Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales c.AD400–1150

Submitting Institution

Bangor University

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Archaeology, Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

Bangor University's research into inscribed stones and stone sculpture in Wales c.AD400-1150 has impacted on the Welsh Government leading to the establishment of an `At Risk List' for early medieval stone monuments to aid better protection, changes in national records and changes in heritage management policies and practices. Publications in this field have also impacted on the cultural heritage of Wales through advice on monument interpretation to encourage wider audiences and tourism development, exhibitions and engagement with the media, benefitting audiences both in Wales and globally.

Underpinning research

Letters in square brackets refer to Section 3.

Context Professor Nancy Edwards was appointed to Bangor University (BU) in 1979. Her research focuses on the early medieval archaeological heritage of Wales. Her leading role in A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales, a project recording and analysing these monuments, began in 1996. At that time little research had been published on them for 50 years and there were c.150 new discoveries. All three regional volumes, comprising nearly 600 monuments, are now published, two by Edwards: the south-west [B] and north [E]. Project partners were National Museum Wales (NMW) and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW). Edwards's research comprises over 90% of both volumes and was funded by the AHRC, the British Academy, the University of Wales' Board of Celtic Studies and the Cambrian Archaeological Association (CAA).


The inscribed stones and stone sculpture currently form the most prolific material evidence for early medieval Wales. Based on extensive fieldwork and research, including study of antiquarian manuscripts, Edwards recorded and analysed over 370 inscribed stones (in Latin, Old Irish ogam, Welsh, Old English/Old Norse) and pieces of stone sculpture dated c.AD400-1150, and assessed the present condition of each monument. Her volumes also include her analysis of the historical and archaeological contexts, earlier research, monument forms and functions, ornament, iconography and inscriptions, regional groups, dating and chronology.


This research has shed important light on belief, conversion to Christianity, church organisation, Christianisation of the landscape and liturgical practice, as well as aspects of power, kingdom formation, wealth and patronage in early medieval Wales. It has also revealed the nature and significance of cultural contacts regionally and internationally with Anglo-Saxon England, Ireland, the Vikings and the Continent.


Early research for Corpus II and III led Edwards to realise the significance of the archaeological context of the monuments and the extent to which original contexts could be reconstructed using earlier, including antiquarian, sources [A]. Her research went on to reveal the full significance of work by the antiquary Edward Lhuyd (1659-1709), who recorded over 90 early medieval inscribed and sculptured stone monuments in Wales, over 80 for the first time, some of which are now lost. This led to more detailed research on his contribution to early medieval archaeology [C]. Research for Corpus III resulted in Edwards's analysis of the unusually historically datable, 9th-century Pillar of Eliseg, a fragmentary cross with a lengthy and complex Latin inscription recorded by Lhuyd, which throws important light on the early kingdom of Powys [D]. This research led to Project Eliseg (Principal Investigator Edwards; Co-Investigators Dr Gary Robinson (appointed as Lecturer at BU in 2005), Prof. Howard Williams, Chester University) funded by Cadw (the Welsh Government's historic environment service), the Society of Antiquaries, CAA and University of Wales, which examined the archaeological context of the Pillar through excavation (2010-12), including the Bronze Age burial cairn on which it stands, and is researching and publishing a full `biography' of the monument.

References to the research

[A] Edwards, N. 2001. Early medieval inscribed stones and stone sculpture in Wales: context and function, Medieval Archaeology, 45, 15-39. Subject of O'Donnell lectures in Celtic Studies, Oxford University, 2000; major international peer-reviewed journal in the field, RAE 2008 output. Available at:

[B] Edwards, N. (with contributions by H. Jackson,1 H. McKee2 and P. Sims-Williams3) 2007a. A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales. Volume II, South-West Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. RAE 2008 output; AHRC, British Academy and University of Wales Board of Celtic Studies funded; winner, CAA, G T Clark prize, 2012. A copy of this output is available on request.

[C] Edwards, N. 2007b. `Edward Lhuyd and the origins of early medieval Celtic archaeology', Antiquaries Journal, 87, 165-96. Major peer-reviewed journal; RAE 2008 output. A copy of this output is available on request.


[D] Edwards, N. 2009. Rethinking the Pillar of Eliseg. Antiquaries Journal 89, 143-78. Major peer-reviewed journal; REF 2014 output, (REF Identifier 3010).


[E] Edwards, N. (with contributions by J. Horák,1 H. Jackson,1 H. McKee,2 D. N. Parsons4 and P. Sims-Williams3) 2013. A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales. Volume III, North Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. REF 2014 output, (REF Identifier 3009); AHRC and British Academy funded.

1NMW, geology; 2 independent scholar, later palaeography; 3 Aberystwyth University, Celtic philology; 4 University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, runes.

Details of the impact

References to Research and Sources (3. above, 5. below) are in square brackets.

