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. 


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!