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Ffynonwen Dig Diary 2006     

 

PREHISTORIC AND ROMAN DEFENDED FARMSTEADS IN SOUTH CEREDIGION
EXCAVATION AT FFYNNONWEN AND GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY

Aerial photograph of the Ffynnonwen enclosure (RCAHMW © Crown Copyright 96-cs-0997)

 

Geophysical plot the Ffynnonwen enclosure

A number of crop-marked enclosures of later prehistoric and Romano-British date have been recognised through aerial photography in south Ceredigion. The late prehistoric settlement of southwest Wales is characterised by hillforts and smaller defended enclosures. Typically these consist of defensive banks and ditches enclosing an oval area. Rarely, some enclosures are rectangular. During the course of the discovery in south Ceredigion it became increasingly clear that a high proportion of the enclosures (32 out of 59) were rectangular.

The rectangular enclosures are remarkably similar with ditches 3m to 5m wide enclosing an area 45m to 55m across and an entrance mid-way along one side. Although the ditches indicate a defensive function, rectangular enclosures are not located in defensive locations; most in south Ceredigion are sited on hill-slopes often just below a summit.

During the summer of 2004 a geophysical survey on eight sites (See report in PDF format - opens in a new window) demonstrated that important below ground archaeology is likely to survive in addition to the enclosure ditches. In particular, circular gullies, probably indicating the location of round-houses, hearths, post-holes and internal divisions of the enclosures were detected on some sites.

In the summer of 2005, Troedyrhiw was selected for excavation on the basis that it was a good example of a rectangular enclosure and one where the geophysical survey demonstrated that below ground archaeology is likely to survive. Artefacts are not common on prehistoric sites in west Wales. However, the most likely location for finds is in the ditch ends close to the entrance. Therefore this area was chosen for excavation. Geophysical survey was also undertaken on four other sites, including oval enclosures as well as rectangular ones.

In 2006, the site of Ffynnonwen (also known as Waunlle) was chosen for excavation. This is a circular enclosure located within a much larger oval enclosure. Geophysical survey indicated the presence of at least four round-houses within the circular enclosure. It was decided to apply a similar strategy as at Troedyrhiw - excavating the entrance ditch terminals and a small part of the interior of the inner enclosure.

The project is being undertaken in collaboration with the University of York. It is grant-aided by Cadw. The excavations at Ffynnonwen are allowed by the kind permission of John and Helen Thomas.

 

Andy Greef marking out the Ffynnonwen excavation
Andy Greef marking out the Ffynnonwen excavation

Lloyd Bosworth and Richard Jemicz discussing the geophysical survey at Berry
Lloyd Bosworth and Richard Jemicz discussing the geophysical survey at Berry

 

Day 1 - July 16th

The first day was a setting up day – getting tools to the site and marking out the trenches for the following day’s excavation. The site lies close to the top of a rounded hill from which fine views are obtained, with the Preseli Mountains visible to the south, the Irish Sea to the west, and Snowdonia to the north.

Geophysical survey on a selection of Iron Age enclosures is being undertaken. An inland promontory fort at Berry near Newport in Pembrokeshire was selection as the first site this year. This site was partially surveyed in 2005, but was abandoned due to equipment failure.


Topsoil stripping at Ffynnonwen
Topsoil stripping at Ffynnonwen

 

Day 2 - July 17th

Topsoil was machine removed from about 70% of the Ffynnonwen enclosure. The strategy was to excavate a small portion of the interior of the inner enclosure and the entrance through the inner enclosure. Aerial photographs and a geophysical survey carried out in 2005 indicate that the entrance lay either on the north side or south side. This proved to be incorrect. The entrance must therefore lie beneath a hedge-bank on the east side and is not available for excavation.

Work continued on the Berry geophysical survey.


