The excavations of Bangor’s School of History and Archaeology at Meillionydd on the Llŷn peninsula shed a light on the emergence of the kinds of societies which would dominate Wales for (at least) the next two millennia. Sometime around the 6C BC, societies in Wales are fundamentally transformed: the first llysoedd appear, in the shape of enclosed homesteads like Meillionydd.
These residences of an emerging social elite are characterised by strong enclosures, creating a separate, private space for the privileged few. This space is internally structured, indicating social differences between the lord and his immediate family, his wider teulu, and his menial servants. Its construction is a communal effort, with manpower provided by taeogion farming the land owned by the lord. As structured depositions of material culture, and particularly structured burial practices – weapon burials in the ditches surrounding the enclosure, burials with spindlewhorls and other domestic items in its interior – demonstrate, the llys also serves as both a physically and spiritually (and, related to this, legally) protected space. It not only serves as both a stage for court proceedings and other courtly activities, but also as a place where food-rents are received and consumed in sumptuous communal feasts.
The transformative process that changes Welsh societies so fundamentally is both utterly locally determined and surprisingly rapid: starting roughly in the 7C-6C BC, several sites on Llŷn seem to be transformed into such llysoedd contemporarily with each other within just about two centuries, culminating in elaborately designed double ringworks with impressive gates and drystone-faced banks by c.500 BC. In this paper, we examine how this new social order emerged and became embedded in Wales, even though it only becomes apparent in extant manuscripts in the Middle Ages.