Did you know that around 1,800 years ago, Romans and Ancient Britons were neighbours – living very nearby, here in Caerau? What would happen if the Ancient Britons and the Romans had a football match? Who would win?

Here at CAER Heritage we’ve been thinking about a Romans v Ancient Britons football game for some time – and one day we hope to stage this as a full scale event with teams and football kit and everything. In the meantime, however, we’ve created a miniature version for you to play – CAERbutteo! Young people at our ‘Summer of Smiles’ event, Trelai Park 25th August 2021, designed the Football Kit our players are wearing. The Blue Team are Ancient Britons; the Romans are playing in red.

© Vivian Thomas 2021

Here’s a little history, to help set the context for your game …   

We know that a tribe of Ancient Britons, who the Romans called the Silures, built our magnificent hillfort around 600BC, at the beginning of the Iron Age. The Romans first invaded Britain in 55 and 54 BC, but it took a century or so to proper settlement in South Wales. When they did settle down, it looks like they were soon living in some style … 

A Roman villa was discovered on the Trelai Fields racecourse in 1894 and investigated by Mr. John Storrie. Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who was then Director of the National Museum of Wales, then excavated the site in 1922.

He described his findings as follows:

“Here some time during the first half of the 2nd century some Romanized settler built a small house upon an island formed by a branching streamlet in a flat tree-lined marsh. The house was of half-H shaped plan with wings facing south and fronted by a continuous veranda. Above this the main block doubtless rose to a second storey. Close by lay a second building, oblong in plan, again with a veranda along the main front. To the southern end of this second structure was added shortly afterwards a small but complete set of baths. In connection with this establishment iron smelting was carried on… After various modifications … the second structure was demolished and the remaining buildings were surrounded, apparently within a quarter-century of A.D. 300, by … banks and ditches … and not many years afterwards the whole establishment seems to have fallen into disuse.”

So, let’s imagine our beautiful Roman Villa – complete with a posh bathroom – clearly visible from the ramparts of the Iron Age hillfort. Let’s imagine that a version of football (or soccer) had been invented all those years ago, on the outskirts of what is now Cardiff rather than in Sheffield in the 1850s … wouldn’t you fancy a game with your neighbours? OK, this might not be Association Football, but we could think about the Roman game of harpastum, for example. Athenaeus, writing in 228 CE, referenced this game in his account of the time, describing how a game of harpastum involved use of hands and violence and appears to have resembled a mix of rugby football, wrestling and volleyball more than what is recognisable as modern football. As with “mob football”, the antecedent of all modern football games, it involved more handling the ball than kicking.

So … let’s hope that our Romans and Ancient Britons play fair!

Info. re. Trelai Villa from

Get your ‘CAER Heritage’ t-shirt!

CAER Heritage has now reprinted the original CAER Heritage logo t-shirts and is on sale for £17.99 each.    

These shirts proved very popular when we first got them printed, and we ran out very quickly! So we are very pleased that we now have more on sale for you, family and friends!

Our CAER Heritage logo was designed by pupils from Glyn Derw School (Now Cardiff West Community High School) under the guidance of professional artist Paul Evans. The horse’s head design is based on the Stanwick horse mask that dates to the Late Iron Age. Horse bones were found during the excavations at Caerau and horses still graze the fields within the hillfort today.

We also still have the amazing  ‘Ely Roman Villa’ t-shirts available, designed by CAER Studio guest artist Charlotte Granjon, based on the remains of a Roman Villa in the middle of Trelai Park, first excavated by the famous archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler in the 1920s.

Ordering T-Shirts

Please use the following link to order your CAER Heritage T-shirt

Payment can be made by cash or card when collecting the pre-ordered T-shirt from the Dusty Forge between 9am and 4pm Monday – Thursday.

Stock is limited and subject to availability.

The CAER project explores the history and archaeology of Caerau Hillfort and the surrounding area, helping to connect communities with their heritage and develop educational and new-life opportunities.

All contributions will go to help us continue our work exploring the archaeology of Caerau and Ely.

Myles and the Big Dig

Myles and his family took part in the Big Dig and this is how his day went…

On the 8th of July I was doing a project called the CAER big Dig. Me and my family dug up a large pit, a square meter in our garden. As we dug the ground with shovels we looked carefully to discover what treasures we had found. We mostly found rocks but we also found glass, red glass and a rusty old nail. We have put it all into a bag to be sent to the archaeologists who will examine the hidden history of our garden.

CAER Big Dig – The Big Discoveries So Far

As we move towards the end of the second week of the CAER Big Dig, archaeologist Olly Davis gives us an update of the discoveries so far…

“When we first thought about doing the CAER Big Dig back in March, it was the start of the lockdown and we didn’t know if anyone would want to get involved. But, the response has been absolutely amazing – more than 35 test pits have now been dug and around 100 people have got their trowels out and hands dirty! What’s really exciting is that new people keep signing up everyday.

