Project Eliseg 2012

The full 2012 interim report can be downloaded here as a pdf.Elise 2012 Report FINAL

Project Eliseg 2012

The third season of fieldwork by Project Eliseg took place between 26 August – 15 September 2012. The excavations consisted of a single trench measuring 5m × 6m in size located on the western side of the monument. The position of this trench incorporated parts of Trenches A and D, previously opened during 2010 and 2011. Only a portion of the exposed excavation area was taken down to the natural subsoil to establish a full profile through the monument. A standing section was established along the south-facing section of 2011 trench edge. The top western edge of this trench was stepped at no more than 45 degrees and to a maximum depth of 1m. The full extent and depth of excavation was agreed with the Cadw regional Inspector during the course of the excavation.

The purpose of this excavation was to: (1). Resolve the stratigraphical sequence of monument construction. (2). Excavate and record a possible long-cist grave identified in section in the top of the cairn during 2011 (This feature was visible within the section of Trench A and appeared to extend into Trench D). (3). Excavate and record possible evidence for prehistoric cremation burials/cists located during 2011 behind the monument’s kerb. (4). Establish a chronological sequence for the use of the monument through the identification of suitable samples from sealed stratified contexts for radiocarbon dating.

Project Eliseg 2012 shots (61)

The Method of Excavation

The trench was de-turfed and excavated by hand. The trench was excavated as an open area in order to maximise horizontal control over the excavation area. Vertical control was maintained through the establishment of a series of running/cumulative sections through the excavation area. The trench was positioned to establish a meaningful standing section through the monument. On completion of excavation a geo-textile membrane was placed over the lower sides and base of the excavation prior to backfilling in order that the position of the trench would be easily identified in the future. The trench was then backfilled and the surfaces re-profiled.

Summary of the 2012 Excavation Results

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The earliest phase consists of a low oval stone cairn of approximately 20 × 15m in diameter on top of the old land-surface on a slight rise.  The edge of this cairn was well defined by a substantial kerb made up of two different types of stone, large slate slabs and contrasting rounded igneous boulders. The kerb stones were placed within a foundation trench that cut through the buried land surface and into the natural sub-soil. The body of this primary cairn was formed by large, closely set river boulders, creating what appeared to be a relatively level platform. An attempt to create a level platform was evidenced in the presence of large flat slabs set upon the river boulders. Around the kerb these slabs were set as through-stones that would have provided extra support to the kerb. The cairn can loosely be classified as a kerbed platform cairn and as such should date to around 2000 BC.

Project Eliseg 2012 shots (4)

Cist 1

Within the body of this cairn, a small rectangular cist was identified. The cist measured 0.4m × 0.3m and comprised four slabs set on end to form a small stone box. The base of the cist was formed by a single slab. The cist had clearly been disturbed by previous antiquarian excavations. The capstone from the cist was missing and its fill consisted of the same loose mixed deposit as the backfill of the antiquarian trench. The fill of the cist was devoid of finds or burnt bone. However, within the backfill of the antiquarian excavation trench around the cist, small discrete deposits of burnt bone and charcoal were identified, suggesting that the contents of the cist had been cleared out and redeposited by the previous antiquarian intervention. At the base of the cist small quantities of burnt bone were recovered from between the base and side slabs of the cist, thus confirming the original use of this cist as a burial structure. The burnt bone retrieved from the vicinity on this cist may provide a date for the primary use of the cairn and basic biological and technological data on the nature of the burial and funerary process.

The secondary cairn

Phase 2 is represented by a heightening of the phase 1 platform cairn. The main body of the phase 2 cairn consisted of angular/sub-angular clast-supported slabs of mudstone. The distinction between these two constructional phases was clearly defined in the south-facing section but was destroyed in the north-facing section as a result of antiquarian disturbance.

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A large cist, originally presumed to be an early medieval long-cist grave, was exposed in section in 2011. On excavation this has been reinterpreted as a large Early Bronze Age cist. This was constructed of four large slabs of stone set on end to form a rectangular stone box. The base of the cist was formed of a single slab and sealed by a large capstone. The cist measured 0.5m × 0.3m and was 0.43m in depth. The cist was excavated in quadrants and 50mm spits. Each quadrant/spit was bagged and labelled separately to aid future analysis. Excavation demonstrated that the fill of the cist had suffered from extensive tree root disturbance which had caused substantial mixing of the deposit. At the base of the cist a second undisturbed deposit was identified. No finds or burnt bone were identified during the excavation process from the fill of this cist.

The cist was clearly cut into the body of the secondary cairn and sealed by a layer of large flat slabs that appeared sporadically across the entire surface of the cairn. These slabs formed a discrete sealing layer across the cairn and must have been visually impressive when constructed.