Initial cleaning of the Ffynnonwen enclosure
Initial cleaning of the Ffynnonwen enclosure

Hubert Wilson and Rosie Bishop laying out the Ffynnonwen site grid
Hubert Wilson and Rosie Bishop laying out the Ffynnonwen site grid

The completed plot of the Berry geophysical survey
The completed plot of the Berry geophysical survey

 

Day 3 - July 18th

Topsoil stripping was completed and work began on cleaning the site. Weather was very hot and dry. As shattered bedrock forms the underlying geology vigorous brushing using yard-brushes was found to the most effective method of cleaning. Gullies of at least one roundhouse were immediately apparent plus other gullies, pits and post-holes.

The completed survey of the Berry site shows the enclosure ditch with entrance and other slighter internal ditches.


Harley Brunson and Tom Morgan beginning excavation on the inner enclosure ditch, north side
Harley Brunson and Tom Morgan beginning excavation on the inner enclosure ditch, north side

Lloyd Bosworth and Chaz Randle with the geophysical equipment at Ffynnonwen
Lloyd Bosworth and Chaz Randle with the geophysical equipment at Ffynnonwen

 

Day 4 - July 19th

Cleaning of the site was completed, confirming a roundhouse. Conditions were still very dry and so small pits and post-holes were difficult to identify. Excavation therefore started on the main ditches sections, with sections cut through the inner enclosure ditch and outer enclosure ditch on the west side. A cut through the inner ditch on the north side of the inner enclosure was also started in the location where the entrance seemed most likely according the aerial photographs and the geophysical survey. Cleaning showed a ditch here, but immediately on excavation bedrock was discovered just below the surface, possibly indicating that the entrance really is here. Excavation will continue in this area.

Geophysical survey in the field adjacent to the Ffynnonwen excavation with the intention of tracing the whole of the enclosure.

 

 

Day 5 - 20th July

Excavation continued on the ditch sections, with steady progress being made. The outer enclosure ditch appears to be shallower than anticipated, perhaps about 1m deep. Work continued on the geophysical survey at Ffynnonwen.

Richard Jemicz,  David Knight and Miranda Horan excavating the outer ditch.
Richard Jemicz, David Knight and Miranda Horan excavating the outer ditch.

Leslie Bowers and Charles Whyte in the shallow ditch on the north side showing bedrock just below the surface.
Leslie Bowers and Charles Whyte in the shallow ditch on the north side showing bedrock just below the surface.

Lloyd Bosworth, Andrew Kurtzman and Mya Robinson downloading data from the geophysical survey onto a laptop computer.
Lloyd Bosworth, Andrew Kurtzman and Mya Robinson downloading data from the geophysical survey onto a laptop computer.

 

Day 6 - 21st July

The bottom of the outer ditch was reached showing that it was indeed approximately 1m deep with an open V-shaped profile. No finds have been discovered in it. The inner ditch, however, has the appearance of being somewhat deeper. On the north side of the enclosure what was considered to be a possible entrance seemed to be resolving itself into an extremely shallow ditch cut into hard bedrock. It would seem that the rock here is so hard that the original builders were not able to cut through it. Work continued steadily on the geophysics.

 

Tom Morgan with the spindle whorl from the inner ditch.
Tom Morgan with the spindle whorl from the inner ditch.

Andrew Kurtzman in the outer ditch.
Andrew Kurtzman in the outer ditch.

 

Day 7 - 23rd July

Excavation began on excavating a roundhouse gully in the centre of the site. The first artefact of the season was found in the top fill of the inner ditch on the east side – a spindle whorl made from a reused sherd of Roman Severn Valley Ware pottery. Excavation continued on the other ditch sections and progress was made on the geophysical survey.


Andy Greef with the microlith from the roundhouse gully.
Andy Greef with the microlith from the roundhouse gully.

Excavating the roundhouse gully.
Excavating the roundhouse gully.

The emerging geophysical survey of Ffynnonwen
The emerging geophysical survey of Ffynnonwen

Day 8 - 24th July

A flint Mesolithic microlithic – a small arrowhead – was found during the continuing excavation of the roundhouse gully. Excavation of the outer ditch was almost completed, with final cleaning in preparation for photographs. The shallow ditch on the north side of the enclosure was in a similar state of readiness. The weather is still hot and dry, with no sign of rain. It is hoped that there will be some cloud cover allowing for photography. Geophysical survey continued.

