Another Welsh hillfort:
FROM the air, its hidden tree-covered slopes give little clue to the settlement that existed there 3,000 years ago.
And its position in one of the quietest corners of the nation may seem a million miles away from the bustle of today’s towns and cities.
But historians have now described an ancient Iron Age hillfort in Mid Wales as the “Millennium Stadium of its day”, after computer modelling revealed its true scale.
Going back to the time when Caractacus was the Iron Age King of Wales, experts say the Gaer Fawr hillfort in Guilsfield, near Welshpool, was once a multi-tiered “town in the sky” which would have been the equivalent of a modern-day skyscraper.
Dr Toby Driver, aerial investigator of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, said that because the area is fully wooded there was no way that anyone could have imagined what it looked like in pre-Roman times – until now.
“This great hill was a massive piece of civil engineering, with five terraces cut into the hillside on an incredible scale. It would have involved many centuries of development” he said.
“It was the Millennium Stadium of its day, located in a commanding position in the Severn Valley and would have been the only thing of its kind for miles around; it would have knocked the socks off anything else.
“A computer model now allows it to be seen in its full glory for the first time in hundreds of years.
“Its population would have been like that of a town.
“Built primarily for defence purposes to keep invaders out, it would have been like a skyscraper, that was visited by traders from miles around as one of the first farmers’ markets in Wales.
“Thatched houses and round houses would have been built on it. And an area five or six times the footprint of the Millennium Stadium, across hundreds of hectares, would have been stripped of woodland and dragged up the hillside to supply the timber and gateways.”
He said that livestock would have included wild boar, early sheep and cattle and the layout of the farms, then and now, across Montgomeryshire would not have been very different.
“Although we might have thought that these would have been wild times with wolves roaming around, the farms were in fact very well managed,” he added.
“The commander of the fort would have worn an emblem of a bronze boar, which was sacred to the Celts, fitted to his helmet.
“You wouldn’t have seen wealth on this kind of scale anywhere else in Wales at that time.
“Our survey has revealed that this area was very rich and powerful in 900 to 800BC.
“And there was a hoard of sword and metalwork that was found in Guilsfield that dates 1,000 years before the arrival of the Romans.
“The years 400 BC to the time of the Romans in AD70 were interesting on the Welsh borders and along the River Severn.
“There were violent clashes, Caractacus was defeated and some local aristocrats would have later started trading with the Romans, using coinage and Caerwent Roman town was established in South Wales to ‘culture’ local tribes.”
The computer modelling was carried out for the BBC2 Wales programme Hidden Histories.
Presenter Huw Edwards, added: “The Royal Commission is like a big detective agency: its experts promote a deeper understanding of Wales. They reveal subjects, places, buildings and personalities whose significance has been hidden from us for far too long.”
The Hidden Histories team also looks at an excavation by Oxford Archaeology which reveals new evidence about Swansea when it was “Copperopolis” at the world centre of copper smelting.
“Other sites in the Swansea valley may yet produce further significant remains of ‘Copperopolis’,” added Dr Driver.
“Most of the structures of this great industry have long disappeared, however a recent housing development gave an exceptional opportunity to reveal the Upper Bank copper smelting works which were established in 1755.”