Subterranean Discovery: Medieval Welsh Abbey Tunnel from Norman Invasion Period

Subterranean Discovery: Medieval Welsh Abbey Tunnel from Norman Invasion Period


Archaeologists announced the discovery of a 12th-century tunnel network, this time, beneath an abbey in Wales. And this Welsh abbey tunnel is so long that that archaeologists project that it will take many years for them to get to the end of this now emerging medieval subterranean find. 

The Norman invasion of Wales opened the church in Wales to new monastic orders. Thirteen Cistercian monasteries were founded in Wales between 1131 and 1226 AD and the first was situated near Tintern, Monmouthshire, close to the border with England.  Tintern Abbey , a vast gothic structure, which fell into ruin in the 17th century, attracts around 70,000 visitors a year.

A team of water engineers working for Western Power Distribution recently unearthed the tunnel network while moving an electricity pole. A spokesperson for Western Power Distribution told the  Daily Mail  that “the four-foot [1.2 meter] high tunnels” weren’t marked on any previous ordnance survey maps and their discovery was completely unexpected. Now, works at the site have been put on hold so that archaeologists can assess the condition of the tunnels.

A section of the 4-foot (1.2 meter) high Welsh abbey tunnel recently discovered beneath Tintern Abbey, Wales. ( Western Power Distribution )

The Recent Mediaeval Welsh Abbey Tunnel Find Is Amazing!

Team leader Allyn Gore said his crew of excavators were working in a trench located “on a customer's property” when they stumbled across the first evidence of the ancient  Welsh abbey  tunnel network. Soon after the excavation works began the digging team discovered what they initially thought to be a cave and, fearing dig safety issues, they stopped excavating immediately.

Mr Gore said he has been involved in other excavations where “old wells and cellars not shown on any plans were discovered,” but he admitted that he has never been involved with anything as “exciting and impressive as this,” according to the Daily Mail.

An article in the Welsh  Republic World  says the excavation works were “stopped immediately” when the tunnel was reported. Site manager Bradley Griffiths contacted the Welsh government’s historic and cultural heritage service ( Cawd), who sent a representative to the site.

At this point, it is thought that the Welsh abbey tunnel network might be associated with a nearby medieval  iron works that often required reservoir complexes known as “Carron Dams.”

Another section of the Welsh abbey tunnel recently found under Tintern Abbey, Wales. ( Western Power Distribution )

2021: Year Of Medieval European Tunnel Discoveries

The announcement of the discovery of ancient Welsh abbey tunnels comes only two days after  Ancient Origins  wrote about a similar discovery in Poland.

According to  The First News , archaeologists in Poland discovered “a secret tunnel underneath Ducal Castle in  Szczecin, Poland while exploring Nazi-era passages built during WWII.” According to the director of Ducal Castle, Barbara Igielska, the brick-and- mortar materials used to make this ancient tunnel were radio carbon dated to the medieval period.

Karol Krempa, head of the castle's renovation and investment department, says further work is vital to understanding and safeguarding the castle, but they can’t rule out that there might be “much more to the 270-meter section of tunnel than we are currently aware of.” This brick tunnel section serves as a groundwater runoff channel and initial inspections suggest the tunnel in  Wales runs parallel to the Angiddy Brook flowing through the Wye Valley.

This observation suggests the Welsh abbey tunnels might have also served a “ hydrological function ” similar to the Ducal Castle tunnel in Poland. Tunnels are notoriously dangerous discoveries for after being excavated they can threaten to undermine the stability of the surrounding architecture. 

While excavators in Poland are suggesting they back fill the tunnel, Barbara Igielska at Ducal Castle wants to “maintain and restore it for tourists to experience.”

Regarding the Welsh abbey tunnel discovery, archeologists haven’t even started what looks to be a very complicated project. A strategy is currently being drafted and the excavators will soon set about a complete exploration of the tunnels, but Mr Gore says no matter how fast they progress it will likely take many years to complete the excavation.

Top image: Tintern Abbey, founded on May 9, 1131, is the location of the recently discovered Welsh abbey tunnels.                     Source: Saffron Blaze /  CC BY-SA 3.0

By Ashley Cowie


Pete Wagner's picture

Hello Crasslee.  Well they said the tunnels went on for a ways, and who knows how deep, so we should await the full inspection.  The Romans/fuedal lords and their slaves would rebuild structures, such as tunnel entrances, from the field rubble. 

As for the Neanderthals, the invaders would likely have tried to first subjugate them, before thinking to wipe them out, particularly any stolen children (Ottoman Turks were raiding Finnish villages into the 19th Century for this purpose!).  So they wouldn’t have just died off like we’re told.  True Northern Europeans probably have a lot more archaic genetics than we’re told.   

Nobody gets paid to tell the truth.

Crasslee's picture

I'm sure the Neanderthals were a lot more advanced than commonly assumed. The most up to date evidence certainly points in that direction.
However, these tunnels are a lot more recent than when Neanderthals lived in Europe. Any evidence for Neanderthals in the archaeological records ends about 28,000 years before present. I do think that date could change as we find more evidence about or cousins. But they most definitely didn't exist and build these particular tunnels, just under a thousand years ago.


Pete Wagner's picture

At some point they may finally admit that the Neanderthals were quite the engineers.

Nobody gets paid to tell the truth.

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