The Royal Commission is in a unique position to take a national overview of the archaeology and historic architecture of Wales. The Commission is able to survey and record buildings and monuments in any area of Wales within structured nationwide projects and to assess their importance in national and international contexts.
The National Dendrochronology Project: RCAHMW has pioneered tree-ring dating in Wales, and since 1996 has undertaking a rolling programme of dendrochronology. The aim of this work has been toestablish precise dates for medieval and later house-types in all parts of Wales. This work is transforming our understanding of building history in Wales and the results have been summarised in Introducing Houses of the Welsh Countryside: Cyflwyno Cartrefi Cefn Gwlad Cymru (RCAHMW,2010). Detailed results are published annually in the journal Vernacular Architecture and are available on Coflein. The project has been extended to medieval churches and several medieval roofs have now been dated, including the remarkable C13th roof at Grosmont, Monmouthshire (NPRN 221965). RCAHMW tree-ring dating programme is often carried out in partnership with individuals and groups, including the North-west Wales Dendrochronology Project. For further information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Uplands Archaeology Initiative is the main area of work within field archaeology and has been prompted by the fact that in the unimproved uplands over 244 metres (800 feet) above sea level there exists what is in effect a fossilised landscape rich in remains of all periods. The Uplands account for 40% of the land area of Wales, and some 60% of the Welsh countryside can be described as of Upland character. The project is due to be completed in the second decade of this century, and each year the Royal Commission awards grants to enable teams of archaeologists to record monuments and features in some 150 square kilometres of landscape. Before work on the ground proceeds an archaeologist within the Royal Commission examines all vertical aerial photographs held at the Commission and uses a computer to produce maps of all archaeological features. This aerial mapping both guides archaeologists walking in parallel intervals 40 metres apart across the landscape and helps them understand long linear features such as trackways, artificial watercourses or defunct field-boundaries. Conversely, archaeologists on the ground can identify small features such as stone-built cairns or prehistoric standing-stones that are often too small to be identified from the air. Fieldwork also allows lines on aerial photographs to be interpreted securely and an integrated understanding of upland landscapes to emerge. Field archaeologists from the Royal Commission also survey and interpret in detail some of the more interesting structures and landscapes discovered to improve our understanding of them, and information about the more outstanding sites is passed onto Cadw so that they can be considered for protection as Scheduled Ancient Monuments.
The Welsh Nonconformist Chapels Project: The chapel is one of the most distinctive building types in Wales, both in style, and in its contribution to townscapes and landscapes. The wealth of variety that exists within chapel building, and precise principles of design that went into the architect-designed chapels, are now recognised as being on a par with other great public buildings of the 19th century. The complexes of chapel, Sunday school and chapel house were centres of community life in industrial and rural areas alike and were used throughout the week.
Today chapels are one of the buildings most at threat of closure, and the Royal Commission has been carrying out a systematic programme of collecting and analysing information regarding these structures. We now hold a database of some 6626 chapel records, containing information relating to architecture, key dates, architects and builders, language, cost and value, seating capacity and related structures such as vestries, chapel-houses and Sunday schools. This database is supplemented by an ever increasing archive of photographic collections held within the National Monuments Record of Wales. Key chapels across Wales have been surveyed by Commission investigators, providing invaluable records of chapels at risk or exemplars of their type.
Much of the work is now nearing completion, and recently the focus has been on a time limited census of chapel status. This has involved classifying chapel buildings in terms of their current use or, indeed, whether they are still standing. This information will aid the Commission and Cadw in determining priorities within Buildings at Risk and listing programmes, and help Local Authority planners and Conservation Officers as well as, other organisations concerned with religious buildings in Wales.
Work is now concentrated on the analysis and interpretation of the database and survey work. Information from the Chapels Project will be brought together in a major Commission publication on the architecture of the Welsh Nonconformist chapel, together with a series of web resources.