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Druid Square Barrows


 CPAT

The results from the magnetometer survey CPAT

The small cemetery of likely early medieval date has been reassessed as part of a scheduling enhancement programme funded by Cadw. The site lies immediately to the west of the small hamlet known as Druid, itself some 3km west of the town of Corwen in south-west Denbighshire, formerly Meirionethshire (SJ 03874341). The cemetery was first photographed by JK St Joseph in 1975 and more recently in July 2006 by Toby Driver, RCAHMW, when three or four square barrows were recorded, at least two of which appeared to contain a central grave.

A magnetometer survey has now revealed that the cemetery consists of at least six square barrows and two possible unenclosed graves lying immediately alongside the Roman road between Chester and Caer Gai (RR66a). The Roman road clearly influenced the siting of the cemetery, and may therefore have still been in use at this time. However, none of the constituent features within the cemetery respect the alignment of the road, but are aligned east to west. The size and distribution of the barrows suggests two or more phases of interment, with an eastern group of three or four barrows being of similar size and orientation. The two western barrows are both larger and have differing alignments. At this stage the extent of the cemetery cannot be determined with certainty, although the distribution of the burials suggests that this is a small, distinct group.

Trial excavations were conducted to investigate one square barrow which the geophysical survey had identified as measuring 6.5m east/west by 6.3m north/south, with no obvious entrance. The surrounding ditch was found to be 1.16m wide and up to 0.45m deep with a silting profile which indicated an initial period of weathering after which the ditch appears to have remained stable for a considerable period. The upper fills indicate a period of intensive ploughing during the 18/19th centuries, suggesting that both the barrow and the surrounding ditch survived as earthworks until relatively recently.

 CPAT 3267-0109

Left: excavating the central grave CPAT 3267-0109

The barrow contained a single grave occupying a central position. This was rounded at either end and measured 2.3m east/west by 0.95m north/south and at least 0.75m in depth. Towards the base of the grave the excavation identified the remains of a wooden coffin, surviving as an outline of charred wood along the southern edge, within which there were vestigial traces of skeletal remains, although these were insufficient to allow any further analysis. The outline of the coffin was suggested elsewhere by the position of larger stones within the grave fill, which had presumably come to rest against the coffin during backfilling.

 CPAT

A reconstruction drawing showing how the square barrows might have looked CPAT

There are clear parallels between the cemetery at Druid and that at Tandderwen, to the east of Denbigh, which was excavated by CPAT in 1985-88 (Brassil et al. 1991). This contained nine square barrows, eight of which enclosed single graves, while one enclosed three graves. The cemetery also included 28 unenclosed graves. Twenty one of the graves preserved some remains of a wooden coffin and radiocarbon dates produced for two of those which were within square barrows, at the 68% level of probability, were calibrated to AD 560-655 and AD 886-1012. It was not possible to determine the age of the timber at felling, however, or which part of the tree had been used so that the dates only provide an indication of date for the burials.


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