Archaeology, Mortality and Material Culture

Heritage Fail! The Hillfort That Never Was.


Traces of the Iron Age

I recently visited Pembrokeshire and went for a walk in the woods within the Bluestone National Park Resort. This is a fabulous place to stay and it clusters about the ruins of a Norman church of Newton North as discussed here.


This way to the Iron Age

Following streams and circling up and down hillsides, the walk was a stark contrast to the manicured surroundings of the holiday lodges. Amidst the mossy rocks and brambles, I was keen to explore the site where the resort’s maps note an ‘Iron Age fort’.  I knew it was likely to be only a small one: a modest fortified settlement like many in West Wales, rather than a full-sized ‘hillfort’ of the kind one might imagine when thinking of Danebury, Maiden Castle or Oswestry. Still… I was disappointed. The walks on the resort are excellent but this was a heritage fail on multiple levels.


Experiencing the Iron Age

There was a sign telling me that the site was an Iron Age fort. Then I found a second sign, telling me it was an Iron Age fort. However, there was nothing to be seen; it was completely bramble-covered…. I’m sure from the topography that there were the remains of earthworks beneath the vegetation but there was nothing to see and nothing to explain what couldn’t be seen.

I checked in Arcwilio and there was no record of an Iron Age fort at the site. Is the public HER faulty or is it really illusory?

This is sad that a premier resort with archaeological remains has nothing for visitors to learn from these remains and about the Iron Age, not even a link to encourage people to visit Castell Henllys where one can visit a hillfort and reconstructed Iron Age buildings. It is equally sad that thousands of visitors to Pembrokeshire each year who stay at the resort cannot use Archwilio to find out about the remains.

Result: heritage fail!


Still…. there were some nice mossy rocks!


A great walk in the woods


Panorama from the ‘hillfort’


Fragment from the site map, showing the site of the Iron Age fort. Also note ‘Pentre Ifan’ as one area of the site….

Quoit a View


King’s Quoit

The King’s Quoit comprises of a capstone raised at an angle on two low supporting stones. The end edge of the capstone rests on earthfast rock. Located in moorland above the sandstone cliffs of Manorbier Bay, it is now on the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path and an easy walk from the Manorbier beach car park.

This monument – presumed to be Neolithic in date – has not been subject to any modern excavation and the HER records give no suggestion that other finds have been made in the tomb’s vicinity. For more information about other Neolithic chambered tombs in Pembrokeshire, see my posts on Carreg Coeten Arthur, Carreg Samson and Pentre Ifan. Still, the HER speculates that stone arrangements nearby might be traces of other chambered tombs (or at least natural outcrops that attracted attention in the Neolithic). I hope some research is done on this monument and its environs in the near future.


King’s Quoit with Manorbier Castle in background

Recently, I visited after over a decade. Having visited Manorbier Castle, we walked along the beach and up to the monument in good light in late afternoon. The location seems modest but it does have distinctive qualities in relation to surrounding land and sea. In particular, for me, the situation affords the sense that the bay is nearly closed off from the open sea, when of course it is open to the elements and exposed. The proximity to a cleft in the sea-cliff might also be significant, giving visual and auditory qualities to the location unavailable elsewhere along the coast.



In terms of its form, I think that monuments like this, whether originally for funerary and ceremonial uses in the Neolithic, would certainly provide good play spaces as well. They really are perfectly hobbit-sized.


Deceangli County Council

Extract from the Ordnance Survey Map of Roman Britain. Fourth Edition, South Sheet

Extract from the Ordnance Survey Map of Roman Britain. Fourth Edition, South Sheet

Back in June, the Wrexham Leader was among the news outlets to report that plans were afoot to merge councils across Wales to save money and centralise ‘frontline services’. For the North-East, this might involve:

  1.  merging  Denbigshire, Flintshire and Wrexham to the ‘old’ county of Clwyd (a new creation extant from only 1974 to 1996), or
  2. incorporating ‘Clwyd’ with Conwy to create a larger, as yet unnamed council responsible for the entire north-east.

