The Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory: Origins, Purpose and Parameters

These notes have been prepared to accompany a brief prefatory talk at the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory Workshop held at The University Centre, Shrewsbury, on Friday 28th April 2017.



The present initiative to promote new research and field investigation into the Mercian-British frontier (broadly) between the Dee and the Severn estuaries in the borderlands of England with Wales was first developed in a series of discussions and meetings held during the 18 months preceding publication of the volume Offa’s Dyke: Landscape and Hegemony in Eighth-Century Britain (Ray and Bapty, Windgather, 2016).

That book reviewed past and current study of Offa’s Dyke and the western frontier of Mercia, made new field-based observations, and promoted several new approaches and interpretations. It suggested how the Dyke may have reflected, and helped create, a new ‘political landscape’ in late-eighth and early-ninth century Britain, extending well beyond the line of settlement and contact along what became the eastern Marches of Wales. But above all, the book sought to encourage a new era of research in a wider process of ‘connection’ between researchers and communities in the stretches of landscape concerned.

The five ODC Convenors represent a small cross-section of research and conservation interests in the Dyke, including the director (‘Secretary’) of the  national survey and documentation body for Wales; the Director of one of the four Welsh Archaeological Trusts with a conservation and investigative brief, and through whose ‘home territory’ lengths of the Dyke run; an Early Medieval Britain research specialist and senior academic based in a University whose home city, Chester, was integral to the history of Anglo-Welsh relations historically; the Principal Officer of an AONB whose territory straddles England and Wales and contains one of the most spectacular stretches of Dyke anywhere; and to the lead author of the first detailed modern book-length review of the evidence and context for Offa’s Dyke.


The idea of a ‘Collaboratory’ focused around a key theme or interrelated set of themes is that a loose confederation of organisations, agencies and individuals will agree to collaborate together, working both independently and in concert[1].The key point about this network is that it is envisaged as involving an active collaboration, on research goals, programmes, and projects. This collaborative network should involve experiment at all stages, including, but extending beyond, ‘tried and tested’, approaches. Innovation is a watchword of a purposefully collaborative researcher, at all scales of operation.

In the present case the proposal is to conduct research work and projects focused upon Offa’s Dyke, Wat’s Dyke, and the early history and archaeology of the Marches of Wales, broadly, but not exclusively, in the period c.700–900AD, and the conservation of monuments belonging to that era (to include studies of and protection of the landscape environs). Such projects and programmes would be conceived and conducted as independent activities, but developed and operated in such a way as to maximise the benefits of co-operation. The two documents concerning ‘Offa’s Dyke in 100 Questions’ and in ‘100 Projects’ issued in tandem with this Workshop are offered in the spirit of such collaboration: not to close down discussion, but to open up space for reflection, debate and creativity, and to demonstrate something of the potential of a collaborative approach.

It is proposed that the projects and programmes concerned should have as their primary aims either academic research and/or investigative and/or documentation goals on the one hand, or conservation and/or communicative objectives on the other hand. This is not to say (for instance) that conservation should not be a natural concomitant of research, or vice-versa, or that communication would not be an important corollary to the process and results of academic/investigative/ documentation work. The benefits of this approach are, the Conveners of the ODC believe, manifold, but it may be helpful to highlight some of these here.

Firstly, given the geographical extent and variable condition of Offa’s Dyke (and related monuments and the Marches landscapes), it is very unlikely that a single project or conservation programme will be able to tackle all the manifold questions and practical issues facing the future improved understanding and survival potential of these important ‘heritage assets’. It therefore makes sense to try to tackle these questions and issues from a variety of different directions, with geographical focus both at a local and at a ‘global’ level.

A second immediate benefit is that it creates a ‘big tent’ in which organisations and individuals with different kinds of expertise and different levels and nature of interest can be drawn in as key stakeholders.

The third and fourth identifiable benefits concern autonomy and risk. As regards the former, each participating organisation can play to their strengths and focus primarily on the aspect(s) of the questions and issues that most directly satisfy their interests, goals, aspirations and imperatives. For the latter, the overall purposes, to improve knowledge production and conservation outcomes, will be less dependent upon the achievement of funding by any one project or organisation. And a fifth benefit is that similar problems of study and conservation will be approached from different ‘angles’ and perspectives, and at a variety of different scales of effort, resources, and geographic scope.

A key question to be answered will be how all the various efforts, projects and programmes will collaborate, and be made aware of what one another are doing, and when. This will require one of the participating organisations to take a lead role in co-ordinating efforts to some degree, but mostly in establishing a sustainable network supported by the usual digital resources.[2]


The ODC parameters for consideration today concern the protocols for involvement in the ODC, the scope of activity, the definition, development and execution of projects, and frameworks for dissemination (communication and publication). Each of these parameters (or groups of parameters) requires some discussion.

Protocols for the ODC and involvement in its operation

The Convenors are aware that, until now (apart from the introductory explanations provided on the ODC website that not all the Workshop participants may yet have accessed) there has not been any full explanation for the rationale for establishing the Collaboratory, let alone an outline of how it is proposed that it should operate.

The intention is that the ODC should work, at the level of communication, fundamentally as a network; but that its scope and activities should extend well beyond this. The baseline element of the ‘communication strategy’ will be the ODC website itself, and it is proposed that initially at least, this is hosted and administered by staff of the University of Chester.

Although editorial control will therefore be exercised by members of the Department of History and Archaeology (and associated Centres), the aim will be to operate the website, and the Collaboratory itself, on the basis of being openly accessible to all. Basically, the concern of the Convenors   is to encourage people to participate actively in the Collaboratory by posting comments and creating blogspots, and by asking the administrators to upload items news, comment and documents that the members and correspondents would like to contribute to the forum.

Scope of activity

Besides facilitating and hosting communication between those interested in researching the dykes and the frontier, the role of the Collaboratory is envisaged to extend to such matters as acting as a forum also for the development of project initiatives from a variety of quarters. The aim is not to either direct or to inhibit such initiatives, but to act in an advisory capacity, helping to develop ideas, provide critical commentary where sought, to promote collaboration, and to avoid where possible duplications of effort. The ODC should act also as a point of contact and guidance concerning the frontier heritage and its monuments in addition to those conservation and information services already widely available.

Development and execution of projects

This is where it is envisaged that the most active collaborative operation of the ODC should take place. As such, while encouraging diversity of perspective and approach, and the development of projects with contrasting immediate goals and purposes, it should also attempt to operate as a research collective. By the latter is meant the cultivation of an ethos of shared endeavour, and the deliberate constructive involvement of individuals in an advisory way in projects that they are not formally part of, and may have no wish to directly participate in.

A key concern will inevitably be around the question of funding, and the dangers posed by numbers of projects chasing what are essentially the same ‘pots’ of money to achieve their aims and objectives. Some protocols for agreeing priorities may therefore need to be developed.

Frameworks for dissemination

Besides posting material on the ODC website, it would be envisaged that communication and dissemination of research should take place through direct contact and face-to-face discussion organised in and through seminars, workshops, public conferences, and colloquia.

Whether the ODC should have a dedicated Newsletter is a matter for discussion. The intention will be, however, to provide a vehicle for the publication of the outcomes of meetings and a locus for the generation of research papers and statements published elsewhere. Part of the process of publicising the aims and activity of the ODC will, we envisage, involve preparing and publishing papers that provide a ‘window’ on those things. So, for example, initial statements are envisaged as being produced by the present Convenors, and in the near future by others.


Today’s ‘workshop’

A key parameter for the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory is, therefore, the process of communication and operation of the networking aspect. Howard Williams and his colleagues at Chester have promoted two initiatory elements of this aspect, by, firstly, establishing the ODC website; and secondly, by organising this workshop today.

The ambition for today is, therefore, that it should be a ‘round-table’ meeting where all the organisations and individuals with whom individual discussions have already taken place are brought together to report on particular aspects of research and conservation concerning the frontier; to discuss the establishment of the Collaboratory; and to explore the potential content and purpose of contributing projects and programmes. Future aims will include the identification of which organisations will be pursuing which individual projects, and their associated funding bids; and what steps need to be taken to broaden the scope of the Collaboratory to include local heritage groups and interested individuals in a wider programme of activities.

There are, in this way two principal particular aims of the Workshop:

  • To bring together historians, archaeologists and (broadly) conservation professionals with an active interest in the Dykes and ‘frontier’ to share information and discuss ongoing research and other initiatives


  • To identify in both broad and specific terms possible future developments in research, but also to some extent also in conservation, in particular for the linear earthworks


We need, finally, to consider briefly what will constitute ‘success’ arising from the Workshop. This is difficult to define closely, but the presence of such a broad spectrum of individuals attending today (and thereby representing the institutions they are one form or another linked to) is encouraging. The rest will be down to the quality of our deliberations, the extent to which we can encourage others to become involved in the process, and the degree to which we are successful in following the discussions up with viable research and funding proposals for projects to be undertaken in the short to medium term designed to expand our knowledge and understanding of these works and the world that produced them.

  1. The term ‘Collaboratory’ for such an active and engaged network is in wide currency, especially in the USA/Canada and in continental Europe:


“A Collaboratory is more than an elaborate collection of information and communication technologies. It is a new networked organisational form that also includes social processes; collaboration techniques; formal and informal communication; and agreements on norms, principles, values and rules” (Derrick Cogburn, 2003; quoted in Paolo Divaccio et al Collaborative Knowledge in Scientific Research Networks: ICI Global, 2014). See also multiple reference to Collaboratory principles and practice in: William H. Dutton, Paul W. Jeffreys and Ian Goldin  World Wide Research: Reshaping the Sciences and Humanities (MIT, 2010).

[2] The word “collaboratory” is also used to describe an open space, creative process where a group of people work together to generate solutions to complex problems. This meaning of the word originates from the visioning work of a large group of people – including scholars, artists, consultant, students, activists, and other professionals – who worked together on the 50+20 initiative aiming at transforming management education.

By fusing two elements, “collaboration” and “laboratory”, the word “collaboratory” suggests the construction of a space where people explore collaborative innovations. It is, as defined by Dr. Katrin Muff, “an open space for all stakeholders where action learning and action research join forces, and students, educators, and researchers work with members of all facets of society to address current dilemmas.”

The concept of the collaboratory as a creative group process and its application are further developed in the book “The Collaboratory: A co-creative stakeholder engagement process for solving complex problems”. Examples of collaboratory events are provided on the website of the Collaboratory community as well as by Business School Lausanne- a Swiss business school that has adopted the collaboratory method to harness collective intelligence.

Keith Ray                                                                 April 2017



Offa’s Dyke: some notes towards the creation of a Conservation Agenda complementary to research


It is one thing to state simply that conservation and research must work in parallel: it is quite another to explore how this can best be achieved. This is not the place to attempt to specify how the development of a Conservation Agenda for the Dykes as linear monuments (and the frontier they formed part of as something more than simply the ‘setting’ of the monuments) can best be linked to, and integrated with, an emerging Research Agenda. However, it may be worthwhile to take this opportunity to outline some potential strands of this process. I have identified just three of these here.

