Llanmaes Archaeological Fieldwork, Vale of Glamorgan

staff: Adam Gwilt, Mark Lodwick and Jody Deacon, with Ken Brassil [with Dr Tim Young (GeoArch)]
Handles and straps from cauldrons and bowls found at Llanmaes. Cauldrons were large bronze vessels used during feasts.
Handles and straps from cauldrons and bowls found at Llanmaes. Cauldrons were large bronze vessels used during feasts.

In 2003, two metal-detectorists discovered and reported a highly unusual metalwork assemblage of bronze cauldron fragments and axes made in north-west France. Investigation of the site, initially as a possible treasure find, revealed the existence of the residues of a feasting site, captured within a rich cultural midden deposit. Belonging to the beginning of the Iron Age (800-600BC), this is the first known example from Wales, finding parallel with a newly discovered class of middens across southern England. These 'islands' of abundance and complexity, offer an unparalleled window onto this poorly understood Bronze to Iron Age transition.

Continuing geophysical surveys and excavations (each year since 2003) have sought to investigate at least 25% of the midden and its associated settlement activity. This has revealed a wealth of environmental evidences (pig bones, plant remains, soil structures), pottery, metalwork and human bone. Thirteen bronze cauldrons and bowls, 37 axes, imported metalwork and the exceptional 79% pig bone (feasting meat) suggest that this was an exceptional gathering place with intensive feasting, exchanges and burial events taking place over many centuries (800-10 BC). Such a signature is unique, the research and findings being of international significance. A complex of pits, post-holes, hearths and roundhouses spanning the Middle to Late Bronze Age have also been found beneath the midden. Ongoing survey work has established the presence of a nearby Early Bronze Age cemetery of circular barrow monuments and a large Iron Age enclosure defined by an internal bank and ditch. These are possible factors for locating the feasting place here. Preliminary excavation of the latter in 2007 revealed an intensively occupied site, settled from the Late Bronze Age onwards until the late Roman period. Fieldwork will continue until 2009-10, after which a major post-excavation research programme will be initiated, leading to final publication as a research monograph, with interim journal papers being generated along the way.

This project has benefited from close relations with the land-owner and the people of Llanmaes. Ken Brassil has led a linked schools archaeology project and co-ordinated a series of learning and creative engagements. This has extended the reach of this project and fed broader learning and access objectives, projects & presentations, exhibitions and Welsh Assembly Government agendas.