Public Archaeology in Fragments, by Howard Williams (The 2017 Public Archaeology Twitter Conference)

This presentation explores the challenges of Project Eliseg’s (2010–present) public archaeology. Investigating what transpired to be a multi-phased Early Bronze Age kerbed cairn surmounted by a 9th-century round-shafted cross with a long Latin inscription, Project Eliseg explored the complex biography of the Pillar of Eliseg (Denbighshire, Wales) from prehistory to the present. The cairn and cross were incorporated into the Cistercian monastic landscape during the 13th-16th centuries, and the sculpted cross was pulled down/fell down and fragmented in the 17th century. In the late 18th century, the mound was dug into and a skeleton found before the cross fragments were ‘restored’ and re-inscribed by local squire Trevor Lloyd. Subsequently, the Pillar became a romantic ruin and an enduring landmark down to the present day connected to a network of ancient and historic monuments in the Vale of Llangollen, including Valle Crucis Abbey, Castell Dinas Brân, Llangollen and Plas Newydd.

Between 2010 and 2012, three seasons of field investigation by Bangor and Chester universities sought to better understand the mound beneath the Pillar, drawing on university students and local volunteers and incorporating a range of outreach activities. In the context of current debates in public mortuary archaeology, the presentation reviews the public archaeological dimensions of the field seasons and subject research, before identifying specific challenges in communicating and engaging the public locally, nationally and internationally through fieldwork, museum displays, public talks and digital media. The specific hurdles included how to engage the public in prehistoric cremated human remains, the multi-phased nature of the Bronze Age kerbed cairn, as well as the fragmentary and heavily worn fragments of the cross upon it. The presentation critiques our public outreach endeavors and identifies key lessons for future public archaeology focusing on textual, cenotaphic and fragmentary traces of the dead and monumental biographies.

#PATC 1 Archaeologists often debate displays of skellies/ mummies: but what of public archaeology via mortuary & memorial fragments?

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01b#PATC 2 Project Eliseg faces challenge of engaging public with a multi-period, multi-media unique fragmented monument: “Eliseg’s Pillar”

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#PATC 3 Dig shows monument’s story from Bronze Age–present. Mound = multi-phased cairn with kerb of stones & cremation burials in cists

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#PATC 4 Cross w/ Latin text raised early 9thC AD by King Cyngen of Powys, honoring his great-grandad Eliseg, memories of battle & lineage

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#PATC 5 Surviving the demise of Cyngen’s dynasty & Powys, the cross acquired fame & gave its name to nearby Cistercian abbey: Valle Crucis

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#PATC 6 The cross fell down in 17th century, but recorded by antiquarians & dug then restored and inscribed by local squire: Trevor Lloyd

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#PATC 7 By 19th C: tourist attraction. Later scheduled – fences, sign + guidebook but remains enigma and inaccessible to many

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#PATC 8 Images, replicas & art of Pillar instead found thru Vale of Llangollen, experienced more than visits to monument! Pillar DISTRIBUTED

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#PATC 9 Pillar has become very prominent via 2 heritage exhibitions outside locality: the Offa’s Dyke Centre, Knighton & Caernarfon Castle

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#PATC 10 Project Eliseg’s research linked to multiple outreach strategies + informing Cadw heritage management & interpretation 2010–present

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#PATC 11 2017: informed by Project Eliseg, 2 heritage boards installed, one at Valle Crucis, one at Pillar. Problematic/confusing narratives

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#PATC 12 Fragmented & distributed nature of Pillar still blessing & curse for public, story & landscape context remains untold

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