'All good things come to those who wait...'

Palaeolithic Man

This man lived around 14,000 years ago in the time we call the Palaeolithic.
He is fishing for salmon with a special spear called a harpoon.

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This is part of a harpoon. It was found on the Afon Tanat between Llanyblodwel and Porthywaen. It is around 14,000 years old and is made from the antler of a red deer. You can see it now in Shrewsbury Museum.

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The Tanat is an important spawning ground and nursery for salmon, who are born and begin their incredible trans-Atlantic journey here. They return to the river to breed - and so the cycle continues. Did our Palaeolithic ancestors value this resource and gather here in spring to harvest the adult salmon – whose own ancestors still return here every year?

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After the last Ice Age, around 14,000 years ago, people who lived by hunting animals and gathering wild berries, nuts, roots and seafood moved into the landscapes where the ice had been. They gradually spread north from the places where they had taken refuge from the ice in southern France and northern Spain. They were constantly on the move: nomads that followed the animals they hunted and other food sources as they grew.

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The people of the Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) weren’t primitive cavemen. They were human beings, just like us, with exactly the same brain as us. And therefore the same intelligence and emotions...

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Fishing Restrictions

There were no fences in the Palaeolithic and a lot less people – but did different groups guard their hunting territories just as they do today?

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Mesolithic Man

This man inhabited this wooded landscape around 9,000 years ago in the time we call the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age)

People then were still living like the Palaeolithic hunter gatherers – though recent archaeological evidence suggests that they may have been living in well established camps.

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Sea levels were much lower than they are in 2013 –the British Isles were still connected to the European mainland and people lived in a place archaeologists call Doggerland, now beneath the North Sea!

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People still used stone tools – often wickedly sharp small stone blades called microliths, which they fixed into spears and harpoons for hunting. These rolls of birch bark was found at a place in Yorkshire called Star Carr, where archaeologists have been excavating the site of a Mesolithic camp. They might have been part of a hunter’s tool kit – perhaps the sap was used for gluing microliths into a specially grooved spearhead.

You can find more amazing Mesolithic objects by searching the British Museum's database.

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The people of the Mesolithic had a very different culture to our own. They may have had a belief system similar to that of those still in existence around the world whose ways of life are much more embedded in the natural world.

For these people, connection with the spirits of animals is vital because their lives depend on it. You wouldn’t want to upset the animal that is giving up its life to preserve yours! It might change its mind – and then you’d go hungry...

In these cultures, specially gifted people who make the connection with the spirits are called shamans. This red deer skull was found at Star Carr and is now in the British Museum's collection. It seems to have been altered so you could wear it on your head. Maybe a hat for hunting, for special occasions – or a head-dress for a shaman?

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Mesolithic Shaman

This is an old drawing of a Siberian shaman. Maybe the person who who wore the Star Carr head dress looked a bit like this. We’ll probably never know for sure...

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Bison

Back in the Mesolithic, there were many more wild mammal species here than there are now: bears, lynx, wolves, bison, elk, aurochs (wild cattle), wild horses and reindeer all roamed the landscape. This is a European bison. They almost became extinct but still live in reserves in Poland and in zoos.

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Neolithic Man

This man is an early farmer. He lived in the time we call the Neolithic – the New Stone Age – and met with other members of his community at Meusydd, Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant.

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Around 7,000BC, in Southwest Asia, a new idea emerged – of creating food by planting and growing seeds and keeping cattle contained in one area. We call it farming! The idea caught on and spread across Europe, arriving in Britain around 4500BC. The same revolution happened elsewhere in the world at different times.

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To grow crops, you need good flat land and no trees in the way! So, in the Neolithic, clearance of the ancient forests began. People still used stone tools – like this axe – to cut trees down. Some stone axes are very beautiful – and may also have been symbols of power.

Flint was quarried in certain places to make knife blades like these.

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These stone maces were found near Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant. Both have holes (ground out by other stone tools – or perhaps by using a stick as a drill bit with sand as an abrasive) in them for a handle.

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In the Neolithic, by staying in the same place so that they could tend crops and animals and feed themselves, people created settlements. They also began to find ways of creating landmarks that identified their places, shared with their ancestors who had farmed the land before them.

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Here in the Tanat Valley a farming community in the late Neolithic created two timber circles at Meusydd, Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant (in the field opposite the bus garage). These are circles formed by placing wooden posts (made from quite large trees) in the ground. One of the circle had six posts, probably around 2.1M tall and the other had ten posts that were a bit taller.

There was a huge timber circle with twenty six posts at Sarn-y-bryn-caled, next to to the Welshpool by-pass. This has been dated to around 2500 to 2000BC. So the two circles might have stood at Meusydd at a similar time, around 4,000 years ago.

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Meusydd, as it was in the Neolithic, is still a meeting place; of rivers and of people – the Powys Eisteddfod took place here in 2011. The land here is flat and fertile: a good place for farmers, yesterday, today and tomorrow...

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Early Bronze Man

This man is a magician! He can turn dull coloured rocks into beautiful shiny things! He is an early metalworker and might have arrived here around 4,000 years ago.

