Wales

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.

 

 

Into the Bronze Age, commercial excavations at Llanfaethlu Anglesey

Since 2014 C.R Archaeology have been the principle archaeologist at the new school development at Llanfaethlu Anglesey on behalf of Anglesey council. A desk based assessment, geophysics and trenching uncovered a large amount of late #Neolithic pit and a possibly #Neolithic house. Further evaluation in 2015 led to the discovery of three #Neolithic houses,the largest Neolithic settlement in Wales.

As of June 2016 C.R Archaeology have been carrying out a watching brief on behalf the construction company. To the south of the #Neolithic settlement this watching brief uncovered a large group of early #Bronzeage pits and a classic #Bronzeage feature in #Wales a Burnt mound.

A break in construction this week has given the opportunity to start processing the large amount of pottery and stone artifacts.

Melancholy mud

This is what an archaeologist looks like at the bottom of a canal!

This day of archaeology found me near the bottom of Trebanos Lower Lock on the long-disused Swansea Canal. Abandoned in 1931, only five miles of this 16-mile-long industrial archaeology site still resemble a waterway, the remainder being culverted or infilled. But the Swansea Canal Society is trying to breathe life into what remains, and I’ve just led 15 volunteers on a week-long Canal Camp organised by the Waterway Recovery Group (I’m writing this in our temporary accommodation, a scout hut).

For me as an archaeologist the canal is hugely interesting: its construction, its evolution over its 150 years of operation, its place in the historic environment and the material culture of those who used it, lived near it or have since utilised it as a place to deposit rubbish. Excavating an approx. 0.5m thick deposit of garbage at the bottom of the canal has revealed everything from C19th ceramics to C21st crisp packets.

The difference between this and most ‘normal’ archaeological sites is that at the end of the excavation our pointing trowels are used for…pointing. I’ve spent the last couple of days repointing the lock sides with lime mortar.

I find this mixture of discarded stuff, industrial monument, fading memory and economic neglect rather melancholy. The Swansea Canal Society are hugely friendly, enthusiastic people full of hope that one day the canal will be more than an overgrown ditch with short lengths of placid waterway, but they face what seems an almost impossible task. And the never-ending jumble of beer cans, supermarket trolleys, old tyres, Victorian pottery, plastic bags, bottles, bicycles and the like at the bottom of the canal is depressing evidence of changes in local fortune and attitudes. 150 years ago the canal was crowded with barges filled with the products of this Welsh valley, and it wound amongst huge factories and lively communities. Now only dragonflies hawk up and down its waters, and only joggers and dog walkers use its towpath.

Yet perhaps I should not be too melancholy. We are still learning more about the canal and its times even as we fill the joints between its stones with lime mortar, and the restoration efforts gradually remind us of its value to the present and future. As I pore over the assortment of ceramic fragments we’ve dredged up, I feel proud and privileged to be associated with this project. And it is good to use my trowel for both uncovering the past and creating something for the future.

Rainy day

Day of Archaeology 2015 begins slowly. Yesterday we spent all day in the sunshine, completing the site plan of a curious series of irregular pits, packed with burnt grain, charcoal and heat-shattered stones. These are evidently medieval, on the grounds that a single medieval pottery sherd was found in the mix! Explaining why the pits are where they are and what exactly was going on may prove more difficult. We have bulk samples for study and charcoal to radiocarbon date. This will take time to unpick.

No outdoor activity today whatsoever. Its raining steadily. So a day in front of computers it will be. We have several assessments to undertake for single, on-farm, wind turbines. We also have a trip to plan for next week, up to Shropshire, to dig some evaluation trenches on anomalies picked up by a geophysical survey on the proposed site of a small solar farm.

