A winged Romano-British villa, occupying the north-east angle of a double-ditched rectangular enclosure, certainly occupied in the third and early fourth centuries AD. The site is entirely plough-levelled and was discovered through aerial photography and geophysical survey but was confirmed by excavation in July 2010 by Toby Driver and Jeffrey Davies.
SUMMARY OF SITE AND ITS DISCOVERY
Incomplete cropmarks of a double-ditched rectangular enclosure, with traces of a possible building within, were first recorded at Abermagwr by Cambridge University aerial photographers in August 1979. The site was subsequently photographed from the air during dry summers of the 1980s and 1990s but remained undated due to its unusual morphology (shape). It was not until the drought summer of 2006 that the near-complete layout of this enclosure was revealed. Photography on the 27th July 2006 showed the ditched enclosure to be complex, with an additional annex, and confirmed a substantial rectangular building within. During research for the second series of the Hidden Histories television series for BBC2 Wales in 2009, the site was selected as the most promising undated, yet complex, cropmark for a magnetometry survey. Magnetometry by David Hopewell (GAT) was carried out on 2nd July 2009. A winged building with three inner rooms and a south-facing veranda was revealed within the enclosure.
RESULTS FROM THE 2010-11 EXCAVATIONS
Following the confirmation of the site as that of a Romano-British villa in 2010 the second season of excavations (2011) explored the western half of the central, and largest room of the house (Room 2), part of the verandah (Room 7) and saw the total excavation of Room 6 which had been added to the rear of the house. All walling had been robbed: the wall foundations -particularly those of the north and south walls of the house- comprised substantial trenches filled with closely packed river cobbles. A sherd of a Black Burnished cooking pot incorporated in the foundation trench of the north wall remains the only securely stratified find relating to its construction. In all instances the floors -including that of Room 1 which was partly exposed- were of earth. Room 2 had been provided with an off-centre slab-edged and stone-floored hearth measuring 1.10 x 0.95m whilst a partly stone-built circular oven had been set against the south wall.
A trench dug to examine what appeared on a geophysical survey to be a drain running east from the eastern ala of the house revealed a large, rectangular pit seemingly dug with a view to adding a hypocausted room. This appears never to have been completed, the pit being thereafter filled with rubble and domestic rubbish. Fragments of flue tile, brick and imbrices from this fill suggest the probable re-use of building material from the bath-house of the long abandoned auxiliary fort at Trawcoed.
Excavations confirmed that part of the slate roof over Rooms 1 and 2 collapsed during a fire sometime after AD325 on the basis of coin evidence. However, later activity is evidenced by post-holes dug through the floors of Rooms 2 and 6, whilst at least one fireplace in Room 1 was built of re-used roofing slates.
Numismatic and ceramic evidence indicates occupation of the building circa AD 270-350, although two issues of Severus Alexander, one struck in AD224 and unlikely to be in circulation beyond circa AD250 suggest that occupation may have begun somewhat earlier. The incidence of a few sherds of later first – early second century AD samian and coarsewares may possibly be explained by agricultural activities relating to the occupation of nearby fort at Trawscoed. An unusual discovery in Room 6 were fragments of a deep convex facet- and linear-cut glass bowl or cup with several zones of decoration and of third-fourth century AD date. Examination of the double-ditched enclosure bounding the villa failed to produce unequivocal evidence of its date though the inner had been re-cut, its upper fill being used as a repository for domestic rubbish in the third-fourth century.
Excavations by Dr. J L Davies and Dr. T G Driver on behalf of RCAHMW, the Cambrian Archaeological Association, the Department of Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, the Society of Antiquaries and the Society for the promotion of Roman Studies.
Davies, J. L. & Driver, T. G. 2011. Abermagwr (SN 6688 7416), Britannia Vol. 42, 320-21.
Davies, J. L. & Driver, T. G. 2012, The First Roman Villa in Ceredigion: A summary report on the discovery and excavation of a late Romano-British villa at Abermagwr, near Aberystwyth, 2010-11, Ceredigion Vol. XVI, Number 3 (2011), 1-15.
Updated by Dr Toby Driver, RCAHMW, May 2012.