Kinship Analysis in Early Medieval Wales

Ciara Butler, PhD candidate
Cardiff University

Warning: this post contains images of human remains for educational purposes.

Hello! My name is Ciara, I’m an osteoarchaeologist and second year PhD student here at Cardiff University where I am studying cemetery organisation in Early Medieval Wales. For my Tiny Talk I’m going to discuss my PhD project and the commercial cemetery excavations I was involved in that prompted my research questions. The project is funded by the archaeological unit I work for, Archaeoleg Brython Archaeology, who excavated these cemetery sites.  

My project researches cemetery populations in Early Medieval Wales, from AD 400-1100. I am investigating the presence and extent of kin-structured burial within cemeteries, and whether the importance of burial in family groups changes throughout the period. Differences in grave location, structure, materials and orientation are visible within Early Medieval cemeteries in Wales. Factors such as age, sex and status are often explored to account for these differences, so this project will add evidence for biological and social kinship to the discussion.  

The primary methodology of the project is biological distance analysis based on dental measurements. Biodistance analysis aims to identify genetic affinity between individuals, or more commonly between populations, based on the evidence of skeletal and dental morphology. This involves collecting metric and/or non-metric data (traits that are part of normal human variation) from skeletal remains and using statistical analysis to see who groups together. 

This will be supported by targeted isotope analysis of geographic origin, and spatial analysis of grave location and type. Using this multi-analysis approach, both the biological and social relationships between individuals within a cemetery population can be explored, allowing a holistic exploration of the range of familial identities emphasised through burial practice.

As we know, units based around immediate relatives are only one of the ways a family group may be organised. A nuanced understanding of kinship is necessary to explore these ideas in the past, using diverse family models and considering the range of familial identities an individual can have. This consideration of family organisation and its relevance in a mortuary context can illuminate many other aspects of an individual’s social identities and lived experiences in the past (Johnson 2019).

The ideal family unit. Image by

West-east orientated burials, without grave goods, are characteristic of Early Medieval cemeteries in Wales, as in much of the rest of Britain at this time (though this is not to say these kinds of graves don’t exist in other periods). The use of stone to line the edges inside the grave, called a cist, is also found in quite commonly. A lot of variation exists in the form of these cists – they may have side stones, capstones, floors stones, or any combination of the above. Many cemeteries present distinct groups of burials, often focused around a central “special” grave, or graves (Thomas 1971). Burial in family groups has been suggested as a possible reason for these patterns (Britnell et al. 1990; Brassil et al. 1991; White and Smith 1999).

Early medieval cist cemetery, Anglesey. Image: Brython Archaeology

The questions posed by this research were first considered when I was working as a commercial archaeologist, excavating Early Medieval cemeteries on Anglesey with Archaeoleg Brython Archaeology. At these sites we observed a range of different cist types and distinct areas of burial, as well as evidence for successive and double inhumations. Some dental non-metric traits were also identified in the osteological analysis at one site (Rusu and Madgwick 2017). These features suggested that further research was needed into genetic affinity between individuals and what role, if any, this plays in their burial treatment. This led to Brython’s sponsorship of the PhD project, to further knowledge not just about sites they excavated, but about patterns of Early Medieval burial throughout Wales. Being sponsored by the company who excavated these sites has been a huge benefit to the project, through promoting local involvement in Welsh heritage research and providing me with resources and insider knowledge!

Excavating a cist cemetery. Image: Brython Archaeology

Stay tuned for results! Data collection has been paused due to covid-19, but I hope to start back up again soon. Thank you for coming to my Ted Tiny Talk!

Excavating a cist cemetery. Image: Anglesey Council
Cist grave with reused quern stone. Image: Brython Archaeology


Brassil, K. S. et al. 1991. Prehistoric and early medieval cemeteries at Tandderwen, near Denbigh, Clwyd. Archaeological Journal 148(1), pp. 46-97.

Britnell, W. J. et al. 1990. Capel Maelog, Llandrindod Wells, Powys: excavations 1984–87. Medieval Archaeology 34(1), pp. 27-96.

Johnson, K. 2019. Opening Up the Family Tree: Promoting More Diverse and Inclusive Studies of Family, Kinship, and Relatedness in Bioarchaeology: Deep Time Perspectives on Contemporary Issues. pp. 201-230.

Rusu, I. and Madgwick, R. 2017. The Human Remains from the Llangefni Link Road

Thomas, C. 1971. The Early Christian Archaeology of North Britain. Oxford University Press.

White, S. I. and Smith, G. 1999. A funerary and ceremonial centre at Capel Eithin, Gaerwen, Anglesey. Transactions of the Anglesey Antiquarian Society and Field Club, pp. 17-166.

Ten years digging at Bornais: Cardiff in the Western Isles 1995 to 2004

Professor Niall Sharples
Cardiff University

When I took up my post as lecturer at Cardiff University in 1995 I was involved in a project researching the settlement history of the Western Isles with my friend and colleague Mike Parker Pearson. We had completed our excavations of a broch at Dun Vulan and were considering what else we wanted to dig. The idea was to develop our knowledge of the periods either side of the Middle Iron Age periods that were represented at Dun Vulan and which were less thoroughly explored on the island. Mike had field walked a large mound near to Dun Vulan and a trial excavation in 1994 supported the survey interpretation that this was a Norse settlement that may well have continuity back to the Late Iron Age that was identified at the end of the sequence of settlement at Dun Vulan. 

I was persuaded by Mike that this would be a good field project for Cardiff University students and I began taking them up to South Uist in the summer of 1996. The initial years of excavation at Bornais were relatively small scale and involved survey  (undertaken by Mike Hamilton) and trial trenches of the various mounds to try to define the settlement.  

It soon became clear that this was a very large Norse settlement that covered a large area. Late Iron Age settlement was present and the sequence eventually exposed spanned at least a millennium from the 5th century AD to the 15th century AD.  

Most of the later years focussed on the excavation of two areas, known as mounds 2 and 2A, in the centre of the settlement. Large teams of Cardiff students worked on these areas for eight weeks in the summers of 1999, 2000, 2003 and 2004 and exposed complex sequences of archaeology that provided evidence for the structures occupied and the  social and economic life of an exceptionally large Norse settlement.  

The logistics of this excavation were problematic as getting everyone all the way to South Uist with all the equipment and provisions,  accommodating about 30 people on a small sparsely populated island and returning and processing all the finds and samples every summer was challenging. It also required a substantial budget; petrol and food are much more expensive on these small islands and the transport costs were significant as the ferries are not cheap. Fortunately as the sites were threatened by erosion Historic Scotland (now Historic Environment Scotland) provided a substantial grant and have supported the post excavation analysis through to publication.  

The information recovered from the excavations has been considerable and resulted in the publication of four substantial volumes as well as many specialist papers and numerous PhDs and undergraduate dissertations. There are many important discoveries but amongst these have been the excavation of a range of important houses that have very well preserved floors that provide very important information on what people were doing in their homes.  

Two houses were exceptional. A Late Iron Age house dating to the fifth century AD was burnt down and the carbonised remains of the roof timbers were preserved between the primary occupation and a secondary reoccupation.  On the floor of this house were a clusters of stone tools that appear to have been in bags hanging from the roof around the edge of the house. Slotted between two of the rafters in the roof was a whalebone axe that may have been used to cut the turves for the roof. In the floor deposits were a range of bone tools and amongst the more prosaic objects was a bone dice and an unusual decorated astragalus which it is argued these might have been used in act of divination to decide whether the house should be rebuilt and reoccupied. 

A later Norse house dating to the late eleventh century AD is possibly the most impressive and well preserved Norse longhouse excavated in Britain. It had stone walls surviving over one metre high which indicated a bow-walled almost 20 m long and over 5.8 m wide. It was divided into three aisles with a central area covered in ash from the central hearth.

The floor deposits produced an amazingly rich assemblage of finds that is one of the most spectacular assemblages recovered from this period in Scotland. The most exceptional finds included an antler cylinder incised with a beast in the distinctive Ringerike art style, a fragment of green porphyry ultimately from Lakonia in Greece, a fragment of amber cross, two cut coins, a folded strip of gold, glass beads, antler finials and large quantities of bone pins and composite combs. These were accompanied by large numbers of tools such as bone points, whetstones, iron knives and pottery.  

The careful excavation of this floor resulted in very detailed understanding of how this material was deposited and provides invaluable information on the nature and organisation of activities in the house. The interior was divided into a cooking area at the west end of the house away from the door which was located in the south east corner. Immediately in front of this cooking area was a living space where most of the finds were deposited, apparently just left lying around on the floor. The east end produced far fewer objects and may have been used for sleeping and storage. 

As we move into the later 13th and 14th centuries the architecture of the houses evolves and the way the internal space was used changes significantly; small well-defined hearths being located opposite the entrance in the final houses.  This probably reflects the changing nature of gender relations as we move from the Scandinavian influenced societies of the 11th and 12th centuries to the much more Gaelic influenced societies of the 13th and 14th centuries.  

There is much more that could be discussed but this provides an insight into some of the interesting things we discovered on our summer holidays in the ten years from 1995 to 2004. 

Reflections on past lives in the time of Covid-19

Professor Emeritus Alasdair Whittle
Cardiff University

‘Most of our people have never had it so good’ was a famous political slogan of the later 1950s. I can’t be the only archaeologist contemplating the potential lessons of the pandemic for how we understand the remote past. My research generation — I started my doctorate in the early 1970s — was probably more influenced by the post-war times of recovery and prosperity than we like to admit. For long decades, a rather comfortable past was envisioned. Change took place, of course, but in a rather orderly and predictable fashion. Four themes — population levels, violence, migration and disease — serve to illustrate aspects of this rather complacent worldview, which both recent research and current events are helping to shatter. Obviously I am referring to complex arguments and debates so forgive the inevitable generalisations and simplifications. 

Population levels were briefly in fashion in the early 1970s but then rather lapsed from view. It is greatly to the credit of Stephen Shennan and his team, among others, for reviving this in more recent times, and I think his view of cycles of population boom and bust are on the right track, even if the method of using the numbers of radiocarbon dates as a population proxy is deeply suspect. We need to get at this by regional studies and pollen analysis, among alternatives. But the important thing is that a much less stable world is suggested. 

I used to argue that violence was endemic and recurrent but small-scale in the European Neolithic. Now it has been shown that there is much more evidence for individual and inter-group violence nearly everywhere (among others by Rick Schulting, Mick Wysocki and Linda Fibiger, who worked in the department at various times), and there are famous instances of massacres and even a possible battle. Again a much less settled world comes into view. But detailed work on chronological sequences (as in our Times of Their Lives project) shows that there can be long stretches when such evidence is much scarcer, and so we have to formulate more nuanced and sensitive histories. 

Once upon a time, new people were the way to explain change in the archaeological record. My generation largely rejected that view, and went for other kinds of interpretation. In some ways that was liberating, but for many situations it took us way off the track, and it has been a long haul, led by colleagues like David Anthony in America, and now reinforced by the great surge in aDNA studies, to regain a more grounded perspective. People did move in the past, even though there are ongoing arguments about the scale of this in certain contexts (as in the third millennium). Twenty or more years of isotopic research (some of it carried out in this department) have also underlined how many individual lives were shaped by mobility, often on a surprising scale. Once again we bump up against a much less fixed past. 

Finally, there is increasing evidence for disease in the past. The aDNA studies have shown the presence of plague as far back as c. 3000 BC, and there are clear signs of tuberculosis in the sixth millennium in the early Neolithic of central Europe. In one of our ToTL studies we suggested disease as a possible reason for an apparent pronounced gap in the settlement sequence in Alsace, in the early fifth millennium. That was in a paper published in 2017, and now we have all seen for ourselves what havoc a virus can wreak. There are plenty of other contexts where disease might have played a major role in change and disruption, and it will be fascinating to see if ongoing aDNA research can track more of these instances down. 

So, people on the move, people killing other people, numbers on the ground getting out of hand, and people falling prey to disease, were probably all much more prominent features of past worlds like the Neolithic than we have allowed for in many previously comfortable models of the past. It is a good time now to rethink all these issues and combine them, not in another set of static generalisations, but in detailed, nuanced and varying narratives of the successes and failures, the challenges, uncertainties and disruptions, of past lives. 

Viking Combs Revisited

Ian Dennis, Archaeological Illustrator
Cardiff University

I‘m an archaeological illustrator (traditional and digital), field and experimental archaeologist at Cardiff Uni, since graduating in 1992. I teach archaeological skills (including illustration) and run excavations at Piepenkopf Iron Age Hillfort near Detmold, Germany.

Archaeological illustration of artefacts over the years has allowed me to examine them in an extremely close way. I have illustrated numerous Norse composite (made up of many parts) antler combs, especially from the Norse site of Bornais, on the Isle of Uist in the Western Isles, Scotland. The varying detail and complexity of these objects captured my attention, I love illustrating them. It was during illustrating these wonderful objects, that I was able to de-construct how they were possibly made (fig 1.).

Fig. 1. Illustrated Norse combs from Bornais.

While illustrating, I notice how objects are made, and sometimes am even able to identify the tools used in manufacture, from the tool marks left on them. For example, during the illustration of the combs I was able to identify that the incised line decoration was created using fine saws, which were also used for cutting the fine teeth (which were only 0.5mm to 2mm apart). The dot and ring decoration, which occurs regularly on the combs was made using a two-pronged tool, and not a stamp.  The literature is limited on how these combs may have been made in the past, so I thought why not just knock one out?  I could use the sequence of construction observed when illustrating the combs and test this against the literature available. This gave me the motivation to experiment with making objects from the past using the tools they probably would have had at hand, supported by evidence for tools found from archaeological excavations.

Now it was beginning to escalate, I decided to do an experiment and make a comb or two. I quickly realised that when making combs, not only would I need antler from a red deer (most commonly used), I would also need tools similar to the ones used by the Norse/makers of the combs to make it a valid experiment. I based these on some of the iron tools recovered from the Bornais excavations.

To describe the whole making process here would take a few thousand words, therefore if as they say a picture is worth a thousand words, several pictures are worth several thousand words! Here are some images showing the process I undertook to produce the combs, using various techniques and tools. Enjoy.

Fig. 2. Cutting up the antler following the tool/saw marks found on discarded antler waste from Bornais.
Fig. 3. Splitting the cut-up antler beams to make the tooth plates. Splitting them with antler tines and chiseling them flat, this was quick and easy.
Fig. 4. Shaping the side plates and grinding the tooth plates smooth.
Fig. 5. Decorating the side plates before assembling the composite comb.
Fig. 6. Applying the dot and ring motif decoration using a two-pronged tool.
Fig. 7. Drilling the holes for assembly and riveting, using hand made rolled sheet rivets, as observed in the original combs.
Fig. 8. This illustrates the sequence used to assemble the combs. Top, a single sided comb (note how the rivets are every other plate, this replicates how the earlier combs were made). Below a double sided fish tail comb (note here, in the later style they are rivetted completely differently).
Fig. 9. Trimming off the not required parts of the antler tooth plates and finishing before the teeth are cut.
Fig. 10. This shows examples of how the comb may have been held/clamped for the teeth to be cut. The microscope image shows how fine the saw cuts are and an antler tine with a possible tang from a broken saw from Bornais.
Fig. 11. Probably the most nerve wracking and worrying part of making this comb: cutting the teeth. One mistake and you will have to pop out some rivets and replace the incorrectly cut plate (Phew, stressful!).
Fig. 12. Three examples of the types of composite combs found from Bornais.
Fig. 12. Previous reconstruction found in the literature.

People are often surprised at how hardwearing these replica combs are, they are also fairly easily repairable. My experiments making theses combs, proved my suspicions regarding the straight line decoration being saw cut and the dot and ring motifs being made with a two pronged ring boring tool. I was also able to estimate roughly how many combs you could make from one antler: one, if you’re lucky! This is a much smaller amount than the literature had suggested. My most signifiacant finding was that combs are actually fairly easy to make. It is the tools that required extremely high skill to make, and then the techniques that are employed using the tools. This hierarchy of skill and importance is backed up by evidence from early medieval Irish Brehon law, where a blacksmith was ranked higher in importance than a lowly combmaker. A combmaker was not particularly valued and could be made fun of by all other professions, just like me!

Animals, People, and Power in Ancient Sardinia

Dr Emily Holt, Marie Curie Fellow
Cardiff University

When you think of archaeology, what do you imagine? Pyramids? Temples? Researchers in broad-brimmed hats scraping the ground with their trowels? What about animal bones – do animal bones come to mind when you picture archaeologists at work? 

Animal bones may not be the first thing you think of, but zooarchaeology – the study of animal remains in archaeological contexts – is a vibrant and informative part of archaeological research. Animal bones tell us all kinds of things about ancient people – not just what they ate, but also about their economies, political structures, home lives, and patterns of travel.  

I’m a zooarchaeologist studying the Nuragic Culture of Ancient Sardinia. The Nuragic Culture flourished during the Sardinian Bronze Age (c. 1700-900 BCE), when the Nuragic people built thousands of monumental stone towers called nuraghi all over their island. They built just a few hundred at first, expanding over the centuries to build thousands more, many of which were also larger and more architecturally complex than the early towers. These patterns of settlement expansion suggest that interesting processes of political consolidation were taking place, probably supported by changes in how Nuragic people used their natural resources. 

Studying the towers themselves can only tell us so much, however. Resources like animal bones excavated from inside and around the towers provide helpful additional evidence. My project ZANBA is using animal remains excavated from an early and a later Nuragic tower to look at changes in how much territory Nuragic leaders controlled. I’m going to do this by analyzing the strontium isotopes in the teeth of the domestic animals the Nuragic leaders ate and comparing them against the strontium isotopes in the regions around the two sites. 

Strontium isotopes come from the particular geology of a region and get into animal teeth through the food chain: plants take up strontium from groundwater and soil, herbivores absorb strontium through the plants they eat, and carnivores absorb strontium through the animals they consume. Fortunately, the strontium isotopes aren’t really changed by going through the food chain, so the isotopes in animal teeth at the end of the chain are closely related to the isotopes of the plants at the beginning. 

Sardinia has a highly varied geology, so the first part of my study is to map the strontium isotopes around my study area. I’ll do this by collecting plants from across the different geologies and testing their strontium isotopes. This will allow me to establish a base map of how strontium isotopes vary across my study area. Once I’ve completed the base map, I’ll test the strontium isotopes in the teeth of animals from my two sites and compare them with the base map.

