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Llantwit Major 2024

Aerial view of the Globe Field
Aerial view of the Globe Field

The 2024 excavation season in The Globe Field, Llantwit Major,  will run from 20th May until 14th June.  As in 2023, this is a training dig for Cardiff University archaeologists,  but we will be welcoming volunteers into the project too. Digging will take place on weekdays only.

Background

The blog for the 2023 season contains a lot of background information on the site and links to various internet resources, so anyone interested should check those.

The research goal of the project is to provide some clarity on the nature of the early medieval monastery at Llantwit – and in that endeavour the university is supported by the ‘Dr DG Smith Memorial Fund’. The project started with much geophysical survey and out of that work it was possible to propose a possible extent for the early medieval monastic enclosure.

The excavations in The Globe Field were designed to investigate a series of stone banks or walls, that subdivide this enclosure internally.

Provisional results from the 2023 dig

The results of the 2023 excavations are not yet fully compiled (switching from an August/September dig to a May/June timing meant a rather short winter for the post-excavation studies to be completed!), but a tentative story for the development of the site is emerging (although it might easily be altered by the results of the 2024 season!)..

The earliest activity detected in 2023 was part of what was probably a small gully, containing some metalworking waste and a moderate quantity of charred wheat. This wheat was radiocarbon dated to cal. AD 596 – 664. This date is excitingly early – although significantly later than the time of Illtud (usually interpreted to have lived very approximately AD460 – 525) and Samson (very approximately AD 490-565), it probably predates the visit of Samson’s biographer to Llantwit (probably AD 680×700).

As the fame of Llantwit as the cult centre of Illtud, and probably as a burial ground for the kings of Glywysing, grew so a large area appears to have been given over to burial. West of the stream at the Globe Field there are burials of the mid-7th to late 8th centuries, the 2023 excavation produced an infant burial of the 8th-9th centuries as well as a substantial amount of disarticulated bone eroded from somewhere up slope (including a femur with a similar radiocarbon date to the in-situ infant). Undated burials were found at the Hayes in the 1860s. The late 8th to 9th century is also the period of the inscribed stones now in the Galilee Chapel, suggesting that high status burials were focused on the modern church site.

After the 9th century, the site in The Globe Field appears to have been used for livestock, perhaps pigs, and significant erosion occurred during thee 10th and 11th centuries (including of earlier graves). This occurred at a time when the documentary evidence for Llantwit also breaks down – there are no more written references to an Abbot for instance. The focus of local secular power may have moved eastwards, the forces of Dyfed invaded Glywysing in the mid-10th century and the site may have lost royal patronage.

A complete change of land-organisation and land-use was marked by the creation of a network of drystone field walls (the features that had attracted us to the site in the first place). These walls, each 70-80cm thick, bounded a series of small fields and currently appear to date from around the time of the Norman invasion (c. AD 1100). They may reflect major changes brought to site either following the granting of the church to Tewkesbury Abbey or from the influence of the rise of Llandaff Cathedral. The ‘Life’ of St Illtud, written at around this same time, certainly shows a rather pro-Llandaff agenda, as well as a clear intent to stimulate pilgrimage. These fields show the development of lynchets – in which soil moves downslope (usually because of tillage), eroding at the upper edge of the field and accumulating at the bottom of the field, that developed rapidly during the 12th century.

The network of small arable fields does not appear to have survived long. The build up of the lynchets probably caused the stone walls to collapse by the end of the 13th or early in the 14th century.

The later history of The Globe Field appears to have been mainly as a pasture, except for the eventual subdivision of the field to provide a vegetable garden in its southern half.

Blog

27/05/24: It was a hive of activity on site today. It was the first day we’ve had a proper pot-washers circle and the trench progressed a long way. The northern sondage from 2023 has now been cleaned, with the hearth, grave, gully and other features re-exposed.

The final stages of cleaning out the 2023 northern sondage
By the end of the day the various sections of the trench were starting to converge on the top of the medieval deposits

24/05/24: The site was very busy today with over 30 people either in the trench or manning the sieves (we now have three large sieves going continuously) as well as what felt like a continuous stream of visitors. In the deep section of the old trench, the smithing hearth has now been exhumed. To the east, the unexpected stone feature appears to be a second later post-medieval drain and, to the west of the trench, the medieval cultivation soils appear to have been reached. The progress in the first week has been excellent and I hope we will be in ‘fresh’ archaeology across the whole trench by the end of Monday. I had intended to illustrate progress at this point with a drone image, but it was just too gusty at the end of the day.

23/05/24: significant progress was made today on clearing the old trench. The bottom was reached over part of the deep section (the 2023 ‘northern sondage’). Removal of the post-medieval soils continued in both the western and eastern arms of the trench. In the eastern arm, the upslope drystone wall was followed further, but a second stone structure, a few metres to its south, was also found. It is unclear at present what this structure is – but it was imaged clearly by the 2022 resistivity survey.

Students and volunteers ponder the structure of large stones

22/05/24: the process of emptying out the northern end of last year’s trench continued – with the shallower sections now bottomed. The drystone wall heading E upslope was located within the eastern arm of the trench – the first significant ‘new’ archaeology. The post-medieval deposits in the western arm of the the trench have been partially removed down to a level only just above the remnants of the downslope drystone wall in the old trench.

21/05/24: Day 2 of the dig was another hot sunny day (probably the last of those for a while!). Great progress was made on removing the backfill from the 2023 Trench and by the end of the day the 18th/19th century drain and the two stubs of the Norman drystone wall it cut were emerging well in the centre of the trench. To the west of the trench, a start was made on removing the post-medieval stony soil (which, as last year, contained fragments of human bone) and in the east some intriguing stones are starting to show close to last year’s smithing hearth.

Trench 4 after day 2

20/05/24: the first day with the full team saw the site setup almost completed and a good start made on removing the backfill from the northern end of the 2023 Trench 1.

