Rhiannon Comeau

Land, people and power in early medieval Wales: the cantref of Cemais in comparative perspective

The archaeological landscape of early medieval Wales is notoriously poorly understood, with ramifications both for national identity and the creation of coherent narratives, and also for the construction of a balanced and representative understanding of early medieval Europe. The material record is problematic, due to aceramic traditions, low coin use, unfurnished burials, acid soils, and limited excavations, and historical documentation is limited.

My research addresses these problems through a multidisciplinary analysis of the landscape of the early medieval cantref (hundred/ supra local district) of Cemais in south-west Wales. This detailed, comparative study identifies the structure and elements (economic, administrative and social) of the early medieval landscape, and considers the expression, at different spatial and temporal levels, of individual and communal engagement with the landscape. Analysis examines the materialisation of ideas and events in place-names, loci (especially stones and barrows) and intersite relationships, as well as the patterns of landscape use that are shown in seasonal agricultural practices and in fairs, assemblies and other events of a ritual or ceremonial nature.

As well as providing insight into a little-understood area, this research is intended to provide comparative data for assessing the evidence of other regions and also the validity of existing models of early medieval settlement. Among the areas of debate that are implicated in this research are the use of the landscape by early medieval elites; the landscape impact of early medieval Christianity; the multiple estate model; post-Roman Irish (Deisi) settlement; and the processes of the Anglo-Norman Conquest.

Funding organisation

  • Arts and Humanities Research Council


 Educational background

  • BA, Architecture, University of Cambridge, 1977
  • Diploma in Field Archaeology, Birkbeck College, 2008
  • MA, Research Methods for Archaeology, UCL, 2012


Comeau, R. (forthcoming): Feeding the body and claiming the spirit(s): early Christian landscapes in West Wales. In T. Ó Carragáin and S. Turner (eds): Making Christian Landscapes in Atlantic Europe: Conversion and Consolidation in the Early Middle Ages. Cork University Press

Comeau, R. 2015: Long cist graves at Cwm Yr Eglwys Church, Pembrokeshire: a belated note about a 1981 rescue excavation. Archaeology in Wales, 54, 159-163

Comeau, R. 2014: Bayvil in Cemais: An early medieval assembly site in south-west Wales? Medieval Archaeology 58, 270-284

Comeau, R. 2012: From Tref (gordd) to Tithe: Identifying Settlement Patterns in a North Pembrokeshire Parish. Landscape History 33(1), 29-44

Comeau, R. 2012: Memories preserved: antiquities and oral traditions of Dinas in the writings of Gwynrug, 1908-9. Journal of the Pembrokeshire History Society 21, 5-15

Comeau, R. 2009: Cytir and Crosses: the archaeological landscape of the Parish of Dinas. Archaeologia Cambrensis 158 (published 2010), 225-253.

Conference presentations and posters

(Forthcoming) ‘In rodwallis’ – medieval agriculture in Welsh north Pembrokeshire. Study-day: ‘Living off the land: Agriculture in Wales c.400-1600 AD’, organised in association with Early Medieval Wales Archaeology Research Group. Cardiff, 16 July 2016.

Bayvil: identifying an early medieval assembly site in North Pembrokeshire. Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Archaeology Day, Haverfordwest, 7 November 2015

The Assembly Sites of Wales Pilot Project. Early Medieval Wales Archaeology Research Group Colloquium, Welshpool, 11 October 2015

Bayvil in Cemais: an early medieval assembly site. St Patrick’s Chapel Excavation Project Day, St Davids, 26 September 2015.

Power in the Land: regional royal assembly sites in early medieval Wales. European Archaeological Association Annual Meeting, Glasgow, 5 September 2015

From patterns to meaning: using place-names to identify focal areas and new site-types in the early medieval Welsh landscape. European Archaeological Association Annual Meeting, Glasgow, 3 September 2015

The Vill of the Beu: identifying a pre-Conquest royal centre in south-west Wales. Conference poster, presented at Medieval Settlement Research Group Winter Seminar, Leicester, 13 December 2014

Bayvil: a Welsh assembly site in its broader context. Institute of Archaeology/ British Museum Joint Medieval Seminar, London, 9 December 2014

Locating Bayvil Fair: a seasonal market on the outfield. Temporary and Seasonal Sites and Settlements in Medieval Europe - Society for Medieval Archaeology Conference, Oxford, 5-7 December 2014

Bayvil: a Welsh assembly site in its broader context. Recent Research and Excavation in Wales - Early Medieval Wales Archaeology Research Group Colloquium. Lampeter, 22-23 March 2014

Stones, saints and the seasons: an early medieval landscape of assembly in West Wales, Society for Medieval Archaeology Postgraduate Colloquium, Cardiff, 8 November 2012

Signing in Stone, IoA Graduate Student Conference, UCL, 13 February 2012

Gŵyl Awst at Garn Fawr: a hilltop assembly in West Wales? Conference poster, presented at Power and Place in Later Roman and Early Medieval Europe, UCL, 10-12 November 2011

From Vidir Crwys to Brynhenllan: using landscape evidence to reconstruct an early medieval settlement pattern Early Medieval Wales Archaeology Research Group, Cardiff, March 2010


Living off the land: Agriculture in Wales c.400-1600 AD. Study day organised by Rhiannon Comeau and Andy Seaman in association with Early Medieval Wales Archaeology Research Group. Cardiff, 16 July 2016


Research collaborations

Living off the Land Conference Poster

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