This will allow me to identify where the animals that were eaten at the sites originally came from, which will give me an idea of how far the political power of these Nuragic leaders stretched. I expect to see an expansion of power between the early site and the later site, showing that Nuragic leaders were able to bring more territory under their control over time. 

Right now I’m in the early stages of my project, planning the best locations to collect plants to produce the most accurate and representative base map. The next step will be to travel to Sardinia and collect both the plant and animal specimens and bring them back to the lab to analyze with the help of my colleagues. If you’re interested in learning more about my research, you can check out my personal blog or follow @ZANBA_Project1 on Twitter and zanba_project on Instagram. 

Mark Lodwick is Living in the Past

Mark Lodwick, Archaeological Photographer
Cardiff University

I consider myself fortunate to have been

I consider myself lucky to have been working on the archaeology of Wales (mostly) for the last 25 years. I graduated from Cardiff University in 1992, by which point I was keen to take a break from academia and archaeology. I spent the next 18 months volunteering with homeless people in and around Cardiff. I was then tempted into volunteering for an excavation of a Neanderthal cave site in North Wales run by the National Museum of Wales. I did not realise it, but the excavation provided the footing for my work over the coming years. I was subsequently invited to undertake post excavation work at the museum and began to be offered opportunities to work with the National Museum on a number of short term contracts and fieldwork projects including working to record the timbers of a medieval ship excavated at Magor Pill on the Gwent Levels, Monmouthshire and supervising an excavation within Caerleon Roman fort, Newport. 

Fieldwork at Llanbedergoch, Anglesey, showing the excavation of burials in the upper fills of an Early Medieval ditch.
© National Museum of Wales

In 1994 I was invited to join a small team assembled by Dr Mark Redknap to assess an area of farmland at Llanbedrgoch, Anglesey where a significant Early Medieval coin hoard and a number of Viking Age finds had been recovered by two metal detectorists. That year’s geophysical survey and subsequent ground-truthing established the presence of an Early Medieval enclosure around a spring and identified the first Hiberno-Norse settlement in Wales. I spent the next 12 summers on Anglesey supervising the excavations conducted by the museum and working alongside Cardiff University student placements.  

Archie Gillespie, Metal Detectorist and Field Archaeologist
© National Museum of Wales

Working with the metal detector finders at Llanbedrgoch and in Working with the metal detector finders at Llanbedrgoch and in particular, forging a friendship with Archie Gillespie, provided me with an understanding of how members of the public can become engaged with archaeology. I was beginning to understand how conducting archaeological work with diverse public participation is hugely rewarding and of mutual benefit, ensuring a more rounded and diverse team and embedding an appreciation of the rigours of the archaeological process to participating members of the public. These principles were reinforced by an inspirational colleague at the museum, Kenneth Brassil, who ensured that contemporary, as well as past communities are put at the heart of archaeological discovery. 

Mark Lodwick investigating the site of a Late Bronze Age hoard with the finder, Alan Jenkins

An appreciation of these skills enabled me to move across to the Portable Antiquities scheme (PAS) in Wales, where I have worked for the last 18 years. PAS work is public-faced, working alongside finders to ensure that archaeological information is captured and shared for all. Working with PAS enabled me to respond to significant discoveries made in Wales, with the support of colleagues in archaeology at the National Museum.

Mark Lodwick with Steve McGrory, the finder of the ‘midden’ site at Llanmaes during the initial visit while cows feasted on our tapes!
© National Museum of Wales
Tim Fowler, Llanmaes resident, excavating and sharing some of the finds with the community.
© National Museum of Wales

Of particular note, was the discovery and excavation of the Later Prehistoric feasting site at Llanmaes in the Vale of Glamorgan. Nine excavation seasons at Llanmaes revealed a significant Bronze Age landscape where communities lived and buried their dead.

A Middle Bronze Age building at Llanmaes with Cardiff University students as posts and an excavated cremation burial.
© National Museum of Wales
A school visits the Llanmaes excavations and re-enacts some of the rituals with their pre-made cauldrons
© National Museum of Wales

Later, through the Late Bronze and Iron Ages, people began to arrive to feast and carefully deposited the extensive material culture from these gatherings within a midden, which included pig bones, pottery and cauldrons and axe fragments. The excavation has produced a highlight archaeological find: a tooth from a Great White shark, heavily-worn through handling before being carefully deposited in a post-hole of a Middle Bronze Age building and excavated by Archie, now a skilled field archaeologist. 

Tooth from a Great White Shark excavated from a post hole of the building pictured above
© National Museum of Wales

In recent years there has been less opportunity to conduct fieldwork, although internationally important discoveries continue to be identified, such as the recent discovery of an Iron Age chariot burial in Pembrokeshire – the first recorded from Southern Britain. So, when I was offered an opportunity to supervise students on Cardiff University excavations of an Iron Age hillfort in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, I jumped at the opportunity of a different archaeological adventure. 

Excavations at Piepenkopf Hillfort, Germany
Excavations at Piepenkopf Hillfort, Germany
Excavations at Piepenkopf Hillfort, Germany

Recording finds for PAS and site recording over the years has provided me with the experience of archaeological photography and enabled me to start a new role back with Cardiff University as the photographer in the School of History, Archaeology and Religion, while I continue to work with PAS but now on a part-time basis. 


Material cultural regionalisms in Early Iron Age Thrace

Donald Crystal, PhD Candidate
Cardiff University

The topic of cultural regionalism in Iron Age Thrace (1100-300 B.C.) is a subject which is often overlooked within English speaking academia. Academics often assume that Thrace, or the area which encompasses northern Greece and south Bulgaria consisted of one single cultural entity, often label as the ‘Thracians’. Yet, as I have shown as part of my PhD research, Early Iron Age Thrace was anything but a single and homogenous cultural zone. Instead, what I have found is that what we call ‘Thrace’ was actually inhabited by a number of materially distinct communities which expressed their own regional identities through the objects they used in their daily life and the different ways that they buried members of their community.   

Within the writings of contemporary ancient Greek historians we are told that Thrace was inhabited by numerous tribal groups. Herodotus gives us one such account during the 5th century B.C. in his description of the Persian king Xerxes’ route to Greece via Thrace: “Xerxes marched past these Greek cities of the coast, keeping them on his left. The Thracian tribes through whose lands he journeyed were the Paeti, Cicones, Bistones, Sapaei, Dersaei, Edoni, and Satrae.” (Hdt. 7.110). Unfortunately, beyond this account we know little about these tribes and what made them distinct from one another beyond their names. Yet more critically, we do not know if the tribes within the region thought of themselves as different, past what the ancient Greek authors wrote about them. It was, therefore, the purpose of my research to look behind what the ancient Greek authors wrote about Thrace, to look to the archaeology, in order to assess whether or not it offered something different. One of the ways through which I attempted to analyse this was through a typological and spatial analysis of tomb types around different parts of Thrace.  

Map showing the distribution of tomb types around Iron Age Thrace

For my analysis, I plotted the distribution of six different types of graves that I identified around Thrace that occurred during the Early Iron Age II period-Late Iron Age (8th-4th centuries B.C.) around Thrace. The results from my analysis stood in direct contrast to what many people assume of Thrace during this time, specifically that it was a culturally similar region. What a rudimentary analysis into the distribution of tomb types around Thrace showed, however, was that Thrace was anything but homogenous, and in fact even from the perspective of tomb architecture, Thrace exhibits large levels of regional cultural diversity. Of course, some tomb types did not reveal anything in particular and seemed to be spread randomly throughout Thrace due to the existing excavation bias.  

Dolmen from the outskirts of the village of Hlyabovo, Bulgaria
Rock-cut grave from Tatul, Bulgaria

Nevertheless, the most notable results from the spatial analysis of tomb types, however, was the concentration of dolmens and rock-cut graves in east Thrace, cairn inhumations in central Thrace, and the concentration of pithoi inhumations on the Aegean Thrace coast. The regional specificity of several of these tomb types stands to show, that Thrace was a materially diverse and dynamic place. 

Cairn inhumations in central Thrace
Pithos inhumation from the Virbovo cemetery in central Bulgaria

From the perspective of typology, clear distinctions could now be made between largely contemporaneous architectural forms which, along with the regional extent of these forms, underpin significant evidence for cultural diversity during the Iron Age in Thrace, contrary to much of the information that we are told from English speaking academia. What has been highlighted is on one level clear heterogeneity in terms of funerary architecture with regions opting for funerary forms which seem almost isolated within their respected regions, and on another level strong levels of architectural regionalism which hint at reflecting the wider social and ideological similarities and differences between communities in these areas. Typology and spatial distribution, therefore, have served to complement one another in an attempt to better understand the potential nuances of architectural forms and levels of regional cultural diversity around Iron Age Thrace.  

Guerilla Archaeology and Graphic Design: Evolving Identity, Engagement and Communication

Kirsty Harding, Graphic Designer and Digital Archaeological Illustrator
Cardiff University

I’m a graphic designer & digital archaeological illustrator. I have a long history with archaeology at Cardiff, having completed my archaeology degree here in 1999. The majority of my work is producing digital artwork (mostly maps, charts, graphs & infographics) for academic publications as well as some typesetting, booklet design and advertising work.  Since 2015, I have also officially been a Guerilla Archaeologist. Guerilla Archaeology is a Cardiff-based collective founded in 2011. It is made up of archaeologists, scientists and artists dedicated to bringing the past alive. 

Infographic designed to disseminate Guerilla Archaeology’s 2018/19 Feast Project engagement success.

Guerilla Archaeology create events intended to provoke thought and encourage engagement with the past through a range of unconventional methods in unconventional places. Mostly, we go and have fun at festivals with people while getting them interested in and excited about archaeology. Since 2011, Guerilla archaeologists have encouraged over 20,000 people to engage with the past at more than 35 festivals. We’ve involved people in many different activities from antler craft work at Glastonbury to stone age shopping at Shambala, from sun worshipping at Blue Dot to taking part in the Iron Age Olympics at Green Man. 

Guerilla Archaeology has a clear visual identity and logo which appears on Facebook, twitter, Instagram and all of our advertising and educational materials. It wasn’t always that way. Initially, advertising materials for Guerrilla Archaeology played with images from past activities & used catchphrases such as Get down & dirty with the past on a range of business cards & stickers. These were given out at events to reward participation, raise awareness and maintain contacts. Stickers were always popular, with adults and children alike. 

In 2016, Guerilla Archaeology took the The Bog Body Shop to Wilderness Festival, to explore the prehistory of personal grooming, body adornment, body modification, and different perceptions of beauty. We had stickers designed by Bryony Mulville to emulate The Body Shop logo, replacing the standard round shape which hugs the brand-name with the shape of a lunula necklace or collar, a distinctive crescent moon shaped early bronze age necklace form. 

2016 also saw Guerilla Archaeology, through association with Cardiff University Festival Research Group and Creative Cardiff, get involved with Sŵn Music Festival in Cardiff. Guerilla Archaeology created a pop-up music museum in Castle Arcade to coincide with the Sŵn music festival. The Music Museum was also invited to pop-up at the 2016 Festival Congress in Cardiff. I was commissioned to design the advertising material for the Sŵn Music Museum and a final report on the festival by the Festival Research Group. In the report and music museum advertising I utilised a font used by the Swn marketing team, Big Noodle titling, to maintain Sŵn festival brand consistency. The report was then widely distributed, including at a day conference attended by UK festival organisers. 

At this point it became clear that we had a branding problem. Guerilla Archaeology had no actual logo, as a result, no clear logo branding appears on the Sŵn advertising & literature alongside the Cardiff University, Creative Cardiff & Sŵn logos. We were missing out on easily demonstrating our involvement in projects, taking ownership of our own work and being easily identifiable. We needed a logo.

It occurred to me that with the Bog Body Shop stickers design we already had the start of a logo. The lunula was a pleasing shape to work with, great for stickers and linked to many Guerilla Archaeology themes such as lunatics, prehistory and early astrology. I had enjoyed working with Big Noodle Titling during the Sŵn project.

It is vaguely reminiscent of a stencil font, stencilling is often visual shorthand for rebellious acts of graffiti, itself a guerilla act. Big Noodle has clean lines, is easy to read and is great to play about with stretching, squashing and altering kerning (the space between letters). The standard Guerilla Archaeology logo was born and began to be used on all our social media,  advertising and educational materials. 

An example of a logo evolving through time – I’m not sure we’re ever going to reach the stage when Guerilla Archaeology is recognised by the lunala alone!

In common with many successful logos, our logo is able to evolve while still retaining recognisability. The logo design has been adapted for a number of different events and to suit different themes. The many variations of stickers given out at festivals continue to be ridiculously popular. The simple silhouette style of illustration lends itself to the design of clear, but interesting, infographics and advertising, which retain the visual identity of Guerilla Archaeology. At present we are using the antler design on our social media, this was originally designed in conjunction with our ancient antler working workshops at Glastonbury festival.

However, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are currently working on an Archaeology of Isolation online project and will be using a new logo variation for that. As Guerilla Archaeology evolves in changing times, so does our logo. 

What is the ‘it’ we conserve?

Professor Jane Henderson
Cardiff University

What is conservation? 

Conservation is central to archaeology. By intervening to save the finds and sites conservators help capture and share evidence of our past. Conservation occurs at the transition point of archaeology: the point when the information becomes more available and more vulnerable simultaneously.  It is natural to focus on the tangible qualities of an object at the point of its excavation. For example, finding a wattle fence and identifying the materials meant we know that it should it be kept damp. 

Jane at Llangorse, it was my experience in archaeology that made it clear I was a conservator. 

My first object 

I remember when I started conservation my first object was a roman nail. My teacher said, ‘it’s just iron think of the properties of the metal’.  I duly deferred to the science of corrosion. But that evening all I could do was squeal to my flatmates ‘I touched a roman * I mean roman* nail today’. Although it took me decades to express this dichotomy, I always knew material properties were not enough to explain what is the it we conserve (and why archaeology is so exciting). 

Jane as a student (yes that is me on the right) 


This led to my fascination with the preservation of tangible and intangible aspects of things. I teach conservation as starting with significance. These trains offer two very different perspectives on what it means to preserve an engine.  Deciding whether it is more important to retain the thread, the piston and the ball-bearing intact or the sound, smell and motion requires you to answer the question – what is IT that we preserve? 

Two trains: two different sets of values preserved 


To help answer that lets look at some theory.  Windelband identified nomothetic and idiographic approaches.

In seeking to understand our conservation challenges as ‘the material’ we can create reliable results, whereas to understand this as a once worn shoe we have a personal connection to the past. Which path should we follow? 

To engage in idiographic research it’s necessary to be comfortable with uncertainty. People place their own values on objects, they can disagree and even change their mind over time. It is hard to insist on a unitary value or a single truth.

Evolution of Conservation 

In the 100 years of Archaeology in Cardiff, conservation grew as a profession from a merger of skilled craftspeople and scientific researchers, but the blend never sat comfortably.  Analytical work dominated the professional discourse with a tendency to represent skills as less intellectual.  

Unfortunately, the safety of reproducible but reductionist science had negative consequences for the profession including the downgrading of highly skilled individuals and the persistence of cautious and unsustainable preservation techniques.

Reflective practice 

Once you accept that what is being preserved is a value represented by but not limited to form, conservation can unify as a profession with reflective practice at its heart. A profession that learns from practice & engages with society’s messy challenges.  


Liberation from reductionist materiality creates space in heritage thinking. Destroying the colonial narrative of universal museums that ‘we get to keep it because we can look after it’.  Valuing experience over existence provides a compelling reason for conservators to support repatriation. 

Conserving Amy 

In our practical teaching we continue to develop theory from practice. In this conservation project Ellie Sweetnam (@EllieSweetnam) is evolving a theory of #DisruptiveConservation. Her conservation of this doll focusses on her relationship with the doll’s owner rather than an adherence to the fabric of the doll. Such reflection in and on practice is the theoretical bedrock of a united conservation profession. 

‘Amy’ before and after a repair that centred human relationships  (credit Ellie Sweetnam)


Conservation continues to ponder its relationship with heritage science but we at Cardiff are making our contribution to its growth. By challenging the ‘it’ that we conserve we can make our goal to conserve memory, love, beauty, struggles and failures. These are the fundamental human concepts that drive us all and remind us why even in a pandemic conserving cultural heritage is essential for human existence.  

Conserving human history in Cardiff University 

Feasting and Mobility at Stonehenge

Dr Richard Madgwick, Senior Lecturer
Cardiff University

Monumental complexes such as Stonehenge and Avebury represent some of the most famous prehistoric archaeological sites in the world. They often comprise sites of different character and function, with the Stonehenge complex having the stone circle of Stonehenge, a focus for funerary ritual, the wooden circle of Woodhenge and the henge enclosure of Durrington Walls, a centre for feasting and settlement.  

These monumental complexes have been a focus for archaeological and antiquarian research for centuries. The origins of the people who engaged in ceremonies at (and very likely built) Stonehenge and other great Late Neolithic (c. 2800-2400BC) monumental complexes represents a long-standing enigma in research on British prehistory. Isotope analysis provides a suite of methods for identifying non-local individuals and exploring origins through sampling bone and teeth. However, human remains at these sites are almost all cremated and therefore unsuitable for some forms of isotope analysis. Consequently, other proxies for human movement must be utilised. 

Sample of pig mandible from Durrington Walls

This study uses the bones and teeth of pigs, the prime feasting animal at these complexes. Tens of thousands have been recovered from Durrington Walls, providing a vital resource for reconstructing prehistoric lifeways. These are domestic pigs and therefore must have been brought by humans, thus potentially providing a good proxy for human movement. However, pigs are not considered well-suited to movement over distance and are commonplace in Late Neolithic Britain. Therefore, even if people came from far and wide, they might procure a pig in the vicinity of the henges to contribute to the feast, rather than going to the effort of bringing one that they themselves had raised. Pigs may therefore provide a weak proxy for human movement.    

The research analyses the largest five-isotope system faunal dataset yet published in archaeology. A total of 131 animals were analysed from four Late Neolithic complexes in Wessex: Durrington Walls, West Kennet Palisade Enclosures, Mount Pleasant and Marden. Each isotope system provides different information about the origins of the animals. Strontium (87Sr/86Sr) provides a geological signal, oxygen (d18O) a climatic signal and sulphur (d34S) an indication of coastal proximity. Carbon (d13C) and nitrogen (d15N) isotope analysis provides dietary information and represents an important baseline from which to interpret the other proxies. The combination of these isotope systems means that non-local animals can be identified with greater confidence and likely origins can in some instances be posited.  

