Young Archaeologists’ visit to Ty Mawr, Llangors

We were invited to visit Ty Mawr, to have a tour around the site and to do some digging. We were all there at 11am and spent the first half hour in the classroom where the Ty Mawr owner Nigel Gervis gave us a talk on the history of the site and showed us some of the decorated plaster work found there. There was a Tudor mansion on the site which is shown on a wonderful map dating from 1584 which we were able to see. The building was very highly decorated and we soon learned that we would be excavating on a high status site. The mansion had been demolished by 1870 and it is believed that much of the stone work was used on local farms.
We left the classroom and went out to look at some of the many finds from previous excavations. Everything from decorated stone work right down to buttons and a nit comb. Ty Mawr is situated on the shores of the beautiful Llangors Lake with wonderful views and today…..sunshine!
We walked down to the lake to view the crannog, a man-made island dating from the 10th century. Stopping briefly for a short history lesson about the crannog, the only one in Wales. Onwards along the lake down to Llangasty Church and then back through the fields stopping to look at pillow mounds and ridge and furrow on the way.
ThenDSCN0505DSCN0503DSCN0498DSCN0489 lunch,sitting in the sun at Ty Mawr.Then the excavating began One of the leaders gave a short talk outlining the plan for the afternoon and we began work. The most exciting finds of the afternoon were three pieces of decorated plaster work which joined together to make a rose. A beautiful find which Nigel assured us was from the original decoration of the house. Nigel took the plaster finds to add to the collection of items he shows to visitors. We were all very impressed.
We ended with a “show and tell” session sitting in the shade. Our thanks to Nigel Gervis and family for their welcome and hospitality.


BBYAC – February 2016 – Well-Being and Holy Wells

In our February session we took part in an exciting new project by Keep Wales Tidy– the Well-Being project.  This is a project seeking to identify and map some of the key well sites in the area and raise awareness of the importance of holy wells and springs, celebrating their heritage, stories and traditions.  The project is in its early stages and we were using our YAC session to trial a number of activities and provide feedback on what we enjoyed.

The focus of the session was Maen Du Well, a lovely well and spring site on the northern edge of Brecon.  The well is covered by a stone well house that bears the date 1754, but the well itself is almost certainly much older and it is thought that it supplied water to Brecon Castle.

We all met at the Cathedral and walked up to the site as a group.  It was a cold February day, so we all wrapped up warm.  When we arrived the Well-Being Project team from Keep Wales Tidy had a number of activities for us to try for which we split into smaller groups.  All the activities were designed to help us to engage with and understand the site and its different values and significance.  Some of them were more traditional archaeological activities and for some of them we needed to think a bit more widely and understand that that it isn’t always just about archaeology (shock horror!) and that as archaeologists we have to consider the other ways that sites are important too.

We all had a go of using tape and offset survey to produce a plan of the well house and the surrounding features, putting our archaeological surveying and mapping skills into practice.


We also looked at the natural environment of the well site, particularly the trees and learned how to identify different species and estimate how old they were.  There were lots of young trees at the site, but there was also some very old trees, including one gnarled and knotted Oak tree that we used our estimating technique to work out was nearly 400 years old!  We also looked a some of the creatures that were living in the pond, indicators of the excellent quality of the water that spilled from the well.



We  put our sensory and creative skills into practice to get to grips with the fact that there are often more to these sacred and special places that just what you can see, and spent some quiet time listening, experiencing the site and reflecting on how the site made us feel.  We made a note of the words or phrases that different parts of the site conjured up within us, and used these to create some beautiful and sometimes quite profound poetry about the site.

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Everyone had a wonderful time! A big thank you to Keep Wales Tidy for inviting us to be part of the Well-Being project and for the activities that helped us to understand this important local historic site.

BBYAC- January 2016 – Fabulous Finds!

In January Brecon Beacons YAC had a finds processing session using the finds from our visit to the excavations at Llangynidr Mill last year, where we all got our hands dirty. After a short introduction to the session we would be able to get cracking.  By way of introduction we had a look at some of the different things we might come across in our finds trays such as pottery, glass, metal, plaster and bone and how we should deal with each one.

We then split up into groups of four and went to our own finds tray and started to examine and sort the finds. Washing and brushing was soon underway with plenty of ideas as to what the finds were. Some were easy to identify like a shoe buckle or a piece of window glass but some of the metal work was so bent and rusted that our enthusiastic teams were still brushing away when it was time to begin cataloguing.



