Archaeology of the Mabinogion

‌The Mabinogion are a set of Welsh medieval prose narrative tales rivalling the Greek myths in importance.

Consistent with late 11th and early 12th century Wales, these tales survive as a series of 13th and 14th century manuscripts, one of which, the White Book of Rhydderch, Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch (NLW Peniarth MS 4), was copied at the Cistercian Abbey of Strata Florida in Mid Wales for a local elite or uchelwr, Rhydderch ab Ieuan Llwyd from nearby Llangeitho. Scholars think that these tales were passed down by word of mouth to convey information about lineage and landscape by relating myth, magic and monsters to real people and places. This project aims to examine the relationship between landscape and myth using landscape archaeology.

Many of the tales mention the mythical king of Dyfed, Pryderi and in the tale Math fab Mathonwy, the bard Gwydion relates myths to the King at his palace at Rhuddlan Teifi. Recent historical and archaeological analysis has highlighted the significance of Rhuddlan Teifi which was documented in the 12th century as a grange granted to Talley Abbey. The estate was an early medieval Welsh Royal site of some significance becoming a Cistercian grange farm in the late 12th century. Welsh prince Rhys ap Gruffudd granted a number of royal estates to monastic houses and these are being mapped using Geographical Information Systems. The estate was so valuable, it was eventually usurped by the large and powerful Whitland Abbey.

Recent geophysical survey has located the site of ditched enclosures that may have housed the buildings of this early royal retinue and geophysical survey has identified two ditched enclosures and radiocarbon dating of charcoal samples dates these to between the 11th and 13th centuries.

This early medieval period in Wales remains mysterious – not for nothing is it known as the Dark Ages. It is hoped that further excavation will help us understand the site better archaeologically and shed some light on the relationship between myth and landscape.

This project is funded by the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, The Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies and The Nuffield Foundation.

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