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Close to the Edge: New Perspectives on the Architecture, Function and Regional Geographies of the Coastal Promontory Forts of the Castlemartin Peninsula, South Pembrokeshire, Wales

  • Louise Barker and Toby Driver (a1)

Abstract

Many of Pembrokeshire's 58 coastal promontory forts are iconic and well-known monuments. They occur in a density unparalleled in the rest of Wales. Morphology is highly variable, as is Pembrokeshire's ever-changing coastal geology, from resistant granite in the north to softer limestones and sandstones in the south. New surveys by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) of three promontory forts on the Castlemartin Peninsula in south Pembrokeshire – Linney Head Camp, Flimston Bay Camp, and Greenala Point Fort – have demonstrated how complex and different each of these sites is and, as part of a wider study of the Castlemartin Peninsula, have raised new questions concerning our understanding of this monument type. Dominating and shaping the discussion is our modern-day perception that coastal promontory forts are remote, exposed, and dangerous places. How much is this an accurate portrayal of prehistoric attitudes to the sea or was their outlook more mundane and practical? Did coastal promontory forts share identical functions as defended domestic/agricultural settlements, exploiting a seaward position for ease of defence, or were they indeed special places? Their highly variable architecture – coupled with some unusual characteristics of topography and setting – may indicate varying functions among even closely neighbouring sites. The evidence revealed from the study suggests that some coastal promontory forts may have been exclusively used for ceremonial or seasonal activity, while others may have been quite different prestigious residences investing heavily in monumental architecture. In conclusion, there is considerable merit in the detailed resurvey and re-investigation of coastal promontory forts within distinct regional groups to shed new light on our understanding of this later prehistoric monument type.

Beaucoup des 58 forteresses de promontoires côtiers du Pembrokeshire sont des monuments iconiques et bien-connus. Leur densité à cet endroit est sans parallèle dans le reste du Pays de Galles. La morphologie varie énormément, tout comme la géologie côtière en permanente évolution du Pembrokeshire, allant du granit résistant au nord aux calcaires et aux grès plus friables dans le sud. De nouvelles prospections, de la Commission Royale pour les Monuments Historiques du Pays de Galles (RCAHMW), de trois forteresses de promontoires de la péninsule de Castlemartin dans le sud du Pembrokeshire – Linney Head Camp, Flimston Bay Camp, et Greenala Point Fort – ont démontré la complexité et la particularité de chacun de ces sites et, dans le cadre d'une étude plus étendue de la péninsule de Castlemartin, ont soulevé de nouvelles questions en ce qui concerne notre compréhension de ce type de monument. Ce qui domine et donne forme à la discussion, c'est notre perception des temps modernes que les forteresses de promontoires côtiers sont des endroits isolés, exposés et dangereux. Dans quelle mesure est-ce un portrait fidèle des attitudes préhistoriques face à la mer ou est-ce que leur approche était plus banale et pratique? Est-ce que les forteresses de promontoires côtiers partageaient des fonctions identiques à celles des occupations domestiques/agricoles avec défenses, exploitant leur position face à la mer pour faciliter leur défense ou est-ce que c'était en fait des endroits spéciaux? Leur architecture, extrèmement variée, couplée avec certaines particularités inhabituelles de topographie et de situation – pourrait indiquer une diversité de rôles même parmi les sites d'un proche voisinage. Les témoignages recueillis par l'étude donnent à penser que certains forts de promontoires côtiers auraient pu n'être été utilisés que pour des activités cérémonielles ou saisonnières tandis que d'autres auraient pu être des résidences prestigieuses, totalement différentes, ayant investi lourdement dans l'architecture monumentale. En conclusion, il y a un mérite considérable à re-prospecter et ré-examiner en détail les forteresses de promontoires à l'intérieur de groupes régionaux distincts pour éclairer d'un jour nouveau notre compréhension de ce type de monument de la préhistoire finale.

