The following was published in CBA 'Archaeology in Wales'
40 (2000), pages 72-73.
Ruel Uchaf (SN 649 867), Ceulan-a-Maesmor, Aberystwyth.
The prehistoric hillslope enclosure at Ruel Uchaf (prounounced 'reel ick-hav')
was first recorded as a cropmark in the dry summer of 1975 (other discoveries in
vicinity reported by St Joseph 1975). The site has a plan virtually unique in
Ceredigion and is located in an unusual topographic setting, with the ditches
enclosing a natural ‘amphitheatre’ at the head of a dry valley. A line of damper
ground obscures the central part of the enclosure and entrance detail.
Geophysical and topographical survey (undertaken by RK-M) was carried out on
site between 10 – 11 June 2000 to answer research questions as part of wider
research into the Iron Age enclosures of north Ceredigion by TD. This has
revealed traces of a complex gateway structure and several lines of palisade in
the southern half of the site.
The enclosure is an oval, bivallate structure, aligned due north-south along the
hillslope. The inner D-shaped ditched enclosure, 55m x 70m is offset to the
south within a larger oval enclosure, 68m x 111m, partly defined on the west
side by a narrow palisade trench. Despite a detailed air photo map (accurate to
2.5m), crucial details of the central part of the site remained obscured on all
air photo sources. Therefore, geophysics was carried out for a 60m x 60m square
for the southern half of the site, with readings at 1m intervals. The quality of
the results was better than expected. Despite the pronounced topography and
partly outcropping shale bedrock, the lines of the rock cut palisades and
ditches showed clearly across the sample area.
The geophysics has revealed a series of palisade - or fence - lines forming the
south-west arc of the enclosure, consistent with the air photo map. Three main
palisade circuits are visible. The line of the inner ditch shows clearly as a
broader line with a possible short length of fence inside the enclosure. At the
southern end of the enclosure, what might possibly be a triple gateway structure
was revealed. The lines of the ditches and palisades appear to be rock-cut and
they also continue the three main lines of the outer circuit across the entrance
gap. Overall the results show a complex entrance arrangement for what is a
relatively simple enclosure. It may be that more than one phase of rebuilding is
represented by the ditch lines. Alternatively, the complex gate structure may
relate to the function of the site, likely to be stock management.
The site shares similarities with a D-shaped enclosure at Ffynnon, Tremain in
south Ceredigion, which features a well-defined inner ditch with an outer
palisade (Lynch et. al. 2000: Fig 4.13 (j)). The topographic settings of both
the enclosures are very different. On structural grounds Ruel Uchaf is similar
to the concentric antenna enclosures of south-west Wales (James 1990). Perhaps
the most comparable site is the smaller enclosure at Lan, Llanboidy (ibid., Fig
1, F). The outer ditches are sometimes of variable thickness, showing evidence
for possible re-cutting of a palisade trench (ibid., 295), which may explain the
several trench lines revealed at Ruel Uchaf. The closest parallel in terms of
topography is a sub-circular palisaded enclosure 1.6km SE of Ruel Uchaf at Ty’n
Rhos (NPRN 86834). This also encloses a natural gully in the hillslope, with the
palisade running around the top edge of the hollow. There is evidence that these
types of palisaded or concentric sites had corralling or stock-management roles
in the British Iron Age (see Lynch et al 2000: 174; Cunliffe 1991: 398-399), and
a similar function at Ruel Uchaf and Ty’n-rhos enclosures is entirely plausible.
Hollows or gullies in hillslopes conceivably served a purpose for ‘funnelling’
livestock into the enclosures. The builders chose locations where the prevailing
topography would do most of the work, requiring only a light artificial barrier
and ditch to contain the stock once inside.
Toby Driver, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales,
Crown Building, Plas Crug, Aberystwyth, SY23 1NJ.
Richard Knisely-Marpole, Buxton Spa, Derbyshire SK17 9DF.
Acknowledgements: The authors would like to thank the landowner Mr Evans, Cae
Crwth, for permission to carry out the survey, Angela Knisely-Marpole and Helen
Holderness for assistance in the field and Professor David Austin, St. David’s
University College, Lampeter, for a research bursary towards travel and
subsistence costs for the project.
Cunliffe, B, 1991. Iron age communities in Britain: an account of England,
Scotland and Wales from the seventh century BC until the Roman conquest. 3rd
Lynch, F, Aldhouse-Green, S and Davies, J L, 2000. Prehistoric Wales, Sutton
James, T, 1990. ‘Concentric antenna enclosures – a new defended enclosure type
in west Wales’, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 56, 295-298.
St Joseph, J K S, 1975. ‘Llandre and Aberceiro’, Archaeology in Wales 15, p69,