Trail Art Part II: Romans to the Races

The second workshop to develop ephemeral artworks for our Romans to the Races heritage trail was devised and led by Caer Heritage Project artist Paul Evans with young artists from Glyn Derw High.

In the classroom we researched Roman motifs and made a series of thumb-nail sketches.

Making thumbnail sketches of Roman motifs from printed hand-outs and Google Images ...
Making thumbnail sketches of Roman motifs from printed hand-outs and a Google search …

We then braved the icy winds blowing over Trelai fields to create an army of buried legionaries emerging from the site of the Roman Villa …

The cardboard legion ...
The cardboard legion …

Back in the warmth of the classroom the young artists made 3D graffiti models to place along the Romans to the Races trail.

Snake based on roman bracelet ...
Snake based on Roman bracelet …
Legionary's shield (part I) ...
Legionary’s shield (part I) …
Legionaries shield (part II) ...
Legionary’s shield (part II) …
More jewels - and a Roman ice-cream ...
More jewels – and a Roman ice-cream …
Mosaic ...
Mosaic …
Caput Equi (horses head)
Caput Equi (Horses Head)
The lost legionary ...
The Lost Legionary …



Trail Art Part I: Medieval Michaelston

Following on from our day of creative activity at Caerau last summer, pupils from Michaelston Community College (MCC) and Glyn Derw High (GD) created a series of ephemeral artworks for our Medieval Michaelston and Romans to the Races Trails. Both workshops were devised and led by Caer Heritage Project lead artist Paul Evans and were based on the work of Andy Goldsworthy and street artists Slinkachu, Ronzo and Mark Jenkins. The challenge behind the workshops was to create transitory works of art that reflected something of the heritage of the trail – but with a twist of wit …

Stage one of the workshop with pupils from MCC was to make sketches of motifs and shapes from the medieval church at Michaelston.

Sketching medieval motifs ...
Sketching medieval motifs …

We decided that the door of the church would make an excellent ‘portal’ into the past – so we began to make one using interwoven twigs and branches. Care was taken to keep the design symmetrical and to incorporate the three interlocking circles from the apex …

Adding finishing touches to our portal to the past ...
Adding finishing touches to our portal to the past …
The completed 'portal' ...
The completed ‘portal’ …

During the next stage of the workshop the young people made individual ephemeral artworks using modelling clay – again from the preliminary sketches based on Medieval motifs.

A medieval mallet on the church stile ...
A medieval mallet on the church stile …
A shield ...
A shield …
A crucifix ...
A crucifix …
A mysterious figure - and a medieval window ...
A mysterious figure – and a model medieval window …



Signposting the Past Part II: designing way-marks for our Caerau and Plymouth Woods heritage trails

The visual ideas for our Caerau and Plymouth Woods way-marks were developed during two games of Pictionary led by Caer Heriitage project artist Paul Evans.

The first game took place at our Christmas celebration at Dusty Forge last year, and involved members of the friends of Caerau group. Each member of the group was  asked to think of a word that summed up or suggested Caerau. These words were then written onto Post-it notes that were folded up and put into a hat. Each member of the group then selected a word at random and made a drawing of that word – the rest of the group then had to shout out guesses … The drawings that were identified quickest were clearly the best candidates for  recognisable motifs and were thus used to further develop our trail mark for Caearau.

This procedure was then repeated with a very lively game at Grand Avenue Times.

A game of Pictionary at Grand Avenue Times …

The finalised trail marks will be revealed at the heritage trails launch day on 3rd May.

Signposting the Past Part I: designing way-marks for our ‘Medieval Michaelston’ and ‘Romans to the Races’ heritage trails

Work in progress on a trail mark design for Medieval Michaelston.
Work in progress on a way-mark design for Medieval Michaelston

In late December 2013 CAER Heritage Project director Dr David Wyatt and project artist Paul Evans visited Michaelston College and Glyn Derw to brainstorm, design and develop the first two way-marks for our HEART of Cardiff trails. These intensive creative workshops focussed on ‘Medieval Michaelston’, a circuit that takes in St Michael’s Church and a deserted medieval village in NW Ely, and the ‘Romans to the Races’ trail that will take in the area around Trelai Park.

