Meillionydd Excavations

Now I’ve arrived back home and had a few days to unpack and relax a bit, I guess it is probably time to make my first ever excavation related review. We’ll take it from the bottom, start simple and work up. I’ll detail the build up, the dig itself, the related events in the local “Archaeology festival” and the living experience. There will also be an accompanying photo album hopefully. This isn’t going to be a short one that’s fair to say..

The Build Up
I myself am an aspiring archaeologist. That is the big plan for my future, hence why I am putting myself through 3+ years of poverty as a student in order to gain a sufficient degree to make my break into the scene on a professional level. I have some site experience having worked at the local archaeology unit for my work experience back in my school years but nothing truly substantial so when the chance arose to work an entire site from the start to the finish of one excavation period, I jumped at it.

I grabbed the pre-excavation and interim reports regarding the sites and did a bit of background reading, got online and bought myself a pair of trowels, a holster for them and a big hat and then lumped them all into a tool box. Packed up all my scruffiest clothes and hit the road off to what seemed like the middle of nowhere, the Llynn Peninsula, North Wales. I already knew this area had a fairly abundant array of archaeology as does most of North Wales but I had no idea it was as influential and it really is.

The Excavation
The site itself didn’t look like much at first glance. A small hill field used in the past for crop growth but now just for sheep grazing with nothing really distinguishing it from any other Welsh field. There are several reasons as to why this site was chosen as one of archeological important and they are as follows.

  • Physical Features – When you looked down upon the site from of the surrounding bigger hills it became clear that the hill itself had a double ring of raised earth around it.
  • Local History – The reason the site was no longer used for crop growth was because since more modern technologies have advanced it had become almost impossible to effectively plow the land due to the large rock content not far below the surface.
  • These, coupled with the knowledge of similar sites within the region all became factors provoking a geophysical study which highlighted a double ring work enclosure with evidence of round houses.

As this was the second season of excavations at the site, some of the features were already known of. There was already clear evidence for the banks of the double ring work and several round houses and so the trenches from last year were extended to try and uncover new areas. I myself was lucky enough to get at least some time working in each of the trenches on site.

Trench 1 (East Extension)
This was one of the two trenches I spent most of my time working in. The trench area was an extension of a previous trench and was a long thin cut designed to expose the inner and outer faces of the outer bank, the ditch which is common on the outside of such sites and then any features just beyond this. There was little in the way of actual removable finds found in this trench however several features were uncovered. At the west end of the trench excavations uncovered a quarry hollow which was just inside of the inner face of the outer bank. This face  was also very clear and coupled with the outer face around 2 metres beyond this helped us to gauge how big the bank could have been. The outer face of the bank was another clear feature here as it was lined with quite large rocks, carefully placed. Throughout the dig, this trench had yielded the expected results until the point when the ditch was to be dug. As we continued excavating it became clear that on this particular site there was in fact no outer ditch, or at least no evidence at this area of the site.

Trench 1 (West Extension)
This was probably the trench that I spent the least time in. It was another extension of last seasons Trench 1 however it was from the opposite end and was twice as wide as the East extension. This trench was aimed to excavate any features that sat within the inner of the ring work and uncovered a small roundhouse complete with a hearth** and what appeared to be a small drainage gulley (Man-made or natural is unknown.) The round house was also home to a pair of very small, smooth rounded pebbles which were fashioned from stone not natural to the area. On site these were interpreted as possibly counters or gaming type pieces.

Trench 2 (Extension)
The other trench where I spent most of time. Again this trench was an extension of a much smaller trench that had been previously excavated. The trench area itself was somewhere in the region of around 11×4 metres (If memory serves.) This trench was aimed at excavating more of the outer bank and also further excavate a feature found the year before that was believed to be the entrance way in to the enclosure. Again the trench was fairly standard in its features for the first week or so, that was until we noticed a distinct change in the bank direction. With some further excavation and head scratching from the site supervisors we found that this change in direction was in fact not the stonework of the bank and was instead an unexpected round house wall which was really quite an interesting find. The wall itself was very obvious and remarkably well preserved.

Trench 3
The last trench and by far the biggest. This was a re-excavation of one of last years unfinished trenches which was known to be the home of several different phases of round houses. This trench also was home to a selection of nice finds such as hammer-stones, grind-stones and even a spindle-whirl as well as some rather important metal working slag.

The Archaeology Festival
Not too far from the dig site was the archaeological reconstruction centre “Felin Uchaf” with whom the dig staff “teamed up” with in order to run several events relating to the site and the areas local history. These events included several story telling evening within the constructed round house, a couple of lectures, several open days for schools and the public and a last night dig finishing feast. As I wanted to get the most out of the experience as the chance probably wont rise again so readily I attend the vast majority of these events. I enjoyed the story telling events immensely, had a laugh at some of the lectures and even got to help out with the school open days. I really enjoyed the latter especially as it helped me to bring archaeology to the younger kids and help them to understand what we were doing better, as well as also helping me see how heritage centres run such events.

The Living Experience
Probably the hardest part of the dig itself wasn’t the 8 hours a day, 6 days a week of working, it wasn’t the weather or the sometimes tedious days of drawing it was in fact the outside life of the dig. Throughout the dig we were put up in accommodation close to the dig site. The guys from Cardiff got a chalet, the dig supervisors and Bangor girls got a house, leaving Bob, Max and I to share the static caravan. This all sounded well at first until we realized that in this case “Static” was actually an optimistic phrase for a standard caravan on axle stands with a small out house built on the side. Now I’m quite a tall lad, as are Max and Bob and so three weeks inside of a caravan with the people you spend all day with and then all evening became a bit of a grueling experience. Not because I have any problem with them at all but more because I like my own time and space every now and then and with the situation as it was that just couldn’t really happen making it a somewhat tense environment at times.

Finally.
This posting is in no way a comprehensive account of the dig or really even what it found, it is only here to serve as a taster. For anyone interested further in the site keep watching this space as the final works of Dr Waddington and Prof. Karl become available I’m sure I will be mentioning them here in the future. Overall though the three weeks have made me realise that this is exactly what I want to do with my life. Being outdoors every day, discovering slices of the past and bringing them to people is like a dream come true. So every now and then there was a bad point but thats life, you take the good with the bad.