 

Panoramic view of Ffynnonwen.
Panoramic view of Ffynnonwen.

Meg Chaby recording the section of the outer ditch.
Meg Chaby recording the section of the outer ditch.

The first post-hole on the site under excavation by Harley Brunson.
The first post-hole on the site under excavation by Harley Brunson.

 

Day 9 - 25th July

Photography and recording of the outer ditch started. Excavation of the roundhouse gully continued, with the curved shape of the gully beginning to become apparent. The hot dry weather was still hindering the identification of small post-holes, pits and gullies, but excavation of larger features started.

Geophysical survey continued on the Ffynnonwen site.

 

Richard Jemicz drawing the section of the outer ditch.
Richard Jemicz drawing the section of the outer ditch.

Excavating and recording the roundhouse gully.
Excavating and recording the roundhouse gully.

 

Day 10 - 26th July

No sign of the bottom of the inner ditch on the east side of enclosure has yet been found. It has been excavated down to about 1.5m deep and the sides of the ditch are vertical. For safety reasons the section trench will have to be widened. A piece of slag was found in the roundhouse gully. Recording of the outer ditch continued.

Geophysical survey continued, with the survey starting in the field in which the excavation is taking place.

 

Mya Robinson widening the inner ditch.
Mya Robinson widening the inner ditch.

General view of the site showing the roundhouse gully.
General view of the site showing the roundhouse gully.

Geophysical survey showing the enclosure and roundhouses outside the outer oval ditch.
Geophysical survey showing the enclosure and roundhouses outside the outer oval ditch.

Day 11 - 27th July

Widening of the inner ditch on the east side of the enclosure began, and almost immediately a piece of slag was discovered, possibly indicating iron smelting on the site. Much of the roundhouse gully was excavated and further recording of the sections continued. Excavation of what appeared to be a palisade trench began. This trench pre-dates both the roundhouse and main enclosure ditch.

Geophysical survey revealed roundhouses outside the outer enclosure, one of which lies within a small rectangular enclosure.

 

Cleaning the site over the location of the roundhouse in expectation of rain.
Cleaning the site over the location of the roundhouse in expectation of rain.

 

Day 12 - 28th July

The hot, dry weather continued, but rain was forecast for the weekend. Therefore some time was spent on cleaning the site in preparation for rain with the hope that pits, post-holes and gullies would be easier to identify in damp conditions. Work continued on the excavation of other features. The section of the inner ditch on the east side of the enclosure had to be deepened for safety reasons – a depth of approximately 1.5m was reached with no sign of the ditch bottom.

The geophysical survey of Ffynnonwen was completed. A surprise was a small annexe with a roundhouse outside the large oval enclosure.

 

The completed survey of Ffynnonwen incorporating data from the 2005 survey.
The completed survey of Ffynnonwen incorporating data from the 2005 survey

 

General view of the excavation with traces of a second roundhouse visible in the foreground.
General view of the excavation with traces of a second roundhouse visible in the foreground.

Eva Suarez excavating the defensive ditch.
Eva Suarez excavating the defensive ditch.

Ian Pegler teaching Adam Jenkins the art of dowsing.
Ian Pegler teaching Adam Jenkins the art of dowsing.

 

 

Day 13 - 30th July

Heavy overnight rain failed to have the desired effect as archaeological features were hardly more visible than when dry, and by mid morning a combination of sunshine and high winds had completely dried the site. A suspected second roundhouse was, however, apparent in the early morning damp conditions. The curving wall line of the main roundhouse within the drainage gully was excavated. The inner ditch continued to be deepened with again no bottom in sight.

Ian Pegler of the British Society of Dowsers visited the excavation and detected possible buried ditches and other archaeological features outside the large oval enclosure.

A geophysical survey of an enclosure at Penpedwast, near Castell Henllys in Pembrokeshire revealed the defensive ditches enclosing a roundhouse. Survey on this site will continue after a few days’ break.

 

The plot of Penpedwast to date.
The plot of Penpedwast to date.

Sheltering from the morning rain.
Sheltering from the morning rain.