Firstly, there is the need to conduct research into the substance of the archaeology of a particular monument such as Offa’s Dyke in order to inform its conservation. Why does this matter? The old adage ‘We cannot conserve what we do not understand’ is often trotted out as the reason why research of both the ‘Presence, Absence, Character’ and ‘Higher Order’ kind must take place. But in practice, we continually do seek to conserve what we do not (fully) understand, in large measure because that very conservation of the resource is what enables its continuing availability for research. In other words, conservation and research are inter-dependent. We do nonetheless need to invest resources into the process of inquiry and understanding commensurate to the perceived importance of the monument.

As an example of the need for fundamental observation linked to research, in the field studies that led to the writing of Offa’s Dyke:  Landscape and Hegemony in Eighth-Century Britain we noted that variations in the height of the bank of Offa’s Dyke have been observed wherever it is reasonably well-preserved. These variations have habitually been attributed either to the vagaries of dumps of soil settling through time, or to post-construction acts of damage or gradual erosion by humans or animals. The observations we made of systematic variations in longitudinal profile linked to frequent short and often subtle changes of direction at many locations had previously escaped observation, or had been regarded as inconsequential. Their potential significance to an understanding of the overall construction process and purpose of the Dyke had therefore been entirely neglected.

This was not an observation made during the course of conservation work, but one that arguably will be fundamental to future conservation management. For example, to ‘repair’ perceived erosion in the ‘dips’ in the longitudinal profile where these instead derive from the original pattern and implementation of construction would (at best) serve to mask evidence for the latter.

Secondly, it is important wherever feasible to use conservation responses as an opportunity to address research questions. This should not be limited to excavation in response to either ‘controlled’ or unauthorised damage, although it is important that such work should take place informed by research questions to which any necessary interventions can be addressed. There is a particular, and pressing, need also to use opportunities provided by planning applications affecting the setting of the monument (for example) to document more fully the way in which the Dyke has been placed in the landscape to particular effect. And what are regarded simply as ‘management works’ also need to be undertaken within a framework of understanding of the particularities of Dyke construction and siting, and opportunities to further that understanding.

Thirdly, there is a need to undertake research concerning conservation itself, not only generically (‘the best way to restore turf following poaching of ground by stock’, for example – as has for instance been successfully achieved in respect to the management of Hadrian’s Wall), but also addressed to the particularities of such monuments. One example especially relevant to Offa’s Dyke is to research methods to prevent collapse of the fabric on steep slopes, given the particular construction attributes in certain kinds of location. It is also important to devise means by which change can be monitored in a consistent way – for instance, both photographically and within the scope of a volunteer-staffed management programme such as a ‘Dyke Watch’ scheme. This latter would be a bit like Neighbourhood Watch’, but would deliberately draw upon the idea of the ‘Dyke watch or guard’ (that may well have been part of the method for patrolling the frontier at and soon after the construction of the earthwork). Such a scheme would have a number of goals or spheres of conduct, some of which (such as erosion by walkers) could be linked into the work of maintaining and improving the Long Distance Path.

Keith Ray                                                                             24th April 2017

Offa’s Dyke: some notes towards a Research Agenda


Recent decades have seen a proliferation in the formulation of Research Agenda in British archaeology. The best of these have helped focus study and co-ordinate efforts. Far too many, however, especially before the year 2000, comprised either vague ‘wish-lists’ with no realistic chance of fulfilment, or have been so closely-articulated that they have inhibited innovation and the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. What makes a good Research Agenda, therefore?

Firstly, perhaps obviously, a structured approach needs to be followed. The following brief individual view of ‘what constitutes a useful RA’ is based upon the ideas explained in the 40-page document ‘A Research Agenda for Herefordshire’s Archaeology, 2011-14’ that I drafted in 2010-11 (Version 2.0, January 2011). This RA was organised by chronological period and began with an overview, in each case, of what was already known, and how this knowledge was at that time expanding (the detail of this enhanced knowledge was captured eventually within the book The Archaeology of Herefordshire: An Exploration, Logaston Press, 2015).

The Herefordshire RA then identified what appeared at the time to be the biggest gaps in knowledge. These concerned either large clearly-identifiable lacunae, or aspects that were partially understood, but needed amplification in particular spheres or ways.

It is then important to articulate the kinds of question, and specific examples of questions, that have been thought through up to that point in time. This is best done in reference to: 1) prior attempts to define what it is most important to try to learn; 2) what can be known given the present limitations of inquiry and the frequent intractability of the archaeological resource; and 3) what can be achieved with the inevitably limited financial and person-power resources at our disposal. In the Herefordshire RA, the questions were divided into ‘PAC’ (Presence, Absence, Character) questions of a more basic kind, and then ‘HO’ (Higher Order) questions that attempted to address the bigger more thematic problems to which research at a variety of levels could be directed.

It is then important to outline, not necessarily the content of projects devoted to answering those questions, but at least the kinds of project that can be developed to create the right conditions for the successful addressing of those questions, or aspects of them. In the Herefordshire RA, I defined these projects in four ways, as: Dedicated Research Projects (DRP) where ‘pure’ research was the primary focus; Developer Funded Works (DFW), where briefs and project designs responding to conservation challenges could identify how research ambitions might also be pursued during the progress of the mitigation work concerned; Resource Assessment and Conservation exercises (RAC), where resource protection and management were the primary goal, with research potentially an additional gain; and Community Led (or Linked) Projects (CLP), in which professionals and locally-resident enthusiasts might collaborate towards a variety of goals. In each instance I noted examples of the outcomes these various kinds of project could achieve.

Finally, it was acknowledged in the Herefordshire RA document, and it has frequently been noted elsewhere, that any RA is fundamentally a point-in-time document. In that case, it was suggested that the Herefordshire RA should be reviewed every five years. As such, and as mentioned on Page 1, above, the RA process is most likely to be successful where it is actively iterative.

Research Agenda and the Offa’s Dyke/Mercian-Welsh/Anglo-Welsh frontier

In the case of Offa’s Dyke, the book Offa’s Dyke: Landscape and Hegemony in Eighth-Century Britain (2016) among other things specified (in Chapter 2) the historiography of ‘Offa’s Dyke Studies’, and it identified very many of the questions that past studies and recent reflection have raised concerning all aspects of its emplacement in the landscape. It also specified a wider landscape within which the Dyke was set, both in terms of a frontier zone, and in respect to the geopolitics of the day. This latter was seen as extending not only throughout Wales and the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, but to Francia, the Carolingian Empire, Rome and beyond. The book also set out to pose questions sometimes well beyond the scope of what had previously been asked: from the simple and perhaps unknowable (‘was Wat’s Dyke also named after an individual associated with its construction?’, for example); to the equally specific but more practicably researchable (for instance: ‘is there any evidence for the contesting of the frontier at particular places, such as in the Llanymynech area?’).

So to a degree we have in place some of the key ingredients of a Research Agenda for Offa’s Dyke and the western frontier of Mercia: a recent review of what is known, substantive identification of gaps in knowledge, and the posing of research questions. Before a Research Agenda can advance very far, however, it has to be accepted that it can only be developed collaboratively, and in reference to actions as well as words. Although one person or a small group of people can draw up a list of questions, and even define some potential approaches to their answering, it is also essential to bring together a variety of opinion, drawn firstly from among those who have had most experience of engaging actively and in some depth in researching the field concerned, and from a variety of perspectives including cross-disciplinary ones. This is one of the key purposes of the ODC Workshop being held in Shrewsbury on 28th April 2017.

The document Offa’s Dyke: some notes towards the development of a Research Programme ‘in 100 Projects’  which this brief set of notes on RAs accompanies, does not attempt to specify exactly what can and should be done in terms of action. Rather, it has been prepared in the spirit of beginning to outline a Menu. Projects are simply a means of focusing action towards the achievement of goals: research designs then require the proposed actions and potential outcomes to be more closely-defined. Projects do not constitute the conduct of research as such, but they help to organise research programmes into deliverable packages. The section of that document that sketches out research directions ‘in 100 Projects’ does not order them in reference to the DRPs, the DFWs, the RACs or the CLPs of the Herefordshire example: although the achievement of particular research goals could in fact be defined in these terms. Rather, it identifies something of the territory that research projects focusing upon the western Mercian Dykes and frontier might occupy in the coming years.

Keith Ray                                                                              23rd April 2017

Offa’s Dyke: some notes towards the development of a Research Programme ‘in 100 Projects’


As noted in the parallel document to this one (concerning ‘100 Questions’ and also issued in April 2017), there are many questions that remain to be resolved about both Offa’s Dyke and Wat’s Dyke and the British-Mercian frontier, especially in the several decades either side of the year 800AD. Very many of these questions, and previous attempts to address them, were identified at various points within Offa’s Dyke: Landscape and Hegemony in Eighth-Century Britain (Keith Ray and Ian Bapty, Windgather Press, 2016; hereafter referenced as ODLH’). The present document does not identify ‘answers’ to these questions. Rather, it identifies a range of potential projects through which study of the history of both Offa’s and Wat’s Dyke, and the Mercian-British frontier might be approached. As with the identification of ‘100 Questions’ in the parallel document, not everyone would have the same list, and to a degree, again, the formulation of research projects is potentially almost limitless. The best approach to building an Agenda for research is probably iterative (see below): and for there to be research initiatives and projects developed that engender research at a variety of different scales. In this way, there is not a simple dichotomy between ‘global versus local’ projects, and we need to acknowledge that most progress will be made where we tack between micro-scale and macro-scale studies.

In ODLH, not only was there an identification of questions, but there was a full and often detailed attempt to sketch out the parameters of an answer given the (usually poor) state of current knowledge. The Conveners of the new ‘Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory’ research initiative are concerned that new potential avenues of enquiry should be identified, and a few potential projects, at least, outlined: more aiming to stimulate discussion of research design rather than at this stage to promote particular research projects or to fully articulate a Research Agenda. At one level, it might be questioned how useful over-arching RAs are; and at another, each project that is developed will produce its own agenda, and specify its own methodologies and means of collaboration with other, parallel such projects. The first ten projects identified here represent broad-scale approaches to research design. The remaining ninety projects fall into one or more categories of specification: methods-based or addressing specific aspects of the Dykes or landscape, or particular locations. It is important also to acknowledge that conservation and research need to go hand-in-hand, and that protection of the resource must proceed in tandem with research (see note also, below).

As with the parallel document, I have not included approaches or projects relating to what became the ‘frontier’ landscapes and communities before the advent of the dykes; nor projects that refer to the ‘after-life’ of the monuments, either in the later Anglo-Saxon/early Welsh context, or subsequently. Rather, the focus on projects is designed to show how research into the history of the frontier can be implicated in a variety of locations at different scales.

 ‘100 Projects’

In practice, few of the projects identified below are likely to be entered into as ‘stand-alone’ ventures. Projects developed to research a particular aspect of the dykes and/or frontier, or a specific location, will often need to address other aspects. Equally, no one single project can realistically combine all the elements or points of project-focus identified via the extended series of individual project outlines mentioned here. General or higher-order projects will need to adopt an approach that examines ‘samples’ from among the various localities; while localised projects will need to address issues or categories of data that the wider-scale projects may be addressing on a whole-landscape basis.

In this way, none of these projects is intended to be an ‘off-the-shelf’ undertaking that can simply be adopted by any particular group of researchers. Rather, they provide for the most part elements and pointers that can be used as one source for the exploration of ideas that may coalesce into viable research designs. At the same time, however, some of the localised project subjects may be suitable for uptake by individuals (potentially including undergraduate or graduate students, NB given the right level of close academic supervision), or by local heritage groups, as points of focus that have the potential to be expanded into studies with a wider frame of reference.


