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Llandeilo Fort Dig Diary     

LLANDEILO ROMAN FORT, DINEFWR PARK

Introduction

The outstanding discovery of a Roman Fort in the eastern part of Dinefwr Park, Llandeilo was made during an archaeological survey in 2003. During late June and early July, Dyfed Archaeological Trust will be following this work up with an excavation to discover more about the date, character and the level of preservation of the fort.

In fact the work, using specialist geophysical survey equipment, suggests the presence of not just one but two overlapping Roman forts of different dates The first fort appears to be much larger than the later fort and it may have been occupied by a large military unit, perhaps even a legionary detachment. If so, the presence of such a large unit so far west indicates the existence of a fierce resistance to the Roman occupation. The later fort was a much smaller affair and was probably occupied by an auxillary unit or cohort comprising about 500 foot soldiers. The forts probably date to the later part of the 1st century AD, soon after the military conquest of Wales. It is likely that they were then abandoned early in the second century AD.

The archaeological work forms part of a wider project being undertaken by the National Trust with the aim of restoring the designed landscape of Dinefwr Park, enhancing the natural landscape and facilitating access to all. This work is being funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Welsh European Funding Office and the National Trust. The excavation will begin on Monday 27th June. Channel 4’s Time Team will be carrying out live outside broadcasts from the excavation on the nights of the 2nd and 3rd July as part of their ‘Big Roman Dig’ week. There will be two public open days on the 9th and 16th of July.

Plan showing location of trenches

The layout of the forts at Llandeilo

The geophysical survey provides a lot of information about the layout of the later fort at Llandeilo. The fort was surrounded by an impressive set of defences consisting of at least three substantial sets of V-shaped ditches and ramparts. A timber palisade would have run along the top of the inner rampart and would have had a series of square interval towers at regular intervals. The four entrances into the fort would have been flanked by massive timber gatehouses. The defences surrounded an area approximately 150m long by 100m wide; the equivalent of two rugby pitches sitting side by side. A grid pattern of roads divided the interior into blocks of buildings including barracks, granaries and other stores. In the centre of the fort facing the main gateway would have been the headquarters building or Principia and alongside this would have been the commandant’s house.

The survey also suggests that the road approaching the main gateway was flanked by a series of other timber buildings. This may have been a small civilian settlement of vicus. The garrison forts often attracted such informal settlements as members of the native population took advantage of the presence of a group of well paid Roman soldiers stationed far from home. This settlement provides an excellent opportunity to examine the nature of the first non-violent contact between the indigenous population and the Roman occupiers.

Approximately 200m to the northwest of the fort the geophysical survey detected what appears to be a large rectangular building. Was this a bathhouse attached to the military garrison? It lies near to a stream that would have provided a vital water supply for such a purpose. Only excavation will tell.

Although we can tell a lot of information from the geophysical survey, many of these suggestions can only be tested by excavation. Excavation will also provide the critical dating evidence, coins and pottery that may confirm when the forts were built and abandoned.

Link to the Llandeilo Fort Projects page

Llandeilo Fort Newsletter July 2006 in Adobe Acrobat format (opens in new window)

 

Day 1 (June 27th) – A very long and hot first day. It began with the removal of the topsoil from three areas of the fort with an excavator, expertly driven by Eynon Price. Trench 1 was located across the defences of the larger fort and Trench 2 was located in the central area of the smaller fort where it intersects with the defences of the smaller fort. The third area that was started was Trench 7 which was located in the area of the vicus (the civilian settlement) to the northeast of the forts.

The first group of volunteers arrived in the afternoon and soon began work on Trenches 2 and 7. The first surprise of the excavation was the discovery of an intact pot at the northwestern end of the trench. The discovery of fragments of burnt bone in the same area suggests that it might have been part of a cremation burial. Does this mean that the site was used as a cemetery long after the forts were abandoned? Meanwhile in Trench 1 there was evidence for massive post holes and ditches associated with the defences. Clearly, the archaeology is going to be very exciting.

The pottery vessel found in a small pit just below the ploughsoil in Trench 2

The pottery vessel found in a small pit just below the ploughsoil in Trench 2

 

The site director Gwilym Hughes giving instructions to some of the volunteers in Trench 1

The site director Gwilym Hughes giving instructions to some of the volunteers in Trench 1

Day 2 (June 28th) – Most of the day was spent cleaning the surface of the archaeology in Trenches 1 and 2. The large post pits in Trench 1 suggest that we might have found part of the foundations for one of the gateways into the larger fort. The cleaning of Trench 2 suggests that there is a very complex sequence of archaeology in this area. However, it is not yet clear whether the ditches of the larger fort are later or earlier than the smaller fort.

