Amgueddfa Blog: Llanmaes Dig, 2007

Over the last few months you may have seen the Saving Treasures; Telling Stories team on social media using the hashtag ‘Finds Friday’, where we’ve been showcasing some of our wonderful treasure and non-treasure items recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme Cymru.

This month we’d like to focus on two special finds from Wales: The Abergavenny Coin Hoard and a prehistoric feasting site in Llanmaes.

Why these two finds?

Both have been nominated in a nationwide competition, held by the British Museum and The Daily Telegraph, to search for the nation’s favourite treasure item from the ‘Top 20’ list.

2017 marks the 20th anniversary since the passing of the 1996 Treasure Act and items on the ‘Top 20’ list highlight some of the most important treasure discoveries since the Treasure Act.

We might be a tad biased towards which ones we’ll be voting for, but we want to share the history behind these finds as they really do have a story to tell, or in the case of Llanmaes, an enigmatic mystery as to what was actually happening at the site. You can read about the 20 items by clicking this link, and don't forget to vote!

This is the logo for the '20 years of Treasure' competition, run by the British Museum and the Daily Telegraph.
20 Years of Treasure logo


Our first nomination on the ‘Top 20’ treasure list is a site, rather than a single group of objects. The discovery is a prehistoric feasting place and settlement, uncovered in Llanmaes, in the Vale of Glamorgan.

This important site was discovered following the reporting of a potential treasure find by two metal detectorists in 2003, and excavation continued for the next seven years by archaeologists from the National Museum of Wales, assisted by students from Cardiff University and local volunteers.

The story behind Llanmaes

The earliest remains on the site, dating to about 2150-1950 BC, are the cremated remains of an adult male, which were buried in an urn. It seems that this burial provided the focus for later settlement, which yielded treasure objects such as a gold bead. One mystery object in the shape of a great white shark’s tooth has left archaeologists puzzled. We’re not too sure where it came from or why it was left there!

By the beginning of the Iron Age (about 675 BC) this settlement had been abandoned, but the site continued to be the focus of human activity in the form of feasting, which left behind an extensive midden deposit. This is the first known example from Wales, of a class of middens representing remarkable accumulations of cultural material gathered by communities at the beginning of the Iron Age. This has revealed an extraordinary prehistoric feasting mound, containing thousands of pig bones, further feasting vessels, bronze cauldrons, pottery and axes.

Unexpectedly, nearly three-quarters of the animal bones were from pigs – a far higher proportion than is usual for such deposits, and, even more remarkable is the discovery that the majority of the pigs’ bones were from the right fore-quarter of the animal. Similarly, some of the axe-heads are of a type associated with parts of northern France, so it seems as though people were converging on Llanmaes during the Early Iron Age from a wide area to engage in cultural activities which had clear rules and accepted practices.

Feasting seems to have come to an end at the site during the Roman period, when changing cultural practices made the earlier rituals less appropriate, but evidence of continued Roman occupation suggests that it still held meaning for local people into the 4th century AD.

The community at Llanmaes were closely involved with the excavations over the years, and the National Museum’s Archaeology department brought in a number of school groups to work with artists on creative responses, such as performances, inspired by the site.

Feasting and pig bones from Llanmaes (Credit: Amguedffa Cymru)

A prehistoric site is being excavated
Llanmaes excavation

Abergavenny hoard

In April 2002 three metal-detectorists had the find of their lives in a field near Abergavenny, Monmouthshire where they found a scattered hoard of 199 silver pennies.

The Abergavenny hoard is the earliest Norman hoard from Wales and provides a vivid picture of monetary circulation in the Welsh March in the 1080s CE. It includes 130 coins of the Anglo-Saxon king Edward the Confessor (1042-66) and 69 coins of the Norman king William the Conqueror (1066-87).

Where did they come from?

Norman incursions into Gwent (present-day Monmouthshire) had followed hard on the heels of the conquest of England by Duke William in 1066 and they brought with them the habit of using coins.

The 199 silver pennies provide a rich mixture of issues of Edward the Confessor (1042-66) and William the Conqueror (1066-87); there are coins of 104 moneyers from 36 mints, with Hereford prominent.

The coins had been lost or hidden in a cloth bag, after about 1080 CE and for most people living in that time they would have represented several months’ pay. However, the lack of positive archaeological context makes it impossible to judge whether the coins had been concealed deliberately or were simply lost. We shall probably never know quite why these coins ended up in the corner of a field in Monmouthshire but, as well as expanding our knowledge of the coinage itself, they will cast new light on monetary conditions in the area after the Norman Conquest.

And there we have it, our two treasure finds on the ‘Top 20’ treasures list.

The online voting continues until May 15th, and you can vote for LLanmaes or the Abergavenny Hoard by following this link:

Contributed by CAROLINE

Today we were blessed with yet more sunshine- perhaps summer is here afterall!

Here’s an update from the trenches…

Trench 1: The largest trench

The Eastern half of trench one has been behaving itself quite well and a series of features have been revealed and their function is often evident. The majority of the features are postholes, some are shallow, while others are quite deep and have in some instances post packing intact. Some of these postholes and pits have had prehistoric pottery within them and are therefore prehistoric in date. However, not all contained dating evidence (pottery or coins etc) and so their date is unknown. It is difficult at present to determine what postholes are likely to be contemporary to each other, but hopefully when we have drawn a full plan of the trench we will see if the postholes form a pattern- rectangular, circular or otherwise. However, there are so many postholes that the pattern is so far highly confused as they seem to be from a series of structures dating from very different periods. As one person has commented, its like trying to do a puzzle without a picture. There is also quite a large curvilinear gulley which seems to have both been cut by a ditch on the one side, while the other appears to have cut an earlier ditch. While in the Western half of the trench the features are slightly more complicated. Again we seem to have two, maybe three gullies, one of which is very shallow. Two of these gullies may be at right angles to each other and one of which is cut by a later post hole. There is also a large rubble-filled ditch and another potential rubble-filled ditch about 2m away.

