Friday, September 30, 2011

Archaeologists uncover slate at Nevern Castle ‘that kept evil spirits at bay’

by Rachael Misstear, Western Mail



RARE pieces of inscribed slate unearthed during a dig at one of the nation’s oldest castles may provide valuable clues to life in medieval Wales, experts said yesterday.
Archaeologists involved in a recent excavation on the site of Nevern Castle in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park believe the markings, dating back more than 800 years, indicate some ritualistic methods of warding off evil.
The slates – complete with stars and other designs scratched on them – were found at the site’s 12th century cut-stone entranceway.
Lead archaeologist Dr Chris Caple said: “These inscribed slates are really interesting. They were found in only one place in the castle and were probably intended to ward off evil.”
The recent excavation revealed 12 slates bearing incised designs.
Archaeologists said the scratched markings are interesting for several reasons, but mainly because of the rarity.
“Scratched images from the medieval world are rare, and we can confidently date these to the period 1170-1190 when the stone phase of Nevern Castle was built,” added Dr Caple.
“These drawings connect us with the lives and beliefs of masons or labourers who built the castle. We hardly ever recover evidence about the peasants of the medieval world, and never information about their beliefs and ideas, but these scratched designs are from the imagination of a serf, a farm labourer or a man at arms.”
Headed by Dr Caple, of the University of Durham, and Pete Crane from the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, the team of experts, students and volunteers descended on the site for three weeks in the summer.
It was the fourth year that the site has been excavated in a partnership project between Dr Caple, the National Park Authority, Dyfed Archaeological Trust and Nevern Community Council which owns the site.
Further research on the finds is now being carried out by the Department of Archaeology at the University of Durham.
Work at the site last summer uncovered a large group of buildings thought to date from the 12th century.
It helped provide new details on the history of a Norman fortress – one of the oldest stone castles in Wales – that was built in 1108 along with two towers and three hall-like buildings that were unearthed.
Until that discovery little of Nevern Castle could be seen. The castle was built by the Norman marcher Lord Robert fitz Martin around 1108. The building was destroyed and rebuilt in the 12th century but after 1197 was abandoned.
It is hoped the new discoveries will be secured as part of the communities heritage.
Phil Bennett, the National Park Authority’s head of archaeological heritage, added: “One of the nicest things about these slate pieces is that we are hoping to be able to keep them in Nevern eventually, in the care of the Nevern Community Council.”
Work is under way cleaning, revealing and recording the images scratched on the pieces of slate.
Dr Caple added: “In the late 12th century, Nevern would have been an impressive looking castle and entrance, especially from the south side, and it was clearly visible to all passing along the road between St Davids and Cardigan.
“The work under way on the slates will no doubt provide more fascinating information about the beliefs and ideas of the people who built and lived in the castle in the late 12th century.”
The dig also unearthed information about the phased building of parts of the castle and revealed that a Round Tower thought to have imprisoned the Lord Rhys in 1194 was also the quarters of high status members of the castle household.

Read More http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2011/09/30/archaeologists-uncover-slate-at-nevern-castle-that-kept-evil-spirits-at-bay-91466-29511417/#ixzz1ZTF6yX00

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