Characterising the double ringwork enclosures on the Llŷn Peninsula
co-directors: Dr Kate Waddington and Professor Raimund Karl
History, Welsh History and Archaeology Bangor University Bangor
Gwynedd LL57 2DG
excavation project is designed to explore a ‘double ringwork’
hilltop enclosure at Meillionydd, Rhiw (Figure 1).i The fieldwork is
related to research being carried out as part of the ‘Early Celtic
Societies in North Wales’ project, which is investigating the
settlements and hillforts of north-west Wales from the Late Bronze
Age to the end of the Early Medieval period (c. 1150 BC – AD 1150).
Despite producing the most well preserved, abundant and
comprehensively surveyed settlements in Wales (Smith 2001), the
archaeology of northwest Wales remains under-researched and poorly
understood. Limited modern excavations have been carried out;
chronologies are not well defined; sites are unproductive in terms
of dateable finds; and environmental assemblages are rare. The
emergence and development of monumental foci, such as the hillforts,
ringworks and hilltop enclosures, remain particularly enigmatic
(although see Crew 1985 for the results of extensive excavations
carried out at the hillfort site of Bryn y Castell, Gwynedd).
development of settlement monumentality in the first half of the
first millennium BC represents a fundamental re-orientation of some
community’s identities, beliefs and values. The monuments are
frequently interpreted as representing economic intensification,
when the power bases, previously centred on the manipulation of
bronze exchange networks, were re-orientated towards the control of
agricultural production and the land. While important, this view has
oversimplified social practice and has effectively led to a
homogenised perspective of ways of life, innovation and change
during this crucial period of transition.
Unusual characteristics of the north Welsh evidence are the
occurrence of early phases of hillfort construction in the latter
part of the Late Bronze Age (c. ninth – eighth century BC), such as
The Breiddin in Powys (Musson 1991), Moel y Gaer in Clwyd (Guilbert
1975) and Castell Odo in Gwynedd (Alcock 1960). Castell Odo is an
extremely important site and belongs to a poorly understood group of
monuments concentrated in Anglesey and the Llŷn Peninsula, termed
‘weak double ringworks’ (RCAHMW 1964).ii Initial occupation at this
site consists of a timber palisaded enclosed settlement associated
with dark earth artefact-rich deposits, which were sealed beneath
the earlier Iron Age bank.iii The dark earth deposits may possess
some parallels with contemporary dark earth occupation deposits or
ephemeral midden accumulations, concentrated underneath or against
the banks of hilltop enclosures in southern Britain (Waddington
2009).iv The potential occurrence of this type of deposit in North
Wales is a phenomenon that requires further consideration. In the
Early Iron Age, the site was developed through the construction of
two circular concentric stone banks which enclosed eight stone
roundhouses. The double ringwork sites offer a unique and as yet
largely untapped resource for creating refined chronologies and for
studying the origins and development of settlement monumentality in
the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age transition.
Map of the Llŷn Peninsula, showing the location of sites mentioned
in the text as well as the location of all other later prehistoric
hillfort and settlement sites (image: author).
double ring-work site of Meillionydd, on the Llŷn Peninsula, was
recently the focus of investigation through geophysical survey by
Gwynedd Archaeological Trust (Smith and Hopewell 2007).v The work
has further enhanced the significance of these site types, which
appear to be focussed largely on the Llŷn Peninsula and Anglesey and
represent a fairly distinct regional tradition. The necessary
interpretation and dating of these sites must now be provided by
Meillionydd has been targeted due to the excellent results of the
geophysical survey (Smith and Hopewell 2007). As well as confirming
the presence of a circular concentric bivallate hilltop enclosure,
about 105m by 85m, the survey was notable for the strength of
anomalies encountered. The inner rampart is about 4m wide and is
partly defined by a band of intense activity within the enclosure
that includes at least three roundhouses (Figures 2 and 3). The
magnetic readings encountered appear to be associated with
occupation deposits and burning activities. This is supported by a
series of test soil pits which demonstrated the presence of dark
earth silts with burnt stones in the areas of the magnetic
enhancement (Pits 11, 16 and 17; see Figure 2).vi The excavation
aims to test whether Meillionydd has Late Bronze Age origins and is
associated with occupation deposits, similar to those recovered from
Castell Odo, as well as to:
gather data on the construction and phasing of the banks and
assess the stratigraphic relationship between the earthworks and
internal deposits and structural features;
produce dateable materials and provide a chronological sequence for
characterise the nature of the dark earth deposits;
assess the site’s potential for a further programme of fieldwork.
programme and methodology
aims of the trial excavations are to examine three trenches in order
to characterise different zones in the site (Figure 2).
