CHP’s Dave blogs about his experiences while digging Caerau…
At Saturday’s big CAER project Iron Age Hog Roast I got chatting to a local resident who had lived at the bottom of Caerau hillfort all his life, I’d say he was in his 40s. At first I wasn’t sure that he was that interested in what we were doing, but I took him on a tour of the site and we talked about Roman era residents and Early Iron Age settlement. At the end of our chat he said something that really struck me as profound, and that was ‘my time living here has just been a split second in this place’s history’.
Hi, I’m Dave, co-director of the CAER Heritage Project and community outreach person for the dig. I am actually a medieval historian too, but a long time ago, back in the 1990’s I did a half an archaeology degree and ended up going on quite a few digs. But it’s been a long time since I’ve been involved in an excavation and to be honest I’d forgotten how special digs are and how they can lead to amazing conversations like the one I’ve outlined above; that is until the last few weeks.
Yep, the Digging Caerau project has reminded me just how special archaeological excavations are! They bring diverse people together with a shared purpose of discovery, they create new and often unlikely friendships which can sometimes last a life time, they give people new skills and confidence, sure, but also through physically exploring the past they foster a new way at looking at the world around us…giving us some perspective on how short and transient our time on earth is.
Most important of all, a dig, for a very short period, creates a new community. A community that is digging down to find out about how people in the past lived. So the process of digging a site and the new friendships and social and professional connections that it creates are, in my view, almost as interesting as the archaeology that we are trying to uncover. Don’t get me wrong, that prehistoric archaeology is pretty damned interesting! But the CAER project has always been about more than archaeology, it’s always been focussed on the communities of Caerau and Ely who live in the shadow of that hillfort. Communities with great warmth, spirit and talent but which are all too often labelled, stereotyped and underestimated to the detriment of those who do the labelling, stereotyping and underestimating.
I have been working on the CAER heritage project for over two years and I love it! It is by far the favourite community project I have ever worked on – and I have worked on a few. The reason for that is simple – the people. From school teachers and community development and youth workers; to amazing community group activists; to talented and questioning young people and school children; to local residents with pride and integrity of all ages. Everyone seems to get what we are trying to achieve and indeed many have been willing to lend us their time and considerable abilities in order to make the CAER Heritage project and Digging Caerau happen.
Since the Digging Caerau excavation started on 24th June 2013 we’ve been joined on site by pupils of a range of ages together with highly committed teachers from Glyn Derw High school; by numerous and equally committed local residents who’ve been willing to talk to us about the site, to jump in trenches and trowel or set up gazebos or shift tools or even make a film about our project; we’ve been joined too by local primary school age kids and mums after school who’ve helped us sieve the spoil heaps. We’ve been warmly invited and welcomed to the Glyn Derw Garden Party where we were able to share our finds to date while making Iron Age pots and chatting with local kids and adults. We’ve been made cakes and tea at community groups and been allowed to record the memories and folklore of the area. Frankly it’s been an amazing response!
So what better way to celebrate this (and the opening of our new heritage trail) than with a massive Iron-Age barbeque; a free hog roast for all on top of Caerau hillfort under crystal blue skies on a Saturday afternoon in early July with our own bouncy hillfort! A big thank you to our partners at Action Caerau Ely and funders the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Arts and Humanities Research Council for helping us to make this happen.
The pictures from this event speak for themselves. Caerau and Ely are great places full of great people. The rest of the world needs to take notice of this and celebrate these communities and their amazing heritage, including what has almost certainly been one of the largest and most important historical sites in southeast Wales for over 2,000 years. As my new mate from Caerau pointed out at the start, our time on earth might be just a split second compared to the history of this place, but let’s make the best of that time and put Caerau hillfort back where it belongs. As a place that is central to the identity, history and cultural life of the Cardiff area…just as it was in the Iron Age!
p.s. Hope to see you all this Saturday at the CAER Heritage Project road show at the Ely Festival…