Digging Caerau – Keith’s Blog

Read on for a great blog by Keith – a volunteer adult learner on Cardiff University’s Exploring the Past Pathway…

My week at Caerau Hillfort has come to an end. As one of the volunteer students from Exploring the Past from Cardiff University I have experienced the life of an archaeologist for a few days. During the week I spent my time in trench 3 supervised by Kelly who was always there to help and advise along with other students and volunteers. Each day new features were found. As Kelly explained to me all had to be investigated and an explanation had to be found for each feature. My first few hours on the first day was to help with mattocking , shovelling and emptying wheel barrows. You can understand why Kelly insisted on the importance of wearing steel toecap boots!

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Keith excavating his pit

During the dig light hearted banter between students took place. It was reported that one student was released from the bell tower each morning to work on the site and returned to the tower by night! Olly and Neil would walk around the site inspecting the progress of each trench and give guidance on how to proceed. With the help of other students we spent some time excavating a pit following a natural layer of green clay which revealed an unusual shaped pit. Possibly a quarry pit? The verdict is still out!

Luckily at the end of the day a photo was taken of the pit as that night the site had heavy rain. Inspection of the trenches the following morning revealed areas of flooding. This day was the site open day with many visitors expected. With Dave and all involved with the Caer Heritage Project the field was prepared for the activities that were to take place within the field, including regular guided tours around the site explaining to the visitors the archaeological evidence found. For the first time many of the visitors discovering the long history of their area and a chance to be involved with the project.

The students on the camera team interviewed fellow students and Neil (Prof) with the aid of a trowel! A day reported to have an amber weather warning turned out to be a glorious summer day with many visitors and an important day for the Caerau Hillfort.

Unravelling the Past (one scroll at a time) – New blog by Sara Brown

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The CAER Lead Scroll before Conservation

As one of the Finds Officers on this years CAER Heritage Project excavation I am fortunate to be one of the first people to come face to face with material not otherwise seen for thousands of years. A highlight for me, so far, was the opportunity to open a possible Roman Lead Curse Tablet.

Curse tablets were left by the Romans at temple sites as tokens in return for a wish or to put a curse on an enemy; the modern day equivalent of throwing a penny in a wishing well. Curse tablets have been found at Roman sites across Britain. Some are inscribed with its bearer’s desires and some left blank. Theories suggest that blank tablets may have contained organic material such as hair or fabric that would represent the curse. Often, due to its burial environment, this material has not survived.

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The CAER Lead Scroll after Conservation; also pictured are the tools used during treatment

Using a combination of soft tools and heat I have been able to carefully unroll the lead scroll found at Caerau. Unfortunately no inscription was found leaving the scrolls purpose a mystery. Could a stranger have deposited it 2000 years ago as a token of cruel intentions?

Perhaps the analysis of the finds from the excavation will tell us more…

 

About the Author

Sara Brown is a recent graduate from Cardiff University. She has a BSc in Conservation of Objects in Museums and Archaeology and as such is professionally trained in the conservation of archaeological material. She has been able to undertake this project having previous experience of unrolling Roman lead scrolls. For more information on her past projects please click here

CAER Heritage at Ely Festival

Last Saturday was the Ely Festival – read CHP’s Louise’s blog about what we got up to…

Last Saturday I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to represent CAER heritage at the amazing Ely Festival alongside Dave, Mel, and Alex. Digging Caerau is not just about a bunch of archaeologists excavating a hillfort, engaging with the local community and helping them to discover the rich history on their doorstep plays a huge role and many locals come up to site to volunteer or just to see how things are coming along each day. The Ely festival gave me the opportunity to leave the site and actually spend the day right at the heart of the communityElyFest1

We arrived before the festival began and to unload the van and set up our stall, making it look as inviting and interesting as possible. We set up plenty of photographs, a colouring table for the little ones, a finds table with lots of information about the site, the heritage trails and photo booklets of Ely and Caerau in the 1980s, and an iron age pot making station where I ended up spending most of the day.