After a concise talk by Dr David Wyatt, the young people made a series of quick thumbnail sketches (this part of the workshop was very similar to the first stage of the Tribal Logo Project that we led at St Fagans in March 2012).

Thumbnail sketches for the Medieval Michaelston trail mark
Thumbnail sketches for the Medieval Michaelston way-mark

The young people then selected their favourite thumbnail sketch and were given guidance on how to convert this design into a simple motif, suitable for stencilling.

Romans to the Races - thumbnail sketches
Romans to the Races – thumbnail sketches

We think that the finished designs look great – and we have been talking about our favourites – but we would really like to hear from you: which of these designs will make the best way-marks for our first two heritage trails?

Stencil way-marks for the 'Romans to the Races' heritage trail by pupils from Glyn Derw High School
Stencil way-marks for the ‘Romans to the Races’ heritage trail by pupils from Glyn Derw High School
Stencil way-marks for the Medieval Michaelston Heritage Trail by pupils from Michaelston College.
Stencil way-marks for the Medieval Michaelston heritage trail by pupils from Michaelston College.

Sieving Caerau’s Finds!

For the last three weeks CHP’s Olly Davis, with a lot of help from Julia Best, Paul Kemble and other CAER volunteers, has been wet sieving the soil samples taken from Caerau during the summer’s excavations. Read the latest blog to find out what they discovered…and how cold they’ve been!

Paul and Julia start sieving

All the artefacts we recover when we’re digging, such as pottery, animal bones and metalwork, can begin to tell us a story about how people in the past lived.  But some material is so small it’s not visible with the naked eye – this may include tiny plant and animal remains which can provide clues to the ancient environment – so we take samples of the soil which we sieve to find those tiny clues about prehistoric lives.

If you visited the dig during the summer you may well have noticed lots of blue bags being filled with soil by eager archaeologists. These were the samples we took – and we took a lot of them!

For three weeks we’ve been based at St Fagans Museum wet sieving all those 100s of bags!  Wet sieving is a process where we use water to wash the soil through very fine-mesh sieves. Once all the soil is washed away you end up with two residues.

Nice bit of prehistoric pottery from the coarse residue

The first is a coarse residue that gets caught in the mesh (all the stones, pottery etc).  The second is known as the ‘flot’ – this includes all the very small, light, mainly organic remains that float to the surface in the wet sieve tank and we collect in small round sieves. The flot can include small seeds and plant remains which will be able to tell us about the diets of the prehistoric occupants of Caerau Hillfort, as well as charcoal which we’ll be able to use to radiocarbon date the site.

The whole process can take quite some time, mainly depending on what the soil in the samples is like. The soil from Caerau is very clayey so it takes a long time to dissolve away – and that means it requires us archaeologists to have our hands in very cold water for a very long time!

Despite the numb fingers and toes the sieving has been really rewarding.  There’s been loads of finds from pottery and iron nails to carbonised grains of barley and wheat – the Iron Age occupants at Caerau Hillfort must have been growing these crops in fields where the houses of Caerau and Ely now sit!

Some of the grains (tiny black dots) that have floated off from the sample

We’ve also recovered lots of small fragments of burnt animal bone – the remains of meals that the prehistoric hillfort residents cooked and ate – and the shells of tiny snails that lived 2000 years ago. The snail shells might sound insignificant, but they’re not at all – in fact they’ll be extremely useful and experts will be able to inform us if they are woodland or open ground species thus telling us if the hilltop was wooded in the past.

All the residues now need to dry before we can examine them more fully, but from what I’ve seen come out of the sieve our story of Caerau Hillfort will now be much richer!

A ‘friend’ on the farm comes to see what we’re up to!

From Caerau to Wincobank – the Silures meet the Brigantes!

