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Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Summer drought in south and west Wales reveals new archaeological sites

There were more archaeological surprises this year for the Royal Commission’s aerial archaeologist, as  widespread hot weather in June and July parched grasslands and showed ‘cropmarks’ in ripening fields of wheat. 

Figure 1: Right place, right time. Known cropmark of an Iron Age defended enclosure (upper centre) north of Cardigan, photographed from the air as it is harvested. In an hour or two the site will be cropped, and will disappear until the next dry summer (Crown Copyright RCAHMW, 23 July 2014).
Dr Toby Driver explained:  ‘Despite the hot weather, frequent rain showers in many parts of Wales meant that cropmarks and parchmarks did not develop everywhere. Only in the south and west, across Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Glamorgan did the persistent drought reveal scores of prehistoric and Roman sites. Parchmarks of the Roman road running west of Carmarthen, as far as Wiston in Pembrokeshire, were seen for the first time since 1994 showing just how dry it got in the south-west.’

Dr Driver continued. ‘At the Royal Commission we have to be responsive to changing weather and crop conditions each summer. As the photo of the enclosure north of Cardigan shows, an hour either side of a flight can make the difference between obtaining a permanent record of a cropmark, or missing it completely.’

Figure 2: The Roman road west of Carmarthen, showing as a parched line approaching Whitland for the first time since 1994 (Crown Copyright RCAHMW, 30 July 2014).
Pembrokeshire held the most surprises, which was astonishing given the number of discoveries made across the county in the 2013 summer drought . As the dry summer of 2014 wore on, this coastal landscape yielded yet more unrecorded prehistoric sites. Close by the Rhoscrowther oil refinery in south Pembrokeshire a splendid concentric prehistoric defended enclosure was discovered in a field of ripening wheat. New defended enclosures of Iron Age or Romano-British type and plough-levelled Bronze Age barrows were recorded near Dale, near Broadhaven, and along the north coast near Carreg Sampson chambered tomb, Trefin.

Figure 3: The ghostly outline of a new Iron Age concentric enclosure near Rhoscrowther, south Pembrokeshire (AP_2014_3228, Crown Copyright RCAHMW, 22 July 2014)

AdFigure 4: Spectacular colours accompanied further discoveries of enclosures and hillforts close to Dale in south Pembrokeshire (AP_2014_3294, Crown Copyright RCAHMW, 22 July 2014).

A number of new sites were also discovered in south Wales, and included an unexpected prehistoric enclosure on a rocky headland at Oxwich on Gower, just south-east of the famous Oxwich Castle.

Figure 5. General view of Oxwich Castle, Gower, with cropmarks of the new defended enclosure in the right foreground (Crown Copyright RCAHMW, 23 July 2014).
Work back in the office to catalogue and record these discoveries will continue at the Royal Commission well into the winter months.

See our online gallery of aerial photographs for further images from our collections.

                                                                                                                             Toby Drive

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