Projects 1–10: studies with a ‘lead’ thematic focus

These projects start from contrasting perspectives on what the frontier and its dykes might have represented. Although they would begin with the theme that is placed at the foreground in each case, they would inevitably take into account alternative factors in the creation and sustaining of the frontier. They are distinguished also as projects undertaken for the whole area defined as a ‘dykes and frontier’, or even an ‘early Marches’, landscape.

  1. ‘Traversing the landscape’ – a project concerned with the strategic location of the dykes. It would involve systematic comparison of the principles and practice adopted by the Mercian regime in order to most effectively place each dyke, and each span of the dykes topographically, within a pre-existing landscape.
  2. ‘Depth in the frontier’ – a project designed to attempt to establish where the frontier was broad and where narrow, according to a range of different criteria concerning settlement, activity, and the relationship of the dykes to other likely contemporary features of the landscape: looking for insights rather than anticipating certainty.
  3. ‘A militarised zone’ – focusing upon the concept of the frontier and its dykes as a device for political ‘lock-down’ and control, the aim of this project would be to analyse the location and nature of the dykes (and any associated military ‘hardware’ and facilities that can be argued as likely to have been present when the dykes were in use), to try to determine how the system of defence, deterrence and the ‘platform for forward military activity’ might have worked in practice – including such aspects as fortified look-out posts and rearward military roads and stations.
  4. ‘Surveillance and prominence’ – if the dykes had as their primary dual role the capacity (on the one hand) to monitor what was occurring in terms of movement in and at the frontier; and (on the other) to be seen as markers of the limits of movement within and across that frontier, then the means by which this was achieved would be the subject of study in this project. The focus would be upon noting the surveillance-potential of the dykes from location to location, and assessing their visual prominence as viewed from different points in the landscape (see also, projects 21-30).
  5. ‘Communities in transition’ – a project focusing upon the evidence (from a variety of sources) for both British and Anglo-Saxon settlement contemporary with the dykes. The primary aim would be to try to establish whether there are patterns of settlement indicative of the presence of ‘mostly English’, ‘mostly Welsh’ or ‘hybrid’ occupation of the land.
  6. ‘Resources and a customs regime in the Mercian/British frontier’ – the focus of this project would be upon the economy of the frontier as potentially one of the major reasons for its creation as an identifiable, if somewhat loosely-defined, entity. A principal aim would be to locate and to map the resources (and their extraction or production localities) that could have prompted or sustained trade both before and during the era of construction of the dykes. And another would be to examine the potential locations for customs-posts and to consider how and why these may have been configured to serve as points of control of customs levy or the import or export of commodities at the locations concerned.
  7. ‘The landscape under the dykes’ – the aim of this project would be to pick up on and re-examine the scope and potential of the suggestion that Cyril Fox made, that the form of the dykes in particular locations (defined principally in terms of alignment and scale) could be used to infer the land-use patterns that pre-existed their construction. This project would do so first by using the criteria set out by Fox but deploying a variety of modern analytical techniques; and would then also seek bio-archaeological data both from beneath and close to the dykes.
  8. ‘Method and sequence in the construction of the dykes’ – the focus here would be to use the field evidence (supported by new geophysical data, for example) to query both the generalities and the specifics of dyke construction in a variety of different locations (see for example projects 17 and 18, below). The aim will be to see whether ‘incompleteness’ of dyke construction can be defined more closely, to suggest places where the ‘dyke-building project’ had begun, but was never completed; and to consider why this may have been the case.
  9. ‘Contest, adjustment and longevity’ – similarly to ‘project 8’, the aim of this project is to identify locations where the construction of the dykes may have been contested and the earthwork itself rebuilt or relocated; and to try to determine whether this meant that the dykes may have been ‘in use’ longer than hitherto presumed.
  10. ‘The dykes in relation to Mercian heartlands and a western hegemony’ – taking a much wider landscape frame, the aim of this project would be to find ways to gain insights into the practical, working, relationship of the ‘core’ areas of Mercia to their western march-lands. And also, to consider how the dykes may have been used as part of a policy and strategy aimed at subjugating the Welsh kingdoms not so much for settlement purposes as much as to keep them under control. For the former, the emphasis might be on the relationship of ‘core’ Mercian communities with their westerly ‘satellites’ or dependent pioneer communities; while for the latter the focus for examination could be the areas where apparently large ‘gaps’ in the course of Offa’s Dyke (north, middle Severn valley, Herefordshire) might be explicable in terms of a deliberate policy of ambiguity as to the extent of Mercian domination or control westwards.


Projects 11-20: Survey projects – documenting the dykes themselves

These projects are all defined according to particular approaches to documentation of the ‘PAC’ (Presence, Absence, Character) kind – designed to map, research and investigate analytically, focusing on particular of forms of remote and field-based survey and study. This can be either be undertaken at a most general level for the whole monument(s) over the whole area that they traverse (in the case in particular of ‘remote’ survey), or on a sampling basis for more resource-intensive and terrain-based survey methods.

  1. Mapping the Offa’s Dyke/Wat’s Dyke linear earthworks: a LiDAR-based project. Two alternative approaches could be pursued here: for a single integrated programme of definition of the linear earthworks mapped according to an agreed series of observational and interpretive principles; or, for each individual research or localised project to carry out mapping of a defined stretch of one or other of the dykes according to agreed conventions.
  2. Mapping the dykes in the landscape of the frontier via LiDAR. While ‘project 11’ would inevitably be focused upon a narrow linear (and mostly north-south) ‘corridor’ containing the earthworks themselves, the aim of this project would be to examine either the whole of the frontier landscape with an east-west emphasis, or perhaps more realistically to examine a series of east-west transects, to try to characterise the variable depth of the frontier, but also to establish the presence/absence of other linear works and ‘infrastructure’ both forwards and rearwards of the dykes.
  3.  A new aerial survey mapping project based upon characterising dyke construction across the whole length of each of the dykes. – The purpose of this project would be to conduct the first-ever dedicated aerial survey programme designed for no other purpose than to produce a single point-in-time record of Offa’s Dyke and Wat’s Dyke and their landscape setting. Linked to ground reconnaissance and GPS mapping, such a study could test the Ray/Bapty four-fold categorisation of Offa’s Dyke construction modes (for example), and could map their incidence, together with what Hoyle and Vallender termed ‘hybrid forms’, across the entire length of the dykes where enough fabric survives (or is visible) to enable such classification.
  4.  A new analytical aerial survey project targeting specific features. – The focus of this project would be to use particular light conditions to examine more closely the characteristics of the dykes at particular locations. An example would be the recording of ‘longitudinal’ bank and counterscarp bank profiles at key places when there is raking sunlight: the potential of which is illustrated in ODLH, 205 (Figure 5.29: A. Wigley aerial photograph of part of the Baker’s Hill, Shropshire, stretch of Offa’s Dyke).
  5. An analytical measured survey project designed to test variability in construction of the dykes. This project would deploy the traditional approach of the conduct of advanced analytical measured field survey (so far undertaken only at Dudston Fields near Montgomery). The aim of this particular project would be, for example, to test the character of the dykes in terms of construction modes (see 13, above).
  6. An analytical measured survey project targeting specific locations. A further such project could be focused upon particularly complex locations, as in part defined below (projects 31-70) in reference to specific places.
  7. A targeted programme of geophysical prospection aimed at answering specific questions. A project that deliberately deployed a variety of techniques to determine the presence/absence of ditches, stone-built constructions, quarries and pits (for example) would help to elucidate the disposition of features in especially complex locations such as putative gateways or elaborately-structured prominent lengths.
  8. A geophysical survey project specifically deploying GPR. This project would target one or two locations where the potential to discriminate complex structure within the earthworks had been identified as a result of surveys deploying other methods (including area geophysics).
  9. A new linear earthwork photographic record project. This could be conceived of as a length-by-length digital photographic (and again point-in-time) record, with agreed parameters for the ground-level (or drone-facilitated) documentation of key aspects of the dykes and their settings; or it could be targeted on especially complex features and/or locations.
  10. A targeted programme of photogrammetric characterisation. Such a project as noted in ‘project 19’ could be dedicated to a particular purpose, such as the recording of west-facing bank elevations where there are clear indications of the construction of facings – especially where quarried stone has been used.


Projects 21–30: Survey projects – landscape and setting

The projects in this group are examples of contrasting approaches to assessing the landscape and visual context of the dykes. They would aim to show how the linear earthworks existed within a frontier zone comprising markedly different landscapes from north to south and east to west. They would also characterise the varied fields of vision that the creation of the dykes as frontier-defining features enabled

  1. Investigating the forward visual zone of Offa’s Dyke and assessing the westwards frontier depth in terms of field of view. This project would begin with digital view-shed defined imaging, that it would then test in the landscape itself to determine what could be seen in practice from positions on or near the Dyke, in the prospect westwards.
  2. Tracing the visual zone from the west towards Offa’s Dyke. Again, based first upon digital modelling, the aim would be not only to define what parts of the Dyke would have been visible from the west, but how they would have been visible. This may potentially enable consideration also of how each visible length earthwork was experienced when glimpsed from, or in plain view from, different locations westwards (cf ODLH, 149-156; Figures 4.18-4.22).
  3. Project using digital terrain models to characterise consistencies in the siting of the dykes. This would examine their emplacement within the landscape, re-appraising and systematically mapping the locational practices and consistencies suggested in ODLH (see especially 135-151). This could potentially include modelling of the different vegetation regimes that may have been present 1200 years ago.
  4. A project designed to focus upon approaches to the dykes along river-valleys from the west. Given that Offa’s Dyke more frequently crossed steep-sided valleys (than for instance Wat’s Dyke did), this earthwork would be the principal focus in this project (cf ODLH 152-4). The project would aim to add more analytical depth to the study of river-crossings and the character of the localised form and stance of the Dyke as it faced up valleys.
  5. Survey of the landscape immediately to the east of Offa’s Dyke. This project could constitute an attempt to specify features that comprised the ‘support hinterland’ for the operation of the dyke in practice. It could also map the landscape from which either the dyke itself, or its particular course, could have been seen and appreciated when viewed from the lands to its east (cf ODLH 104-5: Figure 3.4, the hills south-west of Oswestry).
  6. Survey of the landscapes to the east of Wat’s Dyke. As for ‘project 25’, above, but with the particular circumstances of Wat’s Dyke in mind – for instance in reference to Cheshire hidation patterns, Chester itself, and the ‘Wrocansaetan’ lowlands to the south.
  7. Study project devoted to defining the key features of the visual prospects north and south along the Dyke. The emphasis in this project would be upon the views north and south that are available at different locations along its course, looking at the dyke itself as it traverses the landscape. There are more of these views available to those standing on or near Offa’s Dyke at many locations, due to the broken terrain it traverses. One aim would be to try to specify what the key characteristics of the field of view concerned would have been (cf ODLH 160-1).
  8. Project designed to elucidate and define a ‘visual envelope’ for the dykes in the landscape. The aim of this project would be to bring to bear a whole range of techniques to define a ‘visibility zone’ both forwards from, and behind, the two principal linear dykes of the Mercian/Welsh frontier. The aim would be to take into account prominent locations near, but not actually on, the dykes to reconstruct a ‘landscape of surveillance.’
  9. Survey of the ‘landscape corridor’ between Offa’s Dyke and Wat’s Dyke. This is the landscape within which the 16th century poet Thomas Churchyard suggested the Mercians and British had traded. This project would set out to establish what that possible ‘trading zone’ may have comprised. What role, for example, did Caergwrle have?
  10. Project designed to establish the way in which ‘the north’ was managed as part of Mercian frontier policy, in regard to the landscapes concerned. The presence of the Mercian kings in the area between Chester and Conwy is reasonably well-established. This project would be designed to locate their ‘footprint’ and that of their campaigning armies. It would also seek to establish whether the counter-posed presence of the armies of (loosely) Gwynedd and Powys could also be traced. 


