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Llanelwedd Dig Diary, 2007


This dig diary was complied during the five week excavation of a Bronze Age cairn carried out by CPAT at Llanelwedd near Builth Wells in Autumn 2007. Work was funded by the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund and by Cadw. The site lies in a working quarry and is not accessible to the general public.

8 October 2007 (Day 1)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

Setting out the grid in sunny weather on the first day! The central figure stands near the middle of the mound, next to the displaced capstone. © CPAT

The cairn which is currently being excavated is one of a number of sites which have been recorded on Llanelwedd Rocks, overlooking the Wye Valley in Radnorshire. The site appears to be the one partially excavated by the Revd D. Edmondes Owen in 1906, suggested by notes on the antiquities in the parish of Llanelwedd published in the Transactions of the Radnorshire Society for 1948.

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

In the background is the disturbed capstone and in the foreground the central burial cist. Cists were stone boxes made of upright slabs which were often used to house the burial of human remains during the Bronze Age. © CPAT

Owen's notes record the discovery of a central cist beneath a large capstone, but no other record of what was found appears to survive. As you can see in the next photograph, the capstone and the cist are still clearly visible.

On the first day of the excavation we started by laying out a grid of pegs around the site from which we can record the things we hope to find. We then marked out an octagonal area around the cairn that we hope to excavate, and then, as you can see in the next photograph we began to strip the turf from one quadrant of the site.

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

Clearing the turf away from one quadrant of the Bronze Age cairn at Llanelwedd on the first day of the excavations. © CPAT

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9 October 2007 (Day 2)

Our second day was fairly wet. There are stunning views from the site of the Wye Valley but unfortunately this means that we are pretty exposed to the weather! Even so, by the end of the day we have now managed to strip the turf from three-quarters of the cairn. Already its size and shape are becoming much clearer as the turf and bracken are cleared away. At a rough estimate it now looks as though the cairn was originally about 9 metres in diameter and perhaps up to about a metre high.

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

Turf stripping on the second day © CPAT

The extent of the earlier disturbance to the site during the Revd Owen's excavations are also becoming clearer. It now looks as though he probably engaged workmen to dig a trench perhaps a metre and a half wide from the north-east side towards the centre, where the capstone was evidently revealed and then removed from above the central cist. At this stage it looks as though another trench may have been started at right-angles to this, from the south-west side of the cairn. The Revd Owen was no doubt familiar with William Greenwell's British Barrows published in 1877 and J. R. Mortimer's Forty Years Researches in British and Saxon Burial Mounds of East Yorkshire published in 1905 which illustrate similar techniques of barrow excavation.

Today, rather than just looking for a central burial we are interested in a much broader range of questions, such as how the entire cairn was built, whether different phases or periods of activity can be detected, whether we can detect an old ground surface below the cairn and whether this tells us something about the kind of environment the cairn was built in. For this reason we are starting by clearing away the turf and overburden from the whole of the cairn so that we can get a clear picture of it as a whole.

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10 October 2007 (Day 3)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

A start being made on the cleaning of the stones of the cairn on Day 3. © CPAT

Another good, dry and sunny day which saw the completion of the turf stripping and the start of what looks like being the long job of stone cleaning. The aim of this is to define the full extent of the Bronze Age burial cairn and to look for evidence of the way it was built. A detailed plan of the stones will be made once the cleaning is complete.

Already, some interesting patterns are beginning to emerge. The capstone, the four large upright slabs making the central cist and some of the stones packed around the cist look as though they are of stone specially quarried for the purpose from local rock outcrops. Much of the rest of the cairn seems to be made of very much smaller stones, including quite a lot of weathered and rounded material, which seems likely to have been collected from local surface collections. This suggests that the areas around the burial cairn may have been cultivated during the Bronze Age.

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11 October 2007 (Day 4)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

As usual a detailed drawing is being made on drawing film at a scale of 1:20 with the help of a drawing frame. © CPAT

A dry but misty and cloudy day. By the end of the day we had cleaned perhaps a third of the stones of the Bronze Age cairn and have been able to make a start on the meticulous task of recording the site.

This was also the day that our first 'find' was made, which rather unexpectedly is a rim sherd of what looks like an Iron Age or Romano-British pottery jar, found in the soil alongside the cairn. At the moment what it is doing here is anybody's guess.