Providing expert advice to governments, thereby influencing policy and/or practice: The Corpus and associated research [A, B, E] has significantly benefitted Cadw, highlighting serious heritage protection, conservation and display issues and impacting on management policies [1,6]. Fieldwork (1997-2010) published in the Corpus indicated poor monument protection (e.g. lack of scheduling, church redundancy, theft, vandalism, weathering, vegetation) which was instrumental, through Cadw, in forming the National Committee for Recording and Protection of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture (2002-10; chair, Edwards 2004-, meetings biannually), responsible to the Ancient Monuments Advisory Board (AMAB), and included representation by the Church in Wales, Diocesan archaeologists, the Welsh Archaeological Trusts (WATs), NMW and Cadw. When the AMAB ceased the Committee was reformed independently to embrace Welsh medieval sculpture to c.1540 (2012-, chair, Edwards). The Corpus `present condition' statements gathered during fieldwork were used to complete a graded `At Risk List' of monuments (2008-10), part of Cadw's Welsh Historic Environment Strategic Statement: Action Plan (2009-11) [1, 6]. Cadw use this with the published Corpus in their on-going review of scheduled monuments and it informs Cadw grant-aid decisions with emphasis on safeguarding monuments most at risk. Also highlighted by Corpus research were problems with the narrow legal definition of a `Scheduled Monument' resulting in vulnerable monuments, e.g. portable sculpture fragments, remaining totally unprotected. As a result Cadw (with Historic Scotland) commissioned and received positive legal advice on widening scheduling criteria originally envisaged as part of the never enacted parliamentary Draft Heritage Protection Bill (2008). Priorities for future work on early medieval inscribed stones and stone sculpture in Wales, particularly their archaeological context, were adopted in the 2009-11 Wales Research Framework Review, which guides Cadw/RCAHMW policy [7].

Protecting and interpreting cultural heritage for audiences external to the academy, developing stimuli to tourism: The Corpus and related research [A-E] has impacted on protecting and interpreting Welsh cultural heritage benefitting different audiences in Wales and globally. Products of Corpus research, including images taken especially by RCAHMW, are being put on the RCAHMW Coflein (National Monuments Record) website and results have begun impacting on site entries on the Archwilio database website, the Historic Environment Records for the WATs, thereby reaching a very wide audience [2, 8]. Edwards's publications [B-C] resulted in her co-curating an exhibition (with popular catalogue) on Edward Lhuyd in the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth (29.06.-21.08.2009), commemorating the tercentenary of his death and bringing together manuscripts from international collections (4 specially conserved from Trinity College Dublin) for the first time since. The reach of this impact on public awareness is signified by the audience of 3184 recorded visitors, including from Australia, across Europe, Japan, Korea, the USA, with very positive responses in the Visitors' book e.g. `a remarkable man whose achievements it is good to be reminded of'. A touring version was shown in Oswestry Public Library (Shropshire) near his birthplace (12.2009-01.2010) [3].

Corpus and related research [A-E] resulted in Edwards lecturing widely (2008--2013) to community and non-academic audiences across Wales, in England and Ireland e.g. Current Archaeology, Archaeology Festival (Cardiff, 02.09); Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (Dublin, 03.09); George Arbour Stephens Lecture, Carmarthen (01.12), with audiences of over 100 at each [4], and Oswestry and Border History Group day-school (10.10), with an audience of over 250. Popular articles include `Wales after Rome', Western Mail, Welsh History Month, 14.05.13 (print circulation 25,500 + website). Rediscovery of a lost monument in Corpus II resulted in extensive media coverage e.g. Fox News 18.06.13. Edwards was consultant to Touchstone (2010-11), which reported to Cadw on better interpretation of early medieval Christian monuments for tourists and communities in Wales, now being implemented through heritage walks and `pilgrimage' trails via Cadw's Pan-Wales Heritage Interpretation Plan (launched 4.12.12) seeking to improve physical and intellectual access to heritage sites to a wider range of visitors and promoting heritage tourism [9]. Corpus related research [D] led to the Project Eliseg excavations (local partners Llangollen Museum), a Cadw Guardianship monument leading to improved conservation [1]. They have had wide community and media impacts through open days (e.g. Festival of British Archaeology / Llangollen International Music Festival fringe 2010, 350 visitors approx.), radio/TV/newspaper coverage (in Welsh and English, e.g. BBC, S4C, The Leader) and far-reaching website coverage e.g. BBC north-east Wales; blogs (Antiquarian's Attic; Facebook; You Tube). The 2011 project film posted on Past Horizons Archaeology TV has received 24,242 views (to 31.07.2013) [5].

Sources to corroborate the impact

Individuals who can be contacted for corroboration of impact claims:

  1. Two Inspectors of Ancient Monuments, Cadw, can corroborate Corpus impact on Cadw policies and `At Risk List', and the impact of Pillar of Eliseg research on Cadw policy, community and wider outreach.
  2. The Secretary of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, responsible for RCAHMW partnership in the Corpus Project, can corroborate impact and reach of Corpus research e.g. now on Coflein, discovery of lost monument in 2013.
  3. The Exhibitions Officer, National Library of Wales, can corroborate the impact of the Lhuyd exhibition arising from Edwards's research. (Email conversation is available on request.)
  4. The Secretary of the Cambrian Archaeological Association can corroborate impact of the Corpus on non-academic audiences in Wales e.g. at the Cardiff and Carmarthen Lectures.
  5. The Chair of the Llangollen Museum Trust can corroborate impact of research on the Pillar of Eliseg on the local community and globally.

Documents and websites:

  1. Minutes of the National Committee for the Recording and Protection of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales (2008-10) and National Medieval Welsh Sculpture Advisory Panel (2012-). Corroborates `At Risk List' and impact on Cadw policies.
  2. A Research Framework for the Archaeology of Wales, `Early Medieval Wales: an updated framework for archaeological research' early medieval section. Corroborates Corpus impact as part of the Research Framework adopted by Cadw and RCAHMW.
  3. RCAHMW: Coflein database (National Monuments Record of Wales) Demonstrates very wide reach of Corpus research materials e.g. photographs of monuments, which are incorporated in entries on south-west and north Wales in the database