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.
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.
- ‘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.
- ‘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.
- ‘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.
- ‘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).
- ‘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.
- ‘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.
- ‘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.
- ‘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.
- ‘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.
- ‘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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.’
- 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?
- 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
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- ‘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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- ‘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.
- ‘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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- ‘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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- ‘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