There was just enough time for Mel to give me a quick pot making lesson before the visitors started arriving, a slow trickle at first, then as the day went on, we got busier and busier. Although the CAER Heritage project has been up and running for a few years now, many of the visitors to our stall, although familiar with the hill and no idea about the historical importance of the site. Everybody was interested to hear about the excavation and how they could get involved and even more were keen to take a look at the arrowhead many had seen on BBC news a few days earlier!

While the adults and some of the younger visitors learned about exciting past of their community, most of the children were immediately drawn to our make your own Iron Age pot table! Although I expect the interest had more to do with the opportunity to get messy and make something they could take home than learning about the Iron Age…ElyFest2

Although Mel had shown me two techniques that morning in her pottery master class, as I am not a particularly creative person, and the table was usually crowded with young children all extremely eager to make their own pots, I definitely went with the easier stick your thumb in the ball of clay and pinching the edges into a pot nine times out of ten! Some of the pots made were definitely less… functional looking than others, and one adorable little boy went for a dinosaur instead despite my insistence that there were no dinosaurs in the Iron Age, but they all seemed to have fun giving it a go! And it wasn’t just the kids who got involved, one man gave the children a run for their money, shout out to you Lyle!

Making pots with dozens of excitable children (and Lyle) and engaging with the community is definitely equally as tiring as spending the day mattocking as it is all go all day, and I went home just as mucky at the end of the day, but the experience was also just as gratifying. As amazing as it is to dig and to actually discover parts of the past, hearing a child ooh and ah as they realise just how long ago the iron age was (way before TV and computers!), or seeing the interest and amazement on people’s faces as they hear about the history of the place they have lived in all their life and never known about and possibly discover a new interest in the past, is a uniquely rewarding feeling.

P.S. to all the parents I reassured that the clay would come out in the wash, I have since learned that I may have been mistaken, but at least you have a lovingly made pot to put on the mantelpiece. Sorry!

New dig at Caerau Hillfort – Getting excited yet?!

From 30th June to 25th July we’ll be digging again at Caerau Hillfort – read on to find out what we’re going to be searching for and how you can get involved!

More than 1,000 people visited the excavations in 2013 and 120 were directly involved in the digging. We opened three trenches within the interior of the hillfort (see the ‘Digging Caerau Booklet’ for a review of last year’s dig) and discovered the remains of at least five Iron Age roundhouses and the remains of a Roman settlement dating from the 1st to 3rd centuries AD. A further small trench through the inner hillfort rampart seemed to show that it had been rebuilt in the early Medieval period – more commonly known as the Dark Ages – suggesting we might even have an important settlement at Caerau during this elusive and mysterious time.

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Location of this year’s trenches (Geophysics copyright GSB Ltd)

This year we’re again focusing the excavations within the interior of the hillfort. Two long and narrow trenches will explore buried ditches and features which showed up on the geophysical survey – some of these might by Iron age, others might be Roman or Medieval…if we’re really lucky, some may be much older, perhaps even Neolithic or Bronze Age (about 4000 to 800 BC) – we certainly found flint tools last year dating to this time – which could mean people were living in this place up to 6,000 years ago!

Two other trenches will explore the hillfort ramparts and ditches – one on the northern side of the hill and the other on the east, near to St Mary’s Church. If we can find animal bone or charcoal from beneath the ramparts that we can radiocarbon date, this will be able to tell us when they were first built. There might even be lots of artefacts discarded into the ditches that we can recover which will tell us more about the lives of the people who lived here in the Iron Age.

The trench I think is most exciting though is one we opened last year and are going back to again – Trench 3. If you remember, this trench contained the remains of four roundhouses, one of which was partially covered by soil building up against the back of the hillfort rampart. We didn’t have time last year to dig this roundhouse and this year we want to see how well preserved this house is. All the wooden parts of the house will have rotted away long ago, but we might have the house floor surviving beneath a layer of protective soil. If we do this could be really important and exciting – we would be excavating the floor surface that the final occupants of the house actually lived upon – we might be able to see where the hearth was, where they worked, where they ate, and even where they slept!

