Where to Draw the Line: Scheduled Ancient Monuments and Historic Landscape Characterisation in Wales

Oliver Davis

1. Introduction

Introduction | What is a site and monument? | Site typologies | Statutory designation | Problems of recording | Discussion | Conclusion

On 20 June 1884, 12 days after Pitt-Rivers assessed the site's suitability, the Neolithic burial chamber at Pentre Ifan, Pembrokeshire, became Wales' first Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM). Over 125 years later, there are now well over 4,000 SAMs receiving statutory protection in Wales, ranging from prehistoric burial chambers and hillforts through to medieval castles and World War II anti-invasion defences.

The past in Wales has traditionally been recorded by monument typologies. Individual monuments are given defined boundaries in order to record, protect and present them to the public, landowners and developers. More recently, however, Cadw, in partnership with the Countryside Council for Wales and the four Welsh Archaeological Trusts, has been working on several projects aimed at improving our understanding of the historic landscapes of Wales. In particular, the historic landscape characterisation project has begun to examine whole landscapes and identify larger patterns and activity locales in the spaces between sites (Cadw et al. 1998).

This article will discuss the problems of monument classification and how that affects both the recording and the presentation of the past to a variety of audiences. In particular, I will consider why we define sites and monuments in Wales in the way that we do. The classification of monument types may be a good way of handling data, but this approach can have negative effects as we try to fit unique sites with fuzzy boundaries into neatly defined packages within a standardised pattern. I will also consider how the type-site name that is given to a SAM implies particular concepts to us about the past. Finally, I will discuss the landscape characterisation process and examine whether this has enhanced our understanding, management and recording of the past, or if the addition of landscape has simply created another typological classification.

2. What is a site and monument?

Introduction | What is a site and monument? | Site typologies | Statutory designation | Problems of recording | Discussion | Conclusion

The terms 'site' and 'monument' are both complex and evocative. In one sense, a site is simply a location where human activities once took place and left some form of material residue behind. Yet, the definition and geographical extent of a site can vary widely, depending on the period studied and the theoretical approach of the archaeologist. Almost invariably the term is taken to indicate a settlement or archaeological feature(s) even though it is often difficult to ascribe spatial limits to human activity (Darvill 1987). A monument is perhaps more obvious. The term is usually applied to upstanding earthworks or megalithic structures, which can be said to have a degree of 'monumentality'. Yet even this classification is inadequate since it says nothing about the wider environment in which the 'monument' is set.

It is not intended to explore critically the concept of the terms 'site' and 'monument' here, but rather to highlight that neither possess clearly defined limits. This is important because the terms are used to record and manage the historic environment. In practical terms, the concept of a monument is defined in the legislation set out in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act (1979) as follows:

'(a) any building, structure or work, whether above ground or below the surface of the land, and any cave or excavation
(b) any site comprising the remains of any such building, structure, or work of any excavation
(c) any site comprising, or comprising the remains of, any vehicle, vessel or aircraft or other movable structure or part thereof which neither constitutes nor forms part of any work which is a monument within paragraph (a) above'

References to a monument are also taken to include its site, and the site of a monument is defined to include, as well as the land on which it stands, any adjacent land which (in the opinion of the Secretary of State) is essential for its support or preservation.

This is a very wide definition, which says little about how to identify the boundaries of a site or monument, although it is usually understood to encompass the extent of the visible presence or strong likelihood of presence of archaeological features. In this sense, the term monument has a more legal meaning in the provisions of the Act, which in any case was originally designed to protect prehistoric megalithic or earthwork sites. Site, on the other hand, is more embracing and more comfortably includes the buried components.

However, the definitions provide only vague guidance on spatial extent. In one sense, this makes it difficult to define a statutory boundary around a site that possesses no obvious physical boundary. But perhaps this is the point – the boundaries of a site are rarely known, and so scheduled areas can only define areas containing archaeological features, or the strong likelihood that archaeological features are present. This is problematic, since it requires sites to be recorded as distinct isolated packages, rather than discrete units of activity within a wider environment.