Lots of people have now sent in pictures of their discoveries or let us know about their finds. A few even joined us on Tuesday with Time Team’s Carenza Lewis for a fantastic finds identifying session. We know people have been living in Ely and Caerau for 6,000 years at least, so as we start to bring things together, what patterns can we see and what are the types of objects people have found?

What’s clear already is that the further down you dig, the further back in time you go. The first 20-30 cm of your test pit tends to contain the traces of the last 100 years or so. People have found lots of fragments of flowerpot as well as broken brick and tile – perhaps the remains of gardens past and present. Coal has often been recovered too, surely an echo of the time before gas fired central heating! Broken crockery, glass and children’s toys also tell a story. Some of these are very personal – one keen digger found a old toy soldier lost in the garden over 30 years ago!

As people have dug deeper, the number of finds tends to get fewer, but older. One thing I’ve been surprised about is the amount of flint discovered. Flint isn’t natural to Wales, but it’s been brought here by people for thousands of years to make tools and weapons. We know people were meeting and using flint on Caerau Hillfort 6,000 years ago in the Stone Age. However, the number of flints recovered from all the test pits suggests that they must have been living and working in the areas now covered by the houses of Caerau and Ely.

Perhaps my favourite finds so far is a small fragment of pottery. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is over 2,000 years old! It’s a rim sherd from an Iron Age bowl. It was found around 90 cm down on the north side of Ely – a location with no known prehistoric sites. It’s incredibly rare, as people in the Iron Age didn’t use a lot of pottery, and must mean an Iron Age settlement is not too far away!

Keep on digging and keep letting us know what you find…I can’t wait to see what’s discovered next!”

CAER Big Dig

Last week, me and my dad dug a test pit in the garden. At first I wasn’t really enthralled with the idea of sitting in the heat, digging and sifting through mud; the reason I decided to do it is because, as a family, we’re really connected to the house. My Grandmother was born in the house (her parents moved into the then new Ely estate in the late 1920s). My Father and his siblings were also born in that house and so that space feels like the foundation of us. 

Over the years I’ve picked up plenty of stories about my ancestors––what they were like, what they did, funny anecdotes––but there were details that I guess never came up. For instance, whilst digging, I learnt that my great-grandfather, Michael, was an avid gardener. When he first moved into the house, the front garden was for growing flowers and creating a beautiful space, but he reserved the garden space to grow vegetables (something which my grandfather continued after him until the late 70s). This means that for around twenty or thirty years, a lot of digging took place in the garden (which affected what was found in each pit).

I dug two test pits; one where both my great-grandfather and my grandfather alike grew potatoes (my grandfather only used half the garden to grow food due to the soil losing nutrients therefore making it harder to grow produce). The earth in this test pit was very dry (it enjoys a full day’s sun, especially at this time of year. A great section for lying in, less so to dig). However, once my dad and I got going, it was easy to sift through. In fact, it provided an excuse for us to chat to each other about something other than COVID and TV.

My father described what the garden looked like when he was younger––how fences were shorter and how the kids in the area would play in all of the gardens, not just their own––he also pointed out who had lived in different houses and told funny little stories he remembered (my favourite was two women, usually best friends, got into an argument and ended up screaming across the gardens which, in turn, led to bricks being thrown at each other; I absolutely do not condone this (and my grandmother would want me to emphasise that this is now how she or anyone else behaved at the time, very unlady like) but my father, as a young boy sat playing in the garden, eyes widening and jaw dropping in shock now laughs heartily when telling the story. We didn’t find too much in this pit; a few pieces of plastic on the top layer, some pottery, and plenty of charcoal (my father explained that ashes from the fire were used to fertilise the soil which explains why we found so much!)

The second pit I dug was at the top of the garden, in a more shaded area. This area, during the war, was an Anderson shelter which my great-grandfather, an air-raid warden himself, had filled with furniture in order to make it more comfortable. My nan was just 10 years old when the war started, and she said she could remember the sound of bombs being dropped. The shelter was small; my nan said her older sister, Kitty, would refuse to get out of bed when the siren went off at night which would make my grandfather ‘lose his hair’. 

Anyhoo, back to the garden. So, after the war, my great-grandfather dug up the shelter (the corrugated iron still remains in the garden). He then kept a chicken coup at the back of the garden. It was whilst digging that my father told me about his grandmother (who went completely deaf at a young age and then completely blind in old age), she had gone in to feed the chickens and managed to get locked in the coup. She then had to sit in there until my nan came home to let her out. 

