Underpinning this comparatively slim volume is a remarkable archaeological programme. The South Wales Gas Pipeline was constructed in 2005-2007, extending from the Pembrokeshire coast to Gloucestershire. It was not a direct route: the Brecon Beacons lay in the way. So in three stages, across Welsh coastal lowlands, in an exaggerated loop around the northern fringes of the National Park, and then across the Wye through the English border counties, it covered 317km. The archaeological approach was textbook: Historic Environment Records searched, field walkovers, geophysical surveys, trial trenching and test pits, re-routing to avoid known sites, and a watching brief and full excavation where required.
As for the discoveries – the roll call is impressive: the Vaynor Farm henge monument [see p.28], the Llwyn-Meurig Early Bronze Age ring ditch, the Mynydd Myddfai Iron Age hut settlement, and a previously unrecognised Roman road near the fort of Brecon Gaer are some of the highlights.
These and many more are brought together in a series of excellent synthetic chapters compiled by specialists with a deep knowledge of the archaeology of southern Wales, and supported by a wealth of colour illustrations. Fuller information on the excavations are to be found in a lengthy series of online reports on Cotswold Archaeology’s website.
The project, though, was not seamless. While the early stages for the entire pipeline were undertaken by Cotswold, the construction contractor for the eastern third employed a different archaeological organisation and their direct contribution to this monograph appears minimal. Although results from their watching briefs and excavations have been integrated in the syntheses, there are puzzling anomalies: for instance, that not a single Early Bronze Age site was recorded in the east against 14 found in the western two-thirds, and no medieval and later sites against the 25 further west.
This imbalance apart, the volume highlights a well-organised project and offers valuable overviews of the archaeology of south Wales today.
Timeline: the archaeology of the South Wales Gas Pipeline, Timothy Darvill, Andrew David, Seren Griffiths, Jonathan Hart, Heather James, Ken Murphy, and James Rackham, Cotswold Archaeology, £20, ISBN 978-0993454578
Review by Bob Silvester.