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Land, People and Power in Early Medieval Wales

The cantref of Cemais in comparative perspective

Rhiannon Comeau
Publication Year:
384 pages, With additional material online. Illustrated throughout in colour and black & white. 30 tables and 79 figures
Sub-series name:
UCL Institute of Archaeology PhD Series, 5
BAR number:


This is a study of the seasonal activity cycles of a pre-urban society, examined through the lens of an early medieval Welsh case study. It considers the patterns of power and habitual activity that defined spaces and structured lives. Key areas of early medieval life - agriculture, tribute-payment, legal processes and hunting - are shown to share a longstanding seasonal patterning that is preserved in medieval Welsh law, church and well dedications, and fair dates. Focussing on a cantref (‘hundred’) land unit in south-west Wales, it uses an innovative GIS-based multidisciplinary, comparative analysis to circumnavigate a restricted archaeological record and limited written sources. The study presents the first systematic survey of assembly site evidence in Wales, and reassesses widely-used interpretative models of the early medieval landscape. Digital resources include databases of geolocated pre-1700 place-names and of sixteenth-century demesne and Welsh-law landholdings.

Rhiannon Comeau completed her AHRC-funded PhD at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL in 2019. She specialises in the landscape archaeology of early medieval Wales, having published previously on its agricultural systems and focal places. A latecomer, via Continuing Education, to archaeology, she is a Trustee of the Cambrian Archaeological Association.

‘This study certainly makes a significant contribution to our understanding of early medieval Cemais and Wales, and presents new and exciting research methodologies which will be widely applicable in future research. Its publication is to be warmly welcomed.’ Andrew Davidson, Medieval Archaeology, Vol 65.2 (2022)

‘The result of this detailed, skilful and thorough analysis is a new model for landscape-scale analysis of early medieval Welsh society, sure to be formative and influential.’ Dr Patrick Gleeson, Medieval Settlement Research, Vol 36 (2021)

‘Comeau's identification of zones of power, settlement and land-use in the cantref of Cemais represents a major step forward in our understanding of the medieval landscape and society in this part of Wales.’ Nancy Edwards, Archaeologia Cambrensis, Vol 170 (2021)

‘Rhiannon Comeau has drawn together a remarkably wide variety of information including landscape, archaeology, place names and written sources to throw light on the medieval period of this region of western Wales. In doing so, she has shown how to investigate rural areas where individual sources are lacking. This is a truly multidisciplinary and excellently readable book and is highly recommended.’ Dr Kris Lockyear, UCL

Table of Contents (B659_Comeau_9781407357126_-ToC.pdf, 309 Kb) [Download]

Introduction (B659_Comeau_9781407357126_-_Introduction.pdf, 854 Kb) [Download]