Harold Augustus Hyde’s Contribution to Welsh Archaeology

This post has been published on behalf of Heather Pardoe,  palynologist in the Botany Section, Department of Natural Sciences at Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales.

Harold Augustus Hyde had a long and distinguished career at the National Museum of Wales. He was appointed Keeper of Botany in 1922 and he remained in this post until his retirement in 1962. He published more than 100 papers. Hyde collaborated with many of the leading archaeologists of the day working in Wales including Sir Cyril Fox, Aileen Fox, Grimes, Hemp and Williams. His research made a significant contribution to their discoveries.

National Museum of Wales Staff Outing 1925. The arrows indicate Sir Cyril Fox (back centre and Harold Hyde (front, right, reclining) (With thanks to Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales Library).

In the 1930’s and 1940’s Hyde worked with the Museum’s Director, Sir Cyril Fox and his second wife Aileen Fox. Hyde identified small fragments of charcoal found on archaeological excavations and this provided insights into the composition of the local vegetation at the time. In some cases his results provided vital clues for the rituals and other activities taking place at the site. For example, Savory (1950-1952) described a house foundation of Neolithic or Early Bronze Age from Mount Pleasant Farm, Pyle (only the second found in Wales) overlain by a Middle Bronze Age Cairn. Hyde examined charcoal from the site and found that the fragments from the Late Bronze Age central ritual deposit were all slow-grown ash. Hyde suggested that the ash may have been deliberately chosen and felled expressly for the pyre since ash burns so well. Hyde was clearly interested in the evidence that this site provided of locally growing ash in the Neolithic or early Bronze Age.

Hyde’s notes on charcoal from Mount Pleasant Farm

Hyde was one of Britain’s leading palynologists. He used pollen evidence to improve our understanding of the post-glacial vegetation history of Wales and to support the research of the archaeologists with whom he worked. For example, in the late 1930’s a cauldron and a sword were donated to the National Museum of Wales. They were recovered from a peaty mountain tarn at Llyn Fawr, Rhigos when the lake was drained to create a reservoir (Fox and Hyde, 1939). Hyde extracted pollen from a film of silty peat coating the objects. These peat brushings contained birch, oak alder, hazel heather and grass pollen. Hyde observed that “the pollen evidence …suggests that the articles composing the hoard were cast either into the lake or into this wet swampy bog.” The date of this event is uncertain.

Title page of Fox and Hyde (1939)


Cauldron from Llyn Fawr


Heather Pardoe is a palynologist in the Botany Section, Department of Natural Sciences at Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales. She is interested in the pollen-vegetation relationship, vegetation change during the Holocene and various aspects of the history of Botany. A detailed biography of Hyde is currently being prepared (Pardoe and Edwards, in prep.).



Fox, C and Hyde, H.A. (1939) A second cauldron and an iron sword from the Llyn Fawr Hoard, Rhigos, Glamorganshire. The Antiquaries Journal, 19 (4). 369- 404

Pardoe, H.S. and Edwards, K. (in prep) Harold Augustus Hyde: pioneering palynologist (provisional title)

Savory, H.N. 1950-1952. The excavation of a Neolithic Dwelling and a Bronze Age cairn at Mount Pleasant Farm, Nottage (Glam.) 75-91. Cardiff Naturalists’’ Society’s Reports and transactions 81, 75-92. Hyde, H.A. Appendix Report on charcoal from the excavations at Mount Pleasant Farm, Pyle, Glamorgan p91-2.

Medieval water management, some experimental archaeology Part II – What happened?

Well, what a day!

I am aching, my hands are full of cuts & splinters and my body has practically seized up. Wading through 100’s of metres of water that is over two feet deep does that to you at my age. I enjoyed it though. The experimental side of things was just that, experimental. Not all is lost though, the lessons learned are that I either get the fire brigade or Territorial Army in to supply me with a serious body of water, or, I wait until the rainy season in Wales (this could be at anytime of the year) and use the drain tracing dye then.

When the soil has been battered by relentless rain I have witnessed the water systems working in full flow. The water erodes any soil build over the dams drain outlet and literally pours straight down it. As you can see from the film, we had to spray the water directly onto the soil hoping that the tracing dye would not be filtered out. As it was the ground was that dry, and the system that long, that nothing came through. Of course, my theory of the dam and drain being of one system could be incorrect but future experiments will prove that either way.  Many thanks go to Neil of  WelshDrainage who not only provided the water for the experiment but also provided the drain dye free of charge. More people running business’ like that are worth their weight in gold to people like us. You can see a very short video of what we did here. That has been edited right down but we will produce a more polished effort when the time is right and we have more time to organise things.

WelshDrainage. What a service in the name of experimental archaeology!

WelshDrainage. What a service in the name of experimental archaeology!

The cleaning of the possible wharf  went well and it sprang up a few surprises. I had only seen it once or twice before and that was at a distance, but as I approached it I realised that it was a larger than I had previously thought.

As you can see, there was a lot of vegetation to clear

The Sisters at the Abbey had kindly invited me for lunch but after lunch at the abbey the only thing you really want to do is sleep. I had around one and half hours to get as much cleared as possible.

The size of the remaining structure really started to show just before lunch

After fish for lunch (well it was a Friday) I started clearing the remaining vegetation which thankfully was mainly ivy rather than brambles, thorns and stinging nettles.  After I had cleared it all away it was possible to start getting some dimensions. Its length was just over fifteen metres with a height of one point eight metres. Interestingly the walls were constructed so they curved back into the banks at either end, probably to enable  the bank to take weight and also to stop the structure being washed away. They also curved towards the bank away from the perpendicular. This feature may have been incorporated to  make berthing easier. It is the direct opposite shape of a curved  hull.

The structure curving away from the perpendicular

That was not all. Spending the amount of time that I had in this area gave me the opportunity to take a good look at the surrounding landscape. As you may have noticed in the above picture the bottom of the Dowlais Brook also contained surviving masonry. Not only that I had noticed that there were walls buried on  the opposite bank. So I cleared all of the vegetation away to get a better view.

Directly opposite the large visible structure, more clues started to appear

I think I shall leave it at that for now. Obviously I have a lot more investigation to carry out and that is on this one structure alone. The day was a success in that I now have more information to work with. What I have suggested may change in time as more and more evidence comes to light although at least I have enabled myself to tighten my research for a  comparable Cistercian structure.