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12 October 2007 (Day 5)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

The Bronze Age cairn with stone cleaning well on the way to being completed, close to the end of the first week. © CPAT

A dry, cloudy and unseasonably warm day.

By the end of the first week the turf and topsoil (weighing 10 tonnes or more) has been stripped away from the Bronze Age cairn, cleaning the stones of the cairn is well under way and a start has been made on the recording work. The cairn has now taken on a distinctly oval shape, being about 9.5 metres across in one direction and 11.5 metres across the other, with the burial cist more or less at the centre. Eventually, we are hoping (weather permitting) to remove the whole of the cairn and the buried soil beneath it.

The end of the first week is a good time to reflect upon how much there still is to do. One way of doing this is to estimate the weight of cairn material to be excavated. Assuming that the cairn corresponds to a portion of a sphere cut off by a plane we can apply the formula (pi/6)(3radius˛+height˛)height to calculate its volume. With an average diameter of about 10.5 metres and a maximum height of 1 metre this gives a volume of 43.51 cubic metres. The cairn is composed partly of stone and partly of soil. The soil weighs perhaps 1500 kilos per cubic metre. The stone is mostly basalt, a dense rock weighing perhaps 2000 kilos per cubic metre when broken up (some useful weights of materials are available at www.simetric.co.uk/si_materials.htm). Assuming 50% soil and 50% stone gives an average weight of say 1750 kilos per cubic metre. This suggests that the weight of cairn material is about 76 tonnes.

This figure is interesting on several counts. It gives an indication of what we still have to remove! And also gives an indication of the effort a community in the vicinity of Llanelwedd went to in the Bronze Age to construct a moderately-sized burial monument.

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15 October 2007 (Day 6)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

The Bronze Age cairn on Day 6 with stone cleaning almost completed. © CPAT

A dry, mild but windy day.

The cleaning of the cairn has now been completed though there's still quite a lot of planning to be done.

One of the things that we have now begun to think about is the shape of the cairn. It had originally looked as though it might have been built as an irregular circle, or as an oval. But now it's beginning to look distinctly egg-shaped, more pointed at one end and flatter at the other, though it is possible that later material may has been added which obscures its original shape. Hopefully once the planning has been completed we may get a better idea.

The edges of the cairn appear to be quite well defined, though as yet there are no indications that it is marked by walling or an outer kerb. Our next tast will probably be to try and define the outer limits of the cairn more clearly, though the weather forecast for tomorrow looks unpromising!

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16 October 2007 (Day 7)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

A start being made on the excavation of the cairn. © CPAT

Mild but very wet, as forecast. In spite of the weather, however, a start was made on excavating the cairn, a process that is likely to take quite a number of days. At the moment the strategy is to excavate the cairn in stages, probably fully excavating one half of the cairn before the other, so that we can record a cross-section with the burial cist at the centre.

The stones of the cairn range in size from about 50mm to 300mm across, but are mostly at the lower end of the scale. A small number look as though they are burnt. This tends to confirm the suggestion that much of the cairn is perhaps made up of prehistoric field clearance material. In some parts of the cairn the spaces between the stones are voided though in other parts the cairn includes a fair amount of soil.

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17 October 2007 (Day 8)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

Continued excavations on Day 8, on the south-east quadrant of the cairn. © CPAT

A dry and sunny day.

Further work was undertaken on the removal of a quadrant of the cairn, down to the basal layer of stones. It now seems reasonably certain that the cairn was built up in distinct layers of material, some with loose stone and little soil and others composed mostly of soil with a little stone.

By the end of the day there were hints that the cairn might conceal an inner kerb of upright stones. This should become clearer tomorrow.

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18 October 2007 (Day 9)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

The possible inner kerb of upright slabs defining an inner core of larger boulders, as defined in the south-east quadrant of the cairn towards the end of Day 9. © CPAT

Another dry and sunny day, starting on this occasion with a slight ground frost and stunning views of a thick sea of mist engulfing the Wye valley.

The possible inner kerb hinted at yesterday now looks a bit more certain in the first quadrant we are excavating, represented by an intermittent ring stones of upright slabs and boulders about 6 metres in diameter (see photo), enclosing an inner core or larger boulders surrounding the central cist.

The amount of stone still remaining, and the size of some of the boulders to be shifted, are both beginning to look daunting!

