A Research Framework for the Archaeology of Wales

National Seminar Paper, 4th September 2004 – Early Medieval



1. Introduction


The early medieval period in Wales embodies a process of fundamental social, political and economic transition from which – in language, human landscapes, culture and belief - the recognisable beginnings of Wales itself first emerged.


While the broad outlines of that story have traditionally been – correctly or otherwise – stitched together from scant historical sources, the independent archaeological investigation of the early medieval era remains relatively little developed.  Perhaps surprisingly, post war archaeological developments such as the systematic use of aerial photography, new dating techniques, palaeo-environmental studies and the growth of metal detecting have not significantly impacted on the available resource of early medieval archaeological data in Wales.  Even the exciting excavation work that has been done in the last 40 years (e.g. ranging from the contrasting settlements at Dinas Powys, Llangorse crannog, and Llanbedrgoch to ecclesiastical/cemetery sites such as Capel Maelog and Capel Fraid) has served more to point up the inadequacies of our wider knowledge than to inform a rounded archaeological picture of the period (although certainly demonstrating the archaeological potential for such broader insight).


It is against this background that the research agenda has been developed – in essence, while there is a pressing need for a coordinated plan of study, the existing state of knowledge means that the agenda must still accommodate some fairly basic questions.


2. A Provisional Research Agenda


2.1 Themes







2.2 Current Weaknesses






·         Lack of an integrated picture of the economic and subsistence context of the period or of the wider EM environment



2.3 Research Questions









2.4 Approaches


2.4.1 Analytical background






2.4.2 Data handling and management of the potential EM archaeological resource





2.4.3 New research work


-          Continuing excavation of known sites where partial excavation has already occurred

-          Targeted excavation of other areas where EM remains are likely or known (e.g. domestic sites in the vicinity of ecclesiastical sites, early English settlement suggested by place-name evidence)

-          Pro-active survey/evaluation programmes of possible EM settlement foci (backward projection from later cantref, commote and parish boundaries)


-          Undertake area excavation of ‘Prehistoric’ enclosure/hillfort sites where EM occupation is likely (e.g. multivallate promontory forts in the SW)

-          Excavation on Llysoedd/Maerdrefi sites to establish evidence for/nature of EM origins

-          Undertake modern archaeological excavation of late Roman settlement/military sites


-          Develop EM components of environmental survey work in areas with high potential (e.g Severn tidal zone, Offa’s/Wat’s dykes)

-          Develop programmes of  palaeo-environmental research to geographically tie into known areas of EM settlement activity


-          Survey/evaluation of possible ecclesiastical sites suggested by historical evidence

-          Sample excavation of curvilinear church yards for dating/structural evidence

-          Archaeological exploration of areas around in-situ inscribed stones


-          Develop research recommendations of Cadw/CPAT short dykes project

-          Programmes of survey and excavation to build on existing Offa’s Dyke Project work

-          Pursue identification of Viking and Anglo-Saxon artefacts types/site identification (portable antiquities scheme etc.)



Note – This draft version of the agenda had not been ratified by other EM group members at the time of the September 4th 2004 seminar meeting, and may therefore be subject to some further revision.



Paper prepared by: Ian Bapty  (Clwyd Powys Archaeologial Trust), August 2004


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