Results were exceptionally wide-ranging in all of the provenancing isotope proxies. They are considered in the context of British origins, as there is no evidence for contact with continental Europe at this time. The strontium values encompassed the vast majority of biosphere variation that can be found in Britain from the youngest to oldest lithological zones. Oxygen values were suggestive of origins from the coastal west to the highland east and sulphur results indicated many animals were raised near the coast, with others having inland origins. No other British site of any period provides data as wide-ranging as for these Late Neolithic sites. On the basis of current mapping data, it is not possible to define origins with confidence, even when using multi-isotope proxies. Equifinality remains a hurdle to interpretation, as some areas may not be distinguishable. However, the scale of variation in all provenancing proxies provides convincing evidence for wide-ranging origins, and origins as far afield as Scotland cannot be discounted. It is not only the famous megalithic centres like Stonehenge that were major foci. All four sites show long-distance connectivity, and there is no indication that they served different networks; all drew people and animals from across Britain for this feasting events. 

These findings have major ramifications for how we understand Late Neolithic Britain. The monumental complexes of Wessex were not just power bases in the heartland of regional groups, at which feasting events acted to unify a disparate, yet broadly local populace, nor were they sites of reciprocal feasting, where alliances between neighbouring groups were forged and consolidated. These centres were lynchpins for a much greater scale of connectivity, involving disparate groups from across Britain. Results also suggest that prescribed contributions were required and that rules dictated that offered pigs must be raised by the feasting participants, accompanying them on their journey, rather than being acquired locally. The volume and scale of movement has not previously evidenced and it can be argued that the Late Neolithic was the first phase of pan-British connectivity. These long-distance networks were not only sustained by the movement of people but also of livestock. These results provide clear evidence for a great volume and scale of intercommunity mobility in Late Neolithic Britain, demonstrating a level of interaction and social complexity not previously appreciated. 

Original article: 

Madgwick R, Lamb A, Sloane H, Nederbragt A, Viner S, Albarella U, Parker Pearson M, Evans J.  2019. Multi-isotope analysis demonstrates long distance movement of people and animals for feasts in the Stonehenge landscape. Science Advances 5, eaau6078. 

Cladh Hallan Tails: a day in the life of…

Professor Jacqui Mulville
Cardiff University

It had been a stormy night. Waking up, I could hear the cows starting their day by itching their backs on the house roof timbers.  I remained curled up in my sheepskin rug on the sleeping platform for a few moments more, listening to the stock. They were getting restless waiting for their calves to be born.  Out on the blacklands my brother was already holed up minding this year’s leaping lambs.  I reached out with my toes to tickle Dog awake; he was still curled up by the smouldering hearth. 

The people of Cladh Hallan lived in a stone walled timber and turf/plant roofed house with a soft sand floor. Inside the houses were divided into areas associated with different tasks and included a sleeping platform and central hearth. The fuel of choice for the fire was mostly peat, and the stone surrounded hearths became mounds of brightly coloured ash. 

The most numerous animals recovered were sheep, with fewer cattle and only the occasional pig.  Dogs were also kept and after their death some were found buried either side of the hearth, a place where, as living creatures, they may have rested.  

Breakfast was porridge, along with the last crumbs of winter cheese and a duck egg I had sneaked from a nest. I threw the remains to our tethered pig, receiving a grunt as thanks. Then Dog and I headed out across the spring flower strewn machair with the cattle.  Dog was limping, as result of getting too close to a bad-tempered cow recently.  

Burnt grain survived in the floors and show that a barley and oats were grown, whilst lipid residue analysis indicates that milk was heated in pots.  Putting these together would provide  a type of porridge. Tiny fragments of eggshells were also preserved in the sandy floors and some came from (probably wild) ducks. We know from isotopic studies that pigs and dogs were both fed varied diets of meat and plant foods, probably made up of whatever waste was spare or that they could scavenge. Whilst pigs were slaughtered for food when young – dogs continued to be valuable into their older age, and many showed the worn teeth of animals at the end of a long working life.   

Our stock were scrawny after the long winter. To save feed, we had killed all those we could spare and stored the meat and fat before the winds and rain came. The breeding cattle had spent the wintertime sheltering around the settlement, picking over the remains of our harvested fields and the plants we gathered and dried in the autumn. 

During excavation we found the footprints of cattle close to the house, preserved in the sand, where the low stone  buildings would have provided shelter during storms. Cattle and sheep grazed on the machair plains, their teeth are very worn from the sandy soils, probably moving across to the blacklands in the summer.  A lack of good winter fodder would make keeping excess stock difficult, and the age profiles demonstrate that many cattle and sheep died in their first autumn.  

The new flush of spring grass was a welcome sight.  This would help the mothers and their calves to survive and produce milk. My job was to care for the animals and persuade the mothers, and their calves, to share this precious resource with us. Some calves would die, and I would have to trick their mothers into continuing to be milked. Any spare milk would be transformed into butter and cheese and stored in the cold peat beds for later in the year.  

Isotopic analysis shows that cattle and sheep lived on grass.  Cattle were precious animals. Genetic analysis of has revealed that our cattle came from a small (and mostly female) population, so herds were managed locally. We have little evidence for them being eaten as prime animals, rather they were killed young (the males) or lived to an old age (the females). Many young calves died shortly after they were born which would have made milk production something of a challenge, as ancient cattle need the presence of the calf (or a substitute) to ‘let-down’ their milk. 

The sky was now clear and the skylarks were singing.  The calf-heavy cattle and I drifted slowly down to the beach. The herd hungrily grazed the short turf and I headed down to the beach; strewn with debris from last night’s heavy seas.  There were hummocks of seaweed torn from the rock and thrown onto the shore. Reaching the beach, the cows promptly headed to the strand line and began to munch on the wrack. 

Seaweed was a valuable resource, it was dried and burnt, and used as fertiliser on the fields.  The shells of small snails that live on the seaweed survive and show us where it was used. Stock also occasionally grazed on the seaweed, but not to a level that affected their isotopic signatures. 

I wandered over to search the rockpools for crabs.  Using my bone spatula, I popped off a few limpets as treats for the pig. The seagulls wheeled overhead and the lines of gannets dipped and dived into the sea.  In later summer the plump young gannets would be hunted, but for now we were netting the smaller auks as they came on shore to breed. 

There are many seashells and the occasional crab found at Cladh Hallan; people collected winkles and limpet and took them back to the house. Limpets may have been cooked and eaten, but they could also have been fed to the pigs and dogs.  Sea birds were hunted seasonally using nets or snares. Seagulls, auks (including the now extinct great auk) were taken for their meat, fat, feathers and for their bones.  We find beautiful points made from their slender bones. 

As I turned to check on the cows, I noticed a shape on the distant shore, lying between the strand line and the sea.  From its size and form I immediately knew what it was. I dumped my limpets and, shouting at Dog to watch the cattle, ran down the beach to claim this prize.  As I got closer the shape resolved and I realised my luck; I had found the sea giant that gave us so many useful things. We would harvest meat, blubber, oil, perfume, and bones to build, to burn and to craft. 

Marine resources were very important to the islanders.  Beside the chance to fish or to hunt seals and small cetacea, the sea threw up all sorts of other gifts including valuable wood that floated across from north America and the occasional beached sperm whale.  Sperm whales were too big, too fast and swam too far out for them to be easy prey, but if they stranded their huge bodies and bones were fully exploitated. They were the most common species found at Cladh Hallan, and their bones and teeth were used as furniture, ornaments, tools and as fuel.  

I lowered my head and silently thanked the marine gods. With my antler pick I levered a tooth from the giants mighty jaw. This would prove to the family what I had found. To fully stake my claim, I tied my bone pendant to a stick and stuck this in the sand next to the beast.  

I turned and sprinted for home shouting ‘It’s a whale! Come quick, bring tools’. 

One whale would have provided a huge amount of meat and keeping an eye on the shoreline to find these giants would have been important. We have found sperm whale teeth on the site, and they were sometime carved into items. We do not know quite how people butchered whales, we do have some bones with chop marks from metal tools, but stone and bone tools may also have been useful. Deer were hunted for food, but their antler provide the means to make handy picks that could be used for a variety of tasks. 

If you enjoyed this story, check out Enda’s Island by Paul Evans:

‘Archaeology’ in Cardiff before ‘Archaeology in Cardiff’

Professor James Whitley
Cardiff University

In  the first volume of T.H. White’s re-working of the Arthurian legends The Sword in the Stone (the book, not the Disney film) – when the ‘Wart’ first meets Merlin – there is an elaborate description of Merlin’s rather eccentric possessions. These include a copy of A.B. Cook’s Zeus, a three-volume work of classical scholarship published in the early years of the twentieth century. This deliberate anachronism is of course part of Merlin’s oddity (in the book) – whereas everyone else is travelling forwards in time he is travelling backwards. Merlin himself – though he clearly has antiquarian interests – therefore cannot be an archaeologist. But he possesses a book by someone who, in his time, was considered an archaeologist – in that, in the last few years of life, he held the Laurence Chair of Classical Archaeology at Cambridge.  

Today we would not call A.B. Cook ‘an archaeologist’ nor his great study comparative study of the Indo-European sky-god a work of archaeology (though it does include archaeological material). But in his time he was a kind of archaeologist. In the decades before and after 1900 the word ‘archaeology’ still meant ‘the science of ancient things’. These ancient things might include words, customs and practices as well as things. So Sir James Frazer’s commentary on Pausanias (Frazer 1898) could be considered an example of ‘archaeology’ just as Jane Ellen Harrison’s Themis (Harrison 1912)Archaeology then could embrace ethnology, comparative philology, the study of religion, folklore as well as concrete, material things. Archaeology was, at that time, still largely conducted by scholars with a classical background.  

In this short piece I want to take a brief look at two of these scholars who practised a form of ‘archaeology’ in this earlier sense: R.S. Conway and P.N. Ure. Both were at Cardiff briefly (presumably in the Classics department) in the years between 1900 and 1912, before moving on to Manchester and Reading respectively. Both were well-known and highly regarded scholars – so both have Wikipedia pages (though neither mentions Cardiff).  

R.S. Conway (1864-1933 -above) was the elder of the two. In 1901 when Conway was at Cardiff he was asked by the then Director of the British School at Athens, R.C. Bosanquet, to comment on some of the philological aspects of the inscriptions that had been found at Praisos in Eastern Crete (a region Bosanquet was later to call a ‘Cretan Wales).  

Conway was not an epigrapher but a comparative Indo-European philologist. His publication (Conway 1902) does contain pictures of the inscriptions which are written in a local (regional) version of the Greek alphabet. Though written in the Greek alphabet these late Archaic and Classical inscriptions are not written in the Greek language. What language were they then written in? Homer had talked about the ‘Eteocretans’ (‘True Cretans’) as one of the five peoples of ancient Crete; and Herodotus had mentioned that the people of Praisos claimed descent from the pre-Greek inhabitants of the island. These inscriptions seemed to confirm these ancient sources.  

Conway was not able to decipher these ‘Eteocretan’ inscriptions – there were too few of them. His best guess was that they were in an Indo-European language related to Venetic (the ancient Italic tongue once spoken in the area close to Venice). In this he was not alone – no-one has since been able to decipher them. Of the many wild claims that have been made since then (perhaps the wildest being that these inscriptions whose context strongly suggests they are legal are in written in a Semitic language and are in fact tombstones) none has been accepted. In his definitive study of the language Yves Duhoux reckons that Conway’s guess remains the best we have.  

By the time Conway wrote his second article on ‘Eteocretan’ inscriptions (Conway 1904) he was in Manchester. He is now best known for his study of ancient Italic languages – Venetic, Oscan, Umbrian, Messapian and so forth. These interests are now maintained in Cardiff by one of our colleagues in ancient history, Guy Bradley.  

P.N. (‘Percy’) Ure  (1879-1950) arrived in Cardiff soon after. His first publication as a Cardiff scholar (Ure 1906) is, on the face of it, not very archaeological. It is a study of ancient – particularly Archaic – tyranny in Greece in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. It proposes a thesis that was to become an orthodoxy though much of the twentieth century – that tyranny arose in part because of a class struggle between a landed aristocracy and a rising mercantile class (a thesis later discredited by another scholar who was briefly at Cardiff, Hans Van Wees). This idea – that there was an economic basis for major social and political change – drew Ure to what we would recognise as more directly archaeological material. With R.M. Burrows (Burrows and Ure 1911) he published an article on a rather odd vase shape – the kothon. 

What was the function of this curious type of Greek painted pottery (also known as an exaileptron), found largely in late Archaic and early Classical times? Was it a lamp? Or an incense burner? This focus on function (and on economics) was very much at odds with the kind of study of Greek painted pottery practised by J.D. Beazley – with its emphasis on style, attribution and iconography.  

In 1911 P.N. Ure left Cardiff to become Professor of Classics at Reading. Though a Professor of Classics his interests remained largely archaeological and economic. He built up the archaeological teaching collection at Reading and published numerous articles on vase shapes (such as the ‘Droop cup’) as well as pursuing investigations of the site of Rhitsona in Boeotia. 

So the ‘study of ancient things’ in Cardiff precedes the establishment of an archaeological department here.  With its with institutional links to the National Museum of Wales Cardiff archaeology after 1920 went on to develop a marked emphasis on the material remains of Britain (and Wales) in all periods from prehistory to the present. Under Mortimer Wheeler it developed a strong focus on excavation – excavation conducted with increasing accuracy and stratigraphical refinement. Of course Wheeler famously declared that he was ‘digging up people, not things’. Partly through this the meaning of the word ‘archaeology’ was to change radically after 1920. The presence of ancient historians and comparative philologists in SHARE is, however, is a continual reminder of the older sense of the word ‘archaeology’. 


Burrows, R.M. and Ure, P.N. 1911. Kothons and vases of allied types. Journal of Hellenic Studies 31, 72-99. 

Conway, R.S. 1902. The Pre-Hellenic Inscriptions of Praesos. Annual of the British School at Athens 8: 125-56. 

Conway, R.S. 1904. A Third Eteocretan Fragment (The Neikar-Inscription). Annual of the British School at Athens 10: 115-26. 

Cook, A.B. 1914. Zeus: A Study in Ancient Religion: Volume I: Zeus, God of the Bright Sky Part 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  

Cook, A.B. 1925. Zeus: A Study in Ancient Religion: Volume 2: Zeus, God of the Dark Sky (Thunder and Lightning). (2 volumes) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  

Cook, A.B. 1940. Zeus: A Study in Ancient Religion: Volume 3: Zeus, God of the Dark Sky (Earthquakes, Clouds, Winds, Dew, Rain, Meteorites). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  

Duhoux, Y. 1982. Les Étéocrétois: Les Textes, La Langue. Amsterdam: J.C. Gieben. 

Harrison, J.E. 1912. Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  

Frazer, J.G. 1898. Pausanias’ Description of Greece. London: Macmillan.  

Ure, P.N. 1906. The origin of the Tyrannis. Journal of Hellenic Studies 26, 131-42. 

White, T.H. 1938. The Sword in the Stone. London: Fontana-Collins.  


Archaeology and STEM in Primary Education

Poppy Hodkinson is a 3rd year PhD student at Cardiff University and University of Southampton. Her research is funded by South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWWDTP) and is investigating the potential impact of archaeology on STEM engagement in primary education. The following is a summary of her findings so far!

A shortage of people working in the STEM industry is well documented. Not enough STEM graduates are entering appropriate jobs, leading to employers looking outside of the UK to fill roles. This may become even more difficult in the future with changes to working visa policy.

Reasons for the employment gap are complex: gender, ethnicity and socio-economic status all play a role and often intersect. These factors are influential in A-level choices so it is crucial that interventions happen early as possible – in Primary School for example!

So why Archaeology? It’s a unique combination of science and humanities, giving it a wide appeal and making it a perfect way to demonstrate ‘real life’ applications of STEM skills. It’s practical and ‘hands on’ nature is particularly well suited to Primary level teaching. This project tried to see whether archaeological interventions could impact how primary pupils perceive STEM. It delivered 3 STEM-based archaeological workshops (with content relevant to curriculum requirements) to 233 Year 4 pupils at five schools in Cardiff and Hampshire.

Workshop 1: Pupils were set a zooarchaeological challenge. They identified and quantified animal remains, and used graphs to present their data. Pupils looked for patterns in their data to try and understand human/ animal relationships in the past.

Workshop 2: Pupils became ‘Pollen Detectives’ to study Climate Change in the past. They learned that different plants grow in different environments, so the pollen remains left behind can give clues about past landscapes. Credit to Rhiannon Philip (@rioannon) for the pollen ID cards.

Workshop 3: Pupils learned about Roman aqueducts and made their own out of recycled materials. Their aim was to transport as much water from one end of their design to the other. They wrote success criteria for their projects and designed a method to fairly test their work.

Questionnaires and interviews were used to observe pupils’ STEM perceptions. All pupils filled out questionnaires and four from each school were interviewed. Both methods encouraged pupils to reflect on how certain skills and personality traits might be suited to a STEM career.

The impact of workshops on questionnaire results was limited. The only significant change was to the percentage of pupils agreeing with ‘STEM is an important part of my life’ after Workshop 1. Pupils enjoying science but not wanting to ‘be a scientist’ mirrors findings of ASPIRES Research (@ASPIRESscience)

Pupils used word sort activities to explore skills and personality traits that might be important to someone working in STEM. Over time, conversations shifted from vague statements, to thoughtful and specific considerations of how skills and traits might be applied in a STEM career.

While workshops appear to have had limited effect, this project introduced STEM to pupils who were not previously aware of it. Factors in STEM uptake are complex, and additional focus/ reflection on individuals’ skills and personality traits may be needed to effect change.

