Tuesday, July 07, 2009

WALES: SOIL TELLS OF ANCIENT LIFE

Soil and heather samples taken from a Denbighshire beauty spot have helped paint a picture of life there nearly 10,000 years ago. Experts have found the uplands on Moel Famau, the highest peak in the Clwydian range, were used for hunting in the Mesolithic period (8,000 to 4,000 BC). Evidence also suggests farming was common by the Iron Age (750BC to 43AD).

The Uplands Archaeology Initiative study included radio carbon dating and pollen analysis of samples.

The samples were taken to help determine how the landscape changed over the years to become the heather moorland that exists today. The study found evidence of burning in the Mesolithic period, which it is thought would have created clearings for wild grazing herds, making them easier to hunt. Burning would also have encouraged the growth of hazel, providing nuts as a valuable dietary addition.

By the Neolithic period (the New Stone Age, 4,000 to 2,200BC), there is evidence that people began to cultivate cereals. More land clearance is evident at around 2,600BC, which it is thought could be linked to the building of hill forts in neighboring valleys. The results show increased grazing and an expansion of grasslands during the Iron Age (750BC to 43AD), when the hill forts are thought to have been occupied. The results also showed that by this time, cereal farming was commonplace.

It is thought heather began to dominate the uplands in the Medieval period at around 660 to 810AD. There is evidence that burning was used to manage heather - a practice still used today to rejuvenate the heather for agriculture, wildfire prevention and biodiversity reasons.

Samantha Williams, of the Heather and Hillforts Project, said: "The question I get asked the most is what did the landscape look like in the past? "Now, thanks to the work done by the Royal Commission I can finally answer that question." The Royal Commission on the Ancient Historical Monuments of Wales funded the study.

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