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Community Archaeology

St Lythan’s Dig Diary: First week’s round-up

We have now finished our first week at St Lythan’s, and what a week it has been! We have opened all but one of our trenches, revealing the top level of the archaeology. We’ve found out a lot about this monument’s structure and have had several interesting and exciting finds. Next week, we’ll be opening the last trench, which contains the chamber contents. Although, evidence may not be stratigraphic here, we hope to find out some more about what the chamber contained. Here’s a summary of what’s been going on so far:

What an amazing first week we have had at St Lythan’s burial chamber – the weather has been good (apart from last Monday!), and we are really beginning to get a clearer picture of the structure and plan of the monument. A large trench has been opened lengthways across the mound (Trench 1), and work has been going so well here that almost the whole trench was exposed by the third day!

Day 1, Trench 1

This trench has revealed that the stone cairn material is made up of large slabs and boulders and small pebbles – probably anything that was available locally, with a possible circular feature around the chamber itself. Could this point to phases of construction of the long mound, with the round circular mound supporting the upright stones, with the longer mound added later? Hopefully as we go down through the archaeology we will be able to answer this question…

Revealing the cairn, here you can see the edge of the possible circular feature around the chamber

St Lythan’s was actually ploughed back in the 1960s, and this changing in structure may be the result of this ploughing disturbance, we have now opened a trench to the north and south of the chamber, and hope to see this circular structure continuing around the chamber, fingers crossed! In this area we have found a huge amount of glass, post-medieval and medieval pottery. Along with these finds a crematorium tag was discovered, which hints that the monument was used as a burial area right into modern times!

Crematorium Tag

We have also found several pieces of flint, and one piece of prehistoric pottery. Here’s Jane – a really superb and enthusiastic volunteer, who lives very near to St Lythan’s, holding up her flint find proudly:

Jane and her flint find!

Flint flake

At the moment we also think we may have found the edge of the mound, and along with that we have have discovered some structure within the cairn – perhaps walling designed to support the cairn material.

We think we've found the edge of the mound!

There are several areas that may be structural, but we cannot say conclusively. We continue the slow process of excavating through some areas of 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 Jerry (of Archaeology Wales) in the trench opened in the forecourt. Here he found a tiny flake of polished stone axe and some bone, which is amazing! This shows that although ploughing has occurred in the 60s, and that Lukis (an antiquarian) scraped out the chamber contents in 1875 to make a nice shelter for his greyhound(!), Neolithic material still survives, which is very good news for us.

The forecourt trench

A massive thank you to all our volunteers this week, everyone has worked so hard! Can’t wait to get back in the dirt next week, and hopefully we’ll have some more exciting finds to show you all next week….

Ffion (Cadw) and Meli (Archaeology Wales)

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.


4 thoughts on “St Lythan’s Dig Diary: First week’s round-up

  1. I have been following your progress with interest from my Cameroonian base. I am very pleased by the interesting initial results form St Lythans and that you have found the base of the cairn material intact. This offers the prospect of seeing a constructional sequence as well as getting sealed dating evidence. If you get the chance try and read Grimes’ report on Pentre Ifan which has a lot of similarities. He found pits of what he took to be small marker stones forming the outer edge of the long cairn. I am assuming that you will only take part of the long trench out to natural otherwise, otherwise you will separate the site into two halves.

    When you have finished you will be asked how you can display the full extent of the monument. A number of megalithic tombs in Cadw’s care have been remodelled following excavation, eg Tinkinswood, Pentre Ifan, Bryn Celli Ddu and Barclodiad. Each of these have a 20th century history and again you might want to read my history of Pentre Ifan to see how the debate at that site developed. It will be something interesting to discuss when I get back. Good luck with the digging and I hope the weather holds. If it is any consolation it has been hot and dry here for two weeks solid.

    Best wishes,


    Posted by Rick Turner | November 27, 2011, 6:50 pm
  2. This has been a wonderful opportunity to follow some local archaeology , thank goodness one of our group Clive, from Archaeology Cymru is working on the project otherwise we would not have known about, it well done Clive , its really given us an insight into the extent of the cairn for people who are new to Archaeology and could not imagine what was underneath , well done for proposing and applying for Lottery funding etc . We need more welsh
    projects like this !

    Posted by Ann Lowe | November 30, 2011, 11:31 am
  3. It was something I’d always wanted to do ..to be involved in a local excavation. I had the chance when I saw an article in our village newsletter. My five days on site were great fun. I really enjoyed myself meeting other local volunteers alongside experienced archeologists. I felt a little uncertain on day 1 but under the guidance of Danni I gradually ‘got my eye in’. It was a privilege to see close up some of the finds and have an explanation about what the finds might mean. By the end of day four my body told me I’d removed 20 tons of soil but the spoil tip showed otherwise! It was great fun with a friendly team. I would recommend it ; having no experience should not worry anyone. Thanks to everyone for making me feel welcome and part of the team. lets hope there are more local excavations to get involved with – assuming I’ll be invited back !

    Posted by nigel billingham | December 3, 2011, 6:06 pm


  1. Pingback: Experiencing Volunteering on Community Archaeology Projects » Day of Archaeology - June 29, 2012

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