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Snowdonia from the Air

Llyn Trawsfynydd

Snowdonia from the Air

Patterns of Prehistory

Snowdonia has hundreds of high quality field monuments surviving from the prehistoric period, examples of which are illustrated and described in this section. Many of these are individual sites such as the Neolithic and Bronze Age burial cairns or Iron Age hillforts and settlements. The dominant shape of prehistory is undoubtedly the circle, seen in the proliferation of cairns and stone circles, in the ritual and settlement enclosures and, above all, in the round houses and hut circles, which are such a feature of this part of Wales.

In contrast to many other parts of Britain, the uplands of Snowdonia have traces of extensive field systems, which in some areas are continuous enough for us to see with reasonable clarity the relict landscape patterns. This is especially true of the Ardudwy coastal strip where the settlement at Muriau’r Gwyddelod (below) is one of the finest examples. In many cases the field systems result from several periods of activity and the earlier fields may well have been used for hundreds, or even thousands, of years before being re-modelled.

Although the present-day farming economy of Snowdonia is almost exclusively pastoral, this was not always the case. There are many examples, even in the upland areas, of lynchets and cultivation ridges from arable ploughing, some of which undoubtedly will be shown to be of prehistoric date.

The large ritual sites and the hillforts give us a tantalising glimpse of how early communities could work together, perhaps under the control of powerful individuals. In contrast, the field systems and the humbler settlement sites are the archaeology of the ordinary people, the farmers who were the backbone of society. These ancient fields are a tangible reminder of the way in which man has used and changed the landscape, generation after generation, in this difficult upland environment.

Muriau'r Gwyddelod, near Harlech

Muriau’r Gwyddelod, near Harlech © RCAHMW 965014-14†

Just to the right of the modern road is an unusual twin hut-group set in a larger enclosure. Radiating from this is a series of field boundaries, linked to other enclosures. In the left foreground two parallel walls of a trackway are clearly earlier than some of the ancient field boundaries. Some of the recent boundaries fossilise the line of ancient ones and even in the fields cleared in modern times traces of the old boundaries can still be seen, at least when viewed from the air.

Cylch y Derwyddon, Penmaenmawr

Druid’s Circle, Penmaenmawr © RCAHMW 945116-69

Stone circles of the Bronze Age are known to have existed in Snowdonia and this is the best surviving example. As with many ancient monuments the name is a traditional one and has no bearing on the use or date of the site.

Caer Moel Goedog, above Harlech

Moel Goedog, above Harlech © RCAHMW 9635113-51

This unusual Iron Age hillfort, with closely spaced concentric ramparts, has been badly denuded by the building of the more recent walls so that no indications of an entrance or internal buildings can now be seen.