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