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St Ishmael Dig Diary 2017


Dyfed Archaeological Trust have returned to the deserted medieval village eroding from the sand dunes at St Ishmael, Ferryside, Carmarthenshire.  The work is being funded by Cadw and being undertaken by DAT and volunteers.

The site was subject to two previous investigations in 2010 and 2011 as part of the Cadw funded Arfordir - Coastal Heritage project where four stone buildings were identified and partially recorded.  The results indicated a settlement spanning from the late 12th through to the 15th centuries.  The archaeological remains are constantly suffering from coastal erosion, and following the discovery of two new structures on the foreshore to the south of those previously recorded, another phase of archaeological recording was necessary prior to them being lost.

Click here to see the Dig Diary from 2011.


Day 1

The day started with a site tour for the volunteers where an unexpected wall was identified on the foreshore.  We then had the unenviable task of moving the stones and shingle from the footprint of the main building we were targeting for this season of excavation.

Initial cleaning of the north-south wall of the structure on the foreshore

The footprint of the building at the end of day 1  

Day 2

Another lovely day in Carmarthen Bay.  Today we  started work on the second building we intended to work on which partially exposed on the front of the dunes.  This turned out to be two structures and so based on our previous investigations this meant we now have eight visible structures eroding from the dune edge!  These have been numbered Buildings 5 to 8 (from north to south).  The most northerly building, Building 5, is only just exposed on the edge of the dune.  The full length of the adjacent Building 6 was revealed, being around 12m in length with a roughly central doorway comprising two upright stones and a step up into the interior.

We also continued to remove the shingle from the Building 7 on the foreshore to expose the layers of sand beneath.

Building 6 with the central doorway, with Building 5 just visible projecting from the dunes 

End of another good day, heading back to the cars (tired, but happy...)

Day 3

Work progressed on Building 7 on the foreshore, removing sand from its interior and identifying part of the rear (eastern) wall.  Unfortunately the weather turned for the afternoon and rain stopped play.

Day 4

Excellent progress was made cleaning up Buildings 5 and 6.  The work also confirmed an ornate set of flagstones outside the doorway to Building 6 and that it was the only structure to use lime mortar within the walls, all the others using clay. Further excavation within Building 7 exposed part of the internal face of the eastern wall.  Today we were also able to start looking at Building 8, the unexpected structure we stumbled across on the first day, which survives the least well.  Further work will be needed to determine its extent and plan.


Geraint and Peter alongside the substantial end wall of Building 5 running into the sand dunes

The doorway and external flag stones and semi-circular threshold of Building 6

Excavation continues within Building 7

The interior of the eastern wall of Building 7

Overview of the southern part of Building 8


Day 5

Today was spent recording and drawing the walls of Buildings 5 and 6.  Further excavation continued in Building 7 with the floors of the building starting to be revealed at its southern end and we continued to chase the walls of Building 8.  Although we could see rain all around us, we somehow avoided all but a couple of light showers! 

Jeremy filling in a structure recording form

Peter and Rob get to grips with the level on (very) stony ground


Day 6

Surprisingly good progress was made during the morning. Ian, Peter and Rob continued recording the elevations of Building 6. 

Hazel and Ruth excavated an area inside Building 7 to expose the eastern wall, whilst Fran filled in records.  

Owen looked at the interior of Building 8 and possibly identified a cobbled surface and features.

Lucas, Will and Josh started to excavate an area of dark soil to the west of Building 5.

By lunchtime everyone was soaked and we had to call it a day.

Hazel and Ruth exposing the west wall of Building 7

Owen within Building 8

Lucas, Will and Josh start excavating an area outside Building 5

We have had enough for today...


Day 7

Excavation continued within Building 7 to try and find the original floor levels and expose more of the western wall.

The final elevations of Building 6 were drawn and a plan was started of Building 8.


The western wall of Building 7

Linda plans Building 8


Day 8

More excavation and recording in Building 7.  The floor appears to be more elusive and deeper than we expected!

Linda completed the plan of Building 8 with the assistance of Ruth.

We were joined by Bruce, Caralinda, Chris and Lena today who investigated areas on the dune edge to the north of Building 5.

Rob H also investigated this area and started to excavate a possible ditch which contained a number of sherds of medieval pottery.


Rob W and Ian contemplate the depth of the floor in Building 7

Linda and Ruth record levels across Building 8

Lena, Chris, Bruce and Caralinda investigating the dune edge

Rob H finds a nice piece of medieval pottery


Day 9

Within Building 7 we may actually have at last found the floors (or what was left of them)!

Brian and Rob H recorded the western wall, whilst Jude and Ian finished the excavation.

Further work continued to the north of Building 5, revealing further features, a couple of walls and a buried former ground surface below the sand dunes.

More sherds of pottery and fragments of animal bone have been recovered.


The floor surface level within Building 7

Stone wall overlying an earlier ditch


Day 10

For a bit of a change, Brian, Ian, Jeremy and Veronica did some gardening over Building 1 to expose the walls of a structure we last recorded in 2011.  The rear wall of that building is now visible exposed in the base of the sand dune.

Much recording was needed in Building 7 as our time runs out, so as usual the best thing to do is dig a little bit more and uncover a possible earlier building underlying the one we have excavated! 


Rob and Hywel recording sections through a ditch

Contemplating the new wall exposed under Building 7 (How many archaeologists does it take to .)

The end of the day with the tide almost reaching the site


Day 11

A mad rush to finish recording in Building 7 and photographing those things we haven't had a chance to photograph.  Stones were laid up against Buildings 5 and 6 to do our best to protect them as much as we can from the sea.  After lunch we started the mammoth task of backfilling Building 7.  Tomorrow we will finish the backfilling with the hope that we will be able to come back for more in the future.


The team ready to start backfilling - Brian, Rob W, Rob H, Menna, Owen, Hywel, Geraint, Jim, Jude, Ian, Joan, Bruce, Jeremy, Chris, Will, Lucas and Josh. Bruce and Chris only turned up to see how things were going but stayed to help for the afternoon!

Let backfilling commence!


Day 12

Our last day on-site backfilling Building 7.  The sea had assisted us by washing away the last of our sand spoil heaps, but there were still plenty of stones to be put back across the backfilled building.  The team worked very well and surprisingly quickly our piles of stones were laid back across the building, with the site looking very much like it was when we had first got there. 

A big thank you to all of our team of volunteers Arthur, Brian, Bruce, Caralinda, Chris, Geraint, Hazel, Hywel, Ian, Jeremy, Joan, Josh, Jude, Lena, Linda, Lucas, Luke, Owen, Peter, Rob W, Rob H, Ruth, Trevor, Veronica and Will  who assisted us during the project and we hoped you enjoyed it as much as we did.

The backfilled remains of Building 7 looking north

A well-earned rest


Since we completed the site work we have produced 3D models of the remains of Building 1, Buildings 5 and 6 and Building 7. 

3D model of the remains of Building 1 - https://skfb.ly/69zuG

3D model of the remains of Buildings 5 and 6 - https://skfb.ly/69v97

3D model of the remains of Building 7 - https://skfb.ly/69vtV






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