Public Archaeology

Exploring the earliest connection between Ireland and Wales

Portalis explores the earliest connection between Ireland and Wales dating back to the Early Mesolithic period, (Middle Stone Age), known for its greater innovation and diversity. We do this by consolidating existing evidence and providing new data. We interpret this data into an exciting cross-border narrative.

Public Archaeology collaboration 

Cross-border cooperation is evident in the sharing of expertise in both regions of Ireland and Wales and is necessary to deliver this operation, given the intrinsic shared nature of the operation content. This pilot seeks to identify the platforms and cultural assets that will allow visitors immerse themselves in a cluster of cultural experiences that are connected through time and place as they travel within the Operation jurisdiction. 

Cross-border collaboration is further evidenced in the shared archaeological goals of Portalis. The focus here is on gaining a better understanding of where our earliest ancestors came from, where their sites are and how the landscapes of occupation differed from those of the present day. In order to achieve these objectives, extant museum collections are reviewed, limited fieldwork on new sites is undertaken to understand environmental change and create a common narrative for early occupation.  

This collaborative approach extends to creating Citizen Archaeologist resources and innovative visitor experiences based on authentic and captivating narratives, provide new and widely accessible content. This will be utilised to build on existing research by developing interpretative heritage tourism offers which provides the foundations for enhancing the touristic offers within the cross-border area. 

Portalis cross border activities and measurable outcomes are aligned closely with ‘Archaeology 2025’ by the Royal Academy & Discovery Programme. This is a ten year strategy to guide the future development of Irish Archaeology. It aims to raise awareness of the value of archaeology and recognise that 3D modelling, digital archiving and community archaeology are changing the landscapes of how archaeological investigations are conducted.  

Archaeology in Wales

Excavations at the site at Talsarn in the Aeron Valley in May 2022 allowed us to re-visit our site first excavated in 2019. The site lies at the top of an old infilled glacial lake. When meltwaters finally infilled much of the lake the landscape was transformed into one of low sand and gravel islands surrounded by wetland with reed swamps, open water and small rivers.

In 2019 excavation of one of these islands produced a small number of flint artefacts as well as a partially polished stone axe-head. We hypothesised that this may be around 5-6 thousand years old, used by Early Neolithic groups of people who are usually associated with the introduction of farming and construction of large monuments. 

This year we returned to examine more of this island and to examine a second island to see whether human activity was more widespread in this wetland. Our first island continued to produce artefacts while a small but significant collection of flintwork were recovered from the second island. In total 33 finds were large enough to record in the ground, while a further 15-20 pieces of worked flint, including formal tools, were also recovered from sieving. Significantly a small microlith, probably a projectile point, was recovered from sieving on this second island.

Other pieces include a core, blades and a bladelet, and several flakes which have been used, possibly as scrapers.  It is also clear that people were not only using flint as a raw material.  It may be that local quartz was also utilised, although this is usually more difficult to work into useable tools.

These finds hint at a more complex story as microliths are typical of what has often been considered the final hunter-gatherer-fishers (Mesolithic people). Our excavations at Talsarn suggest a group of people whose way of life reflects connections rather than divisions between Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and Neolithic communities.

A connection with the sea is now clear. Looking at the flint flakes recovered from this year’s excavations, many of the flakes exhibit a cortex (the outer layer of the nodule that has been flaked) that is typical of beach pebbles. Consequently we can envisage people collecting raw material on the beaches, and then heading to the islands at Talsarn to make their tools. But what were they doing here? So far we have no evidence for hearths, pits or other structures which might suggest they were spending any length of time at the site, perhaps they were present fleetingly to hunt wildfowl or fish. We might know more after next year’s excavation.

Archaeology in Ireland

This report will be soon be available.