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The 1998 Season

The main aims in 1998 were to investigate further the eastern end of Building 2 (first identified in 1995, and dated to the tenth century), and to complete excavation of a transect across the early medieval enclosure and ditch systems on the eastern side of the site.

The main trench (Trench 'R') was L-shaped and measured approximately 45m x 8m; an extension to the north (R1) uncovered the eastern end of Building 2. Evidence for smithing was found beneath the later infill of this building, and a number of small features were investigated which were cut by the stone footings of its eastern end (one pit fill was radiocarbon dated to cal AD 405-670 (Beta-123198, 1510+/- 80BP). A stone-lined drain provided a radiocarbon date of cal AD 630-980 (Beta-123196, 1270+/-90BP). The mid-fill of a large circular pit lined with upright slabs of limestone ('stave' fashion) has produced a radiocarbon date of cal AD 640-890 (Beta-123209. 1290+/-70BP). In Trench 'R2', a partially paved early medieval structure was found to overlie the inner eastern enclosure ditch, and a layer associated with this paving has produced a radiocarbon date of cal AD 680-905 and cal AD 920-950 (Beta-123206, 1230+/-50BP). The lower fill of the outer ditch is dated cal AD 540-770 (Beta-123200, 1410 +/- 70BP).

Trenches 'S' and 'T' in the south-western area of the enclosure examined fifth/sixth to tenth-century midden deposits and re-evaluated the western enclosure perimeter identified in 1997. In Trench 'S', a massive enclosure wall measuring 2.2m in width and orientated approximately north-south was discovered, constructed of large limestone blocks with rubble infill. Traces of this wall had been found in 1997 (as collapse) on the inside of the enclosure ditch on the opposite (eastern) side of the site. The remarkable preservation of the wall in Trench 'S' was the result of its subsidence into an earlier accumulation of 'black earth',and a degree of protection from ploughing which had been provided by a sudden dip in the limestone scarp at this point. Similar subsidence had resulted in the preservation of the corner of a building constructed of limestone footings (similar to Buildings 1 and 2) whose rear wall lay parallel to the inner face of the defensive wall. A deposit immediately beneath the building has produced a radiocarbon date of cal AD 690-990 (Beta-123201, 1190+/-60BP).

The skeletons of two individuals lay in the upper fill of a ditch situated immediately outside the enclosure wall. The ditch, with a radiocarbon date of cal AD 620-775 (Beta-123212, 1360+/-50BP), was a continuation of the outer ditch on the opposite side of the enclosure. Contrary to usual Christian practice, both burials were orientated north-south rather than east-west. One burial was extended, with slightly flexed legs; the other was crouched, lying on its left side. The individuals appear to have died young, and to have been buried beneath a rough pile of stones, rather than in the local cemetery. Had we at last come face to face with witnesses to the Viking Age on Anglesey? In November 1998 a sample from one of the leg bones from the extended burial provided an AMS date of cal AD 770-970 (Beta-123213, 1460 +/- 70 BP). Further excavation in this area may provide clues to the circumstances surrounding their deaths, and whether they are isolated burials or associated with other graves.

Trench 'T' produced another paved surface, possibly the interior of a timber structure lying beneath midden deposits on its western edge. It lay in the centre of a small ditched enclosure measuring some 8m across, with a more substantial ditch to the south. The radiocarbon date obtained from fill of the smaller ditch was cal AD 630-780 (Beta-123197, 1350 +/- 50 BP). Deposits of charcoal and fired clay in this area, probably associated with metalworking activity, produced a radiocarbon date of cal AD 530-780 (Beta-123202, 1410 +/- 80 BP).

The interpretation of the 1998 season (as published)

"The discovery of a substantial defensive wall around the site, and evidence for a fourth and fifth building have provided a new perspective on the appearance and spatial organisation of this fascinating site. Early medieval artefacts found during the excavation include polychrome glass beads, fragments of decorated bone combs and a small bell with ring-and-dot decoration. A lead motif piece with punched decoration suggests that Hiberno-Norse arm-rings of broad band type may have been manufactured on the site during the 10th century."

The settlement at Llanbedrgoch would appear to represent a new type-site for ninth/tenth-century Wales - a low-lying, fortified multifunctional centre.

  1. Early medieval farmstead, with some craft activity. Timber buildings within enclosure, defined by bank and ditch.
  2. c.850 burials in upper fill of enclosure ditch which had silted up. (Corresponds with period of resistance to Viking raids by Rhodri Mawr (844-877/8)).
  3. Remodelling of site. Perimeter upgraded with stout defensive wall; Buildings 1-5 constructed around central open space, with stone footings. (Corresponds to period of secruity under Hywel Dda, and decline in Viking raiding).
  4. Development of site as multifunctional centre; growth of Hiberno-Norse commercial contact as shores around the Irish Sea become a single 'Scandinavian' community of taste.

The temporary Viking 'take-over' of the site remains a possibility. The proposed programme of excavations may provide important clues to the organisation of high status maenolau if not llysoedd (royal courts), and their dependent maerdrefi (bond settlements) - perhaps a precursor of the 11th century commotal system in North Wales. In 1999 it is planned to investigate further the burial deposits and to examine the southern extent of the enclosure.

Acknowledgements

A considerable debt of gratitude is owed to the landowner for permission to conduct the work on his land and generously donating the finds to the National Museum of Wales; to the Board of Celtic Studies for a grant towards the cost of the 1994 excavations; to the original finders Mr A. Gillespie and Mr P. Corbett, for their kind cooperation and generous donation of finds; to the 1994 geophysical team Mike Hamilton and Steve Mills; and to the excavation teams, in particular Jerry Bond, Evan Chapman, Martin Comey, David Griffiths, Mark Lodwick, Brian Milton, Richard Mourne, David Stevens and Chris Swanson; and to Mary Davis, Penny Hill, Louise Mumford and Katherina Wollny for the cleaning and conservation of finds; to all the volunteers and to all the students from Cardiff, Bournemouth, Exeter and London.

Dr Mark Redknap

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