Hopefully we’ll have some really exciting discoveries come to light over the next few weeks – if you’d like to get involved, you can sign up for a free Live Local Learn Local course in archaeological skills (see here), you can volunteer and earn time credits for any time you give (see hereLearn to be an Archaeologist June 2014 ), or just come and visit! If you can’t make it to the hill, just keep checking here over the next month – we’ll be blogging regularly about what we discover!

Trail Art Part II: Romans to the Races

The second workshop to develop ephemeral artworks for our Romans to the Races heritage trail was devised and led by Caer Heritage Project artist Paul Evans with young artists from Glyn Derw High.

In the classroom we researched Roman motifs and made a series of thumb-nail sketches.

Making thumbnail sketches of Roman motifs from printed hand-outs and Google Images ...

Making thumbnail sketches of Roman motifs from printed hand-outs and a Google search …

We then braved the icy winds blowing over Trelai fields to create an army of buried legionaries emerging from the site of the Roman Villa …

The cardboard legion ...

The cardboard legion …

Back in the warmth of the classroom the young artists made 3D graffiti models to place along the Romans to the Races trail.

Snake based on roman bracelet ...

Snake based on Roman bracelet …

Legionary's shield (part I) ...

Legionary’s shield (part I) …

Legionaries shield (part II) ...

Legionary’s shield (part II) …

More jewels - and a Roman ice-cream ...

More jewels – and a Roman ice-cream …

Mosaic ...

Mosaic …

Caput Equi (horses head)

Caput Equi (Horses Head)

The lost legionary ...

The Lost Legionary …

 

 

Trail Art Part I: Medieval Michaelston

Following on from our day of creative activity at Caerau last summer, pupils from Michaelston Community College (MCC) and Glyn Derw High (GD) created a series of ephemeral artworks for our Medieval Michaelston and Romans to the Races Trails. Both workshops were devised and led by Caer Heritage Project lead artist Paul Evans and were based on the work of Andy Goldsworthy and street artists Slinkachu, Ronzo and Mark Jenkins. The challenge behind the workshops was to create transitory works of art that reflected something of the heritage of the trail – but with a twist of wit …

Stage one of the workshop with pupils from MCC was to make sketches of motifs and shapes from the medieval church at Michaelston.

Sketching medieval motifs ...

Sketching medieval motifs …

We decided that the door of the church would make an excellent ‘portal’ into the past – so we began to make one using interwoven twigs and branches. Care was taken to keep the design symmetrical and to incorporate the three interlocking circles from the apex …

Adding finishing touches to our portal to the past ...

Adding finishing touches to our portal to the past …

The completed 'portal' ...

The completed ‘portal’ …

During the next stage of the workshop the young people made individual ephemeral artworks using modelling clay – again from the preliminary sketches based on Medieval motifs.

A medieval mallet on the church stile ...

A medieval mallet on the church stile …

A shield ...

A shield …

A crucifix ...

A crucifix …

A mysterious figure - and a medieval window ...

A mysterious figure – and a model medieval window …

 

 

Signposting the Past Part II: designing way-marks for our Caerau and Plymouth Woods heritage trails

The visual ideas for our Caerau and Plymouth Woods way-marks were developed during two games of Pictionary led by Caer Heriitage project artist Paul Evans.

The first game took place at our Christmas celebration at Dusty Forge last year, and involved members of the friends of Caerau group. Each member of the group was  asked to think of a word that summed up or suggested Caerau. These words were then written onto Post-it notes that were folded up and put into a hat. Each member of the group then selected a word at random and made a drawing of that word – the rest of the group then had to shout out guesses … The drawings that were identified quickest were clearly the best candidates for  recognisable motifs and were thus used to further develop our trail mark for Caearau.

This procedure was then repeated with a very lively game at Grand Avenue Times.

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A game of Pictionary at Grand Avenue Times …

The finalised trail marks will be revealed at the heritage trails launch day on 3rd May.