The following projects (31 to 70) are defined here primarily in reference to locality; but in each case, there are general aspects of the archaeology of the linear dykes and the frontier that a project focusing on any particular location or area can illuminate. In this way, the projects identified (and many others not yet noted) could be undertaken as individual initiatives (if collaboratively-noticed and informed both by the wider Research Agenda and contemporary wider projects, or other localised projects elsewhere); or could be worked into the practical ‘sampling,’ or focused project-targets, of wider programmes and projects of research.


Projects 31-40: Localised projects – Gloucestershire & Herefordshire

  1. The Sedbury and Tallard’s Marsh complex. A project aimed at investigating both structure and landscape context for a possible defended enclosure at Sedbury; the dramatic and massive-scale dyke east of Buttington Tump; that Tump itself; and the alleged enclosure located on the left bank and overlooking the Wye immediately below Chepstow.
  2. A project designed to enlist the support of (for example) rock-climbers to establish whether Offa’s Dyke did once survive along cliff-top locations such as Ban-y-gor Rocks opposite Wynd Cliff north of Chepstow, and/or the extent to which subsequent quarrying may have removed all traces. (NB this project could usefully compare this Gloucestershire situation with that at Blodwell Rock, Llanymynech).
  3. The East Vaga to Madgett’s Hill lengths. This is envisaged as a close study, survey and investigation project. Experience (including field reconnaissance studies in 2017) has shown that while LiDAR is an essential tool for the full study of Offa’s Dyke in the woodlands of the Forest of Dean, ground observation is essential to the purpose of mapping the subtleties (and anomalies) of structure and siting. This is especially true of this 4km length of Offa’s Dyke which is probably the best surviving stretch anywhere.
  4. Passage Grove promontory complex. In study-visits I undertook in April 2015 and March 2017 (latterly with Jon Hoyle), the complexities of particular locations within the stretch noted in ‘project 33’ were fully appreciated, perhaps for the first time. This project, focusing upon a particular location with especially striking configurations of the Dyke and  other possibly related features, is an example of the kind of place where detailed and in-depth study, including specialised mapped characterisation, multi-spectral geophysical survey, and excavation (especially in response to past forestry interventions), could elucidate both structure and purpose in respect to the observable remains.
  5. Staunton to Ross-on-Wye: locating the Dyke. From Common Grove to Lower Lydbrook in the parish of English Bicknor there is a stretch of Offa’s Dyke that is reasonably well-preserved and characteristic of several other lengths further south in the Wye Valley. And yet to its west between Redbrook and Redinhorne (Symond’s Yat) there is no trace of the linear earthwork across a 5km distance. Northwards from Lydbrook the early charter bounds of Goodrich appear to make reference to the Dyke, and there are hints of its presence at Bishopswood and Walford south of Ross. This project would be aimed at determining whether there are traces of the earthwork that have been ‘missed’ in these locations, or whether it was not completed, or why it was deemed not necessary, here.
  6. Gateways – investigating the ‘yats’. The important conservation/research study conducted in the 1990s by Jon Hoyle and Jo Vallender looking at Offa’s Dyke in the lower Wye Valley noted that there are as many as 10 ‘yat’ or ‘yeat’ place-names here, often surviving as ‘gate’ or ‘yat’ names today. This project would aim, through a range of studies, to establish whether nthese names do indeed refer to gateways in, or points of transit across, Offa’s Dyke in the locations concerned; and if so, whether they were of similar, or contrasting, character.
  7. Quarries and stone-cappings. The focus of this project would be upon the relationship between the form and location of quarries to the east of the Dyke and the use of quarried stone to create both facades and cappings to the bank; and the digging of the ditch to the west of the bank to create a counterscarp bank. In the places where the latter survives intact, it is often also capped with stone. While mostly a survey project, insights from non-intrusive work could be tested through excavation, especially in reference to the quarries. The existence of such east-side quarries is more obvious in Gloucestershire than elsewhere, but its ubiquity is becoming evident all along the course of the Dyke. So some comparative work could usefully be done elsewhere.
  8. The Mork Stream valley and its complexities. While there are various anomalies and curiosities among the groups of earthworks occupying the landscape in the lower Wye valley that Offa’s Dyke traverses (in part due to excellent preservation conditions, in part due to an ‘underlay’ of prehistoric settlement and its field systems), nowhere exhibits greater complexity in the Mork tributary valley where the dyke-builders had to negotiate a highly topographically-convoluted landscape. This project would embrace this complexity, using the apparent disadvantage of complex inter-relations of earthworks (including several ‘linears’), to attempt to establish a sequence and pattern associated with the Dyke and the river to its west.
  9. A River Wye frontier – Ergyng and ‘the south Herefordshire zone’. A project investigating the conundrum of the apparent absence of a linear earthwork in an area that was clearly in contest between incoming Anglo-Saxon settlers and indigenous British communities; but that also betrays hints of compromise and even collaboration. The project would seek to expand upon recent discoveries indicative of early English settlement south of Hereford, and the evidence for a spread of thriving early Christian communities with allegiances southwards towards Gwent.
  10. Garnons to Rushock Hill: continuous/discontinuous Dyke. Although a project looking for the potential existence of (some form of) ‘Offa’s Dyke’ along the Wye between Ross-on-Wye and Hereford might be worthwhile, it may be more immediately productive to focus upon the area north of the river Wye where the apparent ‘gaps’ in its course are contradicted by early testimony, and by hints of its presence obscured by later roads.

Projects 41-50 Localised projects – Rushock Hill to Buttington (Welshpool)

  1. Overlooking the Walton Basin: the ‘Mercian March’. A Herefordshire/ Radnorshire project here would seek to investigate a range of locations and questions, ranging from the nature of potential Mercian ‘look-out’ facilities at Herrock Hill, Burfa and Pen Offa, to the character of the places of settlement in the valley of the Summergill Brook, to the possible early Welsh political centre at Old Radnor (see also project xx, below). It could also usefully examine the long stretch of Dyke between Evenjobb Hill and Burfa to better define its segmented nature and establish the extent of former quarries on its northern flank.
  2. Yew Tree Farm – studying the north-facing length. This project is devoted to the further study of a particular stretch of the Dyke, the visible detail of the construction of which first led (in 2009) to the identification of the segmented form of construction of the earthwork, and some of its key configurations on steep slopes by river-valley crossings (see ODLH, 198-201). The aim of this project is to conduct a close recording of the detail of the construction within a short defined length, focusing upon such features as possible cellular build of individual lengths in ‘construction bays’ and the ‘feathering’ of the terminals of individual segments in a practice potentially borrowed from carpentry.
  3. Gateways and custom-points: Discoed, Jenkin’s Allis and Hergan complexes. There are two possible gateway locations at Discoed: on the hill by the trackway at Cwm, and on the south side of the Lugg valley at Yew Tree Farm. There is an alleged gateway in a curious embayment of the earthworks in the midst of a prominent length at Jenkin’s Allis south of Knighton. The Hergan complex has also been studied in passing (Fox, 1955, 153, Plate XXVI; Hill and Worthington, 2003, 51, 53, Fig 19; ODLH, 236-9, Fig 6.10). The aim of this project is to investigate and record all four locations in detail.
  4. ‘Offa’s Dyke in Knighton’ project. Excavations have taken place at Ffrydd Road to the south of the town and at Pinner’s Hole near the Offa’s Dyke Centre. Fox mapped the course of the Dyke across the base of the Teme valley within the town before the latter had become quite so built-up as today. However, he apparently missed the ‘angled turn’ above the river which produces a shift that aligns closely with the parish boundary on the opposite bank. Fox did note, however, that the traverse between the two watercourses that have their confluence to the east of the town creates ‘a very strong promontory fort’ and speculated that these banks and stream-courses formed a convenient natural defence that may have encouraged the development of ‘a Saxon town’ here that otherwise there is no evidence for. The project here would draw upon the detail of past records, and on opportunities for observation, key-hole excavation and geophysical survey to better-characterise the form of the Dyke as it passes through the (medieval and modern) town.
  5. Cwmsanahan Hill and its environs: questions of surveillance. This project would aim to add to the recent study of this complex of earthworks and scarps overlooking a steep combe facing down into the Teme valley near Knucklas north-west of Knighton (ODLH, 237-9; Figures 6.11 and 6.12). The primary aim would be to re-examine the location as illustrated in 6.12 using remote and contemporary survey methods augmented by closely-targeted excavation. Part of the purpose would be to explain why the Dyke works are so complex here; and in part the idea would be to demonstrate how a range of different construction practices were brought together in one place to deliver an effective reconnaissance facility.
  6. Crossing the Vale of Montgomery. This project is designed to examine the course of Offa’s Dyke across the lowland area hemmed in by high hills to the south, west and east, with a series of particular questions in mind in reference to ‘micro-localities’, of which Dudston Fields (in project 47) could be said to be one. Key points of focus would include studies of the crossing of the Caebitra and Camlad brooks to the north and south of the Vale of Montgomery stretch, respectively: in the former case assessing the complexities either side of Brompton Bridge, in the latter tracing the variable form of the earthwork as it crosses the 1km broad floodplain. Other areas of interest would be the apparent complexities in formation of the earthwork at Rownal just south of the Camlad, and the intricate configuration of features in the area from Lymore Park southwards in the vicinity of ‘Lower’ Gwarthlow on the hilltop to the east of the line of the Dyke north of the Caebitra.
  7. Dudston Fields between Chirbury and Montgomery. This project would aim to examine the only stretch of the Dyke that has been subject to analytical field survey to Royal Commission (in that case, the former RCHM(E)) standards. The work of the project would be devised in large part to test the idea that an early version of an open field system may have preceded the Dyke here (first suggested by Philip Barker on the basis of his work at nearby Hen Domen). It would also aim to follow up and test the ideas outlined in ODLH (194-8; Figures 5.23, 5.24 and 5.25). This could only be done with a project that involved full excavation and reinstatement of a length of the earthwork as much as 20m in longitudinal extent, traversing the whole complex; but as such it would be an extremely good ‘showcase’ for the wider endeavour of understanding the Dyke better and explaining it more expansively to the public.
  8. The Hem area project. The project area here extends from Forden Gaer fort and Thornbury above the Severn in the south-west to Kingswood in the north-east. The question the project would seek to address would be the extent to which control over this crucial location overlooking the Severn north of Montgomery was exercised by the Mercians both to the west and to the east of the chosen course of the Dyke. Excavations close to Forden Gaer have indicated eighth-century activity, but the nature of this remains uncertain. The aim of this project would be to study a 5km x 3km east-west landscape transect in this area, with particular attention paid to locations at Thornbury, Hem Farm, the enigmatic ‘motte and bailey’ at Nantcribba, and Kingswood village itself, the site of past excavations across the Dyke.
  9. The Leighton/Long Mountain traverse. Although the Dyke-builders seemed to want to follow the most direct course from above Leighton Park to the Severn at Buttington, and in doing so in effect to appropriate the Long Mountain and the lands to its east, they had to negotiate very steep and broken terrain between The Stubb and Pentre. The aim of this project is to elucidate further than Fox did, the intricacies of how this was achieved.
  10. A Buttington and ‘middle Severn’ project. It was Frank Noble who first pointed out that Fox had largely dodged the question as to whether the Dyke had followed the right bank of the Severn, or the edge of the floodplain, from Buttington northwards past Trewern to a point near Criggion where it is evident running at right-angles to the opposite river-bank near Derwas west of Llandrinio. The ‘Offa’s Dyke Project’ of the 1970s to 2000s attempted to trace indications of earthworks in this area, apparently without success (Hill and Worthington, 2003, 67-8). This new project would be aimed at re-assessing the possibilities using a variety of methods including assessment of the LiDAR data. It might also carefully research the documentary evidence which Noble pointed out was unusually full for the medieval and later periods locally, especially in regard to the Welsh sources. It could also address the whole question of control of the middle Severn west of Shrewsbury, and what evidence exists to infer the presence of the ‘Rhiwsaete’ people hereabouts.

