HRS Wales Projects
Maerdy Windfarm, Glamorgan (2012-2013)
During a program of watching brief work at the Maerdy Windfarm site, near Treherbert and Maerdy, in the Rhondda, Glamorgan, Richard recovered several pieces of oak timber from waterlogged peat deposits. Following cleaning and inspection of these timbers off site, in the hope of discovering evidence of possible tool markings, it was discovered that one of these oak timbers appeared to be decoratively carved. Later radiocarbon dating showed that this oak timber was in fact 6,270 year old.
The discovery of decorative wood carving surviving on timber of this age is so rare, that the timber is very probably unique and remarkably one of the oldest pieces of art carved into timber ever recorded and recovered in Europe and the British Isles.
Although the discovery of oak timber of this age is not unusual
from ancient peat deposits, what is significant about this particular piece is
that the timber has intricately carved patterning along one of its sides in the
form of parallel running zigs-zags or chevrons and an apparent concentric oval motif at one end. This latter carving is popularly interpreted as possibly being a representation of an 'eye'. If this interpretation were to be the case, then it would be logical to assume that it may have been mirrored by another eye on the opposing side of the timber. However, unfortunately due to the degradation of the timber, the greater part of the outer tree ring across the entire timber into which the carving had been made is now absent, leaving only the remnants of carving we see now along one edge.
The partially degraded split timber measures approximately 1.7
meters in length and 0.26 meters in width. It appears to have been deliberately
rounded at one end and appears to have possibly been tapered at the other end,
as if possibly once having served as a tribal marker post of some kind, perhaps marking
a tribal boundary, or a hunting ground or perhaps even a sacred site. Another possibility is that the carved timber may have been a votive offering, considering the area in which it was found was very waterlogged, possibly having once been a pool in the Late Mesolithic and as such the carving may have even been a representation of a tribal deity.
The only other known 'decorative art' of a similar age and design
to that carved into the recovered timber, survives as decoration on Neolithic
pottery, or as stone carving on standing stones in both Britain and Europe. In Wales, examples of this type of abstract design are found carved into a number of standing stones in Neolithic passage graves on Anglesey, such as a those at the 'Barclodiad y Gawres' tomb.
When the patterning on the timber was first identified in late September 2012,
a small sample of the wood from a frayed end was sent for Radiocarbon dating, which returned a
Sigma calibrated date of between 6000-6270 years BP, placing the timber into
the Late Mesolithic/Early Neolithic period, a time known to have been a
transitional period marking the change from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to that
of a tribal sedentary lifestyle. For the Mesolithic period most archaeological
evidence survives only in the form of stone tools, so the discovery of
intricate artwork carved into timber is a particularly exciting and unique
discovery that now offers us something physical and tangible visually and gives us fresh insight into the apparent sophistication and
complexity of Late Mesolithic Britain.
Because of the potential significance of such a find (due to timber of this
age rarely surviving), archaeological specialists who have examined the timber,
were understandably cautious as to the cause of the patterning on the artefact,
exploring the possibility of other natural processes, such as compression or as a result of insect agency, a common suspect being the possibility that the grooved patterning may have been caused by oak bark beetle, the channels being beetle larvae galleries, many of which bear a striking similarity to a certain area of the decoration.
However, following further examination and consultation with a
team of archaeologists from the University of Wales
Trinity Saint David, the
Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust (GGAT) and a number of respected palaeo-entomologists,
it was confirmed that the zig-zag or chevron patterns and the concentric 'eye' motif, positioned toward the rounded end, were not formed by
any natural process, including oak bark beetles, but probably were as a result of human carving. In
addition, the other oak timber remains recovered from the site do not bear
This makes the timber artefact of exceptional significance and as
such is of both National and International importance, being the earliest known
evidence of 'art' on timber ever recorded in the British Isles and Europe.
Immediately after the discovery of the carved timber and the
return of the radiocarbon date, the timber was transported to the Newport Ship
Centre for temporary preservation in a water holding tank and 3D laser
scanning, a process to accurately record the carving.
Whilst this work was being undertaken, back at the discovery site,
a small transect excavation was undertaken in the hope of recovering further
evidence, most importantly lithic material associated with the carved timber, but
unfortunately none was found.
Palaeo-environmental samples were taken from
several locations at the site and these are presently being analysed and the
results assessed. The carved timber, along with the remains of other oak tree samples from the site, is also undergoing dendrochronological (tree ring) analysis,
which it is hoped will provide a more precise date for the artefact. Once the results of all of these assessments have been completed (late October 2013), a full archaeological report of this remarkable find and the watching brief work at Maerdy will be written up and submitted to the regional archaeological trust (GGAT). Subsequent articles to Antiquity and other academic publications will also be forthcoming.
This unique and enigmatic timber has no completed its conservation
program of wax-glycol treatment and freeze drying at the York Archaeological Trust in York, and the timber has no been deposited with the Nattional Museum in Cardiff, with the idea of having it displayed in the new galleries at the National History
Museum, St Fagans in the spring of 2016.
A Written Scheme of
Archaeological Investigation was agreed with Rhondda
Cynon Taf Borough Council as part of the agreed planning conditions. This
scheme consisting of a watching brief during the positioning of protective
fencing around a number of sites of cultural heritage prior to groundworks
commencing and during all topsoil stripping and other ground disturbances
associated with the development.
from 2020 Renewables were responsible for overseeing the construction of Maerdy
Windfarm. In accordance with the agreed protocol in the event of a significant archaeological
feature being discovered the site archaeologist was immediately notified. The
wind farm developers assumed full financial responsibility for the
investigation and assessment of the find.
Richard Scott Jones (BA, MA, MCIfA)
Llanelly House, Llanelli (Grade I Listed)
To be updated soon.
Gilfach y Berthog (Grade II Listed)
To be updated soon.