Whatever happens and whatever one’s view on it might be, this is about more than economies of service, but affects centuries-deep traditions and identities that see separate counties of Flintshire and Denbighshire from neighbouring English counties as well as neighbouring Welsh counties of Montgomery, Merioneth, and Caernarfon.

Of course whatever is decided, I would point out that there is a long, tried-and-tested strategy of reinventing ancient pasts to give legitimacy to newly created political and administrative territories. Let’s propose some options which will no doubt serve to really wind people up. As a Professor of Archaeology, I expect my proposal to be a focus of light-hearted banter and mild derision, so no angry trolling please!

A Modern Hybrid

Perhaps there should be some kind of modern hybrid of the three councils: Wrexbighflint County Council? Of course this sounds ridiculous.

Back to the Middle Ages or Dark Ages

We might see a reversion to a name derived from medieval cantrefi, but which ones? Powys Fadog, Tegeingl, Dyffryn Clwyd, Rhufoniog, Penllyn, Rhos?

The early medieval kingdom of ‘Powys’ is one solution, but this excludes the coastal kingdom of Tegeingl (Flintshire) and extended far south into Montgomery and Radnor, so this solution won’t work. Powys County Council is misleading given its recent use from 1974-1996 to refer to the historic counties of Merionethshire, Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire and Breconshire.

Perhaps some kind of hyphenated mess between these could be adopted, like Tegeingl-Powys Fadog County Council. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue does it?


Moel Arthur Iron Age hillfort, Clwydian range

Back to the Iron Age

For me, this is the only solution. Why not go all the way back to before the Middle Ages and before the Romans and name the entity after the tribal territory of the late Iron Age peoples of north-east Wales along the coasts and valleys of the Clwyd and Dee and their tributaries? I think this is a preferred solution because:

  1. It is utterly primordial and therefore wields the greatest ‘authority’ for those who like antique names;
  2. Archaeologists and historians don’t really know the extent and borders and character of the tribal groups in question. Their relationship with the Cornovii and Ordovices is uncertain. Books on Roman Britain drop the tribal name in Flintshire, across the whole of coastal North Wales from the Conwy east to Chester, or across the Clwydian range. This reflects our uncertainty and different perceptions of whether the Iron Age tribal territory is preserved in the early medieval kingdom of Tegeingl and later Flintshire, or refers to a broader swathe of landscape. In other words, we can use it for any region ‘accurately’ as far as we know and as much as we want to!;
  3. It allows us to pick a single tribe to forge a new identity for the ethnically and linguistically mixed peoples of north-east Wales: those speaking Welsh, English or Polish or deriving from any other linguistic or cultural background.
  4. Iron Age tribal groupings were fluid, violent and confused entities in any case, and what better model for Welsh councils to adopt?

My solution is that the new council is called: Deceangli County Council.

Archaeologists  know the Deceangli and their predecessors best through the dramatic hillforts and fortified settlements of the Clwydian range such as Moel Arthur and Foel Fenlli. These proud peoples lost their freedom to the tyranny of Rome when the legions conquered Wales by the late AD 70s. Lead pigs were being extracted from their territory by the Romans by AD74. They were never given ‘civitas’ status and thus remained directly under Roman military supervision.

What better name is there to reflect on the beautiful countryside and deep traditions of north-east Wales? The name is not utilised (as far as I know) by any extremists or lunatic fringer groups. It can be seen as nothing other than a positive, inclusive geographical and archaeological term that draws attention to the many peoples and communities of the region past and present. So let’s resurrect their name and honour their memory in our new administrative territories in the 21st century!

From the Great Orme to Holt: bring back the Deceangli!

Cremation Switchback at Bangor is y Coed


St Dunawd’s church, Bangor-on-Dee

In a previous entry, I discussed a phenomenon I have referred to as ‘cremation switchback’.

Many churchyards in England and Wales display a horizontal stratigraphy of expansion during the 20th and early 21st centuries. Rather than reusing areas with extant graves and gravestones, new churchyard extensions are established. Sometimes there are extensions to the extensions, and in further case there are extensions to the extensions to the extensions! Churchyards get bigger and bigger, while the core near the church becomes an open-air museum of far older graves, only sometimes augmented with new or restored memorials and replacement memorials are added.


