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by Dr  Sandy Gerrard

According to the Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) the coal mining remains and holloways at Bancbryn are “post-medieval/modern features and therefore did not require evaluating.” So in a large part of Wales it would appear to be acceptable to sanction the unrecorded destruction of archaeological remains dating from the past 500 years or so. This attitude is curious given that a quick glance through their records available on Archwilio reveals that most relate to sites that are of post-medieval/modern date.

So, why is the hard pressed tax payer being asked to fund the collection and curation of information regarding sites that the Trust considers not to be important and worth evaluating when threatened? The position that no evaluation was required because it was post-medieval/modern is completely untenable. Perhaps the organisation should be re-named the Dyfed Prehistoric, Roman and Medieval Archaeological Trust as clearly they have no interest in post-medieval archaeology. Given the Trust’s unwillingness to engage with post-medieval archaeology perhaps the responsibility for its curation should be transferred to an organisation that actually cares.

What is certain is that an opportunity to enhance our knowledge and understanding was squandered. Survey of the surviving earthworks indicates considerable chronological depth and an interesting story that the DAT did not consider worth investigating. The first point to emerge is that the coal mining may have been carried out in two separate phases. Dumps from some pits lie within earlier pits and properly conducted excavations could have provided some much needed answers. This would seem vital given the importance to the economic and social history coal played in this part of Wales, or is the Trust suggesting the significance and historic development of coal mining should be ignored? Could it be that the earliest mining here was medieval rather than the late 18th or early 19th century date suggested by the Royal Commission? The opportunity to find out for certain was not taken and this would seem a dereliction.

portraitPlan showing a variety of earthworks of different periods and the new wind farm road (pink) and verge (green). The earthworks destroyed during the development were not recorded prior to their destruction because DAT considered them to be less than five hundred years old and therefore not worth bothering with.

What is certain, from survey evidence alone, is that holloway A is earlier than the coal mining as it has been truncated. This holloway is therefore of some antiquity and the failure of the evaluation process to identity this detail is lamentable. A second holloway (B) also predates the coal mining whilst others (C) are either contemporary or later in date.

Sitting on the southern edge of the coal mining earthworks are two cairns. The western cairn appears to have structural elements within its fabric whilst the eastern one is clearly respected by a pair of holloways that skirt around it. The relationship with Holloway B is of particular significance as it implies that this cairn is earlier than the adjacent coal extraction pits. The line of stones leading south westward from this cairn can be traced for about 700m. The summary dismissal of the coal mining remains as unimportant meant of course that nobody looked to see if there were any earlier earthworks surviving in the vicinity. So much was missed as a result.

Surely it is foolhardy to dismiss something as post-medieval/modern without first checking to see what is there?

This, for example?

A prehistoric row with a twenty first century gap?

A prehistoric row with twenty first century gaps?



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February 2014

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