3. Site typologies

Introduction | What is a site and monument? | Site typologies | Statutory designation | Problems of recording | Discussion | Conclusion

The concept of the archaeological site is synonymous with archaeological research. Archaeologists use sites to order and sort data, which can then be analysed for patterning. For much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, approaches to archaeological research in Britain were driven first by art-historical and then by culture-historical methodologies (Evans 1890; Wheeler 1935). The grouping of artefact types that occurred together formed the basis of identifying cultural and ethnic entities, with migration or invasion often cited as the catalysts for change (Hawkes 1961; Hawkes and Dunning 1931; Wheeler 1943). It is perhaps unsurprising for a discipline so reliant upon artefact typologies for much of its early and subsequent history that settlement typologies, or 'type-sites', should come to play such an important role in the development of archaeological, particularly later prehistoric, interpretative frameworks. One of the most influential prehistoric type-sites was Little Woodbury in Wiltshire, excavated by Gerhard Bersu just before the outbreak of World War II (Bersu 1940). This was a small Iron Age enclosure that came to be regarded as typical of Iron Age settlement in southern England and has been largely responsible for providing many of our familiar ideas concerning Iron Age social and economic structure (Figure 1).

Such classification allows for data to be gathered and processed easily within categories that follow the set archaeological narratives of the time. However, there are a number of problems with the type-site model. Three in particular are considered in more detail here and are referred to as the three 'mis-es':

1. Misinterpretation

Site-typologies can often promote misinterpretation of sites by forcing sites that may be atypical into predetermined categories. This can lead to generalised interpretation, which often misses the complexities of the settlement pattern. For instance, Bersu's Little Woodbury excavations came to dominate thinking in the latter half of the 20th century, as problems of economy and social structure began to be more fully engaged with. During the 1940s and 1950s a number of excavations, such as Itford Hill (Burstow and Holleyman 1957) and West Harling (Clark and Fell 1953) took their inspiration directly from Little Woodbury, and many settlements were soon interpreted in order to fit a Little Woodbury norm (Evans 1989, 250). Indeed, Collis (1968; 1970) chose to excavate the enclosure at Owslebury, Hampshire, because it appeared to be a normal settlement of Little Woodbury type, although subsequent investigation has shown that it clearly is not.

2. Misappropriation

As sites are forced into type categories, the categories themselves can often be used to appropriate socio-economic function. Subsequent to the Little Woodbury excavations for instance, the site became synonymous with the typicality of Iron Age settlement in southern Britain. Indeed, the enclosure was selected by Hodson (1964) as representative of his Iron Age 'Woodbury culture'. Little Woodbury also gave its name to a distinctive enclosure type that began to be recognised over much of southern Britain. Roughly circular enclosures between 10,000m² and 30,000m² in size with east-facing entrances and antennae ditches leading away were frequently described as 'Little Woodbury type' (e.g. Schadla-Hall 1977, 28). The Little Woodbury type enclosure has become the dominant image of Iron Age Wessex, in which small farms enclosed by a ditch or palisade were surrounded by arable fields and pasture for livestock. This type of settlement enclosure is often regarded as representing a particular kind of socio-economic structure, the Little Woodbury type economy, that was part of a hierarchically ordered settlement system (Cunliffe 1984; 1991, 220). The legacy of the Little Woodbury excavations is a cultural and economic package represented by a single farmstead, home to a typical Wessex farmer and his family who engaged in a mixed farming economy (Bersu 1940; Hawkes and Hawkes 1948).

