Sunday, 27 December 2015

Cosmeston Medieval Village Excavations

Both of the authors of this blog have been fortunate enough to attend various archaeological excavations throughout Glamorgan and beyond, including excavations at Caerleon, St Lythans and Tinkinswood, Neath Roman fort and Oystermouth Castle to name a few.  This article however will focus on Cosmeston medieval village.  This particular excavation took place in 2009, some time ago, but is of sufficient interest to merit an article on this blog-site. 

The re-constructed medieval village at Cosmeston has since its discovery been subject to various archaeological excavations, the first of which were carried out by the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust, during the early 1980s.  Cosmeston was again excavated during the early 1990s by Wessex Archaeology. 

The extant remains have provided archaeologists with not only detailed information regarding the lives of the inhabitants of Cosmeston, but have also served to provide details regarding nucleated medieval settlements in the wider context of Glamorgan; Cosmeston, compared with many shrunken/deserted medieval settlements in Glamorgan, is well preserved, and despite the encroachment of modern development, has thankfully managed to maintain its rural setting and of course its archaeology more or less intact.  The present remains, reconstructed on their original foundations, have been dated to the early Fourteenth Century. 

Excavations have revealed various exigencies associated with the typical nucleated medieval settlement; for example, buildings associated with agriculture such as a barn and bake-house were excavated.  Excavations at nearby Old Barry Village and Merthyr Dyfan have uncovered similar structures indicating that they were ubiquitous features of many a medieval village throughout Glamorgan.  Domestic structures too were of course also uncovered, with examples of peasant type cots, being well represented; once again, these were ubiquitous structures throughout medieval Glamorgan with excavations at both Merthyr Dyfan and Barry village revealing similar buildings.  A Columbarium, similar to complete examples found at Cadoxton and Llantwit Major was also uncovered.

(Cosmeston, near the site of excavation)

Cosmeston however, had a few surprises in store for the original excavators, one of which was an early farm complex: something generally not seen in archaeology for at least another hundred years after the buildings inferred construction date of the early Fourteenth Century.  This building has been given the apocryphal appellation "Reeves House".  It is also curious to note that no church or chapel has been uncovered at Cosmeston.  This is however not too surprising considering that Cosmeston is absent from both the Norwich Taxation of 1254, and the Taxatio of 1291-2.

Despite a wealth of information being unearthed regarding Cosmeston's apotheosis as a settlement, there has been scant information unearthed regarding the formative years of Cosmeston's existence. Cosmeston certainly does have Norman antecedents, for example,  The Liber Niger, or Black book of the Exchequer, of 1165, makes reference to a certain Robertus de Constantino, as being the holder of one knights fee at Cosmeston.  A later survey of the fees held in Glamorgan made upon the death of Richard de Clare in 1262, also makes reference to a single knights fee held at Cosmeston.

This historical enigma provided the impetus for the next series of excavations at Cosmeston which began in 2009, and saw Cardiff University students undertake the latest excavations. The goal of this particular excavation, not surprisingly, was to find the Norman period manor house and associated buildings, and to also explore the wider socio-economic relationship Cosmeston had with the surrounding area. 

Despite a geophysical survey being made of the village area no positive results could be discerned as the area was proliferated with rubble making the interpretation of any archaeology difficult; it was thus decided to sink various trial trenches with the hope of striking it lucky.  Two long trenches were opened up; trench one was located at the north side of the field by the lane that crosses Sully Brooke, and trench two opened at the east side of the field closer to the reconstructed village near the path contiguous to Sully Brooke.  In addition to this it was also decided to re-open one of the trial trenches made in the dovecote field during the 2008 excavation; the site of a substantial dry stone wall which was uncovered during the last few days of the excavation. 

(Rubble spread occupying trench two after the top soil had been removed)

The excavation began on the 26th of June as the assembled team of students and professional archaeologists began to remove the turf and the first six inches of topsoil from the trenches in the village field. The first six inches of all trenches revealed a mixture of pottery from the Eighteenth to Nineteenth Centuries and modern debris left behind by re-enactment groups who frequently use the site.  

The trench opened in the dovecot field revealed further dating evidence in regards to the dry-stone wall structure found within and established a date of 15th Century terminus post quem.   Vast quantities of pottery dating from the 15th Century to the 18th Century were found in the demolition layers associated with this building.  In addition, a worn Tudor period coin, which was found in the rubble surrounding the dry-stone wall from the previous year’s excavation, indicated that this building was demolished and stripped of its stone at around the early-mid 17th Century.  Being only but a small portion of the extant building the conclusions that could be drawn from it are limited; however, it is possible that the this building could have served both a domestic or agricultural function.

(View of the dry-stone wall in the re-opened 2008 trench)

Some interesting features were uncovered throughout the excavation, in particular a wall featuring rubble infilling uncovered at the intersection of trench one and two. The wall was a substantial one that transcended the two metre trench width and is certainly indicative of once being a part of a large structure.  Interestingly, a medieval document dating from 1437/8, makes reference to a construction site for a house next to an existing tower.  Could this be the site of the said building?  Certainly quantities of 15th C green glazed roof tiles were found in lower context of this trench suggesting that the building was extant during this time.

(The substantial stone wall excavated at the intersection of trench one and two)

In common with every other trench excavated in 2009, the walls of this particular structure had been robbed of most of their stone.  A stone lined drainage feature was found contiguous with the wall in trench one, and also the remains of a metalled floor.  This structure however, interesting though it is, was not the Norman period building the excavators had hoped to find; no material culture of the Twelfth Century was found in the vicinity.  

The north end of trench one near Sully Brooke however, constantly yielded an enormous amount of pottery dating from the Fifteenth Century through to the Eighteenth Century.  Also found were animal bones and metal objects such as fish hooks and copper coins indicating that this area was once a midden associated with the post-medieval phase of Cosmeston.   

Trench two revealed nothing of great importance, certainly nothing even close to the elusive Twelfth Century date so craved by the senior archaeologists.  The author however personally discovered a bronze medieval thimble in the demolition layer of one medieval structure uncovered in trench two.  In the same demolition layer however was discovered an Eighteenth Century button, which indicates that substantial remains of this building were in existence until the Eighteenth Century when it was eventually robbed of its stone. 

(Remains of a medieval wall found in the east section of trench two: this wall was fairly complete until the Eighteenth Century) 

The Cardiff University excavations served to add to our corpus of knowledge regarding the history of Cosmeston; the large structure located at the intersection of trench one and two was of particular interest and very likely represents the site of a later medieval manor house; however, no evidence of any Norman period buildings was uncovered this season; this is not too surprising, as any earlier structures were likely constructed with perishable materials, and would have most likely been destroyed by later developments.  The enigma of Cosmeston' s early history continues. 

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