Home >

 

Dig Diary      

The trackway during the trial excavation in March

DIGGING A MEDIEVAL TRACKWAY IN CEREDIGION

During June 2004 Dyfed Archaeological Trust is excavating a timber trackway at Llancynfelyn near Talybont in northern Ceredigion. The trackway was first examined in March 2004 when radiocarbon dates were obtained from two wood samples. These dates indicated that the trackway was built some time between AD 900 and AD 1020.

The trackway is on edge of Cors Fochno (Borth Bog). This is an area of wetland containing both tidal and freshwater marshes and it is a site of great ecological importance. For many years the edges of the marshland have been reclaimed for farming. This process is still continuing and has led to the recent discovery of previously unknown archaeological sites. The waterlogged conditions have allowed the survival of materials, such as wood, that would normally decay over time. One such site is the wooden trackway.

The trackway is visible on the surface as a low bank running across a pasture field. A single trench was excavated across the bank in March of this year. The bank was found to cover a series of timbers forming a walkway about 1.5m wide. The timbers had been laid across two wooden ‘rails’ and the whole structure was supported by a series of wooden pegs or stakes hammered into the peat.

Timber trackways of the kind identified at Llancynfelyn have been recorded and excavated in many areas of Britain and Ireland and have a wide date range from the early Neolithic (over 5000 years ago) through to the Medieval period. The pre-Norman conquest dates for the timber trackway at Llancynfelyn were a considerable surprise and adds to the unusual nature of the discovery. It is possible that the trackway provides a routeway across the marsh toward the church and settlement at Llancynfelyn. The excavation of the trackway will help us to understand woodworking techniques and the way that local woodland was managed for timber during the early medieval period. The excavation will also tell us about the nature of the environment 1000 years ago in this area of Ceredigion.

We would like to thank the farmer, Mr Dilwyn Jenkins, for allowing us to excavate in his field, to Cadw for providing financial support and to the students and staff of the University of Birmingham who are helping with the dig.

This webpage provides regular updates on the progress of the excavation including a ‘dig diary’ and a ‘picture of the day’. We hope that you will share, with the staff and students involved in the dig, in the excitement of discovery ‘as it happens’.

Map showing the location of the excavation

 

Students from the University of Birmingham cleaning the gravel causeway in Trench 4.

Day 1 - June 1st

Most of the day was spent setting up the excavation and the campsite. Ten students from the University of Birmingham arrived in the afternoon and work began removing the topsoil from the excavation by machine. The first area to be opened up was Trench 4 (Trenches 1,2 and 3 were excavated during the trial excavation in March). It was located at the southern end of the trackway and it measured 25m by 10m. The top of the gravel overlying the timber structure was clearly exposed and work began on cleaning this for photography.


Eifion Jenkins removing the topsoil from above the gravel and timber trackway in Trench 5. The work is being carefully watched by the Site Director Nigel Page of Dyfed Archaeological Trust.

Day 2 - June 2nd

The machine moved to the second area to be excavated – Trench 5. This was located near to the northeastern boundary of the field and also measured 25m by 10m. Because this area was in the more waterlogged area of the field it was hoped that the timbers of the trackway would be better preserved. We were not disappointed - the machine soon exposed substantial timber planking. Two fragments of green-glazed pottery, of possible medieval date, were recovered from the overlying gravel. This suggests that the gravel may have been deposited several centuries after the timber trackway had been built. Many thanks to Eifion Jenkins for his expert machining.


Raincoats on! Excavating the burnt wood in Trench 4.

Day 3 – June 3rd

Cleaning continued in both trenches and more of the timber trackway was uncovered. A fragment of possible burnt wood was found in a small pit cut into the trackway in Trench 4. In the afternoon the weather changed with the first rain of the dig. At least it will stop the timbers from drying out!


Excavating a section through the gravel causeway in Trench 4

The timber trackway being uncovered in Trench 5

Day 4 – June 4th

In Trench 4 three sections are being excavated through the gravel causeway to examine its structure and to try and recover dating information (Picture 1).

In Trench 5 work has begun exposing the timber trackway. Several well-preserved timbers have now been uncovered (Picture 2).

The site grid is being established and the site is beginning to look like a proper excavation (Picture 3).

Spirits are high despite the constant drizzle! We have now put the excavation to bed for the weekend (Picture 4) while both students and staff have a well-earned rest.

The diary will resume on Monday.

Hubert Wilson from Dyfed Archaeological Trust setting out the site grid

The exposed timbers are covered with polythene to protect them from the sun (what sun?) over the weekend


The timber trackway beginning to appear under the gravel in Trench 4

The timber trackway in Trench 5

Day 5 - June 7th

The sun is out! We received our first visit from the press – the local newspaper “The Cambrian News.” Hopefully, we will be in Wednesday’s edition. Most of the day was spent uncovering more timbers below the gravel in Trench 4.

Robert Evans of Dyfed Archaeological Trust excavating the ash-filled pit in Trench 4

The spindle Whorl from Trench 4

The film crew from the BBC interviewing Richard Jones of Dyfed Archaeological Trust

Day 6 – June 8th

A very exciting day. The investigation of the pit at the south end of the trackway in Trench 4 continued. It is much larger than we originally thought and is full of ash (Picture 1). More importantly it appears to continue under the wooden trackway and therefore it must be earlier in date. It could be part of some industrial process and may even be Roman in date. A stone spindle whorl was found at the base of the gravel trackway overlying this large pit (Picture 2). Meanwhile a reporter and film crew from the BBC Welsh language Newyddion programme arrived to film the excavation for S4C (Picture 3).