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19 October 2007 (Day 10)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

A start being made on the excavation of the south-west quadrant of the cairn on Day 10 © CPAT

Dry and sunny, again after a misty start to the day. For the moment we have left the possible kerb and lower inner core of the cairn in place in the south-east quadrant and have made a start on the excavation of the south-west quadrant. This will show us whether the cairn here has a similar structure to that identified in the south-east quadrant and will also eventually give a cross-section through the cairn, which can then be recorded. There are already hints that a buried ground surface survives below the cairn.

As previously noted, the inner core of the cairn includes a number of substantial boulders, some of which are clearly going to be difficult to shift. A machine will be needed to remove the displaced captone: being approximately 1.9 x 1.25 x 0.2 metres across, we estimate that it probably weighs about 1.5 tonnes. No doubt during the Bronze Age it was dragged into position above the central cist on rollers, but would still have needed a small group of people

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22 October 2007 (Day 11)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

Fragment of decorated Beaker pottery found on Day 11. © CPAT

A cloudy, cool but dry day. Work continued on cleaning down to the basal layers of the south-west quadrant of the cairn. There is still some uncertainty about the conjectured kerb of upright slabs though at the moment it seems possible that some of the stones of the kerb may have collapsed, leaving only an incomplete pattern. Hopefully this will become clearer in the next few days

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

The central cist during the course of cleaning.The cist was first uncovered during the excavations conducted by the Revd Owen in 1906. The upright slab on the far side perhaps slipped out of position at about this time. © CPAT

A couple of finds which are probably contemporary with the burial cairn came to light on Day 11. The first was a fragment of decorated Beaker pottery. This came from a disturbed context near the central cist and may possibly have formed part of a vessel associated with the central burial disturbed by the excavations in 1906. The second find is a fragment of a barbed-and-tanged arrowhead of a kind characteristic of the Beaker and Early Bronze Age periods, found on the margins of the burial cairn. Both finds loosely date to the period between about 2600-1600 BC.

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

Fragmentary barbed-and-tanged arrowhead found on the outer edge of the cairn. © CPAT

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23 October 2007 (Day 12)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

The existence of a kerb of upright and some fallen stones encircling the cist burial has now been confirmed. © CPAT

Dry, sunny and so mild that it encouraged a visitation to the site by two toads and a lizard. As evident in the accompanying photograph, the presence of a kerb of upright stones encircling the cist burial has now been confirmed. The circle is about 6 metres in diameter and composed of stones standing originally to a height of up to perhaps half a metre or so in some instances.

A start was made on the excavation of the north-east quadrant of the cairn which so far confirms the general structure and sequence identified in the two southern quadrants.

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

A start being made on the excavation of the north-east quadrant of the cairn. © CPAT

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24 October 2007 (Day 13)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

Composite view of the excavations at the end of Day 13. Note the circular kerb of upright stones concentric with the central burial cist and enclosing the inner core of the cairn. Outside the kerb is the base of the egg-shaped cairn superimposed upon the core and kerb. © CPAT

Dry and sunny, but cool at times. We have now just passed the mid-way point of the time allowed for excavation.

The day saw the completion of excavation of all but the lowest levels of the third quadrant of the cairn (the Gamma Quadrant), confirming the general pattern revealed during the excavation of the first two quadrants and also bringing to light a further arc of the inner kerb of upright slabs.

The day also brought more sharply into focus the contrast between the circularity of the kerb of upright stones encircling the central cist and the distinctly egg-shaped cairn superimposed upon it, though as yet we have no explanation for this.

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25 October 2007 (Day 14)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

View of the excavations from the north with Builth Wells in the Wye Valley in the middle distance © CPAT

Now half way through the dig provides the opportunity to think a bit more about the possible meaning of the location of the burial monument. It lies on a hilltop overlooking the Wye Valley but rather than being sited at the top of the hill it seems to be deliberately sited on a natural level terrace some way below the summit. A second larger burial cairn occupies another similar terrace slightly further down the hill. It therefore seems possible that the siting of both cairns is related in some way to upland land use during the Bronze Age.

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26 October 2007 (Day 15)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

View of the excavations from the south-east towards the end of Day 15 with more of upper cairn material taken away outside the kerb on the left-hand side. © CPAT

A cloudy, cool and dry day, like yesterday. The inner kerb has now been traced around most of the circumference of the cairn, though it seems likely that those on the western side have been robbed out at some date. As noted on Day 3 most of the upper cairn material has the appearance of field clearance material, suggesting an association with contemporary and possibly later land use in the immediate vicinity.

