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Llangwm, Pembrokeshire Excavation Dig Diary 2016

Dyfed Archaeological Trust has been commissioned by Heritage Llangwm to carry out an archaeological investigation at Great Nash near Llangwm.  The house at Great Nash was the family seat of the De La Roche family, who were descended from an important Flemish family who were allowed to occupy lands in west Pembrokeshire by Henry I in the early 12th century, not that the native Welsh inhabitants were consulted on this. 

The Heritage Llangwm Project has grown out of the need to conduct essential repairs to St. Jerome's Church in Llangwm.  In addition to this work the project aims to research more into the De La Roche family, the Flemish occupation and their cultural influences.  The results of the project will be used to provide information on this little known, but very important part of Pembrokeshire's history.

Dyfed Archaeological trust has been working with volunteers to undertake a geophysical survey of the walled garden at Great Nash House and targeted trenching to hopefully discover more about its medieval past.  Our greatest hope is that we find material which can be directly related to Flanders, hopefully in the form of imported pottery our search begins.

Heritage Llangwm Project Website - http://www.heritagellangwm.org.uk/index.html

Week 1:

11th to 15th April: Geophysical survey within the walled garden and field to the south

The first week at Great Nash was started with clearance of the walled garden, moving brambles, broken branches and spoil heaps. This enabled a larger area of the walled garden to be surveyed.

Clearing the garden, with Rob showing off one of our first finds – a complete Denby ware saucer c.1970

The geophysical survey was undertaken using a gradiometer, which measures very slight fluctuations in the magnetic field below ground which can indicate the presence of archaeological features such as pits, ditches or walls. The surveys are undertaken over a measured grid so that the results can be plotted on a map and allow interpretation of the results. We were able to train volunteers to lay out grids and use the gradiometer.

Using the gradiometer within the walled garden

Gradiometer survey of the field to the south, with Great Nash house behind

The results of the survey in the field have shown the former extent of the walled garden, which was formerly over twice the size it is now. Other field boundaries corresponding with 19th century mapping were also identified. A large north to south aligned linear feature (possible ditch) was also seen running through the site which is not shown on any other maps; this extends into the walled garden area. In both the walled garden and field a number of pits were identified.

The plot of the walled garden survey has enabled us to identify areas for trial trenching.

Throughout the week we have been picking up small sherds of medieval pottery from the field to the south of the walled garden, which bodes well.

Geophysical survey results

Week 2:

18th and 19th April: Opening the trenches

The second week started with the hand excavation of two trenches targeting ditches and pits identified on the geophysical survey. The trenches were de-turfed and then our volunteers were introduced to the mattock and shovel. Good progress was made over the two days to remove a thick layer of garden soil from the trenches onto the possible archaeological levels below. Lots of finds have been recovered, mostly of modern date, but with a good number of medieval pottery sherds too.

Heather and Mike begin de-turfing Trench 2

Dilys removes the last turf from Trench 1

20th April:

Today we have been hand cleaning the trenches, with many of our volunteers learning the art of trowelling. Both the trenches are starting to show features: a possible pit with large sherds of later medieval pottery in Trench 1 and a probable ditch with lots of small bits of stone in Trench 2. Not content, we decide to open a smaller third trench – which unfortunately seems to be covered in a far deeper topsoil than the other trenches.

Kim, Jacqui, Mike and Heather trowelling Trench 1

21st April:

Today we have realised that the archaeology in the western half of Trench 1 is far shallower than that in the eastern halves. A good number of sherds of medieval pottery were recovered from the western half of the trench and other features identified, including the remains of a stone wall. In the eastern half yet more garden soil needs to be removed before we hit the archaeological levels.

We have identified a pit in Trench 2 and the remains of a former apple tree. The suspected stone filled ditch has proved more difficult to define and work continues here.

During the morning we had a visit from Cleddau Reach School who were told about the work we were doing and given the opportunity to try their hand at field-walking, trowelling and searching spoil heaps for finds. They seemed to enjoy their visit and may have encouraged budding archaeologists of the future. In the afternoon Llangwm History Society were given a guided tour of the site.

Mike, Rob W, Heather, Jen, Jane, Fiona, Rob L and Alice hard at work in Trench 1

Heather starts to uncover the wall

Guided tour of the site by the Llangwm History Society

22nd April:

Our first day of drizzly weather, although I am very grateful that this did not put off any of our volunteers. More pottery has been recovered from Trench 1, including a number of conjoined pieces seeming to be part of a medieval jar. A small pit with an animal burial in has also been excavated, probably not of any great date and presumably a pet of a former owner of Great Nash. Hard work in the eastern end of the trench is getting us closer down to the archaeology which we will hopefully complete tomorrow.

The pit in Trench 2 has been completed and a posthole identified. The ditch is no longer stone filled, and is likely to represent a field boundary pre-dating the walled garden.

Also braving the weather in the morning were pupils from Hook School, who were given a site tour and told about the work of the archaeologists, and they undertook field-walking. We avoided trowelling today due to the wet ground conditions to avoid them getting too muddy, although their extreme enthusiasm for looking for finds in the spoil heaps meant that many of them left site covered in mud anyway! More archaeologists of the future?

