I am Project Officer for the Contracts Section of the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust, based in Bangor. I am also a part-time PhD Student at Manchester Metropolitan University writing my thesis on the topic of 'Medieval Parks, Gardens and Designed Landscapes of Medieval North Wales and North West Shropshire'. You can find out more here http://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/ or help fund my research here http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks

A Typical Day for a Project Officer in North West Wales – Part Two

As the previous post demonstrated, new technology has bugs (or big file sizes)! So, with that in mind, let’s try again 🙂

The late 14th Century Alabaster Tomb of Goronwy ap Tudur and his wife Myfanwy

The late 14th Century Alabaster Tomb of Goronwy ap Tudur and his wife Myfanwy.

Here is a still from the 3D model. It’s very exciting to work with new technology. As someone who’s first excavation was 21 years ago I love seeing how archaeologists can use all these new tools to aid in their every day workload.

As an example, I was recently part of an Open Day organised by Cadw  (@cadwwales on Twitter) at a medieval site on Anglesey called Llys Rhosyr. The Trust attends events like this, and the Anglesey Agricultural Show mentioned previously as part of our remit as an educational charity. Whilst I was there I was interviewed on ‘Periscope’ and you can view the interview here: https://www.periscope.tv/w/1mrxmbVqvZZKy

Gwynedd Archaeological Trust (@GwyneddArch on Twitter) were responsible for excavating Llys Rhosyr in the mid 1990s, and a reconstruction of two of the buildings uncovered is currently being completed at the St Fagans National History Museum near Cardiff and two of the Trust staff – myself included – were on the advisory panel the Museum assembled to ensure the buildings were as accurate as possible inside and out.

A Reconstruction Drawing of Llys Rhosyr, a Welsh Medieval Llys (Court), Anglesey

A Reconstruction Drawing of Llys Rhosyr, a Welsh Medieval Llys (Court), Anglesey. Excavated by Gwynedd Archaeological Trust staff in the 1990s.

After working on the display boards for the morning, this afternoon I have administrative tasks to carry out. As a Project Officer within the Contract or commercial arm of the Trust, I sit between the Project Archaeologists below me, and the Senior Archaeologists and the Principal Archaeologist above. This is never glamorous, but is necessary. In no particular order so far this afternoon I’ve proof read two tender documents for projects in Denbighshire and Conwy the Trust is bidding for; put new vehicle insurance details in the Trust vehicles so staff have them if they need them; updated our Contract Report Library Database and helped one of our Project Archaeologists with some post-excavation work from our Community Archaeology excavation that happened recently: http://www.heneb.co.uk/heddyrynys/blog.html

There is always plenty of variety when you reach this level in your career. In addition to the fieldwork component, where one of my last jobs was to watch the excavation of replica World War I practice trenches to ensure they didn’t encounter any archaeology, I’ve been able to use my experience to turn to new opportunities.

Replica World War I practice trenches being constructed

Replica World War I practice trenches being constructed within post-medieval parkland.

On Monday I’ll be working in my other role as Trust Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme (@findsorguk on Twitter). Each of the four Welsh Archaeological Trusts has a TLO, and they report to the Welsh Finds Liaison Officer who is based in the National Museum Wales in Cardiff. I work two days a month, usually consecutively, in order to identify and process any finds which are brought in as part of the scheme.

The Photography set-up for Portable Antiquities Scheme recording

The Photography set-up for Portable Antiquities Scheme recording within the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust

This usually involves me working in a little photographic studio set up on the top floor of the building. In here I can light finds correctly to take clear photographs, both for our records here at the Trust, but also for inclusion on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (with the Record ID prefix GAT). Items can range from very degraded, broken or abraded items which are difficult to identify, through to this item, which was found complete, on a beach on the Lleyn Peninsula a few months ago.

Complete bronze cauldron, probably medieval in date, handed in as part of the Portable Antiquities Scheme

Complete bronze cauldron, probably medieval in date, handed in as part of the Portable Antiquities Scheme to the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust for recording.

