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SETTLEMENTS AND FIELD SYSTEMS, SKOMER ISLAND

Site Details


NPRN 24369

Map Reference SM70NW

Grid Reference SM7250009500

Unitary (Local) Authority Pembrokeshire

Old County Pembrokeshire

Community Marloes and St Brides

Type of Site FIELD SYSTEM, SETTLEMENT

Broad Class AGRICULTURE AND SUBSISTENCE

Period General, Prehistoric

Site Description Skomer Island lies off the south western coast of Pembrokeshire and its relict prehistoric agricultural landscape is among the best preserved anywhere in the British Isles. A lack of modern cultivation, save for a central section of the island, together with historical documentation that demonstrates an absence of permanent settlement until at least the seventeenth, although more likely eighteenth century AD (Grimes 1950, 4-5; Howells 1961, 48), suggests that the complex field systems and settlements that survive are almost wholly prehistoric in date. Two major archaeological studies have been undertaken on the island, both in the twentieth century; the first by W.F. Grimes in the 1940s (Grimes 1950) and the second by J.G. Evans in the 1980s (Evans 1990), the latter resulting in the current archaeological map of the island (Figure 2). The main conclusion reached by Evans, and the foundation for most modern interpretations thereafter, is that Skomer represents a brief event in Pembrokeshire’s prehistory. He stated (1990, 255) that ‘...the occupation was short. There is little complexity in the field systems... It is likely that the entire occupation took place over a few generations, perhaps a period of no more than a century’. In 2011 a collaborative research project between staff of the Royal Commission, University of Sheffield and Cardiff University was begun to discover more about the landscape.

Emerging evidence from specially-flown Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) aerial photographic reconnaissance and airborne laser scanning (LiDAR) of Skomer in 2011, together with selective field survey, shows a radically different picture. A wealth of new information about the island’s settlements, field systems and ritual monuments demonstrate a much deeper chronology than has previously been considered. There is at least one coaxial field system and several denuded, poorly-defined house platforms that may attest to later Bronze Age settlement, rather than the Iron Age or Romano-British occupation that has long been assumed. Equally significant is a re-interpretation of the landscapes of the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. A single standing stone, isolated round barrows and cairnfields have long been recorded but previously unrecognised megalithic sites (see NPRNs 414608 & 414607) have now been discovered. Skomer’s archaeology can now be argued to span millennia rather than decades or centuries.

Building on previous non-invasive surveys of the island, in 2014 the Skomer project team undertook a trial excavation on a burnt mound adjoining Hut Group 8 (NPRN 420196) in the north of the island to recover palaeoenvironmental evidence and material suitable for radiocarbon dating. The excavation was successful in these aims and has demonstrated that cooking activity at Hut Group 8 dates to the Late Iron Age, 161 cal BC-51 cal AD.


Sources:
Grimes in Archaeologia Cambrensis 101 (1950), 1-20
Evans in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 56 (1990), 247-67
Driver, T, 2007. Pembrokeshire: Historic Landscapes from the Air. RCAHMW, pp.77-83
Barker, L., Davis, O., Driver, T. and Johnston, R. 2012. Puffins amidst prehistory: re-interpreting the complex landscape of Skomer Island, In: Britnell, W.J. and Silvester, R. J. (eds.), Reflections on the Past, Essays in Honour of Frances Lynch. Cambrian Archaeological Association. Pp. 280-302.
Barker, L., Davis, O., Driver, T. and Johnston, R. 2014. Skomer Island Project. Archaeology in Wales 54, 186-190.

Other features on Skomer (NPRN 402711) include:
'The Churchyard' (NPRN 305370)
South Castle (NPRN 305371)
Harold's Stone (NPRN 305372)
Hut Group 8, site of 2014 excavation (NPRN 420196)

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