summergill Brook running into Hindwell Brook. Burfa Bank, where there is an Iron Age Hill Fort, lies to the East.

Marion explained that she would be talking about the Basin over an 8000 year period and it is important to keep in mind how small the population was over this time. Over the last 800 years the landscape has changed considerably and the area would have been wooded prior to this time.

The Basin is not a glacial feature but, geologically, it was formed in the Silurian period some 440 to 420 million years ago when this area was under the sea, and in the Southern hemisphere. There was glacial movement  20,000 years ago that  brought clay down onto the easterly section of the basin. This is illustrated in dry summers when the Summergil Brook dries up in the west but there is generally water all year round in the east. The most dramatic picture illustrating the impact of the glaciers are the hanging valleys that can be seen looking West from Beggars Bush towards the Whimble.

See:   http://www.rgreen.org.uk/Radnor.html

Marion explained that there were a number of sets of evidence of social activity within the Walton Basin.

Pre-Historic Evidence

  1. Water movement through the Basin

Water moves slowly through the Basin from West to East in Brooks that eventually join up and enter the Lugg which gives way to the Arrow before joining the Wye. The Summergill Brook dries up most summers near New Radnor whereas the Hindwell Brook runs continuously throughout the year with the Hindwell pool providing a constant source of water. Archaeological sites mentioned below, are concentrated in the Eastern section of the Basin wherethere is ready access to water..

  1. Stone (lithic) tools CPAT pages 10, 11

These have been found in over 200 sites within the Walton Basin and the scatter can be seen on page 10 of the CPAT site. The earliest finds, 11,000 years BC (Palaeolithic), are single items found in the New Radnor area. There are examples from the Mesolithic ages stretching from 9,600 years BC through to 3000 BC, as well as from the late Neolithic period from 3000 years BC to 2300 years BC, and even barbed arrowheads from the Early Bronze Age, 2300 years BC to 1500 BC.

The scatter on the map of these tools cannot necessarily be taken as an accurate representation of where they dropped. Modern agriculture could well have moved them around appreciably.

The range of artefacts would suggest that there was considerable change going on in the Walton Basin over the period. Starting with nomadic hunter gatherers and gradually moving towards more settled communities in the area.

Neolithic Period

  • Aerial Photography

Since the first photograph taken in the 1980s aerial photography has shown a wealth of Neolithic and later features. They can be compared to the more prestigious site at Stonehenge. The features however in the Walton Basin are below ground. The identified sites are shown on the map on CPAT page 12. These Neolithic features are:

  • Womaston Causewayed Enclosure
  • Walton Green Cursus
  • Hindwell Cursus
  • Walton Palisaded Enclosure
  • Walton Double Pit Alignment
  • Walton Double or Treble Palisaded Enclosure
  • Hindwell Palisaded Enclosure
  • Hindwell Double Palisaded Enclosure
  • Walton Court Ring Ditch

Some of these structures, which are described below, involved the movement of extraordinary amounts of material and wood. There was a theory that maybe peoples from other parts of Europe had come in to construct these structures but an analysis of DNA would suggest that they were largely built by the indigenous population. Why, and what for, largely remains a mystery.

Cautionary Note

Marion raised a note of caution in respect of Archaeological statements, particularly in the media. She has found that some archaeologists have ‘pet theories’ and try to make the facts fit their theory.

One of the main facts, despite all the evidence of Neolithic activity, is that we know very little. For example there is very little evidence of pottery, and/or other artefacts that would suggest that people lived in the Basin at this time; but this does not necessarily mean people did not live there. There have been many theories about why they were built including: Processional Site/Astronomical significance/ ancestor worship/ceremonial site/buffer zone. The reality is that we do not know.  The sheer size of some of these features mean that many people over a considerable length of time needed to have been involved in their construction.  What brought them together, and why they created them, remains a mystery.

