Two-and-a-half years after the inaugural meeting of the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory in Shrewsbury, and having organised and supported many public-facing conferences, workshops, conference sessions, public talks and activities in the meantime, Professor Keith Ray organised our second forum. Over 80 heritage professionals and academics were invited to discuss future directions in the investigation, conservation and management of Offa’s Dyke, Wat’s Dyke and their related short dykes in the Anglo-Welsh borderlands.
Eminent early medieval archaeology Dr Alan Lane opened the proceedings and welcomed delegates to Cardiff University, following which I gave an introduction to the scope and endeavours of the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory as a research network providing a digital platform facilitating events, producing an academic open access peer-reviewed journal, facilitating events and fostering new research. I briefly outlined 3 forthcoming initiatives:
- The “Special Offa: Communities and Offa’s Dyke” Conference at Trefonen on 4th April 2020;
- A project I’m doing with John G. Swogger to create a Wat’s Dyke Heritage Trail for Wrexham: “What’s Wat’s Dyke?”;
- The call for papers for the ‘Established Boundaries: Linear Earthworks, Frontiers and Borderlands in Early Medieval Europe‘ session co-organised by Liam Delaney, Astrid Tummuscheit, Frauke Witte and myself at the EAA2020 conference in Budapest;
Next, Dr Paul Belford, director of Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust and co-convenor of the Collaboratory, presented the interim results of CPAT’s excavations on Wat’s Dyke at Erddig and Offa’s Dyke at Chirk. Read all about it in the first volume of the Offa’s Dyke Journal.
Liam Delaney of Herefordshire County Council and doctoral researcher at the University of Chester next presented, introducing his LIDAR work identifying new sections of Offa’s Dyke. In addition, Liam presented interim results from his co-directed excavations at Breinton, Herefordshire, which might be revealing traces of a Mercian fortlet controlling the River Wye east of where Offa’s Dyke hit the Wye.
A quartet of presenters came next: Professor Keith Ray, Ray Bailey, Dick Finch and Simon Maddison delivered preliminary results of new insights regarding the line and significance of Offa’s Dyke in Flintshire and in Gloucesterhire.
Professor Andrew Reynolds of UCL was up next, introducing a brand-new Leverhulme Trust-funded project: ‘Major Linear Earthworks in Britain’. Working with Dr Tom Moore at Durham University, he will be leading up a comparative investigation of Iron Age and early medieval linear monuments, including the volumetric analysis from LIDAR data, field survey and excavation.
Back came Dr Paul Belford to present his preliminary ideas on the potential of a research framework proposal for the Anglo-Welsh borderlands and the challenges faced by the UK’s fragmented heritage sector.
Discussion was followed by lunch. Then, the afternoon saw a lengthy discussion of the Offa’s Dyke Conservation Management Plan and the potential of extending this approach to Wat’s Dyke, by David McGlade of the Offa’s Dyke Association.
After tea, we returned to communities’ actions, with presentations on community work at Trefonen, in Flintshire, and along the Wye Valley.
I closed the discussion, flagging up the need for our work to be responsibility, have integrity, and to try and future-proof against extremist and political appropriations: the more we raise awareness of these ancient ‘frontier works’, the more challenges we face.
In summary, a rich and varied set of presentations were offered and I was struck by the immense progress made in such a short time in mobilising enthusiasm and expertise and build momentum for new investigations and research.
Congratulations to all the speakers and thanks to Keith for organising and to Cardiff’s archaeologists for hosting us.