Bryony Coles
Wetland Archaeology Research Project, £15
ISBN 978-0954022419
Review Edward Biddulph

In this fascinating book, Bryony Coles charts the history of beavers in Wales, from their earliest evidence dating to the Ice Age (found in Pontnewydd Cave in North Wales) to historical evidence that suggests that they continued to exist in Wales as late as the 18th century. The book explores the biology and behaviour of beavers and the physical evidence of their presence, and along the way considers the impact they had in medieval and later culture. We learn, for instance, that in the medieval period beaver pelts were highly prized, that cooked beavers occasionally graced high-status dining tables as a Lenten dish, and that beavers left a legacy in the names of rivers, pools, and other landmarks.

Part guidebook, part history, part detective story, this book will appeal to anyone interested in the interaction of natural and cultural environments and, with evidence of beavers becoming increasingly recognised on archaeological sites, will be invaluable to archaeologists on prehistoric wetland sites puzzling over modified timbers and trying to sort beaver tooth marks from human tool marks.

This review appeared in CA 351.

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