The elder cremation burial section, beside the main north porch of the church

However, in areas and locations where churchyard expansion is not possible, separate burial grounds are sometimes established for the inhumed and cremated dead. Again, there are sometimes separate burial grounds and extensions to them, or multiple successful separate burial grounds further away from the church each time.

Sometimes a further pattern can be discerned, while inhumation graves are usually established farther from the church in churchyard extensions or separate burial grounds, the cremated dead can return to the sacred core of the parish church. The low disturbance associated with the cremation burial facilitates the cremated deads’ return to the older parts of the churchyard, to be interspersed between older graves or to adapt around pre-existing churchyard features: cremation switchback.


Cremation memorials revitalise the main approach to the church

At Pennant Melangell, I discussed how the ‘cremation switchback’ took the form of a garden of remembrance south of the church. Another form of ‘cremation switchback’ can be witnessed at Bangor is y Coed (Bangor-on-Dee, Wrexham). Here, there are two phases of the switchback. First,there is a line of memorials of different form and character to the west of the north porch – the main entrance into the church. Second, these cremation burials are succeeded by a more uniform and regulated use of the main path from the road and war memorial to the north entrance.

These plans make use of older parts of churchyards, renewing their association with the dead. They also allow the cremated dead to be a collective presence for visitors to the church for services again. This constitutes a largely undiscussed and researched operation in the life-history of modern churchyards and one I am writing about for forthcoming publications.

Cilgerran Castle Commemoration


The memorial gates to Cilgerran Castle


The castle’s potted history on the far right gate-post, and the Second World War memorial with wreath beneath it, on the wall to the right of the gate

I’m increasingly interested in war memorials that draw their commemorative power through close spatial and visual association with historic and heritage monuments. As well as becoming listed monuments in their own right, such memorials connect to senses of locality and community through their prominent public location but also their association with landmarks that embody past and place.

One striking example is the war memorial gates at Cilgerran Castle managed by Cadw and the National Trust. The village of Cilgerran is dominated by this striking medieval fortification, overlooking the River Teifi south-east of Cardigan.


Cilgerran Castle from just inside the gates

Cilgerran Council erected new gates for the castle, cleared out the towers and cleaned up the grounds in 1925. By 1930 the decision was made to create a war memorial plaque for the gates and by 1931 the castle was re-opened to the public. Three years later in 1934 the castle was registered as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and in 1938 it was purchased and immediately donated to the state by Mrs Colby. A memorial plaque to those of the parish who lost their lives in the Second World War was appended to the side wall next to the gates in 1957.


Commemorating the donor’s late husband


The castle’s potted history on the right-hand gate-post

The result is that every visitor approaching Cilgerran Castle and before they buy their tickets/show their passes, must encounter striking gates with 4 plaques, marking out a biography for the place and its memorialisation.

  1. The furthest, on the left post of the foot entrance, commemorates the gifting of the castle to the nation by the widow Mrs Colby. The plaque was a condition of the gifting, remembering her late husband John Vaughan Colby;
  2. Then on the right of the foot entrance and left of the carriage entrance, there is a war memorial plaque with a biblical quotation and an alphabetical listing the names of those who died in the First World War. There is now a wreath positioned below;
  3. To the right of the main gate is a third plaque with a potted history of the medieval castle.
  4. Appended to the wall on the right is a smaller plaque listing those of the parish who died in the Second World War. The biblical quotation is identical to that on the First World War memorial plaque, a citation linking their shared commemorative purposes: ‘Come from the four winds on breath and breathe upon these slain so they may live’. Again, there is now a wreath positioned below.

Commemorating the First World War dead

Therefore, rather than the church or churchyard, the main street or any other location within the village, the castle was regarded as the primary location to draw attention for the community and for visitors, to those that gave their lives for King and Country. Simultaneously, the space memorialises the gift of the castle to the nation, making the plaque, gates and castle itself, an extended memorial simultaneously to the war dead and the husband of the castle’s donor.

Nowadays, one might add further layers of commemoration to the approach: the National Trust and Cadw insignia on the gift shop just within the gates…


Glen Johnson’s blog.

