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Populating the Past: Penmaenmawr's Mysterious Beginnings

Manylion a Disgrifiad y Llyfr | Book Details & Description

  • ISBN: 9780863818806
  • Publication May 2004
  • Format: Paperback, 181 x 123 mm, 200 pages

A fascinating exploration of three prehistoric sites in the Penmaenmawr area comprising information gleaned from surveys and excavations carried out on the sites during the 20th century. 68 black-and-white photographs, plans and diagrams and 2 maps.

Gwales Review
Until I read this book, I had never realized what a varied history Penmaenmawr had. Into the melting pot of Stone Age, Iron Age, Bronze Age and Roman Occupation, we throw artifacts and archaeology. The author tries to pinpoint which of the tribes of Britain may have inhabited the sites, but the conclusions leave us with more questions than answers. The author has painstakingly researched available evidence, and acknowledges the limitations on providing an accurate history of Braich-y-Dinas. As one reads the book, one can see how the concerted efforts of archeologists, well-meaning enthusiastic amateurs and the needs of industry have conspired to muddy the waters of the past.

We are introduced to the prehistoric periods of the mountain, and look at who may have lived there, and indeed why. Certainly the Stone Axe Factory pinpoints Penmaenmawr as being at the forefront of ‘stone age technology’ of the day, and is shown to be one of the primary sites on mainland Britain.

The records of those who journeyed to Penmaenmawr during the late 1700s and early 1800s provide evidence of the fortifications as they were at that time, but they also serve to confuse matters, often providing conflicting accounts and opinions on the fortifications and other features. Governor Pownall (1771) declared, ‘it was never a fortification’. Thomas Pennant and Samuel Taylor Coleridge also visited in the late 1700s (crediting the area with inspiration for ‘Rime Of The Ancient Mariner’).

The Victorian era introduces the amateur archaeologist in the late 1890s and early 1900s. We learn that much of the methodology used to recover prehistoric evidence of man, was far from scientific. As the author says, some archaeologists of the day were ‘somewhat cavalier in their approach and concentrated on the finds rather than keeping records’. The archeological digs of the late 1890s and 1900s, and again in the 1920s (following World War I) showed earnest intentions to investigate and preserve the history of the area, but it also illustrated the problems of trying to reconcile the quarryman’s need for stone, and the archeologist’s thirst for information and artifacts. Compromise was limited to quarrymen being asked to report any artifacts they might have found. This approach also led to treasure hunting for personal gain, as is related in one of the stories.

We also learn that, in Victorian times, a revival of all things Celtic resulted in the romantics of the day publishing popular but inaccurate mythologies. ‘Ancient sites were revisited, and books written, again without regard for fact, when fancy was more attractive.'

The time-honoured tradition of local people dismantling older buildings to create their own contemporary dwellings also conspires to limit evidence available (e.g. how high were the fortification walls?). But there is a great deal of archeological evidence to enable the author to pinpoint who lived here. The author has done an excellent job in trying to make sense of all the evidence obtained from fortifications, dwellings, burial chambers, cremation sites, axe factories, and stone circles.

This book certainly inspired me to return to Penmaenmawr, to take a closer look. Perhaps my own interest in history is encapsulated in the author’s final sentence in the book: ‘Perhaps then people might realize that these bits of faintly interestingly shaped stones or metal that now and then turn up were once the household possessions of people who lived their lives on our mountain two thousand years ago.’

As well as drawings and maps, there are 46 photographs.
Ken Jones