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Community Archaeology

Final Dig Diary for St Lythans

View along the long cairn towards the chamber

So, that’s it, we have finished our excavations at St Lythans! It has been an absolutely fantastic few weeks and we have found some amazing finds and discovered a lot about the monument. We have had an amazing time, have been extremely lucky with the weather (thanks to Ffion and her appeasing the weather gods!), met some fantastic people and made some exciting discoveries. Here’s a round up of what we have unearthed at this wonderful monument:

At the end of last week we had opened several trenches on the mound itself, including one running the length of the monument and two cutting across the width of the cairn. These showed us that the cairn was originally 30m in length and about 12m wide, constructed from locally collected limestone slabs and boulders. The cairn material was carefully laid on the ground, with the edges of the monument defined by a low revetment (dry stone walling). This revetment was very poorly preserved unfortunately, but was just about identifiable at the western end of the cairn. The upper surface of the cairn had been badly damaged from many thousands of years of robbing and more recent episodes of ploughing (we found a broken piece of a plough on the surface of the cairn!!) and what we saw in our trenches was probably only the lowest levels of the original monument, however it is clear that this was a substantial structure. We excavated through a section of the monument, the south-western corner, to investigate the structure and found that it comprised a single layer of stones and slabs laid on top of what appears to be a low earthen mound. We have taken lots of samples of this mound material and hope to be able to get dating and environmental information from them.


The end of the long cairn before we excavated it

The section cut through the cairn - the earthen mound is clearly seen below the layer of stones

At the eastern end of the monument we opened a large trench to investigate the forecourt area in front of the chamber and the structure of the cairn surrounding the chamber. We also excavated through the upper surface of the cairn in the area immediately behind the rear chamber upright to further investigate the structure of the cairn. The cairn here is very different from at the western end, comprising a substantial structure made up of large boulders and slabs. Several of the slabs are set at a 45° angle and are positioned up against the outer side of the chamber uprights acting as support for the uprights which were probably set onto the original ground surface – we were not able to investigate this though. Our initial thoughts are that the cairn immediately surrounding the chamber was probably constructed first, with the long cairn added later.

Our investigations in the forecourt area revealed some really interesting information about the structure and use of the monument. The cairn the to south of the chamber entrance would have been defined by a façade constructed from dry stone walling that was built up against the outer edge of the cairn surrounding the chamber. This façade would have extended either side of the chamber and would have formed a striking feature similar to that at Tinkinswood. The façade appears to have collapsed forward into the forecourt area at some point, although today Gavin, our rock star volunteer (shady past life as a member of a punk band!) found a small fragment of intact walling which is absolutely fantastic! The façade material had collapsed over a layer of stones that had been used to block the entrance to the chamber when it had gone out of use. Unfortunately this part of the monument has been really badly disturbed, probably as a result of the clearance of the chamber in the 1800s and its subsequent use as a shelter and scratching post by cows! Despite the disturbance we have made some absolutely amazing finds in this area, including Neolithic pottery fragments, the fragment of a bone needle, struck flint and human bone and teeth. We think that most of these artefacts probably came from the chamber and ended up spread out across the area in front of the chamber as a result of Lukis’ clearance. Hopefully a specialist will be able to give us a definite date for the pottery, but it looks (to our untrained eyes) to be early Neolithic. The flint we have found certainly is early Neolithic in date, which is very exciting!

The forecourt area in front of the chamber - the facade is just visible as a line of thin upright slabs running left to right in the centre of the image, the chamber blocking is the stones in the foreground

The facade in the forecourt - the intact facade slabs are in the centre of the image lying flat, the collapsed section is immediately to the left and partly overlying the intact section (it is, I promise!!)

The really exciting find was the pre-monument ground surface below the edge of the cairn which contains charcoal. We will be able to get some radiocarbon dates from this charcoal that will tell us exactly when the cairn was built which is absolutely fantastic!

So, now the excavation is finished we will start to think about the post-excavation analysis and dating and will hopefully be able to increase our understanding of the monument even more. We will keep the blog updated on our progress so keep checking in!

Oh, and for anyone who missed our appearance on Country Focus on BBC Wales this morning, you can catch it here http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b017cjr6/Country_Focus_04_12_2011/ – available until 11th december!

Meli (Archaeology Wales) and Ffion (Cadw)


4 thoughts on “Final Dig Diary for St Lythans

  1. Fantastic well done , a friend and I were going to make our way over to St Lythans tomorrow not realising you were finished, will there be anything to see .

    Posted by Ann Lowe | December 4, 2011, 9:49 pm
    • Hi Anne. We will be backfilling the final trenches today so there wont be much of the excavation to see unfortunately, but we will be there to give you a tour if you would like! Meli

      Posted by ameliaarchwales | December 5, 2011, 8:36 am
  2. Missing it all already . . . man with dubious past . . .

    Posted by Gavin King | December 6, 2011, 9:06 am
  3. Well done everybody and thanks for letting me be part of it all.

    Posted by monasticdave | December 6, 2011, 11:11 am

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Manchester Metropolitan University

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