3. Misrepresentation

The classification of recognisable site-types within predetermined categories can sometimes result in wider scale spatial relationships being largely ignored. Taking the example of Little Woodbury again, the settlement is actually only one part of a much larger complex of enclosures consisting of multiple units of settlement, such as Great Woodbury, and successive occupation (Figure 2). Other features were also revealed by aerial photography and may be associated with occupation at Little Woodbury. To the north-west are two small rectangular enclosures that are aligned upon a ditch that leads from or away from Little Woodbury. A variety of other ditches appear to intersect with Great Woodbury, which suggests various phases of activity. In this sense, the cropmark evidence suggests that Iron Age settlements were often integrated into larger systems and that the enclosures themselves may only have represented the nuclei of occupation. Some of the different enclosure forms may actually have existed at different times and represented changes in the nature and intensity of occupation and activity.

4. Statutory designation and the recording of site and monument types

Introduction | What is a site and monument? | Site typologies | Statutory designation | Problems of recording | Discussion | Conclusion

In Wales, the historic environment is recorded using type-sites. Cadw is responsible for recording, protecting and promoting historic sites and ancient monuments of national importance in Wales, by compiling and maintaining a schedule of monuments, which are classified by monument or site-type. The aim of scheduling is to ensure the long-term preservation of a site or monument, judged to be of national importance. Cadw is guided in its identification by the non-statutory criteria for scheduling ancient monuments (Figure 3).

Each SAM is recorded on a scheduled monument database, where it is provided with a unique identification number, and assigned a site-type, period, and class. The terminology used within Cadw has been modified to fall in line with the accepted English Heritage/Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England Thesaurus of Monument Types (1998). The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales has led the introduction of these terms through the production of an accepted list, including archaeological sites unique to Wales.

The extent of each scheduled area is defined as a polygon in a layer within a geographic information system (GIS), although the question of how far the schedule of a monument extends is not entirely straightforward. The legislation is vague, but it is Cadw's practice that the boundary should only define remains that can be argued (at a public inquiry if necessary) as being of national importance, because of the presence or strong likelihood of archaeological remains. In some cases by drawing a boundary that matches physical boundaries on the site it makes it much easier to manage, but it can also be expanded to include areas where there is a strong probability of features associated with a monument, for which there is no specific evidence as such.

5. Problems of recording monument types

Introduction | What is a site and monument? | Site typologies | Statutory designation | Problems of recording | Discussion | Conclusion

As archaeologists move away from the study of individual elements in the landscape to a more holistic approach that considers the complex web of the links and relationships between the elements of the landscape itself, it has become increasingly important to convey this approach to the public, land developers, and other organisations (Bath 2006). While protection through legislation of individual sites is well understood, that for conserving the broader historic landscape is not. Herein lies a problem – the Schedule of Monuments in Wales is an inappropriate resource upon which to base the definition and understanding of the historic landscape, yet it is the only statutory resource consulted in decision-making regarding the development and change of the landscape. In particular, the way that monument and site-typologies are used to record individual sites is problematic. These can be summarised again using the three 'mis-es' model:

1. Misinterpretation

SAMs are classified by site-type, but sometimes at the time of scheduling it is not entirely certain what the site actually is. For example, Picton Castle Mound in Pembrokeshire was originally scheduled in 1952 as a motte, a precursor to the later 14th-century castle and estate. In 2002, during a meeting concerning the management of the site, the site owner informed a Cadw inspector that the mound is actually a folly and an important feature of the parkland of the Picton Estate. In fact, the mound is first depicted in 1773, topped by a square building, possibly a domed summerhouse, or pavilion. A passageway is also set within the body of the mound, which was originally interpreted as a tunnel, but is actually an architectural conceit to allow the park beyond to be seen through the mound (Figure 4).

This misinterpretation is important for two reasons. Firstly, the site has entered the popular literature as part of the original Norman castle distribution pattern in Pembrokeshire. Pettifer (2000, 172), for instance, describes the site:

'(it) overlooks the River Cleddau, 4 miles southeast of Haverfordwest. Sir John Wogan built the present castle in the early 14th century. It is an unusual fortified hall-house that became a stately home. A Norman castle also existed here. At that time it was dependent upon the barony of Wiston.'