Remember back in July, when the weather was hot and sunny and the excavations up at Caerau Hillfort were in full swing? One Monday afternoon back then we had a visitor to the site who had driven all the way from Yorkshire to see how we were getting on.

The visitor in question was Penny, a resident of Wincobank in Sheffield who had been following the dig on our Facebook page and through our blog (read a blog of her visit here).  She was amazed about how much Caerau and Ely reminded her of where she lived – there’s even an Iron Age hillfort just outside of her front door too!  She invited us up to Sheffield to see for ourselves and to meet the Friends of Wincobank – a small, but passionate, group committed to conserving the natural environment and heritage of Wincobank Hill.  So last week an intrepid group of CAER Heritage volunteers made their way to the Steel City…

Friends of Wincobank and CAER Heritage Team

On a bright and sunny Thursday afternoon we met up with Penny and the other Friends of Wincobank amongst the houses at the bottom of the hill, ready for a walk up to the hillfort.  The first houses built around Wincobank were part of the ‘Flower Estate’, the first social housing estate built outside of London.  It was a pioneering attempt by Sheffield council to create good quality and healthy housing for its working population at the start of the 20th century.  Strong communities formed, but the collapse of Sheffield’s local industry and a massive rise in unemployment in the 1970s and 1980s led to significant social and economic challenges for the area.

Flower Estate houses


Following an ancient earthwork boundary known as the Roman Ridge, we ascended the hill, rising out of the housing estates and into beautiful woods and heathland with astonishing views across the city.  The walk and views brought that same feeling of solitude and calm you get when you climb Caerau Hill up to St Mary’s Church.

Picking up rubbish as they went (‘Wombling’ as they call it!) it’s clear that the Friends of Wincobank care passionately about their history and heritage and the place they live.  It was great to hear stories and memories too – tales of sledging down Wincobank Hill in days gone past reminded me of stories I’ve heard in Caerau about Spillers Hill and the Rec.

Views from the southern rampart


At the summit of Wincobank Hill sits the awesome Iron Age hillfort. It’s not as big as Caerau – just over 1 hectare in size – but it is surrounded by a massive rampart and ditch and provides amazing views over the surrounding areas.  The view from the southern rampart looking across the housing estates and further afield to Sheffield is so reminiscent of the view from the ringwork at Caerau.  The hillfort must have been home to an important community 2,500 years ago – perhaps a power centre of the Iron Age Brigantes tribe who lived in western Yorkshire at the same time as the Silures in Southeast Wales.

We descended the hill on its western side where the slopes are covered in an ancient coppice wood dominated by oak and birch.  Paths criss-cross the area, a bit like Plymouth Wood, and there was even the occasional sound of a quad bike!

The walk was really inspiring – hearing about and seeing the results of fantastic community projects that celebrate the amazing history and natural environment of Wincobank Hill.  We were struck by the similarity of the two areas – the communities that live in these two far-away places in England and Wales face many of the same issues and stigmas, yet they are both surrounded by fantastic history and heritage and share strong community identities and pride in place.

Community art installation celebrating the life of Queen Cartimandua of the Iron Age Brigantes tribe

With so many similarities between Caerau and Wincobank it’s clear that we can certainly learn a lot from each other – hopefully this will be the start of long and important connection between our two communities.

The HEART of Cardiff Heritage Trail

Paul Evans describes the creative ‘work in progress’ on our forthcoming HEART of Cardiff Heritage Trail.

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Co-design and co-production have been central to both the ethos and the process behind The HEART of Cardiff Heritage Trail. Working with Dr Kate Moles and Dr Stephanie Ward from Cardiff University departments of Sociology and History, I devised a series of geographical and temporal mapping workshops that would tease out memories of Ely and Caerau and serve to: a) translate the impersonal 1:10,000 scale map produced by the HMSO into a personal, meaningful, local geography based on the thoughts, memories and emotional responses of local residents, and b) create a physical timeline reaching back into living memory.