Trench 1 (10m by 2m) will examine a narrow slot through the inner
bank and ditch in the south-eastern part of the enclosure in order
to examine the boundaries and their relationship with an area of
magnetically enhanced soils, which may also coincide with a possible
Trench 2 (6m by 4m) will investigate a slot through the terminal of
one of the outer two ditches along the south-eastern part of the
site. This trench will assess whether an entrance to the site exists
here, if the ditch is contemporary with the internal ditch and bank
in Trench 1, and whether structured entrance-marking deposits,
typical of boundary terminals, are present.
Trench 3 (10m by 10m) will be opened to explore an area of magnetic
enhancement within the eastern part of the interior, in the vicinity
of another possible roundhouse.vii
three-week excavations took place between Sunday 27 June and
Saturday 17 July 2010 and the team consisted of four archaeology
students from Bangor University, four archaeology students from
Cardiff University, and nine archaeology and Celtic Studies students
from the University of Vienna, who were all trained in excavation,
survey and recording skills.
Geophysical survey of Meillionydd, Rhiw, showing location of the
soil test pits investigated (shown in numbers), and the position of
the trial trenches (adapted from Smith and Hopewell 2005, Figure
Interpretative plan of the geophysical survey of Meillionydd, Rhiw
(banks are indicated in grey; ditches and occupation deposits in
black; Smith and Hopewell 2007)
excavations: preliminary results
Trench 1, the remains of the inner bank and ditch were investigated,
alongside at least two roundhouses, identified just inside the bank
at the northwest end of the trench. The earlier roundhouse was
constructed of timber and a later roundhouse was found to be
constructed of stone.
inner bank, located within the north-western part of the trench, was
very slight, consisting of a low mound of earth and rubble. The bank
had evidently been slighted and robbed out, and a large proportion
of the material had been deliberately deposited within the interior
of the adjacent stone roundhouse. Quantities of burnt stone were
identified within the disturbed bank deposits, suggesting that the
residues from feasts and other events were sometimes deposited along
the boundary. The bank was partially set within a shallow linear
trench which contained an alignment of deliberately placed large
boulders (see Figure 4). This feature may either indicate the
original delineation of the inner boundary to the settlement, or a
foundation trench for a wall, with the boulders perhaps indicating
the lower inner facing stones of the original bank wall. No evidence
for an early timber palisade was discovered underneath the bank. A
single posthole was identified in the central area of the trench –
but given the narrow width of the trench (which was 2m wide), it is
impossible at present to determine whether the feature originally
formed part of a palisade structure or a roundhouse.
Shot of the stone roundhouse wall in Trench 1, behind which can be
seen a short stretch of walling, which is contemporary as both the
walls sit ontop of the same soil horizon. The linear arrangements of
stones, forming part of the bank structure, can be seen behind these
structures, to the east.
southeast end of the trench, a narrow V-shaped ditch was identified
– the shape of the ditch is typically Iron Age in date (see Figure
5). This appears to have been recut once through the creation of a
wide flat-bottomed ditch. Both the ditches formed the inner ditch of
the enclosure boundary, being situated immediately inside and to the
west of the outer bank.
Following some initial silting, the later ditch had been infilled
with rubble, which presumably derived from the deliberate
destruction or accidental slumping of the adjacent outer bank.
Despite extending the trench by 3m, the eastern edge of the ditch
was not exposed, suggesting that the feature is at least 4.5m wide,
if not wider. The digging and re-cutting and backfilling of ditches
is a common practice in the Iron Age period, demonstrating the
importance to the inhabitants of continually redefining and
renegotiating the important boundaries which defined the settlement
Shot of the north facing section through the south side of Trench 1,
showing the original V-shaped ditch, which was recut by the
flat-bottomed ditch and infilled with rubble.
stone-walled roundhouse at the north-western end of the trench was
constructed within a cut and contained a number of occupation
features, including postholes and gullies, some of which were sealed
by the wall. The roundhouse wall appears to have been contemporary
with a short stretch of walling, orientated east-west, which may
have provided a support wall between the roundhouse and the bank
(see Figure 4). Two postholes and two gullies were sealed by the
roundhouse wall, and another two postholes were sealed by the other
wall, implying the presence of one or two earlier timber
roundhouses. Moreover, a large number of postholes were also
identified within the roundhouse interior, and given the small area
exposed, this suggests that possibly another two roundhouses had
been constructed in this area prior to the creation of the stone
roundhouse. Following the abandonment of the stone roundhouse, the
building had been deliberately infilled with rubble from the
adjacent stone bank, possibly reflecting the presence of an
elaborate closing rite on the site.