Someone was volunteered to do the writing while the rest of the team got thinking. How do we describe this find? How big is it and what colour and what is the material…and many more questions thrown at the teams who coped very well. Everyone was glad when it was time for a refreshment break (but some were late for the break because they were still busy!).  It was easy to see that this session was proving to be very popular. Getting your hands on real finds from a real dig was getting the thinking cells going all around the room.

After our refreshment break we got down to drawing and photographing. We asked the members to draw their chosen find to scale. Just a little help needed for this but everyone got on well. Drawing carried on and we had some fantastic work with great care taken with scale and accuracy.



We set up a lighting box to photograph small finds and coped with the larger items by using just a sheet of white paper and a scale. The members took all the photos themselves.

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We finished up with nearly everyone gathering to discuss the session and try to put together the story of the mill site by looking at the finds. I say nearly all of us because some of the budding illustrators could not be dragged away from their work. We had a few other finds from the mill dig with us like a chunk of French burr millstone and bones which may have been from a period when the mill was making bone meal.

The interest and standard of work was tremendous and we can fairly say that this was a session enjoyed by all. We have some great photographs and drawings to show off and everyone has a much better idea now of what happens when the digging is done.

BBYAC – December 2015 – Christmas Party

In our December session Brecon Beacons YAC had the serious business of our Christmas Party.  We began by exploring the Christmas food, what we eat at Christmas today and how this compares to the past  – 1450, 1550 and 1850.  Firstly working in groups we came up with a long list of the foods and drink that we enjoy today at Christmas.


Then working as one large group we looked at a whole range of food types, and tried to match these up with the correct time periods.  Some of them were quite tricky as we didn’t know what they were, and somethings weren’t at all what they sounded like.  Do you know what frumenty is?  We didn’t!  Turns out it is a thick porridge like pudding with egg yolk, currents and spices eaten in medieval times.  Or did you know that collops of bacon have nothing to do with pigs, but are actually an Elizabethan mazipan like sweet dish.


We had a go at matching the foods to the time periods, and found we had multiple copies of some festive foods and drinks as they belonged to more than one period, and we had to move some around to get it completely right.


We then had our own Christmas feast as no party is complete without food.  After we had feasted we got our thinking caps on for a  mystery Victorian objects quiz where there were some great guesses all round, and some very funny ones too – some people thought that the hot water bottle was to wee in, and the winberry picker was a pooperscooper!  We finished our Christmas Party by honing our acting skills with a game of archaeological charades.


Another great session rounding off a fun and action packed year at Brecon Beacons YAC, with all members and leaders looking forward to another exciting year ahead.

BBYAC -November 2015 – Archaeology of Bling

In our November session Brecon Beacons YAC found out all about the archaeology of bling, of how people in the past used high status items such as jewellery and other ornamentation to show their status, wealth and power, or even to express love, show loyalty, allegiance and belief.  We started the session with a ‘Whose Bling is This?’ run around quiz, looking at examples of archaeological bling and trying to work out who wore it, when and why.  This included a ring that the World War I soldier had made from part of a bone in his leg that was shot off during a battle – we decided to give and then wear part of someone’s leg that it must have been true love!


We then spent the rest of the session trying our hands at making our own bling from through the ages.  We made Neolithic necklaces like those found at Skara Brae on Orkney, molding air drying clay to look like teeth and bones and threading on string to dry.



We made diadems worthy of the ancient Egyptians, using coloured paper, colouring pens, glitter glue, stick on gems and feathers, each to our own unique designs.



We also made silver Bronze Age style armlets using cardboard tubes as the base and then decorating with all things shiny and silver – foil, pipe cleans, stickers, metallic pens, ribbbons.


Finally we made Iron Age torcs making good use gold spray, paper, pipe cleaners, stickers, pom poms and tinsel for maximum bling effect.


It was a fun and messy session with lots of cutting and gluing, and by the end each member had a hoard of archaeological bling to take home to wow and dazzle their family and friends!

BBYAC- October 2015 – Burials, bodies and bones

In October, with one eye on the approach of Halloween, we used our session to explore burials, bodies and bones.  Just what can burials tell us about the individuals buried, about the people who buried them and the society they lived in?  At the start of the session we had lots of questions.  Could we find clues to tell us… who they were?…Where they lived?… How important or wealthy they were?… How old they were?…What they believed?… How and when they died?…What they meant to the people that buried them?  The answer was Yes, but how could we find it out?  What survives at a burial site after 1000 years?  What about 3000 years or  even just 200 years? And, just how has burial practice changed over time?

