5.5 Palaeoenvironmental evidence

See Appendix 1, Appendix 2 and Figure 17

5.5.1 Soil micromorphology by Richard I. Macphail

Two thin-section samples, M7 and M10, were examined from a buried soil at Muriau Gwyddelod, Fronhill. The results are discussed below, and supported by Table 14, Table 15 and Figure 7.

Context 14 (buried Iron Age [or earlier] soil below bank - Context 11)(M7):
This is a humic fine soil with few stones, rare roots, occasional wood charcoal (max 4mm) and trace amounts of burned mineral grains (Figures 7.3, 7.11, 7.12). The soil is characterised by extremely thin to very thin and broad total excremental fabric of moderately acid-neutral mesofauna, the last being more dominant in the lower part of the sampled soil.

This humic topsoil is characterised by acidophyle mesofauna activity in the upper part, but retains evidence of an earlier earthworm-worked soil (broad crumb structures are more dominant at the bottom of the sample). This was originally probably a moderately weakly acid-neutral (good-quality) pasture/grassland soil. The presence of only 'coarse' wood charcoal suggests that this material is a relict of clearance, rather than indicating amendment for agriculture; it has not been fine fragmented into the microfabric as is often the case in plough soils.

Context 8 over 14 (buried soil)(M10):
This is a humic stony soil, composed of crumb and compact soil aggregates, with occasional charcoal (max 2mm) and rare to occasional very fine charcoal within the fine soil (Figures 7.13, 7.14). Trace amounts of iron-stained and burned ('anthropogenic') soil-sediment occur. Rare, weakly formed matrix void coatings and layering are preserved within some aggregates.

Here, the fragmented nature of the charcoal and more compact soil in Context 14 at M10, compared to M7 (Context 11), suggests possible animal trampling, as was also indicated by the presence of poorly developed textural pedofeatures. The trace amounts of 'anthropogenic' soil that are present, and which may perhaps have been formed by trampling elsewhere (but locally), were probably tracked in by stock. This is also consistent with this hypothesis of animal trampling.

These soils, at 200m OD, have the characteristics of being pasture soils, with coarse wood charcoal being a relict of clearances (Chambers and Price 1988). The earthworm-worked microfabric of the brown earth subsoil (Context 14) is consistent with an earlier woodland cover, whereas the developing acidophyle mesofauna activity (Context 8) is indicative of increasing soil acidity (M7), although this is more typical of the upland zone (Ball 1975, Maltby and Caseldine 1982, Romans and Robertson 1975). The local soils are typical brown podzolic soils (Manod soil association) developed in Palaeozoic slates, mudstones and siltstones (Rudeforth et al. 1983). In sample 10, Context 14 shows some indications of more concentrated animal trampling (?), as evidenced by moderate fragmentation of charcoal here. It is perhaps not unexpected to find no evidence of arable activity at the specific sampling locations, probably because after clearance soils became acidified, developing into the modern Manod (brown podzolic) soil cover.

5.5.2 Soil pollen by Astrid E. Caseldine

Palaeoenvironmental evidence from Muriau Gwyddelod was confined to samples from the excavation at Fronhill. Selected samples were examined from the pollen column (8) taken from the buried soil (14) and subsoil (15) beneath the bank (Table 16). Pollen concentrations were low, especially in the lowest level, but increased slightly down the profile before declining, suggesting some movement of pollen. Significant amounts of pollen were also indeterminable, reducing the reliability of the pollen and there may be some differential pollen preservation, particularly in the lowest levels. Oak, hazel and grasses dominate the assemblage. Apart from the lowest level, in which the pollen count is too low to be reliable, the evidence suggests a decline in oak and hazel woodland in the area and an increasingly open landscape. Along with grass pollen, weed taxa indicating grassland include ribwort plantain, dandelion type (Lactuceae), buttercups and common knapweed. The occurrence of greater stitchwort is in keeping with the evidence for woodland, where it is commonly found. Although the evidence primarily suggests grassland, the presence of Triticum-Avena-type pollen in the uppermost level suggests the cultivation of wheat or oats in the vicinity around the time the boundary was constructed.

The pollen evidence is in agreement with the soil micromorphological evidence for a weakly acid-neutral grassland soil and a typical brown earth soil developed under woodland, with increasing soil acidity aiding survival of at least some pollen.

5.5.3 Charcoal by Astrid E. Caseldine

A small amount of charcoal (Table 17) was identified from the site and included oak (Quercus spp.), alder (Alnus glutinosa) and hazel (Corylus avellana). Hazel (sample 2) was recovered from the buried soil (14), while alder (sample 3) and oak (sample 6) were identified from the subsoil (15). The alder from the lower soil (15) gave a date of 3360–3260 or 3250–3100 cal BC, placing it in the Middle Neolithic. The micromorphological evidence suggests that this charcoal reflects original clearance activity at that time rather than manuring associated with agriculture.

Charcoal from the remaining samples (4, 7, 11 and 13) from the fill (17) of a possible post-hole (16) included oak, alder and hazel. A date of 7300–7220 or 7190–7060 cal BC was obtained from hazel charcoal from this feature, indicating fire activity during the Early Mesolithic period and woodland comprising oak and hazel as well as alder in the area, assuming that all the charcoal is contemporary.


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