  1. Radio-Carbon Dating

 

  • Womaston Causewayed Enclosure – Charcoal in the ditches is dated between 3700 and 3300BC
  • Walton Green Cursus – not as yet determined
  • Hindwell Cursus – Dated between 3900 and 3500BC from charcoal
  • Walton Palisaded Enclosure dated between 2800 and 2400BC
  • Walton Double Pit Alignment
  • Walton Double or Treble Palisaded Enclosure dated from charcoal between 2800 and 2400BC
  • Hindwell Palisaded Enclosure dated from charred oak between 2800 and 2400BC
  • Hindwell Double Palisaded Enclosure dated between 2600 and 2400BC
  • Walton Court Ring Ditch charcoal in the base gives a date in the region 2500 – 2300BC

 

  1. Items Found

Plant and cereal grains have been found at the Womaston Causewayed Enclosure suggesting that agriculture may have been carried out in the Basin or elsewhere. Excavation of this site has revealed fragments of early Neolithic pottery.

The Hindwell Cursus has also had excavation work carried out and they have found the charred remains of plants including grass rhizomes, vetch and cinquefoil with hazel nuts, apple pips and fragments of acorn shell. The absence of cereals and wood charcoal suggests that this was not area where there was a settlement at this time, but as Marion pointed out before absence of evidence does not necessarily mean that there might not have been settlement.

A plain sherd of Grooved Ware pottery was found within the Hindwell Double Palisaded Enclosure which suggests that the Enclosure was in use during the Late Neolithic period.

  1. Geophysical and Excavations Explorations

see: http://www.cpat.org.uk/resource/reports/cpat1026.pdf

Magnetometry (Measurement of variations in the magnetism of the soil)

http://www.archaeological-surveys.co.uk/subpage1/index.html

Magnetometry has been used to survey some of the features on the site. Cesium vapour magnetometry (http://www.jna.uni-kiel.de/index.php/jna/article/view/72/73  ) is a more sensitive type of magnetometry in volving the injection of cesium gas. It has given some excellent geophysical results for Hindwell Palisaded Enclosure that has helped in establishing its extent and the manner in which the oak posts were erected,  but has been less effective in the study of the cursus which is a sunken feature.

Excavations of the Wormaston Causewayed Enclosure have shown a U-shaped profile about 2.3 metres across and up to 1.8 metres deep. There is some evidence that there was re-cutting suggesting that there were a number of periods of activity.

The Hindwell Cursus (cursus is an exceptionally long Neolithic parallel ‘ditch’) is one of the largest monuments of its kind; it encloses an area of 27 hectares. The excavations have helped to show that it is 4.6 kilometres long. The ditches are over 50 metres apart, and up to 74 metres; and the ditches are 1.8 metres deep. From the excavations it is thought that the spoil was banked on the inside of the ditches.

Excavations of the Walton and Hindwell Palisade Enclosures have shown post ramps were used to lever the posts into position in the Walton Palisade whereas the posts in the Hindwell Palisade were levered directly into steep sided pits.

  • Farming

While farming, and in particular ploughing has moved the surface soil over the years, levelled the ground and probably destroyed some features. It is the combination of Aerial photography and crop marks have identified many of the features including; entrances to the Palisades; the Walton Court Ring Ditch and how it intersects with other features. Ploughing has also exposed, albeit not necessarily in the right place, some of the artefacts found on the site.

 

  • Scale

Very little of the Neolithic features within the Walton Basin have been explored as yet, but it is number and scale of the features that make this site so important.

We have mentioned the size of the Hindwell Cursus above; the Hindwell Palisaded Enclosure covers an area of 34 hectares. The oval shaped feature is at least 750  metres long and up to 540 metres wide. The oak posts which provided the structure of the palisade were between 60 cms and 1 metre in diameter and could each have weighed 4½ tons. With potentially 1410 posts they would have needed 6000 metric tons of timber.

 

Late Neolithic to Bronze Age

  1. Barrows( CPAT pages 40 – 45) and Standing Stones (CPAT PAGES 46,47)

There are a number of Neolithic and Bronze Age Barrows across the site. They are well spread out and may suggest that family groups had their own Barrow. This leads to the suggestion that by the late Neolithic and early Bronze age there may have been some ownership by families  of land.  As well as the Barrows down in the Basin there are a number on the hills to the North West. These may also indicate that there was some association between the Barrows and possible grazing rights.

A cluster of four standing stones, from a similar period to the barrows, are thought to be part of a ‘four-poster’ stone circle and probably had some form of ritual purpose. Local folklore understands that the four stones are in the habit if going down to the Hindwell Pool to drink at night.