for a future excavation season will be to extend both the northwest
and northeast areas of this trench in order to reconstruct the
sequence of roundhouse construction and to complete the excavation
of the ditch and assess the relationship between the inner ditch and
the adjacent outer bank.
trench 2, we investigated the outer bank of the enclosure, which was
constructed from a simple dump of earth and stone, with possible
evidence for internal facing stones in the form of large blocks
situated at its north-western end. Once again, this structure had
been deliberately destroyed or robbed out. Stone rubble was found
infilling the flat-bottomed ditch in the adjacent Trench 1,
suggesting that the bank had been slighted or at least had slumped
in to the ditch during a later phase of occupation on the site.
Interestingly, the banks either side of the entranceway at Castell
Odo were also deliberately slighted towards the end of the
occupation, possibly reflecting the presence of a similar practice.
the final day of excavation, some interesting features were
identified just in front of the bank in the south-western corner of
the trench. In this area we exposed a curvilinear arrangement of
well-laid stones, consisting of a single course, which may represent
the original facing stones of the bank, or possibly a roundhouse
wall (the latter interpretation seems unlikely at present due to the
absence of a cut for the wall, which is sitting directly on top of
the natural subsoil). We also uncovered two postholes in this area,
one of which was sealed by the bank, and these may either have been
associated with the bank structure or possibly reflect the presence
of an early timber boundary, such as a palisade (see Figure Six).
also hoped to uncover the terminal of the outer ditch in the
south-eastern end of the trench, as suggested by the geophysical
survey. Unfortunately, however, despite extending the trench by 1.5m
to the east, the ditch was confirmed to be absent from this area. It
is possible that the ditch is situated immediately to the south of
future excavation season will aim to reopen and extend this area in
order to investigate the nature of the bank structure, which on
present evidence appears to be turning inwards to form an elaborate
entranceway nearby. A new trench will also be positioned nearby in
order to investigate whether an outer ditch is present.
of walling and unexcavated postholes (dark fills are visible) in the
south-western corner of Trench 2 – the wall sites immediately
infront of the stony bank, and both overlie the posthole
3 was excavated in four quadrants – 3A – D. The archaeology in
Trench 3D was merely exposed and recorded, but time restrictions did
not permit any further excavation in this area. In Trench 3A and 3D
we uncovered the remains of the inner stone bank, which had once
again been levelled and robbed out, and the trench as a whole
produced evidence for at least four or possibly five phases of
roundhouses. The levelled bank deposits contained quantities of
burnt stones, which presumably created the high magnetic readings
identified by the magnetometer survey in this area. Unfortunately,
no dark earth artefact-rich deposits, similar to that indentified at
Castell Odo, were recovered in this area, as had originally been
hypothesised. Nevertheless, the frequency of burnt stones is
interesting and suggests the presence of communal feasts, with the
stone pot boilers possibly being mounded on to the banks to further
enhance this boundary during the occupation of the site.
first phase of roundhouse construction was represented by an arc of
timber postholes, visible in Trenches 3A and 3C, overlying which
were the remains of two stone roundhouses. The first timber
roundhouse contained a central hearth pit in 3B, which was very well
preserved and partially sealed beneath the well constructed stone
wall of the third roundhouse (see Figure 7). A number of other
postholes were identified within Trench 3A and 3C, and may indicate
the presence of yet another timber roundhouse in this area, although
the plan of this structure has not yet been established.
second roundhouse was constructed from stone and was partially
situated within a hollow on the northwestern side of Trenches 3B and
3C. The hollow had evidently been dug into the hillslope to create a
flat platform or terrace, into which the building had been
constructed. The wall of this structure was badly preserved, as it
had been truncated by the construction of the third roundhouse,
which evidently cut through this wall in Trench 3B
Figure 7 Top;
of the inner facing of the third roundhouse wall, which seals the
central hearth of the earlier timber roundhouse. Bottom; shot of the
upper filling of the central hearth pit associated with the timber
roundhouse, which was shown to be sealed by the later roundhouse
wall, following its removal (the inner and outer facing stones and
wall core are visible in the section).
