Pillar of Eliseg: Archaeologists dig beneath 9th Century monument
Archaeologists are to start excavations on a suspected ancient burial site to try to understand the significance of a Llangollen landmark.
But the team will have to work carefully because the 9th century Pillar of Eliseg, a CADW-protected ancient monument, stands directly on top of the barrow – burial mound – and the archaeologists can’t disturb it.
Medieval archaeology Professor, Nancy Edwards*, from Bangor University, says it is the first time the site has been dug since 1773 when, it is believed, a skeleton was unearthed.
“We are trying to date the barrow in its broader archaeological context,” she said, as the site could date back to the Bronze Age.
The history behind the monument and why it was erected on the mound in the late 1700s by Trevor Lloyd of Trevor Hall, who then owned the land, is not yet understood.
However, separate work has been carried out to try to decipher original and additional faded inscriptions by experts from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW).
Originally a cross, it was first erected at nearby Valle Crusis Abbey to commemorate an early medieval leader, Eliseg (or Elisedd).
Today, only the shaft of the cross remains and its inscription, which was already almost illegible when the antiquary Edward Lhuyd tried to transcribe it in 1696, has disappeared.
Some of the 18th Century inscription describing the re-erection of the cross on the barrow has since been discerned by the experts, but nothing that reveals why it was relocated.
Joining Professor Edwards on-site for the dig will be colleagues from the University of Chester and with help from Llangollen Museum.
The plan is to open one small trench within the barrow and three others in close proximity within the field which is owned by a private landowner.
Dai Morgan Evans, visiting professor in archaeology at Chester University, has his own ideas as to why the monument was relocated to the mound.
He told the Leader newspaper that Trevor Lloyd could have been implying he was related to the Welsh king named on the inscription and those in the burial below.
During the dig, David Crane from Llangollen Museum plans to blog regularly via the museum website to give people updates.
And the public will be allowed on-site during an open day (31 July), between 11am-3pm.
*Edwards, N., 2009, ‘Rethinking the pillar of Eliseg’, The Antiquaries Journal, :143-177
The Pillar of Eliseg, originally an ambitious round-shafted cross, stands on a barrow near the Cistercian abbey of Valle Crucis. It was carved with a lengthy inscription, now illegible, but transcribed in 1696 by Edward Lhuyd. Two copies have survived, enabling a reconsideration of the significance of the inscription. This article reassesses the history of the monument, its archaeological context, form and function. The inscription shows that the cross was erected by Concenn, ruler of Powys (d ad 854), to honour his great-grandfather, Eliseg, who had expelled the Anglo-Saxons from this part of Powys. The inscription also links the rulers of Powys with the Roman usurper Magnus Maximus and the sub-Roman ruler Guarthigirn. It is argued that the inscription was intended to be read out loud and that the monument was an important piece of public propaganda erected at a time when the kingdom of Powys was severely under threat.
Aardvarchaeology is involved in the dig and providing update posts.
Eliseg Archaeology Open Day [on Facebook]
Saturday, 31 July 2010
11:00 – 17:00
Valle Crucis Abbey