Geophysical survey showing the emerging enclosure of the Tre-cefn Isaf site.
Geophysical survey showing the emerging enclosure of the Tre-cefn Isaf site.

Day 14 - 31st July

Heavy showers in the morning delayed work. By late morning the showers merged into continuous rain and work was abandoned for the day in the early afternoon, but not before the bottom of the inner ditch was discovered. Initial geophysical work on a new site – Tre-cefn Isaf close to last year’s excavation at Troedyrhiw – revealed the beginnings of an enclosure.


General view of the excavation with the second roundhouse visible in the foreground.
General view of the excavation with the second roundhouse visible in the foreground.

Terry Bourland excavating a post-hole of the possible granary.
Terry Bourland excavating a post-hole of the possible granary.

Mya Robinson cleaning the inner defensive ditch.
Mya Robinson cleaning the inner defensive ditch.

Graham French and Piers Collins surveying the site at Tre-cefn Isaf. The excavation at Ffynnonwen is on the skyline to the right of the instrument.
Graham French and Piers Collins surveying the site at Tre-cefn Isaf. The excavation at Ffynnonwen is on the skyline to the right of the instrument.

Day 15 - 1st August

A third roundhouse was visible following the heavy rain of the previous day, represented by three almost concentric ditches, possibly indicating three construction periods. Excavation of the wall of the second roundhouse revealed the position of small posts within a shallow curving trench. Outside the roundhouse, four large post-holes arranged in a square approximately 2.5m apart are probably the remains of a raised-floor granary, or other storage building. Cleaning of the sections of the large inner ditch began in preparation for photography and drawing.

Geophysical survey of Tre-cefn Isaf revealed a sub-rectangular enclosure about 40m across with an internal roundhouse and post-holes of a possible four-post structure.


The finished geophysical survey of Tre-cefn Isaf.
The finished geophysical survey of Tre-cefn Isaf.

The completed section of the inner defensive ditch with Mya Robinson.
The completed section of the inner defensive ditch with Mya Robinson.

Andrew Kurtzman excavating the gully on the north side of the site.
Andrew Kurtzman excavating the gully on the north side of the site.

Excavating the second roundhouse.
Excavating the second roundhouse.

 

Day 16 - 2nd August

Final cleaning of the inner ditch was completed and recording of it started. Excavation of the second roundhouse continued. Recording of a gully on the northern side of the site continued. Opinion on this gully changes daily – it may have been a drain or a foundation trench of a palisade. Excavation over the next few days will resolve the problem.

Geophysical survey continued on the site of Troed y Rhiw. This was the site excavated in 2005. It is divided into two halves by a lane and only the field in which the excavation took place has been surveyed. This year the field on the opposite side of the lane is being surveyed.

 

 

Excavating the possible palisade trench.
Excavating the possible palisade trench.

General view of the progressing excavation.
General view of the progressing excavation.

Oli Wilson with home-made eye-protectors against the wind and dust.
Oli Wilson with home-made eye-protectors against the wind and dust.

Day 17 - 3rd August

This was a day of consolidation, with drawing of the sections of the inner ditch, continuing excavation of the roundhouses and the possible palisade trench. For the fourth day in row high winds made working conditions difficult, especially so when combined with the dry dusty conditions of the last few days.

Geophysical survey of Troed y Rhiw was completed.


The completed survey of the 2006 Troedyrhiw survey
The completed survey of the 2006 Troedyrhiw survey

General view of the continuing excavation showing the first and second roundhouses and the four-post building to the left-hand side of the photo.
General view of the continuing excavation showing the first and second roundhouses and the four-post building to the left-hand side of the photo.

The completed geophysical survey of Penpedwast.
The completed geophysical survey of Penpedwast. Each survey square is 20m by 20m. At the top right the builders seem to have made a mistake, digging a ditch too long. Note also the single roundhouse.

Results of the geophysical survey of 2004 at Troed y Rhiw merged with those of 2006
Results of the geophysical survey of 2004 at Troed y Rhiw merged with those of 2006. The blank band down the centre is a lane.

