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Monday, 7 January 2013

Snowdonia Flights Reveal Winter Treasures

Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa summit with two walkers at the summit

In the recent frosty December weather, Toby Driver from the Royal Commission got airborne over the hills of Snowdonia and Llŷn accompanied by the archaeologist for Snowdonia National Park Authority, John Roberts. The low December sunlight, combined with the effects of melting frost, proved ideal for recording slight earthworks and stony banks of Snowdonia’s numerous prehistoric hut groups and hillforts, together with field systems which date from prehistory to medieval and later times. The extremes of winter light are particularly effective at revealing wide-spreading traces of field systems in cultivated land which can be invisible at other times of year. Having John’s regional expertise onboard was invaluable and brought new insight to the view from the aircraft.

Flights made over Llanddeiniolen and around the great Iron Age hillfort of Dinas Dinorwig and eastwards to Llanllechid north of Bethesda to document sites managed by Cadw, revealed extensive traces of forgotten field systems under improved pasture. Similar remains of prehistoric homesteads and terraced fields were seen throughout the parkland at Glynllifon, site of the 2012 Urdd National Eisteddfod, and along the improved coastal plain between Harlech and Barmouth where the Hafotty manganese mines were also documented.

At the same time Toby and John were struck by the extensive survival of ridge and furrow cultivation on many coastal hills and at higher altitudes inland, frequently found in association with prehistoric, medieval or later upland settlements. This fragile evidence of plough cultivation only survives where pasture and open moorland has been spared from modern ploughing and improvement. It is difficult to date. We are content that much of the ridge and furrow cultivation close to long houses and medieval and later farms is contemporary with those settlements. However, more basic cultivation ridges occur close to later prehistoric round houses and ‘concentric’ homesteads suggesting the widespread survival of prehistoric ploughing.

The flights over Snowdonia and northern Llŷn several new sites and many famous ones like Tre’r Ceiri hillfort and the renowned prehistoric landscapes above Egryn near Dyffryn Ardudwy. On the way back to Caernarfon Airport there was also a chance to capture the high peaks around Yr Wyddfa, Snowdon, under freezing conditions and snow with two walkers proudly standing at the summit of Yr Wyddfa itself.

Well-preserved remains of a later prehistoric enclosed hut group and associated fields at Cwm, Clynnog, picked out in low winter light. AP_2012_5522

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