South Wales

Monastic Margam Survey – Week 2

We have had a hectic last few days of the second week of the Monastic Margam project.

Wednesday we were hit by the bad weather which slowed down the recording of the abbey ruins, we spent about an hour huddling in the tent waiting for the rain to ease.  Eventually we were able to venture outside and continue recording.

Volunteers recording the remains of the Margam Abbey from beneath an umberalla in the rain.

It was decided to move the total station under vaulted remains of the east cloister and continue to record here, so that we were sheltered from most of the rain.  Unfortunately, for two of our volunteers Sarah and Ruth, who were doing the photographic survey, they had to continue to record the interior of the Chapter house in the rain!  They did a brilliant job recording in poor conditions using an umbrella to shelter them as best they could and were able to finish recording the interior of the Chapter house by the end of the day.

Thursday was a very busy day. As well as the recording of the abbey we also received a visit from Neath-Port Talbot council who came to see what we were doing and the condition of the abbey remains to discuss what measures they could put into place.  The meeting was very positive and they seemed very concerned with the condition that the abbey was in and the danger that it might present to the public.  We were also visited by members of the University of the Third Age from Porthcawl.  They had heard about the project from one of our volunteers and were also surprised with the condition the abbey was in but they were happy to see something was being done and they seemed to enjoy the visit.  On the recording side we have using the total station surveyed the partial remains of the Nave/North Cloister wall and we have continued to survey the vaulted area of the East Cloister/Vestibule that we began surveying on Wednesday. With the photographic survey we have moved on to recording the features in the vaulted east cloister.

Volunteers using the total station

On Friday we were able to see just how far we had progressed with the project and how much there was still left to do. The volunteers had recorded the outside of what would have been the former Sacristy and the central columns of the vaulting in the East Cloister and we hope to record the interior of the Chapter House on Monday. On the photographic side the volunteers had started to record the interior face of the West wall of the East Cloister and it is hoped that by the middle of next week we will start to record the remains of the under croft to the south of the Chapter House.

The volunteers have been fantastic again the week and have really moved the project along. I am looking forward to the final week of the project with 3 new volunteers starting I hope we will have as an enjoyable week as we have had over the last two

Sam Pamment

Trainee Community Archaeologist

Monastic Margam Survey – Week 2

Volunteer recording the abbey remainsThe start to the second week of the project has been really encouraging.  On Monday the weather was kind to us, as unlike the rest of South Wales it did not rain in Margam.  However, it was windy and we had to wrestle with the tent that Dr Evans brought down for us last week, as it threatened to blow away in the wind with us in it!

We were able to survey using the total station the internal wall of the chancel and the remaining internal walls of the south transept where a side chapel would have been.  We were able to get some good detail on these walls, recording the two recesses in the wall that would have served as a small alter.These recesses were described by one of the volunteers as looking like pizza ovens.

On the photography front we began to survey the external face of the chapter house entrance and began to record the internal walls of the chapter house. We had some extra help with the photography in the afternoon with one of our volunteers, scheduled help out next week turning up!

On Tuesday the good spell of weather we had had on Monday and the previous week had ended and we arrived on site in the rain.  Luckily the rain stopped shortly after and held off for most of the day. We were also sharing the Margam Park and the Orangery Car park with a film company, filming for a new T.V. series called Da Vinci’s Deamons.  They were filming at the castle and did not interfere with the recording, however it did spark some interesting conversations at lunch.  Just after the lunch break we were visited by a photographer form the Evening Post who took photos of Rowena and myself working and a group photo with the volunteers.

Volunteers being taught how to use the total station to surveyOn the project front we continued to photograph the internal wall faces of the chapter house and record the extent of the damage. With a fantastic effort from the volunteers we have have almost finished the recording  the inside of the chapter house and will be moving on to the vaulted remains of the east cloister/vestibule walls. We have also moved on with the total station recording, the arches of the vestibule and the internal face of a small section of the nave wall have been surveyed in. We were able to put in another survey peg before the end of the day ready to survey the outer face of the east cloister wall tomorrow.

The day ended a little early today as unfortunately the heavens opened with half an hour left so we decided to call it a day.

One big positive from last week and the start of the week is the enthusiasm the volunteers have shown and any chance to volunteer for extra days have been snapped up immediately.

Sam Pamment

Community Archaeologist Trainee

Monastic Margam Survey – Supplemental

Volunteers recording the upstanding remains of Margam Abbey

I went out this afternoon to see how the team is getting on, and to take out the gazebo with a table and chairs so they had something more convenient than the ruins to keep the rain off the notes.

Sam showed me the photos they’ve taken so far, which look fine.  I was able to answer some of the questions about the way the buildings relate to each other, and provide some technical vocabulary!

Dr Edith Evans

Monastic Margam Survey – Week 1

Hello, my name is Sam Pamment trainee community archaeologist at GGAT and along with Project Officer Rowena Hart we are running the Monastic Margam survey project at Margam Park.

We are here for 3 weeks to record the standing remains of the abbey using a total station to create an outline of the abbey walls and a photo survey to highlight the areas of substantial damage to the remains and the threats to the abbey remains.

It has been a great first week at Margam, with decent weather and fantastic help from local volunteers and the Friends of Margam Park we have been able to survey a large portion of the outside walls of the abbey remains. We have had a good laugh with the volunteers, who have been very enthusiastic and willing to learn.

The project almost had a celebrity visitor this week, Martin Clunes was rumored to be at the park.  Unfortunately, he did not come down to the abbey to see us at work much to my disappointment!

We have had such a fantastic first week and have made good progress, I am hoping the next two weeks will be just as good.

If you are interested in the project and would like to find out more we will be at Margam every week day until the 5th October from 9.30am – 4.30pm or you can follow us here with more  updates on the project over the next two weeks.

National Eisteddfod-Day 1

The first Saturday of the National Eisteddfod is always a quiet one, and today was no exception. This year all the main heritage bodies can be found next to each other in the same row.  This works really well, as hopefully we can all work together to promote not only each others work, but more importantly Welsh heritage.  GGAT (under the banner of the four Welsh Archaeological Trusts) is sandwiched between the Peoples Collection and the National Museum, having Ken Brassil next door is great , his enthusiasm and passion for archaeology is unbounded and contagious!
I arrived at the Maes this morning in glorious sunshine, this however did not last and the rain soon made its presence known, which was good as it tested how waterproof our section of the tent was.
View of the rain from GGAT's stand at the National eisteddfod
The afternoon saw a constant stream of visitors to our stand, the Trusts new Airfield display panels and 2012 Discovery & Learning booklet went down a storm, and lots of interesting discussions about the archaeology of the area took place. Tomorrow day 2.

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.

Volunteers needed

Recruitment is now in progress for the Access to Archaeology volunteer project.
The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust are currently looking for volunteers for our new Access to Archaeology project (A2A).  This scheme aims to enhance the Historic Environment Record with information held within the pages of grey literature reports held within the HER. The results of the work you carry out will be made available to all on the Archwilio website (, helping to improve access and facilitate the role of archaeological planning and wider research in the archaeology of Southeast Wales.
  • You don’t need to have any previous archaeological experience, as we will teach you everything you need to know!
  • All we need from you is a minimum commitment of 10 days either as a single block or spread out at a time convenient for you.
 If you, or anyone you know may be interested in this project just download a volunteer pack here or visit the Access to Archaeology site.
 If your interested you could also help us to promote the project and information leaflets can be downloaded from the A2A site (if you would like us to send you printed copies then please contact us at
Volunteer working in the HER at GGAT

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)