GGAT short listed for British Archaeological Award

The Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust and Miller Argent (South Wales) Ltd have been shortlisted for the prestigious 2012 British Archaeological Awards for their landmark archaeological project at Ffos-y-fran, Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales.

The Ffos-y-fran project involved the investigation of arguably one of the most important early extractive industrial landscapes in the world and has made it into the top three projects in the ‘Best Project’ category.  The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony in July.

A GGAT archaeologist recording a feature at Ffos-y-fran

Archaeological recovery of Human Remains at Cwm Nash

Towards the end of Summer 2011, the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust, funded by Cadw, recovered the remains of a single burial that had been eroding out of the cliff edge at Cwm Nash, Monknash, Vale of Glamorgan. These had been spotted by a member of the public who alerted the Trust to their presence. Below is an account of the recovery and analysis of the remains by Fay Bowen, who was part of the team that carried out the the fieldwork.

Location of the excavation

Location of the excavation

The day started out as rather pleasant and sunny, if a little bit chilly. There were three of us from GGAT, namely Rob Dunn, Paul Huckfield and I.  Very kindly, John a regular volunteer at the Trust, came along to make sure no passers by were endangered by the excavation or any falling material. We arrived at the car park and nervously waited for our High Ropes instructor Richard Hamilton to arrive. We gathered our equipment, including a ladder and harnesses and walked down to the beach to find the bones that were eroding out of the cliff edge. It was at this point that we realised exactly just how high up they were, right at the top of the 7m tall tufa cliff! For me in particular this was pretty daunting as I am rather frightened of heights.

The grave cut at the top of the 7m tall tufa cliff.We went back up to the top of the cliff and Richard put our minds at ease and explained exactly how safe it was going to be. So we donned our helmets and harnesses and Richard secured the rope into the top of the cliff. Richard and John then secured us to the ropes, allowing only enough length to go as far as we safely could, which was right at the cliff edge. Before the excavation began Rob bravely (if begrudgingly!) volunteered to take the pre-excavation photographs, which normally is just a little point and click, making sure the scale is correctly positioned. But this was somewhat different. He had to climb down over the edge of the cliff and lower himself onto the ladder that John securely held at the bottom. The top of the ladder was about 6ft below the cliff top, so this was no easy feat. I had my hands covering my eyes because the thought of doing such a thing really frightens me, but I did have a peep! He did a really good job and managed to position himself to take a few photos showing the bones and the grave cut. He could see that the grave had actually been dug into the tufa cliff.

The next task was drawing the profile of the grave cut. This was also a bit different to normal circumstances, as due to the wind and height we were unable to set up a string line and the safest way was to do it from the cliff top. This meant we had to use the tapes and measure down from the top of the cliff to record the depth of each deposit and the shape of the grave cut. This entailed poor Rob dangling over the cliff again to take measurements and me drawing them once he had shouted them back to me. Seems like he drew the short straw!
We then began the excavation. The wind had picked up and trying to deturf the thick dune-like grass was very difficult. We endeavoured with the conventional spade and sometimes even with the mattock to lift the more stubborn pieces that had anchored themselves to the cliff. We thought this was pretty difficult, but we didn’t realise what was coming next! The best way to continue the more delicate part of the operation was to take it in turns to lie on our stomachs with our heads at the cliff edge. This meant we could see the protruding bones at the cliff edge and slowly remove the grave fill to expose them. The problem was that the wind and rain had picked up so much that any soil loosened would blow up the cliff directly into our faces. So we took it in turns. It was very interesting and a brilliant day’s work, but it was very challenging, as despite our safety glasses our eyes were filling with mud, as were our mouths, noses and ears!! As we removed each bone John helped us bag and label them ready to take back to the office. We managed to recover the lower limbs and part of one hand. Needless to say when we finished we were all looking forward to a nice cup of warm tea, but it was all worth it. The excavation means that no more of these remains will be lost by erosion in the near future. We really appreciate the local people that saw the bones and reported it to us, as otherwise more would have been lost.
Once back at the office the bones were prepared and sent off to a specialist to tell us everything they could about the individual. Kirsten Egging Dinwiddy of Wessex Archaeology kindly looked at the bones for us. She found that he was a man over the age of 35 and estimated his height at about 1.71m (5′ 7″). She found a difference between the tibiae suggesting stresses possibly related to activity, along with small lateral squatting facets on both tibiae, (this means that there were marks indicating the repeated bending of the ankle joint from squatting). It seemed from his finger bones that he suffered from advanced osteoarthritis and the knees and ankles may also indicate that he was beginning to suffer in these areas too. The shape of the femur shafts suggested strong stresses on the muscles of the back of the thighs, whilst the left tibia had more distinctly ‘twisted’ shaft in comparison to the right.
The recovered remains of the lower limbs and part of one hand from the individual we christened 'Cliff'.
It is not the first time bones have eroded out of the cliff here. The first time was in 1982, when a human long-bone was found (GGAT HER 01584s). The next time it happened was in 1990, when part of a human skull was picked up. Three years later, the landowner told the Trust that there had been more erosion again, and we made plans for an archaeological investigation. The excavations revealed three adults buried in an east-west line. The middle of the three also had disarticulated remains of at least two other people and a skull had been carefully placed at the western end. Only the lower part of the burials remained, as unfortunately the upper parts had eroded out of the cliff. But some these bones were recovered from the base of the cliff. The finds didn’t really give any dating evidence, but were thought to be Post-medieval in date (1485-1901), which matched the early Post-medieval date given by radiocarbon dating.

