People have used the moorland known as Mynydd y Betws for several thousand years. The most obvious evidence for use is the recently constructed windfarm: evidence for older use is more difficult to detect.
Coalminers from at least the nineteenth century dug shafts and adits to exploit the shallow coal seams on the moorland. Lines of hollows mark the areas of these old coal workings. Some of the miners would have lived in the now abandoned cottages and small-holdings found across the moorland.
In the much more distant past, from about 3000BC to 1500BC, a time archaeologists call the Bronze Age, people used the moorland to bury their dead and to perform ceremonies. Scattered across the moorland are numerous low, circular mounds, known as round barrows. Bronze Age people would have dug a grave, placed the cremated remains of the body of an important member of their community or a family member in it and then covered it with a mound of stones or earth. It is these mounds that can be seen on the moorland. During construction of the windfarm a line of small stones running for several hundred metres across the moorland was discovered. Stone rows or alignments are enigmatic, but elsewhere in Britain they are usually found in association with other Bronze Age monuments such as round barrows.
During windfarm construction archaeologists excavated at the locations of wind turbines and along the course of new trackways, but as the windfarm was designed to avoid known archaeological sites very little was found. The 2017 community archaeological excavation is thus an opportunity to find out more about the prehistoric people of Mynydd y Betws. Three mounds (Nos. 871, 110471 and 110471) and sections of the stone alignment will be investigated.
Mound 871 (Photo Sandy Gerrard)
Mound 110471 (Photo Sandy Gerrard)
Mound (terminal mound to the stone alignment) 110472 (Photo Sandy Gerrard)
Stone Alignment (Photo Sandy Gerrard)
Day 1 - Monday 10 July
Excavation started on three locations with the removal of vegetation and topsoil.
Distant view of the excavations on mounds 871 and 110471
Work progressing on mound 110471.
Early days on mound 871.
Starting on the stone alignment.
2 – Tuesday
A wet day, but work progressed well.
The cairn of mound 110471 beginning to emerge from
The cairn of mound 871 is clearly visible in this photograph.
3 – Wednesday
Pupils from Betws School visit the site and joined in on excavating
mound 110471. The shape of the cairn on this site is now beginning
to become clearer.
Betws School pupils cleaning the surface the cairn
of mound 110471.
871 – almost ready for planning and photography.
Day 4 - Thursday 13 July
Work continued on cleaning the cairns of mounds 871 and 110471. Work on the stone row continued with two small trenches expanded into a single trench.
Mound 110471 – the surface of the cairn fully exposed.
Work continuing on exposing the cairn of mound 871.
Extending the trench across the stone row. Two of the stones of the row can be seen in the end sections of the trench.
Day 5 – Friday 14 July
Work continued on cleaning cairn 871, and excavation started on cairn 110471. Four worked flints, including a thumbnail scraper were found in cairn 110471, plus, rather surprisingly, two sherds of Roman glass. Further progress was made on the stone row.
Excavating cairn 110471.
Day 6 – Saturday 15 July
A very wet day for the first of our public open days. Even during the heaviest of rain visitors came to see the excavations. Excavation was impossible, but some recording was done.
Planning cairn 871.
The stone row!
Day 7 – Sunday 16 July
Another wet day for the second of our public open days. It was not quite as wet as the previous day so some progress was made.
Cairn 871 after removal of rubble, with the circular shape of the cairn beginning to emerge.
Excavation continuing on cairn 110471.
Visitors being shown the excavation on the stone row.
Day 8 – Monday 17 July
Loose stones were removed from cairn 871 revealing the original circular shape of the monument. On site 110471 a charcoal-rich soil was uncovered beneath the cairn. Work continued on revealing the details of the stone row.
The circular shape of cairn 871 revealed.
The buried soil beneath the cairn 110471.
Excavating the stone row.
A visit from pupils from Ysgol y Bedol.
Day 9 – Tuesday 18 July
Work continued on all three sites. Two new trenches were opened close to cairn 110471, one across a boulder and one on another possible cairn.
The two new trenches.
Day 10 – Wednesday 19 July
A wet day, but good progress was made. Cairn 871 is proving to be more complicated than first thought, with a possible earth mound below the stones. A shallow pit was revealing by the side of the stone row.
Cairn 871 with most stones removed.
All the stones of cairn 110471 have been removed. The remains of the buried soil are clearly visible.
Day 11 – Thursday 20 July
The central area of cairn 871 was completely excavated - no central burial was present. Cairn 110471 also had no central burial, but plough-marks were recorded in the soil beneath the cairn. One of the new trenches came down onto another cairn. The pit by the side of the stone row proved to be a natural feature.
The central area of cairn 871 showing the top of geological deposits.
Plough marks beneath cairn 110471.
The backfilled site of cairn 110471.
A cairn exposed in a new trench.
Excavating the shallow pit alongside the stone row.
Day 12 – Friday 21 July
Back-filling took place of site 871 on the very wet and final day of the excavation.
The back-filled site.
Final conclusions will have to await post-excavation analysis. The absence of a central burial in cairn 871 is puzzling, as it had the appearance of a Bronze Age monument, but less so with the smaller, unstructured cairn 110471. The discovery of the Roman glass in the smaller cairn is not easy to explain. Not unexpectedly, no artefacts to assist in the dating of the stone row were discovered.