The following review was published in the Anglesey Antiquarian Society‘s 2020 Transactions. Oriel Môn will be reopening on 18 May 2021, and the exhibition can be viewed until 13 June 2021.
Jane Kenney, Gwynedd Archaeological Trust, an exhibition at Oriel Môn, Llangefni, 12 December 2020 – 13 June 2021
Between 2006 and 2010 Gwynedd Archaeological Trust (GAT) carried out extensive excavations at Parc Cybi, Holyhead, in advance of development of a business park. As such a large site was being developed, GAT was able to investigate more than 20 hectares. Peeling off the layers across such a large area has revealed an astonishing collection of archaeological finds ranging from the Mesolithic to the 18th century. The results of the excavations were presented at a day-long symposium in February 2020 at the Ucheldre Centre in Holyhead, which was accompanied by an exhibition about the finds. This exhibition has now moved to Oriel Môn, where it can be viewed until 13 June 2021 (COVID-19 restrictions allowing).
Given the wide range of periods uncovered by the excavation, the advance of time is the keystone of this exhibition. As you walk into the central display space of the museum, footprints on the floor guide you to the left to start your journey, and a timeline running around the top of the walls gives key dates ranging from the last ice age to the start of the industrial revolution. Twelve nicely designed and well-illustrated bilingual display boards line the walls above four low display cabinets with artefacts, supplemented by a fifth tall cabinet containing pottery and stone items and an open central area with more stone objects.
The displays start by showing scenes of the excavation under way, along with some of the flint, chert and stone tools found on the site. It moves on to a display of one of the highlights of the excavation, a rare 6000-year-old timber hall. An illustration showing a bucolic domestic scene outside the hall accompanies photographs of the excavated evidence of other domestic buildings, including roundhouses, a Bronze Age granary, and a hearth from a small hut.
The next set of displays show the various burial practices in the area, including the nearby Trefignath burial chamber, Bronze Age cist graves and later Roman long cist cemeteries, and excavations of the Iron Age roundhouse village. These are accompanied by a display case full of stones with holes that were found in the village. Some of these were fishing net weights, but most were spindle whorls that, combined with a stick, were used for spinning fibres into threads for clothing. The display is graced with a recent photo of a Nepalese villager using a similar system for spinning.
Halfway through the exhibition we encounter the tall display case with several stone bowls, mortars and hammer stones, two pieces of pottery and two reconstructed Neolithic pots. In contrast to the rest of the exhibition this case has very little information about the items on display, just a few labels with brief descriptions. The next display case makes up for this by having several pottery fragments from the early, middle and late Neolithic and the Bronze Age, showing how style and decoration developed through time. The accompanying posters describe domestic life and industry during the Iron Age and Romano-British period.
The final display case focuses on the ‘bling’. The centrepiece is a small gold ring found at the edge of a Bronze Age field. It is small, with a gap in it, and may have been a hair decoration. Also in the case is an amber bead, other decorative items made from shale, pottery and cannel coal, and some iron tools. The history of the occupation of the site post-Romans is explored in the last two posters, with photographs showing corn driers, a cobbled floor from a now vanished farmhouse, and a stone-lined well with steps leading down to it.
In the centre of the exhibition area is an open wooden-framed display case, filled with soil and tools of the archaeologist’s trade. This is used to display several large stone objects: a stone bowl, a saddle quern, a post for a granary and a cup-marked rock.
The text of the displays is clear and geared towards informing the general public of the highlights of the finds and their importance in understanding our past. A couple of copies of the summary report (with a chair to ease your feet and a magnifying glass to ease your eyes), alongside a QR code link to the GAT web site, allows the curious visitor to delve further into details of the finds. Full reports of the excavation can be found on GAT’s web site at www.heneb.co.uk/parccybi.