West Angle Excavation, Pembrokeshire
Dig Diary 2006
West Angle Geophys Survey
For a number of years, Dyfed Archaeological Trust has been aware of the threat posed by coastal
erosion to archaeological sites along the Pembrokeshire coast.
These sites include a number of cist grave cemeteries dating
to the early medieval period (between AD 400 and 1100). This
year we will once again be carrying out a small-scale excavation
at West Angle Bay between July 17th and 28th. This will be
with the support of Cadw, the Pembrokeshire Coast National
Park Authority and PLANED, and with the assistance of students
from Cardiff University. A geophysical survey carried out
ahead of this year’s excavation has identified several
features of potential archaeological interest to be investigated.
Up to four groups of burials exist at West
Angle Bay. It is not clear whether these represent different
zoned areas within a single cemetery, or previous, small cemeteries
that had fallen out of use. The first was recognised in 1997
when up to four graves were identified within the eroding
cliff face. Others have been noted by walkers and by National
Park rangers and one group was identified within an enclosure
during the 2005 excavation.
Radiocarbon dates of AD 720-740 and AD 760-960
were obtained from skeletal material recovered in the 2005
excavation. Establishing a dated sequence for such burials,
cemeteries and chapels is crucial to our understanding of
cemetery development within west Wales and in Britain as a
The information gained through the excavation
will assist in drawing up management plans for the site, to
avoid accidental damage, and to try and conserve it as effectively
Some of the results of the Gradiometry survey,
clearly showing a lot of archaeological activity in
this field. The cemetery is the feature in the top
right hand corner.
Starting work on one of the trenches. The geophysics
suggested that there may be a cist grave here but
no evidence of it was found.
1 - July 17th
The geophysics survey which was carried
out before we started showed a large number of anomalies
and possible areas of archaeological activity. We were
anxious to see what these were, so we opened up five
trenches at key points across the site. Two are in areas
away from the cemetery enclosure, which may - or may
not - represent domestic settlement. Two more cross
the boundary ditches which the gradiometry and resistivity
surveys showed up, and the final one is within the cemetery
itself. We hope to answer all sorts of questions about
the sequence of events here at West Angle.
Students and volunteers re-opening trench 13 which
contained the cemetery
One edge of the rock-cut ditch. We would like
this year to get a date for this ditch.
Day 2 - July 18th
Despite the mini-heatwave we have been
hard at work. So far, the two trenches in the south
of the field have not shown any archaeological features,
and we hope to close them down again very soon. However,
trench 15, across the two enclosures, has come up trumps!
We can clearly see a large ditch cut into the bedrock,
which was highlighted by the geophysics. Even better,
we can also see what we think may be another ditch,
cutting across it. If that's the case then this would
form an enclosure around the burials which we can see
eroding from the cliff face.
Students and volunteers cleaning back trench 13
Beginning to excavate the ditch in trench 15
3 - July 19th
We had high hopes that trench 15 would
contain not just the large rock-cut ditch enclosing
the whole area around the cemetery, but also evidence
for a second enclosure. The resistivity survey suggested
that there may be a bank and ditch surrounding the burials
in the cliff face, but it is now looking as if the feature
which was picked up here was geological, rather than
archaeological. West Angle Bay has very complicated
geology – it is a site of special scientific interest
for its geology – and this has made interpreting
the geophysics results very difficult. Still, we clearly
have one very large ditch which we intend to excavate
over the coming days.
Following the sides of the ditch in an attempt to
find the bottom
4 - July 20th
In trench 13, within the cemetery
itself, we have been trying to resolve the relationship
between the burials and the surrounding stone bank.
The form of the bank is now becoming more understandable
too; it seems to consist of an earth core faced with
stone on either side. Once we have photographed and
planned the whole trench, we will start dismantling
some of the structures. Meanwhile, in trench 15, we
have continued digging out the ditch in the hope of
finding some dating evidence.
Planning and recording trench 13
5 - July 21st
Another very hot day, and the ditch
is still getting deeper… Trench 13 has now been
planned and photographed, and we have started to examine
the structure of the stone bank. Trench 1 has also given
us a bit of a surprise. Last year this trench proved
inconclusive, showing some evidence for activity but
never really being very understandable. We re-opened
it this year, after the geophysics also indicated activity
here, and today, at the west end of the trench, we found
a rather nice flint thumbnail scraper. This is probably
By the end of the day the ditch was still going down.
With its V-shaped profile, depth and rock-cut sides,
bets are being laid that it’s Iron Age. All we
need now is any kind of dating evidence.
Trench 1 – in the words of one of the students
‘it’s like trowelling cement’
6 - July 22nd
An easier day today – after
all, it is Saturday!
We spent the day recording the trenches,
and cleaning up trench 1. Most of the empty trenches
have now been recorded and can be closed down. The west
end of trench 1 seems to contain evidence for some kind
of prehistoric activity – there is some charcoal
turning up and some possible post-holes – but
the ground is so incredibly dry that we are finding
it hard to see anything.