We had a number of distinguished visitors today including Dr Barry Burnham and Dr Paul Rainbird (both from the University of Lampeter) and Dr Jeffrey Davies (from the University of Aberystwyth) who all provided some very useful advice including the identification of some of the pottery. It seems that the majority of the material that has been found so far sits comfortably in the late first century AD and the early second century AD.

Trench 2 has now been fully cleaned

Trench 2 has now been fully cleaned

The volunteers and staff being treated to a lecture during their tea break

The volunteers and staff being treated to a lecture during their tea break

Dr Jeff Davies (Universrity of Aberystwyth) discussing some of the pottery finds with Dr Emma Plunkett-Dillon (National Trust) and Dr Paul Rainbird (University of Lampeter)

Dr Jeff Davies (Universrity of Aberystwyth) discussing some of the pottery finds with Dr Emma Plunkett-Dillon (National Trust) and Dr Paul Rainbird (University of Lampeter)

Day 3 (June 29th) – We have now begun excavating features in Trenches 1, 2 and 7. Overnight thunderstorms have helped soften the ground and at least this has made excavating the features much easier.

In Trench 1 we have started to excavate a section across the inner defensive ditch of the larger fort and one of the large post pits that we think may relate to the gateway.

In Trench 2 we have started examining two linear features that we think might represent slumping into the defensive ditches of the earlier fort. A group of local volunteers was also on site for the afternoon helping to define the features and layers at the northwestern end of the trench.

In Trench 7, which is located approximately 100 m to the northeast of the forts, we have started excavating what appear to be ditches either side of a roadway approaching the entrance to the smaller fort.

A possible roadside ditch in Trench 7

A possible roadside ditch in Trench 7

Local volunteers defining features in Trench 2

Local volunteers defining features in Trench 2

Work in the area of the fort defences in Trench 1

Work in the area of the fort defences in Trench 1

Day 4 (June 30th) – Our first really wet day with almost continuous rain. This slowed down our progress substantially. The post pits in Trench 1 seem to be cut into the natural clay and bedrock. It seems that there is no trace of the rampart suggesting that the whole area may have been heavily truncated. Our interpretation of the two linear features in Trench 2 is now changing. We are beginning to think that they might represent drainage ditches either side of a road inside the smaller fort. Although there are no signs of the road surface between these two ditches, we suspect that this might have been cut away by later ploughing. The stony fill of the ditches may be the remains of this road surface.

Excavating one of the square post pits in Trench 1

The dark filled gullies in Trench 2. Are they roadside ditches?

The rain has started in Trench 2

 

Day 5 (July 1st) – We spent much of the day recording the features in Trench 2 including the possible roadside ditches and completing the excavation of a section across the defensive ditch in Trench 1. We now believe that the post pits in Trench 1 form part of the side of one of the gateway towers.

In the afternoon we received a visit from the local member of the Welsh Assembly Government – Rhodri Glyn Thomas. Meanwhile the production crew from Time Team arrived to prepare for the filming over the weekend.


Planning the roadside ditches in Trench 2

Planning the roadside ditches in Trench 2

 

The Site Director Gwilym Hughes with Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM

The Site Director Gwilym Hughes with Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM

 

Day 6 (July 2) – Today was extremely busy with the excavation being filmed for the Time Team’s Big Roman Dig. Much of the filming was broadcast live at about 8.30 in the evening which meant a very long day for everyone involved. We also opened three new trenches – Trench 3 in the area of the barracks of the earlier larger fort, Trench 4 in the area of the vicus or civilian settlement to the northeast of the later smaller fort and Trench 6 in the field to the north to investigate the site of the possible bath house.

Unfortunately, Trench 6 proved to be very disappointing with all the evidence suggesting that in fact we had a post-medieval brick kiln not a bath house! However, Trench 4 (the vicus) was full of archaeology including pits, post-holes and ditches. One post pit was packed full of Roman pottery.


Excavating a pot filled post hole in the Vicus (Trench 4)

Excavating a pot filled post hole in the Vicus (Trench 4)

 

Carenza Lewis from the Time Team and the possible cremation pot

Carenza Lewis from the Time Team and the possible cremation pot

 

Day 7 (July 3rd) – The second day of filming for the Time Team. Trench 3 was fully cleaned revealing the evidence of timber foundations of at least two distinct phases. It seems possible that the earlier phase relates to the barracks of the early fort and the later phase to an annex attached to the later fort. Work began on excavating two of the possible cremation pits in Trench 2. These are thought to post date the abandonment of the later fort during the early part of the second century. One appeared to be associated with a post hole containing a single large ‘melon-bead’.