For the remainder of today, I’ll carry on with the Contract Report Library Database to ensure all our records are as accurate as possible and that reports can be found easily when required. Please follow the Trust on social media, you’ll find us here:

Twitter @GwyneddArch


and our website provides information on the services we offer and how you can volunteer and get involved with the work of the Trust: http://www.heneb.co.uk/




A Typical Day for a Project Officer in North West Wales – Part One

I work for the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust, based in Bangor and I live the other side of the country from the office. So it’s an early start of 6:30am for me to drive the 60 miles to work and be there for 8:00am. After getting a cup of tea and switching on the computer, I’ll check what notes I left myself the night before.

This morning my note read “ANGLESEY SHOW BOARDS! AM PLEASE.”

As part of my current workload I am helping with the Outreach work the Trust undertakes, so I am assembling the display boards for our stand at the Anglesey Agricultural Show on the 9th and 10th of August. One thing we want to showcase is our use of 3D modelling from photographs.

This is a recent example of a project the Trust has undertaken. The late 14th Century alabaster tomb of Goronwy ap Tudur and his wife Myfanwy in St.Gredifael’s Church, Penmynydd on Anglesey was beginning to deteriorate. Goronwy is an ancestor of Henry Tudor – otherwise known as King Henry VII of England – and is a powerful example of how important the family were in North West Wales. The Trust took a series of overlapping photographs of the tomb, which are then combined using photo processing software to produce the finished model. This can then be used to aid the conservation programme planned for the tomb to preserve it in the long term.




Castles and Crowdfunding – Part Two

After the site visit this morning, I’ve spent the afternoon at my desk at home writing up part of a chapter of my PhD and deciding what I’m going to blog about in my weekly post. I set up http://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/ to be able to write about experience of PhD research, or research which I’d like to incorporate into my PhD, but for one reason or other probably won’t find a home there. So tonight (I usually do this on a Sunday but this week I won’t be able to) I’ll post up my latest thoughts.

The part of my chapter I have been working on concerns north west Shropshire, which has been included in my study area because it shares very similar topography with north east Wales, but has been under ‘different’ ownership and government for hundreds of years. Within this area are three medieval deer parks which are all within a few miles of each other, and which are all almost identical in size at about 0.3 hectares. I’m not sure why this is yet, but I spent the afternoon looking at the available maps and aerial photographs trying to identify any common characteristics and pattern in their layout. It’s the hardest part of my research, but when I get it right it’s very rewarding.

Finally, I was overjoyed to see that the research and excavation project being run by a fellow PhD student had made it onto the BBC Wales news website. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-west-wales-23458968

Mark Baker has been working on establishing a chronology for the medieval and post medieval house at Brynkir (Longitude 52.969888; Latitude -4.201307). As part of my own research I identified a medieval deer park just to the south east of the house, and realised it related to a motte and bailey castle at Dolbenmaen (Longitude 52.964195; Latitude -4.225157) some  1.5km (0.9 miles) west.


The Park at Brynkir. The elongated oval in the centre of the picture marked in red is the park, and the house is in the trees to the top left of the park boundary.

Subsequently Mark and I agreed that an excavation of the boundary of the deer park would be incorporated in his research excavation this coming August, and my final job of the day has been to ring the BBC journalist in order to arrange to be interviewed on site talking about this discovery.

As I said this morning – the joy of archaeology is you never know what is going to happen next. So, if you are reading about the exploits of archaeologists for the first time or have come to this website to find out more, I hope we’ve all been able to inspire you into finding out more about our discipline.


Castles and Crowdfunding – Part One

The joy of archaeology is that you never know what’s going to happen next, and so far the ‘Day of Archaeology’ has more than lived up to this.

My name is Spencer Gavin Smith, and I live in two archaeological worlds which occasionally cross over. My day job is as a Contract Archaeologist for the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust  http://www.heneb.co.uk/ and my other work is writing my PhD – part time – on the topic of ‘Parks, Gardens and Designed Landscapes of Medieval North Wales and North West Shropshire’.

Yesterday I received a phone call from a journalist with the ‘Daily Post’, which is the daily newspaper for North Wales.  His editor had seen my tweets about my crowd funding page for my PhD http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks# and could he send a photographer to meet me today to take a picture to go with the article he had been asked to write.

