The project is investigating the relatively understudied later prehistoric
(3rd-1st millennia BC) agricultural and settlement remains in Ardudwy,
north-west Wales. The ongoing programme of fieldwork is funded by the Board
of Celtic Studies, the Robert Kiln Charitable Trust, Research Centre Wales
and supported by the University of Wales, Bangor, and Gwynedd Archaeological
There are two main areas of focus:
- assessing the later prehistoric archaeological
deposits and palaeo-environmental sediments in the study area;
a range of methodologies for identifying subsurface archaeological features
in upland soils
For further information, please contact:
Dr Robert Johnston
School of History, Welsh History and Archaeology Bangor University
E-mail: email@example.com or
John Griffith Roberts
Gwynedd Archaeological Trust
Ffordd y Garth
Gwynedd, and in particular central and western Caernarfonshire and Meirionnydd,
has among the best preserved prehistoric settlement remains in Wales, and
in the western seaboard of Britain generally. Yet some of the most visually
impressive features of these landscapes - the dispersed pattern of hut
circle settlements with associated field systems and cairnfields - are
also the least understood. The broadly accepted view is that these sites
date from the late Neolithic to the Iron Age (Lynch et al 2000). Yet the
attempts at a typological classification of the settlements (e.g. Griffiths
1950) have not been supported by the limited intrusive fieldwork that has
so far been undertaken (e.g. Crew 1998).
The study area
The study area is located in Ardudwy, Meirionnydd; a region roughly bounded
by Afon Dwyryd to the north, Afon Mawddach in the south, the high uplands
of the Rhinog Hills to the east and Cardigan Bay to the west. Ardudwy is
rich in upstanding archaeological remains of all periods, primarily distributed
throughout the enclosed and unenclosed pasture between the coastal flats
and the high slopes to the east. The area is included in the Register of
Landscapes of Outstanding Historic Interest in Wales (Cadw 1998).
Considering the extent and quality of the archaeological sites, there has
only been a limited amount of fieldwork in the area. The major upstanding
archaeological remains were recorded initially by the RCAHMW (1921), then
by Bowen and Gresham (1967) and subsequently enhanced through a broadly-based
programme of fieldwork (Kelly 1982). Most recently, air photographic mapping
has been undertaken at a scale of 1:5000 by the RCAHMW. Thematic surveys
have recorded hut circle and deserted rural (medieval) settlement (Smith
1999; GAT 1999). The only intensive ground survey has been at Egryn Abbey
(de Lewandowicz 1982). Twentieth century excavations include those by Crawford
(1920), Powell (1973), Lynch (1984) and Kelly (1984). The last investigated
two Iron Age enclosures, one of which produced two hearths of Neolithic
date. The palaeo-environmental context of the enclosures was examined by
Chambers and Price (1984; Chambers et al. 1988). A review of the environmental
research undertaken in the region is presented in Caseldine (1990).
Reasons for and circumstances of the project
The need to examine the extent and character of later prehistoric settlement
in north west Wales is identified as a research priority by the following:
Smith (1999), GAT (1999), GAT (in prep), and Caseldine (1990). Cadw and
the RCHAMW (1999) encourage the initiation of research projects that build
upon the findings of thematic threat related surveys (e.g. Smith 1999)
and the Uplands Initiative. Addressing these priorities will require a
major research project incorporating archaeological and environmental fieldwork
with clear, academically-informed aims and objectives. This project has
a dual role: it will be a small-scale investigation of the issues outlined
above, and it will act as a scoping study in advance of preparing a bid
for substantial funding from one or more of the British funding trusts
Project Aims & Objectives
- Gain an understanding of later prehistoric human occupation of north west
Wales through a study of the agricultural and environmental context
- Assess the potential of natural sediments located within the
study area for a research-led environmental sampling strategy.