Drone view at the end of Day 1

15/05/24: today saw the removal of the topsoil from the 2024 trench (thanks to Ken from Clive Edwards Contracts Ltd for a job neatly done!). The aim for the 2024 season is to examine a much wider area of the early features than was possible in 2023. To achieve this, the ‘L’-shaped trench will largely avoid the medieval stone walls that were studied in detail in 2023. The ‘L’-shape is intended to provide both a transect down the slope towards the stream as well as an ‘along-slope’ element to join up the areas at either end of the 2023 trench that showed such different sequences. The 2024 trench is 162m2 as opposed to 134m2 for the main trench on 2023 – of which only 21m2 reached natural, whereas we aim to reach natural over the whole area of the 2024 trench.

From the sky the overlap between the new and old trenches shows clearly. The backfill of the N end of the2023 trench shows as a much darker tone compared with undisturbed deposits around it.

Aerial view of the trench after removal of topsoil
Aerial view of the 2024 trench after removal of the topsoil

15/04/24: after a busy weekend at the Cardiff University Conference on Medieval Wales, at which a summary of last year’s work was presented, focus now shifts to this season. It is getting hard(er!) to move around the office as the deliveries of consumables for the excavation arrive. The students arrive on site 5 weeks today.

Llantwit Major 2023

The 2023 excavations at Llantwit Major

(scroll down for the blog)

2024 blog now available here.

The 2023 Cardiff University excavations at Llantwit Major will be running from 21st August until 15th September. The main trench is sited in the ‘Globe Field’, so-called because it was previously owned in conjunction with the former ‘The Globe’ pub.

The field lies just to the south of Llantwit Major church, which is generally believed to be  on or near the site of an important early medieval monastery associated with Illtud (or Eltutus) who lived in the late 5th to early 6th century.  His pupil, Samson, travelled in what is now France and was a signatory to the Synod of Paris in c.568.  The monastic centre rose to prominence in the subsequent centuries, with Samson’s biographer describing it as ‘magnificent’ when he visited (probably in the late 7th century). From the late 8th to the early 10th century, the heyday of the site saw it become a royal burial ground and the wonderful inscribed stones, now displayed in the Stones Museum in the church, were erected. The centre decreased rapidly in influence during the 10th century and c.1100 the remnant properties of the clas church were gifted to Tewkesbury Abbey by Robert Fitzhamon after the Norman invasion. Tewkesbury Abbey’s facilities for the collection of tithe and management of the estate include the dovecote and gatehouse of the 13th century, still visible on the hill to the west of the church.

Photograph of the Globe Field circa 1905
The Globe Field and the church c.1905

The present archaeological work forms part of the ‘Dr D.G. Smith Memorial Project’ which is intended to increase understanding of the early medieval monastery at Llantwit. This project has entailed extensive geophysical survey of relevant areas around Llantwit, together with a reappraisal of the historical evidence. Out of this, a working hypothesis of the possible extent of the monastic enclosure of the 7th-10th centuries has been developed. Geophysical survey in the Globe Field has produced evidence that suggests one of the subdivisions of the enclosure underlies the field. The 2023 excavation’s main trench is sited to test this geophysical anomaly and to test a swathe of ground as close to the church as we can currently investigate.

A second component of the 2023 season will be test-pits on the western side of the valley to investigate the extent of early medieval activity there.

We are very grateful for permission to excavate from the various landowners involved and for the continued support of the ‘Dr D.G. Smith Memorial Project’.

Resources for participants

The following resources may provide useful background information for participants:

Other reading:

  • Knight, J. K. (2005). From Villa to Monastery: Llandough in Context. Medieval Archaeology 49. Vol 49, pp. 93-107.  https://doi.org/10.5284/1071963 
  • Knight, J.K. (2013). South Wales from the Romans to the Normans: Christianity, Literacy & Lordship. Amberley Pub (ISBN 10: 1445604477 / ISBN 13: 9781445604473) 
  • Morris, P. (2022). Llanilltud – The Story of a Celtic Christian Community. Y Lolfa. (ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1784617539 / ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784617530) 
  • Nash-Williams, V E, 1952. The medieval settlement at Llantwit Major, Glamorgan. Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies14, 313-33. 

Blog

22/12/23: in what is likely to the last post of the year, I am delighted to be able to share the news of the first two radiocarbon dates – on the two sets of human remains mentioned in my post of 29.9.23 below. A partial rib from infant skeleton (164) has produced a data of cal. AD 700-740 (4.9%)/770-900 (88.3%) / 920-950 (2.1%) (Beta-682558; 1200 +/- 30 BP) and a femur from context (169) gave a data of cal. AD 700-740 (9.5%) / 770-900 (85.9%) (Beta-682559; 1210 +/- 30 BP). In short, both remains belonged to people who lived in the period between the late 8th century and the end of the 9th. This is the heyday of the royal burial ground at the modern church – and is later than the burials on the west side of the valley. This is another important step forward. I hope we will be able to date the metalworking activity in Trench 1 early in the New Year.

3/10/23: trench 1 is backfilled and the topsoil spread. If the speed of growth of the vegetation on the spoil dumps is anything to go by, then this will have returned to nature very soon.

29/9/23: the first stage of backfilling was undertaken today and the rest will follow next week, so today seems like time to catch up on events over the two weeks since the dig ‘finished’. As described in my last post, further work on the northern sondage produced several significant and early features.

Firstly, there was the burial of an infant – approximately 18-24 months old we think, subject to the proper osteological work to be done shortly. The grave was aligned approximately SW-NE, with the head at the SW.

