It has long been established that the Roman Army constructed a fort at Penydarren (c.AD75), Merthyr Tydfil, to protect the auxiliary unit of troops (normally about 500 men) stationed there. This fort was one of a network of auxiliary forts which were usually positioned between fifteen and twenty miles apart. These forts were probably constructed during the governorship of Sextus Julius Frontinus following the establishment of a new base at Caerleon, or Isca Augusta, for Legio II Augusta (The Second Augusta Legion). The purpose of the auxiliary unit was to garrison forts in recently subdued areas, defend the frontiers, maintain order and protect supply routes.
The first evidence for Roman occupation in Merthyr Tydfil was noted in 1786 during the construction of Penydarren House for the Iron Master Samuel Homfrey when both Roman bricks and tessellated pavement (mosaic) were revealed. Later, between 1902 and 1904 during the preparatory groundworks for construction of the Merthyr Tydfil Athletics Club track and later football ground, the remains of a Roman granary, a building with a hypocaust system (Roman central heating) and a water-well were discovered. This was the first time that the site was considered to be that of a Roman fort, following the examination of the site by Dr F Haverfield of Oxford University. Rescue excavations were later undertaken in 1957 by Dr Brenda Heywood from the University of Cardiff, supported by university students and pupils from a local school. A corner of the forts defences was excavated, revealing a rampart that consisted of a clay and turf bank 8.25m wide that possibly stood to height of 1.6m above a stone base. This defence was supported by two ditches 3.96 and 3.05m wide respectively, separated by a berm at 2.74m wide. In addition, a small section of possible via sagularis (the perimeter road running behind the rampart on the inside) was found within the east rampart and the remains and traces of two ovens in the intervallum (the area found between perimeter road and rampart). From the excavation and its results, it has been postulated that the fort undertook a second phase of building and was occupied until c AD 140.
Civilian settlement (vicus) and industry (iron working) can often be associated with forts of this type. Outside of the fort at Penydarren the remains of a bathhouse and evidence of a small cemetery (three Roman cremation urns) had been discovered, but little else. That is until local historian and metal detectorist, Mr Anthony “Shirley” Thomas noticed unusual looking rectangular cropmarks on the aerial photographs of the land surrounding Merthyr Tydfil. Mr Thomas brought these photographs to the attention of the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust who confirmed that these cropmark could indeed be Roman, most likely associated with Roman metal working in the area, but further work is required to confirm the discovery. Rather excitingly, it now seems possible that Merthyr Tydfil’s origins as an Iron Town could stretch back some 2000 years to the Roman period.
Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Trust, working in partnership with Cadw, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council and the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust are planning to investigate the cropmarks first noticed by Mr Thomas as part of a community archaeology project. If you would like to get involved, learn more about the project and help discover the origins of Roman Merthyr Tydfil and learn how archaeologists investigate and record archaeological sites then please contact the Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Trust for further information.
Long before the Americans and other World Leaders took over the Celtic Manor Resort for the NATO Summit, another invading nation, the Romans, decided to make the land there their home.
Discover all about the Roman archaeology around the Celtic Manor, learn about the excavations, associated finds and background information.
The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust have undertaken all the archaeological works at the site, where construction of a top class golf course and management of top class archaeology somehow had to work together. Learn more by visiting the Celtic Manor Archaeology website.
The fantastic Festival of Archaeology is once more upon us, and GGAT kick off their activities for the festival with our flagship ‘Archaeology for All!‘ event on Saturday 12th July.
This year the event is being held within the beautiful surroundings of Cyfarthfa Castle, in association with the Merthry Tydfil Heritage Forum. There will be Roman Cooking, Medieval Archery, Rural skills demonstrations, Archwilio, and that firm family favorite the Body in the Box!.
The remains of Caerleons lost Medieval bridge towers have been discovered by GGAT Archaeologist today. The discovery was made during a Watching Brief for an extension at a property on Isca Road, Caerleon. The bridge tower, along with a second previously unknown medieval building, will be fully recorded and preserved in situ.
The ironworks of Merthyr Tydfil have often been described as the ´Engine of Empire´. You can now learn more about one of these important sites by visiting our new ‘Ynysfach Ironworks microsite‘. Watch the CGI animation, view the reconstruction drawings, and learn all about this important ironworks and the excavations that GGAT have carried out there.
GGAT’s latest community driven dig started today at the former Hafod and Morfa Copperworks in Swansea. The excavation will be running every day (except Sundays) between 30th May to the 8th June and will be trying to discover the original early 19th century canal basin designed for barges to unloaded coal directly into the copperworks. The canal basin was filled in during the first half of the 20th century, and has now completely disappeared from view. In addition, the project is also hoping to find more traces of the tramroad that crossed the canal to take slag away from the furnaces to be dumped on the slag heaps.
The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust, working with Swansea University and the City and County of Swansea, is running a community excavation at the Hafod Copperworks, Swansea.
We will be uncovering the original early 19th century canal basin where barges unloaded coal, brought down from the collieries higher up the Swansea Valley, directly into the copperworks. We also hope to find more traces of the tram road that crossed the canal to take slag away from the furnaces to be dumped on the slag heaps. The canal basin was filled in during the first half of the 20th century, and has completely disappeared from view.
Come and help us find it!
If you’re over 18 and interested in volunteering, you can download an application form here or contact our CBA Community Archaeologist trainee Jan Bailey by email firstname.lastname@example.org. or by phone on 01792 634236.
People have been asking why it’s been so quiet on the GGAT news front. This is because we’ve all been so busy!
Here’s a little taster of what the Trust has been up to.
Our Arfordir Co-ordinator, Rachel, has been busy training volunteers in the Year 3 study area, which runs along the Vale of Glamorgan Heritage Coastline to Penarth. Through a number of guided walks the volunteers have been taught about the numerous archaeological sites along this stretch of coast, as well as emphasising the potential threats caused by current and future coastal erosion. The groups have also been taught how to recognise various types of archaeological sites and have been trained in basic recording and photographic techniques used by archaeologists. Attendance has been good at these events with a keen interest shown by the volunteers. If you’re interested in learning about this project visit the Arfordir pages on the GGAT website (http://www.ggat.org.uk) or follow the link (Arfordir pages). To see what the groups have just been up to visit our Facebook page here.
The second year of the Second World War Airfields in Southeast Wales project is drawing to a conclusion. The Trusts WWII enthusiast Paul has recorded lots of new sites, which you can get a sneaky peek at by visiting our Instagram feed
Meanwhile in our Projects Division, Charley James has just written the first malt kiln tile report for the excavations at Vulcan house, Merthyr Tydfil. She has discovered that some of the tiles are from a well-known manufacturer, Sealy & Co., based in Bridgewater Somerset.
Remains of one of the malt kiln tiles from the Vulcan House brewery
While Martin Tuck is undertaking a review of the numerous archaeological works that have taken place within the environs of the Roman fort at Neath. This review funded by the Welsh Government/Cadw focuses primarily on the civilian settlement or vicus, and will supplement the forthcoming reports on the extensive excavations that GGAT carried out between 2010 and 2012. Learn more about the excavations