Experts from Lampeter University and from Cadw discussing the possible industrial activity in Trench 4

Ben and Catherine from the University of Birmingham recording a section through the gravel causeway

Day 7 - June 9th

The pit under the trackway in Trench 4 is proving to be very complicated. We are starting to wonder if the possible industrial activity suggested by this pit is related to the lead mining activity at Llancynfelyn. There is an indication that this mining dates back to Roman times. If this is the case then the trackway may have originally provided a route across the marsh between the lead mining and a metal processing area.

We received a visit today by specialists from the Universities of Lampeter, Cardiff and Birmingham and also from Cadw to discuss the progress of the dig.

 

Measuring the peat during the auger survey

The timber slumping into the underlying features

Day 8 - June 10th

Today we received a visit from Talybont Primary School. The children were thrilled to see the excavation on their doorstep.

An auger survey was started. The auger was used to test the depth of the peat and to provide a profile of the edge of the bog (Picture 1).

In Trench 4 the wooden trackway was seen to slump into the underlying and earlier industrial features (Picture 2).

The square hole cut into the timber uncovered in Trench 5

Jo Dyson (Birmingham University) talking to children from Craig Yr Wylfa School

Day 9 - June 11th

An extension to Trench 5 revealed more of the timber trackway. One of the new timbers that was uncovered appears to have a carved square hole in one end (Picture 1). Perhaps this piece of wood was reused in the trackway.

Another school visit – this time from Craig Yr Wylfa School, Borth (Picture 2).


Richard Jones of Dyfed Archaeological Trust with children from Llangynfelyn School

Aberystwyth Young Archaeologists Club working on the excavation during the Open Day on Saturday

Day 10 – June 14th

We spent most of the day recording the timbers and cleaning the site for photography. Toby Driver from the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments in Wales flew over the site to take photographs from the air in the afternoon. We intend to begin lifting the timbers tomorrow.

We continue to receive a lot of interest from the local community and from the media. Over 350 people visited the excavation during our open day on Saturday and the BBC filmed the site again today for the Wales Today news.

A final photograph of the trackway in Trench 5 before lifting

Jemma and Gordon from the University of Lampeter carrying out the gradiometer survey

Nigel Nayling examining timbers in Trench 5

Day 11 – June 15th

Today was a very busy day. After a final photograph of the trackway we began to record and lift the timbers with the assistance of Nigel Nayling and his team from the University of Lampeter. Nigel has already identified several pieces of oak wood. He hopes that it will be possible to obtain tree ring dates from several of the pieces. Meanwhile, another team from Lampeter began a geophysical survey in the area next to the excavation. We hope that this will provide some indication of the extent of the industrial activity at the southern end of the trackway. We continue to receive a number of distinguished visitors.

Stephen Briggs from the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales discussing the dating of bog bodies with the students

 

A cross section of an oak timber showing the tree rings used for dating

Hollie, Ben and Emily – the end is in sight!

Day 12 – June 16th

We are now nearly at the end of the excavation. Astrid Caseldine from the University of Lampeter has been collecting pollen and other samples from the soils associated with the trackway. Meanwhile, Nigel Nayling has obtained some early indication of the tree ring dates from the oak timbers that he collected yesterday (Picture 1). These suggest that three of the timbers are from trees that were felled between AD1080 and AD1120. They are a bit later than the original radiocarbon dates (AD900 - AD1020) but they do suggest that the trackway was a single phase of construction. However, the industrial complex at the southern end of the site is more extensive than we originally thought and has now been identified below that trackway in all areas of Trench 4. The students are continuing to enjoy the excavation (Picture 2).

The excavation from the air. Trench 4 with the industrial activity is in the foreground. Trench 5 is at the top end of the field and Llangynfelyn is at the top of the photograph

Astrid Caseldine taking pollen samples from the peat below the timber in Trench 5

Fragments of the possible furnace lining

Day 13 – June 17th

The last full day of excavation and things were very hectic. Nigel Page (the Site Director from Dyfed Archaeological Trust) has been busy juggling all the last minute jobs and the constant stream of visitors and well-wishers. We have now been sent copies of the aerial photographs that were taken earlier in the week (Picture 1) and further samples were taken for insects and pollen preserved in the peat underlying the trackway (Picture 2). Several fragments of stone with a glazed surface have been found and it is thought that these might be the lining of a furnace (Picture 3). This is perhaps another clue for understanding the nature of the industrial activity at the south end of the trackway. Was there a large metal smelting furnace in the area? Were they smelting lead ore from the mines at Llangynfelyn?

Goodbye from the dig team

Day 14 – June 18th

The dig has now ended. What began as an investigation of a timber trackway ended with the discovery of substantial evidence for industrial activity and possibly a major metal processing and smelting complex. In fact it seems likely that the trackway was built to supply ore from the nearby lead mines at Llangynfelyn. The early indications are that trackway was built between AD1080 and AD1120. However, the industrial works are earlier and may even date back to Roman times. Work will now begin on the examination of all the samples and records collected during the excavation. The latest results on this post-excavation work will be posted on the website in the coming months.

Meanwhile, our sincere thanks go to all the staff and students for their hard work on a very successful excavation. A team photograph with the names of all the participants will appear on the website next week. Thanks are also due to Andy Williams of Orchardweb and to Gill Griffin for the Welsh translations and to Andy Williams for updating the web so promptly on a daily basis. Finally thanks to all the readers who have been following the unfolding story and for all your words of encouragement. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

The Excavation Team: Llangynfelyn 2004

 

 

 

 

[click for navigation menu if not present]