This was the first time archaeologists had been allowed to excavate on the island. Opening a trench, they aimed to explore the “long and complex” history of settlements and farming on Skomer, informed by three years of careful research by wildlife and science experts and universities.
“Skomer is a fragile protected landscape,” explained Dr Toby Driver, who joined the group from the Royal Commission in Aberystwyth.
“Already we have discovered previously unknown Neolithic and Bronze Age ritual stone settings, and demonstrated that the field systems may date back to at least the later Bronze Age.
“But despite half a century of modern archaeological interest, we still had no scientific dates for the roundhouses and fields on Skomer.
“It was decided to target a prehistoric burnt mound or cooking mound of fire-cracked stones, which stands immediately outside one of the paired roundhouses.
“This mound built up from numerous cooking episodes in the adjacent house. Our excavation discovered a cattle tooth from within the mound of stones, which has now been radiocarbon dated to the late Iron Age.
“Beneath the mound we found a sealed land surface containing Neolithic or Bronze Age worked flint tools.
“A second radiocarbon date from blackthorn charcoal, in the upper soil layers, gave an early Iron Age date, possibly from burning and clearance on the land, which showed our burnt mound and the houses it belongs to arrived after the early Iron Age.
“Both dates are accurate to within 62 years.”
The boiled water took around three hours to cook a joint of meat. The burnt mounds outside the roundhouse clusters are said to be “huge”, dominating the Iron Age landscape alongside the conical thatched house roofs.
“Skomer is a fragile protected landscape, and our archaeological research to date has focussed on non-invasive investigation of the prehistoric fields and settlements,” said Dr Driver.
“This has included new aerial photography, airborne laser scanning, ground geophysics and walkover surveys.
“These new dates confirm pre-Roman settlement on Skomer. Even so, the burnt mound covers a substantial earlier field wall showing that the island was already well settled and farmed in previous centuries.”
As well as its huts and fields from the prehistoric period, the island is well-known for its puffins and breeding seabirds.
A photo of a dark brown archaeological trench with stones, grass and measuring sticks
The post-excavation view of the external face of the western round house of huts on Skomer, Pemrbokeshire, where archaeologists have been working© Crown copyright: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales