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Archaeologists make exciting discovery at Strata Florida Cistercian Abbey

Archaeologists have made an exciting discovery at Strata Florida, the famous 12th century Cistercian abbey in Mid Wales.

Radiocarbon dating suggests that there may have been a pre-Cistercian monastery, possibly Celtic, on the site before the abbey was established in the Cambrian Mountains near the village of Pontrhydfendigaid, between Devil’s Bridge and Tregaron.

Archaeological excavations on the site began in 2004 and will be continuing this summer at the Strata Florida Trust’s Archaeology Field School which runs from June 17 to July 14.

Over the past five years, the archaeology field school’s excavations have focused on the courtyard of Mynachlog Fawr farm buildings which stand next door to the abbey and are being refurbished by the trust. 

These excavations have revealed structures and features under the courtyard, including a major aqueduct and medieval buildings which once formed part of the abbey. The remains of one stone building, however, appear to be earlier than the rest.

Following last year’s field school, three charcoal samples were collected from the medieval buildings and sent to specialists for radiocarbon dating. The samples provided dates between 1166-1268 AD, 1028-1172 AD and, most intriguingly, 1017-1158 AD.

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“The last two of these dates are from the earlier building and, given that the Cistercian abbey was not founded on this site until 1184, they seem to suggest that the building is pre-Cistercian in date,” said Carys Aldous-Hughes, trust director.

“One of the main focuses of the upcoming 2024 excavations will be the further examination of this building by attempting to find its original floors and any features associated with its earlier use and function. These will offer a glimpse into the history of this site before the Cistercians arrived.

“On the basis of certain aspects of its siting and related features, there has long been speculation that there was a pre-Cistercian, or Celtic monastery at Strata Florida on top of which the abbey was founded, perhaps even incorporating parts of the earlier buildings.

“Could these recent discoveries and this year’s work provide the evidence which will confirm this?”

Anyone seeking information about how they can join this year’s exciting excavations, which could uncover the hidden secret of the site’s history, should visit the trust website at https://www.strataflorida.org.uk/archaeology-field-school.html .

Places are available for a choice of one to four week courses and digger day experiences. Bursaries available, including a mental health and wellbeing bursary, to people living in Ceredigion. There is also a bursary for students.

Strata Florida Trust is restoring Mynachlog Fawr farmhouse and farm buildings, bringing new economic, social and cultural life to the area, whilst also celebrating Strata Florida’s unique landscape and history. 

A free ‘Mynachlog Fawr Exhibition’ is currently being held in a building on the site, giving visitors of all ages a chance to explore the social and agricultural history of the house and the local area.

The exhibition also contains an interactive Virtual Histories educational experience, which allows visitors to travel back to see a day in the life of Mynachlog Fawr farm in 1947 and the abbey in 1238.

Strata Florida Trust is a member of MWT Cymru, a independent organisation that represents around 600 tourism and hospitality businesses across Ceredigion, Powys and Southern Snowdonia. For more information, visit https://www.mwtcymru.co.uk/ .

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