The kerb, by contrast, is of thin slabs of stone which are likely to have been specially quarried for the purpose. Likewise the large slabs which form the central cist and the capstone, and the lower inner core of the cairn, inside the kerb. It seems possible that outcrops of volcanic rock close to the cairn show indications of rocks having been prized off along fault planes in the rock (see photo).

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

Outcrop of volcanic rock about 30 metres to the south-east of the cairn. The surface of the outcrop here is more jagged in appearance than other similar outcrops in the vicinity. It appears that thin slabs of rock may have been prized from the surface of the outcrop, perhaps to form the circular kerb identified within the burial cairn. © CPAT

Clearance of the upper cairn in the north-west quadrant of the cairn gave a clearer picture of the structure of kerb and inner core. Although the cairn lies on slightly sloping ground it looks like an attempt was made to make the top of the kerb roughly horizontal around the circumference: as a consequence the kerb stones seem to be higher on the lower side than the upper. It also looks as though the cairn material inside the kerb initially formed a level platform more or less up to the tops of the kerb stones. The kerb was subsequently generally enveloped in the upper cairn material, though the tops of some of the kerb stones evidently remained exposed at the surface of the completed monument.

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29 October 2007 (Day 16)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

Oak trees on rocky outcrops next to the site. © CPAT

A cool and showery day, with two weeks (10 days) still to go.

Work continued on the removal of the base of the outer cairn material in the northern two quadrants. The stratigraphy here is proving complex, possibly due to dips in the ground surface underlying the cairn. There are also hints of one or more features in this area, below the outer cairn and to the north of the inner kerb, but hopefully we will get a clearer picture tomorrow of what is going on.

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

Trees felled in advance of an extension to the stone quarry. © CPAT

In the meantime it is interesting to speculate upon the kind of context the cairn was built in. Today, it lies on a level grassland ridge at about 290 metres above sea level, lying between rock outcrops clothed in oak and ash trees. A number of trees have recently been felled in advance of an extension to the quarry, perhaps presenting a scene not wholly dissimilar to the pioneering activities of Bronze Age farming communities in the late third and early second millennia BC!

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30 October 2007 (Day 17)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

The inner kerb viewed from the eastern side of the cairn, on Day 17. © CPAT

Mild, dry and sunny, with stunning views of the distant horizon - as far as the Black Mountains and Llangattock Mountain to the south and Gwastedyn Hill and beyond to the north.

Further clearance of the outer cairn material revealed the full circuit of the inner kerb more clearly, as shown in the accompanying photo.

Further work was also carried out to try and understand the complex stratigraphy at the base of the outer cairn noted yesterday. By the end of the day it was beginning to look as though the outer cairn is perhaps slightly deeper than we had anticipated and that we have still to reach its base.

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

The weight of a number of the stones used to build the cairn presents logisitical problems. Some are so heavy that it takes three people to roll them away. © CPAT

As you can see from the photo, some of the stones in the cairn make-up are quite formidable in size and take some effort to remove from the site. This again reinforces the effort that was taken in constructing the monument perhaps three and a half to four thousand years ago.

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31 October 2007 (Day 18)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

Removal of the base of the inner core of the cairn, inside the kerb, viewed from the north. © CPAT

Mostly mild, dry and cloudy.

Continuing from yesterday, most of the day was spent in removing the base of the inner core of the cairn, inside the kerb. The buried topsoil beneath the centre of the cairn now appears to be very thin, and many of the basal stones of the cairn (a number of which are very large) appear to have sunk through the topsoil and down to the surface of the underlying subsoil. It also appears that missing parts of the kerb are represented by either stone-holes or a foundation trench.

As you can see from the accompanying photo, many of the stones chosen for the kerb, at least on the northern side, are pointed (like dragon's teeth). Several of the stones have clearly been burnt, though it's uncertain as yet whether they were burnt before or after they were put in place.

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1 November 2007 (Day 19)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

View of the site towards the end of Day 19 showing the northern half of the inner cairn mostly removed (apart from one immovable boulder) but with the kerb stones still in place. © CPAT

Mostly mild, dry and cloudy again, but with a cool breeze at times. The inner cairn has now been largely removed from inside the kerb on the northern side of the cairn, down to the surface of the underlying soil. Work also continued on excavating parts of the sequence outside the kerb down to the subsoil surface.

