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Mesolithic Shale Beads, Trefael

Mesolithic Shale Beads, Trefael

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Published by: Digital Digging on Oct 14, 2011
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Perforated shale beads found at the former Portal Dolmen site of Trefael, Pembrokeshire
By George Nash,A recent excavation undertaken in November 2010 in typical inclement Welsh weather atthe Trefael Stone, near Newport in south-west Wales has revealed a small assemblage of exotic artefacts including three drilled shale beads, identical to those found at a nearby EarlyMesolithic coastal habitation site. Until recently, little was known about the stones use andorigin.During the early 1970s archaeologists had speculated that it may have once formed acapstone which would have covered a small burial chamber, probably a Portal Dolmen, one
of Western Britain’s earliest monument
types. A geophysical survey undertaken inSeptember 2010 revealed the remains of a kidney-shaped cairn and it was within this clearfeature that the three perforated shale beads were found. These items, each measuring c.4.5 centimetres in diameter, were found within a disturbed cairn or post-cairn deposit.Based on the discovery of 690 perforated beads found at the coastal seasonal camp of NabHead in southern Pembrokeshire, it is possible that the three Trefael beads arecontemporary. Microware analysis on one of the beads (see plate) was inconclusive but theperforation appeared to have the same micro-wear abrasions as beads from the Nab Headsite.The beads from the Nab Head site were oval-shaped and water worn (David & Walker 2004,312). Each disc was uniform in shape and thickness and had been drilled using an awl-typeflint tool, referred to as a
meches de foret 
. It is probable that the Nab Head beads and thosefrom Trefael were made for adornment, either sewn into clothing or formingbracelets/necklaces. In a
ssociation with the perforated beads a number ‘blanks’ were found
suggesting that The Nab Head site was a production centre for bead making. Similar perforated shale beads have also been found at a number of other sites includingManton Warren (Humberside), Newquay (Cardiganshire), Star Carr (Yorkshire) and StapleCrag (Co. Durham). Beads of other geological types have also been found at the upland mid-Wales site of Waun Fignen Felen, made from spotted mudstone and single finds fromcoastal locations at Freshwater East, Linney Burrows and Palmerston Farm, Pembrokeshire.Two perforated beads, one made of stone, the other from oyster shell has also been foundin the Isle of Mann, at Cronk y Chule and Poyllvaaish respectively.The provenance of the Trefael beads is interesting in that the beads from the Nad Head siteare dated to roughly the 9
millennium BCE (within the range of radiocarbon dates takenfrom hazelnuts) and the Trefael site is Neolithic, a period between the two sites of around5,000 years. Chris Tolan-Smith (2008, 146) does express some caution with the limiteddating of the Nab Head site and therefore the beads may be recent. It could be the casethat the idea and meaning of adornment through perforating and wearing shale and shellbeads extends into the Neolithic. It could that the beads originate from a much earlierphase of the Trefael monument when the
may have been used byhunter/fisher/gatherers. The early use of Neolithic burial-ritual sites is not uncommon in

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