History Files


Prehistoric Britain

A Goldmine of Discoveries

BBC News, 12 April 2000. Updated 15 August 2017

Archaeologists working at a west Wales gold mine in 1999-2000 announced that they had made a discovery which was 'as important as Stonehenge'.

Leading archaeologists from the National Trust hailed the discovery that Dolaucothi gold mine in Carmarthenshire could be as much as three thousand years old. The evidence was uncovered by French archaeologists who had been working with the National Trust at the site in order to learn more about the history of gold mining.

The Roman associations at Dolaucothi were already known but this research put the site into an historical context. The National Trust's archaeology panel subsequently reviewed the site, saying that the discovery was as significant as Stonehenge.

In a Welsh context, it is the first clear indication of what the area's inhabitants were capable of achieving before they were first invaded by the Romans. By the time of the Roman conquest of Britain, it was the Demetae tribe which governed the area, and they seemed to be relatively content to accept the Roman presence when it first arrived.

The site has not been extensively worked and reworked over. However, it had been subjected to some archaeological work in the 1960s. The French team involved on this new dig were world experts on ancient and Roman gold mines.

Iron age workings

They concluded from primary observations that a major part of this site was pre-Roman in its origins. Evidence was found by them in the area that was consistent with Iron Age workings. This was later confirmed by on-site digging and further necessary excavation work could take several more years.

Between AD 70-80, the Romans took over the site and began their first extensive mining there. They created large open-cast workings and dug several tunnels (adits) in order to exploit the gold veins. Most of this was achieved using nothing more than picks and hammers in what must have been very hard labour. Some of the original pick-marks, which are almost two thousand years old, can still be seen in the adits.

The aim of the on-site research was to help the National Trust decide how to manage and present the site to visitors in the future. By 2017 the site was a well-organised visitor centre.



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