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To the west of the excavation area and immediately behind the kerb, a second cist was identified. This was 0.33 × 0.4m in size and constructed of four slabs set on end to form a box. The base of the cist was formed by a single slab and was sealed by a cap stone. On lifting the capstone it was apparent that the contents of the cist were intact and that burnt bone was present within its fill. The cist was excavated in quadrants and in 50mm spits, each bagged separately to aid further analysis (Brickley and McKinley 2004; McKinley and Roberts 1993). The deposit was subjected to ‘total earth recovery’ (McKinley 1998, 2000) in order that all potential pyre material could be identified in post-excavation analysis. In excess of 7 kg of burnt bone was recovered from this single context. The weight of a single Bronze Age cremation deposit in the UK varies considerably, but falls within a range of 57g – 2200g (McKinley 1997: 139). It is clear that the cremated bone from cist 3 must comprise multiple individuals. Post-excavation analysis of this deposit is being carried out by Geneviève Tellier (University of Bradford). Whilst detailed osteological analysis is still on-going, it is clear the cremated bone deposit is comprised of multiple adults, juveniles and infants. A bone pin and flint knife were identified in the fill of the cist.

This cist was inserted into the cairn by the removal of a section of kerb and as such, it is unlikely to be part of the primary platform cairn. The cist was overlain by the large slabs that also overlay cist 2. On stratigraphical grounds cist 3 belongs to the same horizon as cist 2, both of which were inserted into the second phase of construction.

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The area of antiquarian disturbance was distinguishable from the main body of the cairn material by a shallow scoop within the cairn containing small fragmented stones. The disturbed area was very irregular and its edges were difficult to identify; its dimensions were approximately 2m × 3.8m and it was 0.5m in depth. However, the presence of this intervention was clearly defined in section.

This context clearly cut into the main body of the cairn and would appear to represent an episode of digging and partial backfilling. The fill of this feature contained post-medieval ceramics. These artefacts have yet to be studied by specialists but their presence is consistent with the identification of the feature as the antiquarian intervention made in the mound in 1773 at the instigation of Trevor Lloyd, the landowner, prior to the re-erection of the Pillar in 1779. It was later claimed that they had found an inhumation ‘guarded round with large flat blue stones, and covered at top with the same; the whole forming a sort of stone box or coffin’ (Simpson 1827, 134–5), suggesting that a further Bronze Age burial cist may have been uncovered.

Antiquarian intervention was restricted to the southern part of the excavation area leaving the northern part of the area relatively undisturbed. Confirmation of the nature of the antiquarian intervention was demonstrated by the marked contrast between the south-facing and north-facing sections of the excavation area. The south-facing section, which contained cist 2, was relatively undisturbed and a clear sequence of cairn construction could was identified. In contrast, the north-facing section was comprised of a jumble or stones and voids with no discernible structure. This area of disturbance appears to continue beyond the top of the north-facing section and below the re-erected cross shaft. If this interpretation is correct, it would suggest that the original antiquarian trench was located on the top and western slope of the cairn. This area of disturbance matches well with previous interpretations of the antiquarian intervention (Edwards et al. 2011) and confirms the original interpretation of the hollow present on the west face of the monument as its location (Edwards et al. 2010–11, 2010; Turner 2008).

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The most recent episode of cairn construction comprised a capping of greyish/blue rounded river cobbles [16]. This context was found over the entire extent of the excavated area of Trench A, but was only 0.15–0.2m in depth. This capping of the cairn stood in marked contrast to the underlying cairn material which was made up of angular blocks of silt and mud-stone. This context, whilst disturbed in places due to root disturbance, extended into and partially sealed the area of antiquarian disturbance. There are two possible explanations for this context. (1) The capping of cobbles was the final stage of cairn construction at the site and thus potentially of a prehistoric date. (2) The context is associated with the remodelling of the cairn at the time when the pillar was re-erected in 1779. The later interpretation is supported by the partial sealing of the area of antiquarian disturbance by this context.

On the top of the cairn, and surrounding the cross-shaft, a raised lip of re-deposited sub-soil was identified. This deposit was placed directly on top of the cairn and overlay it. This deposit represents a late phase of activity on the monument, either contemporary or later than the re-erection of the cross-shaft. It has been suggested that this deposit represents a deliberate attempt by Trevor Lloyd to manipulate the appearance of the monument. The placement of this deposit hides the coursed stone plinth, onto which the cross shaft and base have been placed and enables them to be viewed from his summer-house which was located a short distance away at Valle Crucis Abbey to the south-east.

Other potential evidence for landscape alterations, carried out to enhance the aesthetics of the monument, are suggested by the sharp break of slope apparent to the south of the monument and no geomorphological reason can be given for its presence. It is possible that a landscaping event may have taken place here with substantial quantities of the ground surface removed. This landscaping gives the impression of the cross shaft and base being surmounted upon a substantially larger and more impressive mound when approached or viewed from the south east. We would tentatively argue that both remodelling events were carried out by Trevor Lloyd at the time of the re-erection of the cross-shaft and base as part of a larger scheme to create a romantic landscape.

 

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