As the last ice sheet retreated from Wales 12,000 years ago, plants, trees and animals and people slowly started to return. By the start of the Early Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age period, 10,000 years ago, woodland had started to re-establish itself and hunter-gather humans had moved into the region.
Burry Holms Archaeology
Today, Burry Holms is a tidal island situated on the northern end of Rhossili Bay, Gower, Swansea. The island has a lot of archaeology including a Mesolithic site, a Bronze Age burial mound, an Iron Age fort with a deep defensive ditch and bank, and the remains of a settlement founded in the 11th century and abandoned during the 17th century.
Amgueddfa Cymru decided to investigate Burry Holms further as we hold a little understood collection of stone tools from work undertaken on the island in the 1920s.
A scientific survey and excavation was undertaken at the area of the island where the Mesolithic finds are believed to have been found. Working on a tidal island were challenging with just five hours working-time on the island. However, this short digging day allowed time to process all the finds and samples as they were collected.
A number of stone items washed in from the surrounding higher parts of the island were found in one patch of sand deposited by wind during the Middle Ages. Finds such as these are very difficult to age, but some yellow glass beads have been dated as Iron Age, and, therefore, matching up with the Iron Age fort on the island.
Stone Age Tools
Below these sands was a layer of buried soil containing evidence of stone tools and spears of Mesolithic age. A column of sediment from the complete sequence of deposits was removed and tested for pollen grains, which will supply environmental evidence for the landscape during the Mesolithic and later periods at Burry Holms. In addition, large pieces of charcoal found from Mesolithic layer were sent for identification of the tree species and radiocarbon dating.
Life on Burry Holms in the Stone Age
By studying the evidence discovered with the collections held at the Museum, an interpretation for the Mesolithic site on Burry Holms can be suggested. The twenty-two small stone spears found at the site have been identified as microliths. Microliths are small stone points only found in the Mesolithic period, and were attached to a handle and used as hunting and fishing spears. One of the microliths has an impact fracture at its tip suggesting that it was broken during use. It is possible that its Mesolithic owner took the damaged spear to Burry Holms where he discarded the broken microlith and made a replacement for his spear before going off hunting or fishing again. There is a good supply of flint and stone at the area, ideal for the manufacture of sharp tools. The variety of objects discovered clearly shows that stone tools were being produced at the site. Most of the microliths discovered are Early Mesolithic, but three appear to be of Late Mesolithic appearance.
During the Early Mesolithic period the sea level was much lower than it is today meaning that Burry Holms would not have been an island at that time, but a distinctive inland hill. In many ways this site would have been an ideal place for Mesolithic people to have established a camp or settlement. The hilltop shelter from the winds and the prominent position would have been ideal for scanning the surrounding landscape for prey to hunt and the nearby River Loughor a source of fish for their diet. Unfortunately, due to the acidic soils, bones have not been preserved at the site, so the remains of their meals and indeed the remains of the people themselves, as well as any of their bone or wooden tools, will not have survived.