Piecing Together the Past; Caroline Pudney, Cadw's Community Archaeologist, Explains How Excavations at Llanmelin Iron Age Hillfort Are Helping to Create a Picture of Wales' Past
rchaeology is very much like a jigsaw.
As archaeologists, we discover objects and evidence that we piece together to try to make the bigger picture.
Sometimes there are gaps, like missing pieces, but occasionally each piece slots perfectly together to tell us about how people lived in Wales, perhaps thousands of years ago.
This large curved stone may not look much but it's part of a jigsaw. It's a fragment of an Iron Age rotary quern that would have been used for grinding grain into flour.
And it was found by 17-yearold Jack Newcombe during a three-week excavation of Llanmelin Iron Age hillfort in Monmouthshire. For Jack, discovering this quern meant being able to put his hands on a real piece of history: " The highlight of my time at Llanmelin was when I got to lift the quern stone.
"Being able to touch and lift the quern stone created an emotional connection with the object, knowing that someone had been using it thousands of years ago connected me more to our ancestors."
During the autumn of 2012, Cadw, with a team of volunteers, began excavations at the hillfort as part of the Llanmelin Community Project.
There were volunteers from Shirenewton History Society, Caldicot History Society and Caerwent Historic Trust plus pupils from Dewstow Primary School, Caldicot School and Monmouthshire Pupil Referral Services. We were also joined by Operation Nightingale, a project set up by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, the MoD's property and services provider, with The Rifles. The project gets wounded servicemen involved in archaeology to help them in their recovery. These communities had come together to look for the pieces of evidence that would tell us more about the community who lived in this hillfort more than 2,000 years ago.
Hillforts are distinct features of the Iron Age landscape of Wales. They were usually built in prominent positions with one or more banks - ramparts - constructed of earth or stone, with an external ditch. The ramparts were often steep and formidable which meant they could be defended in times of threat. But hillforts were not just defensive strongholds; they were homes.
To the community who lived at Llanmelin - most likely the Silures - the hillfort was their place, their home; where they built their houses, where they raised their children, where they ground their grain, stored and cooked their food, and made tools and jewellery from stone, bone and antler, copper and iron. …