Despite being uninspiringly refered to as a ‘hut group’, everyone should visit Din Lligwy, Moelfre, Anglesey. It is truly among the most remarkable of archaeological sites to visit. Details of location and basic information can be accessed here:
Excavated 1905-07, this Romano-British site is often considered the home of a ‘native chieftain’ into the 4th century AD, although the site may have actually had a far longer and more complex history since later prehistory. While it is unclear how typical or exceptional it might be for late Romano-British settlements in the ‘highland’ zone, it is a relatively rare example where one can gain a sense of stone-walled dwellings of the early first millennium AD.
The limestone slabs and stones used to construct the lower walls are what makes the site so uniquely comprehensible for visitors today. They stand up to 2m in height. It comprises a strikingly angular, pentagonal, defensive enclosure, 52m across at its greatest extent and up to 1.5m thick. The buildings within area mix of two roundhouses and and up to seven rectangular structures, plus some possible enclosures that may have served as pens for animals. It is important to note that further traces of enclosures and at least one further roundhouse lie outside the defended enclosure, hinting that this might actually be a locus within a larger settlement, rather than a discrete and isolated ‘farm’ in its entirety.
The angularity may be taken to reveal influences from Roman military and civilian architecture. Hence, Lynch (1995: 87) describes it as a ‘not-too-grand’ country house – possibly an ‘estate centre’ with both dwellings and work buildings. The parallel suggested is with Romanised ‘villas’ of a very small scale found in southern and eastern Britain, but here the inhabitants retained roundhouses is a ‘native’ feature, perhaps for dimensions of elite occupation. The rectangular buildings seem to have been (in part) workshops, with iron working going on (slag associated with hearths). From the other buildings, finds included a silver ingot, coins, imported pottery and glassware, as well as roof tiles (imbrices).
The emphatic assertion of all sources is that it would have once had dramatic views over Lligwy Bay: thus the modern-day experience of a sheltered location surrounded by trees is deceptive. I guess, on balance however, we cannot be precisely sure how trees were utilised to screen and protect views to and from the site.
In use in the late Roman period (3rd and 4th centuries AD), the question remains as to how many phases of habitation exist here? Is this really an Iron Age site with some late Roman activity? Was it in persistent use for millennia? And did it survive the 4th century to become a ‘Dark Age’/early medeival site too?
Ministry of Works Sign
The original Ministry of Works sign is present, looking into the settlement, so to read it you stand with your back to the remains. These are arranged as two bilingual boards on the same post, the left in Welsh, the right in English. This is a distinctive arrangement from that adopted for the modern signs, which encourage you to face the archaeology… In microcosm, this reveals a key shift in heritage interpretation for visitors, and is revealed in signboards that either can be seen as looking past each other!
Modern Heritage Boards
Visiting on a crisp sunny February day not long after Storm Doris hit our shores, there were plenty of fallen branches from the woodland surrounding the site. As well as a roadside heritage board about Lligwy chapel, Lligwy Neolithic dolmen and the Din Lligwy settlement, there are three heritage boards on site itself. They say very little of use, but the images are very helpful and vivid. John Swogger provides the illustrations, as he does for Lligwy burial chamber, one showing a particular view of the site as seen by a passing Roman balloonist, one showing the inside of one of the rectangular buildings thought to have been used as a smithy, another showing a roundhouse. Both images of buildings employ the cut-away effect so as to show both outside and inside simultaneously.
Obviously this is a Cadw-managed site, and I am a particular fan of the gateposts…
Finally, it needs to be said that there is no known funerary dimension to the site, and notably there seem to be no present-day votive offerings or memorial practices in evidence. Despite this lack of ‘Archaeodeath’ dimension, it is worthy of a blog post because it is such an exceptional site.
Lynch, F. 1995. Gwynedd: A Guide to Ancient and Historic Wales, Cardiff: Cadw
Yates, M. J. and Longley, D. 2001. Anglesey: A Guide to Ancient Monuments on the Isle of Anglesey, Cardiff: Cadw.