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 Edition. Routledge.

Lynch, F, Aldhouse-Green, S and Davies, J L, 2000. Prehistoric Wales, Sutton Publishing.

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, no. 96.