Dale Fort Blog Number 6

30 04 2012

  History of Dale Fort Part 3

The First Humans

  An important local early site is The Nab Head, 3 miles north of Dale.  This site has yielded lots of flint chippings and other artifacts leading to the conclusion that there was a Mesolithic (c12000 years ago) industry located here producing flint tools.  There is no local source of flint and it has been suggested that the raw material was imported from Ireland, 50 miles or so to the west.  Similar finds have been made at Long Point and Great Castle Head 1.5 miles west of Dale Fort.  The fields near Castle Beach are also a rich source of Mesolithic microliths and flint cores.

A piece of worked flint, a microlith and a beach flint core (from which the sharp shards were struck off)

It seems likely that there would have been a human presence on what is now Dale Point.  What did it look like?  If you stand on Dale Point and watch the biggest ships coming and going and look at the buoys marking their channel, you can see the course of the ancient River Cleddau.  The sea would have been further away than it is today.  You would be standing on a hill probably with wooded slopes. Looking down the incline you might see your dinner running around on the fertile soil of the flood plain of the ancient Cleddau. Today’s large ships follow the deepest channel available.  The river cut this before sea level rose to its present height roughly 8,000 years ago.   Around that time populations increased in Britain especially near the coasts. The most obvious evidence of early human activity at Dale Point is the ditch and bank cutting off the narrowest part of the peninsula.  Evidence from this site indicates a history dating back to the early Bronze Age (c4000 years ago). The site has the longest history of occupation of any of Dyfed’s peninsula forts.

In late 1991, when Dale Fort’s sewerage system was being rebuilt, a (deranged) proposal was made to build a sewage treatment plant on the ancient site.  This would have required all sewage to be pumped to the highest point of the Dale Peninsula. The works would have destroyed any archaeological evidence and so CADW (= KEEP – the Welsh equivalent of English National Heritage) decided that an emergency archaeological investigation was appropriate.

A group of archaeologists excavated the site at speed.  Forsaking trowel and toothbrush they employed a mechanical digger to skim off the topsoil and several weeks of study ensued.  Two flattened surfaces of what may have been habitations were discovered. A further flattened surface was possibly the remains of a track.  Several ‘pot-boilers’ were also found.  These are stones, cracked or shattered by rapid cooling as a result of being heated in a fire and dropped into cold water in cooking vessels, thus heating the water and cooking the food.  Hot stones may have also been used to make a type of a sauna bath.  Some fragments of Beaker pottery and some bronze and iron objects have also been found at the site.

The first defensive structures are thought to date from the later part of the Bronze Age  (c2600 years ago).  The mass graves of earlier times began to be replaced by individuals interred in tumuli or burial mounds. The skeletal remains of the earliest settled peoples indicate that in general they led longish lives and had peaceful deaths. From then onwards things began to change.  Celtic peoples (originating in the Iberian Peninsula?) were in the process of dispersing over most of Europe.  They brought with them tools and weapons made from iron. Skeletons of this period are younger and more often show signs of violence.  They also had transport in the form of the horses and they had invented the potters’ wheel.

Dale Promontory Fort looking North from the South Rampart



How long the Celtic Diaspora took to reach the settlement at Dale is not known.  However, some time after 2600 years ago, the existing defensive bank was improved and strengthened with internal structural stonework. Radio-carbon dating done on material found between the Bronze and Iron Age levels gives a date of 790 BC.  These are the earliest physical remains carbon-dated from any similar site in Dyfed.

   Professor Grimes (centre right, grey hair) and his slaves around 1967

Professor Grimes (centre right, grey hair) and his slaves around 1967

The structure was the subject of many archaeological studies by the late Professor Grimes and his students. The annual “Courses for All” archaeology week was for years a popular part of the Dale Fort programme.  Visitors today will observe the remains of the Iron Age rampart as a bank of moderate height and a ditch of moderate depth.   It would have been a much more formidable defence when it was constructed, the bank three or four feet higher and capped with sharpened stakes, the ditch three or four feet deeper.  The large post-holes on either side of the central entrance indicate that the wooden entrance gate was a formidable barrier.



A further archaeological dig was inadvertently begun on the 6th November 2005 when builders of the new St. David’s block created a compound for their materials and machines just inside the rampart.

They stripped off the top layer of earth with a digger and covered the site with hardcore, thus destroying any archaeological evidence that might have been present.  The National Park Authorities were very upset at the partial destruction of an ancient monument.  The builders however had asked for and been given their permission to excavate the site.  How could this be?  It seems that in order for Grimes to dig the site without breaking the law, it had been necessary to temporarily deregister it as an ancient monument.  The last Grimes dig had taken place in 1988 and the site had not been re-registered.  Permission had been granted because it was not listed in the ancient monuments file.   On the orders of CADW, in July 2007 the stripped off surface was examined by workers from Cambria Archaeology.  It took 2 days just to remove the hardcore.  Evidence of a small structure of unknown function was found near to the bank.  Little else was found in that dry summer, until it rained.  Then, just inside the rampart, slightly north of the entrance, just visible on the wet surface appeared two concentric circles.  The diameter of the inner one was 12 metres.  The archaeologists realized that they had found the site of a huge circular hut, surrounded by a drip-gulley (drainage channel).  This had been missed by Grimes and only found now because of a bureaucratic blunder, an accidental act of vandalism, and a chance change in the weather.  The sheer size of the foundation makes one wonder whether it might have been a permanent habitation for someone important.

The ring of dots shows the approximate position of the huge hut circle Pete Crane (archaeologist) is not giving a fascist salute but explaining the site to Steve’s course members on A Nibble of Pembrokeshire

The builders had piled up the earth into a 21st Century defensive rampart to prevent thieves from stealing materials and machinery.  CADW felt that these new defences might bamboozle later generations of archaeologists and so they made them (as best as they could) put it back where it had come from.  The stripped surface is now used by our students for a variety of botanical studies.

Dale’s promontory fort is one of many on the Pembrokeshire coast.  It was believed that these easily defended positions were used mainly as refuges. The local population would live and work in the locality around the fort.  When enemies approached, they would retreat with their animals and valuables behind the rampart, close the gates and encourage them to go away.  Discoveries like the site of the large building on Dale Point have led to the suggestion that at least some of these sites might have had permanent occupants.

Return to the blog for the next exciting installment which might be some myths and legends from the Age of Saints (Dale Fort’s buildings are named after local saints, so it’s sort of relevant)




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