At lunchtime we were visited by the local MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, Stephen Crabb (Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) who was doing a tour of the Heritage Llangwm project, including the Tapestry and the works at St Jerome’s Church. He was most impressed with the extent of community engagement that the project has encouraged.

Rob carefully cleaning around the medieval pottery prior to lifting

Stephen Crabb MP with Pam Hunt and Liz Rawlings of Heritage Llangwm at the site

23rd and 24th April:

Work on Saturday included the excavation of a pit containing the burial of two small mammals, perhaps the pets of former owners of Great Nash house.  Our youngest volunteer, Dylan, was lucky enough to find a large rim of a medieval cooking pot during his morning on-site.

Although Sunday was our day of rest, the site director could not resist spending the afternoon at the site with his son Oscar to make the most of the good weather.  Work was concentrated on ground reduction at the eastern end of Trench 1 where a depth of garden soil still needed to be removed to get to the archaeological levels below.  Two features were revealed. 

Pit containing the buried remains of two small mammals

Oscar digging down in the eastern end of Trench 1

25th April:

The two features in the eastern end of Trench 1 were excavated, and both contained medieval pottery.  A possible continuation of the short stretch of wall at the western end of Trench 1 may now be visible in the form of a robber trench, where good building stone has been taken away for use elsewhere, but the foundation trench remains.

In Trench 2, the western half has now been completed and recorded.  In the eastern half we have now confirmed the presence of a pair of ditches which seem to correspond with the feature recorded by the geophysical survey running northwards from the field to the south.

Eileen, Liz, Jen, Rob, Dorothy and David hard at work

Jim and Jude discuss the stratigraphy in Trench 2

26th April:

A good day, despite the wind and cold, but at least the rain kept away.  The site is drawing to an end and we have completed excavating the majority of features and areas in Trench 1.  Or so we thought.

Our wall has now been uncovered across the whole trench, with a possible neater outer face to the west, possibly indicating it was the outer wall of a building.  Clay layers to the east could indicate the remains of very rough earth floors, suggesting an out building to an earlier phase of Great Nash House.  Medieval pottery has been recovered from the soils covering the wall.

A small test slot was excavated through a layer of soil, presumed to be natural ground, near the centre of the trench.  This would appear to be a build up of hill-wash (or colluvium) which built up well before the medieval period.  A number of struck flints were recovered from the layer.  It would seem our medieval site overlies a much earlier prehistoric one! We will not disturb any more of this earlier site and leave it preserved underground.

The base of a medieval cooking pot was recovered from the ditch being excavated in Trench 2, with more of the feature yet to be excavated.  Hopefully more pottery will be found when we complete this tomorrow.

Jude, Liz and Rob uncover the wall

Graham with the pot base found in Trench 2

A few of the flints found within the lower layers in Trench 1

27th April:

As the site draws to a close we are doing more recording than excavating.  Some of the volunteers have learnt the joys of planning, section drawing and levels.  We have excavated a small amount more of the hill-wash layer containing the flints, to get an idea of its depth.  All of the soil has been sieved and we now have 60 struck flints, likely to be of Mesolithic date.  We have completed the clean of the wall and also continued to excavate the ditch in Trench 2, with yet more pottery found possibly all from the same vessel.

Jon tries to keep positive whilst sieving.  Thankfully he did find a flint a few minutes later.

The wall in Trench 1

28th April:

It has been slightly unfair that the coldest weather comes when we have the least physical tasks to do.  We are very grateful that our volunteers persevered through the cold to draw almost all of the sections and plans we needed to complete the site today.  All went very well, until it was time to leave when we found that we had misplaced our van keys.  Alice and I had a frantic, but unsuccessful search of the site and spoil heaps. We were eventually rescued and got the spare set of keys, but ended up being a much longer day on-site than was intended (and apologies to everyone at the event I missed at Dol-Y-Bont, Borth in the evening).

John and Lesley recording in Trench 1

Fiona and Jen recording in trench 2

29th April:

The final day on-site was meant to be a quick finish off and clear up.  As ever we had underestimated the amount of work left!  Although a long day, this may have been due to the very pleasant and long lunch we had with Liz Rawlings.  With all context sheets done, section and plans drawn, and a final clean up and photo of the area of flints (final count 70), it was time to pack up the equipment and site tent.  We did this in record time as we could see a very large and dark rain cloud approaching.

Overall the site has been an immense success and we hope that all of our volunteers enjoyed the experience and learnt a bit more about the archaeological process.  Not only have we obtained lots of information on the medieval use of the site but also stumbled across a very important Mesolithic site lying underneath! 

Many thanks from Alice and I to the following for their hard work and commitment to the project: Barbara, David A, David M, David S, David Sc, Dilys, Dorothy, Dylan, Eileen, Emma, Fiona C, Fiona H, Gail, Geoff, Graham, Heather, Jacqui, Jane, Jen, John, Jon, Jude, Kim H, Kim S, Lesley, Liz, Llinos, Margaret, Maureen, Mike, Oscar, Patrick, Richard, Rob L, Rob W, Sian and Tony (apologies if I have missed anyone).  A big thank you to Liz and Pam of Heritage Llangwm for organising the project and allowing us to be involved; and especially to Will Scale and his family for allowing us to undertake the work at Great Nash (and his dog Ben for being a regular companion on-site).


A final view of Trench 1

The site tent and van before packing





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