Links to resources/ packs:

Aqueduct challenge used some elements from Practical Action’s (@PracticalAction) resource packs, all available online:

WISE campaign’s ‘People Like Me’ activity has since been replaced with an online quiz (the pack no longer exists online, that I can find) which can be found at:

Science Capital Teaching Approach Teacher pack available from:

Science Grrl Case for a Gender Lens in STEM:

Aspires Summary report:

Most recent Aspires Summary report:

A matter of life and breath! Why air pollution and respiratory disease aren’t just a modern-day problem

Dr Anna Davies-Barrett
Cardiff University

Image 1: Me working in the lab to look for evidence of respiratory disease on ribs of ancient skeletons. © The British Museum

If you turn over to a news channel or website today, it probably won’t take long before you see a report about air pollution and its related health problems. It’s here that you’ll likely learn that particulates (small inhalable particles) produced by growing urban landscapes, industry, and exhaust fumes have been proven to increase respiratory inflammation and the risk of developing diseases. 

But this isn’t a new problem. Sadly, societies throughout time across the globe have encountered the same issues. After facing a global pandemic, now more than ever, understanding the risk factors that led to respiratory diseases in the past can help us to comprehend today’s health challenges. But to understand ancient diseases, we have to look at what remains of past people: their skeletons.  

Ever had a blocked nose and aching in your cheeks or forehead? You might have been suffering from sinusitis. This is a common inflammation of the lining of your upper respiratory tract, affecting the air-filled spaces – known as sinuses – located in the bones of your cheeks, forehead, and behind your eyes. If this inflammation becomes severe and prolonged, it can actually trigger new bone to form inside the sinuses. It is this reaction that I look for in human skulls from the past to decipher if they suffered from sinusitis. 

Video 1: How do I find out if a skeleton had sinusitis just by looking at their skull? Watch this video to find out! 
© Anna Davies-Barrett

I also look for evidence of inflammation of the lower respiratory tract, including the lungs. There is a thin pocket of fluid that surrounds the lungs and lies directly beneath the ribs, known as the pleural cavity. If lung inflammation or infection spreads to this cavity, it’s thought to trigger bone formation on the inner surfaces of the ribs. Infectious diseases like tuberculosis and pneumonia have been linked to this type of bone change.  

Video 2: How can someone’s ribs tell me if they had a respiratory disease? This video explains! 
© Anna Davies-Barrett 

Why is this useful? Well, by looking at the frequency of such bone formation in skeletons across time periods and regions, I can start to build a picture of how often people from different environments and backgrounds suffered from respiratory diseases. 

The results have certainly been interesting. My research has shown that respiratory diseases in the past were likely to have been common; people from a range of backgrounds could have developed ailments. Unsurprisingly, what myself and other researchers have found is that the type of conditions people lived in were likely to have had an impact on whether a person developed a respiratory disease. People living in poorly ventilated and smoky houses or in crowded cities with industrial pollution show higher frequencies of respiratory disease.  

My own research on past people from Sudan (Ancient Nubia) has shown that the climate also has an important impact on respiratory health. Although mostly arid today, Sudan’s landscape was filled with swamplands several thousand years ago. It’s only from around 5000 BC that it started to slowly transform into the desert environment seen today. This transformation likely introduced greater levels of inhalable dust and sand in the air, including the massive dust storms that are still common in Sudan today.  

Video 3: The transformation of Sudan from humid swampland from around 5000 BC to arid desert by 1500 AD, as measured by changes in rainfall. Adapted by Anna Davies-Barrett from original image by Rebecca Whiting. 

During the more humid Neolithic period (5000–3100 BC), hunter-gatherers had much lower rates of respiratory disease than Nubian people living in the later, drier periods. As well as less dust in the air, the nomadic and active lifestyle of hunter-gatherers may also have been beneficial to their health.  

However, in later periods (2500 BC–1500 AD), a number of factors led to higher rates of respiratory disease. The encroaching desert forced people to live closer to the river and produced high volumes of dust, particularly when people tried to farm the dry land. Permanent settlements became more crowded, lowering levels of sanitation and encouraging infectious disease. People also relied on cooking in ovens placed inside mud brick buildings that may not have been well ventilated. 

Image 2: One of the sandstorms that occurred during excavation of the ancient town of Kawa, in Sudan. Temple inscriptions from the site tell of the similar problems with windblown sand faced by the ancient inhabitants as early as the seventh century BC. Courtesy of SARS NDRS Archive.

Interestingly, I found the highest frequencies of respiratory disease in people from the Medieval city of Soba East, located near modern-day Khartoum, at its peak a rich hub of produce and trade. The urban landscape likely produced industrial pollution and poor sanitation, but would have also attracted people – and the infectious diseases they carried – from afar. 

It’s easy to think that the respiratory problems of the ancient Nubians are a thing of the past. But as we have seen in the current pandemic, many of these factors are prevalent today. Travel and trade are at a global scale, with urban and arid environments predicted to increase dramatically in the years ahead. By understanding how respiratory disease affected people in the past, we can better prepare ourselves for this future. 

Image 3: Me, excavating a skeleton at the Pre-Columbian monumental religious site of Pachacamac, in Peru. I am now expanding my research to look at people from other countries and environments, including the skeletons from Pachacamac, who were also buried in a desert environment. © Lawrence Owens


Square dance: late Neolithic square-in-circle or ‘four-poster’ monuments

Sue Greaney, PhD candidate
Cardiff University

I am a part-time PhD student at Cardiff, nearing the end of my research into Neolithic monument complexes in Britain and Ireland. I have recently become intrigued by one type of timber monument, known as square-in-circle monuments or four-post structures. These structures consist of four substantial postholes set in a square, usually with two entrance posts or pits, and often surrounded by a ring of smaller posts.

Image 1 – Plan of square-in-circle monument set within a stone circle at Machrie Moor, Arran

These structures are found all over Britain and Ireland, usually within complexes of other monuments. But it is only recently, with several excavated and published, that the type has become established and recognised. These structures are generally associated with late Neolithic Grooved Ware pottery, and were places were animal bones, flint tools, antler and sometimes human cremations were deposited. Although dating of these sites is not precise, collating all the available radiocarbon dates so far shows that they are likely to date to between 2800 and 2500 cal BC.

Image 2 – Map showing excavated examples of square-in-circle monuments in Britain and Ireland and an example of Grooved Ware pottery.

Some of these timber structures were elaborated over time. At the Southern Circle at Durrington Walls near Stonehenge, what began as a simple square-in-circle structure later became a monument of six concentric rings of timber posts. Others were enclosed within stone circles, such as Machrie Moor and two recently discovered within the smaller stone circles at Stanton Drew in Somerset, although this latter site has not yet been excavated. Some of these timber structures are unexcavated, having been recognised from the air, such as this cluster in Chapeltown in Angus, Scotland, or through geophysical survey – several new ones have been discovered recently in the Boyne Valley by Steve Davis for example.

Image 3 – Geophysical survey of the south-west circle at Stanton Drew, clearly showing that the stone circle surrounds a square-in-circle monument. Historic England geophysical survey, full report:

People have speculated about what the purpose of these structures. They are often regarded as a temple or shrine in the form of monumentalised house. Indeed, some have rectangular hearths or settings at their centres, like at Ballynahatty. Some have suggested that the four posts supported a platform. At Pittentian, Perth & Kinross, Scotland, the posts had decayed at an angle 12° from vertical, suggesting that they supported some weight. One has been reconstructed at Knowth showing simply free-standing posts. Often square-in-circle monuments are found in within or close to with palisaded enclosures or henges. Similar structures were built in stone and may be related – such as Four Stones, part of the Hindwell/Walton complex in Powys.

Image 4 – The reconstruction timber circle adjacent to Knowth passage tomb, Co. Meath, Ireland

The orientation of these structures is intriguing. When their axis of orientation, as defined by the two additional pits or posts, entrance gaps or elaborate façades, are plotted, they demonstrate a consistent orientation between the north-east and south, clustering towards the south-east, particularly for Irish examples. Rather than precise astronomical alignments, these monuments seem to conform to a pattern of quartering or directionality.

Image 5 – The orientation of excavated square-in-circle monuments in Britain and Ireland.

It might be that the four posts marked significant directions, divided the world into equal quarters or represented pillars of the world. In Northern Caddoan (Pawnee) lodges, the four posts which support the roof represent semi-cardinal directions, each associated with animals and colours. The northeast was thunder, bear and black; the northwest lightning, mountain lion and yellow; the southwest winds, bobcat and white and the southeast clouds, wolf and red. Posts, partly buried underground and partly reaching up into the sky, may have linked different worlds together. Among many historic-period Eastern Woodlands and Plains Indians, upright posts served to directly tie the beings of the sky to the powers of a world beneath. Perhaps these monuments were built to encompass or create an image of the universe as Neolithic people understood it, linking together the underworld and the upper world, together with important directions.

These are preliminary discussions, and there are many more of these square-in-circle monuments out there to be found, excavated and studied. Hopefully this blog post has piqued your interest in these intriguing structures.

Pits, pottery and prehistoric people in southern Romania

Dr Steve Mills, Senior Lecturer
Cardiff University

Cardiff University’s research, over a 20-year period, into the Neolithic (6000-3600 BC) settlement in Romania has stimulated new interpretations, artwork, workshops and museum exhibitions and created new audiences for this important period in the human past. Archaeological research, focussed on the village of Măgura, Romania, has transformed the understanding of the environmental and social contexts of Europe’s first farmers and resulted in participation in a major EU-funded project that combined archaeology and art as a medium for engaging public interest in their past. The project involved invited artists visiting Romania and producing original pieces for exhibition in the regional museum, and it enhanced local education practice through a series of workshops in the village school. The research programme also provided material for the development of a new archaeological exhibition at the museum, creating an opportunity to present the prehistoric heritage of Măgura to the local community and a heritage resource to encourage cultural tourism.  A new phase of research around the village of Poiana, in the Danube Valley, Romania, aims to better understand the environmental and landscape context during the Mesolithic period leading up to the appearance of the first farmers. We hope the new research at Poiana will contribute to further understanding the presence and lifeways of Mesolithic and Neolithic communities in the region and the river environments they inhabited. 

Southern Romania Archaeological Project (SRAP)

The Neolithic in Romania (6000-3600 BC) was a dynamic period in prehistory when people introduced domestic species of plant (wheat and barley) and animals (sheep, goat, cattle and pig) into Europe. These early farmers and herders systematically modified the landscape by constructing pit dwellings, and then living in villages densely packed with upstanding rectangular houses; they made a wide range of stone tools and ceramic pottery and figurines. Although all phases of the Neolithic in Romania have deep histories of research the main interest has been the developed late Neolithic, monumental, settlement mounds and cemeteries. The critical earliest phases of the Neolithic elsewhere in Romania have been under-researched. Cardiff University’s research at Măgura–Buduiasca, the Southern Romania Archaeological Project (SRAP 1998-2005), sought to address this imbalance by examining the first appearance of pottery, semi-sedentism and the domestication of plants and animals. SRAP was coordinated by Douglass Bailey (Cardiff University 1993 – 2008) and Steve Mills (Cardiff University 2003 – current) in partnership with the Teleorman County Museum, Alexandria, Romania, (Dr P. Mirea) and the Romanian National Historical Museum, Bucureşti (Dr. R. Andreescu). 

Southern Romania Archaeological Project (SRAP)

SRAP studied prehistoric land-use, settlement patterns and river dynamics around Măgura village, in the Teleorman River Valley southern Romania. Within this programme of research SRAP identified, dated and excavated the previously unknown early Neolithic (6000-5000 BC) site of Măgura-Buduiasca. Research also established a prehistoric fluvial chronology critical for understanding the interplay between changing dynamics of the Teleorman River and the formation and preservation of the archaeological record. This research has helped re-energise studies of the environmental and social contexts surrounding the appearance and development of the earliest farming communities in southern Romania contributing to the broader study of the transition from hunting and gathering to farming within Europe. 

To better understand the location, form and prehistoric use of early Neolithic sites, the project methodology used intensive field walking, soil studies, plant and pollen analysis, excavation, archaeological survey, radiocarbon dating, pottery analyses, and human and animal bone analyses. In 2002 SRAP was awarded the Romanian Ministry of Culture’s “Radulescu Prize” for outstanding contribution to Romanian Prehistoric Archaeology. 

Steve Mills doing some fieldwork in Poiana, 2019

SRAP’s research on changing river dynamics has produced the best dated sequence in the Lower Danube Basin. This work provides a model for the likely influence of river processes and hydrological variability on the behaviour and resource choices of prehistoric communities and the effects of river erosion, flooding and sedimentation on the preservation and visibility of the archaeological record within river valleys. Furthermore, it contributes to the broader, increasingly precise, knowledge of European and global patterns of (rapid) climate change, flooding events, erosion and alluviation. 

Based on its research reputation, SRAP was invited to participate (2008-2011) in an EU-funded arts engagement project. The resulting Măgura Past & Present project used SRAP’s research, data and archaeological finds on the early Neolithic and on river dynamics as the inspiration and resource base. The project’s participants (64 from Măgura, 8 from the local museum, 51 from Romania, 27 from Europe) conducted a series of individual and group activities in and around Măgura and in the county museum to observe, document and (re)create the (pre)history of the village. Nine artists (from Romania, Europe and the USA) were invited to work in residence in Măgura and the museum and to coordinate workshops at the village school. These residencies encouraged the artists to explore and develop new relationships between art, archaeology, heritage and education. 

Art and archaeology workshops (including pottery making, replicating prehistoric art, representing river environments) at the village school in 2010 introduced school children, teachers and parents to SRAP research on early farmers and to concepts of local heritage and landscape preservation and presentation. The workshops enhanced the educational remit of the school by providing access to new resources and expertise and inspired students and teachers to learn more about their local heritage. Outputs from the workshops provided material for an exhibition at the museum and a local history exhibition at the school enabling the participants to actively contribute to the study and presentation of their local heritage. 

SRAP research and excavated material provided the foundation for designing and building a new permanent early Neolithic exhibition and multimedia learning environment in the museum. This opened in 2011 and is the museum’s first permanent archaeological exhibition enhancing its visitor attraction and its educational potential. A temporary exhibition of outputs from the workshops and art residencies opened between November 2010 and June 2011. Combined with media coverage, this helped raise awareness of the artists’ work and of Măgura’s heritage to local and visiting audiences and in promoting and enhancing the museum’s programme of engagement with local communities. 

SRAP research in the Teleorman River valley has demonstrated the benefit of an alluvial archaeology approach for better understanding the relationships between fluvial dynamics, sedimentation and the identification and preservation of the archaeological record. Building on this, a new phase of research (2013-present) around Poiana has identified surface lithic scatters that contain a wide range of worked pieces including cores, flakes, blade fragments and importantly a number of ‘bullet’ cores. The ‘bullet’ cores may indicate a Mesolithic presence in this area of the Danube Valley. These lithic scatters have the potential to provide important new evidence to help further our understanding of human-river interactions in the region during the early to mid-Holocene (9500-5500 BC) immediately before and during the transformation from hunter-gatherers to Neolithic herding and farming communities at around 6000 BC. 

First permanent Archaeological exhibit – based on evidence from SRAP!

SRAP funded by The British Academy, The Society of Antiquaries of London, Cardiff University, The Romanian Ministry of Culture, Teleorman County Council and the National Historical Museum of Romania. 

Măgura Past & Present funded by Art-Landscape Transformations Project, Culture Programme 2007-2013 grant 2007-4230. 

Poiana project funded by Society of Antiquaries of London, Cardiff University. 


Tiny Beauties! Signatures of clothing: toggles and fasteners

Tiffany Treadway, PhD Candidate
Cardiff University

Toggles and fasteners are used to bind cloth much like a modern zipper or buttons. These pieces are often secondary when we think of British Iron Age materials. However, the range of typology presented during this period is phenomenal (e.g. see Worrell 2008, Wild 1970s catalogue). These examples were pulled from wetland sites in Scotland and used to show the creative forms of such small pieces.  

Teardrop button and loop fastener. Photo used with permission from National Museum of Scotland (@ntlmuseumsscot).

This copper alloy teardrop loop and fastener, which at one time had an enamelled central boss design, was reported from the floodplain south of Malthouse Burn. Based on its typology, Wild Class Vc (1970), it was produced around 80 to 180 AD. This type of fastener has been found on both clothing and equestrian dressings (Hunter 2018: 173).

Wooden toggle. Photo used with permission from of The Scottish Crannog Centre (@scottishcrannog).

Not all toggles and fasteners are made from metal! This dumbbell beauty was found during the excavations of Oakbank Crannog and is whittled from wood (species unknown at this time). Its date is believed to be contemporary with the crannog’s occupation from which dated from 450 to 400 BC. The picture shows a small hole perforated through the centre where it would have been secured.  

Reconstructed crannog of Oakbank at the Scottish Crannog Centre (@scottishcrannog) at Loch Tay.

Next is a zoomorphic button and loop fastener which was reported from the floodplain at the junction of Burn Linkwood and the River Lossie. The fastener is considered to be of class III according to Hunter (2015) and dated based on typology from 0 to 200 AD. This fastener is in the playful zoomorphic form of a duck, which is very fitting that it was found in a wetland landscape.  

Zoomorphic button and loop fastener (class III). Photo used with permission from the ©Elgin Museum (@ElginMuseum).

Imagine having your clothes held together by a duck! Even bar toggles have not gone out of trend in today’s fashions which is often seen on winter coats by designers such as this one from Saint Laurent which costs over £1000.

A coat from Yves Saint Laurent showing how toggles are still in fashion today.

In terms of deposition tradition, these items are commonly found in single object deposits in Scotland for the Iron Age. I like to think that they are an intimate act of purposeful placement into their chosen wetland landscape. Small items, even in isolation, can be great mementos if we consider their handheld size. Additionally, they and other pieces likewise found in isolation, hold momentous importance for Iron Age studies especially when we consider typologies. Often singular pieces, and small ones at that, are often disregarded, believed to be accidental losses. Garrow and Godsen (2012: 156) state that individual objects found in isolation of other contemporary finds are useless for analysis of material culture networks. Haselgrove and Hingley (2006: 147) suggest that deposition through accidental loss was quite small and that the majority of objects are the result of purposeful intention. As a result, holistic review of the pieces in regards to their typologies and materials, can tell us not only the local fashions, but network of influences, trade, and sources of manufacture which can be local, internal (i.e. Britain), or external (i.e. everywhere else). Therefore, single object finds, no matter how small are important.


Haselgrove, C. and Hingley, R., 2006. Iron deposition and its significance in pre-Roman Britain. Bataille & Guillaumet, dir, pp.147-163.

Zoomorphic Fastener, Elgin Museum record card (2014.22),

Garrow, D. and Gosden, C., 2012. Technologies of enchantment?: exploring Celtic art: 400 BC to AD 100. Oxford University Press.

