April 29, 2021

Darganfod-Discovery 2021: Dr Toby Driver (with Dr Jeffrey L. Davies)

Dr Toby Driver of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales on ‘The Romano-British villa at Abermagwr, Ceredigion: rarity and innovation at the most remote Roman villa in Wales’. (CAA Research Fund project)


A decade ago in 2010 archaeologists Jeffrey L Davies and Toby Driver opened the first trenches at Abermagwr and finally confirmed that a highly unusual cropmark seen in 2006 was indeed Ceredigion’s first – and only – Romano-British villa. With generous funding from the Cambrian Archaeological Association and other research funds, work continued for three seasons to learn more about this rare building and its great courtyard, placing the site in a wider landscape context.

In southern England or even south Wales such a villa would be unremarkable among many others and very probably ploughed flat. In mid Wales it remains a highly unusual outlier and comparatively well preserved thanks to a lighter agricultural regime; layers of Roman and – very likely post Roman – villa footings, collapse layers and reoccupation survive barely 20cms beneath sheep pasture.

Questions of innovation, novelty and regional impact were key to the research at Abermagwr, the villa being the only known example of Romanised building technology in the domestic sphere in Ceredigion. The footings of the domus alone consumed 117 tonnes of stone, while the remarkable slate roof – Ceredigion’s earliest – originally required some 9,000 stone tiles crafted with tools and techniques recognisable from the 19th century Gwynedd slate industry. A fragmentary cut glass bowl from Abermagwr is recognised as one of the finest examples of late Roman tableware from Wales.

Perhaps most importantly the recognition of a Roman date for the sharp-angled rectangular enclosure has helped to focus and inform the Wales-wide hunt for similar – hitherto unrecognised – probable villa enclosures, especially during aerial reconnaissance in the 2018 drought. This presentation reviews the excavations, the key findings and looks at the future for villa studies in mid and west Wales.

Further reading:

Davies, J.L. and Driver, T. 2018. The Romano-British villa at Abermagwr, Ceredigion: excavations 2010-15. Archaeologia Cambrensis 167, 143-219.