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West Angle Excavation, Pembrokeshire Dig Diary 2006     

West Angle Geophys Survey

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 whole.

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 as possible.

 

Some of the results of the Gradiometry survey
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
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.

Day 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

Students and volunteers re-opening trench 13 which contained the cemetery
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.
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
Students and volunteers cleaning back trench 13

Beginning to excavate the ditch in trench 15
Beginning to excavate the ditch in trench 15

Day 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
Following the sides of the ditch in an attempt to find the bottom

Day 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
Planning and recording trench 13

Day 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 Bronze Age.
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’
Trench 1 – in the words of one of the students ‘it’s like trowelling cement’

Day 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 14. The wet soil here should preserve good environmental evidence
View of the ditch in Trench 15. The wet soil at the bottom of the ditch should preserve good environmental evidence

Marion Page planning in Trench 13 with West Angle Beach in the background
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

Richard Jones explaining the archaeology to some of the many visitors to the site
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.

 

Day 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!
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
Volunteers digging in the new trench 18

Getting to grips with the complexity of trench 13
Getting to grips with the complexity of trench 13

Visitors to the excavation
Visitors to the excavation

Duncan Schlee, our site director, can’t take any more…
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 this site.

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 13..
Finishing off excavating one of the cists in trench 13..

...which is then planned and recorded.
...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.
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 time.

 

The section through the boundary ditch.
The section through the boundary ditch.

Final photographing in trench 15
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
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)

 

 

 

 

 

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