The Viking age settlement at Llanbedrgoch

Decorated lead weight from Llanbedrgoch

Discovery

One of the most intriguing settlement complexes belonging to this period lies on the east side of Anglesey. It has been the subject of annual fieldwork by the Department of Archaeology & Numismatics which is starting to change our perception of Wales in the Viking period (for more detailed annual summaries of excavations, see site reports). The site was discovered in 1994 after a number of metal detector finds had been brought to the Museum for identification. These included an Anglo-Saxon penny of Cynethryth (struck 787-792), a penny of Wulfred of Canterbury (struck c.810), 9th-century Carolingian deniers of Louis the Pious and Charles the Bald, and three lead weights of Viking type.

This object from Llanbedrgoch, unrecognised for many years, was identified as a Viking Age ringed pi

The search begins

The hunt for elusive archaeological evidence was rather like looking for a needle in a haystack . In our case, the 'needle' took the form of a fragment of 10th-century ringed pin, discovered in the bottom of a tin holding an assortment of objects collected from the fields over the years. This provided important corroboration that the initial finds represented more than casual loss.

The 'haystack' was the land, under cultivation for barley. The first stage of the fieldwork in 1994 was an examination of the fields by surveying and limited excavation. In the field which had produced the Viking weights, a ditch was found enclosing a large U-shaped area on a gentle slope facing south. The ditch was found to be rock-cut in parts and about 2m wide and 1m deep. A range of dates from the 5th to the 11th century were obtained by radiocarbon dating of charcoal from its fills.

Cleaning limestone bedrock near the enclosure ditch

The dig so far...

Excavation of a 'hot spot' of magnetic activity recorded during a magnetometer survey uncovered a post-hole cut into bedrock within an area of general levelling, thought to represent a house platform. There have since been five main areas of excavation, and the complex history of the site is becoming apparent.

From hunter-gatherers to first farmers

A freshwater spring at the lower end of the enclosure appears to have been a focus of activity for a considerable time. Some of the flint from the excavation is Late Mesolithic in character (c.5,000BC), while other flint is later Neolithic (c. 3,300 - 2,000BC) or Early Bronze Age (c. 2,500 - 2,000BC). Cooking during the Late Bronze Age (c.1,130 - 885BC) is suggested by a burnt mound (of fire cracked stone).

Roman (c.AD63 - AD400)

Activity during the Roman period is represented by a scatter of isolated finds, including several 1st/2nd-century bronze brooches and a clipped silver coin (siliqua) of Honorius dated c.400. The excavations have also produced a dozen worn sherds of Roman pottery, and radiocarbon dates for several features from about 240 to 450.

Volunteers marking the location of postholes of a large timber hall predating Building 2

Pre-Viking (c.AD450 -c.850)

Pre-Viking construction of the ditch enclosing the settlement has been confirmed by artefacts associated with it. It is to this phase that a small wattle-and-daub roundhouse and a large timber hall, represented by large post pits paired with smaller post holes on their north sides, probably belong.

Archaeomagnetic samples being taken from the hearth in Building 1

Viking Age (c.850 - 1000)

This timber building appears to have been replaced in the late 9th or early 10th century by at least two rectangular halls with stone footings. Archaeomagnetic dating of the clay lining of a well-preserved central hearth of the sunken floored hall-house (Building 1) established that it was last used between about 890 and 970. The building was contemporary with the large sunken floored hall or barn (Building 2) immediately to the east of it, whose fills have been dated by radiocarbon analysis to c. 855-1000. This larger rectangular building lay almost perpendicular to Building 1, and appears to have measured at least 8m in width by 12m in length.
10th-century buckle and knife blade

An area of stone paving to the west of Building 1 marked the position of the entrance to a third sunken-floored building. Ploughing appears to have removed any clear evidence for the walls of what was probably a slightly smaller rectangular building. Finds within black earth covering the sunken floor included a copper alloy buckle of 10th-century type and an iron knife blade with angled back, confirming that the building was contemporary with Buildings 1 and 2.

Lower courses of the enclosure wall

On the east and west sides of the enclosure, evidence has now been found for large defensive dry-stone wall over 2m thick, probably erected in the 9th century inside the ditch, which had already largely silted up. A deep build-up of black earth (rubbish dump) behind this wall at the south-west corner of the enclosure contained large quantities of animal bone and a range of artefacts, including socketed iron tools for leatherwork, a leatherworker's awl, mounts and bucket bindings.

Viking Age (c.1000?)

There appears to be at least one final structural phase, involving the construction of a large square building, with a slightly raised central hearth. It post-dates Buildings 1 and 2 and may be aligned on several ditches which cut though the earlier features (dated c.900-1080). The area then appears to have reverted to agriculture, which in time removed all surface traces of the former settlement.

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