Trench 3 - the cut features of the barracks area

Trench 3 - the cut features of the barracks area

 

 

The film crew from Time Team in Trench 2

The film crew from Time Team in Trench 2

 

Day 8 (July 4th) – We began to excavate a number of features in Trench 4 (the Vicus area) including what appears to be either a bread oven or a corn drying kiln. Near the gateway of the early fort in Trench 1 we excavated a small pit that contained the remains of an amphora, although there was no trace of either the handles or neck. It may have been re-used as a container for collecting urine for fulling.

Excavating the kiln or oven in Trench 4

Excavating the kiln or oven in Trench 4

 

 

The crushed amphora in Trench 1

The crushed amphora in Trench 1

 

Day 9 (July 5th) – It rained all day! There was no possibility of doing any work on site and so most of the morning was spent washing the finds in one of the tents. We are still receiving visitors, even in the pouring rain. A welcome visit from Peter and Janet Webster (University of Cardiff) to discuss the dating of some of the finds. So far there is nothing that is earlier than the late first century AD and nothing that is later than the early second century AD. The latest dateable item is a single sherd of Samian Ware that might be Hadrianic in date (AD 117-138).

Showing visitors the site in the rain including finds specialists Peter and Janet Webster from the Univesrity of Cardiff

Showing visitors the site in the rain including finds specialists Peter and Janet Webster from the Univesrity of Cardiff

 

 

Washing pottery in the finds processing tent

Washing pottery in the finds processing tent

 

Day 10 (July 6th) – It was very windy today but at least it was dry. The first coin from the excavation was found in Trench 4 – a bronze coin of the Emperor Trajan (AD 97–117). Meanwhile, a deposit of charcoal containing a large quantity of charred grain was recovered from the bottom fill of the defensive ditch in Trench 1. The first of many school parties visited the site today (Llandeilo County Primary School) and they were guided around by the site education officer, Richard Jones. We also welcomed another group of volunteers who helped to define the wall trenches of the barracks in Trench 3.

Charcoal from the basal fill of the defensive ditch in Trench 1 containing charred grain

Charcoal from the basal fill of the defensive ditch in Trench 1 containing charred grain

The first school visit from Llandeilo CP

The first school visit from Llandeilo CP

Volunteers working in Trench 3

Volunteers working in Trench 3

Day 11 (July 7th) – Many important visitors during the day including Cadw Monuments inspectors – Sian Rees, Kate Roberts and Jonathon Berry. We also received further school visits – this time from Ysgol Teilo Sant and from Ysgol Llangynnor.

In Trench 2 we completed the excavation of two of the possible cremation pits, one of which also appears to have contained a substantial post.

Excavating the pit with cremated bone in Trench 2

Excavating the pit with cremated bone in Trench 2

 

Ken Murphy from Cambria Archaeology describing features in the Vicus arae to members of staff from Cadw

Ken Murphy from Dyfed Archaeological Trust describing features in the Vicus arae to members of staff from Cadw

 

School groups from Ysgol Teilo Sant and Ysgol Llangunnor at Trench 2

School groups from Ysgol Teilo Sant and Ysgol Llangunnor at Trench 2

 

Day 12 (July 8th) – The excavation of features associated with the vicus continued in Trench 4. One of the ditches in this area proved to be very substantial (over 1m deep and over 2m wide). There is now a suggestion that this might be one side of a ‘practice camp’ outside the garrison fort.

Showing students around from the University of Glamorgan

Showing students around from the University of Glamorgan

 

 

Levelling features in Trench 2

Levelling features in Trench 2

 

Day 13 (July 9th) – A highly successful open day. Various estimates of the numbers of visitors ranged between 750 and 1000. The very hot day clearly brought out the crowds. The visitors enjoyed exhibitions of the results of the excavation so far and of the Time Team filming the previous weekend. There was also a display of work from Ysgol Gynradd Ffairfach using teaching resource packs that have been produced to assist with the school visits to the excavation.

Hannah Bowden showing visitors some of the finds

Hannah Bowden showing visitors some of the finds

 

 

The Open Day inside the exhibition tent

The Open Day inside the exhibition tent

 

Day 14 (July 10th) – Day off!

