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History of Cwm George & Casehill Woods

The first real reference to the site is in ‘A Survey of the estates of Robert Jenner Esq. in the parishes of Michaelstone and Wainvo etc’ (Glamorgan Archives) where it is described as a Danish camp.

The whole area is classed as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and as an Ancient Monument, cared for by CADW and owned by the Woodland Trust. Dinas Powys was referred to as 'a British camp in the woods of Cwrt-yr-Alta' in a 1913 edition of the Archaeologica Cambrensis, the first time the monument was recorded. The fort is the richest, best preserved, and most fully excavated early medieval secular settlement in Wales and the most important in Europe relating to the Dark Ages.

The fort lies on the northern tip of a carboniferous limestone ‘whale-back’ ridge between the valley of the river Cadoxton around the village of  Michaelstone-le-Pit  and a narrow gorge known as the Cwm George in the eastern Vale of Glamorgan, 4.8km (three miles) west of Cardiff.  The fort consists of four sets of banks and deep ditches and was not defended to the north, east or west due to the steepness of the hillsides. It is estimated it was in use between 450 BC to 650 AD.

It was situated only one kilometre (one and a half miles) from the sea where there were landing places and the view would have been spectacular, reaching as far across the channel as Glastonbury Tor. The nearest permanent water supply today is the Cadoxton brook through Michaelstone but the seasonal small stream in Cwm George may have been larger in a damper climate.

All the evidence suggests that the fort had been the home of a wealthy household - a prince or other magnate able to patronize a jeweller and blacksmith as well as other craftsmen, and to maintain a substantial hall for his household surrounded by subsidiary buildings.

In nearby Llandough there was a Roman villa dating back to the 4th century near the church and it is possible the occupants of the Dinas Powys site were previous occupants at Llandough.

A general outline of the hill fort

Perhaps what brings the fort to life is the description by Leslie Alcock of what life might have been like for those who lived in and around the fort in the centuries before Christ. The main basis for the Dinas Powys economy was stock rearing – mainly beef and pork with little evidence of sheep rearing. Some hunting, fowling and fishing may have been practised but with few bony relics. Querns (two circular stones used for grinding corn) were found – evidence that corn was being grown and ground for bread although no direct evidence of arable farming has survived. However, that is not unusual even for those settlements where arable farming was known to have been practised.

They would in addition have prepared leather from hides and skins and worked with horn and bone to produce domestic articles such as combs. It is also probable that they spun wool from sheep and goats and were able to weave, although no firm evidence of the latter survived.

There is evidence that they practised limited metal working to produce iron, presumably using charcoal for fuel, and had a resident smith to produce tools and weapons. Remains of crucibles are evidence that both copper and bronze were melted to cast ornamental jewellery.

Remnants of extensive imports of wine, oil, glass and metal implies Dinas Powys was the centre of a widespread trading connection – based on barter. The old Roman trade routes to Gaul and beyond had been lost with the saxon invasions on the east of Britain but western Britain could still use the Irish Sea to reach not only Ireland but also the Mediterranean. Both goods and the spread of Christianity travelled along these routes.

Professor Alcock attributed six phases of occupation to the fort over a period of some twelve centuries:

Phase 1 

3rd to 2nd centuries BC: Marked by an occurrence of iron age pottery, rare in Wales, with flint flakes and animal bones but no dateable structures.

Phase 2

1st century BC (possibly): Represented by the incomplete bank at the southern end of the site which could be regarded as the initial stage of building a hill slope fort.

Phase 3

1st to 4th Century AD: Some Romano-British material including pottery, glass and a coin were found and dated to this period but with no evidence of buildings, suggesting only sporadic occupation.

Phase 4

5th and 6th centuries AD (early Christian phase): This is regarded as the most intensive period of occupation. The northern end of the site was enclosed with earthworks within which two rectangular dry-stone buildings were erected. From this period came the richest finds, evidence of a sophisticated society. They included imported pottery such as wine amphora, cooking pots, mixing bowls and fine tableware - some of it believed to be of Mediterranean origin from Gaul and North Africa - as well as shards of fine glass believed to be manufactured on the Rhine, and beads and trinkets of anglo-saxon type manufacture. Moulds for making bronze brooches of a type common in Ireland were also found.

Alcock believed that the occupants were wealthy people who either raided or traded between the shores of the Bristol Channel. The conversion of the site to a defended one probably took place after 600 AD with the building of ramparts and the destruction of earlier domestic buildings, as Dinas Powys converted from a residence to a military strong-post.

Phase 5

11th – 12th centuries AD:  After a lengthy abandonment, the Norman period was characterised by a large ring-work.

Phase 6

Further reinforcement of the ring-work by means of additional banks and ditches, though incomplete, suggest they were constructed for emergencies at the time the Normans were engaged in their take-over of Glamorgan, and were only actually occupied in time of need.

The pottery and amphora storage jars discovered by Alcock would have been used for transporting dry materials and liquids such as wine, olive oil and fish sauce; and along with silks, dyes and spices, would have come from Syria, some 3,000-miles away. They would have taken six months by sea voyage directly to the site, and such items were only found on defensive high status sites.

He also discovered cooking jars used for storing salt and spices, glass beakers and at least 35 crystal cups with rounded bottoms which probably came from southern France or northern Spain and which would have been used by the site’s occupants when feasting and drinking.

The 1950s dig also revealed more than 150 objects, including large numbers of Mediterranean pottery and glass usually only found in small quantities. Most exciting was a rare saxon horned goblet encrusted in gold. This shows that whoever was living in the Dinas ring-work had connections with people from far away and possibly with the saxon kings at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk.

More than 5,000 pieces of animal bones were also found – more evidence that someone of great importance once resided there. It might have been a court of the kings of Glamorgan; certainly the site lies at the power seat of Wales. Spears and swords were also found at the hill fort indicating it was a highly defended site due to the amount of violence at the time. Alcock suggested the fort lay under a ring-work castle relating to the 11th or 12th century but no moat was found so this idea was unsupported.

Details of past excavations of the site, 1940s - 2016.

Sources of information:

1. Leslie Alcock 'Dinas Powis, An Iron Age, Dark Age and Early Medieval Settlement in Glamorgan', Leslie Alcock, University of Wales Press, 1963
2. Leslie Alcock article in „Morgannwg? Vol 8. 1964 and„ Morgannwg?.Vol. I. 1957 Joan Andrews
3. An article posted by Dr. Andy Seaman via Canterbury.ac.uk 2013
4. A report by the Penarth Ramblers on a site visit and lecture by Dr. Andy Seaman on 5 July 2013.