New discoveries at Pen Dinas Iron Age hillfort

Geophysical survey revealed previously unrecorded outer defences at the site

Archaeologists investigating Pen Dinas hillfort, a 3.6ha Iron Age enclosure situated above the village of Penparcau, near Aberystwyth in Wales, have begun to reassess the development of the hillfort, discovering new details about its occupation and use.

PHOTO: Dyfed Archaeological Trust.

Pen Dinas is the largest hillfort in Ceredigion and among the largest in Wales. Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) led a community-based archaeology project with 60 volunteers at the hillfort last autumn, funded by Cadw, the Welsh Government’s historic environment service.

The multivallate hillfort comprises two main structures – a ‘northern fort’ and a ‘southern fort’ – which were later joined together. It was last excavated in the 1930s by Aberystwyth University’s Professor Daryll Forde, who suggested there had been four phases of activity at the site. As DAT archaeologist Luke Jenkins explained, ‘According to Forde, the northern fort was built first but then abandoned, after which the southern fort was built, then rebuilt, before the two forts were finally joined together.’

Since last September, DAT has been working to gather new dating evidence that will allow Forde’s chronology to be tested. The team began by excavating the southern fort’s southern entrance, where they uncovered evidence of multi-phase building work alongside two rock-cut hut platforms in the northern part of their trench. Excavation of these platforms revealed floor surfaces, palisade slots, pits, and stone-lined drains. Iron Age finds included a stone spindle whorl (used in the spinning of yarn), and stone, bone, and amber beads. ‘Hillforts were places of trade and interconnectedness, and it is likely that the amber bead comes from the Baltic,’ Luke said.

In the southern part of the trench, the team uncovered a metalled roadway running into the fort, as well as two phases of defences. ‘It is hoped that this area in particular will contribute to our understanding of the phasing and development of the hillfort,’ the Trust explained. ‘This is one of the major research agendas for hillfort studies in Wales,’ Luke added.

Geophysical survey also revealed previously unrecorded outer defences at the site, where DAT hopes to continue working next summer.