Infant burial in the north sondage

Secondly, less than 2m to the east of the grave there was a metalworking hearth. This was probably mainly for the smithing of iron, although there was some evidence for the working of copper-alloy in the general area. The hearth was a small (550x750mm) clay-lined bowl, originally blown from the SE side. Both the burial and the hearth (together with several nearby postholes and stakeholes) were overlain by the dark slag-rich soil that underlay the stone walls.

north sondage, with grave to upper left and hearth below centre

Whilst work progressed on the northern sondage, we decided to pursue the southern one further too. The sequence below the stone wall was very different here. The thick sequence underneath the wall is currently interpreted as a formerly wet area including some very minor channel-like features. The difficulty that we had in locating the natural in this sondage seems to be caused by its surface locally being heavily poached, presumably by the feet of farm animals, when it was wet and soft. To counter this, several discrete dumps of stone had been dumped onto the edgse of the channel. That water flowed in these channels, at least on occasion, was suggested by horizons of flat limestone pebbles. Upon one of these pebble layers were two human femurs, end to end, and apparently aligned by the flow of water.

Determining what all this means is going to be a slow process over the coming months, as we first process our samples to look for suitable materials, and then obtain radiocarbon dates. At this stage, it provisionally appears that there were three distinct phases of early medieval activity: the earliest with both burial and metalworking in the north of the trench, but with an intermittently wet area at the south end, a second with a build-up of dark soils across the area whole trench, possibly indicating cultivation, and then a third phase with the area sub-divided by stone walls, the use of which appears to have continued as late as the 13th century.

Trench 1, immediately before backfilling

18/9/23: a small group were on site today to do the final bit of recording and to prepare for the backfilling. It didn’t quite work out that way. The wetting of the whole site by the weekend’s rain allowed the soil colours to show much better – and it quickly became clear that there were suspect areas in the northern sondage. A quick trowel of the most prominent produced a nice metalworking hearth and there are probably other features too. The backfilling is now postponed…

15/9/23: the last day of the excavation was as busy, frantic and full of unexpected things as last days always are. It has been a very productive four weeks – not only did we find the wall we were looking for, but multiple walls defining part of a field system. The lynchet that accumulated along the N-S wall preserved the history of its formation passing back through the medieval period into aceramic deposits. Those early deposits produced evidence for extensive metalworking, mainly of iron but with some copper alloy work too. Some possible evidence for glass working may also have been found. Most surprisingly, the earliest phase of soils with metalworking residues underlay the walls of the field system entirely.

To the south-west of the main site, trench 2 also produced good results, with evidence for burials, even if they had been disturbed by later activity.

More surprisingly, sharp eyes watching the finds coming out of trench 1 spotted some human remains there too – with several bones and at least five teeth. These may suggest that the medieval agriculture on the east side of the valley may have disturbed burials there too.

Of course, we won’t know how old any of these things actually are until the post-ex programme produces its results. I will report on progress in due course.

Finally, it just remains, for now, for me to thank all those who have taken part in the years work – the supervisors, the Cardiff undergrads, the volunteers from Cardiff, those from further afield and those from Llantwit itself; those who dug, those who processed finds (including persevering with scrubbing all that slag!) and those who supported us in other ways – with particular thanks to the landowners for their permission to undertake the work. Thank you to you all! You have all been fantastic to work with!

The sun sets down the Bristol Channel at the end of the last day of the 2023 excavation. To the west of the site and church lie the surviving dovecote and gatehouse of Tewkesbury Abbey’s rectory, overlying an earlier field system, the fields that formed the core of the monastic estate, and then the cliffs around St Donats and the Nash Point lighthouse. In the far distance the N Devon coast is visible.

14/9/23: work today suffered from the distractions of backfilling trenches 2 and 3, as well as managing the safe return of the security fencing that had to be carried back up into the village centre for collection.

In trench 1, we concentrated (during the remaining time) on further reducing the eastern part of the northern sondage, removing the east-west wall in the central sondage and on examining the deposits below the north-south wall in the southern sondage. None of these tasks was completed, but progress was made.

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13/9/23: digging was concentrated on three areas in trench 1: the northern and southern sondages and a new central area (with areas taken down either side of the wall running uphill. In the northern and southern sondages the north-south wall was removed, to permit sampling beneath.

aerial view at the end of 13/9/23

The two faces of the north-south wall in the southern sondage proved to have separated, with the eastern more or less coherent but the western had slipped downslope, so that a lot of fine soil had filled the gap between the two. The wall is shown from the north-east below before its removal. Provisionally, the stone rubble dipping downslope from the wall overlies deposits with pottery of not later than the 13th century suggesting early degradation of the structure.

12/9/23: there was great progress on both the trench 1 sondages today. In both sondages the base of the drystone walls can be seen, and in both the surface of the disturbed natural (presumably) can be seen. In the southern sondage the situation looks a little complicated, and there appears to b a considerable height difference in the agricultural soils across the line of the wall. In the northern sondage, the succession appears simpler and the narrow drystone walls there appear founded 200mm above the natural – so they do not belong to the earliest phase of cultivation. More will be revealed tomorrow, as the walls are taken out.

Trench 3 is now down to natural and there was no significant archaeology.

aerial view, end of 12/9/23

11/9/23: its hard to believe we are into the last week and there are only a couple of digging days left.

Trench 1 made good progress in the northern and southern sondages. In the northern, the stone fill of the drain is now almost removed, the east-west wall largely exposed and the dark soils to the east of the north-south have been bottomed. The lower part of the dark soils only produced some very rare fragments of samian ware – which is promising.

the northern sondage on 11/9/23

In the southern sondage, the area east of the north-south wall shows similar dark, potentially early medieval cultivation soils (13th century pottery at the top of the layer, no pottery at the base) resting on either a layer with reworked lumps of natural clay or stony material. To the west of the wall, the wall collapse lies on a layer rich in 13th century local pottery, which in turn seems to overlie a deposit rich in charcoal.

the southern sondage on 11/9/23

9/9/23: today’s ‘open-day’ was busy – so busy I forgot to take any photos (so the one below is one of Geoff’s)! Approximately 120 people came onto the site and saw what has been achieved so far. Explaining the project many times over only reinforced quite how much there is still to do in the next few days. Thank you to all the project team, especially the volunteers, who worked so hard in the heat to make it a successful day.