The cist grave with the lintel slabs intact,
over the grave, and with the slabs removed
View of the ditch in Trench 15. The wet soil at
the bottom of the ditch should preserve good environmental
Marion Page planning in Trench 13 with West Angle
Beach in the background
Richard Jones explaining the archaeology to some
of the many visitors to the site. These visitors are
Dave, Ben and Rhiannon White of Luton and Richard
and Rhys Johns of Pembroke.
8 - July 24th
After a Sunday spent on the beach,
everyone is back to work. Our ‘prehistoric’
features in trench 1 have been disappointing –
we think now that they are all natural, and have decided
to close down trench 1 and concentrate on trench 13,
which contains the cemetery, and trench 15. The ditch
in trench 15 has been getting deeper and deeper –
but we’ve finally found the bottom! This is a
massive, rock-cut feature and it does seem very likely
that it’s prehistoric (probably Iron Age) but
unfortunately we haven’t got any dating evidence
from it. Re-use of prehistoric enclosures is known from
other sites, so this is an exciting development.
In trench 13, the bank around the
cemetery enclosure has shown itself to be very well
made and substantial. In order to dismantle it, we need
first to excavate a burial just inside it, and see whether
the burial is actually cut into the bank. The grave
proves to be stone-lined, but the cist is quite different
from the others we’ve seen so far, formed from
lots of small stones rather than a few large ones.
The last cleaning of the ditch before it is photographed
and recorded, and climbing out of it afterwards!
Day 9 – July 25th
Today we continued to excavate and
record the burial in trench 13. We also started work
in earnest on dismantling the boundary bank or wall.
Many of our visitors comment on the contrasting activities
in this trench – the bank is taken apart with
a pickaxe, whilst the burial is delicately excavated
with a trowel and paintbrush!
In trench 15, the ditch sections are
cleaned and recorded. This ditch really is an astonishing
feature – the size and scale of it are much more
impressive than we imagined when we first started work
here. We are taking bulk environmental samples in the
hope that there may be some evidence in the waterlogged
soil to help us reconstruct the environmental conditions
at the time. This may even help us to date it - there’s
always a chance that some charcoal may be recovered
whilst the samples are being processed.
Volunteers digging in the new trench 18
Getting to grips with the complexity of trench
Visitors to the excavation
Duncan Schlee, our site director, can’t
take any more…
Day 10 – July 26th
Now that we are nearing the end of
this season’s excavation, it seemed like a good
plan to open another trench. Trench 18 is a small ‘slot’
which lies over another linear feature picked up by
the geophysics. This may be a narrow bank and ditch
which runs east-west across the middle of the whole
field, but it would be interesting to find out a little
more about it.
In trench 13, we are working on a
few of the cists which were partially or completely
excavated last year. Some of these seem to be infant
burials – which could be very important in understanding
We had a ‘taster’ session
this afternoon – a chance for people to come and
visit the site and try their hands at digging. Whilst
it makes the site very busy, it’s great to see
how interested people are in what we’re doing,
and it’s a chance to explain why West Angle Bay
is so important – not just locally, but in the
much wider area too.
Finishing off excavating one of the cists in trench
...which is then planned and recorded.
One of the small cists in the upper levels of the
cemetery, which may have contained an infant burial.
Day 11 – July 27th
Trench 18 seems to be resolving itself
into some kind of hard, compacted surface with ditches
either side. The best explanation that we can come up
with at the moment is that this is a trackway of some
description, perhaps giving access to a field system
which is hinted at in the geophysical survey.
The boundary bank in trench 13 has
now been taken out, and underneath it is a small ditch,
cut into the bedrock, and running along the same line
as the cemetery boundary. This is very intriguing –
could it be some form of prehistoric feature which has
been re-used for the cemetery? Or is the ditch the earliest
cemetery boundary, which was later reinforced and re-shaped
with the building of a large bank or wall? Either way,
it all points towards this site being in use for a long
The section through the boundary ditch.
Final photographing in trench 15
Day 12 – July 28th
Our final day on site, spent finishing
up odds and ends – cleaning and recording all
the remaining trenchs. True to form, West Angle had
one last surprise for us.
A section cut through the dismantled
boundary bank confirmed that there was a ditch underneath
it – as we already knew – but also that
there was a bank or mound on the inside of the ditch,
sitting underneath the cemetery itself. A flint core
was recovered from this mound, which MAY indicate a
prehistoric feature which was re-used as the boundary
for an early medieval cemetery. What has become clear
this year is that West Angle’s early medieval
site is a far more complicated site than it appears
on the surface!
A summary of this season’s work
will appear on the website in the next few weeks.
West Angle Bay 2006 – the team, from left to right:
Judith, Menna, Louise, Polly, Duncan, Jess and Jess, Richard,
Polly, Marion, Rachel and Andy
Click here to download
the West Angle Interim Report October 2006 in Adobe Acrobat format
(1.3Mb - opens in a new window)