Archaeological discoveries uncovered at Caernarfon Castle

Thursday 08 January 2015

Unexpected archaeological discoveries dating back several centuries have been found at Caernarfon Castle during construction work of the new ticketing entrance.

Picture of a large stone cannonball fragment which was found at Caernarfon Castle

A large stone cannonball fragment which was found at Caernarfon Castle

Lead pistols, musket balls, animal bones and a piece of Roman pottery were among the discoveries made at Caernarfon Castle’s Kings Gate this month as part of the construction work currently taking place for a new ticketing entrance.

The project is funded by ourselves and the archaeological excavation and post-excavation processing is being undertaken by Gwynedd Archaeological Trust. This is part of our £19 million Heritage Tourism Project which is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Welsh Government.

The construction of the new ticketing entrance is being undertaken by Grosvenor Construction, having been designed by Donald Insall Associates.

The excavation revealed further evidence of two distinct episodes in the history of the Castle.
Building work on the castle was started in 1283 on the orders of King Edward I under the direction of James of St George, Master of the King’s Works in Wales at the time.

• A large rubbish pit, or midden, found in the gatehouse is likely to date from this period when the castle was under construction.

• It contained a large amount of animal bones and shells, including oysters which are likely to have come from the Menai Strait.

• It is hoped that further analysis of the finds will provide additional information on the diet of those who built the castle.

The castle was later used as a stronghold in the 17th Century during the Civil War. By this time the castle was in a poor state of repair but it was held for the King by Lord Byron who was besieged three times within the walls.

• Lead pistol and musket balls and clay tobacco pipes of 17th century date tell us that there was increased activity within the castle around the time of the Civil War.

• Half of a large stone cannonball, around 8” in diameter, is also thought to date from this period.

The excavations also revealed an unexpected find:  

• A fragment of decorated Roman pottery, known as Samian, which pre-dates the castle by over 1000 years.

• This would have reached the area during the occupation of the Roman fort at Segontium, and is likely to have been carried into the castle during construction when considerable quantities of clay and stone were needed.

Work is now underway to assess the results of the excavations. It is anticipated that additional information will be gained through scientific analysis of the material and artefacts discovered.