I’m Ffion, archaeological researcher at Cardiff University and Heritage and Arts Manager for Cadw, the historic environment service for the Welsh Government. At Cadw, my role is to oversee projects that link heritage with the arts, inspire new ways of engaging people with our built environment and to link people with their local heritage and archaeology. I'm currently co-director on the Bryn Celli Ddu landscape Public Archaeology Project.

Materials as Media @ Bryn Celli Ddu

Today, I’ve been working on a journal article about our public archaeology project which takes place at and around Bryn Celli Ddu on Anglesey each June. Bryn Celli Ddu is a Neolithic passage tomb, and is a unique site in Wales – as the passage is aligned to the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. As the sun rises on this morning, a beam of light is cast down the narrow entrance lighting the chamber within.

Our project has developed around this moment in time, and over time, a collection of archaeologists, photographers, digital artists, storytellers and puppeteers have been brought together over the last two years to excavate and work in the landscape around Bryn Celli Ddu.

What we’ve discovered is that Bryn Celli Ddu does not sit in isolation, but is rather the centre of a complex multi-period landscape. This includes a series of late Neolithic/early Bronze Age rock art panels, eight of which have now been identified and recorded, probably at least two late Neolithic/early Bronze Age cairns in close proximity to the central passage tomb, several standing stones some of which are prehistoric, an early Neolithic causewayed enclosure, and a series of Iron Age hut platforms.

As an important early prehistoric landscape Bryn Celli Ddu attracts significant public interest; over 10,000 people visited the passage tomb in 2015, and the site is the focus of an active and engaged druid community including local Anglesey Druid Order members and people who travel significant distances to be present. At our open days over the last two years we have had 1,316 counted visitors, with additional school and sixth form college visits in both years.

A major element of our work has been to work alongside artists, and to use artistic processes ourselves, and to reflect on the archaeology from various standpoints.

Archaeologists have become geologists, discovering colourful materials such as the golden mica from the excavated test pits between the main passage tomb and the large rock art outcrop. At the time of Bryn Celli Ddu’s use, this stream would have been filled with this shimmering mica, iridescent, and sparkling in the light.

In the case of the rock art panels, executed on mica-rich blue schist, the material properties of the landscape were highlighted in another manner.  Experimental rock art production has demonstrated the difference in colour saturation between the freshly executed motifs and the relatively rapid weathering of these marks.

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We have also been inspired by the use of quartz in the construction of Bryn Celli Ddu, and later of the Bronze Age cairn discovered in this seasons excavation. Quartz and it’s turbolumiecent qualities were experimented with inside the chamber at Bryn Celli Ddu, creating these sparks of red, flashing in the darkness and producing a very memorable smell in the process.

All this information has been taken and linked back to the archaeology, the archaeology we excavate during our seasons of work, but also to those materials already in the stores at the National Museum back in Cardiff, including jasper and quartz pebbles – alongside the more characteristic flint tools.

What’s clear is that the Neolithic was far from dull, and the more we discover around Bryn Celli Ddu, the more we realise that the landscape is and was full of colour. Full of surprising performative, moving materials. Materials as media. Materials as moments.

 

 

Art and Archaeology

Cadw Mabinogion Comics by Pete Fowler

Cadw Mabinogion Comics by Pete Fowler.

Today is a really great day, as we are launching a new art and archaeology project at Kidwelly Castle – two new comics, illustrated by the acclaimed artist Pete Fowler, famed for his Super Furry Animals album cover work. I really love Pete’s style of work, and the bold use of colours really brings these old Welsh myths and legends alive for 21st century audiences.

Branwen is a retelling of an ancient Mabinogi myth linked to Harlech Castle. When Branwen is punished for the actions of one of her siblings, her brother Brân — a giant king — goes to war to avenge her. When I was little this tale was one of my favourites, and these images have stayed with me.

The second comic is the story of Gwenllian which took place in south Wales, near Kidwelly Castle, and tells the real-life tale of the warrior princess who led a revolt in the twelfth century. A real female heroine.

As a child I fell in love with the stories: they are extraordinary tales of the medieval Welsh world.

This is a land where white horses appear magically, where a giant King can stride across the sea, there is a woman called Blodeuwedd made entirely of flowers, and goats that mysteriously changed into wild boars, not forgetting that it is within the pages of a Mabinogion tale that King Arthur makes his first appearance.

I remember my Dad reading the stories to me at bedtime, and just really loved the unpredictable and twisting plots, the mythical Welsh language and the larger than life characters.

Let’s not forget how these beautifully told stories have influenced how archaeology is presented today – in works such as JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones! A real Welsh legacy of these works.