Hilling, J.B. 1992. Cilgerran Castle. St Dogmaels Abbey. Pentre Ifan Burial Chamber. Carreg Coetan Arthur Burial Chamber. Cardiff: Cadw.

War memorials online.


Commemorating the National Trust

The Global Village of War Memorials


Bangor is y Coed war memorial

Globes in Memorial Art

Somehow, the use of the globe – a sphere – in art is such a grandiose and pompous statement. It is also a hackneyed one, so ubiquitous as to be meaningless. Perhaps one might associate its use most readily with claims to authority, knowledge, global domination, worldwide communications or futuristic aspirations of whatever form. We find them, for example, in the many logos of corporations and movie studios.

It might seem obvious, but when we look at spheres and globes in modern art before the 1950s, we have to imagine the use of the form by people who had never seen images of the Earth from space but since the Renaissance were accustomed to having globes in their homes, libraries and other public art and representations.


St Dunawd’s church and churchyard the memorial, with the flood defences against the Dee immediately behind

Trying to get back to this pre-spaceflight era and the connotations of globes, is for me a challenge, and I am sure I’m not alone. To see the globe in the context of a war memorial, invoking imaginations of ‘world war’, of global mourning and aspirations for international peace and order, it seems both futile and powerfully idealistic. Yet in our age of conflicts that stretch around the world, where natural, climatic, military and terrorist dimensions threaten to, and do, kill, maim and dislocate thousands upon thousands each year, we cannot shun the power of the globe.

Bangor is y Coed

Opened in 1925, the war memorial at Bangor is y Coed (historically part of Flintshire, then Clwyd and now Wrexham) is striking in a number of regards. It is located in a dedicated garden space between the churchyard of St Dunawd’s parish church and the medieval bridge over the River Dee. As such, the memorial space neatly draws upon secular and sacred pasts. Made of Woolton sandstone, its focal point is a column, perhaps alluding to the Roman past of triumphal columns akin to the nearby Pillar of Eliseg. At its top is a mourning figure of victory holding a wreath in each of her hands. Upon the column are the names of the 23 men of the parish who died in the First World War.

1918/1945 globe

1918/1945 globe

Behind the column is a semi-circular bench with a dedicatory text upon it:



1918/1945 globe


Yet the globes of this memorial are perhaps its most striking element and yet seem to have escaped comment. The stone semi-circular bench is framed by two stone posts, each with spheres with bands around their circumference bearing the years ‘1914’ and ‘1918’. The globes enshrine a biography to the memorial. The depressing reiteration of ‘1939’ and ‘1945’ under each year respectively, rededicates the memorial to the dead of the Second World War as well, whose names are not appended.

Trees and Drains

The memorial’s biography is enhanced in at least two other ways. First, there is also a memorial tree commemorating 50 years of ‘peace in Europe’, planted in 1995. Second, there is the adjacent creation of a street light from the elements of the village’s Victorian drainage system. The light incorporates the vent pipe and hand-operated flush valve that were part of the holding chamber used in the drain flushing system. Water was thus hand-pumped from the Dee and flushed the village’s main drain each day.


Lighting up the drains


This is a very distinctive memorial, and yet the globes take the subject from the locality to the world. The globes frame time and space, linking the losses of this one village to a global field of conflict as well as perhaps aspirations for global peace. Amidst the many symbolic dimensions of war memorials, nothing better for me makes the connection to the idea of the global village, in all its idealism and pomposity and the power these qualities bring.


Clwyd Family History Society Records

Imperial War Museum UK War Memorials

Re-telling Weland the Smith

00 Weland final cover (1)

The cover image, taken from Leeds 1

As part of the Past in its Place project, I am conducting a reappraisal of one key dimensions to the literary and material intersections of the Early Middle Ages: the legend of Weland the Smith. Taking an archaeological perspective, I am interested in how the identity of Weland manifests itself in artefacts, technologies, sculpture and monuments, from his appearance on a series of picture-stones from Gotland and recumbent and free-standing monuments from northern Britain to the Franks Casket’s depiction and the multi-phased megalithic chambered tomb known as ‘Wayland’s Smithy’ from at least the 10th century AD associated with the smith.

