Initial excavations were undertaken with a small team for 3 weeks in 2008. We subsequently excavated for 4 weeks in June/July 2009, for 4 weeks at Easter (March /April) 2010 and again in the summer June/July of 2010 (D1). The excavation work has been undertaken by local volunteers (D2), students from Durham, Cardiff and Lampeter Universities and professional archaeologists from the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and Dyfed Archaeological Trust. A diary of the progress of the 2009 and 2010 excavations can be seen at:
The excavations have failed to find any trace of prehistoric or early medieval occupation on the site. Archaeological remains which have been unearthed are focussed into two major phases:
Early 12th century:
The castle of Robert FitzMartin. The highly visible motte (D3) and associated northern and western earth banks (D4) and associated ditches were constructed. A bank and ditch defence appears to have also been present at the top of the southern slope of the site. A wooden watchtower was present on the motte based on 4 large posts. At least 3 phases of wooden palisade were present on the top of the north bank (D5, D6). There were at least 2 phases of wooden buildings inside the north and west ramparts (D7, D8). There is evidence for an early roadway, which ran between the two northern banks, suggesting that the early 12th century castle was entered by walking around the eastern end of the outer northern bank and between the two banks, accessing through a gateway between the inner northern bank and the motte.
Late 12th century:
A series of at least 3 stone buildings, built of local slate embedded in the clay sub soil from the site, were erected on the southern side of the site overlooking the valley (D9). Both of the doorways into these buildings were made of well carved, square blocks of a hard sandstone (D10). Whilst the slate and clay building technique is a traditional technique of stone construction in Wales, the exactly squared stone blocks suggests an Anglo-Norman mason. Thus this phase of construction appears to be a fusion of Welsh and Anglo-Norman building technologies. A round tower was created on top of the motte (D11), replacing the earlier wooden structure (D12). A large rock cut ditch (D13) (at least 8m wide and 8m deep) separated an area of bedrock, called the Inner Castle, from the rest of the site. This Inner Castle became the strong point and focus of the later castle; it was surrounded by a curtain wall, with a large square tower on one side. These walls and tower were also built of clay and slate, unusually the square tower had at least one rounded exterior corner (D13). We do not know how the late 12th century castle was entered; it was not through the early 12th century castle entrance, which had silted into a ditch by this time. At present the stone construction appears to have occurred circa 1171-1189, probably the work of William FitzMartin, perhaps creating an impressive castle for Angharad his new bride, it was undoubtedly designed to impress his father in law. William left for the crusade with Richard the Lionheart in 1189 and Lord Rhys broke solemn undertakings and captured Nevern Castle.
Destruction and Later
Following a fire the castle was destroyed, this was probably the destruction of Hywel Sais in 1195, certainly all the pottery in these and earlier layers are 12th century. The evidence of a dropped Nine Men’s Morris Board from the doorway of the largest stone building (22 x 8m) (D14) possibly a Great Hall, would suggest a hasty exit. Stone projectiles in and around both towers may suggest conflict. There is very limited evidence of use of the site after its destruction. The site was subsequently farmed throughout the medieval and post medieval period (occupation probably made the soil very productive). This agriculture ploughed away much of the archaeology from the centre of the site, lowered the inner northern bank and caused silting of the northern ditch / entrance road. Drains and drainage ditches were also dug through the archaeology to help drain the site.
The surviving remains of Nevern castle preserve evidence of that rare transition stage of the late 12th and early 13th century when castles were being redeveloped from earth and timber structures to stone. It preserves some of the earliest remains of a stone castle in West Wales and rare evidence of the nature of life in 12th century Wales.