“Placing the Pillar of Eliseg” article gets a Prize from the Society for Medieval Archaeology

Earlier this year, Dr Patricia Murrieta-Flores and I had an article published in the pages of the peer-reviewed academic journal Medieval Archaeology. Funded by the ERC Past in its Place project and building off fieldwork by Project Eliseg our article was called ‘Placing the Pillar of Eliseg’.

The article is available here. It investigates the landscape context of the unique 9th-century monument, arguing that its location was significant in relation to movement and memory.

The Society for Medieval Archaeology awarded us with their 2017 Martyn Jope Award for the “best novel interpretation, application of analytical method or presentation of new findings published in its journal.”

Professor Carenza Lewis, President of the Society for Medieval Archaeology, with Howard at the SMA AGM where the award was presented.

Paty and I were very pleased to receive the award. While Paty was unable to travel down to London to receive the award in person, yesterday I was congratulated by the SMA President: Professor Carenza Lewis at the Society’s AGM.

As well as receiving the award, the AGM invovled 3 superb short talks by James Graham-Campbell, David Petts and Hugh Willmott and I got to catch up with, and meet for the first time, some fabulous medieval archaeologists. I also had the pleasure of exploring the BM, acquiring some fabulous books and, most significant of all, acquiring a Viking duck!

Of course the real winner isn’t Paty or me, but the Pillar of Eliseg itself. This is a distinctive monument, a rare example of a surviving 9th-century stone monument in its original context, and one that has suffered from neglect as well as now misleading new heritage signs. The more that people can read and learn about this fabulous monument, the better.







Placing the Pillar of Eliseg

I’m very pleased to announce my latest publication: a collaboration between Dr Patricia Murrieta-Flores and myself stemming from the Past in its Place ERC-funded project.I’ve discussed various elements of this paper before on this blog but here it is in its final published form.

Placing the Pillar of Eliseg explores movement and memory through the landscape around this unique 9th-century monument, helping to explain how the monument was positioned, its possible function and its significance as a feature in a volatile and fluid ‘frontier zone’.

THE LANDSCAPE CONTEXT of the early 9thcentury monument known as the Pillar of Eliseg is interrogated here for the first time with GISbased analysis and innovative spatial methodologies. Our interpretation aims to move beyond regarding the Pillar as a prominent example of early medieval monument reuse and a probable early medieval assembly site. We argue that the location and topographical context of the cross and mound facilitated the monument’s significance as an early medieval locus of power, faith and commemoration in a contested frontier zone. The specific choice of location is shown to relate to patterns of movement and visibility that may have facilitated and enhanced the ceremonial and commemorative roles of the monument. By shedding new light on the interpretation of the Pillar of Eliseg as a node of social and religious aggregation and ideological power, our study has theoretical and methodological implications for studying the landscape contexts of early medieval stone monuments.


Murrieta-Flores, P. and Williams, H. 2017. Placing the Pillar of Eliseg: Movement, Visibility and Memory in the Early Medieval Landscape, Medieval Archaeology 61(1), 69–103. DOI: 10.1080/00766097.2017.1295926 http://hdl.handle.net/10034/620515

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?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


The Pillar of Eliseg from Llandysilio Mountain

First published on Archaeodeath

The Pillar of Eliseg from the bottom of Velvet Mountain, immediately to its west
The abbey and Pillar, from the path above Britannia Inn

In previous and recent posts, I talked about the viewshed of the Pillar of Eliseg; part of a forthcoming piece I’m working on with Patricia Murrieta-Flores for the Past in its Place project. This builds on my work on Project Eliseg investigating the biography of this unique monument, located near the later Cistercian monastic house of Valle Crucis, near Llangollen, Denbighshire. Our article is due out in the journal Medieval Archaeology next year.

A view from Llandysilio Mountain

I’m interested in the interaction between the Pillar and its surrounding landscape, and describing its placement, upon an earlier mound, in the valley of the Nant Eglwyseg, required me to explore how the monument appears from afar. In a previous post, I went up the Nant Eglwyseg to see how it interacts with the Horseshoe Pass and far-end of the valley. Recently, with my new PhD student Abigail, I decided to visit Llandysilio Mountain to the north-west of the Pillar. As well as exploring the 19th-century tramway as discussed here, I took long-distance photographs of the Pillar of Eliseg using a digital bridge camera and tripod.

Valle Crucis Abbey and the Pillar of Eliseg

I hope you like the results, which at one level are self-explanatory. You can see from this perspective the nature of the mound, its position on the top of a slope, dominating lower ground to the south and east, but also the plateau to its west and north. I think it is also clear that any large crowd gathered and any ceremonies and rituals conducted here would have a large audience. This is a secluded and yet simultaneously. prominent location.

In terms of appreciating the Pillar’s situation in relation to routes of movement, it is evident that the cross was situated to punctuate the journeys of those leaving or entering the Vale of Llangollen via the Horseshoe Pass.

View south down the Nant Eglwyseg with Velvet Mountain in the centre, with Abbey Grange Farm at its base, beside which is the Pillar of Eliseg

Project Eliseg ‘Reloaded’

project_eliseg_logo2Welcome to the brand-new Project Eliseg website.

Sadly, the previous Project Eliseg website was closed by our web hosts without consultation with the project directors. We have now set up this new project space to have complete control over its content and character, administered by Professor Howard Williams.

In coming months, we will be salvaging and reinstating old data and pages, now only available via the WayBackMachine website.

In addition, we will be uploading posts about Project Eliseg and related research posted on Howard’s Archaeodeath blog.

The new website has many new links and resources, including details of interim reports and publications from Project Eliseg.

There are plenty of new exciting developments relating to Project Eliseg in coming months and years, and we hope you check back and see how this page evolves.

Unfortunately, while we hope to communicate to Welsh-medium audiences through our online presence, the project has been unable to maintain its bilingual component. All subsequent posts will be via the English medium, but we have provided an introductory section: ‘Cymraeg‘.