Gower Commons website banner

menu markup © HTML Dog



History and archeology

Archaeological Background

The Gower peninsula contains a wealth of archaeological remains from prehistoric and historic periods material, providing some of the earliest evidence of human activity in Britain.

  1. Palaeolithic and Mesolithic
  2. Neolithic
  3. Bronze Age
  4. Iron Age
  5. Roman
  6. Early Medieval
  7. Medieval
  8. Post Medieval

Palaeolithic and Mesolithic

The earliest human activity on Gower, during the Palaeolithic, would have been relatively small groups of nomadic hunters and gatherers who left behind little evidence of their visits as they moved through the landscape. The most common evidence of Palaeolithic activity comes from discarded or misplaced stone tools or the waste from their construction. However, excavations in the limestone caves of the region have revealed evidence for Palaeolithic and Mesolithic activity. Perhaps most famously these include the human remains excavated from Goat’s Hole Cave know as the ‘Red Lady of Paviland’. Despite the name these were in fact the remains of a Cro-Magnon male, approximately 26,000BC. The remains appear to have been buried with a degree of ceremony, as they were found with seashells, ivory rods and rings and red iron oxide (Aldhouse-Green 2000). The chance find of a flint axe on Rhossili beach has pointed to human activity in this area as early as 125,000 to 70,000 years ago, according to Dr Stephen Green (Stephen Green 1981).


During the following Neolithic and Bronze age periods the evidence of activity on Gower is generally more plentiful as people living in the area began to construct various funerary monuments for their dead, such as chambered tombs and cairns like those at Parc-le-Breos, Penmaen Burrows and Sweynes Howe on Rhossili Down. It is generally believed that during this period people began to turn to a more settled lifestyle of farming. Scatters of flint from this period have also been found on Gower. These communal graves and flint scatters suggest that groups of people inhabitated the area during the Neolithic period, although no evidence for settlements has been found.

Bronze Age

Numerous Bronze Age cairns survive in the area, particularly on the upland areas of west Gower, such as Rhossili Down, Llanmadoc Hill and Cefn Bryn. Excavation has determined that at least some of these were burial monuments containing human remains dating from the Bronze Age, such as Pennard Burch and Bishopston Burch on a former part of Fairwood Common. Limited evidence has also been found for domestic activity in the are during this period including material excavated from caves.

Hardings Down

Iron Age

During the Iron Age, many enclosures were constructed on Gower, especially on hilltops and coastal promontories and the remains of earthwork banks and ditches that defined these enclosures are still visible. Hardings Down and Llandmadoc Hill provide easily visible examples. Limited excavation at a number of these sites has found evidence for domestic activity. Iron Age pottery has also been recovered during the excavation of caves on Gower. Quite why Iron Age peoples felt the need to create promontory forts is unclear but it does not appear to have prevented the Romans gaining control of the area in the 70’s AD.


Little structural evidence for Roman activity has been found in Gower, despite the presence of military forts at Loughor to the northeast and Neath to the east. The recovery of Roman finds from the region however, including two large coin hoards illustrates that there was a degree of Roman activity on the Gower peninsula. Roman administration ended in 410 AD and the lack of written evidence for the following period until the arrival of the Normans has led to its label as the Dark Ages.

Early medieval activity in the area is attested to by a number of carved stones that have been identified, such as those at Llangennith, Llanmadoc and Bishopston (Llandeilo Ferwallt). These stones originate from early Christian sites and documentary evidence indicates that in the 6th Century St Cenydd founded a priory at Llangennith although no structural evidence for this priory has ever been found.


During the medieval period the peninsula, now known as Gower, was a part of a larger Welsh commote of Gwyr, which extended between the rivers Tawe and LLwchr and as far north as the rivers Amman and Twrch (Morris 2000). Following the Norman conquest of South Wales in the early 12th Century, Henry I granted the right to conquer the Welsh region of Gwyr to Henry Beaumont, Earl of Warwick in around 1106. He ruled Gwyr as a Marcher lordship, the control of which subsequently passed between a number of Norman families throughout the Medieval period (Evans 1983). The remains of several castles survive from this period such as Penmaen Castle Tower and Pennard Castle and many of the village churches on Gower. The remains of medieval strip field systems can still be discerned in parts of South Gower, specifically at Rhossili.


There is substantial evidence for post-medieval settlement in the area, with many surviving farmhouses and associated out-buildings. The large number of lime-burning kilns in the region reflects agricultural activity during this period and a detailed survey of Gower lime burning industrial activity includes the remains of quarries, bell pits and collieries. More recent defensive activity is also represented, with the construction of Swansea Airfield and the remains of World War II coastal emplacements.




Site produced by Selina Taylor