Dr. Jemma Bezant talk

Notes regarding the talk given on 9th March 2011 by Dr. Jemma Bezant of Trinity St. Davids School of Archaeology, History and Anthropology ‘Digging in the Library, the work behind the fieldwork’.

As a Landscape Archaeologist by far the greater part of the work is from interpreting map and document sources as the lead in searching for, discovering and understanding that which is subsequently found on or in the ground.

Maps are a most useful start point and can with experience tell much more than the current scene through hints of former land shapes and management and in the patterns of settlement layouts.

Any landscape is obviously a development which contains its history for which the pace of change is relevant to the potentials for interpretation. Urban areas will be rich in comparatively recent history whilst having much detail of earlier events obliterated but retaining some more general patterns. Rural areas will be more consistent in retaining evidences of a steady timeline in regard to formation, occupation and usage.

Investigation by map is extended through two categories, one, in the finding and use of progressively earlier general plan maps and, two, in the use of purpose type maps made for recording specific land related matters.

Examples of the latter include those purely showing the geological base and those for land use such as the ‘Dudley Stamp Land Use Record’ c.1900 showing a field by field recording for the whole of the United Kingdom. Estate Maps could also be of this category in showing land use as well as pride in extent of ownership.

For earlier maps, proceed from the most recent through the several series of Ordnance Survey to the first, c.1826 for this County, the Tithe Maps and Schedules c.1840, various Estate Maps from previous dates, to the very earliest general maps such as the remarkable ‘Gough Map c.1400 of what is now the U.K.

Modern technology is helpful in allowing replications of all such maps to be scale-matched and transparently overlayed to provide sequential historic information for given locations.
Documentary texts as a source require more determination and expertise having regard to the volume of material to be examined and a necessary knowledge of the social and legal context contemporary with any record. This particularly for all medieval periods in Wales when the rules and habits of family tenure differed from the English law and customs but were eventually displaced by the latter as gentry owned estates developed. A most useful source are rentals and schedules from various times either from the monastic period or from the post Dissolution organisation of gentry estates as such records relate directly to land use and can indicate locations.

As a major large scale example of documentation and fieldwork it has become increasingly apparent that the modest ‘religious house’ interpretations of the Abbey and its immediate surroundings at Strata Florida have to be immensely expanded to that of a monastically based commercial enterprise having a network of settlement centres and farms support over a large area of central West Wales. All instigated in the mid 12th Century politics of The Lord Rhys and developed by the Cistercians until the general Dissolution of Monasteries in the early 16th Century.

As a specific local scale example, significant field discoveries at Swyddffynon have been achieved through the full sequence, from current maps then earlier maps, support from early Census information, geophysical ground survey , links with Strata Florida documentation and development, all leading into very productive fieldwork excavation.