So, this morning I met the photographer at Holt Castle (Longitude 53.077958; Latitude -2.880319) to get a picture taken and also to see the excavation work being carried out there by Wrexham County Borough Council and local volunteers from the community.

The castle at Holt is a bit of a hidden gem of North East Wales. You can’t see it from the road through the village of Holt, and for many years it certainly didn’t really look like a castle either. But now, thanks to several heritage organisations working together, this once beautiful building is beginning to reveal its former glory.


Excavation at Holt Castle – with Cadw, Northern Marches Cymru, Wrexham County Borough Council and Holt Local History Society all working in partnership.

As part of my PhD research I’m looking at the relationship of castles to their surrounding landscape and at Holt there is an excellent survival of the relationship between Holt Castle and its Little Park.

Little Parks (sometimes known as Inner Parks) were constructed next to castles for the enjoyment of the owners, so they could look out of their castle windows and into their park, or ride with invited guests through the park looking at the castle as a backdrop.

DSC_4132 crop

The view out from the apartments into the Little Park, the original boundary is the line of trees across the image with the park starting behind them.

This morning I spoke to the Excavation Director, Stephen Grenter, to find out what this year’s excavations had revealed, and this afternoon I’ll be working on another part of my PhD research.



Parks, Gardens and Designed Landscapes of Medieval North Wales and North West Shropshire

My name is Spencer Gavin Smith and I am writing my PhD thesis on ‘Parks, Gardens and Designed Landscapes of Medieval North Wales and North West Shropshire’. I’m using a combination of archaeology, history, literature and the visual arts to tell the story of the development of these landscapes during the medieval period. I’m particularly interested in the social relationships which existed between the English and Welsh royal and noble families and how their relationships can manifest themselves in the archaeological record.

Today I’m working on the PhD chapter which looks at designed landscapes. These can be temporary landscapes, for example a field full of tents for a diplomatic meeting or a tournament, which are removed once business has been concluded; or they can be permanent landscapes, for example, where a castle is constructed which has built into it a particular set of meanings which will be understood by people visiting the site subsequently.

The featured image shows the survey carried out of a motte and bailey castle in North-East Wales called Sycharth. It is most famous for being the home of Owain Glyn Dŵr, who led a revolt in the 15th century against the English Crown. But, the castle has a much longer history than just that one event.

The image shows the results of a metal detecting survey carried out, and the finds are mapped out in two colours to distinguish between ferrous (iron) and non-ferrous finds (brass, tin or copper for example). Some of these finds are likely to date from a meeting which was held here in the early 13th century. By looking at the chemical composition of the ferrous finds it might be possible to identify different metalworking techniques and sources of the iron, and these could be compared to other ferrous finds which have been made in other parts of Wales and the rest of Britain.



A Day in the Life of an Investigator for the RCAHMW – Part III

After finishing my talk for the National Eisteddfod I went back to working on the Atlanterra Project. As part of the work I need to carry out for the project I have to prepare entries for Coflein.

Coflein http://www.coflein.gov.uk/ is the online database for the National Monuments Record of Wales (NMRW), the national collection of information about the historic environment of Wales. The name is derived from the Welsh cof (memory) and lein (line). Coflein allows access to details of many thousands of archaeological sites, monuments, buildings and maritime sites in Wales, together with an index to the drawings, manuscripts and photographs held in the NMRW archive collections.

The survey work at Maenofferen Slate Mine (see earlier blog post) involved recording all the standing buildings and structures for ‘preservation by record’. Each of the standing buildings or structures is given a number – known as an NPRN – and each of the standing buildings or structures requires a site description entry.

Some of these entries can be quite simple, and describe the general history of the site, and any other documents which might have been consulted in writing the entry. Other entries can be much more complex and describe in significant detail the building or structure and any modifications or rebuilds it may have gone through during its life.

Maenofferen Slate Mine is a very complex site and is still in operation today. Given that the site began working in the 1860s, there are several phases which need understanding and writing up. The rest of the afternoon was spent checking through entries I’d already written, and making sure I’d got an entry for each of the buildings and structures which needed them – and also ensuring that I’d checked all the Ordnance Survey maps on our GIS (Geographical Information System) for anything which might not have been recorded on the maps, plans and photographs I’d already looked at. 

