Swansea’s earliest road discovered

In March 2009 the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust’s Projects Division recorded a short section of hurdle trackway, which had eroded out of the marine clay on the Swansea foreshore.  The site was initially located by Brian Price, a member of the Swansea Metal Detecting Club, who reported his discovery to the Trust’s Portable Antiquities Recording Officer.

The hurdle panel, which formed the trackway, was woven from narrow branches of oak and alder, identified by Astrid Caseldine and Catherine Griffiths of the University of Wales, Lampeter.  A simple oak peg had been driven through the hurdle panel into the underlying ground surface to hold the trackway securely in place.  The entire structure was covered in a thin layer of brushwood to provide a level walking-surface.  A single sample from the trackway was sent to the Beta Analytic Radiocarbon Laboratory in Florida for AMS dating; and was dated to the early Bronze Age (Cal BC 2140 to 1930 (Cal BP 4090 to 3880) with a 2 Sigma Calibration (Beta: 257022)).

During the early Bronze Age the climate was drier and warmer than today and the sea level was significantly lower.  The trackway was therefore probably built through a wet, marshy environment.  Because it has been eroded by the tide it is impossible to tell whether the entire trackway was composed of hurdles, or whether occasional hurdles were laid to cross particularly wet patches of ground.

Plan of exposed section of hurdle

Plan of exposed section of Early Bronze Age hurdle

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2 comments

  1. I find it simply fantastic that nobody has thought to publish or comment on allignments of this site to see where people where coming from and going to regularly enough to require a trackway through a peat bog….

    “Because it has been eroded by the tide it is impossible to tell whether the entire trackway was composed of hurdles, or whether occasional hurdles were laid to cross particularly wet patches of ground.”

    Does the extent of the similarly dated peat bog not give a firm indication to the extent on the dampness in the area during bronze/early iron age?

    Were deposits in the same peat bog found over the last 100 years on a similar allignment to the trackway? At famous trackway sites like flag fen it is very common to find offerings/deposits along the side of the trackway through the bog….

  2. Hello Steve, sorry it’s taken me so long to reply to your post.

    Unfortunately not enough of the Brynmill Trackway survives to enable us to suggest were it was going to or from, if indeed it was anything more than a isolated hurdle panel. Where it has been possible to tentatively suggest destinations for trackways, such as in the Somerset Levels, it has been possible to excavate significantly larger sections of trackway. The excavators then tested the suggested route by excavating further test-pits along it. As our trackway is in the intertidal zone we can’t do this for two reasons: removing the overlying deposits that protect the trackway would leave it open to destruction by the tide and secondly digging pits here could be dangerous to bathers and other people using the foreshore.

    The peatshelf identified at Brynmill grew over the landscape that the trackway was crossing, so the peat would have continued to grow after this trackway had been laid. We think that the peat was probably formed by wind-blown sand creating dunes that blocked the drainage of the coast, so that freshwater accumulated behind them. Due to the manner in which the peat bog probably formed it will have covered a large area of ground, almost certainly larger than the area of ground that the trackway was traversing. While there have been a number of other wooden features recorded from the Brynmill peatshelf they have all been of a later date than the current trackway, with another trackway excavated by GGAT in the 1990s dating to between 103BC and 118AD, from higher up the beach. We think that this is a later peatshelf, like the ones recorded at Kenfig Sands.

    Given the intertidal nature of the environment in which the trackway was discovered, it is not really practical to conduct a large scale excavation in order to discover whether there are any ritual deposits or casual lose associated with the use of the trackway. There have been a number of prehistoric finds recovered from Swansea Bay, both flint and metallic items, however it has not been possible to associate any of these objects with either trackway.

    Hope this answers your questions. Best wishes Andy Sherman.

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