The 2000 Season
The main aims of the 2000 season were to conduct a preliminary examination within the early medieval enclosure of the feature known as the 'spring', and to confirm the assumed eastern alignment of the enclosure ditch and wall.
Trench Y (approximately 24 x 14m) was located over the western half of the enclosure spring. Prior to excavation, this 'spring' feature had the form of a steep-sided depression measuring approximately 30 x 15m. The top of the silts within the depression, which were waterlogged and on occasions below water, lay at a depth of about 1m below the surrounding ground level. The removal of thick vegetation from the western half of the spring revealed previously concealed irregular contours which subsequent excavation established to be the product of a number of distinct phases of activity, in particular the construction of a post-medieval slab-lined well, and the more recent excavation and dumping of material to create much of the present hollow, in order to form a large watering hole for cattle.
A post-medieval layer of compacted rubble, associated with the post-medieval spring outfall, lay stratigraphically over an earlier slab-lined rectangular pool or 'reservoir' of early medieval date. This pool was roughly oval in plan, and measured approximately 4.7m in length and 4m in width. Early medieval deposits within it survived to a depth of approximately 0.3m, and were sealed directly by post-medieval layers associated with the later well. The early medieval contexts comprised complex lenses of grey silt and sand, containing large quantities of animal bone, as well as a number of diagnostic early medieval artefacts. These included a silver penny of Edmund (AD 939-46) from the upper early medieval horizon, and the end of a silver ingot (hack-silver), a copper alloy pin with wrythen-decorated globular head, ironwork and a punch-decorated folded strip of tin from other horizons. Two simple dry-stone steps had been carefully constructed against slabs lining the northern side of the pool, and would have provided easy access to water.
Excavation of the pool was hampered by continual flooding of the trench with spring water; despite waterlogged conditions and careful wet-sieving of the excavated fills, no organic artefacts were recovered from these silts. Approximately 50% of the early medieval pool deposits were excavated, the remainder being left for the 2001 season.
The remains of a paved street measuring 3m in width, carefully constructed with raised kerbs, were found to the north of the early medieval pool. Black earth from a layer immediately above the street surface produced a copper-alloy ringed pin of 10th-century type.
A small extension was made to the west of the trench to investigate an area of fired clay. This represented a large circular oven, whose walls were constructed on limestone embedded in clay (diameter of oven approximately 0.9m). The oven lay adjacent to an alignment of limestone blocks which resembled the supports for a wall sill. The oven would appear to be of early medieval date, and will be further investigated in 2001.
An L-shaped trench (Z) was located over the assumed line of the eastern defences. A short length of the enclosure wall (width approximately 2.3m) was exposed, identical in character to stretches uncovered in previous seasons. The outer face of the wall was more complete that the inner face, which had been damaged by ploughing. The ditch outside the wall was about 1m deep about 3m in width at its highest surviving level, narrowing to1m wide at its base (bedrock). As was recognised in 1999 in the ditch on the west side of the enclosure, at least three phases of recutting were identified. Significant quantities of animal bone were recovered from its upper fills.
Within the enclosure wall, a complex sequence of intercutting ditches (some about 0.5m in depth) and pits was found beneath a layer of black earth, some pre-dating the 9th/10th-century phase on the site. A shallow gully (width 0.4m) orientated east-west lay stratigraphically below the stone enclosure wall, and at least one of the shallow ditches (width about 1m) turned to form a small enclosed area which may have been similar in function and date to the 'enclosure' found in Trench T in1998. One section of another small ditch, which bisected this 'enclosure', contained what appeared to be collapsed dry-stone walling, roughly parallel with the enclosure wall. Some features in Trench Z may be Romano-British or earlier in date, and associated with pre-enclosure features outside the ditch.
A number of prehistoric features were found during the 2000 season of excavation. Trench Z revealed two small pits with dark silty fills containing Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age pottery, flint, burnt hazelnut shell and bone; one of these contained in addition a rubbing stone and a partially perforated pebble.
The crouched burial of a child was found in an oval pit, measuring 1.2 x 0.7m, situated to the east (outside) of the early medieval enclosure ditch. Three small slabs of limestone lined the east side of the pit (max. lengths 115mm, 215mm, 240mm), with two slightly larger limestone slabs acting as capstones (that at the southern end measuring 460mm in length; the other placed across the central area), in imitation of a cist. The burial lay on its left side, with the head to the north (i.e. facing east). No grave goods were found. The fill was a sticky clay, derived from upcast of the pit.
Most of the prehistoric pottery recovered from Trench Z was coarse and thick-walled, and included sherds with impressed thumb-nail, stabbed or scored line decoration. When the dates of the burial and those pits and slots possessing prehistoric characteristics have been confirmed by radiocarbon dating, it will be possible to assess the relationship of the burial to contemporary features. It is possible that the spring provided freshwater during this period, though this is as yet unproven.
While the post-medieval spring-head at Llanbedrgoch has never faded from local memory, its early medieval precursor has provided a diagnostic form of structure for this period. It is rare to identify such a prolonged sequence of activity around a spring. At Llanbedrgoch a reservoir appears to have been constructed, to judge from the initial spot-dating, during the 9th or 10th century at the latest. It would seem
Likely, however, that the spring was also used in the preceding periods. No clear evidence has yet been found for the deposition of votive items, or for the reverence of the site as a sacred spot, although it is significant that a late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age burial was placed about 40m to the east of the spring and some 10m north of the assumed course of its outfall stream. It is well recognised that many watery places have in the past held special religious significance, some as 'liminal' places where 'the present world' links with the Underworld. The significance of Roman artefacts from the course of the outfall stream, and of the early medieval finds from the pool silts will be reviewed following further excavation. A wide range of motives may prompt the throwing of objects into such features (in 10th-century Christian Wales, perhaps 'good luck' rather than votive), while some objects may be from secondary contexts.
The paved street was contemporary, and provided a direct, easy link between the pool and Building 1 to the north. These features provide an important key to the spatial organisation of the site during the Viking-period. The street appears to have formed a north-south thoroughfare across the site. Moreover, the nature of its construction suggests that similar areas of limestone paving discovered in 1998 may also represent arterial routes off this main axis, rather than floor levels within buildings, as previously thought. One such route may have run to a building ranged inside the wall on the eastern side of the enclosure. A number of new factors point to a settlement enclosure with the capacity in the 10th century to house a significant number of people: (1) the well constructed lanes/streets within the enclosure; (2) the prospect of more buildings set parallel to the enclosure wall; (3) the discovery of a substantial oven (rather than customary open hearth), probably for bread production.
I am most grateful to Roger and Debbie Tebbutt for permission to conduct the work on their farm and for generously donating the finds to the National Museums & Galleries of Wales; to the original finders of the site, Mr A. Gillespie and Mr P. Corbett, for their co-operation and support; to the excavation team, in particular Evan Chapman, Mark Lodwick, Heather Jackson, David Stevens and Dr Alice Roberts. Special thanks to: Dr Steve Burrow for maintaining the site web-pages, in addition to participating on site; Mary Davis for conservation of finds; Alison Brigstocke for information on the early fieldnames; and all the volunteers and students who participated.
Dr Mark Redknap