Day 18 - 4th August

Excavation of the second roundhouse continued, with the drainage ditch and wall line almost complete. Investigation on the northeast edge of the site revealed a group of pits and post-holes. Work on these will continue over the next few days, but initial results indicate that at least some of these features predate the roundhouses and main inner ditch.

The geophysical surveyors returned to Penpedwast and completed the survey.

 

Ken Murphy pointing out features of interest in the inner ditch to a group of visitors.
Ken Murphy pointing out features of interest in the inner ditch to a group of visitors.

Part of the Penpedwast enclosure surveyed at high resolution (squares are 10m x 10m) showing details of the central roundhouse and other structures.
Part of the Penpedwast enclosure surveyed at high resolution (squares are 10m x 10m) showing details of the central roundhouse and other structures.

 

Day 19 - 6th August

A short article in the local newspaper and posters placed in shops attracted over 200 people to an excavation open day. Guided tours were given and a poster exhibition provided further information. Thankfully the weather remained dry, at least to the end of the day, although windy. Excavation also continued on the second roundhouse and on other pits and post-holes.

As some staff were tied up with the open day, the opportunity was taken to survey part of the previously surveyed Penpedwast enclosure to a greater resolution, with traverses at 0.5m intervals rather than the usual 1m. The results are shown here.

 

 

Sue Middleton and Mya Robinson excavating more the wall trench of the first roundhouse revealed by the rain.
Sue Middleton and Mya Robinson excavating more the wall trench of the first roundhouse revealed by the rain.

Ditch section showing massive quartz boulder excavated by Andy Greef.
Ditch section showing massive quartz boulder excavated by Andy Greef.

General view of the site.
General view of the site.

The emerging geophysical survey of the Cwmhowni enclosure. The survey squares are 20m by 20m.
The emerging geophysical survey of the Cwmhowni enclosure. The survey squares are 20m by 20m.

Day 20 - 7th August

Light overnight rain revealed pits, post-holes and gullies not seen since the rain of a week ago, plus some new ones, and the opportunity was taken to make a plan of these in preparation for excavation. By mid morning the site had dried in the sun and high wind, and the pits, post-holes and gullies had disappeared. A start was made on excavating these, guided by the plan. A short section dug through the inner main ditch on the east side of the enclosure revealed a massive quartz boulder, possibly collapsed from a revetment from a bank on the inside edge of the ditch (the bank has entirely gone).

Geophysical survey on a new site, Cwmhowni, revealed an irregular-shaped enclosure with splodges possibly the locations of roundhouses.

 

 

Nigel Martin and Natalie excavating the palisade trench on the north side of the site.
Nigel Martin and Natalie excavating the palisade trench on the north side of the site.

Initial excavation of the third roundhouse.
Initial excavation of the third roundhouse.

The final plot of the Cwnhowni enclosure.
The final plot of the Cwnhowni enclosure.

Day 21 - 8th August

A start was made on excavating the gullies of the third roundhouse. Three gullies were visible representing three phases of construction. Elsewhere on the site final excavation and recording of pits and post-holes neared completion and cleaning began in preparation for last-day photographs.

The geophysical survey at Cwmhowni was completed.

 

The emerging drainage gullies of the third roundhouse.
The emerging drainage gullies of the third roundhouse.

End of dig group photograph.
End of dig group photograph.

Day 22 - 9th August

The final day of excavation. Sections of the third roundhouse gullies were excavated.

These were very shallow, cut just a few centimetres into the bedrock, and seemed to be for drainage rather than a structural function. Final photographs of the site were taken.

 

 

Panoramic view of site finally excavated.
Panoramic view of site finally excavated.

 

Backfilling the site.
Backfilling the site.

Scene from the end of dig party.
Scene from the end of dig party.

Clearing the campsite and preparing to go home.
Clearing the campsite and preparing to go home.

Day 23-24 10th-12th August

The backfilling of the site took place on day 22 and 23. The evening of day 23 was party time, and on Saturday 24th August, day 24, the camp site was vacated and everybody set off on their long, and not so long, journeys home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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