The Land of Our History - Where the Call of Change Vies with Need for Conservation; IF WRITTEN RECORD IS LIMITED ARCHAEOLOGY TELLS A STORY

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), April 5, 2012 | Go to article overview
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The Land of Our History - Where the Call of Change Vies with Need for Conservation; IF WRITTEN RECORD IS LIMITED ARCHAEOLOGY TELLS A STORY


Byline: GWILYM HUGHES

The mountains of Wales draw walkers and visitors to enjoy one of the last great natural wildernesses of Britain.

They also hide a vast treasure trove of archaeological and historic sites, which are testimony to more than 6,000 years of human activity and exploitation. This is as true of the area around Pumlumon and upland Ceredigion as it is of any of the other mountainous areas of Wales.

Look closely and you will start to see the impact of the human footprint everywhere. There is evidence for burial, farming, quarrying, travelling, trade and conflict all around you. In a landscape where the written record is limited, archaeology helps provide the narrative for the lives of ordinary Welsh men, women and children.

Yet we cannot take for granted the survival of these historic landscapes and the monuments and historic sites that they contain.

Their careful management needs to be a partnership between Cadw and its partners in the heritage sector, and farmers and land managers. But we need first to understand and record what survives. The Uplands Archaeology Initiative, co-ordinated by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, is systematically exploring the uplands of Wales, discovering archaeological sites and looking afresh at ones that are already known. New sites are regularly added to the National Monuments Record for Wales and the regional historic environment records that are managed by the four Welsh Archaeological Trusts.

Many of these sites are associated with farming, including the many Bronze Age burial cairns that dot the landscape. The sheep farmers of today are carrying on a tradition that began 6,000 years ago. The later remains of ruined cottages, medieval house platforms and shepherds' summer houses or hafotai show that these mountains were once far more extensively occupied and farmed than they are today. Both the prehistoric ritual monuments and the lost medieval farmsteads have been surveyed, and the best preserved have been protected as scheduled ancient monuments of national importance.

Safeguarding these special places for the future has also helped inform land management schemes, such as Tir Gofal and more recently the Glastir agri-environment scheme.

Northern Ceredigion is also famous for its silver and lead mining industry which also has its origins in prehistory. But it is the numerous traces of underground workings, surface processing buildings and the ruins of miners' cottages from the 19th and early 20th centuries that are most obvious. Many people relied on a combination of mining work and livestock production. The long distance livestock trade organised by the drovers used open mountain routes heading east to the markets of England.

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