Projects 51-60: Localised projects – Derwas to Treuddyn

  1. Offa’s Dyke in the lowlands south of Llanymynech. The landscape in the vicinity of Four Crosses on the plain between the Severn west of Landrinio and the Vyrnwy at Llanymynech was important in prehistory and in the sub-Roman period when the settlement focus at Rhos may have been of more than local importance. This project would aim to explore the complexities of this landscape in specific reference to the purpose and impact of the Dyke locally.
  2. The ‘Red Dyke’ project. In ODLH I queried (361) whether hints of the existence of a ‘Clawdd Coch’ on the western margins of the parish of Carreghofa might constitute the echo of an adjustment of the frontier works in the area of the Vyrnwy/Tanat confluence beneath Asterley Rocks and Llanymynech Hill. A project focused upon this area could have as one aim among several, an exploration of the field and (excavation) archival evidence for this ‘red dyke’ and other potentially associated features. It could also re-examine the site of Carreghofa castle, and reconsider the possibilities for disentanglement of the earthworks pertaining to Offa’s Dyke and those of Llanymynech hillfort and the fort above Pen-y-coed.
  3. Whitehaven Hill to Llanymynech Hill. Offa’s Dyke performs a massive loop eastwards between these locations, to maintain the heights overlooking Llanyblodwel and the Tanat valley and to pass around the inside of what Fox referred to as the ‘Porth-y-waen re-entrant’ (1955, 66). Fox also noted many anomalies in the form and location of the Dyke as it passed over the col north of Blodwel Bank. Of particular interest here, however, is whether there was a control-point or gateway where the Dyke crosses the Porth-y-waen to Lynclys road, a possibility that neither Fox nor Hill and Worthington (2003, 73-4) appear to have considered. This is the more surprising given that the routeway concerned is the most obvious early route between on the west, Meifod in the Vyrnwy valley (a key Powysian centre) and Oswestry on the west side of the Shropshire/Cheshire plain.
  4. Project Trefonen. This would partly be an archival project and partly a community-based project aimed at reconstructing and exploring the course of the Dyke through an area badly affected by road-building, quarrying, and piecemeal development. In research terms the aim would also be to assess the reasons for the exact route taken through this landscape beyond the wish to follow a watershed and gain prospects westwards wherever feasible.
  5. Carreg-y-big and Orseddwen: the configuration of the Dyke in the ‘Berwyn’ uplands. Northwards from Trefonen, the valley of the Morda was negotiated by the dyke-builders before the heights of Baker’s Hill were achieved. Ostensibly, the course and topography northwards to Selattyn Hill is not dissimilar to that at Trefonen, but at a higher elevation. However, the Dyke performs a series of adjustments in its location and build across this high plateau, with notable odd configurations, especially in the vicinity of Carreg-y-big farm (cf ODLH Figures 4.10, 6.8, 9.9). The aim of this project would be to better characterise the form of the Dyke in these places, and perhaps in particular to conduct geophysical surveys and closely-targeted follow-up excavations to determine whether suggestions of a former gateway here can be substantiated.
  6. Offa’s Dyke at the Ceiriog valley. It would be a valuable exercise, given the excellent local state of preservation, to conduct the same sort of mapping and investigative exercise as envisaged in ‘project 42’ above at Discoed, on the north-facing slope of the hill above Bronygarth where the Dyke makes a dramatic series of adjustments at it descends/ascends the precipitous slopes above the Ceiriog. This project could equally well be focused also on the alleged deliberate gap on the narrow floodplain and adjacent slope on the north bank of the river. A project-element that encouraged The National Trust to further investigate, and to explain the nature and course of, the Dyke through Chirk Castle Park would also be helpful.
  7. The Ruabon-Johnstown-Pentre Bychan project. Nowhere along the course of Offa’s Dyke are there better opportunities for a successful community-led study-and-conservation project than in the Ruabon-Rhosllanerchrugog area. Here, there are all the ingredients for a varied programme of study: from new survey to establish the presence/form of the Dyke in Hopyard Wood on the left bank of the Dee, to historic documentation and regeneration-linked activity in the vicinity of the former Wynnstay Colliery, to surveys and localised investigation of the massive stretch of bank by Ruabon School (including tracing of the former quarry-ditches in the school grounds), to surveys at Pen-y-Gardden hillfort, to clarification and conservation of the course of the Dyke through Johnstown (involving the same kind of archival study as for ‘Project Trefonen’, 54 above), and surveys in the vicinity of Pentre Bychan including within the grounds of the Ruabon area crematorium.
  8. Esclusham and Coedpoeth. Situated within an area that in heritage terms is dominated by Bersham Ironworks, the Plas Power Woods and the narrow defile through which the Clywedog river flows, the remains of Offa’s Dyke here are striking but little-studied. The aim of a project here would be to better characterise and investigate the course and nature of the Dyke, while at the same time increasing wider public appreciation of its significance and conservation.
  9. The Cedigog valley project. A project here would focus upon the southern approaches to the Cedigog valley as well as the course of the Dyke through the valley itself. Such a project, like ‘project 57’ above, would offer excellent opportunities for community-focused study. Several particular points of focus could be established, four of which might comprise: Brymbo and the impact of its colliery and housing estates; Ffrith Hall and the Pen-y-coed woodland, and Ffrith village; Llanyfynyd environs; and the Cedigog valley eastwards between the dykes.
  10. Dyke’s End? At Ffordd Llanfynydd, the Dyke bank was found to have been widened artificially in order that a road could be built along it: although it may nonetheless have originally been massive here anyway. And yet less than 200m north-westwards the earthwork disappears without trace. It was surmised by Thomas Pennant as long ago as 1784 that the point of the orientation of Offa’s Dyke in the direction of Treuddyn was to symbolically extend the frontier towards the Clwydian Mountains, even if it was never built there. The aim of this project would be to establish whether an extension of the Dyke ever took a course yet more strongly west-by-north to cross the headwaters of the Alyn south of Llanferres to meet up with the southern peaks of the Clwydians: a distance of only 8km west of Treuddyn. 


Projects 61-70: Localised projects – Wat’s Dyke & the northern frontier

  1. Offa’s Dyke to Prestatyn? It has been suggested (Hill and Worthington, 2003, 86-7) that the ‘Ffordd Llanfynydd’ length may never have comprised part of the Dyke since no trace of the ditch has been traced north of Llanfynydd village itself. The Dyke may alternatively have continued northwards along the eastern side of the Cedigog valley, where a boundary along the heights by Cae-glas could represent a continuation towards Coed-talon. The idea that Offa’s Dyke might once have followed a course along the upper Alyn valley seems never to have been seriously considered, even in Fox’s researches. The aim of this project would therefore be to examine all available evidence, including LiDAR data, to assess the extent to which a former course via (west) Mold, Caerwys and Gop/Gwaenysgor could ever have existed; and to extend this work into new survey in the landscape.
  2. Wat’s Dyke northwards from Hope as the former ‘Offa’s Dyke’? An alternative ‘reading’ of the northern end of Offa’s Dyke is to see it as originally having used a 2km stretch of the Cedigog as a means of linking through to the Alyn valley, and then to have passed via Hope and Northop to the sea at either Fflint or Basingwerk. There is no direct archaeological support for such a surmise, but place-names such as Clawdd Offa (a farm near Northop) sustain a tradition that dates back to at least 1378 when the charter bounds of the town of Hope twice mention ‘Offediche’ as a feature of the local landscape. The project would aim to investigate this landscape and its linear features.
  3. Alyn Waters project. Fox had considerable problems locating the course and remains of Wat’s Dyke in the then heavily industrialised landscape between Sydallt and Pandy within the great loop of the river Alyn north of Wrexham. In contrast, the ‘Offa’s Dyke Project’ was apparently able to trace its course closely along the scarps overlooking the Alyn from the north, and across the flank of the prehistoric promontory enclosure at Black Wood. Today, much of this landscape is ‘restored’, and a large area is encompassed within the Alyn Waters Country Park. The Park would be the focus for this project, therefore, with one aim among others being to establish the exact relationship between the Dyke and the promontory fort.
  4. Wat’s Dyke in Oswestry. This project would be directed towards achieving a better understanding of the relationship between Wat’s Dyke, Old Oswestry and the historic town centre with its castle, market place, church and St. Oswald’s well. It would involve, firstly, an historic documentation study of the landscape that Wat’s Dyke traverses in the eastern suburbs of the town east of the former railway line. Both Oswald’s Well and the enigmatic Croesmylan Stone (conventionally regarded as marking the site of congregation outside Oswestry during the Black Death) and their environs could be included among the targets for study of the early medieval landscape immediately west of the line of Wat’s Dyke.
  5. Erddig and the area north of the ‘middle Clywedog’. A documentation project looking at the historic course of Wat’s Dyke through the heavily developed and former industrial landscape to the west of the centre of Wrexham could be undertaken as a means of expanding the project recently initiated by the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust locally. The other aspect of the project could have a dual focus: the nature of the crossing of the Clywedog floodplain; and an exploration of the earthworks within Erddig Park, developing the insights from The National Trust estate landscape survey. A particular focus for the latter might be upon attempting to understand why the Rookery earthworks (Fox, 1955, Plates XLIa and XLIIb) are so prominent.
  6. The Hope district. From Hope, Wat’s Dyke (or Offa’s Dyke, if this was a length of Dyke that began as ‘Offa’s Dyke’; or a length of Wat’s Dyke subsequently re-used in the course of Wat’s Dyke: see ‘project 62’, above) could have followed a directly northwards course that could have brought it to the south bank, or to the estuary, of the river Dee. Instead, it took a striking north-westerly course in parallel with the ‘upper middle’ course of the river Alyn. This project would be directed towards explaining this latter course, in particular through investigating closely such irregularities of the Dyke as those to the north-west of Yewtree Farm. The intention would also be to attempt to retrace the bounds of the town as recorded in 1378 and to identify the two locations along the Dyke mentioned in that document.
  7. Wat’s Dyke east and north of Mold. Mynydd Isa has grown into a substantial satellite settlement to Buckley, completely submerging Bod Offa Farm, in the many decades since Fox’s (1932-3) field study. South of Mynydd Isa the turn of the Dyke northwards at Plas Major helped set the Dyke on a course taking it away from the Alyn valley and across the Northop uplands. Here the Dyke mirrors in its ‘bracketing’ of Halkyn Mountain (by facing it from two directions successively) what Offa’s Dyke did in respect to several such upland areas to the south (including Ruabon Mountain). The purpose of this project is both to achieve a detailed characterisation of the siting and form of Wat’s Dyke over the 12+ km stretch from Hope north to the Nant-y-Fflint valley; and to achieve a fuller understanding of the logic of its siting with the landscape concerned.
  8. The Holywell area. Perhaps due to other pressing engagements in Cardiff and overseas, Cyril Fox did not apparently expend as much effort as had become customary for him, to trace the course of Wat’s Dyke from Maes-Glas overlooking the Dee Estuary to Pen-y-Maes on the summit of the ridges and hills overlooking Holywell from the south. The aim of this project would be to investigate what traces survive of the earthwork in this area, and to try to unravel the alternative courses it may have taken through what is now an area of dense housing and urban periphery. To what extent did this part of Wat’s Dyke overlook, and to what extent did it ignore the site of St. Winifride’s Well in the valley below? To what extent, also, did it appropriate this important site of British pilgrimage dedicated to Gewnffrewi, daughter of Tyfid ap Eiludd, former king of Tegeingl, on the territory of which polity the Dyke was seemingly imposed.
  9. A Basingwerk project. Although Fox (1955, 228-9) speculated about the course of Wat’s Dyke as it approached the sea at Maes-Glas, and noted both the ‘flattened spur’ on which Basingwerk Abbey stands and the recorded death of King Coenwulf at Basingwerk in 821, he did not consider it part of his brief to consider the implications concerning the possibility of a Mercian fortification here, apart from noting that “The site is an important one”. Recent field study conducted here with Howard Williams suggests to me that there is considerable potential to reconstruct the early topography of the site and a prospective harbour; and this would be the natural focus for a project aimed (at least in part) at understanding how and why Wat’s Dyke terminated here.
  10. Excavations across several years in and around the town developed here by Edward I revealed just how important this place on a high bluff on the right bank of the river Clwyd and close to the sea had been during what in England is referred to as the ‘middle Saxon’ as well as the ‘late Saxon period. This project would be designed to re-examine the results and records of previous campaigns of excavation, and to add new data including through targeted further fieldwork. The aim would be to re-assess the presence of the Mercian kings Offa and Coenwulf (and their armies and those of their immediate successors) in this area of north Wales, in reference to a wider strategy of control (cf ‘project 30’ above).