Thomas (1982, 46) also describes the Picton 'motte':

'A large mound in Picton represents the first Picton Castle, which preceded the present medieval castle, which was built by Sir John Wogan'

Secondly, as a SAM the site has received statutory protection and required significant resources to manage and monitor. Perhaps more importantly though, its relationship to, and significance within, the Picton Estate, which is a Registered Historic Park and Garden, was not identified. This relationship between garden and mound is crucial for the management of this landscape, but misinterpretation of the mound as a motte could have affected planning or development decisions.

2. Misappropriation

There is a tendency to use site typologies in Wales to develop scheduling projects as part of the scheduling enhancement programme. For instance, the recent survey of Prehistoric Funerary and Ritual Sites, funded by Cadw and carried out by the Welsh Archaeological Trusts, was designed as a comprehensive study of Neolithic and Bronze Age ritual monuments, based upon existing records contained in the regional historic environment records (HERs). The project, one of the most comprehensive field-based monument studies carried out anywhere in the UK, was undertaken with three objectives: to assess present condition of sites; to standardise site types in HER; and to recommend sites for scheduling. The methodology employed by the Trusts was to interrogate the regional HERs and produce a database of all sites that matched prehistoric funerary and ritual site types. The problem, of course, is that the interrogation of the HER is reliant on the data being correctly entered in the first place. Perhaps more importantly, sites were excluded because they did not meet the selection criteria or were considered neither prehistoric in date, nor funerary/ritual sites. Also, the relationships between funerary and ritual sites and other contemporary sites were not always considered, even though these relationships may change the importance of the non-statutory criteria for selection; for example, field systems laid out in relation to barrows or cairns could change the importance of barrows.

3. Misrepresentation

All areas between sites are individually historic and merit treatment as archaeology since they are all part of the historic landscape. Landscape is a combination of space and place – places where things happened, and the spaces in between through which people moved. By bringing these elements together it is possible to understand the development of the landscape. But by only considering sites in isolation, are we missing the wood for the trees?

We must also consider the bias of individual inspectors in their choices of which sites to Schedule. Inspectors may have specific research interests, which may influence the importance they attach to particular site types. Alternatively, they may be constrained by logistics. For instance, Figure 5 shows the distribution of SAMs scheduled by Inspector 'X' (as we will call him). The distribution appears random enough, but Inspector X was unable to drive and therefore had to visit potential sites for scheduling by public transport. Consequently, when the bus routes of south Wales are plotted on this map, we can see that all the SAMs designated by this inspector fall within easy walking distance of a bus stop. If we then show all SAMs we can see that a large number fall within those areas away from the bus route. It should be pointed out that the scheduling enhancement programme introduced by Cadw in the 1990s was an attempt to eliminate such bias.

6. Discussion

Introduction | What is a site and monument? | Site typologies | Statutory designation | Problems of recording | Discussion | Conclusion

We cannot save and protect all archaeological and historical sites and monuments, so we need to be more skilful about what we do save, and the way that we record sites can help us do this. For instance, hillforts may be put into simple classes such as multivallate or univallate, but genuine distinctions can only be derived from identification and recording of items such as overall shape, internal area, structural type of ramparts, type and orientation of entrance, number and type of houses. However, greater subdivision is likely to lead to loss of clarity and understanding. Therefore, perhaps the record should also include features in the immediate environs, such as settlements that might be of a contemporary date, and the agricultural capability of the surroundings as well as the potential for environmental evidence. For practical purposes, the introduction of a concept of 'essential setting' of sites and monuments would be particularly useful, particularly for allowing the impacts of development or land-change to be assessed holistically. The essential setting is a concept developed for the register of historic parks and gardens in Wales (Cadw and ICOMOS UK 1998) in order to safeguard areas adjacent to the historic parks and gardens, which, although outside them, form an essential part of their immediate background and without which, in their present state, the historic character of the site in question would be diluted and damaged.