Local history shows that this area of land was part of the Lordship of Ogmore, until the Norman Robert Fitzhamon seized power over the whole of Glamorgan in the late 11th century. He then gave the land to Neath Abbey. At this time there was already a church nearby, which was probably the parish church. When the church was given to the monks, the right to hold burials and baptisms was taken away, so people had to use Neath Abbey instead. The building then became a chapel.
The burials that have been found on the cliffs at Cwm Nash probably date to somewhere in the Post-medieval period (1485-1901). One theory is that the area was used as an ‘unofficial’ burial ground by the local people of Monknash from 1542 to 1607, who didn’t want to be buried somewhere other than their local area. A license for burial was eventually given to St. Mary’s Church, Monknash in 1607, so most people would have been buried there from then on. But it is possible the Cwm Nash burial place was still used by some local people who refused to accept the Anglican Church (these people were also known as Recusants). They may have also preferred Cwm Nash because it was associated with the nearby well and grange. Another theory is that the people buried here were not put here by choice. It is quite possible that the people found buried at Cwm Nash were the unfortunate victims of shipwrecks, their bodies having been washed ashore and kindly buried by the local people who found them. Sadly there were a large number of shipwrecks just off this piece of coastline during the Post-medieval period, and this sort of thing was not uncommon. Now the bones have been analysed plans will be made to rebury them.

GGAT return to the Roman fort at Neath

A GGAT archaeologist excavating the new narrow strip around the new school building

Just when we thought it was all over GGAT have had to return to the Roman fort at Neath in order to extend the excavated area. It was discovered that the size of the building footprint as originally calculated proved inadequate for the new teaching block at Dwr-y-felin school. Although we only excavated a narrow strip around last year’s area, it provided us with lots of new information.

GGAT archaeologist cleaning the stonework revetting of the forts defensive bank

On one side of the new building, we have been able to see that the original clay structure of the rampart had been removed over the stone toe at the front to be replaced by a timber revetment made from two-inch planks. At the back of the rampart, the new revetment was formed from blocks of turf that had been stepped back so that the rampart was widest at the base. The new part of the via sagularis to be revealed had had pits dug into it. On the other side of the new building the new work revealed a T-junction, where the via sagularis, which here had drains on both sides, was joined by another road, which had the beam slots for timber buildings on either side. These probably represent the barrack blocks of the earliest fort.

Newly excavated part of the via sagularis (road the runs around the inside of the fort)


Want to work for GGAT? – Project Archaeologists (field staff) required

The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust Ltd are currently looking to appoint field staff for short-term contracts for excavations in South Wales with immediate effect.

Four/five week contracts available with immediate start, possible extensions to contract thereafter.


Degree in archaeology (or related subject) or equivalent practical experience; Membership of the Institute for Archaeologists (Practitioner or affiliate) is an advantage. Experience in commercial archaeology also an advantage.


There is no formal application route, interested persons should apply in writing (emails are fine) to the Trust with a letter of application and CV.


Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust Ltd
Heathfield House,
Tel: 01792 655208
Fax: 01792474469
Email: enquiries@ggat.org.uk

New Roman discoveries in the offing

My name is Martin Tuck, a Project Officer with GGAT. My role alternates between fieldwork and  office based report writing.