Projects 71-80: Archival, retrospective and place-name projects

  1. Mapping the dykes using historical cartography. A project that would look again at the results of traditional mapping and recorded observations especially of past professional Ordnance Survey staff but within a modern framework. This would comprise much more than simply a review of what had previously been observed: it could also address a number of issues concerning past versions of place-names and configurations of the earthworks that have now become obscured due to erosion and recent development.
  2. An aerial survey mapping project of the NMP ‘inventory enhancement’ kind. The aim would be to bring together historic direct vertical photographs, recent oblique reconnaissance and purposive photography, and satellite imagery; to embark on a programme of mapping of the sites and features observed wherever NMP work (as for the Marches Uplands Survey of the mid-1990s) has not already taken place; and to evaluate these records where it has.
  3. A ‘Fox archive’ project, 1: This project would involve a review and close study of Cyril Fox’s survey and excavation drawings and photography in the National Museum of Wales library in Cardiff. It would aim to establish the extent of recording going beyond what was published in the interim reports (1926-34) and the British Academy volume of 1955.
  4. An archive project bringing together records of all interventions into Offa’s Dyke. This was achieved in outline in the David Hill and Margaret Worthington volume Offa’s Dyke: History and Guide (2003) for projects that had occurred in the 20th This project would revisit and update such a programme of study and reporting, hopefully adding more detail especially to the ‘Offa’s Dyke Project’ investigations reporting.
  5. An archive project focused upon early photography. The aim of this project would be to trace and study all readily-available and newly-sourced early photographs, including aerial photography, of Offa’s Dyke and Wat’s Dyke from the early days of photography in the 19th century through to c.1950.
  6. Place-names and settlement through time. The purpose of this project would be to trace the changing names of settlements east and west of the dykes, to try to establish the extent to which their character may have changed from the period of medieval records through to the 20th century.
  7. A project looking at names indicative of fortifications close to the dykes. This project would represent a more narrow ‘place-names’ focus than ‘project 76’, with the intention of establishing patterns in nomenclature, and whether different versions of the names for the same sites can be traced. The aim would then be to attempt to assess whether these sites were created, or re-used, during the early medieval period.
  8. Personal names and the history of the frontier. ‘Offa’s Dyke’ was most probably named either directly, or apocryphally, after the famed Mercian king. It was suggested in ODLH that Wat’s Dyke might also have been named after a ‘real-life’ individual. The aim of this project would be to establish whether any evidence can be adduced for reasons for the naming of particular places after either ‘Offa’ or ‘Wat’ in the frontier; or whether other personal names might be traceable back to the ‘middle Saxon’ period.
  9. A portable antiquities project, with multiple points of focus. One purpose of this project would be to follow up on discoveries that provide the ‘back story’ to items in museums across Britain that have been recorded as having come from any of the frontier districts; another would be to establish the significance of items reported in recent years within the Portable Antiquities Scheme on either side of the border.
  10. Re-assessing excavated assemblages. The re-study of the excavated assemblages from the Wroxeter excavations in the late 20th and early 21st centuries resulted in remarkable new perspectives opening up about ‘sub-Roman and early medieval material culture. This project would explore opportunities for re-assessment of material from other past excavations in the frontier zone.


Projects 81-90: studying particular kinds of feature or practice

  1. A project focusing upon ‘earthwork anomalies’. There are a number of features associated with the dykes, such as the ‘Mellington Park outwork’ on Offa’s Dyke (Fox, 1955, Plate XXI), that have so far eluded explanation and in some cases have yet to be carefully studied in the field. The focus of this project would be on close investigation of up to twenty such locations along the dykes where such anomalies have previously been noted. The aim would be to establish whether these are simply pre-existing features intercepted by the Dyke, or whether they represent particular facilities associated with them.
  2. ‘Parallel and attached linear features’. There are earthworks in several different places that run parallel with the dykes, or that join the dykes obliquely. This project would be focused upon tracing cases where such earthworks exist, and investigating the nature of their relationship to the dyke length in question.
  3. ‘Potential gateways compared.’ The aim of this project would be to examine all the locations where gateways through the dykes might be supposed to have existed on topographical or ‘routeway’ grounds. The aim would then be to compare these places with points where unusual earthwork configurations might be taken to indicate the possible existence of a gateway that might not be expected to be present on other grounds.
  4. Tracing ‘Mercian fortifications’ in the frontier zone. The aim of this project is to attempt to locate possible Mercian military sites, based upon the form, location and configuration of earthwork enclosures. In the past, such fortifications have been assumed to have been either prehistoric (in the case of hill- or ridge-top sites), or Norman (sites with rectilinear baileys) in origin, but the aim here would be to develop criteria whereby ‘characteristic’ Mercian sites might be distinguished.
  5. The contemporary ‘llys’: was there a fortified component? That there were early secular centres in the landscapes of the minor Welsh kingdoms of the frontier seems highly likely; but what form these sites took is less certain. Since the mid-1990s dismissal of sites such as Mathrafal as having no early component, it has become less certain whether such sites would have been defended. This project would aim to identify any sites of this kind, with particular reference to locations that may have been within ‘striking distance’ westwards from Offa’s Dyke.
  6. Dyke facades in different locations. This project would concentrate specifically upon how, from place to place along the dykes, their principal (broadly) west-facing elevations may have presented themselves soon after construction. The aim would be to establish, for example, where, and why, these faces of the dykes were capped with stone, or approximated dry-stone walling, or were mostly exposures of rock.
  7. Quarries and rearward ditches: formal and volumetric studies. The work involved in creating the dykes has been estimated in a variety of ways. However, this has tended to focus upon estimates of the ‘original’ size of the bank, and has not taken into account either the size of the counter-scarp bank in reference to the front-facing ditch; or to a calculation of volume of material that may have been obtained from quarries to the rear of the bank (whence most of the bank material is likely to have derived). This project would aim to undertake a new study directed at establishing whether the underestimate of construction volume could be as much as 50%; and would consider the implications of this for the labour requirements for the dyke-building project(s).
  8. Angled turns and ‘bastions’: simulations of the Roman wall? In ODLH, an overall number of right-angled turns in the low teens was identified. This is probably a considerable underestimate when ‘bastion-like’ projections and less acute angled but still marked localised changes of alignment are taken into account. This project would aim both to identify further examples and to account for their form and location.
  9. Pre-Mercian fortifications and their integration into the Dykes. Both Offa’s Dyke and Wat’s Dyke used the defences of pre-existing (and presumptively mostly Iron Age) forts. This project would focus on the study of all these locations, comparatively. The aim would be to note any consistencies in how these sites were dealt with by the dyke-builders.
  10. Alignments: a question of survey practice. Cyril Fox made a series of observations and interpretive proposals concerning the role and purpose of alignments. In particular he tried to chart, for some stretches of the dykes, where alignments had been sighted from, and what they sought to achieve in the preliminary laying out of a line for the dykes to follow. However, he did not do this entirely consistently, and there has not been a subsequent attempt to chart the logic of survey and layout systematically over the whole course of either dyke. This project would aim to do so, and in the process to try to establish the direction of survey and the survey practices, and potentially also the standard measurements, used by the Mercian military surveyors.

Projects 91-100: ‘Challenger Projects’ – starting from alternative premises

Many (if not most) of the preceding 90 identified projects have been explicitly or implicitly based upon a particular ‘reading’ of the dykes of the frontier, and especially one that re-emphasises the unity of design and construction of Offa’s Dyke. This is hardly surprising given the perspective of the author, and it should be emphasised that this ‘list’ is offered as an aid to thinking and discussion, not as some proposed prescribed inventory. So it is possible of course to approach the investigation of the frontier from entirely different premises.

Some would suggest that this is the only academically-sound way to proceed, and would moreover propose that the question of the frontier should be approached in the first place from an identification of the widest possible range of interpretive alternatives. In that view, these ten ‘projects’ should therefore have been among the opening series of ‘ten’ or ‘twenty’ potential projects identified. In answer to such a perspective, it can be asserted (as indeed suggested in ODLH) that the arguments in favour of accepting a particular historical context for the creation of the Dyke first need to be found wanting, substantively rather than simply rhetorically.

The following ten ‘projects’ are offered up, therefore, in the spirit of promoting diversity in thought and perspective; and are drawn from among the queries and alternatives identified in ODLH.