2015, like 2014, is largely about renewable energy projects. Now the British government seems determined to roll back the progress made by the renewable sector. This bizarre development may well impact upon the archaeology sector, as many firms undertake work associated with renewable energy developments. This comes on top of the threat to take brownfield sites out of the planning system in England. Even here in West Wales we sense that the cold winds of austerity are starting to blow through the world of the archaeologist. So Day of Archaeology 2015 comes at a time when the future for our sector is somewhat clouded by uncertainty. But we plod on…

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rainy day in southwest wales

Day of Archaeology 2015 begins slowly. Yesterday we spent all day in the sunshine, completing the site plan of a curious series of irregular pits, packed with burnt grain, charcoal and heat-shattered stones. These are evidently medieval, on the grounds that a single medieval pottery sherd was found in the mix! Explaining why the pits are where they are and what exactly was going on may prove more difficult. We have bulk samples for study and charcoal to radiocarbon date. This will take time to unpick.
No outdoor activity today whatsoever. Its raining steadily. So a day in front of computers it will be. We have several assessments to undertake for single, on-farm, wind turbines. We also have a trip to plan for next week, up to Shropshire, to dig some evaluation trenches on anomalies picked up by a geophysical survey on the proposed site of a small solar farm.
2015, like 2014, is largely about renewable energy projects. Now the British government seems determined to roll back the progress made by the renewable sector. This bizarre development may well impact upon the archaeology sector, as many firms undertake work associated with renewable energy projects. This comes on top of the threat to take brownfield sites out of the planning system in England, even here in West Wales we sense that the cold winds of austerity are starting to blow through the world of the archaeologist. So Day of Archaeology 2015 comes at a time when the future for our sector is somewhat clouded by uncertainty. But we plod on…

“Poultry”: a little canal archaeology.

I spent my day of archaeology on/in one of Britain’s wonderful linear archaeological sites – the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. Two hundred and something years old, and dug to link steep-sided industrial valleys with the sea at Newport, the canal carried coal, iron and bricks and was pretty much abandoned well before WWII. Some 33 miles of the Brecon and Abergavenny Canal have been navigable since the 1970s, but that section that has only six locks. By contrast, the remaining 20 miles of the Monmouthshire Canal between Cwmbran and Newport, together with the section up the long-truncated Crumlin Arm, include some 74 locks as the waterway climbs in two branches from sea level.

During its working life, during which a web of tramways delivered the outpourings of the dozens of mines and collieries that once clustered along the valleys, people, the raw material of archaeology, lived on and beside the canal. As usual they left ample evidence of their presence – a scatter of artefacts that we disturb as we work to restore the canal. On the Day of Archaeology I was leading a Waterway Recovery Group Canal Camp, a week-long gathering of 19 volunteers, young and not so young, all intent on getting suitably muddied, weatherbeaten, blistered, sore-muscled, insect-bitten, wet, parched, chilled and sweaty as we bashed recalcitrant vegetation, extracted tree stumps like giant molars, hauled around back-breakingly huge chunks of masonry, laid and repointed acres of stonework and dug heavy puddling clay to seal leaks.

This isn’t an archaeological site that features nice stratigraphy. For over a century it was a work site, constantly being repaired, dredged and altered. But it was also the lock keepers’ and boat families’ back yard, where they discarded their garbage and cultivated their vegetable patches fertilised with “night soil”, human waste and sweepings collected from their privies. So as we dig through the jumble of redeposited soils beside the locks to lay the foundations of the hopefully restored canal (it will be at least a decade before boats once again ply these weedy waters) we find a scatter of small sherds of nineteenth century pottery, along with a few traces of more recent picnicking. There is also a fair amount of rusty ironwork – nails, bolts and staples that were discarded during the regular replacement and repair of lock gates and other timber structures.

Last year a preliminary excavation beside “Shop Lock”, at Ty Coch near Cwmbran, revealed the foundations of what had presumably been a nineteenth century carpentry workshop (hence the lock’s name) complete with a saw pit in fine condition.

 
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On the Canal Camp I attract curious glances from my fellow volunteers, who are more concerned with lime mortar and mattocks than historical archaeology, as I hover, vulture-like, over heaps of muddy soil and dredged silt, occasionally pouncing on a fragment of blue and white pottery. Eventually most of them join in the search. This week, amongst the Asiatic Pheasant and Willow Pattern we found several sherds of a platter bearing a great design entitled “Poultry”, an interesting comment on what themes were popular during the nineteenth century! I can’t see “Poultry” being a big seller in John Lewis these days…

 
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Although the heritage of the standing structures of our canal system is recorded and studied, not much work seems to have been carried out on the buried evidence. Yet artefacts from different locations and contexts along the canals may tell us a little more about those who built them as well as those who lived on and alongside them. For instance, material found in 2012 beside the Swansea canal appears, at an initial glance, to reflect the change from locally-manufactured wares to Staffordshire products that I think occurred in the first half of the nineteenth century.

