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Welsh History Review


Vol. 3, nos. 1-4 1966-67

Dinas Powys, an iron age, dark age, and early medieval settlement : Book review.

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princely wealth and power. Despite his interpretation of the site as a
chieftain's court (llys), Alcock repeats here his 1962 criticisms of a working
hypothesis on the same theme published by the present reviewer in 1961.
This argued that the construction of the 'hall' within Dinorben hill fort,
like that of the incompletely fortified Little Woodbury of the Early Iron
Age and the medieval courts of Wales, was made possible by an old-
established organization of the labour services of groups of bond
hamlets, whose occupants practised mixed farming. Alcock, however,
characterises later bond hamlets as predominantly arable units and
conveys the impression that, since the farming economy at Dinas Powys
in Phase 4 was mixed, bond hamlets could not then have existed.
If, instead, he had accepted living village sites within a few miles of the
court as possible hamlet sites he could have resolved certain problems
posed by Dinas Powys. For example, from the abundant bones of young
domestic animals on the site, Alcock concludes that these were selected
by age before they reached Dinas Powys, but the reasons for the selection
elude him. Medieval surveys, however, record that the bondmen of
lowland hamlets, near Welsh hill forts, carried the lord's victuals into the
mountains. What more natural than that they should transport young
animals, especially as Welsh Law records that the maerdref bondmen
were to present the king with young animals whenever he came to the
court? If, too, the excavated site at Dinas Powys had been interpreted
as a court occupied only in summer, the season of warfare, it would be
easier to understand why, at this inconvenient retreat, rubbish dumps, and
industrial hearths should so closely adjoin the hall. The squalor of the
site, at variance with the princely quality of the finds, is far removed from
the splendour of the timbered hall of heroic literature. Appropriately,
medieval evidence for Northumbria, which must date back to the centur-
ies of Alcock's Phase 4, shows the occupants of lowland bond hamlets
constructing not only the lord's permanent curia clausa in the cultivated
lowlands but also his enclosed lodges for the hunting season in wild
country, and carrying victuals there.
These considerations suggest that some of the interpretations coura-
geously advanced in this volume at a time when studies of the Dark Ages
are in marked flux, will soon need to be modified. Nevertheless, the
wealth of evidence presented by the author against a background of
informed discussion ensures that this volume will long remain an
essential work of reference on the Dark Ages in Western Britain.
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