In this pit at the back of the garden, I found a cup which had smashed. This could have belonged to a number of people, but I like to think that it belonged to my great-grandfather. I like to think of him drinking a cup of tea as he grew the food which would feed his family. 

An aspect of this dig which I really loved, is finding so much about the other people who lived in the area. My nan told me about her neighbours: who so-and-so courted; who married who; who would fight; who died, went to prison, or moved away. Many of her neighbours have lived in their houses for as long as my family has lived in this house. I think once we can go out again, it would be lovely to connect with the other houses to share what was found in the gardens and what they know. (I know my father would really like to find some of his old toy cars, so hopefully someone will dig them up!). 

Written by Charlotte McCarthy 05/2020

Archaeology Diary

My name is Oliver and I’m studying Archaeology at Cardiff University. As part of my course at the University, four weeks’ practical archaeology work must be undertaken. This could be in a museum or out in the field. During the first year, as part of my practical work I went to a private archaeology company in Cardiff, but decided in my second year that I wanted to carry out more field work, along with more community work, if possible. This is why I decided to go to the site at Caerau and Ely to work on the Iron Age hillfort. As part of the work on the site we needed to work with schools in the local community. Every pupil would have their turn to work on this. 

Working with the children at the school, I improved a lot of my social skills. As part of the work with them, different groups needed to be taken up to the site in order to see different aspects of archaeology as well as seeing archaeological digging for the first time. The children also had a chance to take part in the process by using a sieve to find small pieces of rock.

After going up to the site, we took one of the groups to show them some of the artefacts that were found in the hillfort some years ago. Following this, the children had a chance to draw and take pictures of the artefacts. It has to be said, working with the school and people from the community has been an excellent experience and I have learnt a lot. Thank you very much to Kim and all the ACE team, they do an excellent job of bringing the community together.

Oliver Heard, August 2019

Dyddiadur Archaeolog

Fy enw di Oliver, ac rydw i’n astudio Archaeoleg lan at y brifysgol yng Nghaerdydd. Fel rhan o fy nghwrs at y brifysgol mae angen cario mas pedwar wythnos o Waith ymarferol Archaeoleg. Galla hin fod mewn amgueddfa neu mas yn y cae. Y flwyddyn gyntaf fel rhan o fy Ngwaith ymarferol wnes i fynd i gwmni archaeoleg breifat yng Nghaerdydd, ond penderfynais i yn yr ail flwyddyn bod dwi eisio wneud fwy o Waith yn y cae, a hefyd mwy gof Gwaith efo cymuned os posib. Dyna pam oedd i’n dewis mynd i’r safle yn Gaerau ac Ely I weithio at y fryngaer o’r oes haern. Fel rhan o’r Gwaith at y safle roedd angen gweithio efo ysgolion yn y gymuned leol. Roedd pob un o’r disgyblion yn cael tro i weithio arno hyn. 

Gan weithio efo’r plant yn yr ysgol, wnes i wella llawer of fy sgiliau cymdeithasol. Fel rhan o weithio efo nhw roedd angen cymryd gwahanol grwpiau lan at y safle er mwyn iddyn nhw weld gwahanol agweddau o archaeoleg a hefyd i weld cloddio archaeoleg am y tro cyntaf. Roedd yna siawns hefyd i’r plant cymryd rhan yn y proses can defnyddio gogr er mwyn fidio darnau bach o greigiau.

Arol fynd lan at y safle, Wynith ni cymryd un o’r grwpiau i ddangos nhw at rhai o’r arteffactau ac roedd yn cael ei ffeindio yn y fryngaer rhyw flynyddoedd nol. Arol hin roedd y plant yn cael siawns i arlunio a thynnu lluniau o’r arteffactau. Mae rhaid dweud gan weithio efo’r ysgol a phobl o’r gymuned mae e di bod yn brofiad arbennig o dda, ac rydw i wedi dysgu llawer. Diolch yn fawr I Kim ar holl dîm ACE, nhw yn gweund swydd arbennig o dda at ddod y gymuned efo ein gilydd.

Oliver Heard, Awst 2019

National Play Day 2019: CAER-style

From Iron Age to Digital Age: CAER Hidden Hillfort selfie booth

On August 7th we were invited by Cardiff Council Children’s Play Services to run an art activity at their fantastic annual National Play Day!  Following last year’s successful event held at Roath Rec, this year it was situated in the beautiful grounds of Llandaff fields alongside lots of other wonderful local organisations: Flying Start, Cardiff Library, HYB, Rhydypennau library and Beicio Cymru to name but a few! 

53 individuals from local Caerau families and community group UNITY departed from our very own CAER Hidden Hillfort, accompanied by ACE staff Dave Horton and Caroline Barr. They were able to soak up the glorious sunshine and join in with a vast array of free activities such as soft play, loose parts junk modelling, singing and storytelling, and craft workshops.