8/9/23: with trench 2 almost wound-down, a larger team could be thrown at trench 1 today. Both northern and southern sondages made good progress. The deposits east of the main North-South wall are similar – and apparently early, yielding lots of slag but almost no pottery. W of the wall in the South the level of excavation is still producing plenty of 13th or 14th century pottery.

West of that wall in the northern sondage, work is still at a higher level. The stone feature here previously interpreted as the field boundary on the Tithe Map is now looking much more like a drain (which presumably ran alongside the field boundary) – and this cuts a wall running west from the main north-south wall.

Tomorrow, we will be welcoming visitors to the site between 10:00 and 4:00 – and after that we will be into our final week, still with much to do!

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7/9/23: the promised blue sky never came – the day however remained very hot and extremely humid with occasional large drops of rain full of Saharan dust. The students on trenches 2 and 3 received instruction from Steve on recording with only a small amount of fresh excavation.

Our osteoarchaeologist, Bethan, visited today and gave her initial thoughts on the bones from trench 2. It seems they are likely to include bones from both a young child and an adult.

In trench 1 work continued at both the north and south ends. In the north the various short lengths of wall are continuing to be a challenge to interpret. In the south the wall is slowly making sense – the west face shows extensive collapse and rotation of the lowest visible blocks, the east face is lightly curved and now appears to overlies deeper stonework. The west face in the area we have excavated is not in-line with the apparent face just visible through the overlying stones just a few metres to the north. One possible explanation for this, which we must now test, is that the entire wall in the are of the sondage has been pushed westwards, downslope, by the weight of the lynchet to its east, so that the upper courses of the wall (yellow) have been displaced westwards over the lower courses (orange) by perhaps 400 or 500mm.

aerial view of southern sondage with the deformed wall.

6/9/23: it was another very hot day, so one of the covers was moved over the end of trench 1 to give some shade. Work continued on exposing the wall at the south end of the trench, but it seems the west face had collapsed in that area.

To the north, some tentative investigations were started around the complicated area with multiple walls, but the trench was too short-staffed today to make great progress (four of the team were off today).

Trench 2 appears to have more or less completed to natural, just leaving some recording for tomorrow and trench 3 has arrived at disturbed natural only just below the topsoil.

It was very busy day for site visitors! The process of advertising our informal open day on Saturday has begun – with visitors invited to see the site between 10 and 4.

5/9/23: with the cleaning finished, work started on the first of a series of targeted sondages in trench 1. To the west (left in the aerial image) the stone rubble dropped away and became rather sparser. To the east (right in the aerial image), the upslope side, a sequence of dark soils has accumulated against the wall. This sequence is effectively a lynchet – and is precisely the sort of accumulation that we hoped to find here. The work was undertaken with a small team as both trenches 2 and 3 were active today. Trench 2 produced some more disturbed human bones and Trench 3 has been begun, but is not yet down to ancient levels.

We had an excellent turn out of volunteers to join the finds washing team today – thank you so much for your efforts!

aerial view of S end of trench 1, end of 5/9/23

4/9/23: the cleaning of trench 1 was finally completed under very hot and humid conditions. There are one or two rough areas, but we can now progress to the next stage with this trench. Thanks to everyone for their hard work under the conditions!

There was no progress with trench 2 today – work on that will restart tomorrow. Over the weekend the bone fragments from last week were cleaned, and images seen by a human bone specialist who confirmed their ID. There are skull, knee and foot fragments – potentially from a single adult.

a full team at work in Trench 1, 4/9/23
trench 1 at the end of 4/9/23

1/9/23: the cleaning of trench 1 progressed well and the end of defining the stone features is finally in sight. The whole team will be relieved when there is no more stone pile to clean!! Some structure is appearing within the pile, with a stone wall-facing being over overlain by unstructured stones spilling over it and down to the west. The deposits east of this bank produced a lovely green-glazed decorated jug fragment. I think this is a horse (despite looking more like a comedy donkey…), but it also resembles some of the Ham Green wares with hunting scenes – so could also be a deer.

Trench 2 produced a shallow, probably post-medieval gully, the fill of which seems to contain a few scraps of reworked human bone. The trench continues to yield large numbers of whelks, limpets and winkles, perhaps accompanied by a little prehistoric pottery.

Trench 1 at the end of 1/9/23

The image below shows some of the animals on 13th century vessels in Ham Green ware from near Bristol, with stags to the left (37) and a horse on the right (41). The description of the technique of applied strip decoration like our example mentions how it was applied over a decoration of horizontal grooves – just as in our piece.

31/8/23: rained off…

30/8/23: today was a much brighter day and a lot was achieved in both trenches. The southern end of trench 1 is completed to the base of the main agricultural soil, as are some of the northern parts. The extension has had the bulk of the agricultural soils removed and awaits trowelling.

When the final clean-up of the surface was done in the south of Trench 1, substantial fragments of Roman pottery were recovered both to east (a large sherd of red ware mortarium) and west (a jar rim) of the stone bank. This raises some interesting questions about what may lie beneath…

Trench 1 at the end of 30/8/23

Trench 2 also progressed well, reaching a layer (possibly partly disturbed) of the natural white marl below the cultivated soils of the old allotments. The nicest find from Trench 2 was the mouthpiece (fipple) of a tin whistle or similar instrument.

Trench 2 at the end of 30/8/23

29/8/23: It was a somewhat wet day, so progress in Trench 1 was slower than desirable. The trench is really turning into two halves – half with ‘simple’ structures and half with a an array of short lengths of ‘wall’ that are not, yet, resolving into anything coherent. Time will tell…

Trench 1 also gained a new finds tent today (thank you Gail!) – so we are better prepared for the even worse weather later in the week.