We now have a better idea of the construction of the inner cairn and kerb but we still have to try and resolve the question of the dating of the upper oval cairn (see Day 13). Does it represent the intended final form of the monument, or does it represent the gradual accretion of stone clearance from surrounding fields perhaps up until historic times?

Some of the kerb stones are still quite firmly set in the ground but others appear to be either quite shallowly bedded or have collapsed. It will be interesting to see if there is any evidence of whether parts of the kerb were inherently unstable when first constructed or whether the base of some of the stones were undermined due to later erosion.

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2 November 2007 (Day 20)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

Cross section of the cairn seen from the north, with the cist at the centre and the upright stones of the kerb in the foreground. The river Wye and Builth Wells are visible in the background © CPAT

Mild, dry and cloudy. The day was largely taken up with essential recording work, especially the cross-section through the cairn, which is being drawn at a scale of 1:10. The drawing will record details of the construction of the burial mound and the relationships between its different elements such as the core of the inner cairn overyling the buried soil, the kerb, the central cist, the upper cairn overlying the inner cairn and its kerb, and the disturbances made during the excavations conducted by the Revd Owen just over 100 years ago.

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

The drawing of the cross section of the prehistoric burial monument in progress. © CPAT

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5 November 2007 (Day 21)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

The central cist, seen from the north. © CPAT

Dull, cool, cloudy, windy and wet towards the end of the day.

Further time was spent on completing the section drawing across the cairn and also on understanding more fully the soil profiles around and beneath it. It now looks as though soil had probably built up against the uphill (eastern) side of the cairn, but had eroded away from the downhill (western) side where some of the upright kerb stones surrounding the inner cairn had collapsed.

As you can see from the photo, we also checked that the central cist was actually big enough to have originally held a crouched inhumation burial. The central cist was disturbed when the monument was investigated in 1906. Although there is no record of a skeleton having been found it is likely that in any case a body would have totally disappeared due to high soil acidity.

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

Jane, who is 1.55 metres (5 foot 1 inch) tall, in a crouched position in the central cist. © CPAT

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6 November 2007 (Day 22)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

One of the better-preserved arcs of the kerb, on the uphill side of the monument, with upright slabs chocked with smaller stones. © CPAT

Variable weather, but thankfully dry.

The day was largely spent in planning, knocking out some of the unexcavated baulks now that sections have been drawn, and checking for some of the missing stones of the kerb surrounding the inner cairn and cist.

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

A less well-preserved arc of the kerb, towards the downhill side of the monument. Some of the kerb stones are still standing here, but only just, and barely have any foundation above the surface of the bedrock exposed in the foreground. © CPAT

A new discovery is a stone-filled feature on the eastern side of the cist (first clearly identified when the section was being drawn) which contains some lumps of coarse pottery. Does this represent an earlier grave? Hopefully we will learn the answer tomorrow.

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

Poorly-preserved arc of the kerb, on the downhill side, where a number of stones have completely collapsed outwards, on to the contemporary ground surface around the cairn. © CPAT

The accompanying photos illustrate the varying states of preservation of the kerb, which fortuitously provide evidence about the original form and appearance of the burial monument. The kerb stones which have collapsed altogether show firstly that when the monument was first built the circular kerb was visible around its circumference, and secondly that the upper cairn was a later (and possibly much later) addition, added after the original monument had undergone a period of weathering.

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7 November 2007 (Day 23)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

View of the excavations from the east at the beginning of Day 23. © CPAT

Mild and dry, but windy.

The photo shows the site at the beginning of the day. By the end of the day we had managed to excavated practically the whole of the inner cairn inside the circular kerb but like yesterday it had become too dark by the time we finished work to take a photo of the work we had done during the day.

The possible early grave mentioned yesterday now looks as though it may be one of the excavation trenches dug across the site in 1906 and carefully backfilled with stone which by chance just happened to coincide with one of the unexcavated baulks we had left across the site!

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8 November 2007 (Day 24)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

View of the excavations from the east early on Day 24 with the whole of the inner cairn removed from inside the kerb, with the exception of that below the displaced capstone, just behind the central cist. © CPAT

Very windy and wet. So much so that we had to abandon working after lunch - fortunately the only lost time on the dig so far.