One way of considering how historic assets sit within a broader landscape in Wales has been through the implementation of Historic Landscape Characterisation (Cadw et al. 1998). This is a means of defining, mapping and recording the evidence of past human activity in the present landscape. It looks at the whole of the landscape, not just individual sites or monuments, but also the larger patterns and spaces in between. It recognises that the typical and commonplace, of local importance, are as valuable as the rare and special, of national importance.

Characterisation is defined as the process of identifying and defining the particular characteristics which make each area distinctive, and is rapidly emerging as a sound basis for describing, understanding and managing the environment (Cadw et al. 1998). It is the depth of human activity which underpins much of that which we feel is important about locality and landscape, and helps give an area its local distinctiveness. Historic landscape characterisation sets out to establish the historic depth within the modern landscape by identifying its principal components.

At present there is no standard accepted methodology for establishing the historical character of landscape, but recent work in Wales has suggested that a practical approach based on considering the evidence as a series of themes may provide an answer. At a landscape level, these themes might include field boundary patterns, settlement patterns, relict remains of earlier periods, impact of industry, or military installations. The dominant historic themes or patterns in a locality help define local historic character. The combination of these characteristics gives an area its local distinctiveness, and it is the definition of these areas of local distinctiveness that leads to character areas. The process of characterisation can be summarised:

One or more components = dominant pattern/theme
One or more dominant patterns/themes = character area
One or more character areas = local landscape

Historic landscape characterisation involves the examination of historic processes that have shaped and moulded the present-day landscape. Components that make up the landscape such as field boundary types, field shapes, buildings, settlement patterns, parks and gardens, roads and railways, industry, and archaeological sites are all taken into consideration during characterisation.

By analysing all components it is possible to divide the landscape into historic landscape character areas. Each area comprises components that are distinct from its neighbours.

Characterisation is a practical tool to aid management, therefore it is crucial that the process identifies key historic landscape characteristics which are features or patterns that can be managed. The approach taken in Wales to characterisation is different from elsewhere in the UK. In England and Scotland the methodology undertaken by English Heritage and Historic Scotland has been to use a number of predetermined historic character types for landscape assessment (Countryside Agency 1999; Historic Scotland 1999). The work in Wales has been more fluid, identifying areas of consistent historic character that have been fashioned or created by the same purpose (Cadw et al. 1998). In 1998, Cadw published a Register of Historic Landscapes, which set out how it could be used as a planning tool. Characterisation of individual landscapes has now been completed and made available by the Welsh Archaeological Trusts, grant-aided by Cadw. The problem of course is that the Register is non-statutory and advisory only. Its primary aim is to raise awareness of significant historic landscape areas, which is useful when major changes to the landscape are contemplated, and the Register can encourage informed change. But herein lies the challenge; the Register might not be considered for smaller changes whose combined effects might result in significant character changes. Nevertheless, the intention of the Welsh Assembly Government, through the Heritage Protection Reform bill, is to make the register statutory, which would be a unique approach in the UK.

7. Conclusion

Introduction | What is a site and monument? | Site typologies | Statutory designation | Problems of recording | Discussion | Conclusion

In the majority of cases, the scheduling process has been successful for protecting certain places from development, and it is currently the only tool in our armoury that gives statutory protection. However, the way that we record SAMs encourages us to think of them as individual elements in the landscape. This is clearly inadequate for defining and protecting the historic landscape. Historic Landscape Characterisation is a step in the right direction, and moves beyond the consideration of individual sites as independent units.


My thanks are extended to Rick Turner, Mike Yates and Polly Groom who gave up their time to discuss many of these issues with me. I am also extremely grateful to Gwilym Hughes and Kate Roberts who read previous drafts of this article and provided extensive comments. Any errors are, of course, my own.


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