- Assess the
potential of archaeological deposits considered to be of later prehistoric
date to produce good quality stratigraphical, dating and palaeo-environmental
- Assess the potential of survey methods such as geophysics and
test pitting to identify sub-surface archaeological features in the
The project began in September 2001 with a 10 day field season. A core area
of c.1km², roughly centred upon the settlement enclosure and ring
cairn at Hengwm (SH 615 203), was selected for intensive investigation.
A topographical survey was undertaken of the distinctive natural terraces
upon which much of the visible archaeological remains are located. Individual
earthwork plans (1:50) were drawn of the later prehistoric archaeological
field monuments. Geophysical surveys were carried out upon two of the 'terraces'.
The magnetometer and resistivity surveys revealed two anomalies which may
be archaeologically significant. Several transects of test pits (1x1m and
1x½m) were excavated
across the same terraces. They provided useful information on the local
soils, and they exposed a number of possible archaeological features and
A four week field season during July 2002 involved the more detailed investigation
of three areas.
Area A (small circular embanked enclosure / probable ‘ring cairn’) – evaluative
excavation revealed a stone bank, the structure of which varied around
the circumference. On the south and east sides, the bank consisted of
a loose rubble core revetted by large pitched stone slabs that were,
in one section, pitched inwards towards the core of the bank, and, in
another segment, pitched outwards. A redy brown soil sealed beneath the
bank was interpreted as a possible sealed land surface. On the north
and west sides of the enclosure there was less pattern to the spreads
of stone. Within the interior, towards the north-west side, a large shallow
oval pit was uncovered. The pit was filled with a dark brown, organic
rich soil with frequent small charcoal inclusions. The southern half
of the pit was sealed beneath a substantial stone slab.
Area B (complex embanked enclosure / possible hut circle settlement with later
reuse) – evaluative excavation exposed a complex pattern of deposits
that can only be partially understood from the limited investigations that
were undertaken. On the west side, within the enclosure, a series of roughly
cobbled and paved floor surfaces were found, the most regular of which lay
inside an arc of walling and is taken to represent the interior of a hut circle.
An irregular cobbled surface extending beyond the arc of stones is interpreted
as a surfaced yard or working compound external to, but contemporary with,
the hut circle. A series of poorly defined stakeholes were noted cutting this
floor deposit. A pit, containing significant quantities of burnt stone as well
as a few pieces of burnt clay and fragments of charcoal, was sealed by the
cobbled floor surface and truncated by one of the stakeholes. The outer wall
of the enclosure overlay a broad shallow feature which is interpreted as a
slight hollow way formed at the edge of the cobbled yard. The earth and stone
/ boulder walls visible on the surface of the site prior to excavation appear
to derive from later reuse, possibly medieval or post-medieval, which respects
and possibly part-utilises the outline of the earlier hut circle settlement.
Area D (small embanked enclosure / possible hut circle) – evaluative
excavation was inconclusive regarding the character of the structure. The
loose stone was cleared within two quadrants of the structure revealing a
low ‘wall’ with clearly defined outer facing stones, a rubble
core, and less well defined inner facing. The eastern, upslope, segment of
the wall appeared to revet a relatively deep external soil profile. The two
quadrants of the wall uncovered during the excavations were overlain by loose
stone and soil, which was concentred towards the possible inner face of the
wall, with a relatively stone free surface towards the centre.
Three weeks fieldwork were undertaken during June and September 2003. We
concentrated our efforts on the embanked enclosure in Area D.
Area D (small embanked enclosure /possible hut circle) – following on
from evaluative excavations in 2002, it was decided to extend the trench to
include the whole of the feature and to sample external areas to the north,
south and west. The low ‘wall’ was shown to have clearly defined
outer facing stones, a rubble core, and less well defined inner facing. A prominent
gap, flanked by upright stones, was identified on the north-east side. The
interior was relatively free of stones at the level of the basal course of
the wall facing. A small number of worked flints were recovered from the interior
of the structure, but aproximately 100 pieces of worked stone (flint, rock
crystal and quartz) were found in a dense concentration next to an earthfast
stone a few metres beyond the south-east edge of the enclosure.