We started with our Burial Detective Game – the leaders has recreated burials from 4 different time periods each giving clues as to the time period that they came from, about the individual that was buried, what they believed and what might have happened to them.  We split into groups and examined each burial in turn, looking carefully at the position of the skeleton, the shape and type of grave and the gravegoods included in the grave.  We recorded our findings to compare notes at  the end, and to put together our archaeological interpretation of what the remains represented.

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We decided collectively that the graves represented –  A Victorian Lady buried with love and respect; a Roman prisoner/gladiator buried in a hurry; a wealthy and important Iron Age woman and Stone Age burial chamber, potentially with the partial remains of more than one individual.  Can you tell which one is which?  One of them is a recreation of a famous burial found in our very own National Park at Penywyrlod Chambered Tomb near Talgarth where the oldest musical instrument in Wales was found; the others drew inspiration from other famous burials found by archaeologists around the UK.

Next we had a go at creating some graves and burials for ourselves, in order to understand burial practices,  to see what might remain in the archaeological record, and just how much information is lost.  We started with a Viking burial, taking inspiration from boat burials found in the West of the UK and Scandinavia.  We did our best to find the most Viking looking gravegoods that we could.  We fast forwarded 1000 years to become archaeologists and removed anything from the burial that we didn’t think would survive.


We then went further back in time to the Bronze Age and re-created a burial in a cist under a round cairn.  Here we took inspiration from the excavation of the Bronze Age round cairn that tops Fan Foel in the Carmarthen Fans in the Brecon Beacons National Park and the excavation of  the Whitehorse Hill Burial in Dartmoor National Park.  Again we fast forwarded in time and took away anything that wouldn’t usually survive in the archaeological record to see what we were left with and how it related to the process of creating the burial – we realised just how much evidence is lost!


We finished our session by creating our own modern day equivalent of a rich archaeological burial with lots of gravegoods.  A willing volunteer was ‘buried’ along with a whole host of modern objects – fizzy pop and sweets so they had something to eat; a variety of things to keep them entertained – books, cds, video games, dvds, a tablet computer and of course archaeology magazines(!); a fleece to keep them warm; photos of their loved ones and pets; a cuddly toy, and of course…a fez…because in the words of Dr Who ‘Fez’s are cool!’


We realised that with so many objects made of man made materials – polyester, plastic, and also quite a lot of metal, if we returned in 1000 years we would probably still find the remains of quite a lot more of the objects that we did in the Bronze Age or Viking burials.

We all had a great time, learning lot and having fun, and the session was over all too soon.

BBYAC- September 2015 – 6,000 years of archaeology. Our Orkney session.

A few weeks ago we were puzzling about the next Brecon Beacons YAC session. Where were we when we were puzzling? We were in Orkney, a group of islands north of Scotland, absolutely stuffed full of archaeology. So we, Jan and Sue, said we must tell everyone about our trip and what we discovered.

We created a map of Europe for our Viking session back in January and the map became useful again as the first thing we needed to find out was, where is Orkney. And we made use of our Washing Line of Time to demonstrate how long ago archaeology In Orkney can be traced back to. Some of the sites on Orkney date back to a time before the Pyramids and before Stonehenge. Then we moved on to our first experiment.


We had all learned about runes, a form of writing used during the Viking period, during another session. Now we were going to find out how difficult it is to carve runes in stone, just as we had seen in Orkney. We found that it is very difficult and very time consuming. We tried carving with various different things and found that as we expected metal was best. Everyone had a go at this before we moved on to something very different and thousands of years earlier.


We tried flint knapping. There is no flint in our area so Sue had brought us some bit lumps of flint back from Dorset where she had been recently. Once again we all had a go (safety glasses and gloves much in evidence) and managed to create some excellent flint flakes which would have made brilliant arrow heads. One of our members found the flint knapping so interesting we could hardly get her away to have a refreshment break.


Fully refreshed we moved on to making decorated Grooved Ware pots. Grooved Ware is a style of pottery found on many Neolithic sites in Orkney, some of the pottery being found now is 6,000 years old. The pots have incised and applied decoration; basically you can either stick the decoration on or carve the decoration into the clay. The pots produced were excellent and some people enjoyed this experiment the most.


Time was fast running out now but we still managed to fit in a talk and demonstration of tortoise brooches from the Viking period. We had a go at making beautiful brooches although some people wanted to go back to flint knapping and went straight outside to get on with it.

Seems like everyone found something to interest them at this session and time just flew by. Well done everyone for have a go at all the experiments. I’ve got a feeling that we may get back to some of these things again!