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.

Signposting the Past Part I: designing way-marks for our ‘Medieval Michaelston’ and ‘Romans to the Races’ heritage trails

Work in progress on a trail mark design for Medieval Michaelston.

Work in progress on a way-mark design for Medieval Michaelston

In late December 2013 CAER Heritage Project director Dr David Wyatt and project artist Paul Evans visited Michaelston College and Glyn Derw to brainstorm, design and develop the first two way-marks for our HEART of Cardiff trails. These intensive creative workshops focussed on ‘Medieval Michaelston’, a circuit that takes in St Michael’s Church and a deserted medieval village in NW Ely, and the ‘Romans to the Races’ trail that will take in the area around Trelai Park.

After a concise talk by Dr David Wyatt, the young people made a series of quick thumbnail sketches (this part of the workshop was very similar to the first stage of the Tribal Logo Project that we led at St Fagans in March 2012).

Thumbnail sketches for the Medieval Michaelston trail mark

Thumbnail sketches for the Medieval Michaelston way-mark

The young people then selected their favourite thumbnail sketch and were given guidance on how to convert this design into a simple motif, suitable for stencilling.

Romans to the Races - thumbnail sketches

Romans to the Races – thumbnail sketches

We think that the finished designs look great – and we have been talking about our favourites – but we would really like to hear from you: which of these designs will make the best way-marks for our first two heritage trails?

Stencil way-marks for the 'Romans to the Races' heritage trail by pupils from Glyn Derw High School

Stencil way-marks for the ‘Romans to the Races’ heritage trail by pupils from Glyn Derw High School

Stencil way-marks for the Medieval Michaelston Heritage Trail by pupils from Michaelston College.

Stencil way-marks for the Medieval Michaelston heritage trail by pupils from Michaelston College.

Sieving Caerau’s Finds!

For the last three weeks CHP’s Olly Davis, with a lot of help from Julia Best, Paul Kemble and other CAER volunteers, has been wet sieving the soil samples taken from Caerau during the summer’s excavations. Read the latest blog to find out what they discovered…and how cold they’ve been!

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Paul and Julia start sieving

All the artefacts we recover when we’re digging, such as pottery, animal bones and metalwork, can begin to tell us a story about how people in the past lived.  But some material is so small it’s not visible with the naked eye – this may include tiny plant and animal remains which can provide clues to the ancient environment – so we take samples of the soil which we sieve to find those tiny clues about prehistoric lives.

If you visited the dig during the summer you may well have noticed lots of blue bags being filled with soil by eager archaeologists. These were the samples we took – and we took a lot of them!

For three weeks we’ve been based at St Fagans Museum wet sieving all those 100s of bags!  Wet sieving is a process where we use water to wash the soil through very fine-mesh sieves. Once all the soil is washed away you end up with two residues.

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Nice bit of prehistoric pottery from the coarse residue

The first is a coarse residue that gets caught in the mesh (all the stones, pottery etc).  The second is known as the ‘flot’ – this includes all the very small, light, mainly organic remains that float to the surface in the wet sieve tank and we collect in small round sieves. The flot can include small seeds and plant remains which will be able to tell us about the diets of the prehistoric occupants of Caerau Hillfort, as well as charcoal which we’ll be able to use to radiocarbon date the site.

The whole process can take quite some time, mainly depending on what the soil in the samples is like. The soil from Caerau is very clayey so it takes a long time to dissolve away – and that means it requires us archaeologists to have our hands in very cold water for a very long time!

Despite the numb fingers and toes the sieving has been really rewarding.  There’s been loads of finds from pottery and iron nails to carbonised grains of barley and wheat – the Iron Age occupants at Caerau Hillfort must have been growing these crops in fields where the houses of Caerau and Ely now sit!

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Some of the grains (tiny black dots) that have floated off from the sample

We’ve also recovered lots of small fragments of burnt animal bone – the remains of meals that the prehistoric hillfort residents cooked and ate – and the shells of tiny snails that lived 2000 years ago. The snail shells might sound insignificant, but they’re not at all – in fact they’ll be extremely useful and experts will be able to inform us if they are woodland or open ground species thus telling us if the hilltop was wooded in the past.

All the residues now need to dry before we can examine them more fully, but from what I’ve seen come out of the sieve our story of Caerau Hillfort will now be much richer!

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A ‘friend’ on the farm comes to see what we’re up to!