Haselgrove, C. and Hingley, R., 2006. Iron deposition and its significance in pre-Roman Britain. Les depots metalliquesau second age du Fer en Europe temperee. Glux-en-Glenne: Bibracte Centre Archeologique Europeen. 147-163.

Hunter, F. 2015. Moray, Barmuckity, Metal detector find. Discovery Excavation Scotland, 2015. Edinburgh: The Council for Scottish Archaeology. 140.

Hunter, F. 2018. Melrose, Metal detector find. Discovery Excavation Scotland, 2017. Edinburgh: The Council for Scottish Archaeology. 173.

Melrose Fastener, Treasure Trove record (TT99/16); National Museum of Scotland digital record (X.FRA 671),

Wooden Toggle. Scottish Crannog Centre record card (OB2018.78, DBC90 SF54)

Wild, J.P., 1970. Button-and-loop fasteners in the Roman provinces. Britannia. London: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies.

Worrell, S., 2008. Roman Britain in 2007 (II. Finds Reported under the Portable Antiquities Scheme). Britannia. London: The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies

Feasting on Royal Renders

Dr Julia Best, Lecturer

The crannog in Llangorse Lake is one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Wales – as explained in Alan Lane’s post this morning (do go look at it!). It is a unique example of a crannog, which also is able to give us some unique insights into food, feasting and provisioning.  Associated with the kings of Brycheiniog, this short-lived royal site appears to have been in use between 890 and 916 AD. Excavation revealed a rich array of artefacts including 40,679 animal bone fragments. The animal bone was studied by Jacqui Mulville, Adrienne Powell and Julia Best, and is currently the largest (and one of the only) analysed bone assemblage in Wales from this date.

The bone we analysed could also be compared with historical sources such as Cyfraith Hywel (the Law of Hywel). These lawbooks cover everything from hospitality and hunting to punishment and pageantry. Their compilation is often attributed to Hywel Dda (a tenth-century king of Deheubarth), although the earliest physical copies of the texts date from the mid-thirteenth century. Nevertheless they still are a useful reference point as they do appear to contain a good body of earlier material.

So what did we find in the bones? Lots of pigs. Pigs, cattle, sheep/goats (we can’t tell them apart very well by their bones, but we think they were mostly sheep!) are all very well represented, but pigs win the race. No matter which way we count up the bone bits, pigs are most common. This is important as pigs provide no secondary products such as milk, wool or traction – only manure. As such pigs are an animal often raised with the sole purpose of eating them, and these animals can be raised in almost any location and on a diverse range of foods. We also discovered that there is a surprisingly high number of wild animals in the bone assemblage, in particular, red deer, followed by roe deer.

We know from the measuring the pig bones that these are domestic animals rather than wild boars (although there might be one or two hybrid animals!). There are very, very few young animals found at the site (for pigs and for cattle and sheep) indicating that they were probably not being raised there. What we did find is that there is a lot of variation in the size of the pigs at Llangorse, suggesting that they might have come from a range of different populations. Despite this, many of them are quite large indicating that maybe the biggest, most impressive pigs were being brought to the crannog site as a gift or a render of food.

So it looks like we are seeing domestic animals coming into the site from elsewhere, alongside hunted wild animals such as the deer. Interestingly the lawbooks record that food renders were due to kings in Medieval Wales. These were also known as gwestfa (given by free men) and dawnbwyd (given by bondsmen). The age and sex of a required food render animal are specified in the lawbooks (with some regional variations). For example, they say the rendered animals should be animals such as a sow of 3 years, a fat cow, a cow of 3 years, a fat wether, or a 3 year old wether.

Analysis of the Llangorse animals shows that many pigs were indeed killed in their third and fourth year, and that most of them were female. The cattle were significantly older, but again mostly female. Llangorse suggests that the guidelines were sometimes stretched and that payments were made of older, less useful stock, in this case probably exhausted milkers at the end of their useful life. Interestingly, wider lawbooks suggest that female cattle are in their prime until the ninth calf and males until their sixth season ploughing, which does fit rather nicely.

By examining which parts of the body are best represented in the bone assemblage, we have been able to suggest that whilst it looks like sheep entered the site as whole animals/carcases, some of the animals may have been processed differently. Heads and forelimbs are the best represented bits of pigs, meaning perhaps these were the favoured elements brought onto the site, or that maybe the hindquarters were given away as gifts. But most noticeable was the pattern seen in the red deer, where hindlimbs and particularly the bones in the hock are by far the most common.

The lawbooks suggest that hunting, whilst not entirely restricted to the nobility, was highly associated with them. The stag in particular wise a prized kill. The lawbooks record that a quarter of any killed animal was due to the owner of the land where the kill was made, unless it were a king’s hart. We almost did a little dance for joy when we read that whilst this ‘land quarter’ is not detailed in some of the manuscripts, in others it is specified as …. a hindquarter!!!

So perhaps our abundance of red deer hindquarters at Llangorse is a pattern caused by no land quarter being given away from the royal deer. Other privileged joints such as the neck or shoulder may have been distributed from a royal kill to members of the hunting party as a symbol of reward. Alternatively, maybe people were giving this special, favoured hindquarter of the deer to the site’s elite occupants as a gift of honour, or as tribute from kills made on royal land.

It’s All about Collaboration

Dr Alice Forward, Research Associate
Cardiff University

I am the archaeology research assistant on the Leverhulme funded project Living standards and material culture in English rural households 1300 – 1600 which is led by Ben Jervis (Cardiff University) and Chris Briggs (Cambridge University). Over the past three and a half years we have been collecting archaeological and historical data on medieval objects from excavations from 15 counties in England. This has been a large task, and we have relied very heavily on the knowledge and help of curators both within Historic Environment Record (HER) offices and local museums. 

For much of the archaeological data collection we have used grey literature reports which are mainly held in HERs. These reports contain the details of archaeological fieldwork including any objects that are found in this process. In many cases, reports give some information on the material evidence but in some you are directed to the physical archive (stored ideally within a regional museum but frequently are still held by the archaeological unit/company who did the work). Depending on a number of things (see here for further information on museums and archaeological collections) it can be difficult to see this material.  

We have focused on Wiltshire as a county case study and this enabled a more detailed data collection. Collections at Salisbury, Wiltshire and Swindon museums were included so that any additional excavated sites that were not fully represented through reporting or not accessible through publication were not missed. This was particularly important for a cluster of sites around Swindon which had not been brought to report or publication and therefore no information was publicly available on the finds from these excavations. Working closely with Stef Vincent (former curator of archaeology at Swindon museum), I was able to access archives that would have otherwise been missed. External researchers rely so heavily on curatorial knowledge of museum collections and this project is no different. Thanks to guidance from Stef Vincent a group of unpublished sites were made available for recording and this has led to some important inclusions within the archaeological dataset.  

Working at the Swindon Museum.

Many of the objects recorded by the project are iron, but due to corrosion they are not always recognisable forms. Iron objects can be overlooked a lot of the time and some on-site collection policies appear to include the throwing away of unidentifiable iron. The ironwork is though starting to produce some interesting results (all will be revealed in the book), and one object from a site called The Paddock provides us with a tangible link to the rural activities of those living here in the medieval period. 

Medieval (!) stirrup, dated AD1200-1400.

This is a medieval stirrup, dated between AD1200 – 1400. As you can see from the photograph the iron is heavily corroded and the object has not faired particularly well since excavation. Whilst a stirrup may not seem exceptional, in the whole of our dataset there are only four stirrups recorded therefore this is an important object. It was found on a small medieval farm site, it wasn’t from a wealthy household and it indicates that horses were being ridden. Horses were owned across the social strata particularly within the later medieval period. Horses are often associated with ploughing and farm labouring, but the stirrup demonstrates that horses were being used to travel on and not just for farm work here. The presence of a horseshoe from the same area of the site is further evidence that horses were being used on roads where shoes were required to protect their hooves. 

Without access to the collections at all three of the Wiltshire museums we would not have been able to pull together the volume of material that has been possible. The additional details and information mean that we can make more substantiated interpretations of the material culture for Wiltshire. We have been incredibly fortunate to have had museums that were open to researchers in this area, as some counties do not have the same resources. More needs to be done to recognise the significance of the collections and support the curatorial knowledge held within regional museums.  

Huge thanks to Valerie Goodrich (Salisbury museum), Stefanie Vincent (Swindon museum, now of Aerospace, Bristol), and Lisa Brown (Wiltshire museum).  Also, thanks to Rob Webley for confirming the medieval date for the stirrup. 

How did I get here?! Using taphonomic analysis to understand Neolithic cave burials

Eirini Konstantinidi, PhD candidate
Cardiff University
Twitter: @EiriniKonstant9
Instagram: @supervillaintheme

WARNING: This thread contains images of human remains for educational purposes.

There is a great body of data available from karst and cave studies underlying the importance of  these environments which have encapsulated and protected osseous remains throughout the years as opposed to more open sites where harsh conditions have eroded the remains (Dinnis and Ebbs 2013: 28). However, their ability to preserve contextual archaeological evidence does not imply that difficulties in studying those sites are not apparent. The same sources of sedimentary infillings that can cause depositions (e.g. disintegration of the rock ceiling and walls, colluviation from overlying slopes, aeolian deposition) (Strauss 1990: 258) can also erode and remove information, often leaving a peculiar set of data that cannot always be thoroughly understood.   

Fig. 1. Agents that can affect remains in burial. Human: H1 Retrieval; H2 Selection; H3 Arrangement; H4 Damage. Natural: N1 carrion birds; N2 carrion mammals; N3 burrow animals, N4 soil chemistry; N4 weather. (King 2003)

Natural caves, rock-shelters and fissures are well identified locations which have the ability to preserve and protect archaeological remains as they can act as ‘ready-made traps’. However, they are hardly immune to erosion and disturbance (Strauss 1990: 260). Seismic activity can cause breaching (rock fall, sediment and rock accumulations, collapses, even gradual blocking of entrances/shafts), resulting to gradual transformation of the sites (ibid. 257); Water displacements, the soil chemistry,  human occupations throughout the years, animal scavenging and displacements by trampling and ground movement do not favor steady conditions in these sites. As opposed to open air locations, where cultural depositions are stacked, caves are susceptible to continuous depositions that are, subsequently, altered due to the abovementioned factors (ibid. 256). Thus, whilst remains can be insulated from extreme forces of erosion (Holderness et al. 2006: 1), a series of unstable parameters can still affect them before entering the cave and after more agents impact them (Figure 1).

Following the laws of burials (i.e. taphonomy) 

Emphasis on all these issues underlines how important the depositional history of a site is as well as the combination of analyses that need to be used in order to fully comprehend past activity. Taphonomy is considered a palaeontological subdiscipline, which is the study of the agents and processes that influence the body from the moment of death until remains are discovered. (Andrews 1990: 2). It derives from the Greek word taphos (τάφος), meaning “burial” and nomos (νόμος), meaning “law”. Taphonomic analysis, brings these  abovementioned aspects at the forefront and aims to reveal the ‘disguised’ burial history that has not only been impacted by natural causes but also by human interference. More specifically, macroscopic taphonomic analysis provides information on the degree and duration of exposure of the remains, the nature of manipulation and/or disturbance of the bones and the agents of these modifications impacted on the bone (examples in Figures 2,3). 

 Taphonomic indicators:  
– Weathering
– Gnawing
– Abrasion
– Erosion/root etching
– Staining

Fig. 2. Ifton Quarry, Monmouthshire – Cranium displaying root etching and staining on the surface. (Photographs: Author)

Combining the site and the analysis:  

Caves constituted one of the burial contexts were people ‘interred’ or disposed their dead. The multiple burial trends with a predominance of disarticulated, fragmentary and incomplete individuals, specifically in the Neolithic period, have amplified suggestions of general circulation, movements and arrangement of human skeletal material at that time (King 2003: 193). This uneven representation of human remains has created imprecise understandings of the way people handled their dead. Thus, the reconstruction of mortuary practices is truly important as it can help us get a better understanding not only about the treatment of the deceased, but also about the living. 

During the Neolithic, bodies were: 
– left out to naturally deflesh (excarnation) – the practice of removing flesh and organs of the dead before burial, leaving only the bones (putrefaction);
– moved being around (circulation) and placed in collective tombs or caves and rock shelters (as part of secondary burials;
– moved to make room for more interments in reused tombs during the Middle Neolithic, whist single burials and cremations alter the traditions in the Late Neolithic.

Fig. 3. Ifton Quarry, Monmouthshire – Cranium: cutmark on the frontal bone. (Photographs: Author)

Mini case study: Example of cave where a peculiar set of human remains have been discovered:  

Little Hoyle Cave: More than 14 individuals are represented in this site (four Neolithic radiocarbon dates available). This site has a very large quantity of mandible fragments (Figure 4) – Mandibles are one of the first elements that disarticulates from the body. Only a few cranial fragments, including a reconstructed cranium were discovered from this site, hence, this suggests that: 
1) either remains were circulated as part of a mortuary practice to a new context. Craniums could have been removed from the cave after primary deposition leaving the disarticulated elements (i.e. mandibles and phalanges, which disarticulate rapidly, back in the cave). There are also not enough cranial remains that could explain that large quantity of mandibles found in the site  
2) or were brought disarticulated in the cave from another context for secondary burial. 

Fig. 4. Little Hoyle Cave, Pembrokeshire – Different degrees of staining on mandibles. Evidence of weathering is also present on the left mandible. (Photographs: Author)


Andrews, P. 1991. Owls, Caves and Fossils: Predation, preservation and accumulation of small mammal bones in caves, with an analysis of the Pleistocene cave faunas from Westbury-sub-Mendip, Somerset, UK. London:  Natural History Museum Publications.  

Dinnis, R. and Ebbs, C. 2013. Cave Deposits of North Wales: some comments on their archaeological importance and an inventory of sites of potential interest. Transactions of the British Cave Research Association 40 (1), 28-34.  

Holderness, H., Davies, G., Chamberlain, A. T. and Donahue, R. 2006. Research Report – A Conservation Audit of Archaeological Cave Resources in the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales. ARCUS 743b, 1-144. 

King, P. M. 2003: Unparalleled behaviour: Britain and Ireland during the ‘Mesolithic’ and ‘Neolithic’. Oxford: Archaeopress. 

Strauss, L. G. 1990. Underground Archaeology: Perspectives on Caves and Rockshelters. Archaeological Method and Theory, 2, 255-304. 

Llangorse: a unique Irish crannog in Viking Age Wales

Dr Alan Lane, Senior Lecturer
Cardiff University

The crannog in Llangorse Lake is one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Wales. A unique example of a crannog, its construction is precisely dated by dendrochronology and its destruction by historical documentation. 

 It was first discovered and dug in the 1860s by two local antiquarians but the absence of datable artefacts and the failure to find similar sites in Wales or England led to scepticism about the identification. Archaeologists don’t like unique sites as they challenge our ability to get comparative meaning from them. But in the early 1980’s I visited the site and was amazed to find oak planks sticking out of the water and apparently encircling the site just as the 19th century excavators had claimed. 

I realised it was what it claimed to be – a crannog or artificial island settlement. With a small Cardiff team, Ewan Campbell and I cut pieces of oak for dendrochronological dating which showed that the trees from which the planks were split had been cut down some time after the mid- 9th century AD, indicating the crannog was built in the Viking Age.  

At this point we were joined by a team from the National Museum of Wales led by Mark Redknap, an experienced underwater archaeologist, and a series of water and land explorations of the site were launched. This work with student and professional teams ran intermittently from 1989 to 2004. The whole of the exposed shore and adjacent waters of the island was examined but only limited areas could be excavated. Post-excavation analysis has taken decades and involved many different specialists leading to publication in January 2020 of the definitive report. 

The combined underwater survey and land excavation has allowed us to understand its process of construction, to date it, and place it in precise historical context.  

At the core of the crannog is a small natural peat island which was enclosed by a series of oak plank palisades. It began as small D shaped enclosure some 20 metres from the north shore of the lake. An oak plank palisade enclosed a brushwood raft, pinned down by oak beams.  

This supported a stone mound and probably turf and soil. This initial enclosure was expanded several times till it was about 35m by 45m across. An entrance probably lies on the northern edge of the site where posts for a bridge ran out to the shore. 

Erosion of the site has eaten into the southern half of the island and removed any surface structures from the small areas we were able to excavate.  

Tree ring analysis of the oak palisades encircling the site show that the site was constructed in the 890’s.  This places it in the middle of the Viking wars when Welsh kingdoms were faced with threats from competing English, Viking and Welsh kings. The detailed Anglo-Saxon accounts of the decades around 900 allow us to see movement of Viking armies through Wales and provide a context for the crannog construction. Remarkably the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us that in 916 Brecenanmere, the English name for the lake, was destroyed by Aethelflaed, the Mercian queen, and the queen of Brycheiniog was captured. It seems clear that the crannog was a short-lived royal site. 

The erosion of the site stripped the surface deposits but dumped objects and food remains in the lake. These finds allow use to see something of the status and life of the crannog. This site was not a farm but was receiving food supplied probably as food rents as recorded in the medieval Welsh laws. Large quantities of well-preserved animal bone show pigs, sheep, and cattle were being supplied to the site but the remarkable quantity of wild species suggest that deer hunting and feasting was an important part of the aristocratic behaviour of the residents. 

The artefacts in iron, copper alloy, bone and stone indicate domestic occupation, but a few finds are exceptional and confirm its royal identification.  Two objects, a fragment of religious ‘house shrine’ and a penannular brooch are probably of Irish origin. 

However the most remarkable find was the fragments of a linen, silk embroidered tunic decorated with animals and birds. This find required many years of highly skilled conservation work and analysis to understand and preserve it, and it has rightly been regarded as one of most remarkable archaeological discoveries of any period from Wales.

The crannog remains unique in Wales and it seems that crannogs did not become a feature of the Welsh cultural landscape. But the crannog helps give credence to the origin legend of the kingdom of Brycheiniog which claims part Irish descent for Brychan from whom the kingdom is named. The site is remarkable evidence of the genuine links with Ireland and the dramatic, but poorly recorded, history of the Viking Age in Wales. 

You can also read more about Llangorse in the latest issue of Current Archaeology!

