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Hyssington Axe Factory
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3

Prehistoric Axe Factory near Hyssington
Dig Diary 2008


Cwm Mawr

The second season of excavation will take place between 15 September and 3 October 2008, and will focus on a small quarry identified by Shotton, Chitty and Seaby in 1951 as a likely source of the picrite used in the manufacture of the prehistoric battle axes and axe hammers. A small-scale trial excavation was carried out on the same site during 2007, although it quickly became clear that a much larger excavation would be necessary to reach the bottom of the quarry, and hopefully find some artefacts and dating evidence.

Right: Recording the trial excavation in the quarry in 2007

This dig diary will be updated throughout the project, bringing news of the excavation, as well as a range of associated events for local schools, organised by Ken Brassil of National Museum Wales, and displays in the Powysland Museum in Welshpool.

The site is on private farmland and although the owner has been kind enough to permit the excavation, there is unfortunately no public access.

Cwm Mawr

Left: The small quarry showing some of the large boulders

The excavation is being carried out be a team of four archaeologist from CPAT, directed by Nigel Jones. During the last two weeks they will be joined by Steve Burrow from National Museum Wales, who has recently completed excavations on another axe factory site at Mynydd Rhiw on the Lleyn Peninsula.

Week 1

The first few days of the excavation will be spent setting up the site and removing the turf by hand for careful reinstatement once the excavation has been completed. The trial excavations in 2007 revealed that the quarry had bee infilled with large boulders and we are expecting these to present a considerable challenge as they need to be completely cleared within the area of the excavation.

Day 1 at Hyssington, 2008 17th September 2008
The first day was day spent, as predicted, carrying equipment onto site, stripping off the turf and removing the topsoil. This has, however, produced the first prehistoric find - a small flint flake - which has been struck from a larger flint nodule, but which does not appear to have been further worked into a tool or implement. Sadly this came from the topsoil layer and is not associated with any other archaeological remains, but it is at least confirmation that there has been some form of prehistoric activity in the area.

19th September 2008
We have made very good progress during the first week, largely helped by the fine weather. The excavations have exposed the picrite bedrock above and below the small quarry, and in both places it is clear that the rock has been quarried by levering large blocks of stone which have been created by natural weathering processes. There is still much to do, particularly in removing the dump of large boulders in the base of the quarry. Although the quarry itself still undated, we have found two iron nails just above the bedrock inside the quarry. What we really need, however, is some dating evidence from the quarry base, beneath the dumped stone. Hopefully next week will provide some answers.

Week 2

Week 2 at Hyssington, 2008

22nd September 2008

Week 1 ended with the surprise discovery of two iron shovels, which were found in association with a dump of large boulders.

Week 2 at Hyssington, 2008

The second week has started with the help of reinforcements in the form of Dr Steve Burrow and CPAT 'old boy' Ken Brassil, both of National Museum Wales. With their assistance a second trench has been opened to investigate a level terrace adjacent to the quarry. Ken has also arranged visits to the site for small groups from a number of local schools, who will be able to contribute to the dig diary later this week.

Much of Monday was taken up by the task of moving the dump of large boulders which had to be carefully man-handled out of the excavation trench. At present two of the boulders have been left as they are so large that it may prove impossible to move them.

25th September 2008

Week 2 at Hyssington, 2008 - final stages of excavating the quarry site

As we near the end of the second week it is now clear that the small quarry which we have been investigating is likely to be relatively recent. We have had a number of small iron nails and other iron objects, as well as a fragment of clay pipe, throughout the backfill of the quarry, which suggest that the quarry may have been in use during the 18th and 19th centuries. Unfortunately, other than the small flint flake found very early on during the excavation, we have found no other prehistoric artefacts. We are still convinced, however, that the prehistoric axes did come from this hill and now think that perhaps they were made from blocks of stone which were levered from the bedrock in numerous places across the hillside. We still have one week left and may yet find positive evidence for the axe factory.

Week 2 at Hyssington, 2008 - pupils from Forden School visitng the excavation

On a more positive note we were joined by four groups of school children on Wednesday and Thursday, in the company of sound specialist Dylan Adams. The children were from schools in Leighton, Forden, Montgomery and Newtown, and spent some time at the excavation learning about history, archaeology, and much more. In particular, Dylan got each group to think about the sights and sounds which people would have heard here 4,000 years ago, and brought a variety of musical instruments to enable the children to make a musical record of their visit and experiences.

There will be more of this from the children themselves in due course.

26th September 2008

Week 2 at Hyssington, 2008 - many hands make light work

As our second week ends an unexpected volunteer dropped in to lend a hand - none other than the Cadw's Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments, Gwilym Hughes.

Week 3

Week 3 at Hyssington, 2008 - the finished trench

3rd October 2008

Our last week saw a change in the weather with the first serious rainfall, most of this was overnight, although we did lose a whole morning on Tuesday.

The main trench, which was investigating the small quarry, was completed on Monday, revealing that all of the visible workings are likely to be 19th-century. This was something of a disappointment as we had hoped to find some evidence of earlier working. However, it was interesting to see how the stone had been extracted - the picrite naturally forms individual blocks of varying sizes which can be levered away from the bedrock. Some of the blocks within the quarry were so large that they could not be moved and although there had obviously been an attempt to break the largest boulder into smaller pieces the rock is so hard that only small pieces had been broken off the edges.

Week 3 at Hyssington, 2008 - a 'geological survey'

The excavation proved to be of particular interest to geologists and a group from Birmingham University, led by Rob Ixer, came to visit the site on Thursday. They were able to answer a number of questions about the formation and nature of picrite, and in particular provide useful information about how the rock weathers, which helped to explain some of the natural deposits which we had seen during the excavation.

Week 3 at Hyssington, 2008 - the picrite comes home

Thursday was also a special day, seeing the homecoming of one of the axe hammers. We were lucky enough to be able to borrow the axe from the Powysland Museum in Welshpool, providing not only a good photo opportunity for Dr Steve Burrow, but also enabling the geologists and ourselves to compare an actual picrite axe with the exposed rock on site.

We managed to excavate a further two trenches during the final week, both of which revealed yet more small-scale stone extraction, although neither produced any artefacts or dating evidence.

Although we have not been fortunate enough to find any prehistoric tools or unfinished axes, we are still confident that the axes were made from stone taken from this part of the hill. Having carefully examined the whole area there is nowhere else which appears to have the same indications of small-scale quarrying. The geologists may be able to help further in confirming the location once they have had a chance to analyse samples of picrite from various locations on the hill.

Week 3 at Hyssington, 2008 - your excavation team

Having completed the excavations, we intend to produce a project report over the coming months which we hope to make available to download from this webpage.

A talk on the excavations will be given by Nigel Jones in Hyssington village hall in April. In the meantime, if anyone has found a stone axe in the area we would love to hear from you - it could be the missing link we have been looking for.

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