BRYN ERYR – ST FAGANS | FEATURE
Bryn Eryr is a significant part of the St Fagans Making History project, which has been part of the museum’s on-going redevelopment. It has been largely funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, as well as having financial backing from the Welsh Government amongst other supporters.
Bryn Eryr is a reconstruction of an Iron Age farmstead near Llansadwrn, on the eastern corner of Anglesey, from over two thousand years ago. The reconstructions are of roundhouses, the most common type of home seen in Iron Age Britain. The excavation of the site in Anglesey took place between 1985 and 1987 by the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust, where three roundhouses were discovered.
The reconstruction in St Fagans has been years in the making. Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Wales, Richard Bellamy, stated that great attention has even been paid to the smallest details to ensure the finished farmstead would be authentic. The reconstruction would not have been a success if it were not for the hundreds of volunteers who contributed to the project and helped build Bryn Eryr.
The archaeological site is formed by three buildings. The earliest and largest of which was built during the Iron Age and was enclosed by a timber stockade. The second building was constructed shortly after the Roman invasion of Britain and was built right next to the first, and the existing stockade was upgraded to be a more permanent shaped bank and ditch. The third and final house was built on stone footings during the first millennium AD as the banks were eroding.
Bryn Eryr in St Fagans saw the reconstruction of the earlier of the two buildings. It is thought that the two buildings were actually one consisting of two rooms due to their closeness to one another. These buildings are historically known as a ‘figure of 8’ or ‘conjoined roundhouses.’ This particular type of roundhouse has only recently been discovered and as a result reconstructions of them are rare, making the one in St Fagans very special. Adding to the importance of Bryn Eryr in St Fagans are the walls of the building, made of clay six-foot thick; this is a first for reconstructed roundhouses. Also, thrust thatching was used for the roof of the building – an experimental technique used for the site. This technique has an under-thatch of gorse which is laid into the framework of the roundhouse, while the topcoat is made of wheat straw which is thrust into the under-thatch.
There were numerous challenges to overcome during the reconstruction when it came to interpreting the archaeology of the site in Anglesey. One such challenge faced by those involved was whether the roundhouses had two conical roofs. It was decided by those involved in the reconstruction that a roof of two cones should be built, which was to be joined by a low section of roof over linking the passage.
The success of the reconstruction is a great step forward in the on-going redevelopment of the ever popular museum. It also provided a unique chance for the volunteers involved to discover the archaeology of a remarkable Iron Age fort in Wales, as well at getting an in-depth and up-close look at the lives led by those who would have inhabited the roundhouses over 2000 years ago.
words LAUREN PHILLIMORE
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