University archaeologists to dig for Tregaron elephant

Elephant feet
Image caption The Tregaron elephant was believed to have died after drinking lead-poisoned water

Archaeologists are to dig up the garden of a Ceredigion pub in the search for a legendary Victorian circus elephant.

The Tregaron Elephant has long had its place in local folklore - a beast that died while on tour rumoured to be buried behind the town's Talbot Hotel.

A small-scale excavation in April will search for clues in the hope of revealing its final resting place.

The elephant was said to have fallen ill after drinking contaminated water in the town in 1848.

It is believed to have been part of Batty's Travelling Menageries, a circus troupe which entertained widely in the area that year.

The dig is part of a wider project by the University of Wales Trinity St David's archaeology department.

Dr Jemma Bezant of the School of Archaeology, History and Anthropology is heading it up.

She said: "This story belongs to the community of Tregaron and the project will involve local people in gathering local evidence and histories as well as providing the opportunity to engage in some pilot archaeological excavation.

"This project is about celebrating the story of the Tregaron Elephant and less about 'finding out the truth'."

She added that it was likely the effort would generate more questions than answers.

"The main aim is to engage the local community in the construction and telling of their own stories and histories."


Dr Bezant is hoping the public contribution will add to the area's history and provide content for the community web-site

Michael Freeman, curator of Ceredigion Museum, said he was delighted the dig was going ahead.

He told BBC Wales: "It would be fabulous if the story was confirmed as true - it is such a great local story.

Image caption The dig will be behind The Talbot in Tregaron

"To have seen a live elephant in 1848 walking through Tregaron must have been astounding."

John Watkin, part-owner of The Talbot, said the legend was "very important" to local people.

He said: "We don't know if the elephant is here but it's a lovely hypothetical question.

"But even if it was once, the acid water here may mean the proof has disappeared.

"We are looking forward to finding out."

The elephant was believed to have been poisoned by lead-contaminated water, later dying in stables next to the pub.

An extract from The History of Tregaron by D C Rees reads:

"An Elephant. On the 10th July 1848, 'Batty's Menagerie' visited Tregaron.

"One of the elephants quenched its thirst at Bronmwyn, which proved fatal owing to lead poisoning. It died in the Ivy Bush stable.

"Its burying place was in the field at the rear of the Talbot Hotel."

Local poet Iorwerth Glyndwr is said to have written an "englyn" - a short Welsh poem - on the death, which read: "Oh vain man, neither you nor I can avoid death. The grave is the end of us all."

The excavation will take place from Saturday 9 April for approximately five to seven days.

Local people are encouraged to visit the site during the weekend.

Further information will be available at a later date on the university's website and on twitter/trinitystdavid

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