Largest ever excavation at Caernarfon Castle offers new clues about site’s history
Caernarfon Castle’s largest ever archaeological investigation has uncovered clues that will change and enhance our understanding of the site’s early history, say experts.
Revealed by Cadw today (3 February), the news marks the end of the ground-breaking archaeological dig — which began in January 2019.
During the dig, a team of archaeologists from University of Salford unearthed evidence of the castle’s previously unknown early history. The excavation revealed sherds of 1st century Roman pottery, along with tile and animal bone.
Evidence for the use of the site shortly before Edward I built the existing castle in 1283 was also discovered, adding weight to the suggestion that there had been an earlier motte and bailey fortification.
From March 2021, post excavation assessments at Salford University will examine the data to determine how the discoveries will enrich — or even alter — what is known about life on the castle grounds.
Ian Miller, Director of Salford Archaeology within the University of Salford, said:
“The excavation and survey at Caernarfon Castle — one of the UK’s most important heritage sites — will have a huge impact on the way we understand the history and development of this iconic site.
“Working closely with Cadw’s archaeology and conservation teams, we’ve discovered tantalising evidence of Roman settlers dating back as far as the 1st century, suggesting that the site of Caernarfon Castle was of huge strategic significance long before a castle was built in 1283.
“What's more, this once-in-a-lifetime project has yielded some very significant clues as to the use of the site immediately prior to the construction of the castle, and an insight into how this incredible building developed during the late 13th and 14th centuries.
“Excavation is essentially a data-gathering exercise, and our next task will be to analyse all the records we’ve created and closely examine all the artefacts discovered. We’re confident that once this analytical work has been completed, we will gain a far greater understanding of the historical development of the site. We may not rewrite the history of Caernarfon Castle, but we will certainly enhance it.”
Archaeologists are also questioning whether newly discovered stone foundations might lead to a re-interpretation of the markings currently laid out at the castle’s Lower Ward, indicating where original buildings would have stood during the 13th or 14th century. Over coming months, archaeological analysis of the findings will help to confirm this, while providing a clearer picture of the site’s historical timeline.
When complete, the investigation is expected to offer enough evidence for Cadw and Salford Archaeology to add a new chapter to the story of Gwynedd and one of Wales’s best-loved castles, Caernarfon.
This archaeological news is just the latest in a long line of exciting announcements for Caernarfon Castle — which recently received planning approval for a £4 million redevelopment and conservation programme, due for completion in 2022.
Ian Halfpenney, Inspector of Ancient Monuments at Cadw, said:
“It is very rare indeed to see an excavation on this scale within a World Heritage Site, and the results will undoubtedly shed further light on the use and development of the castle site.
“The scale of the work at Caernarfon Castle has provided an unprecedented opportunity to undertake a major excavation within the Lower Ward, and to create a comprehensive digital record via 3D laser scanning of the whole area. This laser model will not only aid our understanding of the castle’s history, but it will also inform the subsequent conservation works and provide a permanent digital record of the King’s Gate — for the public to enjoy.
“We hope this revelation brings even more visitors to the site as soon as it can re-open safely, and highlights that Welsh history is never standing still.”
Dafydd Elis-Thomas, Deputy Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport, added:
“This ground-breaking research adds a further depth of interest to the site of Caernarfon Castle, demonstrating the vital work that Cadw undertakes not only to preserve, but also to enhance understanding, of historical sites in Wales.
“I’d like to thank our Cadw members and loyal visitors for their continued support of Welsh history and conservation during this difficult time. I hope that, like me, you will look forward to hearing more about this exciting development, and discovering how it impacts what we thought we knew about Caernarfon Castle.”