The following statement on the research opportunities offered by investigation and excavation at the site of Nevern Castle was written in 2005 prior to starting any work on the site.
An updated series of research objectives was written in 2009 to obtain the grant for the Phase 2 work – ‘Nevern Castle Archaeological Excavation and Research Project’ available at http://www.dur.ac.uk/archaeology/research/projects/?mode=project&id=405
The castle at Nevern provides a unique opportunity to pursue a large number of the research topics, identified as of national importance in the recently derived research framework for archaeology in Wales. Specific research topics include:
Castle 12th century
The nature of Norman earth and timber castles, especially in the principality rests on the excavation of few notable examples, Rhymney (Lightfoot 1992), Penmaen (Alcock 1966) and most notably Hen Domen (Higham & Barker 2000). There is need to explore a Norman earth and timber castle sequence, which is either complex (Turvey’s ringwork followed by a motte and outer bank) or has an earlier earthwork (multivalate promontory fort followed by a motte). The interrelationship between Norman earthworks and earlier earthworks is particularly crucial to our interpretation of this site and the numerous other motte and earthwork complexes such as Allt-y-ferrin, which litter the Welsh countryside.
Research into the development of Welsh masonry castles received a boost through the 1980’s and 1990’s with the excavation of Dryslwyn and Dolforwyn castles (Caple 2007; Butler 1989, 1995, forthcoming). The continued lack of well excavated masonry castles from the 12th century hinders any understanding of the origins of Welsh masonry castle building. Many early Welsh castles have either been cleared and restored as monuments e.g. Castell-y-Bere or were subject to later building e.g. Dinefwr thus depriving us of the ability to clearly discern the nature of early Welsh masonry castle construction. Nevern is almost certainly a Welsh masonry construction of the late 12th century. It is uncluttered by later construction activity and unexcavated. It could provide one of our best opportunities to examine an early Welsh masonry castle.
The Lord Rhys is one of the dominant figures of the Welsh past. Despite his prominence in the latter half of the 12th century, written reference to his building in stone at Cardigan Castle in 1171 and Turvey’s suggestion that he had an active castle building programme (Turvey 1997), virtually no extant remains can be ascribed to him. The remains of castles such as Cardigan and Dinefwr are primarily of later construction (Rees & Caple 2000), whilst others have yet to be excavated e.g. Ystradmeurig or Llandovery. Castles such as Nevern represent the likely constructions of the Lord Rhys (King & Perks 1950-1, Turvey 1989, Miles 1989). The fact that Nevern was seemingly abandoned after the development of Newport circa 1195-1204 gives some certainty (often absent elsewhere) that the later masonry phases of this monument can be ascribed to The Lord Rhys or his sons.
The material culture evidence for the 12th century, particularly related to ‘Welsh’ culture, is very limited. Clearance of castles in the early part of the century left us with few tangible remains of either the Welsh lords and princes, or the soldiers and peasants of the 12th and 13th century. The remains which we have from sites such as Dryslwyn (Caple 2007) or Castell-y-Bere (Butler 1974) are primarily a few metal, stone and bone finds. Organic artefacts such as bowls, buckets, shoes etc are needed to provide a more complete picture of the lives of these people. Consequently any and all potentially waterlogged deposits from 12th, 13th century sites are particularly important. They need to be assessed and mitigation strategies established to preserve the remains in situ or the deposits excavated and their content conserved. The west and outer north ditches at Nevern castle clearly have waterlogged deposits. Through excavation the archaeological potential of these deposits needs to be assessed and if rich in archaeological materials a preservation strategy established.
Early Medieval Fortified Settlement 6th-11th century
In recent years a number of ‘high status’ defended sites containing imported Mediterranean pottery of 5th-8th century date, such as Hen Gastell, Carew and Longbury Banks have been located in West Wales. As a result of erosion or later building work, little if anything of the buildings present on these sites has been recovered. The most complete example of such a site is still Dinas Powys (Alcock 1963), excavated over 40 years ago. The later status, form and location of the site of Nevern Castle make it a highly likely candidate as a defended early medieval ‘high status’ site.
It has been suggested that multi-valate promontory forts may be a site form that is common in the post Roman/early Christian period e.g. Carew and possibly Dinas Powys. Nevern castle represents an excellent opportunity to test this theory.
It has been suggested that from the 6th –11th century ecclesiastical and secular sites may be paired. The presence of a clas sited on the present church/churchyard at Nevern during the 6-11th century could thus suggest the presence of a nearby secular site, potentially sited across a stream or river from the ecclesiastical site. This theory could be tested through excavation at Nevern castle.
The lack of archaeological sites from the period 8-12th century in Wales prevents us from constructing any coherent archaeological picture for this period with any confidence. Sites such as Llangorse and Llanbedyrgoch may well not be typical. In view of its association with the ecclesiastic site, which is active through the early Medieval period (Pryce 1992), Nevern castle thus would appear to be one of the most likely sites on which we may find 8-11th century occupation and settlement. Its excavation would thus crucially fill one of the most glaring gaps in the archaeological record of Wales.
Alcock, L. 1963 Dinas Powys, Cardiff. University of Wales Press.
Alcock, L. 1966 Castle Tower, Penmaen: a Norman ringwork in Glamorgan. Antiquaries Journal 46, 176-210
Butler, L.A.S. 1974 Medieval Finds from Castell-y-Bere, Archaeologia Cambrensis CXXIII, 78-111
Butler, L.A.S. 1989 Dolforwyn Castle Montgomery, Powys. First Report: The Excavation 1981-1986, Archaeologia Cambrensis CXXXVIII, 78-98
Butler, L.A.S. 1995 Dolforwyn Castle Montgomery, Powys. Second Report: The Excavation 1987-1994, Archaeologia Cambrensis CXLIV, 133-203
Butler L.A.S. forthcoming Dolforwyn Castle Montgomery, Powys. Third Report: The Finds, Archaeologia Cambrensis
Caple, C, 2007, Excavations at Dryslwyn Castle 1980-1995, Society for Medieval Archaeology Monograph No 26, Society for Medieval Archaeology, London
King, J D C and Perks, J C, 1950-1, Castell Nanhyfer, Nevern (Pemb.), Archaeologia Cambrensis 101, 123-128
Lightfoot, K. 1992 Rumney Castle, a ringwork and manorial centre in South Glamorgan. Medieval Archaeology 36
Miles, D, 1998, A Book on Nevern, Gomer Press, Llandysul
Pryce, H. 1992 Ecclesiastical Wealth in Early Medieval Wales, in, N. Edwards, N. & A. Lane Early Medieval Settlements in Wales AD 400-1100, Bangor/Cardiff
Rees S. & Caple C. 1999 Dinefwr Castle Dryslwyn Castle. Cardiff. Cadw
Turvey, R, 1997 The Castle Strategy of the Lord Rhys, Archaeologia Cambrensis CXLIV, 103-132
Turvey, R, 1989 Nevern Castle: A New Interpretation, The Journal of the Pembrokeshire Historical Society 3, 57-66