Cardiff Conservation in Practice

Phil Parkes, Reader in Conservation
Cardiff Universtiy

Cardiff Conservation Services 

I joined the University in 1993, working on the conservation of archaeological objects from Cadw excavations throughout Wales.  Archaeology at this time was changing, with the introduction of ‘Developer Funding’ meaning that private companies and organisations were looking for contractors to carry out conservation work. Conservation is the examination, analysis, cleaning and repair of objects to ensure that they can be studied and displayed for generations to come. With my colleague, Susanne Ryder, I launched ‘Cardiff Conservation Services’ in 1994 to bring in commercial work from archaeological and other organisations, museums and private individuals. Over the years this has brought in over £1 million in funding, and a wide range of projects, some of which are included below. 

Museum of Cardiff 

The Museum of Cardiff (formerly The Cardiff Story Museum) was officially opened on Tuesday 28th June 2011 by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall. Cardiff is an incredible city with a rich and fascinating history. The museum aims to tell the full story of our social history. 

On show at the Museum are objects that have been collected from across Cardiff and were in need of cleaning and repair prior to being displayed. I supervised the £30,000 conservation project which involved myself and David Pearson, a graduate of our BSc Conservation course, working on almost 200 of the objects so that they could be displayed in the museum.  

The objects have been donated to the museum by members of the public and all of them have personal stories attached to them, be it how they were used, who owned them or what event they commemorated. The objects date from the 19th / 20th century and include items such as medals and badges, household objects, tools used in the docks and factories. There are also objects with resonant links to Cardiff including a Clarks Pie stand and trays used in the bakery, early vinyl records from Spillers, and a jukebox from Clwb Ifor Bach. 

Rudolph the marionette being conserved by Phil Parkes, Reader in Conservation, Cardiff University. Rudolph was used by the donor Marian’s family to entertain parties all over Cardiff in the early part of the 20th Century. All the marionettes were handmade by her father.
This CD jukebox from Clwb Ifor Bach presented a challenge as it was locked and the inside was dirty with loose CD sleeves. Sourcing a key from the US I was able to open it, clean and repair the sleeves and leave it so that it is showing some of my favourite Welsh bands.

Advisory Work – Welsh Assembly Government 

Conservation work isn’t always about working directly on objects. Some of the most effective conservation can be carried out on collections as a whole, looking at how they are kept and stored, and over the years I have carried out a large number of surveys of collections held by museums throughout the UK. Looking after our heritage is not just about advising individual museums, it’s also about national policies and alongside my colleague, Jane Henderson over the last 20 years I have carried out surveys and produced advisory documents for the Welsh Assembly Government, providing evidence to inform and shape our national cultural heritage policy. This work continues to date, with the Spotlight 2020 survey that is being carried out right now for heritage collections throughout Wales. 

Jane Henderson providing collections care and packaging training for Welsh museums
Jane Henderson advising on collections care, Yangon, Myanmar. 
What’s in Store – a survey of Welsh archaeological archives and recommendations for improving their future management and access to them. 
The Spotlight on Museums reports provide baseline information to inform the development of Welsh Assembly Government policy for museums. 

Cardiff Castle 

Cardiff Castle, in the care of Cardiff City Council, has a long history with remains from the Roman, medieval and early post-medieval periods accessible to visitors as well as the iconic neo-gothic restoration. 

In 2005 the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust carried out excavations in the castle ahead of the construction of a new interpretation centre. These works were required as a condition of both planning and scheduled monument consents for the development. During 2018/19 I supervised the conservation of archaeological finds from this excavation by Chris Wilkins, a graduate of our BSc Conservation course who had recently completed his PhD at Cardiff University.  

This project saw the x-ray and conservation of a large number of finds including 200 coins and 500 copper alloy objects. Chris also carried out analysis of several of the objects, looking at the composition of the materials. As part of the project we produced a series of blogs about the conservation work which can be found here and give much more information about the finds and the work that has been carried out.  

Film of Chris Wilkins working on Roman coins from Cardiff Castle.

The Egypt Centre

Cardiff University has a long working partnership with The Egypt Centre, Swansea University, since the 1970’s when Cardiff Conservation students worked on objects from the Wellcome Collection belonging to Swansea University. Prior to the Egypt centre opening in 1998, Cardiff Conservation Services conserved a number of objects ready for display in the new exhibition.  

This work continues to the current day, with both student projects and the Association of Independent Museums funding the “Provisions for the Dead in Ancient Egypt” project. This is to conserve a number of items from the collection to enhance interpretation and display. With my colleague Ashley Lingle, who recently completed her PhD at Cardiff University, I have been digitising the conservation records for objects worked on at Cardiff University, which includes coffins, cartonnage, figurines, stone stela and ceramic vessels. You can find out more about these items at The Egypt Centre website. Ashley has been working on the objects and is currently in the process of rebuilding a large decorated ceramic vessel from Armana.  

Ashley Lingle working on a large ceramic vessel from Armana. The painted decoration is very fragile and Ashley is painting a wax coating onto it to protect it during transport back to our labs at Cardiff. Having protected the flaking paint during transport, the wax will slowly ‘volatilise’ and disappear over a number of days, leaving no trace that it was there. 
Students from the MSc Conservation Practice course study objects from The Egypt Centre collection as part of a study visit. 


I have worked on hundreds of conservation projects during the 25+ years that Cardiff Conservation Services has been in existence at Cardiff University, from conservation of treasured items for private clients through to major projects for national and international heritage organisations and museums. I hope that this has given you a brief taste of some of the work that I carry out and please follow on @CUConservation and @PhilParkes4 on Twitter for news on projects as they arise. 

CAER Heritage: Walking in Wheeler’s Footsteps

Dr Oliver Davis, CAER Heritage Project Co-director
Cardiff University

In 1920, Sir Mortimer Wheeler was appointed jointly as Keeper of Archaeology at the National Museum of Wales and the first Lecturer in Archaeology at Cardiff University. Wheeler arrived in Cardiff passionate about both training students in the methods of excavation and promoting public interest in archaeology. These were radical views at the time, but fittingly, are now key principals of the archaeology degree at Cardiff. 

In many ways CAER Heritage is a logical evolution of this approach. At its heart is the commitment to the training of archaeological skills, but we do not seek to simply tell the public about archaeological discoveries, but to actively involve them in the research of their past. Since its humble beginnings in 2011 CAER has grown into a major community archaeology and civic mission project at the University. We work closely with a range of community groups and interested individuals to explore the heritage of the Cardiff suburbs of Caerau and Ely. These are two of the most socially and economically challenged areas in Wales, but are also home to several nationally important heritage sites, including Caerau Hillfort and Ely Roman villa.  

The villa under excavation (Wheeler 1926, fig. 9)

When Wheeler came to Wales he was desperate to dig and planned to concentrate on Roman military sites.  In 1921 he excavated at the Roman fort of Segontium (Caernarvon), but in May and June 1922 he undertook excavations at Ely Roman villa before his second season at Segontium began later that year. In Wheeler’s account of the excavations he provided a typically detailed and self-assured discussion of the findings. He interpreted the villa as being built by an incoming Roman settler around 130 AD, with occupation continuing for 200 years before abandonment in the early 4th century as a result of increasing insecurity from sea-borne raiders. 

Wheeler’s plan of Ely Roman villa (1926, fig. 2) 

Our work with CAER has followed Wheeler out to Caerau and Ely, although whereas the area was little more than a collection of small villages and dairy farms in Wheeler’s day, it is now a bustling housing estate of some 26,000 people. We have largely focussed on exploring the site of Caerau Hillfort, located about half a mile from Ely Roman villa. It is one of the largest hillforts in south-east Wales, but had previously received little attention from archaeologists. It is unlikely to have escaped Wheeler’s notice when he was excavating the villa, but surprisingly, it is not mentioned in any of his published accounts. To date, we have undertaken four major community excavations involving over 100 students, more than 1,000 local volunteers and 5,000 visitors. These have shown that people were gathering together on the hill from the Neolithic (3,600BC), before the hillfort was built around 600BC at the beginning of the Iron Age.  Three enormous, concentric ramparts were constructed surrounding the hilltop while the interior was intensively occupied by a population of a few hundred people who lived in timber roundhouses. 

Aerial view of Caerau Hillfort during excavation in 2013. Ely Roman villa can be seen in the green parkland in the top right-hand corner of the image (Crown Copyright RCAHMW AP_2013_2756) 

In order to understand the development of the hillfort our thoughts have now turned to the landscape surrounding it. Our excavations suggest that in the early first century AD the hillfort went into decline and was apparently largely abandoned as a settlement. The resident population presumably moved back out into the surrounding countryside, but where and why remain big questions to answer. Intriguingly, geophysical surveys by Dr Tim Young have shown that Ely Roman villa was surrounded by a triple-ditched enclosure of unknown date. Another enclosed settlement, typical of many Late Iron Age sites in the region, has also been discovered around 200 m south of the villa. It is tempting to suggest that both these sites may well have origins in the Iron Age, possibly around the time the hillfort was abandoned.  

An enormous part of CAER is widening access to higher education for local young people and adults, many of whom have been directly involved in the excavations working alongside students from the University 

In many ways CAER has followed in Wheeler’s footsteps, both literally and figuratively. One hundred years after Wheeler first brought the University to Caerau and Ely, we are still working hard to raise the profile of the important archaeological sites in the area and to develop educational opportunities for students and local people through the practical skills of excavation and archaeological science. 

Roman Geophysics in South Wales

Dr Tim Young, Teaching Associate

Each spring I train a small group of Cardiff students in the art and science of geophysics using a real research project. Over 260 students have now passed through the course. We have developed projects that have not just investigated archaeological ‘sites’ but the broader landscapes containing them. Landscapes will contain features of many ages, but our particular focus has been the Roman period: a legionary fortress and its surrounding settlement, an auxiliary fort, an industrial centre, a major town, two villas and three other rural farmsteads, all within 35km of Cardiff. 

Between 2000 and 2004 that focus was Caergwanaf, where I was drawn by historical accounts of a slag dump that proved to be enormous, in excess of 10,000 tonnes, placing the smelting into the same league as the largest Roman smelting sites of SE England. Further excitement followed, as the ditches of a previously unknown Roman fort were discovered to the west of the dump. Excavation in 2002 and 2004 by teams from Cardiff showed that the fort was constructed in c.AD75 – 85, with the iron smelting starting around the time the fort was abandoned a decade later and lasting into the early third century. 

We had to take a year away from Caergwanaf in 2001 as Foot and Mouth Disease prohibited access to agricultural land. Instead, we addressed the Roman villa at Ely, set below the Caerau hillfort in a complex multi-period landscape.  

From 2006 to 2011 our focus switched to the Caerleon fortress. Most of what was then known came from development work and the open areas both within and outside the walls remained virtually uninvestigated. The first year of the project looked at Priory Field in the southwest corner of the fortress, identifying both the fortress granaries and a storehouse, later excavated in a joint Cardiff-UCL project (2007 to 2010). Later, still within the fortress, survey revealed an enormous metalworking building, and then then civilian buildings with horticultural plots behind lining the road outside the west gate of the fortress. The most unexpected discoveries were to the southwest of the fortress where a large area of formal buildings was discovered running down the slope towards a quay. This area was investigated through excavations in 2010 and 2011, but much remains unknown about the purpose of this monumental section of the canabae

In 2008 and from 2012 to 2014 our research moved to Caerwent, initially ‘tidying-up’ the plans of the Edwardian excavations, but it was a swathe of land over 1.2km long outside the town to the south and west that was our main focus. Caerwent had long been known to have a slightly irregular street system but the survey demonstrated that settlement had originated within an acute road junction, with the nascent settlement developing streets that were arcuate, meeting both the roads orthogonally. With time, however, the town condensed along just one of the roads with its defences cutting the lines of the early streets. 

Since 2015, our interest has been in the Vale of Glamorgan. This work is starting to define the nature of Roman rural settlement there, with its enclosed farmsteads, ‘infields’, droveways and unenclosed areas, together with demonstrating the importance of water supplies. At Ffynnon y Brychau two rectangular enclosures lie to the south of a spring, with curvilinear features around, as well as a post-medieval stone-walled sheep fold, cut by a 19th century quarry. In the Caermead area a similar story was observed: rectangular enclosures form one of the earlier elements of the settlements, with each sited close to a spring. The springs are even more directly related with curvilinear banked enclosures with internal ditches of uncertain age. The Roman farmsteads are similar in their early phases but have a spectrum of subsequent development, becoming strongly differentiated in the later Roman period. 

Those 260 geophysical beginners achieved a remarkable amount and advanced beyond all expectation the understanding of South Wales in the Roman period. Each site examined produced an exciting revision of understanding and extension of the ‘archaeological site’ beyond that which was previously recognised. The project has fostered the realisation of just how important geophysics is for looking into the apparent gaps in the distribution of archaeological evidence. 

Cardiff Archaeology Made My Childhood Dream Come True

Lisa Backhouse, PhD candidate
University of Reading

I remember being seven years old and telling my parents: ‘when I grow up, I want to be an archaeologist’.  Inspired by my mother’s love of history and my grandparent’s watching of the classic, TimeTeam, I set about conducting mini excavations in the garden.  Most of what I found was pretty boring – until the 1960s, the land my childhood home was built on had been cow pasture. However, I vividly remember my most exciting discovery – fragments of what turned out to be part of a Victorian Era china doll.  During my teens, I became distracted from archaeology by my love of literature and wanted to study this at university.  It was almost on a whim that when searching for undergraduate courses I revived my childhood dreams of archaeology and came across my perfect degree: a joint degree in English Literature and Archaeology at Cardiff University.   

Excavating a 16th century horseshoe in Hungary, 2016
One of the very many bags of pottery I excavated in Hungary.

As an undergraduate at Cardiff, I was the only student studying this joint degree but in spite of this, I always felt ‘at home’ and more suited to the archaeology department and I quickly realised that was where my passion lies.  The combination studying two subjects was, however, crucial to my academic development.  My literature course gave me the opportunity to study Old English and Medieval English, which later became essential in opening up the opportunity for me to read and use written sources of Anglo-Saxon and Medieval date in my Masters and PhD theses.  My three years at Cardiff not only created and instilled my love of archaeology, but cemented my fascination with the study of the medieval period, inspired by the passion I observed from my lecturers and the excavation opportunities I was fortunate enough to partake in. I completed placements near Burghead, Scotland, excavating an Iron Age to Pictish site and in Esztergorm, Hungary, excavating a medieval castle.  It was during this excavation in Hungary that I developed a fascination of medieval pottery, something which grew when I met Dr Ben Jervis joined the department at Cardiff in my final undergraduate year and eventually evolved into my current PhD project.

The addition of further excavations I arranged myself gave me enough experience to be offered a commercial fieldwork archaeologist contract for the summer I graduated which saw me join Cambridge Archaeological Unit, where a number of my colleagues were also Cardiff Archaeology alumni.

Following a year at Sheffield University completing my master’s degree, my current PhD project saw me partially return to being part of the archaeology department at Cardiff as my co-institutional partner with the University of Reading where I am based.  Despite not being based full-time at Cardiff, two of my three PhD supervisors are associated with Cardiff; Dr Ben Jervis who is Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at Cardiff and Duncan Brown (currently Head of Archaeological Archives at Historic England) who is a Cardiff Archaeology Department alumnus.   

Taking over one of the teaching rooms at Cardiff to record my PhD pottery assemblage.
Supervising Cardiff undergraduates at Cosmeston, giving some on site pottery lessons.

My current PhD research examines the relationship between people and pottery in early medieval Kent, focusing on social and cultural identity.  The Archaeology Department at Cardiff has played a vital role in my PhD, particularly during my data collection phase, allowing me to take over one of the teaching laboratories to record a large proportion of my main pottery assemblage.  I was also an excavation supervisor for the undergraduate fieldschool at Cosmeston Medieval Village, near Cardiff, coming full circle from my own undergraduate experiences on Cardiff field schools.

With my Cardiff associated supervisors, Ben Jervis and Duncan Brown

Over the course of nearly 6 years, archaeology at Cardiff has been a huge part of my life and I always feel a sense of great pride in being able to tell people I am both a Cardiff archaeology alumnus and current student.  Archaeology at Cardiff has been essential in my journey so far in archaeology and, I hope (!) will continue to be for many more years to come! 
Pen-blwydd hapus canmlwyddiant Cardiff!  

Twitter: @lisaback_house 
Facebook: Lisa Backhouse 

Stamp Rallies, Sustainability, and Specimens – Grey Areas and Ethical Considerations in Archaeological Outreach

Hanna Marie Pageau, PhD candidate
Cardiff University

An animal crossing player (Hanna) stands under a stone arch outside. Text overlay: “Hello!”

An animal crossing player (Hanna) stands under a stone arch outside. Text overlay: “Hello!”

This paper is in many ways a continuation of work I’ve given previously, at both WAC-8 in Kyoto and the EAAs in Maastricht – though instead of talking about archaeology as a skill in games and speaking from the point of a player interacting with a set world (in those contexts, World of Warcraft) I’ll be talking about the more interactive spaces you find in a game like Animal Crossing. While this talk uses Animal Crossing as a medium, a lot of these ideas and points also apply to other games like Stardew Valley or Minecraft where the player has much more control over what they do with their world, how they perceive it, and how they allow others to interact with their ‘vision’. This customization of digital space is integral towards moving forward with archaeological outreach, especially as the world continues to teach us that we need to be more accessible, more interactive, and continue to push our efforts of giving back – not simply taking – from the communities we work within.

A graphic of Hanna’s Animal Crossing villagers with text overlay that says “Animal Crossing” and “Welcome to Trash”.

To give some context to those unfamiliar with the popular game – Animal Crossing is a casual playstyle social simulation game. What does that mean? That means you get to create your own community and set out to build and collect things. You create your own island town and then spend your time fostering relationships with other villages and expanding your museum, as well as your own home.

Blathers informing you you’ve successfully found enough specimens to get a permit for the museum.

The museum in town has four areas separated vaguely into two museum ‘types’. You first meet Blathers, the ‘executive curator’ of sorts of the museum, when you donate your first bug, fossil, or fish to Tom Nook (your landlord). After providing Blathers with enough specimens to get a permit, he’ll build you your official museum. 15 specimens is the price for such a permit in the world of Animal Crossing.

This first iteration of your museum doesn’t include the art section; it focuses on the natural history museum – your Insectarium and Discovery Center, an Aquarium, and a traditional-life Fossil Species area. This is the version of the museum I’ll be focusing on today – the Art Museum opened up in the first official patch of the game and is worthy of a paper in and of itself.