The first of these workshops took place at the headquarters of the Grand Avenue Times (GAT) women’s group at Windsor Clive Primary School, Ely. Here we created a ‘layered map’ of memories and reflections based on the group’s knowledge of the local area. Fragments of a lively and dynamic conversation about Ely and Caerau were written onto transparent acetate squares and pinned in place onto a large (A0) 1:10,000 scale map of the area. The conversations were also recorded. Edited fragments of these conversations will be made available online soon.


This layered map has allowed us to plan the first stage of the Heritage Trail route – a loop through Plymouth Woods starting from the recreation ground at the end of Archer Road. We followed this route on a beautiful sunny day, about a week later with Ceri-Ann Gilbert from GAT as our guide.


The next group that we worked with was Healthy Wealthy and Wise: senior citizens based at the Old Library, Bishopston Road, Caerau. Here we created a timeline of memories written onto luggage labels that were ordered chronologically and then tied onto a 4m length of string.


Some fascinating and poignant memories emerged from this workshop and these have also informed our planning for the heritage trail route. This research has also fed into a new design for the tapestry that is currently on display in the Old Library. Work is currently in progress on this new design with pupils from Glyn Derw High School – more information on this ongoing project will follow soon.


Outputs from both of these workshops were displayed at the CAER Heritage Project/HEART of Cardiff Roadshow at the Ely Festival on 13 July. Central to our presentation was another large map with the speculative route for the HEART of Cardiff Heritage Trail marked out in pins and coloured thread.


Our first suggestion for the route was soon altered on the basis of local knowledge and we were also advised that it might be best to break up the heritage trail into manageable sections. Work on the trail will continue over the autumn and during this time we very much welcome further input ideas, memories and reflections from local residents. Why not get in touch with your ideas?

Caerau ‘Trench Hedz’

A busy day at Caerau hillfort with pupils from Glyn Derw High School, Cardiff: creating artworks themed around Celtic heads and designing a waymark for the forthcoming HEART of Cardiff Heritage Trail with Paul Evans, CAER Heritage project lead artist.

Stage 1: After an introduction by Ian Daniel from St Fagans National History Museum, the young artists sketched out their Celtic head designs and transferred the best of these onto labels.


These labels were then hung at the entrance to the hillfort – perhaps they will act as a deterrent to enemies or evil spirits that might threaten the site?



Stage 2: Everyone on site – young artists and archaeologists – was asked to create an individual celtic head in clay.



Work in progress …


The little sculptures were then placed carefully into one of the excavated trenches – completing Stage 2 of our intervention.


Check out the Gallery for Rob Barrett’s 3D renderings of our Caerau ‘Trench Hedz’.

Stage 3: Designing a Celtic-themed waymark for our forthcoming HEART of Cardiff Heritage trail.
More information about how we are developing this trail will follow soon!


Jeff’s blog 7th August 2013 – My Visit to London

I had a good time around London visiting historical places of interest.  One on my highlights was climbing the Monument all 311 steps but the view from the top was truly breathtaking. I even had a certificate to say that I climbed it which was really good.

The London Monument

Here is a bit of history about the Monument:

The monument stands in Monument Street off Fish Street hill in the City of London. It was built between 1671 and 1677, to commemorate the great fire of London and to celebrate the rebuilding of the city.

top of monument
View from the top

The Monument has recently undergone a major program of repair and restoration at the cost of £4.5 million, the first such work to be

carried out here for a hundred years. It now welcomes thousands of visitors from all over the world who climb the steps to admire the panoramic views. It’s a truly a magnificent achievement which celebrates the skill of the men involved on it design and construction

Me at the top

New discoveries at Caerau Hillfort

Enclosing an area the size of almost 8 football pitches, Caerau Hillfort is by far the largest hillfort in south Glamorgan, yet it has never before been researched.  In fact, we know very little about hillforts in this region at all – even basic questions like how the settlements were organised inside, how long they were occupied, or even who lived in them remain largely unknown.

