What do we know of rural settlement in medieval Wales? This morning, my three elder offspring and I visited the ongoing excavations at Hen Caerwys, Flintshire. Close by the post-medieval and modern settlement of Caerwys, south of Whitford, Cadw manage woodland in which some of the most extensive remains of a deserted medieval settlement can be seen in the Principality. There are field walls, house walls and house platforms to be explored.

Plan of the archaeological features at Hen Caerwys

The site was investigated by the Flintshire Historical Society in the 1960s but the results were never fully and adequately published. Gwynedd Archaeological Trust surveyed the remains in the 1990s and revealed far more features than had hitherto been recognised.

Despite the huge investment by Cadw in managing this excellent example of a Welsh deserted medieval settlement within a woodland setting, little is known about the date of the features. Might some be prehistoric, Romano-British or early medieval? Or do all the features relate to the later medieval and early modern periods? Where precisely did the digs take place in the 1960s and can their results be made to make sense in relation to modern archaeological research questions?

Chester students Jonathan, Thomas and Lauren digging within a medieval/early modern house at Hen Caerwys

Now a partnership between Cadw and Clwyd Powys Archaeologist Trust is running a community excavation aimed at re-investigating some of the buildings dug in the 1960s as well as to ascertain the nature of the archaeological features elsewhere in the woodland landscape. The project features a superb dig diary for each field season. The 2011 season blog is available here and the 2012 season blog is available here and you can follow the latest developments for 2013 here.

Three trenches are open this season: one investigating a house on flat ground, one investigating a house platform cut into a steep slope, and a third investigating the point of intersection between field boundaries of possible different dates.The project has genuinely exciting research aims but also serves to involve the local community in archaeology, as well as providing a superb opportunity for University of Chester archaeology students to work closely with experts in Welsh field archaeology; including the site directors Will Davies (Cadw) and Dr Bob Silvester (CPAT) and CPAT’s Ian Grant.

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Lauren Wilson (University of Chester), Will Davies (Cadw) and Ian Grant (CPAT) at Hen Caerwys today

The site has next to no heritage interpretation, so it will be exciting to not only see the project’s results, but also how this feeds into an enhanced visitor experience to this beautiful environment.

Excavating a house platform at Hen Caerwys, while my daughter investigates a bee’s nest
Tobias exploring the woodland around the dig at Hen Caerwys

We were shown around by Ian Grant and Will Davies. We got to meet the friendly local volunteer workforce including a future University of Chester archaeology student. Also volunteering on the project were three of my hardest working just-graduating third-year students: Jonathan Nash, Thomas Sigsworth and Lauren Wilson. We also had fun looking at a bee’s nest next to the dig. Good luck with the rest of the dig everyone!