I have outlined some of my initial ideas about this in my posts relating to my talk last year about Wayland’s Smith here and here, as well as my talk to the Runes Network last Easter here. It also relates to my recent publication on Beowulf and archaeology, where I reconsider the significance of the stone barrow in the story.

Back in the spring, archaeologist and artist Hannah Sackett and I decided it would be a great idea to collaborate on the creation of a cartoon strip that outline one version of the Weland story and its material dimensions. We submitted a draft as our cartoon’s early pages to this year’s Heritage Jam. We were delighted to be deemed winners of the team submissions. Well done Hannah! I can’t wait to be able to share the entire cartoon in due course.

Below is a full version of our paradata that explain the rationale, aims and objectives of our collaboration and Hannah’s art.

03 Weland (1)

Inspired by the Franks Casket and Gotlandic picture-stones, this is one of the pages on display at the EAA Glasgow.

Weland the Smith

Retold by Hannah Kate Sackett

Consultant: Howard Williams


The goal of this project is to re-tell the story of Weland (ON Völundr) the smith. In particular, we aspire to emphasise the complexity of the smith’s identity including his cyborgian character as a transformer of things and a transformer of self. The project also hopes to emphasise the monstrous, material and artefactual components inhered with Weland’s identity as his story was adapted and distributed in the early medieval world.

This is achieved in comic-strip format, representing an original style of re-telling the story which aims to be widely comprehensible and engaging. The original idea, artwork and design is the work of archaeologist and artist Hannah Kate Sackett. Archaeologist Howard Williams provided suggestions and guidance on the re-telling’s literary and material dimensions, relating to his on-going research on the Past in its Place project funding by the European Research Council.

Literary Background

The story of Weland the Smith is important for understanding how the identities of Christian elites were mediated by pre-Christian legends in the Early Middle Ages. Rather than an oral narrative ‘told’ by art and materials, we suggest that the story was constituted and circulated far and wide through the making and exchange, encountering and reworking of material media.

Furthermore, the Weland story is a powerful and enduring way to introduce and explore a wide range of themes in early medieval societies, including the interconnected roles of retributive violence and artefact production and exchange in social relations, perceptions of enslavement and good and bad kingship, and the shamanistic artisanal identities attributed to supernatural metal-workers.

The story of Weland might have been known through many versions and evolved over the centuries. At its heart, however, is a story of a forlorn but famed artisan who is crippled and imprisoned to make precious treasures for a king. Weland gets his revenge by murdering the king’s sons and raping his daughter. He then triumphantly escaped his island prison in a flying machine of his own making to gloat over his former capture and assert his usurpation of the king’s blood-line. Weland is an artisan, but also a warrior and a rapist: a maker of famed weapons and treasure, a slave and slayer of royalty and a violent progenitor of famed blood-lines. As such, the core of the story is the transformation and interpenetration of human bodies and materials.

Weland’s story is only known from the 13th-century Lay of Volund (Völundarkviða) from the Poetic Edda. However, there are strong indications that earlier versions and dimensions of the same story were known many centuries earlier and were circulating before the Viking Age. For early medieval elites, Weland seems to become both a feared and honoured anti-hero. His story was certainly familiar by the ninth century in England since it is alluded to in Anglo-Saxon poetry and prose, notably King Alfred’s Boethius and the poems Deor, Waldere and Beowulf.

Art of Weland

The Weland legend has been apprehended in art and artefacts. Most famously, on the early eighth-century whalebone Franks Casket, Weland is depicted in his smithy seducing the king’s daughter who receives his gift of mead, juxtaposed and contrasted with the magi bringing gifts to the Christ-child. This is a scene all about gift-giving and models of kingship: good and bad.

