Project Eliseg 2010

The 2010 excavations aim to provide new information to help understand the enigmatic Pillar of Eliseg by:

  • Discovering more about the mound upon which the Pillar of Eliseg now stands and its date.  Is it a reused Bronze Age barrow?
  • The excavations present a unique opportunity to explore the context of a surviving piece of early medieval stone sculpture found at or close to its original location. Our work is essential to test Nancy Edwards’s 2009 hypothesis about the role of the Pillar as a focus of an early medieval assembly and royal inauguration site.
  • Given the monument’s location on top of what might be a far older prehistoric mound, the site is a possible classic case of the manipulation of the past over time. Therefore the sequence and date of both the mound and activity around the mound are key questions for understanding the Pillar in relation to the past.
  • Given the complex medieval and post-medieval history of the Pillar within the Welsh landscape, the project will address key questions concerning the biographies of monuments, their fate within monastic landscapes and (in particular) the nature of antiquarian practice in relation to the designed and idealised landscapes of the eighteenth century.

The main objectives for the 2010 fieldwork are:

  • We hope that the excavations will allow us to understand the constructional and chronological sequence of the mound, including subsequent alterations.
  • The excavations will identify the context and relationship of the mound to other possible archaeological features in the vicinity suggested by the geophysical survey by Semple and Turner.
  • These investigations, in partnership with Cadw, will be followed by works to conserve the mound and better explain the monument to the public.

Preliminary Results from 2010

The 2010 excavation focused on the mound. Three trenches were opened to determine its make-up and to try and locate the antiquarian trench. The mound was found to consist of a stone cairn held in place by a well-preserved kerb, mainly made up of large slate slabs and rounded boulders. No dating evidence was found but the construction would be consistent with a burial monument of the Early Bronze Age. These trenches also confirmed that there was no ring-ditch around the monument. No graves or other features were discerned in the immediate surroundings of the monument.

In future research, it is hoped to investigate further possible traces of antiquarian disturbance on the west side of the mound.

A fourth trench was opened in the field to the north of the mound to investigate anomalies suggested by previous geophysical surveys conducted by Sarah Semple (Durham University) and Alex Turner (SAT Surveys), but little of archaeological significance was found.

On 31 July a very successful Open Day was held as part of the Festival of British Archaeology. About 200 people were guided round the site and other activities were centred on Valle Crucis Abbey, including displays by the ninth- and tenth-century AD re-enactment group Cwmwd Iâl attracted c. 300 visitors. There was also an artist in residence, Dr Aaron Watson, who has created a DVD photo-animation of the excavation which contains a visualisation of how the cross may originally have looked.