third stone roundhouse was exceptionally well preserved along the
northwestern side of the building in Trench 3B, presumably due to
its position inside the terrace cut, which had protected the wall
from any later disturbance. The building was created from a thick
stone-faced wall with an earthen core, with an entranceway in the
southwest. The stone-facing on the inside of the building was
exceptionally well constructed (see Figure 7). The building also
contained a large stone-lined pit, presumably for storage, on top of
which a possible quernstone was recovered (Figure 9). Two stone
spindlewhorls were also recovered from disturbed
occupation/abandonment deposits within this roundhouse. One of the
objects was only partially finished, suggesting that artefact-creation
was occasionally undertaken on the site. Following abandonment, the
roundhouse had been deliberately infilled with a thick layer of
rubble, similar to the roundhouse uncovered in Trench 1. It seems
likely that this material derived from the destruction of the
adjacent inner bank, once again reflecting the presence of an
elaborate closing rite on the site.
Shot of the second stone wall (foreground) which was truncated by
the third stone wall in Trench 3B.
Another cut for a roundhouse wall was identified along the southern
side of Trench 3C, indicating the presence of yet another roundhouse
in this area. We were unable to complete the excavations in this
area and a future excavation season will aim to reopen and extend
the trench in order to fully expose the roundhouses and to assess a
larger area of the inner bank structure.
Shot of the stone-lined pit in Trench 3B, with upper fills removed.
excavations were extremely successful and confirmed the results of
the geophysical surveys undertaken by Gwynedd Archaeological Trust,
demonstrating the presence of a circular double ringwork enclosure,
constructed from ditches and stone and earth banks, with evidence
for occupation in the interior, in the form of roundhouses. The
intensity of occupation within the internal areas examined reveal a
long and complex sequence of occupation on the site, as well as
timber and later stone phases, which have been established on other
circular / ringditch enclosed settlements of this date in Gwynedd.
Based on the evidence from other sites in the area, the early timber
phase of occupation may belong to the ninth – seventh centuries BC.
The later stone roundhouses were possibly created in the sixth –
fifth centuries BC, and occupation may have continued in to the
later Iron Age period, possibly the second or first century BC.
Radiocarbon dates from charcoal samples taken from these features
may help to further define these chronologies, which are at present
rather tentative. The practice of continually occupying this
monumental enclosure, over a long period, reflects the importance of
this place to contemporary communities. Furthermore, repeatedly
rebuilding roundhouses on the same spot implies a desire to maintain
an ongoing link with the past, further helping to create a special
sense of place and history on the site.
present, no evidence for an early timber palisade, similar to the
one identified at Castell Odo, has been identified. Future work will
aim to investigate other areas of the banks across the enclosure in
order to prove or disprove that the enclosure was originally defined
by a timber palisade.
number of stone artefacts were recovered from the site, including a
possible quernstone, as well as a collection of stone hammers,
pounders, grinders, polishing/smoothing stones, two Iron Age
spindlewhorls, and two stone counters or gaming pieces. One of the
hammerstones was crafted from Mynydd Rhiw stone, which had
potentially been extracted from the site of the Neolithic axe
factory, or at least from the area surrounding it, and several other
chippings and flakes of this material were recovered from the site.
A small corroded fragment of an iron object was also recovered from
a bank context in Trench 2. Due to the absence of dateable artefacts
(the Iron Age in this region is aceramic and so datable pottery
fragments are rarely recovered from sites), it is difficult at
present to suggest a date for the enclosure, other than to confirm
that it belongs to a tradition of monumental settlements which
belong to the Iron Age period at least (although a Late Bronze Age
date for early occupation on the site is quite possible). A large
number of good quality charcoal samples were recovered from secure
archaeological contexts and provide the possibility for the
production of calibrated radiocarbon dates, which will hopefully
shed some additional light on the chronological sequence of this
work will complete the post-excavation work from the 2010
excavations and an interim report will be written by September 2010.
A second excavation season is being provisionally planned for summer
extremely grateful to Mrs Thomas, Huw and Lowri Thomas and David
Thomas, of Meillionydd Mawr and Meillionydd Bach, for their support
and interest in the excavations and for generously hosting the
excavations on their land, and for making us feel extremely welcome.