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Around 4,000 years ago, a brand new technology arrived from the continent of Europe! And perhaps like many new things (a new games console for example), those who knew its secrets probably seemed very glamorous. So, it was good for showing off with...

We call it metal. At first, people continued to use stone axes, arrowheads and other tools. But powerful, wealthy people – perhaps people who it was thought had strong connections with the gods – might own beautiful bronze axes that glinted when they held them up to the sun. These must have been very striking in a world of stone. We all like things that shimmer and glow...

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This is a replica of an early Bronze Age flat axe – created by smelting copper and tin from ore bearing rocks and mixing them to make molten bronze which could be poured into moulds. Was this process kept secret? Or was it a performance or ritual? Would you keep your special knowledge a secret? Or show off with it?

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Molten Bronze

Molten bronze, heated in the fire as it was 4000 years ago looks pretty spectacular...

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If you could stand by the bus garage in Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant and travel back 4,000 years in time, looking down toward where Llangedwyn is now, you’d see many mounds in the landscape. These were surrounded by ditches and were special places where our Bronze Age ancestors placed and tended the remains of theirs.

You can find out exactly where these are by looking at www.archwilio.org.

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Maesmochnant standing stone was erected in the early Bronze Age and is the tallest standing stone in Montgomeryshire at 3.65M tall. Another third of the stone is in the ground – so quite a lump! How many people would it take to move it and how would they get it to the right spot and then make it stand up?

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Bronze Man

This man is a metal prospector. He came to Cwm Orog, on the northwest side of Craig Rhiwarth around 3,500 years ago. He is looking for special rocks that carry metal ores, particularly copper. He has a special stone hammer with him that he uses to break the ore so it can be smelted (heated up in a fire) and the copper extracted. Then it can be mixed with tin to make bronze. This, in turn, can be heated it up and poured into moulds to make tools and other objects of beauty.

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By 1500BC, in the middle Bronze Age, metalworking had become widespread. Axes and tools had become more sophisticated than the early flat axes and were more commonplace. So, there was a demand for copper and tin, which together make bronze. And therefore both metals were valuable.

Tin was only found in Cornwall, so the people of the Bronze Age must have had complex trading networks. They probably connected by travelling around the coasts in boats and up the rivers – like the Dee.

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About a century ago, a farmer living in Llangynog plucked a peculiar looking stone from a stream. It turned out to be a hammer – of a type used by people in the Bronze Age for grinding up ores (rocks containing metal). Archaeologists examining it discovered that it was made from Anglesey quartzite – a type of stone found on the island, which lies around 70 miles to the north west. Around 3,800 years ago, copper was mined there on Parys Mountain where many such hammers – called mauls – have been found.

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Toolkit

The Cwm Orog hammer has a groove around its middle, allowing a handle to be attached to it. The groove was made by hitting it with another stone tool, a process called ‘pecking’. Experimental archaeology undertaken by David Chapman of Ancient Arts shows what it might have looked like with its handle. You can also see pieces of copper ore ready for smelting that have been ground up on the stone slab and some larger lumps next to it.

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Very little archaeological investigation has been undertaken in Cwm Orog. So, we don’t know if our prospector was on his own, or whether copper was mined here at the western end of the Tanat Valley in the Bronze Age as it was on Anglesey.

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Iron Man

This man is a metalworker. He lived and worked in the Iron Age hillfort on Llwyn Bryn Dinas around 2,500 years ago. Today, the village of Llangedwyn sits below the hill.

At this time, a new metal technology was in common use; iron working, or black-smithery. The time now referred to as the Iron Age began around 800BC. We call the people of the Iron Age culture ‘the Celts’.

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The top of the hill Llwyn Bryn Dinas is surrounded by a rampart – an earthwork running right round the top of the hill. This enclosed it, protecting those inside, preventing cattle from straying – and also giving a very impressive appearance from the outside.

The Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust excavated part of the hillfort on Llwyn Bryn Dinas. Click here to see an amazing archaeologists drawing of one of the ramparts.

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Crucibles

Whilst excavating the hillfort rampart on Llwyn Bryn Dinas, archaeologists uncovered the remains of a metal workshop. Here, they found the remains of crucibles, vessels for heating and pouring molten bronze into moulds. The copper used was mined on Llanymynech Hill (over which the sun is rising in the background photograph).

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They probably weren’t making fancy things here. The archaeologists also found signs of blacksmithing – iron working. So the workshop was more likely to have been for making and repairing tools and the like.

Click here to see a more simple drawing of the site of the metal workshop.

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The hillfort on Llwyn Bryn Dinas may have had its origins in the late Bronze Age and was certainly occupied throughout the Iron Age. So, people were using it for a thousand years.

That’s a lot of sunrises...

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Iron Woman

This woman is an important figure in her late Iron Age community. She might have lived around two and half thousand years ago. Iron Age tribes often had female leaders or queens like Boudicca of the Iceni and Cartimandua of the Brigantes (who allied her confederation of tribes with the Romans).

