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Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Archaeology and the Sea: Aberystwyth hosts CBA Wales Spring Meeting

On Saturday 5th April CBA (Council for British Archaeology): Wales held its Spring Meeting at Y Morlan Centre, Aberystwyth. The theme was Archaeology and the Sea: Coastal Archaeology in Wales. The Royal Commission provided exhibition material, including a display on Aberystwyth’s storm-damaged Bathrock Shelter and aerial photographs of the coastal davastation caused by the recent storms of 2014.

CBA-sponsered Community Archaeologists, Kimberly Briscoe and Sarahjayne Clements, were on hand to discuss their current community project, The Coastal Heritage of Borth and Ynyslas. Both are completing CBA-sponsered work placements with the Royal Commission. The project has proved hugely popular, with an ever-increasing number of Borth and Ynyslas residents (past and present) eager to participate and to contribute memories, photographs and documents. Material generated will be added to the National Monuments Record (NMR) and uploaded to People’s Collection Wales, creating a permanent digital record. The project’s facebook page can be found at

The Royal Commission’s CBA work placements, Kimberley and Sarahjayne, discuss the coastal heritage of Borth and Ynyslas

During the afternoon’s symposium, Mike Roberts (Bangor University) detailed current research on the history of north Wales’ sea level change, including the fascinating results of a multibeam sonar survey of the entire Anglesey coast. A causeway linking Anglesey to the mainland is now thought to have been submerged for the first time at around  8,400BP. Stephen Briggs (independent researcher) then gave an informative talk about the remains of ancient landscapes beneath the beach at Llanrhystud. Various recently exposed features include post-glacial peat deposits and parts of a cobbled track thought to be associated with nearby post-medieval limekilns. Paul Huckfield (Gwent-Glamorgan Archaeological Trust) reviewed recent discoveries on the south Wales coast revealed by the 2014 storms. They  include a cemetery at Monknash, two canon at Porthcawl and a number of ship wrecks, discovered as a result of the Welsh Archaeological Trusts’ Arfordir scheme. The pan-Wales scheme brings together local volunteers to record and moniter their coastal heritage and incorporate the results into the regional Historic Environment Records. One of the shipwrecks, identified through the Royal Commission’s Maritme Database, is thought to be that of the iron-hulled Ben-y-Gloe, wrecked on its maiden voyage from Penarth in 1886.

The Royal Commission’s Maritime Officer, Deanna Groom, then explained the Commission’s leading role in the recording, curating and supplying of information regarding Wales’ maritime heritage. The Commission’s 9498 Maritime records comprise around 9% of the entire National Monuments Record. They include coastal and intertidal features, submerged landscape features, historic seascape features, 6000+ shipwrecks and 349 downed aircraft.

Royal Commission Maritime Officer, Deanna Groom, talks about Wales’ rich maritime archaeology

Deanna also outlined recent work with Kimberley and Sarahjayne on the Royal Commission and Cadw’s Shipwrecks Project, designed to investigate the wider impact of the Royal Charter Gale of 1859. The Royal Charter was one of 50+ vessels driven onto the Welsh coast by the gale. The project involved working with Welsh Baccalaureate students from Pembrokeshire College, engaging them with the story of the storm and their local maritime heritage. The project also demonstrated how local resources can be used for research, with Pembrokeshire Archives facilitating a ‘treasure hunt’ across shipping registers, burial records and census returns. Material generated by the project can be viewed by visiting ‘The Great Storm of 1859’ and ‘Pembrokeshire Shipwrecks Project’ on the freshly relaunched People’s Collection Wales website.

Some of the items uploaded by the Royal Commission to People’s Collection Wales as part of ‘The Great Storm of 1859’ collection

The afternoon’s final speaker was Martin Bates (University of Wales Trinity St David, Lampeter), who discussed the results of recent archaeological investigation at Borth and Clarach. Recent coastal change, coupled with this year’s storms, has revealed extensive prehistoric peat exposures, within which are contemporary organic remains and animal and human (including a child’s) footprints. At Borth, a combination of survey, sampling and archaeological excavation has facilitated far greater understanding of the foreshore’s underlying geology and the reconstruction of its post-glacial landscape.

The event proved a great success, providing an informative insight into the wealth of archaeology located around Wales’ coastline, as well as highlighting its fragile and precarious nature.

By Nikki Vousden

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