So far this has been a personal salvage activity, a sideline of a necessary focus on rescue and restoration rather than detailed archaeological recording. It would be good to have the opportunity to approach the archaeology of the canal in a more methodical manner. For example, can concentrations of material be identified, and can these be related to now-vanished structures such as lock-keepers’ cottages, occupation areas, temporary construction sites or vegetable gardens? I’m working on it…

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

My Day July 11th 2014

I work as a County Archaeologist for a small Unitary Authority in north east Wales. I have been here for 18 years, I am the sole archaeologist and work within a Countryside Team. I am also Chair of the Association of Local government Archaeological Officers UK.

What has my day been like on july 11th? well it started by wishing my husband ‘Happy Birthday’. Once in the office, sadly on a bright and sunny day, I checked emails, sent some about an upcoming caves seminar I am arranging and then moved onto a couple of outstanding planning consultations. These were relatively straightforward. In the middle of this a County Councillor, our lead Member, came in to talk about details for a community walk I am leading next week for a group that he is involved with. We will be visiting a rather damaged chambered tomb, this reminded me to contact the site owner to arrange a recce trip before next Thursday! I then remembered that I am out of the office next Monday so had better sort out the activities I need for a school trip to a hillfort in the Clwydian Range which is happening first thing on Tuesday.

Back to an email I had avoided doing anything about, it relates to a community excavation in a neighbouring authority, which I have liaised with on behalf of the Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust, a bit awkward as the project design for the work is thin to say the least…………at the same time I could report back to CPAT about work which is taking place at a local churchyard where colleagues are rebuilding the boundary wall.

After a quick walk to the post office the afternoon started with the monthly meeting of another community archaeology group who have funding to continue some excavations adjacent to a hillfort in the Clwydian Range, they will be working at the same time as two University excavations on two other nearby hillforts are taking place, so hopefully they will all be able to visit each others sites. July 12th sees the start of Festival of British Archaeology and over the weekend I have arranged for medieval re-enactors to be camped at a local Country Park, some of the group had arrived so I was able to show them where their site would be and also show them the field where the ‘plastic’ camp site would be. That I thought was that for the day until at 9pm I had a call to say that the camp site was not ideal, I tried to sort things out but worried until arriving on site this morning…..to discover that all was fine. Festival of British Archaeology is a time when I try to arrange a lot of activities for families and walks for others, so next week the fun begins.

Digital Archaeology from the Air

Hi, I’m Helen. I’m actually a computer scientist rather than an archaeologist, working on a project called `HeritageTogether’, which is all about creating 3D models of prehistoric sites in Wales. The project is run jointly between archaeologists and computer scientists at Bangor, Aberystwyth and Manchester Metropolitan Universities – I work as a researcher in Aber.

We are making the models using photographs of the site and a process called photogrammetry which matches up the features in photographs and can automatically create the model. While the project is mainly based on photographs contributed by the general public, we sometimes go out to survey some sites ourselves.

To help with our surveying, we have an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) – a remotely controlled flying vehicle that carries a camera; a hexacopter (it has six rotors) to be specific.

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Today we were visiting two sites on Anglesey in North Wales – the Lligwy burial chamber and Din Lligwy settlement near Moelfre.

Lligwy burial chamber was the first site we visited. It is a Neolithic tomb made up of eight upright stones supporting a huge capstone which is estimated to weigh at least 25 tonnes.

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We flew the hexacopter above the burial chamber, getting a number of photos of the top of the capstone. Once we had done some aerial photography, we landed and photographed the site on foot.

After we had finished photographing the burial chamber we went a little further down the road to reach the Din Lligwy settlement. The settlement is a group of circular and rectangular building from the Romano-British period, enclosed in a large outer wall. We flew above the site, first taking photographs then also capturing a video, which you’ll be able to see on our website soon!

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The models will take a short while to process, but we will have them up in our gallery for you to have a look at soon. Thanks for reading!

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