The Profile of Archaeology in Wales Has Never Been Higher, Thanks to Legal and Technical Changes and Patient Diggers; TRUSTS UNIQUE TO WALES HAVE HELPED TO REVEAL OUR PAST
Byline: GWILYM HUGHES
IN today's History Month article, Andrew Edwards considers the role of the M4 motorway in the lives of the Welsh people.
We all look out for our landmarks when driving along this highway. Two of my favourites appear as you head west, just before crossing the River Loughor into Carmarthenshire.
Immediately to the left is Castell Du, a distinctive grasscovered Norman motte-andbailey castle which is clipped by the hard shoulder of the motorway.
On the right, in the flood plain of the river, is a white-walled enclosure marking the former location of Llandeilo Talybont church, now dismantled and reconstructed at the National History Museum in St Fagans. Both sites remind us that, like so many of our roads, the M4 cuts a swathe through the historic landscapes of Wales. When work began on the motorway in the 1960s very little attention was paid to the impact that the road had on archaeological sites in its path.
However, over the past 40 years archaeology in Wales has been transformed with excavation of known and new sites in advance of development such as new roads.
This transformation has been achieved through two landmark developments.
The first was the establishment during the mid-1970s of a network of four regional Welsh Archaeological Trusts.
They were unique to Wales, created with the support of Cadw to oversee archaeological investigations.
These were often carried out to "rescue" information before it disappeared under concrete and tarmac.
They also provide heritage management advice to local authorities, owners of historic sites, land managers and the general public based on the information that was consequently gathered into regional historic environment records.
The second development came about through changes in planning policy during the early 1990s.
This ensured the need to consider the impact of new development on the historic environment.
Planning conditions now dictate that developers have to cover the cost of any necessary archaeological work.
Today, the majority of archaeological work across Wales is undertaken in the context of these pre-development surveys and has led to major new discoveries, such as the medieval ship on the banks of the River Usk at Newport and prehistoric houses on the site of the new business parks near Holyhead and Bangor.
In fact the largest archaeological dig ever undertaken in Wales took place in 2007 and 2008 in advance of the new pipeline that now carries gas across South Wales from the LNG terminals at Milford Haven into England. Dozens of new sites were excavated during this project including Neolithic ritual monuments, Bronze Age burial mounds, Roman roads and long abandoned medieval settlements.
New approaches and techniques have also developed which allow this mass of archaeological information to be interpreted in new ways. …