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A 6,270-year-old, intricately-carved tribal timber found protected in peat moss on a Welsh hillside

Ian Harvey

A wood carving was found when construction started on the Maerdy Wind Farm on a Welsh hillside. Twelve lengths of wood were discovered by the workmen who were digging in peat deposits there in September of 2014. One piece was covered in decorative carvings and was removed to be properly cleaned and assessed. Initially, when the significance of the carved timber was noticed, it was temporarily immersed in water in a preservation tank and was put through 3D scanning.

Many archaeologists and paleo-entomologists inspected the find. More excavations were completed at the wind farm site, but nothing more has been found. The timber is now being preserved using a wax-glycol treatment.

The timber, which has an intricate carving along one side and an oval motif at the end, was believed to be a tribal marker, most likely from 6,270 years ago in the Late Mesolithic or Early Neolithic period. Finding any decorative art is very rare in Wales, and that this one is made from wood makes it extremely rare.

The timber is classed as unique as it is the oldest piece found in Europe and in Britain. It is thought the timber was used to mark tribal boundaries, a sacred site, or a hunting ground. Where it was found was the site of an old lake, which would have made it a rich, desirable hunting ground.

Patterned Oak found during an archaeological watching brief at Maerdy, Rhondda in Vale of Glamorgan. Photo Credit Richard Scott Jones

Patterned Oak found during an archaeological watching brief at Maerdy, Rhondda in Vale of Glamorgan. Photo Credit Richard Scott Jones

The Late Mesolithic period in Wales would have been a time when temperatures were warm and wetter than it is today; its landscape would have been wooded. In the Mesolithic period, there was a change in the types of tools that were used; stone tools became smaller and were made on small stone blades.

The Mesolithic period lasted until farming started 6,000 years ago. The people were hunter-gatherers and moved across Wales following river networks. Many trees flourished in this period such as oak, elm, pine, and birch and the woodlands were rich with animal life such as deer, wild cattle, and pigs allowing the hunters to provide food for the people, Niume reported.

Carved Oak timber found in peat deposits during an archaeological watching brief at Maerdy, Rhondda in Vale of Glamorgan. Photo Credit Richard Scott Jones

Carved Oak timber found in peat deposits during an archaeological watching brief at Maerdy, Rhondda in Vale of Glamorgan. Photo Credit Richard Scott Jones

Wales has many sites where Mesolithic items have been found. Pembrokeshire is the earliest dated site, and many other sites are on the coast. It is common when excavations are taking place in Wales that a team of archaeologists observes, so if anything is found, the area can be fenced off and care can be taken with any artifacts.

Read another story from us: “New Stonehenge” was made of WOOD: 4,500-year-old timber circle might have commemorated the creation of its famous neighbor

The timber is carved with concentric oval patterns and zigzag lines that have been confirmed as having been made by tools. Similar patterns of etchings onto stone can be seen from other artifacts collected from the same time period. The piece is on display at the National Museum in Cardiff.