At the moment I am engaged on the preparation of an archaeological excavation design, including Scheduled Monument Consent from Cadw, for additional work relating to the site of a Roman fort in Neath, where the Trust carried out an archaeological excavation during 2010, which continued through to the early part of 2011.

The  Roman remains discovered related to a 1st century Roman fort, which included defensive ditches and associated rampart, cooking areas and an internal circuit road.  The forthcoming works are likely to reveal details of part of the barracks.

A day in the life of a GGAT Contract Archaeologist

My name is Jon Burton, I work in the contracts department of GGAT. I normally spend a fair amount of time out in the field, dealing directly with clients, carrying out watching briefs, evaluations, and on occasions full scale excavations.

Most of this week I’ve been working on post excavation reports, related to watching briefs carried out in the Glamorgan and Gwent area.  These include watching briefs carried out in the Caerleon area, related to the line of a former roman road, and another watching brief in the Port Talbot area along the line of a new road scheme which, has uncovered a number of features related to former industrial activity.

Today I had hoped to continue with the writing up of a small watching brief, carried out this week in Cowbridge.  However, another fieldwork project has come up in Merthyr which, requires cover next week, and so now I’ll have to produce a risk assessment, and gather some background information in preparation for this new work.

Historical documents unearthed during Swansea excavation

The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust has been carrying out an archaeological watching-brief during the construction of the Urban Village development on High Street, Swansea for the developers, Coastal Housing.

 The watching-brief, which has now been completed, discovered a series of small stone chambers, probably 18th and 19th century cesspits for the cramped slum dwellings and commercial properties that ran down each side of High Street. However, from the basement of one of these buildings a collection of documents were recovered.
The documents were all job applications and references of young women, aged between 15½ and 21, applying for the position of Junior Clerk during the height of the Great Depression. The job was advertised in the October 9th 1931 edition of the Daily Post.

The names of the applicants were:

  • Constance Thomas of Pinewood Road, Uplands
  • Jenny James of Richmond Villas, Swansea
  • Joan Thomas of Delhi Street, St Thomas
  • Gwladys Williams of Cydach Road, Morriston
  • Sarah E Davies of Ernald Place, Uplands
  • Mary E Edmonds of Milton Terrace, Mount Pleasant
  • Sarah Margaret Rees of Tanyfron, Penywern Road, Ystalyfera
  • Claudine Price of Glanbrydan Avenue, Uplands

The Trust is interested in tracing the decedents of these women in order to return the letters and would be delighted to hear from any relatives of the applicants. Unfortunately, the position of Junior Clerk was filled some time ago!

A selection of some of the documents, showing the beautiful handwriting of one of the applicants 'Dear Sir' a close-up of one the letters

Neath Abbey Medieval Day


If your out and about in the Neath today why not visit us at Neath Abbey. GGAT are attending the Cadw event in the Abbey grounds. We’ve got our children’s excavation, try your hand at wattle ‘n’ daubing or search the Trust’s records using Archwilo. There’s guided walks, talks and medieval reinactors galore!! Also, the crepes are fantastic!

From the same flock?

Part of a green-glazed zoomorphic jug in the shape of a rams head of probable 14th century date

Could these two rams have come from the same flock?  The discovery of this green glazed rams head vessel (on the left) at the excavations run by Cardiff University at Cosmeston, looks very similar to the one discovered by GGAT during our excavations at Cardiff Castle (on the right).   On both the enclosed tubular spout takes the form of a stylised ram’s head with large curled horns on either side. The eyes are formed by iron-rich pads of clay. The vessel is decorated on the shoulder and body with concentric lines, chevrons, and small pads similarly formed by applied strips and blobs of iron-rich clay.

Vessels, generally jugs, with anthropomorphic or zoomorphic design, usually involving the pouring spout, were popular during the medieval period, and a specialised vessel form known as the aquamanile, a horizontal ewer for the washing of hands at table, was modelled on the form of a standing animal.

The jug from Cardiff Castle is parallelled by another vessel from Cardiff, excavated at Rumney Castle (Cae Castell) in the early 1980s but subsequently all but destroyed by fire at the Trust’s headquarters in 1983 (Lightfoot 1992, 146 and Plate VIB)

Lightfoot, K W B, 1992 ‘Rumney Castle, a Ringwork and Manorial Centre in South Glamorgan’, Medieval Archaeology 36, 96-163