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



Passion for History & Learning

As a student of Ancient History and Archaeology at Cardiff University, who is welsh born, the opportunity to dig and be involved in the Hidden Hillfort project in Caerau was to good to miss.  This was made even better due to the outreach program and involvement of volunteers from surrounding areas and further afield. Taking part in the dig has been wonderful overall: my favourite day was when a group of students from Hywel Dda Primary school visited. Seeing the excitement on their faces and being able to help them learn about their own heritage was an incredible experience. I loved getting to know the children individually and seeing their passion for history and for learning: it reminded me of why I myself wanted to become an archaeologist.

Throughout the day the children took part in three guided activities, each being done with great enthusiasm, particularly when looking at the artefacts and seeing the replicas. They all got stuck into each task and bravely faced the long walk up to the site itself to see the trench’s and learn about the importance of the ramparts. They all tried their best and had a good crack at everything even if it wasn’t their strong suit and seemed to thoroughly enjoy each activity that was set. I was sad that they weren’t coming back the next day as they made the site so lively. All 18 of the students were a credit to their school and helped reignite my excitement for the site and for my course, reminding me as a student how important it is to remember the past and encourage younger students to pursue that path as well if it’s a passion of theirs.

Hannah Ferguson, July 2019

CAER Heritage Hidden Hillfort at the Urdd National Eisteddfod

A young visitor ‘makes a find’ at the 2019 Urdd National Eisteddfod. Photo © Nicola Parsons

Cardiff Bay was the venue of the 2019 Urdd National Eisteddfod. On May 28th, the CAER Heritage Hidden Hillfort team were fortunate enough to be invited to have a stall, within the Cardiff University tent, in the Roald Dahl Plass. The CAER team, consisting of university staff and students, ACE staff and volunteers arrived bright and early to set up, but already The Maes was buzzing with activity and visitors.

Although I am born and bred in Wales, this was my first experience of an Eisteddfod, and I was amazed at the sheer number of visitors and the vibrant atmosphere.

It was very quickly all hands on deck for us. We set up our stall, and were immediately welcoming people, eager to engage and find out more about the project. We knew we would have to be prepared for all age groups, so whilst it was sufficient to chat to adults, and let them handle the artefacts, we also knew we would need something easy, interesting, and most importantly, messy, for the children. Luckily, one of our CAER Studio artists, Nicola, who is a mum of young children herself, arrived, armed with a big plastic tub, filled with soil from her garden and complete with live earthworm for authenticity! In the mud, she had buried various items for children to ‘excavate’, including a pot she had broken up and buried, ready for the children to discover and rebuild.

The activity proved incredibly popular, and its success has ensured that it is an activity we will be using at future engagements. Throughout the day, we successfully engaged with many dozens of people, both local and from further afield. It was a real pleasure to be able to spread the story of our local treasure, our hill fort, which by the end of the day was a little less ‘hidden.’

Helen Mccarthy, June 2019

Live Local Learn Local: Hidden Histories

Students from the Hidden Histories of Caerau and Ely course visit National Museums Wales with artists from CAER Studio

Hidden Histories of Caerau and Ely

In collaboration with CAER Heritage, a recent six-week course, Hidden Histories of Caerau and Ely was established by Cardiff University’s innovative Live Local Learn Local programme which delivers free accredited courses in communities facing social and economic challenges. CAER Heritage have embedded a whole range of these brilliant courses into our activities over the past 5 years, including archaeological field work, post excavation analysis and exploring the modern history of the area.

The new course was taken up enthusiastically by five members of the community along with several participants from further afield too, opening up new friendships and networks.

They all had a rare opportunity to visit the vaults of the National Museum of Wales guided by Evan, the senior curator of archaeology at the Museum, and to get valuable training in designing and executing museum exhibitions with Jordan, the learning and outreach officer at The Cardiff Story Museum.

The participants chose a selection of exciting artefacts that have been found in Caerau and Ely, from the Neolithic to the Middle Ages, each one sparking something in their imagination.

Neolithic artefacts discovered in South West Cardiff

Artefacts from the Bronze Age, also discovered in South West Cardiff

The opportunities to visit the vaults of the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, meet with heritage professionals and Cardiff University academics and to receive bespoke training in designing exhibitions at The Cardiff Story Museum were particular highlights. Indeed, even the minibus driver who ferried us the museums has a PhD in history! (CAER’s Dave)

Many participants were already interested in history in general: one was experienced in research but had never looked at artefacts in detail before, preferring to visit sites – he was excited to rise to the challenge of researching materials and the use of individual artefacts. Another, who was already interested in the Middle Ages chose the bridle boss because it was such a decorative, tactile piece, and it fascinated her.

Other participants merged their hobbies with their research: one chose the Roman mortarium sherd – described as a kind of Roman food processor – because of her love of cookery. Finding an everyday kitchen object from the Roman Villa in Ely, where she used to play as a child, really inspired her.

As with all previous CAER Heritage Live Local Learn Local courses, through their efforts the participants not only learned new skills they also created new knowledge! Their research on the objects and their respective time periods will be featured in a week-long exhibition at the Cardiff Story Museum over the October half-term – so you can experience the fruits of their labour first hand.


Live Local Learn Local courses are aimed at engaging adults who may be facing a whole range of challenges. Indeed, one participant described the course as ‘a bit of a lifeline’, as her son, only a few months old, was able to come along to all the classes and could be accommodated easily on the trips. The others loved having him there too, and banded together to help carry the buggy up and down steps when access was restricted, and took it in turns to entertain him during the breaks!