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On top of Craig Rhiwarth is a huge Iron Age hillfort. Nearly 850M long by 500M wide, it is the second largest in Wales and the highest. There are entrances on the north west and north sides.

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There are at least 170 circular stone structures - some of which may have been roundhouses in which families lived and some pens for livestock.

The extent of the fort and the number of round structures was revealed when a huge fire scorched the moorland on top of Craig Rhiwarth in the late Twentieth Century.

Click here to see a section of the map made by archaeologists showing all the circles.

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Archaeologists aren’t sure exactly how people lived here and why. Perhaps it was a place of safety. Perhaps it was a place for living in during the summer, like a hafod. Perhaps it was built to show off - by a powerful tribal leader. Or maybe to protect the valuable mineral deposits that lie beneath Craig Rhiwarth, as seems to have been possible at Llanymynech Hill, visible in the east at the other end of the Tanat Valley.

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The Celts made beautiful objects - but the real gold of the Iron Age was grain. At the end of the Bronze Age the climate became colder. It became more difficult to grow crops, yet the population continued to grow. With more mouths to feed, good farmland became precious and needed protecting and, as a result, life in Britain became much more complicated and political...

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Visible from the top of Craig Rhiwarth are two Bronze Age cairns on the high ground above Bryndreiniog. On the same land, in the course of removing a fence in 1867, nine bronze penannular bracelets were found. These were made around 3,000 years ago – a millennium before the arrival of the Romans. How did the Celts view their ancient ancestors? The cairns and burial monuments of the earlier prehistoric people must have been much more evident in the landscape than they are today...

Click here to see the current landowner, Mr Hywel Roberts of Bryndreiniog with one of the bracelets or torcs, pictured at Canolfan Pennant, Penybontfawr on 26th April, 2013 – an intimate encounter made possible by curator Eva Bredsdorff of the Powysland Museum, Welshpool.

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Iron Miner

This man is gloomy because he has a hard life quarrying copper ore within the Iron Age hillfort on Llanymynech Hill – perhaps in the Ogof, the entrance of which can be seen in the background picture.

In 20BC, the geographer Strabo listed the main exports from Britain as being corn, cattle, gold, silver, iron, hides, slaves and hunting dogs. So perhaps this man is a slave, taken from another tribe.

Iron Age slave chains have been found in a number of locations in England and Wales – including Llyn Cerrig Bach on Anglesey, where two were found, seemingly sacrificed to the gods.

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Llanymynech Hill is one of the largest hillforts in Britain. You can see the ramparts very clearly on the north and east sides of the hill – on the golf course (stick to the many footpaths if you go for a look).

Click here to see a map of the hillfort. The thick lines are ramparts - earthworks raised to enclose the top of the hill. The map also shows the site of an excavation by the Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust.

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In 1996, during the construction of a new shed at the golf club, the bottom half of a child’s skeleton was found! It has been dated to around 500BC.

Perhaps the ghostly legs walk the course at midnight!

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Excavations by the Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust have revealed evidence for copper smelting in crucibles just inside the eastern ramparts of the hillfort. This was dated to around 100BC.

Archaeologists think that both prehistoric and Roman mining occurred on Llanymynech Hill, on the surface in pits and underground.

Click here to see some excavation drawings showing ramparts and hearths where copper was smelted.

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Druid

This woman is an Iron Age holy woman.

When we think of Iron Age religion, we tend to see druids; old men with long beards dressed in white. However, this is largely a Victorian invention. Roman historians make reference not just to male druids, but also a variety of druidesses, wise women and female seers.

If women like Boudicca could be powerful war leaders of their tribes, then why shouldn’t women also be spiritual and political advisers to the tribal leaders? There are many women in Celtic stories who could see into the future...

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The Roman historian Pliny describes how Boudicca kept a hare amongst her robes. She would let it run before a battle so that her soothsayers – people who interpreted the rhythms of the natural world – could observe the patterns it made as it ran and through them predict the outcome of the forthcoming conflict.

Hares crop up in mythologies all over the world – as symbols of spring, fertility, rebirth – all things we associate with Easter. Perhaps chocolate bunnies have a longer history than we might imagine – and a much more powerful ancestor?

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Most people in the Tanat Valley know the story of St. Melangell who saved the hare from the hunter Prince Brochwel. She is said to have come from Ireland to Cwm Pennant to live a life of holy solitude.
But could her origins lie in prehistory? Hunter, nature spirit and hare: all are powerful symbols in wider human belief, ancient and modern. The Celts had gods and goddesses for pretty much everything in nature – trees, rivers, animals, the weather...

Archaeologists from Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust discovered Bronze Age cremation burials whilst excavating St. Melangell’s church. It seems that this may have been a special place long before the arrival of Christianity....

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Timeline Map of the Tanat Valley Back to the corridor
Palaeolithic Fisherman
Mesolithic Hunter
Neolithic Farmer
Early Bronze Age Metalworker
Bronze Age Copper Prospector
Iron Age Metalworker
Iron Age Woman
Iron Age Miner
Druid