Trench 2 also progressed, and is well down into the subsoil. The woods are providing some shelter from the rain here, but it is getting very soft underfoot. Geoff provided us with a lovely aerial postcard view showing the site of trench 2 as vegetable gardens in the 1920s/30s.

Trench 1 during 29/8/23

28/8/23: We only had trench 1 working today, so good progress was made with the larger team. The ‘late’ wall is now well over half cleared. A short length of wall on the north side of the extension appears to run parallel to it. The possible EW wall in the S of the extension has yet to be exposed. Clearance of cultivation soils from over the southern part of the ‘early’ wall/bank shows the stones extend further west than suspected. What appears to be a stone-packed posthole is apparently cut through the cultivation soils 4m or so from the S of the trench.

Aerial view of Trench 1 – end of day 28/8/23

25/8/23: having considered the possibilities concerning the complexities east of the early ‘wall’, I decided the appropriate action was to open an extension to their east, so they could be examined properly. Today was a wet day anyway, so activity in trench 1 entailed an approximately 6.75m x 3.5m extension.

Across the valley, trench 2 was opened – the location under the trees avoided the worst of the rain. Interestingly, this is yielding reasonable numbers of limpet and whelk shells, just like the soils retained by the wall on the edge of the Great Ley above – and the spoil from the badger sett. The date (and location) of the primary shell middens is not known.

Aerial view of Trench 1, end of day 25/8/23

24/8/23: this was probably the last day that we have the full team working on trench 1. Both ‘walls’ are now appearing along much of their lengths. The early wall seems to stop abruptly about 3.5m from the N end of the trench, in the area of the complexities to its east.

Finds today included two late medieval to early post-medieval copper alloy lace tags (aiglets).

The report on the human bone assemblage recovered during spring 2023 also arrived today. This raises the MNI from two to four, greatly increasing the likelihood that the badger sett lies on a cemetery, rather than just isolated burials.

Vertical view of Trench 1, 24th August

23/8/23: our first full day of archaeology saw plenty of progress made across the trench. The later wall produced a nice architectural detail in Sutton stone – possibly a component of a small compound pillar (resembling the early 13th century examples below the church tower, but smaller). The earlier wall seems to have perpendicular walls to its east, possibly indicating a small abutting building.

Trench 1 at the end of the 23rd August

22/8/23: the delayed heras fencing was delivered in the morning, with the hiab lifting the heavy loads over a new car, next to a historical building and within centimetres of overhead cables. Then the fences (and the steel frames they are delivered in) had to be carried down to site – and the fences erected. The later part of the day involved further cleaning of the main trench, revealing more of the stone structures and producing nice amounts of late medieval pottery and a hone fragment.

Aerial view during 22/8/23

21/8/23: the excavation proper started today with the Cardiff University students and volunteers. Most of the morning was spent in completing the site setup, the induction and a quick walking tour of the adjacent medieval monuments, but good progress was made in the rest of the day in cleaning the machined surface.

Day 1 of the excavation - aerial view of trench 1 from the west
Day 1 – aerial view of trench 1 from the west

17/8/23: the main trench is now ready for Monday, with features corresponding to the geophysical anomalies showing immediately below topsoil. The volunteer team on site today spent around 12 hours on assembling the tool shed – and it still isn’t quite finished (it was complicated)…

Trench 1 after machining of the topsoil

16/8/23: the main trench has been surveyed ready for machining tomorrow.

trench 1 white-lined

15/8/23: The GPS base station was surveyed, ready for setting out the main trench. The weather was good enough to get the drone up and acquire some images of the site in context. The earthworks of the field system in the Great Ley (with the superimposed 13th century dovecote) on the left, the location of the main trench in the field to the right, with the church beyond.

12/8/23: The vegetation in the Globe field has been mowed, ready for site setout next week.

Llandaff Pound

Background

The Pound after clearance, but before the excavation
The Pound after clearance, but before the excavation

The Llandaff 50plus group has a acquired the long-term lease of the redundant public toilets next to the entrance of the Bishop’s Castle from Cardiff Council under a Community Asset Transfer.  The extended building will become a centre for activities for older people, run by older people. The centre will perpetuate the name ‘The Pound’ for the site of the toilets was the manorial pound from at least 1717, and probably before 1607, until the 1930s. Besides the activity room, the centre will include a small heritage room manned by  volunteers, to share the story of Llandaff and the Bishop’s Castle, and there will also again be an accessible toilet for both visitors and locals.

The public ‘dig’

The conversion of the toilet and its extension are one of the first development projects in the very core of ancient Llandaff in recent times, so the opportunity was taken for a community archaeological project in advance of the building works. The first part of the fieldwork was in September 2019, supported by the Lottery Heritage Fund and Cardiff YMCA (1910) Trust, involved over 200 school children gaining experience in archaeological excavation alongside a core group of adult volunteers. Over a period of two weeks they uncovered part of the late 19th century surface of the pound and its drainage system, under which a succession of deposits ranged back in age to the period of construction of the adjacent castle in the 13th century.

At the end of the 19th century the pound was improved; here a stone surface was laid against the rear of a rebuilt retaining wall above Well Cottage. The central hollow overlies a line of post-pits for a fence. The stone surface was covered with a deposit of clinker.
Land drain from the ?1890s
The 19th century improvements included the addition of a series of land drains.

Finds associated with the pound included household waste including many small fragments of pottery and clay pipe, a Victorian silver sixpence, probable horse-harness fittings, horseshoes, a button and a quantity of butchery waste (during its last few decades the pound was run by Shipstones, a butchers in the High Street). Below the surface of the ‘improved’ pound of the 1890s progressively older deposits (including a pit containing a cat skeleton) represented the soil accumulation in the pound area back to medieval times. The earliest medieval deposits encountered were probably builders’ waste from the construction of the castle in the late 13th century, including river boulders, fragments of Sutton Stone (used for the dressed window and door surrounds), a spill of lime mortar, a variety of roofing materials and fragments of domestic pottery, including well-sooted cooking pots.

