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Community Archaeology

Welcome to the dig diary!

Excavations began around Tinkinswood this week and it’s been very exciting! We have dug trenches in the two possible fallen burial chambers, and dug some test pits in the quarry. So far we have found a number of finds. It’s still hard to tell conclusively what we are dealing with, but our knowledge of the site is already being transformed. Here’s a summary of what’s been going on so far:

What a fantastic first week we have had at Tinkinswood – the sun has shone every day and we are starting to find some interesting archaeology on all three sites under investigation. Trenches across possible Cromlech one, closest to Tinkinswood burial chamber itself, have revealed what looks like stone cairn material made up of smallish boulders and pebbles, with some larger boulders forming a rough arc through the centre of one trench.

Possible chamber 2 being planned by one of our lovely volunteers, Manon Jenkins

At the moment we think this might be some form of structure within the cairn – perhaps walling designed to support the cairn material or the walls of a chamber or cist within the cairn. This possible monument has been quite badly disturbed, with stone probably robbed to build the adjacent field boundary and tree roots penetrating into the stone cairn, and so most of the finds we have made have been fairly modern in date, including glass, pottery and bone dating from the late eighteenth century onwards.

Yesterday, however, Anne (one of our fantastic volunteers) found a small rounded beach pebble that had been used as a hammerstone, probably for flint knapping – our first prehistoric find from this area! We will be continuing to carefully excavate the cairn material and reveal the possible structure over the next few days. Hopefully we will soon know more about the date of the possible monument, what it looked like and what it was used for.

Two trenches have been opened across possible Cromlech 2, in the field adjacent to Tinkinswood Farm, and we already have quite a sizable collection of prehistoric material, including Bronze Age pottery, flakes of worked flint and flint tools of Neolithic date and a Mesolithic microlith (a type of tool that would have been used to make arrows or knives by hunter gatherers).

A sherd of Bronze Age pottery from possible chamber 2

The Mesolithic microlith from Chamber 2

The Neolithic scraper from possible chamber 2

Two small fragments of cremated bone have also been found. All of this material has come from the upper surface of the stone cairn that was found just inches below the modern ground surface.

Possible Chamber 2, showing the two open trenches

This cairn has been very badly damaged, and only appears to survive on the southern side of the monument. We have been able to identify kerb stones defining the outer edge of the cairn (four of which survive), and the cairn itself was constructed using large slabs and boulders and small pebbles – probably anything that was available locally. No structure has yet been identified, but we have started the slow process of excavating through the cairn material and we hope to have a better idea of how the cairn was built and what it originally looked like very soon. A particularly exciting find was made by Barry (another of our fantastic volunteers) in the trench positioned outside the surviving cairn – a charcoal filled posthole. We have only revealed the top of this so far, but will be excavating it this weekend. Fingers crossed for some Neolithic material!

The possible quarry site (in the woods adjacent to the footpath) is puzzling, not at all what we were expecting! We thought that our test pits would cut through a thin layer of topsoil and subsoil and reveal the top of the bedrock where, we hoped, evidence for the removal of stone to make the Tinkinswood capstone would be found. Instead, we have three very deep test pits and no evidence for stone working!

The quarry site under excavation

One test pit did produce a lovely worked beach pebble – this had two flakes struck from opposite sides of one end and was probably used as a crude chopping tool. It is really difficult to date this tool because it is so crude and it could have been made and used anytime in the prehistoric period. One of the test pits produced an unexpected find late on Wednesday afternoon – an animal burial lying on the top of the natural bedrock. At the moment only the end of two legs are visible but we think it is a sheep or a pig. The bone is fairly old, probably medieval in date. Our fourth test pit is looking more promising, although it is still early days. In this one we have found burnt stones close to one of the possible quarried rock faces – perhaps evidence for fire setting to shatter the stone? This test pit has also produced a small sherd of prehistoric pottery, similar to that found in possible Cromlech 2, so we are hopeful that we have found an area of prehistoric working. This test pit will be continued over the weekend and we will open several more in our continued search for quarrying evidence.

A site view

A huge thanks to all our volunteers who have been fantastic this week. We look forward to seeing some of you again and to welcoming new people over the next week. Fingers crossed we have more exciting finds to report next week!

Meli (Archaeology Wales) and Ffion (Cadw)

About FfionR

I’m Ffion, Honorary Research Fellow at Cardiff University and Heritage and Arts Manager for Cadw, the historic environment service for the Welsh Government. At Cadw, my role is to oversee projects that link heritage with the arts, inspire new ways of engaging people with our built environment and to link people with their local heritage and archaeology.


8 thoughts on “Welcome to the dig diary!

  1. A sheep or a pig! That is the “My Little Pony’ trench I’ll have you know! 😉

    In all seriousness, it has been a brilliant first week. With luck, the following week will be productive out of the quarry area where we have the opportunity to extend test pit four; if the need presents itself of course. Saying that, all four test pits have produced a find of some sort.

    The crude chopping tool that has been mentioned was found in test pit two and it can be viewed here http://tinyurl.com/5rnb9pr , You’ll have to excuse the quality of the pics they were rushed at the end of the day and taken with my camera phone!