You’re never to young to engage with the past!

The participants made friends on the course, and reported higher levels of confidence in their skills as they grew together, supporting and challenging each other over the six weeks.

Inspiring collaborations!

Alongside collaboration with national and local heritage institutions, it was also very exciting to also have the artists from the CAER Studio project involved in the course. They came with us on the museum field trips and sat in on the classes, modelling clay and sketching during class discussions – inspiring the participants to be creative in their interpretations of the objects. One student submitted a children’s story as their final piece of work, based on the artefact they were most interested in, and made contact with an illustrator through the project.

The participant’s research will not only be exhibited, it will also be posted online to People’s Collection Wales via the CAER Heritage Project account, so that the digital version of their exhibition will be available online, for free, to an international audience of all ages.

The exhibition itself, starring the 6-7 objects selected from over 6,000 years of Caerau and Ely’s heritage and chosen by the students with their accompanying research will be in the main gallery at Cardiff Story Museum over half-term in October (29 Oct – 2 Nov). Don’t miss it!

Melissa Julian Jones, June 2018

All photos courtesy of Rajinder Singh Gill.

Ely’s best kept secret – India Grant


The thing about this Cardiff gem is the fact it’s so well hidden. Standing at the bottom of a hill on a chilly December day there was little to indicate the presence of one of the largest, best- preserved hill-forts in South Wales.

Yet, it’s there and well worth a visit. As one member of our group put it, ‘It’s addictive! Once you visit your first hill-fort you won’t look back!’.

We were guided around the fort by Dr Olly Davis a Cardiff University Archaeologist. At the bottom, before we began the climb upwards there is a sign indicating how the fort would have looked when it was fully inhabited.

Walking up a gravel path, it’s easy to think this dirt track is just access to the farm at the top. In fact it leads to the top of the fortifications. Rising above you is a steep bank which would have served as defences. Time has worn it down, but when the fort was active it would have been 10 metres tall and formidable.

With modern machinery it would be a mammoth task. For the people who lived inside this Iron-age fortress it must have been epic. Yet for Iron-age Celts facing Roman attacks, it these defences were a necessity.

At the top of the hill fort is St Mary’s Church. Now a ruin, the church was still active in the 1970’s before being deconsecrated. There are still people that live in Ely and Caerau who were married in the church or went there for after-school clubs.

It’s worth climbing to the top if only to see the spectacular views of Cardiff and the Valleys beyond. On a clear day it’s possible to see as far as Castle Coch. It’s amazing to think how, thousands of years ago this was all greenery, there was no city sprawled out below, no Womanby Street to head to for nights out! It takes your breath away.

Going down the fort is a little trickier than going up. Again, wear sensible shoes! But it means you get to see the lay-out of the hill’s defences. Three rolling banks that would have been more protection for the fort are visible on the northern and southern slopes.

To conclude – the hill fort is well worth a visit! The walk around takes about an hour and Dr Olly Davis can answer just about ANY question you throw at him. It can be hard at times to get enough fresh air. But, tucked away in plain sight the hill-fort is wonderful for a calming weekend walk.

Helen’s CAER journey


I have volunteered with the CAER Heritage Project since 2013.  Initially, my intention was to just ‘dip my toe’ into their local adult education archaeology courses, but I was immediately hooked.  I had been interested in archaeology from the comfort of my own home for far too long, and it was time for me to literally get my hands dirty and visit the actual Hillfort excavation.  The leaders and other volunteers could not have been more welcoming, and I was made to feel a part of the team straight away.

During the last four years, I have been lucky enough to be involved in many more activities, and I now count the team and other volunteers as friends.  I believe that along with ACE, we have developed a real feeling of community, all because we share a common interest in history and our local heritage.  As a group, we embody one of the Cambridge Dictionary definitions of co-production – ‘to transfer some power from professionals to users, as it means that both parties contribute resources and have a legitimate voice’.  Put simply, it means we have taken ownership of our own locality and heritage.  Volunteers, team members and council staff have litter-picked, repaired the hillfort ramparts and regularly sit on various working parties, making decisions that will make Ely and Caerau even better places to live.

The project has gathered momentum over several years, but 2017 catapulted us into a realm that could only once have been imagined, when we were awarded a development grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This enabled us to lease the Gospel Hall in Church Road, with the intention of turning it into a Local Heritage Centre.  All of this has been done in full consultation with volunteers.  It is us sitting alongside the architect giving him a wish list of what we would like, and how we would like it to look.

If all this year’s hard work is successful, a further grant will enable us to actually renovate the Gospel Hall and have further excavations in the area.

Back in March, I was privileged to be asked to serve on the Hidden Hillfort Management Team, along with our youth volunteer, Alana.  Other representatives come from Cardiff Council, Cardiff University, Glamorgan and Gwent Archaeology, the new Western High School, other voluntary organisations and ACE staff.  I have been fortunate enough to represent CAER in a Co-creating Communities presentation in Bristol and a community archaeology workshop in Lincoln, accompanied by another volunteer, Viv Thomas.  All of this, thanks to the adult education classes, four years ago.

It is now the end of 2017, and the project has won two major community archaeology awards, projecting us onto a national stage.  On a personal note, the project has taught me that everyone can bring something positive to the table and I’m confident the project is going to go from strength to strength.  I have enjoyed every moment of it and am really looking forward to 2018.