11 September 2012,
In the past week finds processing started in earnest, as stratified deposits were by then being dug across most of the site. In the first two weeks keeping on top of the objects coming from the site had only been a part time job: listing and packing the individual metal, pottery and glass finds that had been turning up. With the serious digging of stratified deposits, however, animal bone worth keeping for further study, started to emerge in considerable quantity. The midden (spread of dumped rubbish) in the main trench (Trench AG) was also being systematically sampled, producing tubs of soil needing processing.
The animal bone and the soil samples form the two main strands of the finds processing going on site. The animal bone needs washing and drying before it can be bagged up for future study: when it will hopefully give insights into the diet and farming methods of the inhabitants of the site.
The soil samples are processed in a flotation tank. A sample, held in a fine mesh, has water pumped up through it from below while being agitated and broken up by the hands of the operator. The flow of the water carries off light, organic, components (charcoal, grain, seeds and other plant remains), which is collected in a very fine mesh sieve. Meanwhile the bulk of the soil drops through the mesh into the bottom of the tank leaving the coarse residue of the sample in the mesh. This is mostly small fragments of stone but will hopefully also contain small animal and fish bones that would not otherwise get found. Both the material floated off and the coarse residues are then left to dry and bagged up for later sorting.
5 September 2012,
The teams in our three trenches have made excellent progress. In the main trench (AG), the full width of the stone enclosure wall has been revealed, and today we were able to identify a buried ground surface beneath (pre-dating) the wall, as well as upcast from the cutting of the early medieval ditch. In the north-east of the trench, a gully has been identified which formed one side of a small enclosure within the walls. This appears to have been a drip gully and drainage ditch around a timber building.
We have decided to extend our small square trench (AH) in the light of the human remains found a few days ago. This trench was sited to establish whether further burials existed in this part of the site, and the discovery promises to add significantly to our understanding of this episode of the site’s history. The crouched burial identified so far has only been partially uncovered (top of skull and femur), but it is clear that these articulated bones represent an addition to the small group of five bodies buried outside the defensive wall of the site during the second half of the tenth century.
In our narrow slit trench (AI) on the north-east side of the early medieval enclosure, the team has defined the edges on the inner and outer edges of the two defensive ditches, and a possible prehistoric feature at one end.
One of the more significant finds made so far is the hoop and decorated terminal of a copper-alloy penannular brooch. This is reminiscent of one found in the ninth- century Trewhiddle hoard. The midden deposits within trench AG continue to produce copious quantities of animal bone (important for our understanding of husbandry and diet), as well as ironwork.
4 September 2012,
Today started very pleasantly with sun and light winds, although became overcast by lunchtime, but thankfully still dry. The muddy remains of the deluges of previous days are now largely cleared away from site surfaces and we are down to midden layers across most of the main trench. The trench has now been allotted various sample areas to provide detailed insights into the midden layers, which are getting blacker as we go down through them. The main enclosure ditch where it crosses through this trench has been cross-sectioned, with a grey charcoal-flecked soil filling its upper layer. At the other end of the trench, not far from the spring and pool at the centre of the enclosure, the location of a single, important human burial found deep under the midden in a previous season (2001) is being explored and the backfill of the old trench above it is being removed.
Two smaller trenches are revealing details of the enclosure defences and ditches. One on the western side shows an interesting stepped profile to the ditch, almost as if those digging it were progressively deepening it as it crossed over the limestone scarp. Another long, narrow trench on the north-eastern side of the enclosure was started two days ago to test a possible double-ditch type anomaly which was noticed on the geophysics. This has proved to be correct, with two ditches crossing this trench. Work is now under way to establish their depth and extent, and hopefully to clarify whether one is earlier than the other.
Today is my last day on site as I am only able to supervise for the first half of the four week excavation season. It has been an extremely enjoyable and nostalgic return for me to dig on a favourite site with old friends, having been part of the site team here in the 1996-99 seasons. The weather this time has been less than brilliant, but we have had quite a few nice days amidst the rainy ones, and the forecast is now good. The student team (from Cardiff and Bangor universities) is excellent, at least as good as any we have had in previous seasons. I strongly suspect the most interesting discoveries of this season will now occur in the next two weeks! I will be watching this blog with interest.
4 September 2012,
After two weeks of hard work by all the team to remove ploughsoil, and backfill from previous years’ excavation, the archaeological remains are finally being examined in detail.
Today, one discovery brought the entire site to a halt, bringing everyone to gather around one of the smaller exploratory trenches opened last week. Following clearing rubble from the upper fill of the enclosure ditch, the longbone of a burial was found on the western side of the enclosure ditch. It is hoped that this exciting discovery will provide more information relating to a group of five skeletons previously found immediately to the south during the excavation seasons of 1998 and 1999.
Weather conditions on site are currently excellent for the detection of archaeological features. This is exemplified by the discovery of a several archaeological features within an area previously excavated in 1998 at the east end of the main trench. Some of these features were previously known from the earlier season, but remained unexcavated because of a lack of time.
Elsewhere in the main trench, the team has uncovered more of the enclosure wall defining the western boundary of the site, and have also begun the excavation of a slot through the enclosure ditch adjacent to that wall. Exploratory slots placed through midden deposits at the east end of the trench are finding animal bones in large quantities, which will provide valuable dietary information about the inhabitants of the site.
These tantalising glimpses into the archaeology of the site are getting everyone very excited, and we look forwards to seeing what new discoveries await us during the next two weeks.
Tudur Burke Davies
29 August 2012,
RETURN TO LLANBEDRGOCH (WEEK ONE)
The unexpected discovery in 2001 of an intramural burial within the early medieval enclosed settlement at Llanbedrgoch raised a new series of questions about the site, its occupants, their activities and their relationships with other regions.
We returned to the site a week ago, and the last eight days have focused on setting out the new areas of excavation, removing ploughsoil, monitoring weather forecasts and adjusting the daily tasks to make the best of at times trying conditions. The team of students includes volunteers from Bangor and Cardiff, and one from Toronto (Canada). Yesterday we were joined by some local, experienced, volunteers from Gwynedd and Anglesey. They have all been outstanding, and the early medieval archaeology of the site is already being transformed. Excavation is an ongoing process, and if you follow us over the next three weeks, the team will provide you with personal insights into the excavation.
Even though the research design has clearly stated objectives, the work often reveals evidence of a completely different nature. Our return this year was in fact the result of such an unexpected discovery and its implications. The burial from inside the enclosure (Burial 6) was not revealed in plan through specific searching for inhumations, or the recognition of subtle changes in soil colour or character, but by the decision to cut a narrow trench through the early medieval ‘black earth’ midden material in the south-western area of the site in order to reveal the midden sequence and facilitate section drawing and sampling.
In spite of the profound silence of the individual in this grave and those discovered in 1998-99, they continue since their discovery to help us answer in increasing detail a range of fundamental historical questions:
How did the people of Llanbedrgoch and north-west Wales, who had contact with Anglo-Saxons, Irish and Scandinavians, respond to such peoples?
How does the archaeological evidence for the politics and economy of early medieval Wales compare to that provided by other sources?
Were the daily lives of people at Llanbedrgoch during the sixth and seventh centuries different from those in the ninth and tenth centuries?
What types of diet and health did they enjoy?
How did Christianity affect their lives and burial practices?
We have already begun to answer some of these questions – one of the first artefacts to be found last week in the ploughsoil was a lead necklace pendant in the form of a cross – slightly larger than one found in an earlier season of excavation at the site.
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