The aeronautic ‘cyborgian’ character of Weland is emphasised in the lithic and metallic arts. A Viking Age mount from Uppåkra (Sweden) depicts Weland as a bird-man, bleeding from his wing by an arrow during his escape from his island. The Gotlandic picture-stones Ardre VIII and Alskog also appear to represent the tale of the smith’s capture, killing of the king’s sons revenge and aerial escape with a woman. Finally, the tenth-century cross-shafts from Leeds and Sherburn seem to articulate the Weland story in the context of commemorating secular patrons, in one instance (Leeds 1) it seems the cross might commemorate a female patron, Weland’s aerial ascent juxtaposed against a portrait of a Bible-bearing en-face aristocratic lady. A recumbent (hogback) tomb from Bedale (Yorkshire) represent the bird-man motif and possibly other scenes relating to the Weland legend including the court of the king where he receives the gifts of Weland: his son’s bodies re-made into treasures. In this context, Weland’s story might pertain to the tomb as a perceptible dwelling for the dead.

Further south, Weland was clearly well known by the tenth century. His workshop and dwelling — hence a place associated in the early medieval mind with not only metal-working and a hoard of treasure, but also with the smith’s imprisonment and his retributive murder and rape of the king’s children — accrued to a megalithic monument of Neolithic date in the parish of Compton Beauchamp, historically in Berkshire and now in Oxfordshire. Situated upon the long-distance land-route of the Berkshire Ridgeway, Wayland’s Smithy is an archaeological archetype as a monument with a long ‘afterlife’. Following its multiple phases of Neolithic construction, the monument has revealed evidence of Iron Age and Romano-British burial and ritual deposition. Later, Williams is researching how it became an element of a complex martial and ceremonial early medieval landscape with other legendary places and place-names. As such, Wayland’s Smithy’s folklore persisted into recent centuries.

Wayland's Smithy II: the blocked passage

Wayland’s Smithy II: the blocked passage

Rethinking Wayland’s Smithy

As part of the ERC-funded Past in its Place project (, Williams is working with archaeologists, literary scholars, geographies and historians to rethink the relationship between story and place in the English and Welsh landscape. Wayland’s Smithy is one of the principal targets of the project’s investigation as a rare and specific instance of a Germanic legendary figure associated with a striking prehistoric monument. Williams’s work is involving:

  • a reinterpretation of the representations of Weland on the eighth-century whalebone Franks Casket (British Museum)
  • rethinking the Weland scenes on Viking-Age sculpture from Leeds, Bedale and Sherburn as technologies of remembrance (see Williams 2011).
  • Rethinking the significance of the hogback stones upon one of which the Weland story appears at Bedale (Williams 2015a).
  • a revaluation of the significance of megalithic monuments as places associated with giants, dragons and treasure in the later Anglo-Saxon imagination through a reinterpretation of the poem Beowulf (Williams 2015b).

These are necessary precursors to a reinterpretation of the significance of Wayland’s Smith. In doing so, Williams aims to reinterpret:

  1. the biography and materiality of Wayland’s Smithy and how they might have prompted a link between the legend and this specific monument;
  2. a new interpretation of the landscape context of Wayland’s Smith to help inform the significance of its naming.

An archaeological perspective brings attention to the artefacts, assemblages, costume, weapons, treasures in the visual representations of the Weland story, as well as attention to the material affordances of the megalithic monument attributed to this infamous anti-hero. The aim is for this consideration of the material world of Weland to not only integrate literature into the interpretation of archaeological sites and material cultures, but also to reinvigorate attention towards the materialities within Weland’s textual rendering. The focus is upon the monstrous and cyborgian character of Weland, as someone connected not only to the mastery of fire and metals, but also stone and bone.

 The Problem

Archaeology has been slow to adopt alternative ways of visualising the historical and legendary/mythological dimensions of early medieval sites and material cultures (Williams 2009). The specific challenge of the Weland story comes from the historiographical tradition of reducing the narrative to a singular identity of Weland as a ‘smith’. Instead, understanding the story requires a consideration of Weland’s many ambivalent, monstrous, violent and cyborgian dimensions. Upsetting bad kingship and wreaking havoc upon the social hierarchy through violence and rape, Weland is more than an artisan. Yet the specific challenge came from attempting to represent scenes and artefacts from the time period to avoid a sense of anachronism, while giving a sense of the different temporal and imaginary realms in which Weland inhabits, including Weland himself imagining the future receptions of his story within different artefacts and monuments.