  1. Offa’s Dyke: an ‘evolved’ frontier work? Apart from individual cross-valley or otherwise ‘short’ dykes, most long-distance linear earthworks (and indeed some of the shorter ones, such as the Fleam Dyke in Cambridgeshire) are composite structures. The opening premise of this project is that Offa’s Dyke and Wat’s Dyke are inherently likely to have been built in stages, re-using earlier dykes where opportunities to do so existed that at the same time enabled linkage across greater distances. The purpose of the project would be to seek to establish where the earlier lengths might have been located, and to try to reason how and why they were so enlisted.
  2. A ‘Tribal Hidage’ perspective. The focus of this project is upon the question first posed long ago as ‘who provided the labour that built the dykes’? But the answer is sought in this project in reference to an identification of the ‘territoria’ occupied by a series of hybrid Anglo-Welsh minor polities traversing the line of the frontier successively from Cheshire (home of the ‘Watlingas’: see projects 94 and 95, below) in the north to Gloucestershire/Gwent (home of the ‘Wentsaete’) in the south.
  3. The Powysian Offa’s Dyke: a treaty outcome? There is a point where the Hill/Worthington view and the Fox view can be thought of as coalescing: in acceptance of the idea that the fundamental spur to the construction of Offa’s Dyke was a resurgent Powys. H/W saw the Dyke however as simply imposed by Mercia in response to Powysian aggression; Fox saw it as following a negotiated line, placed in accordance with treaty agreements. This project follows the implications of both of these aspects. On the one hand, the ‘real’ Offa’s Dyke is the near-continuous linear structure built from the Cedigog valley north-west of Wrexham southwards to Rushock Hill in Hereford: in other words along the border with Powys. On the other hand, while being built as directly as possible between these points, what are the places where the indications are clearest that a particular course was the outcome of negotiation?  
  4. Watling Street and its relation to the Mercian frontier. The major Roman Watling Street road, after proceeding northwards from St. Albans extended from Wall near Lichfield westwards to Water Eaton. There it divided, with a westwards branch running via Red Hill to Wroxeter and with a north-westwards branch continuing via Whitchurch to Chester. Recent aerial survey of the landscape on the border between Shropshire and Herefordshire suggests that another branch south-westwards may have linked the route-centre at Water Eaton to Leintwardine. The potential use of this inherited system by the Mercians to help create and maintain their western frontier has important implications which this project would seek to investigate in reference to the significance of the relations between ‘core and periphery’ linking the Mercian heartlands to the frontier zone.
  5. ‘Watling Street West’ and the definition of a frontier zone. Relatedly (to ‘project 94’), the aim of this project would be to assess the potential significance of a key former Roman road that ran parallel with, but for much of its course at some distance from, Offa’s Dyke and the southerly lengths of Wat’s Dyke.
  6. The ‘Cantref Coch’ Dyke: an alternative framework for the Gloucestershire entity? If the ‘Gloucestershire lengths’ of ‘Offa’s Dyke’ had extended only as far as the hills south of Monmouth, to appear only at a point north of the wye and west of Hereford, it may have been supposed that the massive gap involved was the artefact of the use of the Wye as a boundary between Welsh and English communities south of Hereford. But it does appear that the Dyke and/or the frontier swung markedly eastwards and extended into the landscape to the south of Ross-on-Wye. Could the presence of ‘the dyke’ here instead indicate that ‘Offa’s Dyke’ was doing something entirely different here to what we have all along supposed it to have done? Could it instead have ‘bracketed off’ the ‘Forest of Dean’ (and its iron ore and works) as an ‘economic’ landscape placed under direct royal authority. And if so, at what date did this occur? This project would aim to elucidate this possibility further through fieldwork principally in the landscape between Walford and Ruardean.
  7. Offa’s Dyke as an Anglo-Saxon boundary among others. It has been proposed that Offa’s Dyke was a long linear boundary feature that is in essence little different from other mid/late Saxon boundaries, including ones like Watling Street that involved no quasi-defensive elements. This project would aim to explore formal and institutional similarities and differences between dykes, roads and other boundaries of the period.
  8. Offa’s Dyke: an example of ‘big men digging big’? Was the purpose of Offa’s Dyke (or indeed Wat’s Dyke) simply fulfilled by its having been dug in the first place? And if so, did it matter that it may not have been completed? The aim of this project would be to consider the formal properties of the dykes of the western Mercian frontier not in terms of the intricacies of their design and build, but simply as an exercise that kept large numbers of the population busy demonstrating in a most effective way the powers of coercion of the Mercian king.
  9. The perspective of the 820s. By the end of the period of Mercian hegemony, a series of long-distance dykes had been created in what later became the ‘Marches of Wales’. From the perspective of military campaigns in north Wales and elsewhere far beyond the dykes, to what extent had they become an irrelevance in those landscapes? This project would aim to assess this case, in reference to evidence for Mercian activity along the north Wales littoral.
  10. ‘Offa’s Dyke: the movie’. The danger in focusing upon linear earthworks and their role in the definition of a frontier is that they are inherently static phenomena. The aim of this project is to explore the evidence in an entirely different way, with variations in overall location and changes in direction that the dykes exhibit explained in terms of the fluidity of the concept of the frontier and its ‘uses’.

Keith Ray                                                    24th February – 24th April 2017



Offa’s Dyke: Notes towards a Research Design in 100 Questions


There are many questions that remain to be answered about both Offa’s Dyke and the British-Mercian frontier, for the latter especially for the several decades either side of the year 800AD. As was explained in Chapter 2 of Offa’s Dyke: Landscape and Hegemony in Eighth-Century Britain (Keith Ray and Ian Bapty, Windgather Press, 2016, pp.59-66; hereafter, ‘ODLH), some of these questions relate to discussions and debates dating back to the 19th century and beyond.

It is possible to list these questions, but not everyone would have the same list, and to a degree the formulation of questions is potentially limitless. My list of February/March 2017 would be unlikely to be identical in six months’ time. The best approach is therefore iterative: and for there to be questions formulated that engender research at a variety of different scales. In this way, there are not simply ‘global versus local’ questions, and we need to tack between micro-scale and macro-scale probing. Likewise, we should not underestimate the degree to which an investigation or study that produces wholly unexpected results can serve to shift the direction of future enquiry: sometimes dramatically. Our research focus needs therefore not to be too ‘closed’.

That said, more than one among the Conveners of the new ‘Offa’s Dyke (and early Anglo-Welsh frontier)’ Collaboratory research initiative has quite reasonably expressed concern that as many as possible among the questions that have arisen over the past 150 years or so should be made explicit. So this document identifies categories of question, and particular questions, even though most of these have been raised either explicitly or implicitly in ODLH. To a degree, all these questions are here abstracted from that book. However, this document brings them together in one place and notes those relating to both individual localities and phenomena such as finds distributions and place-names. The identified questions are presented arbitrarily here in batches of ten: and of course each question requires further explication and exploration, including a careful ‘unpacking’ of its direction and implications.

I have not included here, questions relating to the ‘frontier’ landscapes and communities before the advent of the Dyke. Nor have I posed research questions that refer to the ‘after-life’ of the monument, either in the later Anglo-Saxon/early Welsh context, or subsequently. This is not because such questions are unimportant, not least because research in pursuit of them (for instance on the earliest Anglo-Saxon settlement of the Marches; or on medieval place-names) may throw light on both later and earlier circumstances. Rather, the purpose of this ‘100’ is to provide a starting-point. There are myriad ways in which the answering of these questions can be approached. In a companion document, ‘Offa’s Dyke in 100 Projects’, I shall suggest some potential avenues of inquiry that involve those with both a more ‘general’ and a more limited project focus.

  1. The 100 questions listed below are mostly as selected and phrased by KR in February – March 2017. Many of these questions are correlated with relevant sections of ODLH (wherein ‘answers’ are also often provided, if tentatively). In some cases the questions identified here are versions of the 35 or so questions posed in ODLH as examples of questions (in groups cited at the beginning of each of the nine constituent chapters). Various of the questions have also been framed following how they were expressed in a May 2016 paper by Christopher Catling containing 55 questions (subsequently re-ordered by Paul Belford into ‘What, Where, How, When, Who and Why’ sections, and with some additional comments). These latter questions, sometimes slightly re-cast here, are referred to below as ‘CC/PB’ in italics, with the relevant ‘Q’ number.

Ten questions about the course of Offa’s Dyke

  1. Why does the Dyke take the route it does, at the widest scale (cf. ODLH, 123-131)?
  2. Does it/did it run ‘from sea to sea’, or is that just conventional hyperbole (eg ODLH, 23-25, 88, 123-125, 362-364 and endnotes)?
  3. Why does Offa’s Dyke not continue northwards beyond Treuddyn in Flintshire (specifically, ODLH, 60, 289-290, 356-360; p. 382, n.18)?
  4. Why, if the Gloucestershire ‘component’ is integral to the scheme, is there a massive ‘gap’ across south Herefordshire (CC/PB, Q4a; ODLH, eg 50-52; 272-274, 355-356)?
  5. How was the overall course of Offa’s Dyke chosen (ODLH, eg 123-126; 275-285)?
  6. Why is the Dyke sited at or near to the eastern edge of the uplands (ODLH, eg 124)?
  7. Why does the Dyke bisect the specifically west side of the Vale of Montgomery, beneath the uplands to the west of that (later) town (ODLH, eg 253, 270-271, 278-279)?
  8. Why are there large-scale lengths of the Dyke that instead of running more-or-less due north and south, are set on a north-west to south-east axis (ODLH, eg 43-49; 126-129)?
  9. Can we explain the discontinuities in the Dyke in terms of an ‘alternative’ continuous barrier in the form of ditches, palisades or ‘forest rides’ (CC/PB Q 5; ODLH, eg 77-78, 226-228)?
  10. Why is there also a ‘geographic dislocation’ north and south of Herefordshire, such that the Gloucestershire lengths are so far to the east of the Dyke’s course north of the river Lugg (ODLH, eg 128-129)?

Ten questions addressing the location of the Dyke in the landscape

  1. What features in the landscape did Offa’s Dyke exploit, control, block, or overlook (CC/PB 4b; cf major sections of ODLH eg 135-163, 225-250, 275-297, 336-341);
  2. What features in the landscape were chosen to enable controlling, blocking or overlooking to be achieved most effectively (CC/PB Q 4c; cf ODLH, 126-151)?
  3. Why does the Dyke in several places face uphill, at an apparent tactical disadvantage (ODLH, 148-149)?
  4. Why does the Dyke often not seek an ‘overlooking’ advantage, westwards, by failing to achieve a prominent overview position (ODLH, 142-143, 154-163)?
  5. How did the Dyke approach, and relate to, the major rivers it encountered (ODLH, 126-131)?
  6. Why does the Dyke approach more minor river-valleys in the various ways that it does – are there any clear recurrences in such approaches (ODLH, 135-142)?
  7. How did the Dyke negotiate immediate crossings of minor rivers (rather than the relevant whole valleys), physically (ODLH, 135-7)?
  8. Are there any clear patterns in the way that it traversed prominent hilltops (ODLH, 142-145; 149-151)?
  9. Is there a discernible purpose to the practice of placing the Dyke just below the skyline along steep west-facing scarps at the various points where this occurs (ODLH, 151-156)?
  10. Why were particular alignments chosen, and why were particular stances taken up? (One example being the consistent line 1km east/south of the middle reaches of the River Severn south of Welshpool). All the above are dealt with at some length in ODLH (especially but not exclusively in Chapter 4), but they still merit further investigation.