Tom Nook’s officiating the opening of the museum on the island.
Blathers telling you you can now expand the museum after you donate the first piece of art
Hanna in the Insectarium’s butterfly house.
Hanna and friend Ethan in the Fossil Species area.

But why use Animal Crossing? Well beyond that #ACNH is a wildly popular success – it lucked out on a conveniently good combination of nostalgia, casual playstyle, and global lockdowns – it allows for people to interact and curate their own museum, with restrictions of course that everything you can submit already exists in the world. Animal Crossing, of course, is just an example of what an interactive museum space can look like in the digital world – but there are a few things that make it stand out.

A screenshot from Jaz’s (@scarlett_jazmin) digitally held birthday party.
A screenshot from fellow Cardiff PhD candidate Adelle Bricking’s (@archae_delle) island, Adelle and Hanna are in one of the former’s heritage inspired outdoor spaces.

Firstly, that it reinforces a narrative of keeping things local. Only you can donate to your museum – people from other islands can’t come and donate. While, yes, you can go to other uninhabited islands and donate fish and bugs from those islands – all of those fish and bugs can also be found on your island. So while not a perfectly equitable example, it is definitely a good building block as far as examples of ethical sourcing go. I will add a caveat here that I’m not going to be engaging much with the art museum – that’s another talk for another time, this talk focuses on the fossil and living specimen (ie – natural history) portion of the museum. The idea of staying local is very important – a central part of moving forward with the very necessary redesigning of what museums are and do is part of this focus on localness. A museum that represents what you find in your local community and then keeps it in the community for them to experience and get educational value out of is something rare in games. Of course, it could be argued this is simply logistics in Animal Crossing – but the game easily could have made it so some things could only be found on other islands (a system already in place for fruit) and they didn’t. Of course I can’t say it was a conscious choice, but it is a choice that has impact either way.

Catching a coelacanth. “Blast from the Past!” text bubble.
Catching a whale shark. “There she blows!” text bubble.

Secondly, it treats the collecting of bugs, fish, and fossils as educational. They are not there to be treasure hunted (a mistake they made in their first major patch by treating art in such a way which is another reason why I am focusing on the natural history here – as there is a paper in and of itself just on the choice made to turn art into treasure hunting on the black market). Yes you can get rewards for having fossils assessed – but assessing them allows you to interact with the fossil, and when you have them assessed if the museum already has a copy Blathers even makes a statement about how he’d love to have them for his personal collection but it just wouldn’t be right. I would argue that is, unlike the potential for the first circumstance to be just a byproduct of design choice, a conscious decision on the part of the developers to address that fossils aren’t for personal benefit – they are for everyone’s.

Hanna catching a Queen Alexandra’s Butterfly.
Blathers explaining a T. Rex fossil to Hanna.
Hanna speaking with Redd as he offers her his ‘cousin’ discount on art. “Redd the traitor!” overlay text.

That isn’t to say that there is a perfect system in place, but that is where I believe we hit a common grey area in games. Space is limited, options are limited, and we have to acknowledge that even in archaeology sometimes we simply have to get rid of things. In the case of animal crossing you are allowed to sell fossils – but it isn’t in any way encouraged and I think the lack of encouraging the sale of fossils is more important than the fact that the mechanic exists as a way of getting rid of duplicates in a game where, just like in a real museum, your storage is limited.

Options for interacting with Blathers showing the donate, assess fossils, and educate me options.
Hanna and Blathers in the atrium outside of the different museum wings.
Hanna in the Insectarium’s bug lab.

Lastly, allowing players to engage and create within the curatorial process allows people to view the world in a way which works for them. Of course, the museum itself is stagnant, but a part of the beauty of Animal Crossing is going beyond the museum – for example, I’ve spent most of my time turning the uninhabited half of my island into a selection of outdoor exhibits. I have a biodiversity section, where you have different species of fruit tree and can look at flower hybrids. I have used extra fossils to create a dinosaur walk. I’ve even used duplicates of Megaloceros and Mammoth remains to mock-up a zooarchaeology research lab! And I’m hardly unique here – there has been a trend of creating outdoor ‘enrichment’ type of zones and fake archaeology digs that show just how important being able to curate digital space to work for what you need is. Animal Crossing excels at that.

Hanna in her outdoor zooarchaeology lab featuring a Megaloceros (Irish or ‘Great Elk, Megaloceros giganteus)
Hanna in her outdoor zooarchaeology lab featuring a Mammoth.

But how do these three things, and countless other circumstances, play into outreach? Outreach is more than just the idea of informing the public about archaeology – it has to equally be about engaging a community as it does education and actually informing them what archaeology actually is. While a lot of outreach focuses on artifacts or places or buildings, special room must be made for exploring what archaeology does, how it does it, and why. Digital spaces are, in particular, of use in these situations as they give an accessible tool to those who might other wise not have access to certain sites a way to explore them in ways that we couldn’t have predicted 75 years ago, even 50 years ago. Perhaps we could have 25 years ago, but we are in new territory nonetheless.

Villager Frita and Hanna admiring one of the aquarium tanks.
Villager Betina talking to Hanna about how excited she is for the museum to be open.
Volcanologist Dr. Jazmin Scarlett visiting Trash’s museum with Hanna and talking with Blathers in the atrium.

But right now, we have the world at our finger tips – this isn’t a metaphor, its now reality. We can recreate almost anything, anywhere, and we can use that to explore the future of archaeology. Enter Animal Crossing (and Stardew and Minecraft…), a space where we can not only customize and curate our own spaces – but stream them to the internet and invite our friends to play along. But what makes this archaeological? Well, the obvious first answer is the ability to dig up fossils and the adjacent curation of bugs and fish. Beyond that there are several things at play: we can circle back to the ability to create outside exhibits with duplicate fossils, we can use pattern designs to create faux-digital excavations, and three are plenty of items already in the game that can help us create an archaeological landscape – like the dirt-filled wheelbarrow.

Hanna in her outdoor biodiversity exhibit, featuring her bamboo grove and 6 species of white flowers.
A fossil walk on the northern edge of Trash Island.

A game doesn’t have to be archaeological in nature to explore archaeology or heritage, and Animal Crossing has excelled at navigating the grey area between the two states of being. This grey area is important for how we approach digital spaces and how we use them to present archaeology, whether or not archaeology is the for-purpose built idea for that space or just a happy by-product of its nature.

Hanna and fellow Archaeologist Adelle in one of the latter’s outdoor heritage areas!
Hanna and fellow Archaeologist Adelle in one of the latter’s outdoor heritage areas!

The existence of archaeological grey areas, whether we are talking about literal grey archaeology (like finite space and deaccession techniques such as disposal) or the type of grey areas that are there for us to use (such as alternative use of space, such as making an outdoor exhibit in a game with a museum already present) we are, ultimately, talking about how we access archaeology.

Accessible archaeology is, fundamentally, not just about how we present things but who we present them to. Assuring that we are able to reach the widest audience. That is where this type of digital space use because an ethical priority. But, what does that mean?

Isabelle exclaiming “WHAT?!” Additional quote added: “ETHICS ARE IMPORTANT?!”

Making digital spaces an ethical priority means two different things: making sure that we advocate for ethical representations of archaeology and come clean about the ethics of grey areas in our field itself. There are some battles that are worth fighting: games that don’t promote the sale or trafficking of artifacts. There are some battles, I would argue, that aren’t worth fighting: the realistic fact that just like in the real world – space is going to be limited in games and emptying out your bag is going to be a feature. Does this mean we shouldn’t promote more creative means of how to deal with duplicate artifacts or fossils, like in a game such as Animal Crossing? No. Its about how we frame our arguments and how we actually deal with how honest we are about archaeology.

Hanna wishing on a shooting star. Text overlay: “Thank you for attending!”

Precarity, Gender, and Labour in the Medieval Home: an investigation of quern stones

Dr Ben Jervis, Senior Lecturer
Cardiff University

Quern stones are fairly common finds on medieval rural excavations, they provide evidence of household scale processing of grain (fig. 1). Whilst there have been various studies of their petrology (their geological composition), which have allowed us to understand the trade in these items, less attention has been paid to what they can tell us about labour in rural households. Over the past 4 years the Living Standards and Material Culture in English Rural Households (, 1300–1600 project has been exploring the possessions of medieval households, including quern stones. The study is an interdisciplinary investigation, which combines finds from archaeological excavations with the study of lists of the possessions of felons, outlaws and suicides, which were seized by the crown (fig. 2). 

Fig. 1: Reconstructed quern stone.
Fig. 2. Depiction of the Peasant’s Revolt from the Froissart Chronicale. ©British Library

It was the historical documents which piqued my interest in quern stones. Within our sample we have a number of lists dating to 1381 and relating to individuals who were executed following the peasant’s revolt. All of them are from Kent and, with one exception, these are the only lists in our whole sample which refer to quernstones (hand mills). First of all I assumed this could be related to the popular legend of how the Abbey of St Albans seized the quern stones from their rebellious tenants, ground them up and used them to make a floor in the Abbey (Justice 1994, 136). However, this did not explain why querns were only listed in Kent – this warranted further investigation. 

Fig. 3. distribution map of England. Source: Author.

In the medieval period there was a custom called suit of mill, which obliged tenants to use the manorial mill. This custom did not exist in Kent – it has particularly quirky tenurial arrangements dating back to the early medieval period. It was clear from the distribution of querns in our archaeological sample that these are most prevalent in 2 areas; Kent and East Anglia, where suit of mill was weakest (fig. 3). In contrast, they are scarce in the north, where the custom was most strongly applied. I started to think there was another explanation; are our lists and archaeological evidence showing that domestic scale milling persisted for longer in areas where suit of mill was less prevalent and households were less restricted? This has real implications for thinking about the division of labour in the household and the impacts of a commercialising economy on medieval households. 

In Kent, excavated quernstones come from 2 main types of context. The first are manorial complexes. They were presumably used to process the produce of the estate, and in some cases are found in association with specialised bakehouse complexes (fig. 4), particularly on the large ecclesiastical estates in the east of the county. Where we have evidence of them being found in association with houses they are at the periphery of a central zone of intensive wheat cultivation across the county, where there is the strongest historical evidence for the presence of mills. It seems as well, that the documented seized quern stones are from areas where mills had not yet developed (fig. 5).

Fig. 4. Medieval bakehouse, © J Paul Getty Museum
Fig. 5. Distribution map of Kent. Source: Author

The historian John Langdon (2004, 230–1) suggests that in the 14th century around 20% proportions of England’s grain were still milled domestically, and he suggests that this was likely a task undertaken by women, around other domestic tasks. Such simplistic assumptions about the division of labour are increasingly being critiqued by archaeologists and historians drawing on feminist theory. I started to think about this a bit more deeply. We are clearly seeing different forms of household organisation in medieval Kent. At the periphery some households were able to continue domestic scale milling, perhaps specialising in this and bringing income to the household; a commercialising economy was enfolding households into an emerging set of capitalist relations.  

Fig. 6. Watermilling in the Luttrel Psalter ©British Library

If it was women undertaking this work, we might perceive of a change in their role within the home, enfranchising them as economic agents. In the core we see something different. Capital investment in mills pulled this activity out of the home, potentially marginalising those who had engaged in domestic milling, stripping them of economic agency, as household economy was reshaped by external forces. In thinking about this I found the work of the feminist post-human scholars Rosi Braidotti (2013) and Anna Tsing (2015) particularly useful. Tsing talks about how commercialisation leads to the emergence of precarity, as domestic activities become drawn into wider webs of capitalist relations. Braidotti argues strongly against gender binaries, advocating for a philosophy of difference, informed by feminist theory and thinkers such as Deleuze and Guattari.  

Through beginning to apply their thinking to the study of the household and the interpretation of the quernstones, we can begin to think about how these stones tell us a story of precarious households and transforming gender relations; as they became entangled in relations of commerce and capital, households, and the people and objects which comprise them were transformed in different ways. The emerging capitalist economy of the later Middle Ages enfranchised some and disenfranchised others, creating inequalities and differences in experience between households, genders and regions. These seeming simple stones challenge us to think differently about the implications of a commercialising economy for medieval society. 


Braidotti, R. 2013, The Posthuman, Cambridge: Polity 

Justice, S. 1994, Writing and Rebellion. England in 1381, Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press 

Langdon, J. 2004, Mills in the Medieval Economy. England 1300–1540, Oxford: Oxford University Press 

Tsing, A.L. 2015, The Mushroom at the End of the World. On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, Princeton: Princeton University Press 

Did the ancient Egyptians make glass at Amarna?

Professor Paul Nicholson
Cardiff University

In 1891-2 Flinders Petrie excavated at Tell el-Amarna, the ancient Akhetaten, capital of the ‘heretic pharaoh’ Akhenaten (1352-1336 B.C.). However, he was interested not only in the history of the site but in its evidence for ancient technologies. 

He, accompanied by the young Howard Carter (destined for great things some years later!) unearthed “three or four glass factories, and two large glazing works”. He believed his evidence supported the view that although Egyptians did not invent glass they were able to make it from its raw materials as early as the reign of Akhenaten.  His reconstruction of the process became the standard interpretation of early glass making and was reproduced in virtually every book on early glass manufacture. 

However, by the 1980s many scholars, influenced by their interpretation of the cuneiform texts known as the Amarna Letters and by the fact that Petrie did not actually find any furnaces for glass had begun to suggest that although glass could be worked by the ancient Egyptians, the actual making of raw glass probably took place in the Near East with Egyptians simply receiving ingots to work into objects. 

In 1993, in the hope of determining which view of glass production might be correct I began a project at Amarna excavating in an area which was believed to be near where at least one of Petrie’s glass and glazing works was located.  Sadly, Petrie’s publication does not give the actual locations of these sites but there is an area on his plan of the city marked as ‘moulds’ and referring to the fired clay moulds used to produce glazed faience objects.  It is clear that these glazed objects were often found alongside glass production and so that was the area chosen for the new work. The site became known as O45.1 after its location in the Amarna grid system. 

Before excavation began the site had been subject to geophysical survey carried out by the late Mr. Ian Mathieson whose magnetometry recorded exceptionally high readings consistent with burning at the site.  It was hoped that these readings might indicate kilns or furnaces and so it proved to be. 

The 1993 season quickly unearthed kilns, believed to be for pottery and faience production, as well as two very large ‘furnaces’ of a type not hitherto known from Amarna or elsewhere in Egypt.  These large furnaces were built in a complicated brickwork pattern with walls c.0.5m thick. There was also evidence that they had been given a ‘sacrificial render’ on the interior, a plaster layer which could be removed and replaced when it became vitrified.  Enough of the walls remained to suggest that they were originally covered by a domed roof. 

There was no evidence to suggest that the furnaces were for metalworking and they did not seem to be intended for lime burning.  There was, however, evidence of raw glass from around them and it was tentatively suggested that they might be for the making of glass from its raw materials – soda, lime and silica – a process which requires higher temperatures than the working of pre-prepared glass. 

A suggestion to the effect that these were glass furnaces was soundly rejected at a conference on the history of glass held in 1995 on the grounds that they were “too big” and could never have reached the temperatures of c.1100ºC thought necessary for glass production. 

In 1996 I, along with Caroline Jackson of Sheffield University, reconstructed one of the furnaces at full size at Amarna.  It was charged with a mixture of local sand, which is naturally rich in lime, mixed with plant ashes (derived from seaweed collected at Penarth, as a substitute for other known ash sources) and with a pinch of cobalt to give a deep blue colour. Firing reached a temperature of c.1150ºC and produced an ingot of deep blue glass proving that a furnace of this type could have been used in the making of glass at Amarna.  At around the same time the team demonstrated that the size of the glass ingots from a shipwreck at Uluburun (Turkey) were consistent with moulds from Amarna and that their chemistry also matched with Egyptian ingredients.  Whilst Petrie’s famous reconstruction of the glassmaking process at Amarna proved to be wrong, his view that raw glass was made at the site has been proven to be correct, irrespective of whether it was made in furnaces such as that which was replicated. 

In 2000 the Corning Museum of Glass, U.S.A. built a reproduction of one of the Amarna furnaces as part of their origins of glass display.  Subsequent work has suggested that the Egyptians were making glass still earlier than Amarna and that although some glass was imported to the country it was also being exported.  The pattern of trade and technology in the bronze age is more complicated and more interesting than might have been imagined! 

Decoding an Anglo-Saxon Runic Inscription

Professor John Hines
Madeline McLeod
Cardiff University

I am going to talk about an object with a runic inscription on it. I have worked on this find together with colleagues within Cardiff, plus others in the museum sector in Wales and England, to try to understand what was written on it and why somebody should wish to do that. The item and inscription prove to be very interesting in their own rights, but this is also a valuable example of the importance of different areas of in Archaeology and Conservation working supportively together. 

The object was found in January 2019 near Winchester in Hampshire and promptly reported to a local Finds Liaison Officer under the Portable Antiquities Scheme. It is silver, and so falls under the provisions of the Treasure Act. That it has runes on it was clear to the Finds Liaison Officer from the outset. 

It is immediately identifiable as an Anglo-Saxon strap-end. These are quite common stray finds reported to the PAS. They were the terminals of straps or girdles worn by both men and women; there is some evidence that the wider and larger examples are from male costume. 

The runic writing system is essentially like our own. In fact it is almost certainly derived from the same Latin script, and had been developed by the second century AD. It is made up of individual graphs (the runes) which represent the sounds of the spoken language. 

It appears to start with that we have eleven runes on one side of the strap-end and twelve on the other. These include three examples of a distinctively Anglo-Saxon rune for o, confirming that the inscription is broadly ‘local’. The process of decoding a runic inscription is firstly to identify the individual runes and to ‘transliterate’ them into familiar modern letters, and then to see if we can recognise specific words or word-endings. 

What immediately stood out is a sequence that crosses the end of one line and the start of the other w o r o/o h t æ þ i s, which it is relatively easy to identify with the Old English words worhte þis: literally ‘wrought this’, and meaning ‘made this’. It is common to have inscriptions on artefacts that identify the maker, and so we can expect this pair of words to be preceded by a word or name representing the maker and to be followed by a noun that gives us the word for a strap-end. 