Two further trenches were excavated in order to sample ephemeral features
and likely occupation areas that showed no visible archaeological traces. A
possible intermittment stone clearance bank situated close to Area D was shown
to be a geological feature. A second trench, excavated across what was thought
to be a natural terrace, produced no evidence of human occupation.
2004 fieldwork season
We hope to be in the field during September 2004. Anybody interested in volunteering
on the project should contact either of the project co-cordinators (details
available in the introduction section) for further information. The proposed
work programme is as follows:
The excavation of the embanked enclosure / probable hut circle in Area
D will be completed. A radiocarbon date is awaited from a sample of charcoal
collected from the primary surface in the interior of the enclosure.
Environmental sampling and analyses
An assessment and analysis of the environmental samples is ongoing at
the University of Wales, Lampeter.
- Bowen, E.G. & Gresham, C.A. 1967. History of Merioneth. Dolgellau:
Merioneth Historical & Record Society.
- Cadw 1998. Register of Landscapes
of Outstanding Historic Interest in Wales. Cardiff: Cadw, CCW and ICOMOS
- Cadw & RCHAMW 1999. Recording, Preserving and Presenting the Welsh
archaeological Landscape. Cardiff: Cadw.
- Caseldine, A. 1990. Environmental
Archaeology in Wales. Lampeter: Archaeology Department, St David's University
- Chambers, F.M., Kelly, R.S. & Price, S.M. 1988. Development
of the late-prehistoric cultural landscape in upland Ardudwy, north-west
Wales. In Birks, H.H., Birks, H.J.B., Kaland, P.E. & Moe, D. (Eds).
The Cultural Landscape: past, present and future. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press , 333-348.
- Chambers, F.M. & Price, S.M. 1988. The
environmental setting of Erw-wen and Moel y Gerddi: prehistoric enclosures
in upland Ardudwy, north Wales. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
- Crawford, O.G.S. 1920. An account of excavations at Hengwm,
Merionethshire, August and September 1919. Archaeologia
Cambrensis 6th Ser 20, 99-133.
Crew, P. 1998. Excavations at Crawcwellt West, Merioneth
1990-1998. Archaeology in Wales 38, 22-35.
- De Lewandowicz,
M. 1982. Egryn Abbey Landscape Survey. Unpub BA Dissertation,
University of Wales, Bangor.
- GAT 1999. Deserted Rural Settlement
in Meirionnydd. Unpub Draft Report #320, Gwynedd Archaeological Trust.
In Prep. Regional Research Framework for North West Wales.
Griffiths, W.E. 1950. Early settlements in Caernarfonshire.
Archaeologia Cambrensis 101, 38-71.
- Johnson, N. & Rose,
P. 1994. Bodmin Moor: an archaeological survey. London:
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fieldwork in western Merioneth, 1971-81. Journal of the Merioneth
Historical and Record Society 9 (II), 121-162.
- Kelly, R.S.
1988. Moel y Gerddi and Erw-wen: two late prehistoric circular enclosures
near Harlech, Gwynedd. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 54, 101-151.
Lynch, F. 1984. Moel Goedog circle I: a complex ring
cairn near Harlech. Archaeologia Cambrensis 133, 8-50.
F., Aldhouse-Green, S. & Davies, J. 2000. Prehistoric Wales.
Powell, T.G.E. 1973. Excavation of the megalithic
chambered tomb at Dyffryn Ardudwy, Merioneth, Wales.
Archaeologia 104, 1-49.
- RCAHMW 1921. An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments
in Wales and Monmouthshire Volume VI- County of Merioneth.
- Smith, G. 1999. Early Settlement in
Gwynedd, North-West Wales: approaches to archaeology and management. Unpub
Draft Report #328, Gwynedd Archaeological Trust.