Press Releases 2014-2015

Archaeologists Make Rare Medieval Find

03.06.2014

Archaeologists from the Dyfed Archaeological Trust and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) have, as part of a Cadw-funded project, located the remains of a rare medieval convent, its cemetery and a Tudor mansion in Ceredigion, West Wales.

Founded by Lord Rhys ap Gruffudd in 1180 AD, the precise location of Llanllyr nunnery in the tranquil Aeron Valley has remained a mystery, until now.

Dr Jemma Bezant of UWTSD’s School of Archaeology, History and Anthropology said: “It is still early days but we are aiming to locate the medieval chapel and learn more about the extent of the cemetery using 18th century estate maps and a 17th century depiction of the mansion to guide our excavations. The discovery of the grave features is very exciting but it is unlikely that skeletal material remains in the acidic west Wales soils. If we are able to recover such fragments, they could tell us about who was buried here, how many lived on the estate and what kind of lives they led.

“Medieval nunneries like this are incredibly rare with only one other known in Wales. This is an incredibly important site dating back to the late 8th century at least and gives us an unparalleled opportunity to gather more information about monastic life. We know the nuns farmed sheep and cattle successfully and they would have tended mills, orchards and fishponds. There are medieval fairs nearby at Talsarn and LLanerchaeron and they could have been trading far and wide, with coastal access only a couple of miles away at Aberaeron. We have already recovered fragments of sumptuous glazed floor tiles indicating that the nunnery was lavishly built and decorated. The site is on a wetland valley floor and waterlogged timbers are being analysed at Lampeter Dendrochronology laboratories.”

Alongside the experts, the excavation will include University students, students studying Countryside Management BTEC at Coleg Ceredigion in Aberystwyth, volunteers from the community, as well as clients from local mental health charities.

Dr Jemma Bezant said: “University students from years one and two will spend two days on site and will be taught excavation, drawing and planning, and how to recognise and clean finds that may be coins, ceramics, roof tiles and other small objects that can tell us about the past.

“I am also delighted to be able to provide this great opportunity for Coleg Ceredigion students. As well as potentially exciting archaeological discoveries this will allow them to work collaboratively with other groups and professional organisations as well as widening their skills base considerably as full training will be given.”

Very little is known about the layout of the convent and the activities that the nuns undertook. The convent was a daughter house of Strata Florida and this project complements the major research programme being undertaken by University of Wales Trinity Saint David. The house was dissolved on 26th Feb, 1537 and the estate eventually fell into the hands of the Lloyd family, and thereafter the Lewes who still own the main house and estate.

The convent was on the edge of a wetland valley floor that was drained and improved although watery places were likely to have held continuing spiritual significance for the nuns and pilgrims alike. Today the Llanllyr Water Company sells this water globally.

Dr Jemma Bezant said: “We would like to thank Cadw for funding this project, as well as the land owners and Llanllyr Water for supporting this project.”

The site is open to the public on Saturday June 7th between 11am and 3pm where archaeologists will be on-hand to point out the archaeological features found and to look at a display of the finds form the dig.

Note to Editor

1. The University of Wales Trinity Saint David was established in 2010 through the merger of the University of Wales Lampeter and Trinity University College, Carmarthen. On 1 August 2013 the Swansea Metropolitan University merged with the University.

2. The University’s Royal Charter 1828 is the oldest in Wales, and it is third behind Oxford and Cambridge in Wales and England. HRH Prince of Wales is the Patron of the University.

3. On 1 August, 2013 Coleg Sir Gâr merged with the University of Wales Trinity Saint David Group, however they will keep their own brand. Coleg Ceredigion merged with the Group on 1 January 2014.

Further Information

Steven Stokes
Senior PR and Communications Officer
07872 423788
steven.stokes@sm.uwtsd.ac.uk