We hope this comic strip will offer a distinctive reading of the story of Weland that both foregrounds the landscapes and material cultures of the story itself but also the many different material and monumental arenas in which the Weland story was represented in the early medieval world.


The images for the comic strip draw upon and adapt representations of human figures and buildings from the Franks Casket and other features like trees and waves are inspired by early medieval rune-stones and picture-stones. Others have no direct early medieval parallel and are Sackett’s original inventions, including the representation of Weland’s swan-wife and King Niðhad.


We hope that the comic strip will be of use to those encountering the Weland story at all ages, from those in school to higher education students and academics, as well as the general public. We make no claim for this reading to be definitive but only distinctive and prompting reflection on the story’s themes and material dimensions. It is also hoped that the re-telling complements Williams’s research as well as being a stand-alone piece.


We hope that this comic-strip will be widely utilised for the public, for students and teachers interested in the Middle Ages worldwide. We intend to publish it on our own blogs and discuss its wider significance in our public talks and academic research.


Williams, H. 2009. On display: envisioning the early Anglo-Saxon dead, in D. Sayer. & H. Williams (eds) Mortuary Practices & Social Identities in the Middle Ages: Essays in Burial Archaeology in Honour of Heinrich Härke. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, pp. 170-206.

Williams, H. 2011. Remembering elites: early medieval stone crosses as commemorative technologies, in L. Boye, P. Ethelberg, L. Heidemann Lutz, S. Kleingärtner, P. Kruse, L. Matthes and A. B. Sørensen (eds) Arkæologi i Slesvig/Archäologie in Schleswig. Sonderband “Det 61. Internationale Sachsensymposion 2010” Haderslev, Denmark. Neumünster: Wachholtz, pp. 13-32.

Williams, H. 2015a. Hogbacks: the materiality of solid spaces, in H. Williams, J. Kirton and M. Gondek (eds) Early Medieval Stone Monuments: Materiality, Biography, Landscape. Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, pp. 241-68

Williams, H. 2015b. Beowulf and archaeology: megaliths imagined and encountered in Early Medieval Europe, in M. Diaz-Guardamino Uribe, L. García Sanjuán and D. Wheatley (eds) The Lives of Prehistoric Monuments in Iron Age, Roman and Medieval Europe, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 77-97

Passing Water: Coracles and Heritage Toilets


Beside the Teifi at Cilgerran


Bog with a view!

In a previous blog I speculated that the end of civilization might be marked by the closure of public toilets: Death by Toilet. If so, then Cilgerran’s public toilets situated by the beautiful steep wooded banks of the River Teifi, might mark the last bog standing as we race towards the apocalypse.

This is not only because they are open public toilets in a beautiful location close to Cilgerran Castle, but because the concave river-facing side of the toilet block was designed as a surface upon which a series of high-quality displays inform the visitor about:

  • the history of the Teifi valley;
  • its natural resources, crafts, industries;
  • the coracle;
  • fishing on the river;
  • nature and conservation.

The coracle


An example of one of the five heritage boards; this one outlining the history and uses of the coracle in fishing on the Teifi

Moreover, in between these boards, framed by the displays about fishing and the coracle, inset into the wall behind glass is a genuine coracle, oar and fishing nets on display.

The toilets themselves are uninspiring in design and maintenance and these displays are not new. Notably, they are not dumbed down for 5-second attention spans; they are fabulously detailed and reveal important information, individually and collectively. They afford the visitor with a strong sense of the history and heritage of the location and its landscape to counterbalanced the site-focused nature of the Cadw guidebook for Cilgerran Castle close by.

As such, this heritage display is perfectly situated to communicate and commemorate the landscape at the public’s convenience. They also help to make the location of the toilets and picnic benches beside the car park a place of learning and engagement about the passing water, before and after one passes water.


Canopied display of heritage against the toilet walls

Bridell Sweet! A Dark Age Doozy

IMG_20150925_101841 - Copy

The Bridell stone in its churchyard setting, juxaposed with 19th- century memorials


Light streams onto the ogam

Wales won at rugby this evening. So to celebrate, here is a blog about a fabulous Dark Age doozy from South-West Wales.