As the main public phase of work drew to a close, it was realised that corner of a lime-mortared cobble wall just intruded into the edge of the excavation. It seemed very likely that this was the corner of an unexpected building, lying directly below the toilets and the site of the extension. The stratigraphic context of the wall suggested that it was most likely to be medieval.

The medieval house

The SE wall of the medieval house looking towards the gatehouse of the Bishop’s Castle. The fireplace is just to the left of the black door.

During late October and November the adult volunteers returned to the site to learn more about this medieval building before it disappeared below the new extension.  It proved to represent a building of at least 8m in length and probably 6m in width, but the NE end was not found. The sump in the 1890s land-drain system abutted an offset in the lateral medieval wall and may have been positioned within a former doorway.

The medieval fireplace in the SW wall of the house during excavation

The building contained an elaborate fireplace with a dressed Bath stone surround in its SW end wall. The E end of the building was not located (probably lying outside the area of the Pound), but the remains of the lateral wall terminated in a aperture, probably a doorway, also with a Bath stone surround. The style of fireplace and the use of Bath stone suggests a age of fifteenth (or just possibly latest fourteenth) century.

The Bath stone on the southern side of the medieval fireplace

When the house was abandoned, following the salvaging of much of the dressed Bath stone, the ground floor was largely filled with the demolition or collapse debris from the upper storey. Intercalated within the debris were layers rich in domestic waste including much pottery and bone. Small finds included brass dress pins and a fourteenth century French jeton (a coin-like token used in calculations).

A early to mid-fourteenth century jeton found in the collapsed buil;ding material within the medieval chimney

The house had been constructed into a bank of material, possibly spoil from the construction of the castle, in part supported by an unmortared boulder wall. Both the dump and the wall overlay an earlier mortared stone water culvert – but this remains to be investigated more fully on another occasion.

The watching brief

The development work at The Pound has moved quickly over the last few weeks, with the inside of the block now ready to receive its new floor and the 1986 extension opened-up ready for the addition of the new meeting room.

 

Medieval wall below the former gents toilets

These works have brought some exciting new discoveries: a major medieval wall under the toilets and the re-location of the boulder wall immediately behind the medieval chimney. The wall beneath the gents was as thick as any in the medieval house and probably continues the line of the front (road-side) wall of the house, but does not itself appear (so far) to form part of a structure.

The post-excavation studies

The main tasks of post-excavation have yet to be commissioned, but a lot of preparatory work has been going on. The last few collections of finds have been washed, all the finds have been sorted, with the collections from each context being counted and weighed. The quantified material is now almost ready to be sent to specialists. The major task still outstanding is the labelling of the pottery (so the specialist can mix the context assemblages to search for joining pieces). There are now almost one thousand pieces of pottery (including fragments of medieval tile) with a combined weight of nearly 9kg!

The bone collection is currently of a similar size, but this is expected to increase significantly as we process the bulk soil samples – there are indications these will contain many bones of small mammals, fish and birds.

That preliminary indication comes from the sieving of the mud washed from the pottery and bones collected from the last few contexts. Although this was only a small amount of soil, it produced teeth of voles and shrews, bones of small fish, as well as the head of a second brass pin and a further fragment of aiglet (or lace tag – a metal version of the plastic tube that protects the ends of modern shoelaces). The aiglets and dress pins are typical of the accessories required for elaborate Tudor clothes. Another rather wonderful find from the rubbish deposits in the backfill of the house is a bone tuning peg, probably from a harp. Those same deposits had, of course, previously produced the jeton.

 

Aiglet
Aiglet (lace tag) from the backfill of the medieval house. The scale is marked in millimetres.

 

The representation of the pound on Speed’s map of 1607. This is the earliest evidence for the existence of the pound and probably dates from soon after the demolition of the medieval house.

One of the challenges for the future is to try to determine whether the dress accessories and the harp peg reflect life in ‘our’ house, or whether they were amongst rubbish dumped there from elsewhere (perhaps, for instance, from the castle, which was partially refurbished at this period by the Mathews family of Radyr). It is appearing increasingly likely that the house was demolished in the late 16th century – so only shortly before John Speed drew his map, first published in 1607.

 

Site plans

Llandaff Pound: post-medieval features

Image 1 of 6

Cirencester Abbey Grounds update

The report on the 2017 survey was completed in March,  but was publicly launched last night (31/7/18) with a talk and walk as part of ‘Love Parks Week’.  The report has now been made available in the GeoArch report library. It is report #496 in the library, which can be accessed at: http://www.geoarch.co.uk/report library/ or directly here.

A formal publication on the project will be prepared in the coming months.

Cirencester Abbey Grounds 2017 survey

16th October 2017

This week sees the start of a resistivity survey of the Abbey Grounds, Cirencester. The first days work extended over much of the excavated area of the Abbey and some areas immediately to the north.

17th October 2017

The survey today covered an area to the east of the Abbey buildings. Large apparently ditched enclosures appeared in the east of the survey.  Do these correspond to the enclosures in the middle distance on the Kip drawing? The modern and medieval lines of the culverted Gunstall Brook can be seen in the centre of the area, with a possible building immediately outside the line of the culvert, but parallel to it.

18th October 2017

Today’s survey included buildings to the NE of the cloister, with the probable culverted Gunstall Brook running below them.  To the east, running from the SE corner of the survey towards the bandstand is an unexpectedly prominent set of features dividing the area of the Abbey from the wetter alluvium to the east. Is this a ditched boundary or a former natural channel?

Some poor quality data from near the bandstand will probably need replacing in due course, but otherwise another  very productive day!

19th October 2017

A very wet day, but good progress was made. There are a couple of patches of poor data, but otherwise the weather didn’t affect things too much.  The survey included much of the central pathway shown on the Kip drawing, passing through the various enclosures and over the various ditches/stream towards the icehouse, with the modern bench by the lake (the small gap in the data) right on its line.