 

 

Day 15 (July 11th) – The hottest day so far. The ground is becoming very dry and it is getting very difficult to excavate. However, we began excavating the linear gullies in Trench 3. We think that these are the foundation slots for timbers associated with the barrack block. However, several phases are clearly present with some of the foundations at different orientations. We also continued to process and sort the finds from the excavation.

A group of approximately 20 teenagers spent the day on the site as part of a work experience for Careers Wales. They helped to begin work on three 2m x 2m test pits in the vicus area to test the depth of the archaeological stratigraphy in the area of a small pond. Part of a large melon bead was recovered from the topsoil in one of these test pits.

Processing the finds from the excavation

Processing the finds from the excavation

 

 

Coping with the sun in Trench 3

Coping with the sun in Trench 3

Day 16 (July 12th) – The sun continues to shine. In Trench 1 we continued the excavation of the outer defensive ditch near to the gateway of the earlier fort. It was surprisingly narrow and shallow and unfortunately completely lacking in finds.

In Trench 2, we excavated to large square post pits. These structural features maybe associated with the Principia (Headquarters) of the fort.

Meanwhile we were treated to a drive past by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall although they did not have time to stop and visit the excavation!

 

Excavating a post pit in Trench 2 - possibly part of a colonade associated with the principia

Excavating a post pit in Trench 2 - possibly part of a colonade associated with the principia

Excavating the outer ditch near the gateway in Trench 1

Excavating the outer ditch near the gateway in Trench 1

A fly past from Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall after having lunch at Newton House

A fly past from Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall after having lunch at Newton House

 

Day 17 (July 13th) – The cut features in Trench 3 are proving to be very complicated. We now think that we can identify part of the plan of a large rectangular building – probably a barrack block. However, the pictures is confused by a number of other inter-cutting features representing later phases of building.

The complex rock cut gullies in Trench 3

The complex rock cut gullies in Trench 3

 

Working in Trench 2

Working in Trench 2

 

Day 18 (July 14th) – All the features associated with the later fort in Trench 2 appear to be cut though a thick layer of clay silt that may be a levelling layer over the remains of the earlier fort. By excavating a section though this layer we hoped that we might identify the defences of the earlier fort. By the end of the day we do indeed appear to have identified a large cut feature that may be one of the defensive ditches. We hope to clarify this tomorrow. Meanwhile we have been excavating a large pit also in Trench 2 that has contained a large assemblage of Roman pottery and glass.

The dark fill of the cut feature in Trench 2. This could be the fill of the defensive ditch of the early fort

The dark fill of the cut feature in Trench 2. This could be the fill of the defensive ditch of the early fort

Excavating a large pit of gully in Trench 2

Excavating a large pit of gully in Trench 2

Students of Ysgol Tregib being given a talk on the pottery from the excavation

Students of Ysgol Tregib being given a talk on the pottery from the excavation

 

Day 19 (July 15th) – An extremely busy day as we tried to tie up all the loose ends before finishing the excavation. We welcomed a second group from Careers Wales with another 20+ youngsters spending a day on the excavation as part of their work experience. We also welcomed back a BBC Wales TV film crew together with the presenter Jamie Owen. They were featuring the excavation as part of a future BBC2 series on the landscapes of Wales.

A final set of photographs was taken from each of the trenches using a photographic tower. Although we have achieved all our objectives the excavation is far from complete. In particular we very much hope to return to continue the excavation of Trenches 2 and 4. In Trench 2 we have had tantalising glimpses of the headquarters building – the Principia and have finally identified part of the defences of the early fort beneath a levelling horizon for the second, smaller fort. However, we have only scratched the surface of what is clearly a complex stratigraphy. Trench 4 has demonstrated the potential that the site has for addressing the key questions about the process of Romanisation in southwest Wales.

Final photograph of Trench 3

Final photograph of Trench 3

 

Final photograph of Trench 2

Final photograph of Trench 2

Final photograph of Trench 4

Final photograph of Trench 4

 

Day 20 (July 16th) – The second Public Open Day and the final day of the excavation – the site is backfilled on Monday. There was an even bigger turnout for the Open Day than the previous Saturday with estimates suggesting over 1000 visitors. It was very tiring for those giving talks at the various trenches but it was also very rewarding to have such a large public response.

This has been a hugely successful excavation and a very big thank you to all the staff of both Dyfed Archaeological Trust and the National Trust and to all the volunteers who have worked so hard during the three weeks. We very mush hope that we will be able to secure funding and support for future programmes of work at what is clearly a very rewarding and exciting site.

Open day

Open day

 

The defensive ditch of the early fort underlying the later fort in Trench 2

The defensive ditch of the early fort underlying the later fort in Trench 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

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