Digging Caerau Hillfort – Week 1

CAER Heritage Project’s Olly Davis blogs about the first week on site…

What a week – lots of sunshine, lots of sun-burn and lots of archaeology! We started opening up the site on Monday with a JCB to help us strip off the topsoil – there’s about 30-40 cm of ploughsoil on Caerau Hillfort that needs to be removed to find the archaeological deposits (Caerau must have been heavily ploughed in the past).

We’ve managed to open up three trenches during this week – two to examine a couple of ditched enclosures and the third to look at the site of an Iron Age roundhouse. We knew where the features were from the geophysics we did with Glyn Derw pupils last year and from the Time Team excavations, but this year we’ve opened much larger areas to try and understand the nature of the occupation on the site – we want to know who lived there, how long they lived there and what their lives were like.

Trench 3 is large – 20 m by 30 m and positioned right over an Iron Age house. We’ve only just managed to clean back the trench to reveal the archaeology, but already we can see that there’s lots going on. We’ve actually identified at least two roundhouses here as well as several rectangular structures – presumably the remains of Iron Age four-post granaries (although until we dig them we can’t be sure!). We’ve also uncovered a short section of the hillfort’s inner rampart – it’s less than 1 m high now but must have been much taller in the past. The weird thing is, we cut a section through it and found some Roman pottery – has it got in there through root action (dragged down by plant roots) or does it mean something much weirder – that the hillfort boundary isn’t Iron Age at all, but late- or post-Roman date? Hopefully we’ll resolve that question in the next few days (my own feeling is that the rampart must be Iron Age, but trench supervisor Nick disagrees! One of us will be right and owe the other a pint!).

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Trench 3 fully open – can you spot the roundhouses?

Trench 4 is much smaller, just 10 m by 10m. It was placed to investigate the entrance into a ditched enclosure within the interior of the hillfort. We’ve found the entrance and it looks like there must have been a gateway (there are two opposing postholes). From the fills of the ditch we’ve recovered lots of Late Iron Age/Early Roman pottery (1st century AD) and our star find yet – an amazing glass bead that must have been part of a beautiful piece of jewellery.

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Trench 3 is 15 m by 4 m and sits directly over a trench opened by Time Team. There are two ditches in the trench – one is quite wide (up to 3 m) and full of Roman pottery – but later than that in Trench 4. Here we have a ditch of probably 2nd-3rd century AD in date, presumably a Roman farmstead placed within the ancient hillfort boundaries.

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Roman pottery in the ditch fill in Trench 5

We’ve had about 20-30 archaeologists and volunteers on site each day and lots of visitors – please come and check out the excavations if you can and get involved with digging Cardiff’s most important prehistoric site!