20th October 2017

A minor surveying glitch meant the day had a slow start. One of the fixed probe markers had also been removed by a dog overnight, but a reasonable data match between days was still obtained. There now appears to be a second old stream channel just west of the edge of the modern lake. The impression of a series of land divisions (fields/gardens?) crossing the old valley floor is increased. Although some of these figure on Kip’s engravings, they may have a much older origin.

Thank you to all those who have contributed to the survey this week. I’m looking forward to getting the whole picture next week!

23rd October 2017

The northern part of the area west of the lake was surveyed today.  although much of the area was of very low resistivity further narrow linear positive anomalies (similar to some seen just to the SE) suggest small walled(?) enclosures. Close to the modern lake is what appears to be a small building and another may underlie the road down to the Norman Arch. The slightly sinuous palaeochannel can be seen to diverge southwards from the modern lake.

25th October 2017

The survey focused on the southern edge of the grounds today. Much of the area shows a rather strong influence from the trees,  but there is still a lot of interest in the data.

Thanks to everyone who has taken part in the survey over the last 10 days. The interpretation will follow over the coming weeks.

Images of current data

The images below show the data as a standard greyscale image (with black=10ohm to white= 90ohm measured resistance) and as a high-pass filtered image (black=-15ohm to white= +15ohm to emphasise the anomalies) collected so far.  This area includes parts of the Abbey in the southwest, together with various other structures of the Abbey period and later, as well as the post-medieval formal gardens.

 

1st August 2018

The report on the 2017 survey was completed in March,  but was publicly launched last night (31/7/18) with a talk and walk as part of ‘Love Parks Week’.  The report has now been made available in the GeoArch report library. It is report #496 in the library, which can be accessed at: http://www.geoarch.co.uk/report library/ or directly here.

Early medieval smithing at Gelligaer

A watching brief, undertaken for Caerphilly County Borough Council, at an extension to Gelligaer cemetery about 150m NE of the second Roman fort, Gelligaer II, produced a rather elegant and unusual smithing hearth . The hearth was associated with a small drainage gully and a couple of post-holes. The feature comprised two hollows, linked by a worn central section into an elongate figure-of-eight shape. One bowl, approximately 700mm in diameter, formed the anvil base. This contained two large slabs of local stone. It was unclear whether these were used directly as an anvil (their surfaces showed no damage), or whether they were packing for supporting or levelling a wooden anvil block. However it was used, this bowl contained a large quantity of hammerscale.IMG_1534 (small)View of the smithing hearth from the SW before excavation; anvil to right, hearth to left.

IMG_1542 (small)View of the smithing hearth from the NE before excavation; anvil to left, hearth to right.

The other, northwestern, bowl (650mm in diameter) formed the truncated remains of the hearth itself and lay 400mm away from the anvil base. The hearth contained abundant charcoal (almost entirely of oak) and 2.4kg of slag, including two complete, large smithing hearth cakes of approximately 900g each.

A piece of  small diameter branchwood charcoal was selected for radiocarbon dating – and it returned a date, which was not Roman, but cal. AD 610-670. This is an outstanding result, because it represents the first  direct evidence for 7th century occupation at Gelligaer itself. Interestingly, a structurally very similar hearth was recorded in the 1970s near Pontarddulais (50km west of Gelligaer) – and it gave a similar date of cal. AD 410-660.

Gelligaer is a large upland parish, centred on the village with its two Roman forts, medieval church and motte.  In the early medieval period it was the centre of the commote of Uwch Caiach, part of the cantref of Senghenydd, in turn part of the Kingdom of Glywyseg, later known as Morgannwg. The motte may be the Castrum Cadwallon, held by the English crown in 1194 and possibly previously the home of Ifor ap Meurig (Ifor Bach; 1100-1170), Lord of Senghenydd and his son Cadwallon. 

Gelligaer is reputed, in some accounts, to have been the birthplace of St Cattwg, a 6th century saint, whose parents are supposed to have been Gwynllyw (ruler of Gwynllŵg (Wentloog), the lowland area west of the Usk around Newport) and Gwladys (daughter of the Irish King Brychan of Brycheiniog). Both parents, so the stories tell, later became hermits and St Gwladys is commemorated by a small  medieval chapel on the hills immediately north of Gelligaer. These largely mythological characters formed a part of the foundation stories of the early medieval kingdoms and monasteries. The 6th-7th centuries are represented in the archaeological record of Gelligaer by inscribed stones, one on the Roman road north of Gelligaer, inscribed TEFROIHI, TEFSOIHI or NEFROIHI, and one to the northeast at Brithdir, inscribed TEGERNACUS FILIUS MARTI HIC IACIT.  These inscriptions give a glimpse into the world inhabited by the early saints, the world also of the smith who used the hearth at Gelligaer.

 

Changes are afoot…

The long delayed update to the main GeoArch website (www.geoarch.co.uk) is now, finally, happening. This will entail some switching of content between the more formal business site and this one. Heading over here will be the old experimental archaeology blogs (well, they weren’t known as blogs then – the first smelting diary started several months before the first use of that term…), while the GeoArch report library will travel back to the business website where it belongs. I guess its going to take a little while to shake down…

The High Island Monograph is out…

Great to see another project from a few years ago reach final publication!

Georgina Scally’s High Island (Ardoileán), Co. Galway: Excavation of an Early Medieval Monastery, Archaeological Monograph Series No 10, Department of the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. 347pp.

Lots of detail on monastic hardship on a windswept rock in the Atlantic. Just 35 euro from Wordwell…

High Island0001

Ynysfach – unravelling the refinery process

Part of the site of the Ynysfach Ironworks (a separate, but integral part of the great Cyfarthfa Ironworks of the Crawshay family) in Merthyr Tydfil was excavated by the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust in 2011 prior to the development of  ‘The College Merthyr’ (a new tertiary education facility developed by Merthyr Tydfil County Borough & The University of South Wales).

