Burry Holms, Gower

Burry Holms, Gower

West of the Wales Coast Path here is a small tidal island, Burry Holms. Stone Age tools found there include a flint with remains of the glue which probably once attached it to a handle. There are also remnants of an Iron Age fort and a medieval hermitage.

During the Middle Stone Age – or Mesolithic – period, Burry Holms was an inland promontory. This was about 10,000BC to 4000BC, not long after the last glaciers of the Ice Age had melted. The site would have been a suitable location for a Mesolithic settlement as it provided a vantage point over the surrounding area’s natural resources, including animals which could be hunted.

Recent excavations conducted by the National Museum of Wales at Burry Holms uncovered numerous microliths – small stone tools including flint points and tiny saws characteristic of the Mesolithic period. Traces of birch bark tar, a sticky resin used as glue, were found on one flint point, indicating that the point may have been attached to a spear or harpoon. No such object had been found in Wales previously.

By the period known as the Iron Age (700BC to 43AD), a fort had been established at Burry Holms, then a tidal island. The fort was accessed by a stone causeway. The main defences were a V-shaped ditch and a rampart c.100 metres long, north to south across the island.

Roman pottery fragments were found on Burry Holms, and the remains of a wooden church within an oval enclosure indicated early-medieval Christian occupation. Burry Holms would have been a suitably secluded area for monastic study.

In 1195 the site was recorded as the “hermitage of St Kenydd-atte-Holme”. Burry Holms was among the Gower lands granted to St Taurin Abbey in Évreux, Normandy, by the early 12th century. There are remnants of various stone buildings including a church, living quarters and a possible classroom.

Other historic sites on Burry Holms include a cairn or funerary monument of Bronze Age date (c.2000BC to 700BC), and disused post-medieval quarries and limekilns.

With thanks to Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust and the National Museum of Wales

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