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.
This site continues to amaze, surprise and inspire – follow us if you can.
23 August 2012,
After a gap of more than a decade, a team of archaeologists has returned to excavate at Llanbedrgoch, Anglesey. You can read more about previous seasons at this Viking-Age settlement here http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/archaeology/vikings/
Mark Redknap and his team made an exciting discovery towards the end of the 2001 season - evidence that there might be an early medieval cemetery on the site. Are they right? Finds are appearing already, but what can they tell us? Watch this space to find out more!
Mark is joined this season by
Evan Chapman (Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales)
David Griffiths (University of Oxford)
Tudur Davies (University of Sheffield)
Brian Milton, an experienced archaeologist from Cornwall who has spent many seasons at Llanbedrgoch
Archie Gillespie, one of the two metal detectors who originally found the site and who is a dab hand with the archaeological trowel too.
Students from Cardiff, Bangor and Toronto Universities, and other volunteers.
Hopefully you'll get to hear more about them as the dig progresses over the next 3 weeks.
24 January 2012,
Everything has now been recorded, so the next step is to lift the pins! The decorative pins were once attached to an organic material, possibly leather, this has now gone, replaced by soil and once the soil has been removed there will be nothing holding the pins together. So the challenge is to lift and conserve the pins in such a way to preserve the original fish scale pattern and any dimensions of the group, which may help identify this mystery object in the future.
A bit of a challenge, so I decided to lift only small sections at a time, which does mean breaking up the largest surviving section unfortunately, but I should be able to reconstruct this later.
In the first image you can see that some of the pins are facing up and some facing down, indicating that the material the pins were once attached to was folded, this has perished leaving the pins in this position. So now it’s not just a mystery object it’s also a layered mystery object! Oh joy!
On the next image, outlined in white, is the first section to be tackled; I thought I’d start with the smallest and simplest first! The upper surface of the pins is faced up with Japanese tissue and adhesive. Once dry I excavate round and under the section then lift and turn it over.
Not as straight forward as I thought as something new appears, not just pins, but a disc headed stud. The x-ray also reveals the remains of a chain, plus a line of dome headed studs
On cleaning, the chain can clearly be seen attached to the stud and would have once been suspended from it, possibly linking up to another stud elsewhere on the armour. There are also enough dome headed studs running in a line to suggest they were part of a deliberate pattern. The remains of a tinned surface and therefore white metal finish survive on the upper surface of the stud and at the end of the pin there is a washer or rove identical to that on the plaque featured on the previous blog. So there is a good chance that they were once part of the same object, but again it’s too early to be sure.
The disc and pins are now cleaned and preserved, in the last photo they are laid out as they were in the ground. The dome headed pins were in direct contact with the disc suggesting they were on the same layer as the stud, which was facing downwards in the soil and attached to something folded under the layer with fish scale pins, which were facing up. Hope that makes sense!
Now to tackle the next section and I have a feeling that this may be full of surprises as well.
Unearthing more mystery objects from a soil block lifted during excavations at the Roman site of Caerleon
6 January 2012,
The second significant object in the same block as the pins (highlighted in the previous blog in this series) is an unusually shaped bronze sheet decorated with a stud depicting a human head. The head is wearing what appears to be a Phrygian cap. This type of soft, conical shaped hat with the top flopping forward was originally associated with people from the eastern part of the Roman Empire.
The head, cast in solid bronze, measures from ear to ear about 2cm. Soil and debris obscure the detail but I can see under this the features of a face peeking through, including large almond shaped eyes and curly hair poking out from under the cap. Looks a bit of a mischievous character to me!
The bronze sheet is an odd shape too; the edges are damaged and eroded in places. I’ve indicated with a black line the surviving edges I can be sure of. The damage on the other edges means unfortunately that they may not reflect the original dimensions of the object.
The sheet is not flat either, these bends and folds in the metal look like they were made in antiquity as the original patina is still smooth and undamaged around these areas. If the metal had been bent after the green patina was formed then this fragile surface would have cracked and flaked off revealing the metal below. So was this metal sheet originally wrapped round something more three dimensional? Difficult to say at this stage, it is also possible it got damaged in antiquity when flung on a pile of other armour and scrap, before it finally got buried. It’s amazing such delicate objects have survived at all!
When the sheet was lifted and turned over, four metal pins were found protruding out of the back. One, in the middle, belonged to the decorative stud; the pin had been punctured through the sheet to secure it. The three smaller pins are part of the sheet, created during the original casting by the looks of things.
Where the metal had been lifted there was a dark stain in the soil, probably the only evidence we will ever have that an organic material was once present. Among this there were fragments of a small doughnut shaped object. On further examination its original location could be identified as it was dislodged when the plate was lifted. The object lined up with the central stud and is in fact a washer or rove associated with securing items to leather. Two other tiny roves were found and all 3 have now been reattached to the pins at the back of the sheet. These now give us an indication of the thickness of the original backing material, which is about 3mm. The possible association with leather links this object to the pins lying near by. These were also applied to a flexible backing like leather; therefore there is a strong possibility that these artifacts were part of the same object, but more work has to be done to establish this.
15 November 2011,
The large block of armour was initially far too heavy to lift in one piece, so we had to split it into three. Julia has been working on the largest section (see previous blog) and I’m now excavating one of the smaller blocks.
At first glance this second block contains a number of interesting objects. A piece of bronze sheet with a cast head, a plain bronze disc, scale armour, a selection of iron objects (not yet identified) and something composed of rows of overlapping flat headed pins, similar in appearance to drawing pins. At this stage it’s difficult to tell if these objects are associated or not.
The most striking object in the block is the cluster of overlapping disc headed pins that have been laid down in rows and imitate scale. When new and brightly polished the copper alloy discs would have shimmered and caught the light. They are now very fragile, little metal remains and their shape is preserved by the green copper corrosion products. Retrieval and conservation is going to be fun and probably age me about 10 years!
The pins were once attached to a backing, probably made of leather which would have been flexible and allowed movement. This has now perished, leaving a black stain in the soil. I’ve kept samples so we can have a closer look at this later. However, the thickness of the backing material can be established by measuring the distance between the head and the bend in the pin.
Now the backing has gone, the soil is the only thing keeping the pins together. It’s going to be a challenge lifting them and preserving the pins original association. This is vital though as it might help identify this mysterious object .
In a time before modern mechanisation it is hard to work out how the Romans managed to make such small and perfectly formed little pins. A closer look down the microscope reveals interesting manufacturing marks but doesn’t really help with the intriguing question, how did they make them? On closer inspection different types of pins have been used, some are domed, some flat and there are also slightly larger studs, which may indicate that the pins were possibly laid in a pattern. I've put a few pictures up just in case anyone has seen an object like this before or fancies a challenge and work out how these little disc headed pins could have been made?
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