    Posted by monasticdave | October 27, 2011, 1:54 pm
  2. From where I am sitting in Cameroon everything looks like it is going great. I am really glad you have found both possible Neolithic structures and finds and that a landscape is emerging around the main cairn. I am also impressed by the weather, but I suspect it is a bit warmer here. Keep up the good work and I will follow your next moves.


    Posted by Rick Turner | November 1, 2011, 1:57 pm
  3. Well done and best wishes! I’ll follow your findings with interest.

    My personal interest has always been primarily in Tinkinswood’s location, rather than what may lie under the ground. Why it was put in that precise spot – exactly a quarter of the way along a line between the Vale’s most easterly (Penarth Head) and westerly (Hutchwns Point) extremities (though some erosion has taken place at Hutchwns Point). (Check it on the map!) What is today Cowbridge Church lies at the midpoint of this line making Tinkinswood equidistant from the site of Cowbridge Church and Penarth Head, which suggests that Cowbridge may have been settled in Neolithic times. All my work on Tinkinswood – and the arrangement of Neolithic sites generally is at http://ansari.org.uk/Tinkinswood/The%20Great%20Cairn%20at%20Tinkinswood.htm

    Posted by Peter Sain ley Berry | November 1, 2011, 3:06 pm
  4. I am too a searcher for the truth. I agree there are areas around Tinkinswood that have seemingly obvious remains of standing stones/burial chambers and are worth checking out, but what you have done to the trees surrounding tinkinswood burial chamber itself is nonsensical, and in essence … vandalism.
    There is no evidence for anything major in that little patch of woodland but you have decided to tear it up and cut down trees older than yourselves. Tinkinswood was once a peaceful, sanctuary from the stresses of life and the elements.
    After sitting in my usual spot on top of the capstone last weekend, it is apparent that you have ruined the whole feel of this sacred place. WHY did these trees have to come down? There is no digging in the wooded area or even plans to, so WHY tear the trees down? If it is so you had more light then in my mind that is not a worthy reason, ruining decades of nature for a couple of weeks of more light.
    Now when you sit for a moments peace on the capstone, you are battered by the wind due to the removal of the natural shelter of the trees. Was it really necessary to organise so many clearings? Your man/womanpower would never have had the time to explore all of the sites you deemed worthy to raze to the ground.
    To the people who visit Tinkinswood regularly and are offended by the hit and hope archaeology going on at one of our most sacred places, I urge you to make your thoughts heard. Archaeology is rarely the search for truth anymore, more the search for personal fame and gain.

    Posted by Myke Morgan | November 7, 2011, 11:52 am
    • Dear Myke,

      I’m very sorry to hear that you have been feeling this way about the project.

      I wanted to explain what we have been doing at Tinkinswood. To begin, the tree clearance has been necessary to protect the monument itself. The trees were encroaching on the monument so much, that you couldn’t tell where the monument finished and the trees began. Working alongside a woodland ecologist, Cadw have created a 2 metre area around the monument, making sure that tree roots do not disturb and destroy the dry stone revetment wall and the cairn, both of which are major features of a Cotswold-Severn style monument like Tinkinswood. The trees which have been removed were young saplings, mostly of hawthorn. We have also removed trees to create a vista towards Barry and the Waycock Valley, to enable visitors to experience what the site would have been like in its original Neolithic setting when the woodland would not have existed. These monuments were built in clearings around 6000 years ago. The woodland behind the chamber was re-planted after an earlier felling – due to similar conservation reasons in the 1980s.

      Check out this Coflein link, which has aerial shots of Tinkinswood – one from around the 1980s – showing the extent of the clearance back then, it doesn’t take long for nature to take over:


      Our project and clearance works have been planned and organised. All our research objectives and questions have now been resolved. We understand now what is going on around Tinkinswood, boardening our knowledge of this area.

      I hope this helps

      Best wishes, Ffion

      Posted by Ffion Cadw | November 13, 2011, 3:20 pm
  5. Hi Ffion,

    I appreciate you taking the time to reply to me. I completely understand the fact that the landscape itself has changed over the years and centuries but that doesn’t silence the fact that the whole place feels different now.
    Maybe it will get it’s personality back once it is returned to normal and mother nature heals her new scars. I respect your opinions but I also must uphold my own, would it have been so terrible for roots to go through Tinkinswood? In my mind the burial chamber was built as part of the earth, not an addition to it, so roots running through it would add to its link to mother earth. I believe, as with all these (as most refer to as) ‘monuments’ that once a dig has been done, things should return to their original state. If your future grave was desecrated in this way, multiple times, I don’t think you’d be well rested in the afterlife, as well as your descendants being a bit miffed also. I am not a crazy person, I just have my own beliefs and in the same way that I respect other people’s right to their beliefs, I believe when it comes to something like this (the digs), in my mind there should be an opportunity for people who visit these sites regularly, to object. Maybe in the same way planning permission is granted, ie putting up notices of intent beforehand.



    Posted by Myke Morgan | November 14, 2011, 8:58 am


  1. Pingback: Experiencing volunteering on community archaeology projects » Day of Archaeology - June 29, 2012

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