As it is World Book Day, I thought I should finally tell you a little bit about my ‘big’ book – my thesis. And it is now available to download electronically from Bangor University here.
I’ve been involved with a few books over the years, but this one is 100,000+ words and 7+ years of my own blood, sweat and tears. Oh, and hillforts..!
The title sums it up – I spent a lot of time looking into 100+ hillforts in north Wales and the borders to investigate how they were related both to one another and also to the landscapes surrounding them.
Why don’t we know much about these monuments? Well, they generally date to the time before this area had a written language. We are firmly in ‘prehistory’. Also, this geographical area did not use ceramics at this time nor coins, both key dating tool in archaeology. Plus, the soil in upland Wales is quite acidic, so metal and bone tend to corrode and disappear, leaving the possibility of finding artefacts quite small. So there isn’t too much to go on..!
My study focussed on the six hillforts of the Clwydian Range – Moel Hiraddug, Moel y Gaer Bodfari, Penycloddiau, Moel Arthur, Moel y Gaer Llanbedr and Moel Fenlli. But, as we have so little information about these hillforts, and hillforts in general, I widened my research area to around a 30 mile radius from the Clwydian Range to gain further insight, and search for patterns, from other hillforts nearby.
This is my official summary:
This study examines the characteristics and setting of the six hillforts of the Clwydian Range in north east Wales and considers other hills and hillforts within the surrounding area. It provides an assessment of the hillforts of much of north Wales and the borderlands as a group, to define connections or regional variations, in order to aid understanding of their function.
Sites have been investigated through the use of Geographical Information Systems and viewshed analysis to consider the extent of view, the features visible and intervisibility. The use of a control sample of non-hillfort sites considers why some hills were chosen to be hillforts but others not. Interrogation of the data to identify what the monument can see, not just how much, is fundamental in the interpretation of site selection and position.
Architectural features and dating evidence have been documented and examined. Former radiocarbon dating has been scrutinised and recalibrated to ensure consistency.
A theme of stone, or the illusion of, is dominant across the study area and, despite previous reports, not limited to Gwynedd and a small number of outliers.
Entrances and their evolution are distinctive to north east Wales and the borders, with possible links to northern England.
The hillforts of the Clwydian Range are distinctive with regards to their proximity and longevity, with multi-phase, multi-period use.
In contrast to ‘Central Place Theory’, there is not an obvious ‘main’ hillfort dominating or suppressing the others. Instead, awareness of each other may have complimented their situation and therefore the area flourished.
Changes in the hillforts’ characteristics are essential in understanding the evolution of their function throughout the Iron Age; from initial community links and cultivation, to control and finally to conservation, which is a tradition which has continued to this day.
It is hard to sum the whole book up in a few paragraphs. I don’t expect anyone to read it, but if anyone is interested then Chapter 6 – the discussion and final conclusions – is probably the bit to read if you’re into this kind of thing.
Through my scrutiny of the previous studies and research into the hillforts and additional information gathering, I was able to see certain trends. These are my concluding interpretations of the research and data:
Hillforts in this area of north Wales and the borderlands have early origins, some initially palisaded enclosures, dating back to the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age. Although height, size, view and proximity to certain resources, such as water, appear to have been desirable, they were not the most important factors in initial site location. Due to the climatic changes at this time and activity within the pollen record, it can be surmised that this was an agrarian community. ‘Defence’, in a military sense, does not appear to have been the key aim of the hillforts in their initial guise. ‘Protection’ of assets may have been. Protection may be interpreted as safeguarding stock, crops, or even relationships; bringing together a community to uphold affiliations, associations and identity. Many were built in stone, or with the illusion of stone walls and often on sites with an earlier association with the past, sometimes incorporating material and artefacts from these places. Foundation trenches were laid initially, indicating where the enclosure boundaries would lie, demonstrating planning and forward-thinking, also seen in the layout of structures within the interior. The location of the sites was positioned in order to see certain things in the landscape, which included route-ways and smaller farmsteads in the landscape, tying in links with the wider landscape and community.
Towards the Middle Iron Age, the hillforts with the widest views were renovated and remodelled, signifying a change of priority and therefore use. Entrances were blocked, relocated, narrowed and lengthened. Inturns were added to simple gaps and chambers were built into the passages. Ramparts were added to in size, shape and number. There appears to have been more pressure in developing the hillforts at this time; the use of those with wider views suggests that it was of upmost importance to be able to see activity further afield. This may indicate a breakdown in the wider community and an increased pressure to ‘protect’ assets, now from other humans, not just from loss of tradition or wild animals. This was done through utilising existing enclosures, which, with some additional development to increase control and access to what was held within, were ready to use without the need to start from scratch.
Towards the Late Iron Age, a period of building activity is evident again on those hillforts which had continued (with or without a gap in time) in use. Ditches were cleared, dumps of new material were placed on top of existing ramparts, and some were carefully ‘capped’. It is this careful maintenance and addition to sites not necessarily adding to the ‘defensibility’, which suggests more conservation than development. The act of maintaining these places may be seen as a renewed community interest, a way to keep a previously tumultuous group together and in peace. This group act of changing the ‘defences’ may have also signified the end of a certain use of the site and a new appearance to signify a new purpose. In addition, the act of caring for these sites may be a return to or continuation of a perceived importance of the past. As these sites had incorporated earlier features when first built, their continued care was a respect for their history and ancestry, just as we today protect, conserve and have an interest in.
I have some other concluding remarks in the publication itself, but I do think that an excerpt from my final statement should be quoted, due so many archaeological, historical and heritage sites and their settings still at risk from development.
…The use of the sites today may not be so far different from their original functions. People walk along the hilltops today, some on a personal ‘pilgrimage’ to reach the summit of a hilltop, some following a national walking route from start to finish, many to watch fireworks on New Year’s Eve – a ritual for some. They have become increasingly popular places to explore our past and discover history and our pre-Roman ancestors.
All of these traditions – pilgrimage, gathering, ritual and ancestry – may have been elements of and reasons for these monuments’ creation. The continued conservation and preservation, using traditional skills and methods, is not a new activity on these hilltops. The regular clearing of ditches and rebuilding can be seen in the archaeological record.
How we use and look after the sites today is from a continued history stemming from the Late Bronze Age. It is imperative that promotion and awareness of the sites continues to reconnect local communities with their hillfort for this legacy to continue.
I’ve held off from telling many people about my thesis, and it being available, mostly due to when I was finishing it off, and then sorting my corrections, I was going through the most difficult time of my life, dealing with some really hard things in my personal life. At any time, it is so hard to open yourself up to scrutiny. But that is what research is all about. And it is the constant criticism and review of research which means we can find out more about the world and move forward. So if you like anything I say, or even if you want to tear it to pieces, please feel free (just please cite me if you quote anything!).
I’m proud of the work I put in and so here I am, on World Book Day, saying here it is. These are my words. This is my passion. And, to quote myself in my final sentences, “It is with hope that this information also creates additional queries and areas to research and scrutinise in the future as the study of this elusive monument – the hillfort – continues.“
Bet you all thought I’d do a post about Harry Potter, didn’t you 😉