Llantarnam Abbey (one for the students)

D’ya know, I should never be surprised anymore?

This is the third year of The Day of Archaeology and each year I actually blog on what I do for the day – on that particular day. I don’t explain my work in a museum, explain my past or most recent archaeological research, nor do I blog my perception on what this day is actually about. All I know is  The Day of Archaeology is about our heritage, it is a shared thing world wide, and one that we can all grasp in one way or another. And it is important for various reasons that not need to be explained here.

For the last four years I have undertaken a landscape study of a Cistercian Abbey in south east Wales. The abbey has an interesting ‘historical identity’ that is latched onto by some in academia and the public alike. It was small, skint and had no  real impact on its surrounding landscape. It can be waved away with a flutter  of the archaeological hand coupled with a muttering of  ‘So what? It is Llantarnam’. It does not help that the grounds of the abbey happened to end up within the boundary of  a post WWII New-town where every thing had to be ‘new’. No watching briefs, no excavations and the general dearth of historical research was sadly wanton. The lack of serious investigation into its archaeological value should be a wake up to us all.

Instead of embroiling myself into the political crapness that is archaeology in the Eastern Valley in Torfaen (Gwent or Monmouthshire in old speak), let us have a look at what that particular order is renowned for within their immediate land holdings. It is water management.

Now that is boring to a lot of people but there is no need for such disdain. If you follow the systems, you find archaeological remains. It is a simple concept. And I don’t mean walking on banks next to, or along,  leats, streams or rivers either. The world, and his archaeological brother and sister, has done that already. If you want to investigate water systems, the best way to do that is actually get in the systems and walk down (or up) them. It is then, and only then, that you can visibly investigate and find some serious archaeological remains.

Last summer was earmarked for the recording of such findings. It didn’t happen due to a few broken and dislocated bones. This year it has happened, and I am quite happy to admit my pleasant surprise at what has been uncovered. What you are about to see is why I have no more surprise while doing this stuff. It is all rather big.

You can go from this:-

To this:-


A cleaned feature

And that is quite exciting when you consider nothing has been recorded in this particular landscape.

For The Day of Archaeology  2013 I looked at this feature which I thought was small (again), much to my incompetent (still) thought. It is a sluice gate within the grounds of Llantarnam Abbey.

Again, you can go from this:-

To this:-

I consider this sort of investigation to be of a semi-invasive nature. Without doubt the remains that are visible are multi-period and only a serious, long term, archaeological investigation will let us all understand the exact nature of the remains. Cistercian water management appears to get a bad press from many areas. There is no need for that whatsoever. When you understand these old systems, it can lead to solving many flooding problems that cause so much heartbreak today. As they are no longer managed, they flood in a considerable manner. This is a school route next to a mismanaged historical water system.



For my last note, I have to point out to everybody the health and safety aspect of this sort of study, it is very dangerous. Many historical water systems are still in use today. Storm water, street drainage and road run off are directed into current systems that had a successful, but managed use, many years ago.

You really do not want to get caught up in this sort of stuff. Be careful people, be careful…


David Standing.

University of South Wales – Caerleon Campus.