You can get free high-quality printed copies of the comics at Kidwelly and Harlech castles, but we also have free PDF versions which you can download here:

Download the Branwen comic here

Download the Branwen comic here

Download the Gwenllian comic here

Download the Gwenllian comic here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Horizons – Old and New

I’m a little late with my Day of Archaeology post this year – but I managed to find some time today to do a post…. which will mainly focus on a project I’ve recently been working on as part of my work at Cadw, called: ‘Horizons: Old and New’.

On the actual Day of Archaeology, my morning was filled with lots of office tasks in preparation for the Festival of Archaeology, co-ordinated nationally by the Council of British Archaeology. Along with that, I worked on editing some Key Stage  2 school resources that will accompany the ‘Horizons: Old and New’ project which we completed last month.

The project focused on the Neolithic period on Anglesey, and focused on the passage tombs of Bryn Celli Ddu and Barclodaid-y-Gawres dating to around 5000 years ago. The project was split into two main themes – ‘old’ Neolithic technologies were explored at Bryn Celli Ddu, and ‘new’ interpretations of that Neolithic in the 21st century were explored at Barclodiad-y-Gawres. The project explored what we know about the Neolithic period, and celebrate the amazing technologies of the period and present these to the public. This included flint knapping, rock art, pottery, bonework and the movement of the sun. At Barclodiad-y-Gawres, we explored how we interpret Neolithic archaeology in the present and the future – and by using the more unusual focus on sculpture and art, gave the public a new experience at an ancient monument.

It was on Friday that I finally got a chance to go through all the images that I had received from Adam Stanford taken at Bryn Celli Ddu and others taken at Barclodiad-y-Gawres. These were added to our shared portfolio system with metadata, and it took ages to complete! A photographic archive of the project.

All images Cadw: Crown Copyright

After lunch I went back to editing the Neolithic resources I’m writing, which encourages schools to take their students out to their local Neolithic site, listing a range of activities and lesson plans which they could use to inspire their classes. Some of these images will probably surface in there…

Cadw have also commissioned a series of Neolithic comics, created by the very talented John Swogger – which brings the period alive in another way…

Cadw Neolithic Comic

Images by John Swogger. Cadw: Crown Copyright

I’ve just finished edited and checking the Welsh versions on these, so they have now gone back to John so he can add the Welsh text into the right boxes, I’m so excited to see the finished artwork! The comics and school resources will be available to download from the Cadw website, very soon I hope.

That was the end of the DoA for me, and off I went to watch the new series of Game of Thrones!!!

Thanks again to the Day of Archaeology team – it’s always a pleasure to read about what others are doing across the globe!

Ffion

Guerrilla Archaeology: Creative Engagement at Festivals

My Day of Archaeology post will feature one project in particular: my involvement in a new creative engagement project which sees a group of like-minded Cardiff based archaeologists, artists and scientists bring the past alive at festivals! This is quite a new thing for archaeologists in Wales, and perhaps the UK, and I believe there’s huge potential to engage with new and broader audiences through this kind of outreach – people that may not usually come and join in on a typical archaeology open day for instance.

Guerrilla Archaeology is bringing a range of shamanic activities to four festivals around the UK this summer, offering a chance to come and encounter shamans, past, present and future through archaeology, art, sound and movement. You will be able to explore shamans around the world – who are they, what do they do and how do they think? We’ll be offering you the chance to immerse yourself in shamanic ideas, music, movement and transformation by the use of drums, disguise and ceremony. You will be able to come and dress as a shaman and watch as our experimental archaeologist shows you how to create your own shamanic headdress, or join in on a shamanic drumming workshop, shamanic toolkit or totemic art workshop…. or just come along to meet our own resident shaman!

My own background is in the archaeology of worldviews, and this project perfectly pulls together a range of my favourite things, especially the practice and study of shamanism. I studied for a PhD in Neolithic archaeology at Cardiff University, and this project sees  a group of us coming together to celebrate our love of archaeology in a fun, interactive way. You can meet the whole collaborative team on our wordpress blog here: http://guerillaarchaeology.wordpress.com/

Practically yesterday, the true Day of Archaeology, I spent most of my day designing and developing a new evaluation form to be used at our Guerrilla Archaeology venture, but also as part of my work at Cadw (which is the historic environment service for the Welsh Government), where I work as the Public Engagement and Welsh Manager. My work is varied but challenging. In fact, I’d consider this job harder than doing a PhD (and I’d totally love to to another one!). The idea for the evaluation form came from my own experience of dreading the end of a training course or event and having to fill out a boring form… so I have created and designed something that will hopefully encourage people to fill the sheet in. It’s not your normal evaluation form, and I haven’t even tested them out, so I’m going to keep the design a secret until we put them to the test at Secret Garden Party – our first festival outing, but don’t worry you’ll get to see them soon, as we will be posting photos of the completed evaluation forms on the Guerrilla Archaeology blog, so watch out for them if you’re following progress…

The second job for me on the Day of Archaeology was to write another ‘shamans through time’ blog for the project. I have been creating these as resource packs that can be viewed on the wordpress blog and we will also have these are packs for people to read at the festivals themselves. The next blog is the Bronze Age shaman, which focuses on the Upton Lovell burial in Wiltshire. I’ve literally just finished that, so it’s hot off the press… have a look here: Bronze Age shamanism?

