Tag Archives: landscape

Maen Achwyfan and its Landscape

Of direct relevance to the contested frontier landscape of the pre-Norman era is the fascinating cross at Maen Achwyfan, Flintshire. It is close to the Whitford dykes and close to where Offa’s Dyke has been considered by antiquarians as running.

Indeed, I just love Maen Achwyfan: a 10th/11th-century cross in Flintshire. It is actually really easy to find if you want to visit, located just north of the A55 at the Caerwys junction (Junction 31). So if you’re stopping for petrol or the cafe or Greggs or McDonald’s, why not take the 5 mins drive to see this awesome early medieval stone in its original location?

Face B figural art

I’ve posted a number of times on this blog about the cross:

Morning sun hits the cross and pools its environs in a warm glow

Recently, I revisited Maen Achwyfan. My interested in this 10th/11th-century freestanding stone cross derives from multiple sources:

  • taking students there on field trips;
  • research for the Early Medieval Stone Monuments book, which featured it as a case study in the Introduction talking about its materiality, biography and landscape context, and upon the book cover;
  • parallels with the Pillar of Eliseg as another rare example of a surviving in situ early medieval monument that may have served as part of an early medieval assembly place;
  • a 2015 TAG session on Mobility, Monumentality and Memory.
  • In summer 2016 I spoke to the Cambrian Archaeological Association about Maen Achwyfan: this is featured in the latest Archaeologia Cambrensis.
  • A 2016 talk on the Isle of Man about the potential commemorative significance of martial representations on early medieval stone sculpture.
Eastward face C

On Saturday morning I went to see the Early Medieval Archaeology of Wales Archaeology Research Group (EMWARG) and outlined my latest thinking about the monument, suggesting we need to think about the art of the cross in relation to its landscape context and vice versa.

Westward face A

One of the areas I addressed was the interpretation of the figural scenes on the narrow southward face B. I proposed that it represents a martial figure with snakes attacking him from below and above. Below this I suggested were two figures facing each other: there are numerous possibilities from early medieval stone sculpture regarding their identity. Below this, was a beast and a tree, and features beneath the beast’s legs. Rather than a horse and perhaps linked to the legend of Sigurd the dragonslayer, I proposed it is actually a crude rendition of the twins Romulus and Remus suckling from the she-wolf. Similarities with the 8th-century Franks Casket require careful consideration.

If accepted, this shifts the interpretation of the cross away from the ‘Viking’ world exclusively and helps us consider the art as visualising the marking and protection of church lands in relation to lay patrons.

Face B
The ‘warrior’ on face B
Two figures?
Romulus and Remus

New Publication: Placing the Pillar of Eliseg

At the inaugural Collaboratory workshop in Shrewsbury in April 2017, I presented the key findings of work conducted by Dr Patricia Murrieta-Flores and myself stemming from the Past in its Place ERC-funded project. I’ve discussed various elements of this paper before on on my blog but the final publication is now out in the journal Medieval Archaeology.

Placing the Pillar of Eliseg explores movement and memory through the landscape around this unique 9th-century monument, helping to explain how the monument was positioned, its possible function and its significance as a feature in a volatile and fluid ‘frontier zone’.

THE LANDSCAPE CONTEXT of the early 9thcentury monument known as the Pillar of Eliseg is interrogated here for the first time with GISbased analysis and innovative spatial methodologies. Our interpretation aims to move beyond regarding the Pillar as a prominent example of early medieval monument reuse and a probable early medieval assembly site. We argue that the location and topographical context of the cross and mound facilitated the monument’s significance as an early medieval locus of power, faith and commemoration in a contested frontier zone. The specific choice of location is shown to relate to patterns of movement and visibility that may have facilitated and enhanced the ceremonial and commemorative roles of the monument. By shedding new light on the interpretation of the Pillar of Eliseg as a node of social and religious aggregation and ideological power, our study has theoretical and methodological implications for studying the landscape contexts of early medieval stone monuments.

While principally about the Pillar of Eliseg, this is key to understanding Offa’s Dyke and Wat’s Dyke as successive and related linear frontier works. This is because the Pillar is the most notable surviving monument built by the rivals of the Mercians along their western frontier. Raised by Cyngen son of Cadell, it honours his great grandfather Eliseg.

Moreover, our study makes a series of points regarding how the linear earthworks operated to control movement and visibility at the eastern entrance to the Vale of Llangollen.


Murrieta-Flores, P. and Williams, H. 2017. Placing the Pillar of Eliseg: Movement, Visibility and Memory in the Early Medieval Landscape, Medieval Archaeology 61(1), 69–103. DOI: 10.1080/00766097.2017.1295926 http://hdl.handle.net/10034/620515