Peter and Margaret from Bwlch-y-Clawdd also deserve much thanks for
their interest in the site and for offering us access to their water
supply. We are very grateful to the excavation team, who worked
extremely hard and helped make the excavations such a success: Beki
Jones, Garth Walpole, Jo Williamson, Emily Rotchell, Hazel Butler
and Aimee Pritchard from Bangor University; Rachael Nicholson, Karen
Mason, Alexander Macaskill and Saul Bowden from Cardiff University;
Tanja Trausmuth, Mario Wallner, Olivia Senk, Rubina Bergauer, Paula
Frischengruber, Yasmin Hrdina, Armin Kaar, Cornelia Kleiber and
Helmut Raubec from the University of Vienna; as well as Erin
Robinson from the Heather and Hillforts Project and Erin Bryn from
Ysgol Dyffryn Ogwen. Sonja-U. Prochaska deserves a special thanks
for all her help during the excavations and for making lots of cake
for the team! We would also like to thank Daffyd Davies Hughes and
his team of volunteers from Felin Uchaf for their assistance with
backfilling and returfing. We are also grateful to George Smith from
Gwynedd Archaeological Trust who provided information on the
geophysical surveys at Meillionydd, and for many interesting
discussions on the archaeology of this region.
research would not have been possible without funding from the
Publications and Collaborative Research Committee at the University
of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies. Thanks also
to George Smith who kindly donated funds from the Dermot McCall Bond
Memorial Fund in support of the excavations.
L. 1960. Castell Odo: an embanked settlement on Mynydd Ystum, near
Aberdaron, Caernarvonshire. Archaeologia Cambrensis 109, 78-135.
P. 1985. Bryn y Castell. Archaeology in Wales 25, 20-24.
Guilbert, G.C. 1975. Moel y Gaer, 1973: an area excavation on the
defences. Antiquity 49, 109-17.
R.S. 1988. Two late prehistoric circular enclosures near Harlech,
Gwynedd. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 54, 101-51.
C.R. (ed.) 1991. The Breiddin Hillfort: a later prehistoric
settlement in the Welsh Marshes, 147-49. London: Council for British
Archaeology, Research Report 76.
1964. An inventory of the ancient monuments in Caernarvonshire.
Volume 3, West. Cardiff: The Royal Commission on Ancient and
Historical Monuments in Wales HMSO.
G. 1999. Survey of prehistoric and Romano-British settlement in
north-west Wales. Archaeologia Cambrensis 148, 22-53.
G.H. and Hopewell, D. 2007. Survey of prehistoric defended
enclosures in north-west Wales: assessment of some possibly
multivallate enclosures in Llŷn and Anglesey 2006-7. Gwynedd
Archaeological Trust: unpublished report (number 664).
Waddington, K.E. 2009. Reassembling the Bronze Age: exploring the
southern British midden sites. Cardiff University: unpublished Ph.
M. and Smith, G. 2001. The Llŷn crop marks project. Aerial survey
and ground evaluation of Bronze Age, Iron Age and Romano-British
settlement and funerary sites in the Llŷn Peninsula of north-west
Wales: excavations by Richard Kelly and Michael Ward. In Studia
Celtica xxxv, 1-87.
Double ringworks are focussed upon low hilltops and consist of
circular concentric double ramparts with internal roundhouses. The
enclosures have parallels with the artefact-rich Late Bronze Age
ringwork enclosures of eastern England, such as Mucking North Ring
and Springfield Lyons.
date, only one site has been explored through excavation, that of
Castell Odo (Alcock 1960). The majority of these sites have been
badly affected by ploughing, and their upstanding remains are quite
This multi-phase site originated in the Late Bronze Age/Earliest
Iron Age transition (c. 800-600 BC) as a settlement of two
roundhouses (Phase I), enclosed by a timber palisade and associated
with a dark earth soil accumulation which was sealed beneath the
Phase II external bank and produced pottery, animal bones and
artefacts. Provisional radiocarbon dates places this early
occupation in the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age transition (c.
ninth to seventh centuries cal. BC; Kelly 1988, 145). In the earlier
Iron Age, the site was enhanced through the construction of two
circular concentric stone banks (Phases II and III) which enclosed
eight stone roundhouses (Alcock 1960, 90-98).
Such as Balksbury Camp, Winklebury and Meon Hill in Hampshire.
Furthermore, the curvilinear shapes of the enclosures are similar to
other dated sites on the Llŷn and suggest that some may even belong
to the end of the second millennium BC (Smith and Hopewell 2007).
test soil pits sought to examine the topsoil depths across this
heavily ploughed site (Smith and Hopewell 2007).
adjacent test pit (Pit 11) revealed a dark brown gravelly silt with
much burnt stone, suggesting that in situ occupation dark earth
occupation deposits are located here as well.