Ysgol yr Hendre, Llanbeblig, Caernarfon

An early medieval cemetery and Roman construction camp

Introduction | Excavation Results | Neolithic Pit | Roman Pit Ovens and Possible Construction Camp | Early Medieval Cemetery

Medieval Features | 19th and 20th Century | Acknowledgements and Further Reading

Medieval Features

A few features were found that did not belong to either the cemetery or the Roman phase. One feature with a long channel running from a shallow sub-circular pit was a corn drier. Grain would have been suspended above the pit, and a fire lit at the far end of the flue. This would have allowed the hot air from the fire to dry the grain without fear of sparks setting it alight. There was evidence of burning in the flue but not in the pit.

The corn drier cut through two graves, and was therefore clearly identified during excavation as being later than the cemetery. This was confirmed by radiocarbon dates of the 11th to 13th century obtained from burnt grain. Clearly by this time knowledge of the cemetery had been forgotten.

Soil samples from this feature produced charred oat grains, with some barley and hazel nut shell fragments. The scarcity of weed seeds suggests cleaned grain was being dried, and the charring of the grain may have been caused by accidently burning the grain during drying. Drying corn helps both to preserve grain and allows easier milling. Corn driers were particularly important where oats were the main crop as these were grown in wetter areas with a shorter growing season. The use of oats increased in the medieval period, and this helps account for an increase in numbers of corn driers noted within this period.

A plan of the corn drier, showing it
cutting through graves

Also within the cemetery was a sub-rectangular pit measuring 1.6m by 1.0m by 0.25m deep. In the base of the pit were a few large stones, and the fill contained a sherd of Roman pottery and a fragment of burnt bone. It also contained a significant amount of charred cereal grains, mainly oats but with small numbers of barley and wheat grains. This may indicate the dumping of spoilt grain or domestic waste into the pit. Radiocarbon dates on charred cereal grains demonstrated that despite the pottery the feature was medieval in date, also dating to the 11th to 13th century AD, but possibly a bit earlier than the corn drier. It is tempting to interpret this pit as a simpler form of corn drier but the lack of evidence for a fire in the base of the pit suggests that it was not.

Medieval pit with large stones in the base

Running from one of the northern mortuary enclosures was a slight gully. This curved gently and survived for a length of 15m. It was 0.5m wide and up to 0.22m deep, and was cut through the in-filled enclosure ditch. There was also a similar shallow curving gully on the northern side of the enclosure. The gully contained patches of charcoal, which proved to consist of hazel and willow or poplar, suggesting fuel woods. It also contained a surprising large amount of charred cereal grains, mainly of oats (over 4000 grains) with a small amount of wheat and barley, some weed seeds and fragments of hazelnut shells. Also identified in the deposit was a single charred garden pea.

Plan of the medieval gully running from the northern-most mortuary enclosure

The ratio of grains suggests that oats were the dominant crop grown. The pea and an oat grain were radiocarbon dated, but the two results were very different. The pea dated to the 16th or 17th centuries AD, and the oat grain to the 10th to 12th centuries AD. Given the amount of oats in the deposit it is likely that the single pea is a later intrusion, and that the gully dates from the 10th to 12th centuries AD. It is likely that the charred plant material found in the gully resulted from an accident in a corn drier.

The medieval field system could not be clearly identified within the archaeological record. Several ditches pre-dating the present field system were found, but they contained no dating evidence, and no coherent plan could be identified. Evidence from elsewhere, however, would suggest that the crops were grown in long strips, which lay within large open fields. By the 18th century these had been enclosed, and new field systems laid out.