I am referring to the 5th-century stone from Bridell, Pembrokeshire. I visited this monument over a decade ago, but it was great to be back as I travelled back home from a short holiday.

Discussed by Nancy Edwards in her A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales. Volume II. South-West Wales the Bridell stone (P5) might be in situ, perhaps providing a communal focus within an early medieval cemetery context long before this location acquired a church. Hints in support of this scenario come from long-cist graves having been found in the field adjacent to the church. The stone is located on the south site of St David’s church, Bridell, in the far north-east of Pembrokeshire.

IMG_20150925_101342 - Copy

The northern face of the Bridell stone

The stone might have been originally a prehistoric standing stone, but there is no independent evidence to support this. It is dated by its ogam inscription running up the north-east corner of the stone which has been translated as:

‘of Nettasagri son of the kindred of Briaci’

The name is an Irish compound meaning (possibly) ‘champion of a leader’. Also, Edwards discusses how this is the only ogam monument from Wales using the phase maqi mucoi (‘son of the kindred of’). Bridell is one of the five (8%) of early inscribed stones from south-west Wales with ogam appearing on its own without Roman lettering. This might suggest an early – fifth century – date for the monument. The angle used to incise the ogam is uneven and so the inscription has to adapt a serpentine path up the stone’s edge.

The inscription suggests this monument was commemorative in function, perhaps by the elites and  followers of Irish descent (Deisi) who may have settled in North Pembrokeshire. While early inscribed stones are often regarded as retrospective in their commemorative formulae – alluding to immediate lines of descent, it is important to stress that kindred allusions of this kind simultaneously allude to past, present and future familial links. Moreover, the stone might be raised over a grave or to commemorate an individual, but their identity is clearly linked to the kindred and their perceived status. Perhaps this stone served to provide a locus for burial and commemoration of the kindred as a whole and, over time, down the generations following its inscription it gave a modest but significant landmark for many generations.

We can only speculate how long the ogam remained legible and whether it was painted and re-painted over the decades following its inscription. Sadly, the stone’s early medieval biography has only two phases inscribed on it and the cross is regarded as later in date. This site clearly became, at some point in the early medieval period, a church site. Perhaps associated with the site’s dedication and consecration as a church, there is an equal-arm cross within a circle appended to the monument. Edwards tentatively dates this cross to the 9th or 10th centuries AD. However, she concedes there are no close parallels and so dating is uncertain to say the least and her dating is left unexplained.


The stone amidst 19th-century gravestones

Finally, I would like to refer to how the monument sits in relation to the 19th and 20th-century gravestones surrounding it. There is clearly a distinction between the recent and ancient and no attempt to emulate its rough form and slanting angle. Yet the recent dead have their bodies and memorials accumulate themselves around this striking early medieval monument in a comparable way perhaps to its original intended function. Therefore, it does sit as a lithic ancestor and precedent for the memorialisation of the post-medieval and contemporary dead in this premier churchyard location. Notably, the graves around it do not attempt to out-compete it; they remain lower in height and thus respectful (whether deliberately or not) of its presence.


The Bridell stone in directed sunlight


The Archaeodeath Heritage Jam 2015 – Closing the Lid

IMG_20150925_212352In previous posts, I outlined my mini-project of creating a 3-day vlog called: Heritage Jam: Conserving the Past. Thanks to the generous editing help of Patricia Murrieta-Flores and Javier Pereda, I got my 30-minute submission in on time! You can view the whole compiled vlog, together with its paradata explaining the project and future directions it might take here.

The one lacking element was the promise to create an ‘assemblage’ to link to this year’s theme of the Heritage Jam: Museums and Collections. So I have created my very-own collection of heritage jam comprised of the jars of random stuff I accumulated during my 3-day jam-quest in North and South-West Wales, plus a few extra jars acquired in following days at Kidwelly Castle and St Dogmael’s Abbey. Not exactly a monumental assemblage, nor is it not insignificant neither.

I need to disperse this assemblage as soon as possible to those that require it more than me. In the meantime, all hail the rather ropey but unquestionably jam-gible Jam-henge!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,776 other followers