On the train journey home I was looking over a series of articles written on medieval licences to crenellate – which was a grant that gave permission for a building to be fortified. I was trying to see whether any of the castles I am looking at were given licences to crenellate, and I found one – so I’ll have to get the full reference for it so I can use it in my PhD.

The last bit of work I did this evening was to write this blog entry and a final check of my e-mails. Tomorrow is the weekend, but I’ll still be working on the papers I was reading through on the train this morning. And really, that’s why I’m an archaeologist. I’m fascinated by people and how they lived their lives, and I enjoy reading about them whether its the weekend or not.


A Day in the Life of an Investigator for the RCAHMW – Part II

Today I’ve had several different pieces of work to do, which makes it an average day for me.

After my morning cup of tea, I set about checking my work e-mails. The project I work for, the Atlanterra Project, are in the process of submitting the next financial claims for the work that has been done since January 2011. As part of this I have make sure I have all the relevant paperwork ready to upload, and this morning my in-tray contained some of the papers I needed, as well several e-mail attachments of previous project business meetings. Whilst it might not sound very glamorous and archaeology like, the project management element of work like this is very important, if perhaps not the most exciting part of the day. I do enjoy it though, as it helps me plan ahead for the next year of the project and work out how, when, why, where and what I’ll spend the project money on.

The Atlanterra Project is a European funded project with ten project partners from five countries (Wales, France, Spain, Portugal and the Republic of Ireland) working together to preserve and promote post-medieval mining heritage.

Among the work being carried out are projects on the creation of geological gardens; reconstruction and preservation of mining machinery; surveying and archaeologically recording mining complexes and collectively working on how best to provide public access to the information collected and diseminated during the life of the project. My own particular role within the project is to provide expert advice and guidance to the other project partners on ‘Physical and Digital Data Capture, Storage and Tender Specification’. Basically, if you want a site surveying, have you actually considered why it need to be done and what you will do with the data (which could be CAD drawings, CGI animations, or someone with a tape measure, ruler and piece of paper) once you have asked someone to collect it for you?

As part of my work on the Atlanterra Project, I carry out fieldwork surveying and recording mining heritage sites which are at risk. Two of the sites I have been out to survey as part of this work are Maenofferen Slate Mine, near Blaenau Ffestiniog:


and Mynydd Nodol Manganese Mine, near Bala:


After that, I worked on a talk I am giving at the National Eisteddfod next Tuesday. The National Eisteddfod moves around Wales each year, and this year is being hosted in my home town, Wrexham. With that in mind the RCAHMW Education Officer asked me if I could prepare something for a general audience. I decided to prepare something on one of the RCAHMW projects which is being prepared for publication – in some for or another – in the long term. That project is the The Workers’ Houses of Wales Project. You can find details of four of our National Projects here:



and details of my talk at the Eisteddfod here:



Because my first language is Welsh, I’ve also been asked by CADW: Welsh Historic Monuments if I will guide a walking tour of the village of Cefn Mawr, near Wrexham, to explain its character and history. Details of my walk can be found here: 




A Day in the Life of an Investigator for the RCAHMW

My name is Spencer Gavin Smith and I work as an Investigator for the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments for Wales, based in Aberystwyth. I’m also working on my PhD on the topic of ‘Parks, Gardens and Designed Landscapes of Medieval Wales and the Marches’. So my posts through the day will reflect either my job (which I love), or what I do for academic fun! (which I also love).

Today, as on most days, I’ve checked my e-mails at home to see if I’ve received anything archaeologically or historically useful from my friends in America and Canada. If I have, then I know it’s there for me to look at when I get home from work. I’ve promised a friend some archaeological and historical information on 16th and 17th Century deer hunting practices for her to look at and we can compare to how deer hunting is portrayed in Robin Hood ballads of the same period, so it’s a useful trade of information.

I’ve caught the train to work, so I tend to use the hour and a half to work on any academic papers I have on the go. At the moment I’m writing up, editing or proof reading papers on Medieval Leper Houses in North Wales; Post-Medieval occupation of Castles which had fallen out of use and no longer functioned as castles and the structural history of a medieval parish church in Cheshire.