Trench 2: the L shaped trench

This trench is quite confusing. An extremely deep feature appears to be a natural geological hollow filled in with dumps of occupation debris from the settlement. A slot was dug down through the feature to the natural base and there appears to be a very substantial glacial fill at the base of this hollow. In one area this pit/natural hollow appears to have been cut by a later shallow pit, which was filled with a high concentration of ash and iron objects. There are also a series of postholes, but these do not seem to make up any discernable structures.

Trench 3

This trench was intended for exposing and excavating a sample of the enclosure ditch which appears to have been cut during the middle-late Iron Age. The ditch is approximately 1.3m deep and encloses a sizeable area – creating such a feature would have taken a lot of effort, manpower and time. The ditch appears to have then become naturally filled in with soil, washed or blown in from elsewhere. Then in the 2nd or 3rd century AD, it was recut, this time much shallower than before and therefore less substantial and not so impressive but again this may have formed a defensive function or possibly demonstrating the resources of the inhabitants. Alongside there was a large area of rubble which was initially believed to be the remnants of a bank( banks quite often accompany ditches), but has since proved to be otherwise. This rubble is instead derived from a series of rubble-filled features, a number of which have now been exposed. There are also 2 pit like features which are similar in character to each other. The southern most of these ditches has clearly been cut by the ditch, we can therefore say that the pit is earlier than the ditch.


Today good fortune was with us again with amazing sunshine. We had a visit from 14 year 7 school children and their teacher from Llantwit Major Comprehensive, the site visit took place between 9 until 1pm. The fieldtrip was not compulsory, instead the children volunteered to visit Llanmaes, I asked Kirsty whether her reasons for visiting Llanmaes was to skip lessons but instead Kirsty seemed genuinely interested in visiting the site and is very interested in history. Kirsty has visited the site before and so it is very encouraging that she wished to visit again, perhaps we have a budding archaeologis? Another student- Yegor seemed to be enjoying his first visit to the site.

The students were taught how to use a dumpy level, and using angles and height measurements helped us position canes to plot out the outline of the enclosure surrounding the site. This helps us and the school children to visually see its shape and grand scale. Again these students were from geography class and following their visit are expected to write up a small report about their visit, about what they enjoyed and learnt. Photographs and video footage accompany the students visit today. The children were expected to use the dumpy level to lay out correct angles and to determine the height of the staff and using tape measures.

One student Becky has had previous experience with archaeology having once been a member of a Young Archaeologists Club in Shetland, she was a member of the club for 2 years and made many new friends. Found pottery and recreated the pot where possible. Becky learnt about prehistory, and the work of an archaeologist. Two years a member. Made new friends at the club. Becky has very much enjoyed learning about archaeology at Llanmaes and at the club in Shetland which was held during school time. When at the club Becky considered becoming an archaeologist, but its been two years now since she left the archaeology club (because she moved house) and Becky has changed her career choice to being hopefully a beautician with her own business.

3 groups of year seven geography students have now visited us at Llanmaes, 2 in one day previously and today just one group, this is however the last. Next week follow up activities are planned at their school. These activities include art, poetry, music and creative writing. An afternoon of creative writing is planned following their visit to the site. The children are expected to write about what life may have been like for the inhabitants during the prehistoric and roman era. The Welsh poet of the year is coming in to help the children create poetry and a musician (a drummer) is visiting to carry out music workshops. These visits to the site are intended as a way of archaeology forging links with the community and giving the children an insight as to what it is like to be an archaeology student. The site visit has been very much cross curricular in nature, particularly for history and geography. This was intended mainly as a geography fieldtrip as the children are learning to appreciate why the inhabitants would have chosen to occupy this site. They will also look at aerial photographs to understand how archaeologists often find sites through cropmarks as well as see the settlement in its wider landscape setting in terms of nearby features such as brroks and drainage of the soil, relief, temperature and climate.

Contributed by CAROLINE

Today’s open day was a great success, there were many visitors to the site, of all ages. It was good to see familiar faces of those who had visited in previous year(s). The visitors brought good fortune to the site- marvellous sunshine; something which has been greatly missed this year at Llanmaes!

We would like to thank those who cam to the site firstly for bringing us good weather and secondly for allowing us to share our excitement and interest of the past with a keen audience. We hope to see you again next year!


The students visited the site as a geography field trip. However, it also it also covered subjects such as art, science, biology and history. Today the students were making clay huts replicating Iron Age Roundhouses. The students were shown around the site and shown post holes and a hearth forming a roundhouse as inspiration for their Iron Age roundhouses of clay.

Last year (then in year 6 of primary school) the same students visted the site, looking at the spoil heap and sieving for finds. Today they were learning more in depth about the structural elements of Iron Age roundhouses, particularly their entrances and the positioning of the hearth in the centre of the roundhouse.

The weather was particularly bad and a temporary hut was constructed using posts and tarpaulin. Unfortunately the archaeologists weren’t so lucky and had to continue digging in the rain while the comprehensive students made clay huts under shelter…

Site visit was 2 hours long, involved a site tour and creative tasks. The students from this year’s year 7 are hoping to come again when in year 8.