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Pen Dinas Hillfort, Aberystwyth

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1. Pendinas, the largest Iron Age hillfort in Ceredigion, occupies an exceptional position on a coastal hill, which rises towards the western end of a long ridge separating the valleys of the Rheidol and the Paith. Its location is optimal, one of the strongest and most readily defensible hills in the region. This coastal hill boasts precipitous slopes on its seaward (western) side and along the south, but is approached by more gradual slopes across a lower lying saddle of ground to the east and north-east. It sits at the coastal confluence of the rivers Rheidol and Ystwyth, allowing exploitation of a variety of resources within easy reach, including marine resources, seaweed, river fish, good grazing land and soils suitable for arable cultivation, a point well made by Fleure in 1922.

The fort is prominent from many miles around, and was crowned in the nineteenth century by the Wellington Monument (NPRN 32637). The hill of Pendinas has two summits, a lower, broader summit to the north, and a higher, more narrow summit to the south. These are linked by a saddle of lower ground known as the isthmus.

Excavations by C Daryll Forde between 1933-7 investigated only limited parts of the fort, but four main phases of development were established. The fort started life as a simple defended site on the north summit, enclosed by a rampart of packed rubble and an outer ditch (Phase I). Some years later after the first was abandoned, perhaps around 400-300 BC, a new fort was built on the higher summit to the south with elaborate gates and a substantial stone-walled rampart with an outer ditch (Phase II). After some time, this fort fell into partial ruin while parts of it were burnt. The fine south gateway collapsed and became forgotten and overgrown. Later, the south fort was re-occupied with new defences built and old ones extensively repaired (Phase III). Finally, additional ramparts were constructed across the isthmus linking both summits, together with a new main gate (Phase IV). At its height (in the last decades before Christ), Pendinas was a masterpiece of Iron Age architecture and engineering. The stone-walled isthmus gate stood as high as a two-storey building and was crossed by a wooden bridge supported on four massive timber posts. Manning (1999) provided calculations of the resources consumed by timber-faced hillfort defences, calculating that a 4ha hillfort like Pendinas may have required 4680 trees from 76ha of land over its lifetime to provide sufficient timber for vertical posts and tie beams.

Although the south fort was ploughed in historic times, the sites of about a dozen prehistoric round houses can still be seen. These take the form of circular or D-shaped scoops, cut into the bedrock to provide a level platform for building. Several of these 'hut platforms' can be made out in the southern half of the south fort, clustered around the south gate.


The most dateable finds from the 1930s excavations were sherds from an Iron Age jar with stamped decoration around the rim, made after 100BC (but used into C1st AD Roman times) and similar to 'Malvernian' pottery found on the Welsh borders. A fine glass bead was also found near the north gateway of the south fort, of a pale yellow, translucent colour decorated with three spirals of yellow, opaque glass thread. Other finds included a stone bead, two spindlewhorls, two loom weights, fragments of corroded iron and bronze, and a cache of over one hundred beach or river pebbles probably used as slingshot to defend the fort. Finds from earlier times include a Neolithic stone axe, a Bronze Age palstave and a triangular barbed and tanged arrowhead.

A late Roman coin of the emperor Maximian (AD 307) was found in 1930 in a molehill in the south fort. Alastair Willis at National Museum Wales notes: The coin was struck in London in AD 307 and has the mint mark PLN. Obverse: D N MAXIMIANO P F S AVG. Bust of Maximian, laureate, cuirassed, right. Reverse: GENIO - POP ROM. Genius, turreted, draped, standing left, holding patera in right hand and cornucopiae in left hand. Reference: RIC VI Londinium 90. (NMW Accession number: 30.653). Maximian and his co-emperor Diocletian retire in AD 305, but political events mean that they come out of retirement in AD 306. Maximian is forced to retire again in AD 308. He therefore has coins struck for him during this time.

2. Further surface finds were made following the bracken fire of 1999 which effected parts of the south fort. These are now on permanent display in Amgueddfa Ceredigion Museum. Objects include a number of slingstones, a 1967 sixpence, sherds of 18th or 19th century pottery, part of the handle of a medieval jog, a glazed and painted ceramic marble, a glass marble, part of a clay pipe and four shells 7.62 x 5 Nato Round Blanks, from the 1960s or 1970s.