UNITY & CAER outing

CAER Heritage artist Nic Parsons, Becki Miller (ACE Senior Development Officer) and play worker Roxy Barnes ran an overwhelmingly busy clay workshop, producing pendants inspired by traditional Celtic and Iron Age patterns. We embraced the non-stop flow of participants, engaging with hundreds of enthusiastic and creative small people and their families on the day!!!

Over 200 participants visited the Hidden Hillfort stall!

Organiser Justyne Sanderson – (Play Development Support Worker) spoke fondly about the event:

‘What a fantastic day with so many children and families enjoying free play and so many activities in one place.  Lots of parents came and spoke to us about how amazing the event was and they couldn’t believe it was all for free.  We ran out of wristbands very early on, but the estimate of children and families attending was over 2000.

It was great to meet everyone and put faces to names and get a better understanding of what everyone provides for children, young people and their families across the city. 

We hugely appreciate everyone giving up their time and providing free activities for the day, and promoting the importance of play.  Again we all managed to transform the park for a day with something for everyone!’

Paul Fortescue, Support Play Worker at Grangetown Play Centre added:

‘A wonderfully fulfilling day where creativity and guidance collided to allow the freedom of children, from all walks of life, to blossom on their own terms’

Thank you to everyone at Children’s Play Services for inviting us along – we’re already really looking forward to next year!

Nicola Parsons, August 2019

Learning through Iron Age play…

For the CAER Heritage Project, staff team, the relationship with the current residents of Caerau Hillfort and the surrounding area is just as important as its historic occupants. The immediate area, Church Road, is home not only to incredible history and archaeology but also an active and thriving community group, Unity. Our relationship with the group has gone from strength to strength with us spending every Wednesday this summer holiday working together on a very important aspect of the Hidden Hillfort project, the heritage themed playground.

Last week, we hired a minibus and visited two playgrounds which use their area’s history as inspiration for play. First stop was Ynysangharad Park which uses the industrial heritage of Pontypridd. Here the parents set up a picnic while the children played on swings, slides, roundabouts and in the digging pits inspired by the mines and industry that once thrived in the Welsh valleys. Just before leaving, we spent 10 minutes running around and taking photos of our favourite pieces of play equipment…

Our second visit was to St Fagans National Museum of History which is home to a playground designed by parents from Pencaerau based on the farming history of Wales. The natural resources and timber used was a big hit with the group and we wonder whether we can incorporate this into our playground. Finally we took a short walk up to Bryn Eyre Iron Age Farmstead to check out the shape of, and materials used in, Iron Age roundhouses. This was to see how we can merge the history and archaeology of Caerau with the modern playground.

We had so much fun learning through play and we are super excited to get started on designing our own #HiddenHillfort themed play area! Next we will be doing some den building and creative play in Caerau woodlands to get even more ideas before working with project artists and a professional playground designer!  

Kimberley Jones, August 2019

Imaginative Play at the Hidden Hillfort launch event

Painting ‘Story Stones’ in the sunshine …

On 29th June 2019, we hosted the launch of our fantastic CAER hillfort dig. We utilised the Gospel Hall & surrounding space to make this a fun filled, informative day – including walking tours to the dig itself, situated in the woods below the hillfort.

Amongst other activities – including our ‘Love our Hillfort’ logo competition led by creative project artist Paul Evans, a beautiful poetry reading by Sue Hamblen, information boards about exciting future plans for development of the Heritage Centre, and artefacts on display – we decided to use this as an opportunity to explore ideas for our heritage playground that will be developed over the next year.

As the local CAER Hidden Hillfort project artist (and ACE arts engagement officer) I am always keen to trial new ways of creatively engaging with talented local youngsters, exploring ways of effectively evaluating what works best in order to engage most effectively! So I developed a series of activities based on existing play resources and involving new ways of learning information about the hillfort – ideas to help get their imaginative cogs turning!

Activities included imaginative play with giant ‘heritage’ Jenga, timeline stepping stones, ‘story stones’ and stickmen to encourage the creation and exploration of stories of times gone by at the hillfort – and a mud cafe to cook up Iron Age broths and potions! I ran the activities alongside the ever talented local Community artist Charlotte.

Written feedback on the day included: ‘Amazing scenery and lovely staff!  The community impact is amazing!’ & ‘Wonderful day, lots of fun for everyone – I would 100% recommend!’

Some of the best days I have had working with the CAER Hidden Hillfort project are at local events like this, where the community are so enthusiastic to learn about their local heritage, and I’m looking forward to planning more community heritage art engagements in the future months!

Nicola Parsons