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11 February 2011
Mesolithic beads found at Welsh dolmen site

A recent excavation led by archaeologist George Nash in November 2010 at the Trefael Stone in south-west Wales - originally a portal dolmen transformed in later times in a standing stone - has revealed a small assemblage of exotic artefacts including three drilled shale beads, identical to those found at a nearby Early Mesolithic coastal habitation site.
     Until recently, little was known about the stones use and origin. A geophysical survey undertaken in September 2010 revealed the remains of a kidney-shaped cairn and it was within this clear feature that the three perforated shale beads were found. These items, each measuring about 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 Nab Head in southern Pembrokeshire, it is possible that the three Trefael beads are contemporary. Microware analysis on one of the beads was inconclusive but the perforation appeared to have the same micro-wear abrasions as beads from the Nab Head site.
     The beads from the Nab Head site were oval-shaped and water worn. Each disc was uniform in shape and thickness and had been drilled using an awl-type flint tool, referred to as a Meches-de-foret. It is probable that the Nab Head beads and those from Trefael were made for adornment, either sewn into clothing or forming bracelets/necklaces. In association 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 including Manton Warren (Humberside), Newquay (Cardiganshire), Star Carr (Yorkshire) and Staple Crag (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 from coastal 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 found in the Isle of Man.  
     The provenance of the Trefael beads is interesting in that the beads from the Nad Head site are dated to roughly the 9th millennium BCE  (within the range of radiocarbon dates taken from hazelnuts) and the Trefael site is Neolithic, a period between the two sites of around 5,000 years. Chris Tolan-Smith does express some caution with the limited dating of the Nab Head site and therefore the beads may be recent. It could be the case that the idea and meaning of adornment through perforating and wearing shale and shell beads extends into the Neolithic. It could also that the beads originate from a much earlier phase of the Trefael monument when the place may have been used by hunter/fisher/gatherers.  
     The early use of Neolithic burial-ritual sites is not uncommon in Western Britain - e.g. the long mounds at Arthurs Stone (Herefordshire) and Gwernvale (Breconshire).  Further excavation planned for the summer may reveal more of Trefael's possible Mesolithic past. An image of one of the recently discovered drilled shale beads is available on the Stone Pages website.

Edited from George Nash PR (11 February 2011)

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