REVIEW BY GEORGE NASH
The two Cotswold-Severn Neolithic burial-ritual monuments of Penywyrlod and Gwernvale occupy the western hinterlands of the Black Mountains in Breconshire, Wales. Both monuments are only part of a handful of Neolithic burial-ritual monuments in Wales to have been excavated in recent times. Both were rigorously excavated in the 1970s. The Penywyrlod excavation was directed by Bill Britnell, and Gwernvale by Hubert Savory. A detailed monograph outlining the excavation and results was published in 1984. The Gwernvale excavation was a rescue project that culminated in a road scheme that would impact the monument on its southern side. Similarly, the Penywyrlod monument had, before its discovery in 1972, been used as a quarry with much of the north-eastern section hollowed out. At the time of excavation, both monuments revealed the first radiocarbon dates for Neolithic monuments from the Black Mountains group.
The First Stones book provides the reader with a summary of the two excavations, as well as the all-important post-excavation analysis, a reassessment, and interpretation, thus placing both monuments into a wider context. The book also reports on the first archaeological investigations to occur at Penywyrlod since the excavation in the 1970s.
The book, skilfully edited by Britnell and Whittle, is organised into 12 chapters, each covering diverse aspects related to the two sites. Notable chapters include the introductory texts by Britnell and Whittle (Chapters 1-3), a contextual discussion on the beginnings of agriculture by Astrid Caseldine (Chapter 5), an analysis of the human remains from Penywyrlod, Pipton, and Ty Isaf by Michael Wysocki (Chapter 6), a review of the lithic assemblage at Gwernvale by Elizabeth Walker (Chapter 9), and a residue analysis of Gwernvale’s early Neolithic pottery by Isabel Wiltshire and Lucy Cramp (Chapter 11).
Much of the information here has already been said, but it will provide the reader with an excellent overview of what was groundbreaking archaeology in Wales over 50 years ago, giving us our first insights into the ritual behaviour of communities during the early part of the 4th millennium BC.
William Britnell and Alasdair Whittle (eds)
Oxbow Books, £38