Ten questions regarding date, build-sequence and attribution of the Dyke

  1. When exactly was Offa’s Dyke built (CC/PB Q2; ODLH, eg 19-22, 56-63, 72-76, 86-92, 111-119, 214-219, 255-257, 288-297, 338-341, 344-364)?
  2. Can we demonstrate that Offa’s Dyke was built as a single monument (CC/PB Q1a,1b; ODLH, eg 131-151; 164-188)?
  3. Was it built in one effort, over a short span, or piecemeal over an extended time (CC/PB Q3b; ODLH, 164-208; 214-226)?
  4. Did it simply ‘connect up’ pre-existing lengths (CC/PB Q1, 3d; ODLH, eg 71-75; 340-341)?
  5. Is there any evidence for multi-phase construction of the Dyke in any one place (CC/PB Q 3c; ODLH, see above, Qs22, 23, 24)?
  6. Is there any evidence for maintenance or re-digging (CC/PB Q 3c; ODLH, see above, Qs22, 23, 24)?
  7. How permanent was it as a border, and why were there gaps in it (CC/PB Q 5, 15a; ODLH, Chapter 2; 353-362)?
  8. Who ‘commissioned’ it – was it really King Offa of Mercia (ODLH eg 20-23; 340-350, 353-356)?
  9. Or was it named after his death, as a memorial to the great king (CC/PB Q11; ODLH, 334)?
  10. Is there any evidence for subsequent re-use of it, for instance in the ninth century, or later, for example by the Normans (CC/PB Q 15b)?

Ten questions about the relationship of Offa’s Dyke to Wat’s Dyke (CC/PB Q1c)

  1. Which was built first, Offa’s Dyke or Wat’s Dyke (ODLH, 23-25)?
  2. Why do both dykes turn north-westwards, having been headed straight for the Mersey estuary (ODLH, 23-25)?
  3. Do both dykes share the same build techniques (ODLH, 23-25)?
  4. If not, why not (ODLH, 23-25)?
  5. If the two Dykes were in use at the same time, why are they parallel for such a long distance (ODLH, 356-60)?
  6. Was the northern part of Wat’s Dyke originally an interrupted ‘continuation’ of Offa’s Dyke, hence explaining the persistent confusion, especially locally in Flintshire, between the two Dykes (ODLH, 356-60)?
  7. Why are the two Dykes positioned always less than 3 miles apart, and why are there places where the two Dykes are less than a mile apart (ODLH, 31-9; 281-2; 357, 361)?
  8. What, or who, was ‘Wat’ (ODLH, 358-60)?
  9. Was ‘Wat’s Dyke’ also named after a person (ODLH, 359-60)?
  10. Do place-names give us clues to relationships – eg ‘Wat’s Dyke’; ‘Watling Street’, ‘Watling Street West’ (ODLH, 266-267; 358-60)?

Ten questions about the Dyke in reference to landscapes of settlement

  1. How frequently can we extrapolate the prior existence of ‘English communities’ west of the Dyke (ODLH, 265, 268-9)?
  2. What evidence is there for the absorption/survival of British communities east of the Dyke?
  3. What evidence is there for land use in the vicinity of Offa’s Dyke at the time of its construction (ODLH, 69ff, 255-262)?
  4. How strong is the evidence for the existence of hybrid Anglo-Welsh communities on either side of the Dyke (ODLH, 265-9)?
  5. Were there areas of particularly intense Anglo-Saxon settlement to the east of the Dyke, for instance in the Shropshire Plain (ODLH, 262-3)?
  6. To what extent can we detect differences in the cultural attributes of communities living either side of the Dyke/frontier at different places along its course (material culture, place/field-names, etc) after its construction/definition and attributable to that event/process (CC/PB Q8)?
  7. Can we characterise the landscape in which OD was built in reference to vegetation, agriculture, population size, density, natural resources farms, settlements, monuments, shrines, industry, changes over time (CC/PB Q 10; ODLH, 255-262)?
  8. What can the configuration of the Dyke/frontier north and (?) south of the Wye in Herefordshire indicate to us about the relative status of British and English settlements, and how does this relate to the ‘Ordinances Concerning the Dunsaete’, if at all? (ODLH, 262-9)?
  9. What, if anything, can be understood (eg in reference to hidages) about the landscape of Anglo-Welsh settlement in Cheshire and the area of (later) Flintshire and the Vale of Clwyd?
  10. What comprised the ‘Mercian march’ of Domesday, in settlement terms (ODLH, 290- 97; 344-50)?

Ten questions relating to the purpose and function of the Dyke

  1. How was Offa’s Dyke used? (CC/PB Q 6a; ODLH, 226-251; 334-353)
  2. Was it used for military purposes or for territorial display (CC/PB Q 6c; ODLH, 226-251; 334-353)?
  3. Was Offa’s Dyke merely (or was it very effective as) a deterrent?
  4. Was the Dyke designed for different purposes in different parts of the frontier?
  5. Was the Dyke supposed to be a boundary-marker or was it the main, but not the only, defining feature of the frontier (ODLH, 344-6)?
  6. If the Dyke was designed substantially for surveillance purposes, how did this work – for instance with a mounted ‘frontier-watch’ (see also Q84, below; ODLH, 226-228)
  7. Was the Dyke primarily a customs-barrier (ODLH, 228-34)?
  8. Was the Dyke positioned, replete with deliberate ‘gaps’ to perform a military function in respect to Mercian armies on campaign actually within Wales (ODLH, 355-60)?
  9. Was the Dyke built to some extent to provide an exhibition of Mercian military might to inhibit dissent within, or rivalry beyond, Mercia; or as a means of occupying the efforts of forces subject to Mercia to distract them from dissent (ODLH, 222-5)?
  10. If there were multiple reasons for building the Dyke, how can we tell which were the most important motivations, or are we doomed forever to speculate about these aspects (ODLH, 362-4)?

Ten questions concerning the build features/built form of the Dyke

  1. How was Offa’s Dyke built, over what time-span, using what levels of human resource and what constructional techniques (CC/PB Q3; ODLH, 216-19)?
  2. Can Fox’s conviction that the most important factor in determining the built character of the Dyke in any one location was the underlying geology in fact be borne out (ODLH, 167)?
  3. How homogenous is the built form of the Dyke from north to south (for example, how frequent are different build-modes, how common is ‘segmentation’) CC/PB, Q 17; ODLH, 165-74; 203-6)?
  4. Can the ‘adjusted-segmented’ form of the Dyke be regarded as a ‘standard’ or as an uncommon (but nonetheless important) feature of its build (ODLH, 203-6)?
  5. What evidence is there for frontal ‘walling’ of lengths of the Dyke, and how common a practice was this (ODLH, 184-8; 208-13)?
  6. Is there much evidence for a segmented form of build of the Dyke over long distances, even where these segments are not ‘adjusted’ (ODLH, 193-208)?
  7. Individual ‘dumps’ and spreads of primary material have been noted in various locations, but what evidence is there for ‘marker banks’ as a distinct part of the construction process (ODLH, 217-9)?
  8. How extensive is the evidence for the digging of substantial quarries to the rear of the Dyke (CC/PB Q 3c; ODLH,188-92)
  9. Why does the Dyke follow contours in some location, but traverse them obliquely (or even perpendicularly) in others (ODLH, 142-51)?
  10. How frequent is the evidence for the former existence of a prominent counterscarp bank (ODLH, 209-12)?

Ten questions about the organisation of construction of the Dyke

  1. How convincing is the evidence for a single ‘controlling mind’ (cf Fox) that determined the form and location of the Dyke (ODLH, 214-5; 222-6)
  2. Are there, at any rate, indications of construction planned, ordered and supervised by a cadre of (presumably Mercian) officers (ODLH, 225-6)?
  3. Over what length of time was Offa’s Dyke built (CC/PB Q3d; ODLH, 219-24)
  4. Are there any other ‘landscape features’ related to the Dyke and contemporary with it, such as road systems, river-ports, trading places, markets, defended positions, settlements, and field boundaries (CC/PB Q10; ODLH, 226-34; 240-51)?
  5. Is there a common ‘unit’ of build, such as the ‘Mercian perch’, that indicates how it was put together, ‘Meccano-style’?
  6. What evidence is there for the operation of distinct ‘work-gangs’ in the building of the Dyke (ODLH, 192-208)?
  7. Where was the Mercian ‘construction workforce’ drawn from (ODLH, 224)?
  8. Was it the work of a single summer, or was it a ‘many years’ project such as modern HS1/HS2 or motorway construction projects (CC/PB Q3a-b; ODLH, 214-28)?
  9. Did military involvement in the construction preclude major military operations in the years when the Dyke was in the building?
  10. What was the ‘cubic meterage’ of material (rock, turf, earth, timber) involved in its construction, and how can we calculate this (ODLH, 188-92)?

Ten questions focusing upon ‘Dyke infrastructure’ and facilities

  1. Were there gateways through the Dyke (ODLH, 228-34)?
  2. If there were gates, what kinds of location were chosen for them (eg river-valleys, passes, on former trackways, or all of these) (ODLH, 228-34)?
  3. If so, what form did the gates take (eg were they simple openings, did they feature bridges across the ditch, in what ways might they have been sophisticated) (ODLH, 228-34)?
  4. Is there any evidence for elaboration of ‘customs-posts’ close to gateways through the Dyke?
  5. Were there look-out facilities associated with the Dyke, positioned either forwards of it, or to the rearward of it (ODLH, 247-50)?
  6. Were there forts set in front of, or behind the Dyke, or both (ODLH, 244-7; 293-7)?
  7. Is there any evidence for a ‘military way’ (the Mercian equivalent of the Hadrian’s Wall Stanegate) servicing the Dyke to its rear?
  8. Is there any evidence for other military infrastructure, such as garrisons (CC/PB Q 6b; ODLH, 222-4; 244-7)?
  9. What is the possibility that earlier earthworks to the west of the Dyke were brought into commission to provide ‘forward posts’ (ODLH, eg 283-8)?
  10. Were there either work-camps or muster-locations to the east of the Dyke, and if so, how could we recognise them (ODLH, eg 283-8)?

Ten questions about historical sequence and the Mercian frontier

  1. Are the ‘short dykes’ the earliest evidence for the presence of the Mercians in the frontier region (ODLH, 76; 242-3)?
  2. Where did the Arrow Valley ‘Rowe Ditch’ fit into the sequence (ODLH, 242-3)?
  3. Was Wat’s Dyke built as a single enterprise or did it comprise a northern and then a southern section (ODLH, 353-60)?
  4. Is there any evidence for the building of the Dyke having been contested (ODLH, 360-2)?
  5. Was the Dyke ever built and then rebuilt on a different alignment, or to the east (or west) of its ‘original’ alignment (ODLH, 123-9; 360-2)?
  6. How could we tell if Offa’s Dyke was a composite structure, literally building upon earlier linear works in the same way that parts of ‘Wansdyke West’ (in Somerset) and the Fleam Dyke (in Cambridgeshire) appear to have been (ODLH, 25-9)?
  7. Is there any means of telling whether any parts of Offa’s Dyke were abandoned not long after completion (ODLH, eg 179-84)?
  8. Was there an initial focus upon the south of the frontier/Dyke and a later focus upon the north under Offa and then Coenwulf (ODLH, 355-60)?
  9. Did the ‘fight at Buttington’ in 894AD (if it did indeed take place on the middle Severn near present-day Welshpool) indicate that Offa’s Dyke still played a part in the definition of a frontier/march as much as 100 years on from its original completion?
  10. What came first, Dyke or frontier?

Keith Ray                                                        10th February-31st March 2017