T Driver, RCAHMW, 2016, updated 2024.

2. Community excavations by the Dyfed Archaeological Trust in September 2021, funded by Cadw, were the first on site since 1937. A hand-excavated trench was opened inside the south gate of the south fort to investigate part of the gate structure examined in the 1930s and the adjacent roundhouse platforms. Parts of the inside walling of the north terminal of the south gate survived intact, but other sections of the gate structure had been completely excavated by Daryll Forde's team in the 1930s. Two large roundhouse platforms were also partly excavated. Both were cut into the coarse shale bedrock, and had covered drains in their floors for the removal of ground water, along with multiple phases of wall-trenches and post holes. Several finds were disovered inside the roundhouses including an amber bead and spindle whorls.

Further excavations were carried out by the Dyfed Archaeological Trust in 2023 as part of the NLHF and Cadw-funded Pendinas Hillfort Project. New excavations were focussed on the isthmus gateway area in April 2023, and a roundhouse platform in the south fort in September 2023, while drone photogrammetry was carried out by the Royal Commission in April 2023. Further project work in 2024 included vegetation clearance across the south fort, new geophysical survey by DAT and a new topographic survey by the Royal Commission.

T. Driver, RCAHMW, 2024


3D Sketchfab model April 2023



Key sources:

Avery, M, 1993, `Pen Dinas' in Hillfort Defences of Southern Britain, BAR British Series 231, Volume II, Appendix A, The Evidence of Individual Sites, pp 255-263. (part of: Avery, M. 1993. Hillfort Defences of Southern Britain, BAR British Series 231, (three volumes)).

Browne, D. and Driver, T., 2001. Bryngaer Pen Dinas Hill-fort, A Prehistoric Fortress at Aberystwyth. RCAHMW.

Driver, T., 2005 The Hillforts of North Ceredigion: Architecture, Landscape Setting and Cultural Contexts. Unpublished PhD thesis, The University of Wales, Lampeter, Department of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Driver, T. 2013. Architecture, Regional Identity and Power in the Iron Age Landscapes of Mid Wales: The Hillforts of North Ceredigion. BAR British Series 583, Archaeopress: Oxford

Driver, T. 2016. The Hillforts of Cardigan Bay. Logaston Press 

Driver, T. 2023. The Hillforts of Iron Age Wales. Logaston Press. 

Forde, C. D. Griffiths, W. E. Hogg, A. H. A. and Houlder, C. H., 1963. Excavations at Pen Dinas, Aberystwyth, Archaeologia Cambrensis, Vol. CXII, 125-153.

application/pdfRCAHMW ExhibitionsBilingual exhibition panel entitled Y Fryngaer ar Bendinas, Aberystwyth. The Hillfort on Pen Dinas, Aberystwyth, produced by RCAHMW, 2010.
application/pdfRCAHMW ExhibitionsBilingual exhibition panel entitled Ceredigion: Bryngaerau'r Oes Haearn. Ceredigion: Iron Age Forts, produced by RCAHMW for the Royal Welsh Show, 2010.
application/pdfGeneral Digital Donations CollectionThe hillfort on Pen Dinas, Aberystwyth by Toby Driver, 2010.
application/pdfAENT - Archaeological Reports/Evaluations (non Trust)PDF report entitled Archaeology Wales Pen Dinas Hillfort, Penparcau, Aberystwyth Geophysical Survey prepared for Penparcau Community Forum, produced by Philip Poucher, report no. 1598, July 2017.
application/pdfAENT - Archaeological Reports/Evaluations (non Trust)EAS client report ref no 2017/04 entitled "Plas Gwyn, Y Ffor, Archaeological Watching Brief" commissioned by J. Ellis and produced by I.P. Brooks, Engineering Archaeological Services Ltd, March 2017.
application/pdfGeneral Digital Donations CollectionY fryngaer ar Ben Dinas, Aberystwyth gan Toby Driver, 2010.