The Afon Ystwyth Experimental Archaeology Project

Introduction

The Llanafan Experimental SiteThe Afon Ystwyth Experimental Archaeology Project: Phase I (2000-2004) was undertaken by Dr Robert Hosfield and Dr Jenni Chambers, with assistance from Professor Mark Macklin and Dr Paul Brewer (Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, University of Wales, Aberystwyth).

The project was carried out on the Afon Ystwyth in mid-Wales, at two study sites: Llanilar and Llanafan, and explored the following series of taphonomic processes relating to the transport, transformation and deposition of stone tools within gravel-bed river environments:

  1. Processes of stone tool transportation, modification and deposition within a fluvial system, with respect to core tools (bifaces) and flake material.
  2. Process of stone tool modification and burial within fine-grained sedimentary systems (aeolian silt), with respect to core tools (bifaces) and flake material.
  3. Processes of short-term change in river system morphology.

Experimental Sites

The sites were selected due to:

  • The absence of indigenous Palaeolithic material – there are no records of Palaeolithic stone tool artefacts having been recovered from the Afon Ystwyth valley, although later prehistoric lithics have been recovered.
  • The suitability of the sites for tracer recovery, as illustrated by previous experimental archaeological research during the 1980s.
  • The rapid shifting of the Afon Ystwyth channel at Llanafan, associated with developing bars and active transport of bed materials.
    Experimental gravel bars (Llanafan Experimental Site)
  • The contrast between the sites, which assisted in the investigation of a range of different processes. The Llanafan site boasts a dynamic floodplain environment, with regular changes in river channel morphology, sediment distribution, and floodplain vegetation coverage. In comparison, the Llanilar site is subject to relatively little morphological change, partially due to engineering works undertaken since the 1960s.
    The Llanilar Experimental Site
  • Existing topographic surveys of the Llanafan site's floodplain and channels, undertaken by the Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, University of Wales, Aberystwyth.
  • A river bed-load dominated by Palaeozoic shales and gritstones, which aided the recovery of tracers produced in 'exotic' raw materials (flint and chert).

Summary Conclusions

Experimental flakes after fluvial transportationKey conclusions from the phase one work included:

  • Bifaces have a tendency for both in situ burial and transportation, relating both to flow velocity (i.e. flood magnitude) and also the local river bed morphology.
  • Biface transportation distances and step lengths tend to be relatively short, and the development of incipient percussion cones may occur over short distances.
  • Flake scatters tended to be undergo limited dispersal (generally sub-10m) in the initial phases of fluvial disturbance, but were subsequently transported significant distances (with a demonstrated minimum of 80m).
  • While flakes were damaged during transport episodes, they were not modified beyond the point of recognition as anthropogenic flakes. However, as transportation distances and the quantities of micro-flaking increased, the micro-flaking increasingly resembled intentional retouch in some cases. 
      Experimental flake with micro-flaking damage resembling a notch

If you you have any queries or questions or would like further details of the project please contact either Dr Rob Hosfield or Dr Jenni Chambers.

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