But there are problems with both of those words. Initially the name appears to read either æiemele or æierele, neither of which are names that exist (we have many recorded personal names from this period). There is, however, a simple and plausible solution: i.e. that the name is Hemele. (Slide 4, second click) The fact that it has become obscured seems to be explained by the fact that this character Hemele was at best semi-literate, and mis-copied an exemplar, dividing what should have been the single rune h into what looks like æi

At the other end, what is the name of the object? We can read the last four runes as æsil, but the first letter is obscured by corrosion. The nature of that corrosion led us to hope that x-ray could see through it to the underlying surface. At this point, though, we faced a practical problem in that the British Museum’s system for processing Treasure Act finds does not normally include x-ray, and is not designed take account of questions such as that posed by a runic (or indeed any other) inscription on a find. 

Fortunately, careful and patient discussions with staff at the British Museum (in two different departments) and Finds Liaison Officers both in England and in Wales enabled us to bring the object to Cardiff in late summer last year, where MSc student Madeline McLeod has taken charge of the analytical study. 

Following multiple carefully targeted x-rays, it proved that the object was still largely sound, although still difficult to read because the x-rays showed the text on two sides simultaneously so clearly: nonetheless eventually we could identify the hidden rune as g, giving us (for the very first time) the Old English word for a strap end as gæsil.  

Although we have not seen this word before, we can relatively easily explain it as an example of a word borrowed into Old English (and other contemporary Germanic languages) from Latin sigilla, ‘jewellery’: a word we are now most familiar with as ‘seal’. This Latin word has been given a purely Germanic prefix gæ-, which has a ‘perfective’ function: referring, in other words, to an item of jewellery which finishes off or terminates something — a good description of a strap-end. 

The date of the object and its inscription is around the later eighth century. It is exceptional in having been made so clearly to display the pride of its maker, Hemele, and so it would seem likely that it was intended to be a badge on his own personal costume. Presumably he remained unaware of the extent to which it exposed his own limited literacy, and yet it testifies to a community in which a skilled metalworker could claim status, and writing was familiar. 

Mortimer Wheeler and ‘Classical Heritage’ of South Asia

Professor James Hegarty
Cardiff University

As well as being Head of the School of History, Archaeology and Religion, I am an expert in Indian religions. I specialize in ancient texts in Sanskrit and their cultural history. If you are an Indologist (someone who studies the ‘classical heritage’ of South Asia), there is one Archaeologist’s name that rings out very clearly and that is Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler (1890-1976), who was, of course, the founder of the Archaeology Department we are currently celebrating the centenary of. His association with the exploration of the Indus Valley Civilization (see image 1) was one of those things that captured my imagination as an undergraduate. 

Image 1 – Excavated ruins of Mohenjo-daro, Sindh province, Pakistan.

Admittedly, the romance of the ruin was something I was prone to (I blame romantic poetry, Dungeons and Dragons, and art and architecture obsessed grandparents). The Indus Valley Civilization was an urban culture that spread across a vast area of South Asia from the late fourth millennium BCE to the end of the second millennium. Its discovery changed the way in which global history was understood.  The idea of this particular ‘lost’, ‘mute’, ‘civilization’ (its script, if that is what has been found, remains undeciphered to this day) with its tantalizing carved stone objects, some of which were suggestive of much later Hindu gods (see image 2), offered a sense of tangible, transformative, discovery. 

Indus Valley Seal, which has been said to be suggestive of the Hindu god Shiva.

At the same time, it made clear the uncharted vastness of what we do not know. That an entire ancient culture could be found in this way -orthogonal to the received histories of the ‘great civilizations’ of the past- staggered my young mind and fueled the fires of my deepening interest in India. This was at a time in the nineties when I was being advised by many of my august professors that truth was a fantasy and knowledge, a kinked, politically compromised and profoundly suspect entity. Whole disciplines were in paroxysms of self-doubt (often rightly so).  Mortimer Wheeler’s role in the exploration of the Indus Valley Civilization, notwithstanding all its question marks, rough edges, assumptions, and imperialist context, seemed to fly in the face of that. His sharp suits and pocket square suggested an indefatigable and assured pursuit of knowledge.

Image 3 – Sir Mortimer Wheeler (with suit, moustache and pocket square in full effect)

I never did grow a moustache like his (see image 3) nor did I let go of the radical and profoundly important questionings of the late-twentieth century. These are questions that haunt the edges of, and temper, my admiration of this white male heterosexual pioneer to this day. Yet, there are some ‘Mortimer-Wheelerian’ values that should be celebrated: the commitment to clear and repeatable methods; elegance in abstraction and parsimony in theoretical rumination (he did not always quite live up to his own high standards in this regard, but who does?); as well as discipline and courage in facing the rigors and challenges of the field. These are all things that live on in Cardiff to this day and are reflected in the work of my colleagues in Archaeology and amongst their students. The suits, pocket squares and moustaches are less evident. What is evident, however, is a concern to address the questions raised by the more difficult aspects of Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s legacy, such as those of gender, of ethnicity, of who gets to speak about whom, and of the provisional and always incomplete nature of knowledge. It is the commitment to the balance of these two things, discovery and critical reflection, that will inform the tiny talks of Archaeology200. 

SS Great Britain: Innovative conservation underpinned by Cardiff University research

Professor Dave Watkinson, Professor of Conservation
Cardiff University

Brunel’s 1843 engineering masterpiece SS Great Britain, was the first iron hulled propeller driven ocean going liner in the world (figure 1). After a successful life at sea, she ended up an abandoned hulk in the Falkland Islands (figure 2). In 1970, the ship was towed across the Atlantic and up the river Avon (figure 3) to be reunited with the dry dock in which she was originally constructed. By the late 1990’s she was in poor condition and a bold plan to control corrosion of the hull by desiccation was being considered by Matthew Tanner, Director of the ss Great Britain Trust, and Robert Turner of EURA Conservation. They approached David Watkinson at Cardiff University for his advice, as since the 1980’s he had focused Cardiff University conservation research on designing and evaluating treatments that aim to control the corrosion of archaeological iron.

Figure 1. The launch of SS Great Britain in 1843.
Figure 2. SS Great Britain abandoned and beached in Sparrow Cove Falkland Islands
Figure 3. SS Great Britain towed up the River Avon to be reunited with the dock she was constructed in (image SS Great Britan Trust).

The innovative approach to control corrosion would involve sealing off the top of the dry dock with a glass roof extending from the dockside to the waterline of the hull, controlling ingress of the air into the hull interior from its deck and, aided by a huge desiccation plant input air that would surround the hull in a ‘dry’ envelope (figure 4). Above the waterline the hull was in much better condition and its exterior could be protected by the application of a coating.

Figure 4. Architects interpretation of the desiccated dry dock space and flooded glass roof.

Damp air drives the electrochemical corrosion process that converts metallic iron to rust, aided by residual chloride from salt water (figure 5). Removing water from the air can prevent corrosion but the unanswered question that underpinned the desiccation plan was; how dry did the air have to be to prevent iron corrosion? This would influence both the design of the plant and the cost of operating it, as the amount of gas used to dry the air would rise as the target operating humidity for delivering it to the dock fell.

Figure 5. Corrosion of the hull occurring beneath paint layers that are meant to be protective.

Brunel built SS Great Britain using wrought iron, similar to archaeological wrought iron that had been studied in Cardiff. Consequently, the SS Great Britain Trust funded a Cardiff research programme that would identify the operating humidity for the desiccation plant. A Cardiff graduate, Mark Lewis, was the Research Assistant working on this project (Figure 6). After 2 years of experimental study, a no corrosion relative humidity of 12% was identified for preventing corrosion (Watkinson and Lewis 2004; Watkinson et. al. 2005a). Also, the incremental impact of rising relative humidity on corrosion rate was identified by studying how chloride bearing corrosion products interacted with iron at differing humidity. This delivered a ‘risk scale’ for corrosion, according to prevailing dampness of the air (Watkinson and Lewis 2005b) and improved understanding of iron corrosion throughout the heritage sector, informing management decisions for display and storage.

Figure 6. Dave Watkinson and Mark Lewis at SS Great Britain 2003.

Achieving 12% relative humidity would be expensive but since Cardiff’s research identified there was a minimal increase in corrosion rate until 35% relative humidity was exceeded, the decision was made to deliver air at 20% relative humidity into the dock (figure 7). The desiccated air is vented over the hull surface via adjustable jets (figure 8) and the glass roof was flooded with water (figure 9). Visitors on the dock-side will see the ship ‘floating’, while those inside the dry dock will view it from ‘underwater’ (figure 10).

Figure 7. The desiccation plant situated in the dry dock.
Figure 8. Jets delivering desiccated air over the hull.
Figure 9. The ship appears to float on the flooded glass roof.
Figure 10. The ship inside the dock.

Undergraduate and taught postgraduate dissertation collaborations with SS Great Britain Trust have determined the distribution of humidity over the hull and within the dock, revealing that the plant is working effectively to minimise the risk of further corrosion.  Since this research was completed, we have produced further research detailing how chloride and humidity influence corrosion, supported by a £447k AHRC grant (Watkinson et al. 2019).

The conservation of the ship has proved to be a great success, attracting visitors from across the globe who support the local economy and fund the continued preservation of this world renowned historical technological milestone. In 2006, SS Great Britain Trust was awarded the prestigious Gulbenkian Museum prize and in 2007 Dave Watkinson received the Anna Plowden medal for his innovative research within conservation. Mark Lewis later produced his PhD reporting these experimental studies and is now Senior Curator at the Roman Legionary Museum in Caerleon, where he continues his research collaborations with Cardiff University. While this project successfully underpinned the preservation of the SS Great Britain, it also established a Cardiff University research platform focused on corrosion and corrosion control, which continues to deliver outputs that can evidence decision making for managing heritage metals.


Watkinson D. E., Rimmer M. B. and Emmerson N. J. (2019) The Influence of Relative Humidity and Intrinsic Chloride on Post-excavation Corrosion Rates of Archaeological Wrought Iron. Studies in Conservation. Published on line open access February 8th 2019

Watkinson, D and Tanner, M. (2008) ss Great Britain: conservation and access – synergy and cost. In Conservation and Access; contributions to the London Congress 15-19 September 2008, Saunders, D., Townsend, J. and Woodcock, S. (eds), The International Institute for the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, London 109-114.

Watkinson, D., Tanner, M., Turner R. and Lewis M. (2005a) ss Great Britain: teamwork as a platform for innovative conservation, The Conservator, 29 73-86.

Watkinson D. and Lewis M. (2005b) Desiccated storage of chloride contaminated archaeological iron objects. Studies in Conservation, 50 241-252.

Watkinson D. and Lewis M. (2004) ss Great Britain iron hull: modelling corrosion to define storage relative humidity, Metal 04 Proceedings of the international conference on Metals Conservation, Ashton J. and Hallam D. (eds.), Canberra Australia 4-8 October 2004, 88-103 National Museum of Australia.



This is an arbitrary range of pictures that I happened to have. There are many more people, students and staff, who are not mentioned or imaged – sorry but that is a function of the pictures I had available. You are all important and I send you all best wishes. To Phil Parkes – sorry Phil, I did not have any images of you – camera shy? And for Nicola Emmerson, I imagine the legendary picture of you working on the Egyptian Coffin has been used during the week. I had no images of you in the lab so I post one at the end of a conf erence with our research students at Metal 2019.

Apologies over. Now to it…

The Head of the Department of Archaeology was Professor Richard Atkinson, when it all began in 1974 at the instigation of Professor William Manning (Figure 1) who supported establishing a conservation degree at Cardiff. David Leigh (Figure 2) was appointed as the first lecturer in conservation and was supported by a technician. Initially there were 2 students on the degree had who transferred from Archaeology to Conservation. Louise Mumford went on to become a conservator in the National Museum of Wales, where she works to this day, and Ruth Goldberg worked in the British Museum for many years. The degree was housed with Archaeology in the original University College building in Park place for 1 year, before moving to the new Humanities Building funded by the University General Council. It is still taught in that building today, renamed the John Percival Building.

Fig 1. Professor Bill Manning, whose expertise was in Roman ironworking. Good that conservation carried on the theme in its research.
Fig. 2. David Leigh.
Fig. 3. Dave Watkinson arrived in 1976, initially working on conservation of material from the Welsh Archaeological Trusts but soon moving onto teaching conservation students laboratory practical and working on…iron treatment. He is seen here in 1980 measuring chlorides.
Figure 4. The early conservation team outside the New Humanities Building in 1979. From back left  clockwise – Dave Watkinson, David Leigh, Peter Price, Janet Warren, Pam Lake.
Figure 5. Peter Price yields the legendary Conservation Laboratory whip! No shirking in the lab!!!
Figure 6. Sonia O’Connor and Dave. They worked as a team teaching and on various professional tasks such as editing Conservation News for UKIC. Janet Warren left Cardiff and was replaced by Sonia, who worked on material from the Welsh Trusts and taught student sin the labs.
Figure 7. There was rarely a dull moment in the labs, as this group picture with personalised PPE testifies. Back row; Ian (went on to work in various London Museums), Martin (went into marine conservation, diving and worked for Mary Rose Trust and now is at Portsmouth University), David Leigh – Second row; Peter Price, Melanie (Curator at Bristol Museum), Dianna O’Sullivan (worked in National Museum of Wales and alter taught at UCL now retired), Sue (remained in conservation on graduation), Tim (became an officer in the army) – Front; Mary (Conservation at Birmingham Museum), Ingrid (head of Conservation at the Was a Museum Sweden), Sonia O’Connor, Dave (with friendly gas mask)
Figure 8. Another jolly group image but all students this time. Some well known faces for current students. From the left: Michael Larenzakis-Lascaris or ‘Michael the Greek’ as he was fondly known (runs a private conservation practice in Greece), Jim (found his calling as a hospital porter after working in conservation for some years), Alison (worked in Newport Museum), Dave (Sailed the Atlantic alone – respect!), hidden? Yannick (Conservator in Bradford), Pete (Went on to British Museum, Science Museum and then private practice runs his own business and is a part time PhD in Cardiff currently). Jane Henderson with the purple hair (holding a pot that she worked on for 3 years – use that ammunition you current students!), Dave (runs his own stone conservation business), Richard (Teaches conservation in Australia) Siobhan (taught conservation in Cardiff with Dave for 7 years until 2000 (Head of conservation at the Ulster Museum and recently gone into private consultancy).
Figure 9. Karena Morton (Currently Head of Conservation at the National Museum of Ireland). David Leigh left after 9 years in 1984. Dave Watkinson was alone teaching for 2 years and then Dianna O’Sullivan was in post for a while. Sonia O’Connor left and Karent Morton was empoyed to work on Archaeological Trust Materials. After many years in Cardiff, Karena left for the National Museum of Ireland and Phil Parkes was appointed to work on commercial projects. He later became involved in the teaching of students, which remains his role today.
Figure 10. Now in colour! The end of year party at Dave’s previous abode. Bottom image far left JP Brown, who taught conservation in Cardiff for 2 years and is now working in the Field Museum in Chicago and is an environmental consultant. Our current external examiner, Janet Berry, is second from right in the bottom image.
Figure 11. The legendary Llandeilo Tal-y-Bont where we lifted the wall painting for St Fagans Museum. As seen from the equally legendary filed used for the lunchtime football matches where JP ‘Chopper’ Brown practised his art of the disabling tackle!
Figure 12. My most recent (old) image but I have run out of time to produce this collection of images….name yourself!!!!
Metal 2019 Switzerland Research – Joanna Thunberg (Cardiff graduate and PhD student), Laurie King (Conservator at the Monitor USA), Dave, Nicola Emmerson (Senior Lecturer Conservation Cardiff) Pete Meehan (Cardiff graduate and PhD student), Kim Roche (Marine conservator), Jerrod Seifert (Cardiff graduate, PhD student and Analytical Laboratory Research Associate), Sarah James (Cardiff graduate and studying a PhD in Switzerland)

On the definition of ‘Conservator’ and public perception

SHARE Analytical Laboratory Teaching Associate and archaeological conservator Jerrod Seifert attempts to unmap your idea of conservation!

Cardiff University SHARE eJournal

I am a conservator. A vague statement, I know. As a vocation, conservation remains poorly defined, at least to those who do not find themselves within it. The issue of terminology has been exhaustively addressed [1]. Whilst those who are not employed within a particular profession often lack an understanding of that profession’s intricacies, they are at least familiar with what is involved. As an example, most know what one means when someone refers to her or himself as an ‘Archaeologist’. The implicitly known (excavating old things, studying those things), the imagined (Lara Croft or Indiana Jones), and the inaccurate (…dinosaurs…) create a visceral image in the minds of people who are not archaeologists. Archaeologists will often reduce their profession to the implicitly known because, though overly simplistic, it is not inaccurate. They will not explain to the layperson, however, about Harris matrices, geomorphology, or post-humanism. An example from…

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Views of an Antique Land: Imaging Egypt and Palestine in the First World War

Paul Nicholson, Steve Mills, and Hilary Rees

The Views of Antique Land Project has collected images of Egypt and Palestine taken during the First World War. The images are largely unpublished photographs taken by service personnel during the war and made generously available to the project via members of the public who came along to a series of roadshows held in various localities in England and Wales. We were particularly keen to document views of archaeological sites, but rapidly realised that the project could offer a great deal of information on the changing landscape of Egypt and Palestine as well as providing a valuable photographic record of the conflict which was not adequately covered by official War Office photographers.

Because much of the commemoration of the First World War has focussed on the Western Front and so given the impression that the war was entirely one of mud and trenches with very little movement our project has tried to give a more balanced view. The war in Egypt and Palestine was much more mobile and often fast moving, it was also fought in hot and dry conditions and posed a whole range of challenges to those who fought there.

It is also a surprise to many that such a great number of personnel did actually serve in Egypt and Palestine at some point during the war with units regularly being withdrawn from the Western Front to serve in the area before returning to Europe later on. Egypt also served as a staging post for the Dardanelles -Gallipoli- Campaign, and Thessalonika.

It is hoped that the images will serve as an archive to permanently commemorate those who served in this theatre. They also help to build a picture of the landscapes of Egypt and Palestine at the time and can show how the towns, cities and archaeological sites have been altered over the years since the war. In this way they will be of interest to those who wish to learn more about their ancestors and to historians, archaeologists, teachers and others.

Take a scroll through our slideshow above to see some of the photos!

An interactive website is in the process of redevelopment, but meanwhile we have uploaded two films which are available at:

 and we also have facebook and twitter sites at:

Twitter: @ww1imagesegypt