The morning was spent in continuing the final plan of the kerb stones and also in investigating the outcrops of rock to the east of the cairn (see Day 15) which look as though they may have been quarried in the Bronze Age to obtain stones for the kerb and central cist. Hopefully we will include more on this in tomorrow's diary entry - the last day of the excavation.

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9 November 2007 (Day 25)

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

The removal of the stones of the kerb in progress on the last day of the excavation. © CPAT

As usual, the last day of the dig was very busy, but we managed to get everything done before the time we had to leave. Fortuitously, the weather was mild and dry. The oustanding tasks to be completed during the day included completing the site planning, the removal of the stones of the kerb and looking to see whether they were set in stone-holes or in a continuous foundation trench (see photo), and finishing the excavation of part of the adjacent rock outcrop to confirm the suggestion that slabs of rock similar to those in the kerb had been extracted from here.

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

Removal of the kerb stones confirmed that they were set in individual holes and then packed with smaller stones rather than in a continuous foundation trench. © CPAT

An additional task which we set ourselves was the recovery of the kerb stones, which were carefully removed from the site, numbered and wrapped. The 25 surviving stones, some of which needed 4 people to lift, probably weight in the order of 2 tonnes. It is hoped that in time it may be possible to remove them from the site and find an alternative location where the stone ring can be re-erected.

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

View of the site at the end of the dig with the kerb stones removed but with the central cist and displaced capstone still in place. © CPAT

The dig has been successful in showing the form and structure of the prehistoric burial monument and its various phases of development. In its original form we can now see that the site consisted of a central stone burial chamber or cist, covered by a large capstone which lay at the centre of a circular, flat-topped or slightly domed stone cairn of large stones laid in concentric fashion and encircled with a kerb of upright stone slabs. This cairn was subsequently overlain by a cairn of much smaller stones probably representing later field clearance, possibly during the post-medieval period, but prior to the documented excavation of the cairn by the Revd Owen in 1906 when the cist and capstone were identified. The original monument is not closely dated, though a fragment of Beaker pottery from a disturbed context possibly associated with the 1906 excavations suggests a date in the late third or early second millennium BC. The central cist seems likely to have held a crouched inhumation burial, perhaps assocated with a Beaker. However, there were no stratified finds or deposits of charcoal were present which might help us to date the construction of the original monument more precisely.

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

Wrapping and numbering the kerb stones removed from the site. © CPAT

Excavation of part of the outcrop adjacent to the site showed quite clearly that slabs of rock similar to those forming the kerb and central cist of the cairn had removed using primitive quarrying techiques, exploiting natural fault lines in the rock. The site is far removed from from recent field walls or buildings and it seems most likely that the quarrying is related to the construction of the cairn. Samples of the rock were taken which it is hoped will be suitable for cosmogenic dating, which shows the length of time that has elapsed since the rock face has been exposed. Intriguingly, this natural rock outcrop 30 metres from the cairn may provide the best evidence of when it was built!

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

Work in progress on the natural rock outcrops near the cairn which show clear evidence of quarrying. © CPAT

In conclusion it is interesting to note the changes that have taken place in the techniques and social context of excavation over the last century. In 1906 the Revd Owen, the rector of Llanelwedd between 1900-11, was successful in locating the central capstone and cist but appears to have missed the overall form and structure of the monument as well as probably disturbing the remains of the central burial perhaps without recognising what it was. Area excavation of the kind we adopted in the Llanelwedd dig, had become the standard practice by the middle of the twentieth century, as shown by Sir Cyril Fox's excavations of barrows and cairns in Wales in his Life and Death in the Bronze Age: An Archaeologist's Field Work, published in 1959.

CPAT photo, Llanelwedd, 2007

The excavation team on the last day of the dig. © CPAT
Fox, probably like the Revd Owen, employed workmen to carry out the work and from the Preface to his book we learn that he enjoyed 'the friendly contact with a couple of countrymen such as one employs for the heavy work'. In our case, the excavation team consisted of 5 people during the first three weeks, 4 during the fourth week, and five during the fifth. Those taking part were Ian Grant, Nigel Jones, Jenny Britnell and Bill Britnell of CPAT, and freelance archaeologists Jane Harris and David Vaughan. We can share with Fox, however, the rewards of working on such sites: 'In this field-work I took great pleasure. I like measuring and plotting complex structures as their pattern gradually develops: I like the isolation of a thinly populated countryside to which such work usually takes the archaeologist'.

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