Samlesbury to Helmshore Pipeline

Project Profile

Project Title :

St. George Quarry, near Abergele, North Wales

Client :

Hanson Aggregates

Type of Work :

Desk-Based Assessment,
Environmental Statement, Strip, Map and Sample,
Post-Excavation Reporting and Analysis

Project Gallery 

four post structure   Enclosed settlement in Area A  


St. George Quarry

Abergele's Burnt Mounds and Pits - A Neolithic Mystery in North Wales

The village of St. George, near Abergele in North Wales, lies on the northern edge of the range of limestone hills extending from Denbigh to Llanddulas. On the edge of these hills, close to the village and overlooking the Morfa Rhuddlan coastal plain around Conwy, once lay Dinorben Iron Age hillfort (Parc-y-Meirch), destroyed by quarrying between the 1950s and the late 1970's. Hanson Aggregates now operate the large quarry near the village, and between 2005 and 2008 NAA undertook a series of excavations within the southern hinterland of the former hillfort, as part of the first two phases of the quarry extension project.

The land around St. George contains many relics of its past, including prehistoric burial mounds, standing stones, a Roman road, the medieval church of St. Sior in the village and the medieval manor of Dinorben Vaur, on the site of the present Dinorben Hall Farm.

Investigation of the hillfort, conducted from 1912 until the late 1970s, suggested that occupation on the site began during the Mesolithic period in the 9th century BC and continued into the Iron Age, with further activity in the Roman period during the 3rd and 4th centuries AD and early medieval period. The manor, some 50m to the south of the excavation, is first mentioned in the 10th century AD, but may have replaced the hillfort as the centre of a large manorial estate in the immediate post-Roman period. NAA's excavations lay immediately north of Dinorben Hall Farm and some 350m south of the former hillfort and investigated an area some 10 hectares in extent. Given the proximity to these two significant historic monuments, it was anticipated that some archaeological features would almost certainly be found: we were not disappointed!

The investigations revealed a range of archaeological remains spread across the Phase 1 and 2 mineral extraction areas. The main features were a prehistoric settlement immediately north of Dinorben Hall, which was preserved in situ beneath the landscape bunds and an extraordinary large number of Neolithic pits dug across the landscape. Other features included a small number of deep wells, probably Neolithic in date; a circular enclosed settlement of probable Iron Age or Roman date; Roman and early medieval features; a few ditches and other land boundaries. With the exception of copious amounts of burnt stone, very few artefacts were recovered and the preservation of bone and other organic material was quite poor, although some of the pits produced well-preserved and significant assemblages of crops, fruits and seeds.

The pit groups each comprised between five and 27 individual pits, each up to 2.8m in diameter and 1.8m deep. In the majority of cases, the initial pits in each group had been partly filled up when later pits were excavated. The purpose of these pit groups remains unclear, and in the absence of other evidence, their function as clay extraction pits is favoured. The excavation of new pits into the edges of earlier, partly-filled examples could represent seasonal activity over many years. The earliest evidence came from a small quantity of early Neolithic pottery (Irish Sea ware) and flints. However, there was greater evidence of activity at the end of the Neolithic period, including four groups of intercutting pits, each ranging up to 15m in size, together with three burnt mound monuments. These were dated by Grooved Ware and a small quantity of Fengate Ware pottery.

The burnt mounds - spreads of charcoal and heat-shattered stone with shallow pits around and beneath them - lay in the northern and the south-western parts of the site. Stones were heated in fires and then used to heat water. The sheer number and size of the burnt mounds and quantity of burnt stone in general suggests that water was being heated on an almost industrial scale, although the reasons why are as yet, unclear. The two northern mounds, lying beside one another, covered an area 50m by 40m in size. A polished stone axe head from South Wales was found among the shattered stone of one of these features. Around, and in some cases below the spreads, were 17 pits, including several which were rectangular in shape; all were filled with burnt stone. These pits would originally have been lined with wood and used as water troughs. A radiocarbon date of 2050 to 1960 BC (calibrated) was recovered from a dump of charcoal in the base of a well cut through the base of one of the pits. The number and range of Neolithic features at St George Quarry was unexpected, and demonstrate activity and possible small-scale settlement on the site from the Early Neolithic onwards. More substantial evidence exists for activity in the late Neolithic, although at present it is uncertain whether there was continuity of occupation throughout the whole period.

The other main, datable, complex was a circular enclosed settlement, of probable Iron Age or Roman date, at the northern edge of the site. This was situated on one of the highest points in the area with dominating views of the hillfort and out over the Vale of Clwyd. A circular palisade, enclosing an area 45m in diameter, contained a single round house and a four-post granary structure. Both the enclosure and roundhouse entrances faced east, presumably against the prevailing wind. Another four-post granary lay at the opposite end of the site, near a Roman-period oven.