This year’s excavations at Caerau are just beginning to provide some answers to those questions.  Although there’s still much work to be done analysing artefacts, examining environmental samples and sorting out dating and phasing of the site, project Co-director Olly Davis’ gives his first thoughts about what we found…

With over 1,000 visitors to the site and 150 people directly involved in the excavations the last four weeks have been some of the most incredibly rewarding, but very tiring, of my life!

Location of the trenches overlaying the geophysical survey (geophysics copyright GSB)

This year we managed to open up three trenches to explore the lives of the people who lived on Caerau hill more than 2,000 years ago.  Our trenches were concentrated into the south-eastern area of the hillfort.  Trenches 4 and 5 were designed to explore ditch defined enclosures identified from the geophysical survey completed by local school pupils and Time Team last year.  Trench 3 was much larger and intended to examine the Iron Age occupation of the hillfort.  In total we opened up an area of 760 square metres. It doesn’t sound much, but to put our excavations in perspective, you could fit all the other excavated areas that have ever taken place within hillforts in south Glamorgan into our Trench 3, with some room to spare!

The Time Team excavations last year had revealed a small part of a well-defined ring-gully of a roundhouse and a small pit outside of its eastern extent had produced a remarkable carinated bowl dated to around 500BC.  This year we opened Trench 3 in order to fully expose, characterise and understand the construction, use and abandonment of this house. We also wanted to recover more dating material and environmental remains so we could begin to build a picture of the food that Iron Age people ate, the animals that they kept and the types of crafts and other activities that they undertook.

However, rather than just one house, we actually uncovered the remains of three houses, all overlapping, so they couldn’t all have been standing at the same time. This was clearly an area of intensive occupation probably over a considerable period of time.

Archaeologists stand on the outlines of three Iron Age roundhouses

Two of the houses were defined by ring-gullies, and were large, almost 15m in diameter, presumably the homes of a large extended family of perhaps 10 people. The final house was post-built, but only part of this was revealed as it was sealed beneath a layer containing Romano-British pottery (even so, that is important as the house therefore must pre-date the Roman period, and suggests there may be an intact floor of this house remaining in place).

We only found the foundations of these houses, but what might the houses have looked like 2,500 years ago? Well, you may have seen a reconstructed Iron Age roundhouse if you’ve ever been to St Fagans or Castell Henllys.  They were constructed of a circular ring of posts, in-filled with wattle and daub, and with pitched rafters holding up a conical thatched roof.  But, they were far from just simple dwellings to keep out the wind and rain – they were the focus around which much of prehistoric life must have centred.  It was here that people prepared and cooked food, entertained guests, undertook their daily tasks and crafts, slept, and occasionally sheltered their livestock.  They must have been sensual places, dark places, smelly places – not least from the smoke from the hearth as there were no windows or smokeholes – and filled with furniture, pottery, stored food and the chattering voices of the occupants.

More work needs to be done analysing the pottery and recovering radiocarbon samples to know when these roundhouses at Caerau were built, but it’s likely that they were constructed in the Early or Middle Iron Age (500-100BC).

Forthcoming analysis of animal bones recovered from the ring-gullies surrounding the houses combined with wet sieving soil samples (a process using water to wash soil through very fine-mesh sieves to recover small seeds and plant remains) will also tell us more about the diets and everyday lives of these prehistoric occupants of Caerau hillfort.

Cutting through the hillfort’s inner earthwork boundary

An interesting benefit of the position of Trench 3 is that it allowed us to also explore the inner earthwork boundary of the hillfort.   By placing a cutting through it we could see that it was constructed in two phases, separated by thick layer of soil which had been trampled and squashed by people when the second phase of rampart had been constructed.  Underneath the earthwork was an occupation layer – it still needs to be dated, but it suggests that the hillfort wasn’t built on an unoccupied hill – when the boundaries of the hillfort were constructed people had already been living on Caerau hill, probably for some time.

These earthwork boundaries and their associated ditches defining the hillfort were unlikely to have been built just for defence.  People think of hillforts as defensive structures, but our attention is turning to whether the people who lived here were actually developing a community or collective identity for themselves through the construction of these boundaries.