Viele der 58 an der Küste von Pembrokeshire gelegenen Befestigungswälle sind ikonische und wohlbekannte Denkmäler. Sie treten in einer Dichte auf, die im Rest von Wales keine Parallelen hat. Die Morphologie der Region ist höchst variabel, wie z.B. Pembrokeshires sich ständig wandelnde Küstengeologie, die von dauerhaftem Granit im Norden zu weicheren Kalk- und Sandgesteinen im Süden wechselt. Neue Untersuchungen der Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) an drei Promontory Forts der Castlemartin-Halbinsel in South Pembrokeshire – Linney Head Camp, Flimston Bay Camp und Greenala Point Fort – konnten zeigen, wie komplex und unterschiedlich jeder dieser Orte ist; als Teil einer größeren Untersuchung der Castlemartin Peninsula warf dies neue Fragen über unser Verständnis dieses Denkmaltyps auf. Die Diskussion wird von unserer modernen Vorstellung dominiert und geprägt, küstennahe Befestigungswälle seien abgeschiedene, exponierte und gefährliche Orte. Wie weit ist dies ein zutreffendes Bild prähistorischer Haltungen zum Meer; war ihre Perspektive alltäglicher und praxisorientierter? Teilten die küstennahen Promontory Forts identische Funktionen als befestigte bäuerliche Wohnsiedlungen, die die seewärtige Lage der Verteidigung wegen nutzten oder waren sie vielmehr besondere Orte? Ihre höchst variable Architektur, verbunden mit einigen ungewöhnlichen Merkmalen der Topographie und Lage, könnten andeuten, dass selbst eng benachbarte Plätze unterschiedliche Funktionen hatten. Die von der Untersuchung erbrachten Nachweise deuten darauf hin, dass einige Küstenbefestigungen ausschließlich für zeremionelle oder saisonale Handlungen genutzt worden sein können, während andere sehr andersartige repräsentative Residenzen waren, bei denen intensiv in eine Monumentalarchitektur investiert worden war. Zusammenfassend können wir festhalten, dass eine detaillierte Neuuntersuchung von Coastal Promontory Forts innerhalb verschiedener regionaler Gruppierungen beträchtliche Erfolge bringt, da sie neues Licht auf unser Verständnis dieser prähistorischen Monumente wirft.

Muchos de los 58 fuertes en promontorios costeros de Pembrokeshire son monumentos icónicos y bien conocidos. La densidad en esta región no encuentra paralelos en otras zonas de Gales. Su morfología es tan variable como la siempre cambiante geología de la costa de Pembrokeshire, que va desde el resistente granito en el norte a las más blandas calizas y areniscas en el sur. Nuevos reconocimientos realizados por la Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) en tres fuertes costeros de la península de Castlemartin en el sur de Pembrokeshire – Linney Head Camp, Flimston Bay Camp, y Greenala Point Fort – han demostrado cuán complejos y diferentes son cada uno de estos yacimientos, y como parte de un estudio más amplio de la Península de Castlemartin, han suscitado nuevas preguntas sobre nuestra comprensión de este tipo de monumento. Un elemento que domina y da forma al debate es la percepción actual de los fuertes en promontorios costeros como lugares remotos, expuestos y peligrosos. ¿Es esta una representación precisa de las actitudes prehistóricas hacia el mar o era su perspectiva mucho más mundana y práctica? Los fuertes costeros ¿cumplían todos una función similar como asentamientos domésticos/agrícolas que explotaban una posición costera prominente por ser fácilmente defendibles, o porque eran en verdad lugares especiales? Su gran variedad arquitectónica – junto con algunas características poco usuales de topografía y emplazamiento – pueden quizá indicar una diversidad de funciones incluso entre yacimientos muy cercanos. La evidencia desvelada por este estudio sugiere que algunos promontorios costeros pudieron haber sido utilizados exclusivamente para actividades ceremoniales o de temporada, mientras que otros pudieron haber sido distintas residencias de prestigio con gran énfasis en arquitectura monumental. Como conclusión, es de un considerable mérito la detallada re-inspección y re-investigación de los fuertes en promontorios costeros dentro de los particulares grupos regionales para iluminar nuestra comprensión de este tipo de monumento de la tarda prehistoria.

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Close to the Edge: New Perspectives on the Architecture, Function and Regional Geographies of the Coastal Promontory Forts of the Castlemartin Peninsula, South Pembrokeshire, Wales

  • Louise Barker and Toby Driver (a1)

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