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. 


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.