An exciting new discovery in Trench 3 was a metalled surface – a stone-built path or road – running concentrically with the hillfort boundary, laid probably in the 1st century AD or later.  Was this built just to prevent people getting muddy feet when walking between occupation areas or did it help define areas within the settlement much like a modern road in a village or town?  In either case, it certainly suggests some considerable organisation and planning of the settlement within the interior of the hillfort.

Trench 4 -the figure in the middle kneels in the entrance to the oval enclosure

Trench 4 was positioned over the entrance into a roughly oval ditch-defined enclosure.  Time Team had excavated one of the ditch terminals and suggested that the enclosure was a Roman livestock corral.  Our excavations this year have completely transformed that interpretation.  By excavating the opposing ditch terminal we recovered lots of domestic remains, including pottery, particularly black, bead-rimmed pottery, typical of the Late Iron Age (1st century AD) in south Wales.  Rather than a cattle corral then this enclosure was more likely a Late Iron Age farmstead, set up in the hillfort perhaps 100 years after it had been abandoned.  Two postholes either side of the entrance gap must have represented the posts of a gate into this enclosed area.

Outside the enclosure was a pear-shaped pit full of burnt stone and charcoal.  Closer inspection of the pit fills revealed very small carbonised grains of wheat and barley suggesting that this may have been a corn-drying kiln for drying grain after harvest.

Late Iron Age glass bead of ‘Meare’ type

A glimpse of the personality of the inhabitants was provided by the discovery of a glass bead of Iron Age date and an enamelled disc brooch of Roman date. Both these objects indicate that individuals were concerned with their appearance and that life in the past was a little more colourful that we sometimes think.  The glass bead needs further analysis, but is similar to types manufactured at Meare in Somerset, so may suggest links with communities living the other side of the Bristol Channel.

Trench 5 – note the circular pit in the foreground. The figure at the back stands in the ditch of the oval enclosure

Trench 5 examined the ditch of the oval enclosure further around its circuit.  Again, we recovered lots of Late Iron Age pottery confirming our assumption that it dates to the 1st century AD. That is potentially very significant because it suggests that we have people, perhaps only a single family albeit possibly an important one, living up on Caerau hill around the time of the Roman invasion.  This is an important time in south-east Wales – the subjugation of the Welsh tribes, particularly the Silures, took about thirty years in the face of stubborn resistance and is well documented by the Roman author Tacitus.  This oval enclosure therefore allows for the examination of interesting questions about power relations, Roman control and native-Roman acculturation in this region during the first century AD.

One of the other exciting things about this trench though is that we also uncovered a Roman story.  Dating to the 2nd or 3rd centuries AD, probably contemporary with the occupation of the Roman villa in Trelai Park, we excavated a deep circular pit full of iron working debris and Roman pottery.  The pottery is fascinating – the assemblage is dominated by coarse ware bowls and jars while there were no fine tablewares or amphorae.  Fine-ware pottery and amphorae were found in abundance at Ely Roman villa by Mortimer Wheeler in his excavations during the 1920s.  This difference in material culture at both the sites suggests that at Caerau at this time we either have a relatively impoverished settlement or one that is actively rejecting some parts of Roman culture.

A passing police helicopter provides a view from above showing the excavations in progress

Despite the many finds, much more work is required to understand exactly when the hill was first occupied and the boundaries built.  A cursory examination of the pottery assemblage suggests occupation starting perhaps around 500BC and continuing until at least the third century AD, well into the Roman period.  However, there appear to be gaps – there is little to suggest occupation from about 100BC until the 1st century AD when the oval enclosure was probably constructed. There is another gap in the ceramics from the later first to early second centuries AD.  Question of continuity, discontinuity and legitimacy of the communities that lived here are hard to address, but it could be that the communities founding the oval farmstead and later Roman settlement were claiming ancestral links with the builders of the hillfort.  One thing I am sure of however is that Caerau Hillfort still has many archaeological secrets yet to be revealed!