The Caerau Hillfort Dig 2015

A blog by Exploring the Past student and volunteer Midnight

On Monday 6th July I returned to the archaeological dig at Caerau Hillfort for the third year in a row. Together with my trusty support worker, and with trowel in hand, I was rearing to go.

Unlike previous years where the weather has been baking hot and extremely bright, the Monday was grey, overcast and we even had a few showers. However, this helped keep the dust from the digging to a minimum.

As there was insufficient space for me to layout for digging in Trench 3, I was assigned to sieving. I was using a large rectangular sieve set in a tripod structure to go through the buckets of soil from Trench 3 to start with. I didn’t find anything, unfortunately, but others have found pottery shards and the like in Trench 3 over the last 2 weeks.

Sieving at Trench 5a

Sieving at Trench 5a

After the break I was assigned to Trench 5a and with my lovely assistant Ellen (I do hope I’ve spelt that right), we used a similar large sieve to go through the soil coming from Trench 5a. Whilst Ellen found numerous bits of pottery and even a small fragment of bone, I only found a thick pottery sherd. Dating of these sherds is hesitant at present and we await the arrival of a pottery expert to assist with this.

Despite the showers and slightly lower temperature, today was productive and insightful, and I eagerly awaited tomorrow’s adventure!

Tuesday 7th was a wet world! As the wind guested and clouds moved across the sky, one minute sunny, the next gray; I sat under a small gazebo and washed finds from Trench 3. To wash finds you need a tray with the finds in, a tray with some newspaper laid down, a bowl of clean water and a toothbrush. Gently brushing the find with a damp toothbrush, the soil and debris on the find is removed to reveal what lies beneath. Warning, never dip the find in the water!

Cleaning finds under the Gazebo

Cleaning finds under the Gazebo

I worked mainly on different types of pottery and some bone fragments. The pottery was interesting and I mainly cleaned three types; thin, black ware; medium dark brown ware and thick coarse ware. We await a pottery specialist to accurately date there fragments but as they were found in a Roman age midden it’s fair to say they may be Roman in age. Some of these fragments had slightly visible patterns and faint ridges or lines as well as edges.

Cleaning finds is as important to an archaeological dig as the digging itself. Without careful logging, cleaning and preservation of the finds we would have little idea about the use and relative age of the site. It’s also exciting to hold something in your hand that may have last been held 100’s of years ago and wonder if it was a precious, cared for possession or if it was a ubiquitous transportation vessel and given as little thought then as the thought we give the bottles we drink out of today.

Digging square 33 in Trench 3

Digging square 33 in Trench 3


Wednesday was all about ‘square 33 and the hidden treasure’! Despite the rain and the gooey chocolate cake like mud, I was laid out in trench three, digging a Roman midden! We used a slightly different technique to dig here, excavating the midden in squares so that all finds could be recorded accurately.

I was allocated square 33 which was 50×50 cm and asked to dig down 10 cm’s; sieving as I went. At first the going was tough and the site seemed barren. However, I did find (after a couple of hours of digging) a small fragment of white bone, possibly animal; and a little while later a large fragment of Oxford pottery.

Digging is obviously the most important part and main focus of an archaeological dig. It’s important to be careful while digging not to accidentally destroy finds with over enthusiastic use of the trowel. It’s important to note this as one digs down through time.

Bone fragment

Bone fragment

While I didn’t finish my square in the time allocated, overall today was a productive and exciting day.

Midnight