Monday, 26 May 2008

Paviland man

The Phoenicians traded with the westerly fringes of Britain from an indeterminate point in early history. They wanted tin from Cornwall badly enough to set up and mine for it. There are references to an area being called the Tin Isles and some remnants of mining has been traced back to 500BC and some further evidence of trading with Spain and Portugal as far as back as the Bronze Age - 2100-1500BC. Tin was rare in Europe and important. It was needed to make bronze, from which we might speculate that perhaps Cornwall, as the main source of tin on the continent, might well have been important in its own right. The natural harbour at Falmouth, with its estuarine oyster beds nearby, would have been an obvious choice to land. Another possible interest would have been copper too, which was also found in Cornish waters. So too Somerset lead.

Swansea may well have been important for similar reasons. The Mumbles area was previously known as Oystermouth. Possibly the Swansea connection is even earlier. In 1826 a skeleton of a woman coloured in red ochre wearing periwinkle decorations was discovered at Paviland Cave on the Gower peninsula. At first it was thought that she had been ritually buried at the time of the Romans, but more modern tests found her to be a man and have dated him to 24,000 BC which suggest that southern Wales could have been a pivotal community for early trading. The body lay surrounded by oyster shells. In the same coves also were drawings similar to those found in coves in Brittany. Irish tin has been found in early Welsh artefacts. He wore a pendant of honed fox teeth which might have been used to pick out the flesh of winkles.

Ireland, Cornwall and southern Wales are, or were, all rich in oysters, which would logically have been welcome to the Phoenician seafarers not just as sustenance but also as another cargo to take back to what is now Lebanon or other ports en route. Any ship captain ploughing the coastal routes north from Africa would have passed oyster reefs along what is now Portugal, Spain, France and up the Channel. They would hardly be likely to pass up such a ready supply of easily gathered nutritious foods. With warships perhaps having as many as 170 oarsmen to feed, the oyster would have been a welcome and essential resource.

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