Lastly, but maybe most excitingly, I thought I’d let you all have a sneaky peak at the shamanic toolkit I’ve been putting together. It was actually quite useful to set everything out to see exactly what I’ve got to take with me and to visualise what needs to be added. The head-dresses look fantastic, but the challenge now is to create a way to attach these to our heads! A bit of a puzzle indeed!

Shaman’s toolkit
© Ffion Reynolds

Detail of a shamanic offering, it’s interesting to experiment here…
© Ffion Reynolds

A full view of my shamanic toolkit so far. Includes: shaman’s staff on the left; antler head-dress with added ochre; pottery; bone flutes and whistles; flint implements; quartz; beads and organic materials; perforated shells; animal skin.
© Ffion Reynolds

Just before I go, make sure you check us out on twitter @guerrillaarchaeo… I also got these in the post:

New cards!

Hope everyone has enjoyed the Day of Archaeology, so many things happening around the world…

– it’s great just to browse through everyone else’s posts!

Ffion Reynolds

Behind the Wire: explosive archaeology at MOD Caerwent

After a really successful day at Caerwent on Sunday, I can now share some of the edited snippets I took during the tour….

Jon Berry gives an introduction to the tour

The first clip is Don Waring, talking about the Nitro-glycerine hill at Caerwent….Don is a retired pharmacist and know loads about the history of the site:

Caerwent Military Base – Behind the Wire tour – Don Waring talks about the Nitro-glycerine hill (mp3)

The underground level at the Nitro-glycerine plant

The central pillar at the Nitro-glycerine plant

 

Next is Jonathan Berry, talking about Sea slug, the first-generation surface-to-air missile, developed by the Royal Navy:

Caerwent Military Base – Behind the Wire tour – Jon Berry talks about the sea slugs… (mp3)

At the former Royal Naval Propellant Factory's Guided Weapons Scheme Unit at Caerwent

Lastly, Medwyn Parry talks about the American Magazine buildings:

Medwyn holding up a shell

Caerwent Military Base – Behind the Wire tour – Medwyn Parry talks about the American magazine buildings… (mp3)

 

Lighting the cordite spaghetti in one of the American magazine buildings..

It was a really great day! Thanks to all that came!

Ffion Reynolds

A visit behind the wire at Caerwent Military Base

Hello! My name is Ffion Reynolds and I’m the Council of British Archaeology’s Community Archaeologist – placed at Cadw, which is the historic environment service for the Welsh Government. My post is part of a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and you can find out more about it here.

Usually, I’m a Neolithic specialist; working with the Council for British Archaeology and Cadw, however, I find myself travelling from one period to another. One minute, I’m exploring community projects about Neolithic archaeology; the next I’m organising medieval open days for the Festival of British Archaeology.

My activities this weekend will take me even further from my period of specialism, as I take 160 visitors to a twentieth-century military base, otherwise known as the Caerwent Training Area. Accompanying me and sharing their knowledge on the tour will be Jonathan Berry (Regional Inspector of South-east Wales), Medwyn Parry (Royal Commission Ancient and Historical Monuments Wales) and Don Waring (Caerwent Historian). This will take place on Sunday the 31st of July as part of the Festival of British Archaeology: the last day of the festival for this year.

As this is the Day of Archaeology, I thought I’d flag it up here, as it would be great to share this experience with you over the weekend – especially since military sites are pretty strange and interesting places.

Caerwent Military Base is a huge site, the location of a former propellant factory and munitions dump. Within the wire (or the boundaries of the MOD Training Area) there are 414 original buildings, built and used between 1938 and 1942. Later developments include the rocket manufacturing plant, within the former Royal Naval Propellant Factory; and 64 American magazines – places in which ammunition was stored. In addition, there are 75 air raid shelters, and most are still intact.

Since the departure of the Americans in 1993, the site has become a troop training area, as well as an explosives demolition practice area, which is limited to a few structures. These days, a number of buildings are used by visiting troops for training purposes, and also by civilian companies as storage.

Recently twentieth century military sites have been recognised as an important element of our heritage and, as such, we’re hoping to set up more community projects at the site….

…so I’ll be back on Sunday with more about how the tour went!