The excavations provided a unique opportunity for examinations of the structures and residues associated with the refinery process. Refineries were developed in Merthyr Tydfil in the late 18th century as an intermediate process to allow the newly-developed Cort's puddling process to convert  grey cast iron smelted from the local sedimentary ironstones into wrought iron. The process involved remelting the pig iron under a strong air blast and then casting it into thin white cast iron slabs by chilling in an iron trough constructed over a cistern of water and with water sprayed onto the molten iron.

Refinery hearth setting Ynysfach Ironworks - a setting for a refinery hearth in the forground, with the cistern (which would have had the tapping trough above) in the background

Slags produced during the process flowed off the surface of the iron and were collected for disposal. An accidental flow of slag into one of the drains allowed the confident attribution of the slag to the refinery process. The slags were characterised by a very high phosphorus content, leading to the development of phosphoran varieties of the common slag minerals as well as various phosphate phases. In particular phosphoran fayalite occurred widely, with compositions ranging up to the theoretical maximum degree phosphorus substitution.

BSEM image of a refining slag
BSEM image of a refining slag. The phosphoran fayalite (lower) is the dominant phase. Ti, V, Cr -rich spinels (lower right) are also common. The interstitial area (upper) contains various phosphatic phases (dark) as well as wustite (bright) overgrown by phosphoran iscorite (pale grey).

Young RIP 2013_20 (small)
As well as the macroscopic slag flows, the refinery process produced microresidues of two types: small (<40μm) dense spheroids of iron or iron oxide and larger, 100-2500μm diameter, hollow spheroids of slag comprising magnetite dendrites in a glass or micro-crystalline matrix. The spheroids were probably generated by the turbulence of the air blast on the molten iron and slag in the refinery furnace respectively. The spheroids form a major component of the deposits in the site’s many drains.

These new data, together with reappraisal of contemporary accounts of poor quality puddled iron before the introduction of refining, suggest that control of phosphorus, in addition to the control of silicon, may have been a major factor in the need for the refining process.

(further details may be found on the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust's website - http://www.ggat.org.uk/)

Wolf spit: tungsten and medieval tin smelting

The origin of 'wolfram', the alternative name for tungsten (retained in chemistry through the use of the symbol W for tungsten), was because the tungsten-bearing minerals were held in medieval times to devour tin during tin smelting. Rich deposits of tungsten occur in the Hemerdon Bal Mine in Devon (the 4th largest deposit known in the world), on the edge of Darmoor, and currently being reopened as the Drakelands Mine. The wolframite of the deposit has a similar colour and density to cassiterite, the tin ore mineral once widely exploited around Dartmoor. The medieval tin smelting site at Brownie Cross lies 4km NW of Hemerdon Bal. It was discovered and excavated by Cornwall Council’s Historic Environment Service, Projects team, which had been commissioned by South West Water to undertake a programme of archaeological investigations along the route of the 13.5km-long Avon Water Main Renewal Project in April and May 2009.   Radiocarbon dates indicate activity within the late 13th or early 14th centuries and the site is interpreted as a manually blown 'blowing house'. The slag from Brownie Cross is mainly in the form of fragments of thin sheets, probably scraped from the surface of the tin in the float. Some slag samples are comparable with tin slags described previously from SW England, but most show elevated concentrations of both tin and tungsten. These slags bear inclusions (particularly close to the sheet bases) of tungsten metal, tin oxides, wolframite and hard head (tin-iron intermetallics). The body of the high-W slags are glass with an Fe-Mn-Mg tungstate, outside the recorded compositional range of natural wolframite. The most highly tungsten-enriched slags also commonly show a relict emulsion texture, with the tungsten rich component showing extreme enrichment of tin with respect to silica, reflecting the low yield observed by the german medieval smelters which led them to use the name 'wolf rahm' meaning wolf's spit or foam.

Slag showing emulsion textureBSEM image of highly tungsten-enriched tin slag from Brownie Cross. Variation in the size and density of the Fe-Mn-Mg tungstate crystals reveals the texture of an emulsion of slags differing tungsten enrichment. Field of view 4.5mm.

Tungsten-rich tin slagBSEM image of the basal part of a slag sheet, showing film-like development of tin oxide (mid grey), tungsten spheroids (white) overgrown by Fe-tungstates. The body of the slag above has elongate Fe-Mn-Mg tungstates in a tin- and tungsten-rich glass . Field of view 160 microns.

Iron Age iron smelting furnaces in Berkshire

Iron Age furnaceIron Age iron smelting furnace, Wokingham

The excavation of some Iron Age  iron smelting furnaces near Wokingham for West Sussex Archaeology is a major current project. The furnaces have a wide flat floor, they are over a metre in diameter and have a broad arch with a large raking pit.  They therefore have some morphological similarities with the later Roman domed furnaces of SE England.

The site has two furnaces sites. One was almost completely destroyed by a modern pit. The other has an early furnace that was demolished and filled with slag and the debris from its superstructure, with a replacement furnace constructed over it and just 0.5m further west, so that it was able to use the same raking pit and slag dumps. The two furnaces are aligned and bounded by short lengths of shallow ditch.

Iron Age iron smelting site near WokinghamIron Age iron smelting site near Wokingham

 

The first furnace cleared of its contents

The first furnace cleared of its contents

 

Update 17.8.14:  Excavation of the first furnace showed that it had a similar form to its successor. The clay wall of the pit was vertical and horseshoe shaped in plan. The arch was effectively the entire width of the pit and defined externally by a pair of large furnace-bottom slag blocks, oriented vertically.

Welcome to GeoArch!

Welcome to the new GeoArch blog site! This site will host descriptions and discussions of on-going projects, comment on developments in archaeometallurgy and general news of GeoArch activities. As the site name suggests, the main area of interest will be archaeometallurgy, but I am sure some of archaeogeophysical work (and indeed other aspects of archaeological science) will creep-in as well.

Tim Young