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.