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Upper Newton Roman Villa at Wolfscastle, Pembrokeshire - Dig Diary 2010


Site Location

Geophysical survey (DAT 2010)

There is very little known evidence for Romanised settlement in southwest Wales. The only villa known is at Llys Brychan in Carmarthenshire, and a second has recently been discovered near Trawscoed Roman fort in Ceredigion. Other possible villa sites in west Wales are probably better classified as Romanised farmsteads.

The possible villa site near Wolfscastle is located to the east of Ford Camp, an Iron Age defended enclosure. In 1811 Fenton describes a visit to inspect the discovery of what he considered to be part of a Roman baths in a nearby hedge bank. In 2003, Dr Mark Merrony undertook a geophysical survey which showed evidence of a rectangular building. A small excavation revealed a paved surface of large stone slabs and other evidence suggestive of a Roman building.

This year DAT has been funded by Cadw to further clarify our understanding of the site and to help make decisions about protecting the site in the future. We have already undertaken another geophysical survey (pictured left) which shows several intriguing features. With the help of local volunteers we now intend to open two small trenches to try and find out more about what may prove to be a very exciting site! You will be able to see how the dig progress on this dig diary.

For further details contact Duncan Schlee 01558 823121.

Monday 2nd August

Our first initiative test is to work out how to put up the site tent……

while the topsoil (and a huge pile of manure!) are removed from the site.

Although the geophysical survey has revealed a pattern of all sorts of enigmatic shapes we are concentrating on trying to find evidence for a Roman building located at the point where several field boundaries meet. This is thought to be the location where in 1811, Richard Fenton described seeing the remains of what he considered to be a Roman bath. In 2003 a local archaeologist excavated a trench on the east side of the building and found an area of roughly laid flat stones which was interpreted as the floor of the building. We have placed our trench to uncover part of the north wall, and parts of the inside and outside of the building.

Tuesday 3rd August

We continue cleaning and investigate a brown strip running across the trench. This feature appears to correspond with the north side of the possible building suggested by the geophysical survey. One or two other brown patches suggest there may be more archaeology on both sides of the brown strip. So far, however, there is a distinct lack of mosaic floors!

Is this rainbow telling us we're digging in the wrong place?!!

Wednesday 4th August

Today we complete the geophysical survey of the surrounding fields. Hopefully the survey will give us a complete picture of the buried archaeology around the site. Perhaps it will solve the mystery of the missing villa!

In the trench we are investigating some of the possible pits dug into the natural geology. The fill of this feature contains a lot of charcoal, and some of the surrounding earth is scorched. We may be able to get a Carbon14 date from this feature.

We are also visited by members of the Pembrokeshire Prospectors metal detectors, who offered to scan our spoil heap for any finds we may have missed. All they found was a couple of nails.

Thursday 5th August

With less archaeology left to investigate in the main trench, we open up a small test pit through the field boundary to the west of the site, in the hope of finding any more convincing evidence for a Roman building in the area. Fenton mentions that the Roman building was found when an old hedge was removed. Here you can see two lines of stones where a gate has been cut through the hedge bank.

Friday August 6th

A damp start to the day. The small test pit shows that the stone-faced bank overlies what is probably an earlier field boundary ditch. The earlier ditch cuts through a deposit containing some charcoal and a few fragments of roof slate.

In the main trench we have traced the ditch up to the eastern field boundary. It now looks as if our ditch is a continuation of an earlier field boundary.

We also finish off plans and drawings of the site and a contour survey of the area. This is useful to compare with the geophysics. It seems that the site, and a possible prehistoric field system are located on a flat area half way down the north facing hill slope.

In the absence of any more archaeology in the trenches, the dig finishes earlier than anticipated. So, although we did not find any evidence for a Roman building, or any pottery to suggest Roman occupation at the site, the roof slates certainly suggest there is a building somewhere nearby. This building must be earlier than both the field boundaries......The mystery of the Roman villa continues!

A big thank you to all the volunteers that helped on the excavation and to the landowner for allowing us to dig. Many apologies to anyone that visited the site over the weekend, only to find the dig had finished early.

Surprise surprise, the last area of geophysics may hold the key to unlocking the mystery of the missing villa! Unusual lines close to a nearby ploughed out hedge, may be the remains of a building! So maybe Fenton was right after all, but over the years, memories of the exact location of the site faded as field boundaries were moved. Perhaps one day we will be able to return to find out if the Romans really did come to Wolfscastle........






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