There are a number of single standing stones scattered across the Basin that are probably from a slightly later period, 6 of which are still standing.

The stones are all erratic glacial boulders with rounded tops. The ancient font in St Stephen’s Church in Old Radnor is said to have been carved from one such stone around 800AD.

  1. Settlement in the Basin – Ditched Enclosures and Iron Age Hill Forts ( CPAT Page 48 – 53)

While there is insufficient evidence to say exactly when people began to settle in the area the evidence for settlement begins to become more certain in the period from 1800BC to 400AD.

There are about 25 ditched enclosures within the site that have been identified by cropmarks and they probably represent small farms within the Basin.  Their shapes are less regular than the Neolithic  enclosures. A gateway can be identified with one enclosure but most have been lost in the course of farming. Very little work has been done on these features as their significance has been overshadowed by the Neolithic and Roman findings. One of the challenges is that no evidence has been found of smelting and other activity that you would expect to find in an Iron Age settlement. Against this pottery from Malvern has been found suggesting that trade been areas was already established.

Some thought and work has gone into how these sites may relate to earlier features and it is it may be that the Walton Green cursus would still have been visible at this time. Speculation about alignment of some of the Neolithic features with these Iron Age features is probably due to mutual alignment with the waterways rather than any other significance.

Burfa and Castle Ring Hillforts lie on the eastern edge of the Basin occupying strategic position for defense purposes. Burfa enclosed a 6 hectares site while Castle Ring encloses just under 1 hectare. This was an area of strategic importance with three Iron Age Tribes territories converging. It is not known which of the the Ordovices (Mid Wales), Dobunni (South West Midlands), or the Silures (South Wales) were in occupation.

Roman Walton

The tribal significance of the Walton Basin probably had a direct bearing on the Roman occupation of this area. Their occupation of Britain was more or less complete when they more or less wiped out the tribal infrastructure within the Marches and beyond.  There are two parts to the archaeological evidence within the area.

  1. Roman Marching Camps and Signal Station (CPAT pages 54 to 57)

Between 50AD and 80AD there was a period when the Walton Basin became very important to the Romans as they consolidated their power over Wales and Britain. There is an estimation that as many as 150,000 troops were involved in the Marching camps which were a distinctive part of their training and readiness for battle. Tens of thousands were specifically based in the Walton Basin. They marches for 5 hours a day then dug ditches where they pitched their tents. This involved a massive effort by the soldiers every day. Camps were built near water and the 5 known camps; two at Hindwell were aligned near the spring at Hindwell pool; and the three at Walton were aligned along the Riddings Brook.

Aerial photographs show the Hindwell I camp to occupy an area of about 17.6 hectares. The second camp at Hindwell is small and is 3 to 5 hectares. The three camps at Walton are smaller again and are between 2 and 3 hectares.

Despite the evidence of this Roman activity there are still many questions that have not been answered. E.G. Did they destroy their camp each day just to build another one the following evening?

  • Roman Fort and Civil Settlement (CPAT pages 58 – 61)

Aerial and geophysical surveys have identified a Roman Fort that was situated across the area of the Hindwell Palisades occupying 2.3 hectares. It dated from about the same time as the Marching Camps about 55AD and was still in functioning beyond 80AD. It is not known when it was decommissioned. Trial excavations and geophysical surveys have identified the extent of the civil settlement or vicus. Some of the dating of the site have come from pottery and coins found within the curtilage. A piece of pottery is found on site is stamped with the name of a pottery in Southern France.

There is a complex of Roman roads emanating from the site linking with other Roman settlements. This includes Castell Collen and so to the road across Penybont Common. Interestingly there were problems with the swampy route at Hindwell as we had previously seen on The Common.

Geraint thanked Marion for her excellent talk. Though it took us out of our area, it is such an interesting and important site that it was important to cover it. Marion said that there were more layers to the unravelling of the site but these will need to wait for another occasion.

There is a Walk across Penybont Common on Tuesday 17th May led by Derek Turner. Meet at the Thomas Shop.

The next Meeting will be on Monday 9th May when the topic is the ‘History of the Severn Family’.

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