ARCHAEOLOGISTS from TV’s Time Team believe they have unearthed an important Welsh link with King Harold, dating from a year before his death at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Aptly, the Saxon hunting lodge they found was uncovered in a corner of south-east Monmouthshire called “Harold’s Field”, in line with local lore.
The Channel Four crew spent three days last year excavating a field in the village of Portskewett, near Chepstow, in the first and only dig allowed on the site.
No archaeologists had ever been permitted to examine the area before because it was protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument 80 years ago despite no hard proof of its historic importance.
And tomorrow, viewers will see their findings hailed as strong evidence that the ill-fated last great king of the Saxons did build a lodge in the field near the village church, as well as the team revealing the bloodthirsty feuds between 11th-century Welsh people and their near neighbours.
The team also discovered large sections of a later medieval, stone- built manor house, sherds of Roman pottery and a silted-up four-metre-deep tidal creek which once flowed from the settlement to the River Severn estuary, allowing boats to moor at the site.
Not only did the TV archaeologists have to apply for special consent for the dig from Welsh Assembly Government heritage watchdog Cadw, but they also faced an almost impossible three-day task of finding evidence of the timber lodge which the Welsh folk of their time burned to the ground in an attack that saw all the Saxon retainers killed.
Their search was also hampered by the fact that the largest lump protruding beneath the ground turned out to be the remains of a previously unknown Norman manor house which, although an exciting find, may have actually been built directly above the destroyed lodge.
But after analysing their findings, the team had enough information to put together a 3D image of how the site would have looked in medieval times, and one tiny piece of pottery found was linked to Harold because it dated from Saxon times.
Presenter Tony Robinson, who described the field as “a real cracker of a site”, said, “What I hoped for was something to link this field with Harold.
“It’s not much, but finding this [sherd of pottery] from a time when there simply was not much pottery feels like discovering the Holy Grail. It’s Saxon. I can hardly believe it. We have found evidence of activity here just before the Norman Conquest, and for me it’s proof enough that Harold was here.
“Our historian is convinced that Harold would have built his hunting lodge on this important hill intending it to stand out as a symbol of new power to anyone arriving in the creek below.
“What we have discovered is that this is a really classy place.”
The dig also unearthed some of the earliest medieval pottery ever found in Wales.
The strategically-important site on the main crossing point between Wales and England was previously occupied by the Romans before the Welsh built a royal palace there, and then, archaeologists believe, Harold replaced it with an opulent lodge.
Robinson said, “We know the big earthworks in Harold’s Field are not the remains of Harold’s Saxon hunting tower.
“The main building we unearthed was a Norman fortified tower house, likely to have been three storeys high.
“Next to it there was a stable block and a courtyard with ancillary buildings set around it.
“Encircling the hill was a deep ditch, and the impressive route in was across a causeway with the creek on one side and a large lake of spring water on the other. This was the home of the local lord, but not the centre of power as it was in Harold’s day because in Norman times their base was at Chepstow Castle down the road.”
Steve Clarke, chairman of Monmouth Archaeological Society, who features in the programme as the local pottery expert, said yesterday, “It was great fun and very exciting to take part in, and I was surprised that they stuck to the rules and spent only three days there.
“I believe it could be the site where Harold built his hunting lodge, but I would have liked more evidence. Three days was just not enough – it would have been a miracle to have proved it in just that amount of time.
“But there will not be anymore digging on that site unless someone gets Scheduled Ancient Monument consent again, so it might be that we will never know for sure.”
Mr Clarke is the author of a soon-to-be-published book that details the remarkable medieval pottery and other finds made in Monmouth. The discoveries won his society the premier award for archaeology in Britain.
As for King Harold, he never gained revenge on the Welsh who destroyed his lodge because he was killed the following year by an arrow in his eye at Hastings.
Time Team: Hunting King Harold is on Channel 4 at 5.45pm tomorrow