Llanmelin Wood hillfort is a small but elaborate Iron Age hillfort defended by two, and in some places three, banks. The hillfort has been suggested as the tribal capital of the Silures tribe, as it overlooks the Roman town of Caerwent (Venta Silurum - 'market town of the Silures'), but it is not the largest hillfort in the region and there remains no conclusive proof of this supposed role. The main hillfort is oval and measures 200m NE-SW by 130m SE-NW, with a main gateway on the southeast side. Alongside and to the east of the hillfort is a complex annex comprising two rectangular compartments bounded by a high earthwork along the north, and terminating in a series of linear banks alongside a south-east gateway. The annex measures some 150m east-west by 60m. Together the hillfort and annex enclosure around 3 hectares.
In the early 1930s Llanmelin hillfort was the focus of intense activity. An original survey by Sir Mortimer Wheeler (1923) was improved by V. E. Nash-Williams who conducted three seasons of excavation between 1930-32. At the time the hillfort was thickly wooded with virtually no clear sight lines, but this did not hamper the excavation of many narrow excavation trenches and running sections. Howells and Pollard in the Gwent County History (2004, 148-151) summarise the development as beginning with an early phase hillfort flanked by extra mural occupation to the east. The was superceded in the 2nd century BC by a multivallate expansion of the original hillfort. In the third phase, dated first century BC/AD, the main gateway was remodelled and the complex annex was constructed. During the new Royal Commission survey in 2015, good indications of an early phase enclosure within the main hillfort have been recorded for the first time.
Finds included bead-rimmed jars with limestone fabric and Glastonbury style vessels. Perhaps the most interesting discovery from the annex were two human burials, one in the external ditch on the south-west side and one external to the northeast of the annex earthworks. Reappraisal of the site in the Gwent County History suggested Llanmelin may be a late Iron Age oppidum with high status funerary enclosures developed alongside. Later occupation on the hillfort included two substantial medieval longhouses sited within the annex earthworks.
New community excavations undertaken by Cadw with Archaeology Wales between 29th October and 16th November 2012 investigated parts of the hillfort interior and defences and produced Roman finds into the second century AD. A new survey by the Royal Commission was undertaken in spring 2015.
There is a lesser enclosure, the 'outpost', sited about 235m to the north-east (NPRN 307960).
Source: Nash Williams 1933 (AC 88), 237-346.
Griffiths, R.A. (ed.), The Gwent County History, Volume 1, Gwent in Prehistory and Early History. University of Wales Press: Cardiff.
T. Driver & L. Barker, 2015