Paul’s experiences at Caerau Hillfort

Read Paul’s blog about the CAER Project and digging Caerau…

Normally, I ascend Caerau hillfort by a slightly different route each time.  By avoiding the road I can then see how the hill’s biodiversity is progressing through the seasons and then, hopefully, making more sense of the hill’s overall shape and physical features.  Sometimes reaching the second rampart, below the ringwork, I can then get an amazing view across Cardiff as far as Cwm Carn and its (much smaller) hillfort.  Climbing the ringwork I then see St Mary’s which, despite being often described as ruined, I still think is magnificent especially given its setting.  Early summer mornings are best because the traffic on the ring road has yet to start and bird-song can then be heard from across the Vale and to the north for miles and miles. Walking around the churchyard, disturbing rabbits, I then come to the field which has now sprouted gazebos and earthworks of its own.

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Paul excavating part of the roundhouse gully in Trench 3

This hill is about people although normally one wouldn’t think that given the quiet and contemplative solitude it can bring.  It seems to have a habit of ‘touching’ something deep and then surprising one again.  Like when one finds a piece of pottery or a nice fossil that was last handled by another over a thousand years ago.  Time dissolves and one can almost see or feel that person and I sometimes wonder how long our own impact will have.

When a few of us sat around a table in Ely library on a rotten winter’s evening early in 2011 I never thought that, in my lifetime, we would get as far as we have in such a short time let alone that I would have the privilege of kneeling in an unrelenting sun, scraping at baked clay with a 4″ trowel on a (possible) Dark Age ‘roadway’.  To see the professionals in action, both here and at St Fagans, only serves to emphasise one’s own many and manifest inadequacies and the kindness, tolerance and patience of those guiding us.

This project has grown considerably and will no doubt grow further, perhaps embracing the country and even further afield, because there is so much more to do.  Even extending it to say nearby woodland blighted with fly-tipping would have significance.  A long forgotten corner of Cardiff has now been turned into something of national importance and I’ve no doubt that it can be done again, elsewhere. The trouble is there can only be one ‘Britain’s best hillfort’ and at Caerau we’ve got that already!

Engaging the Public at Caerau

CHP’s Mel bogs about engaging the public at Caerau Hillfort…

I’m Mel, a Medievalist and historian, so being out in the fresh air is an exciting novelty for me! Unfortunately with work as well I’m not able to get up to the site more than once or twice a week, but while I’ve been up there I’ve been tweeting #CAER tweets and facebooking pictures of the dig. My primary purpose there, however, is to help out with the public engagement side of things.

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Johanna and Vicky with Glyn Derw Pupils

 

We’ve had a few school groups up to visit, where they get to clean the finds – always exciting, as we don’t know what they are like under the mud – make pots using authentic techniques, and get site tours with Olly. After the tour they can sieve the spoil heap to see if we’ve missed anything in the upper layers, and help to peel back the layers in Trench 3 to reveal more of the archaeology.

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The Archaeology of Trench 3 Revealed

 

Meanwhile, we have members of the community coming to have a look too, and everyone wants handle the finds and ask questions! I love helping with the public aspect and being on hand to talk about the site in general, particularly the medieval finds from the spoil heap and the Norman ringwork on the other side, where the thirteenth century church is to be seen. I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the Norman presence and the evidence for late Medieval use of the pre-existing Prehistoric and Roman/Romano-British site. Documentation is yet to be looked at in-depth, and as a historian I am very excited about the idea of documentary source evidence supporting the archaeology. The public often ask about it, and the CAER Heritage Project may be looking at that part of the site in future years.

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Possible Bodkin – Armour Piercing Arrowhead [?]

Weekends at the dig are always very popular, and although because of other commitments I’m not always able to be at the site to help out, the Project has had a great deal of success in terms of visitors. The Project has linked up with GGAT and Guerilla Archaeology, who have helped to set up educational and entertaining activities to engage all ages. CAER even had a bouncy hillfort and a hogroast (free!) on Saturday 6th July, which proved very popular.

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Visitors on Site Enjoying Iron Age BBQ & Activities

 

The CAER Heritage Project opens itself up to the community, but also goes out to the community. I helped to set up our display and activities at Glyn Derw High School’s fayre, which was a great opportunity to share what we were doing with a wider audience and consolidate our links with the school. I had visited Glyn Derw several times before as one of the co-ordinators of the SHARE with Schools project (sharewithschools.wordpress.com), so it was good to be back there with the students. We got a few of the adults there signing up with their email addresses to be Friends of CAER and be kept updated on events relating to the Heritage Project.

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Natalie, Johanna, Me, Beth and George at Glyn Derw High School’s Community Fayre with Finds, Display and Pot Making

 

It’s always fun to speak to people and get them interested in the work we’re doing, and it’s not just locals who are intrigued! Through the media presence, including the CAER blog, facebook and twitter, an international audience has been reached. My own blog, tweets and facebook posts have generated interest by people of all walks of life from as far afield as America, Canada and South Africa, who are enjoying following the CAER Heritage Project’s progress! It is this kind of impact that proves the project’s relevancy and supports its longevity. I’m very excited to be a part of it, and am looking forward to getting involved over the next two weeks!

CAER Hog Roast Blog

CHP’s Dave blogs about his experiences while digging Caerau…

At Saturday’s big CAER project Iron Age Hog Roast I got chatting to a local resident who had lived at the bottom of Caerau hillfort all his life, I’d say he was in his 40s. At first I wasn’t sure that he was that interested in what we were doing, but I took him on a tour of the site and we talked about Roman era residents and Early Iron Age settlement. At the end of our chat he said something that really struck me as profound, and that was ‘my time living here has just been a split second in this place’s history’.Dave1

Hi, I’m Dave, co-director of the CAER Heritage Project and community outreach person for the dig. I am actually a medieval historian too, but a long time ago, back in the 1990’s I did a half an archaeology degree and ended up going on quite a few digs. But it’s been a long time since I’ve been involved in an excavation and to be honest I’d forgotten how special digs are and how they can lead to amazing conversations like the one I’ve outlined above; that is until the last few weeks.

Yep, the Digging Caerau project has reminded me just how special archaeological excavations are! They bring diverse people together with a shared purpose of discovery, they create new and often unlikely friendships which can sometimes last a life time, they give people new skills and confidence, sure, but also through physically exploring the past they foster a new way at looking at the world around us…giving us some perspective on how short and transient our time on earth is.

Most important of all, a dig, for a very short period, creates a new community. A community that is digging down to find out about how people in the past lived. So the process of digging a site and the new friendships and social and professional connections that it creates are, in my view, almost as interesting as the archaeology that we are trying to uncover. Don’t get me wrong, that prehistoric archaeology is pretty damned interesting! But the CAER project has always been about more than archaeology, it’s always been focussed on the communities of Caerau and Ely who live in the shadow of that hillfort. Communities with great warmth, spirit and talent but which are all too often labelled, stereotyped and underestimated to the detriment of those who do the labelling, stereotyping and underestimating.Dave2

I have been working on the CAER heritage project for over two years and I love it! It is by far the favourite community project I have ever worked on – and I have worked on a few. The reason for that is simple – the people. From school teachers and community development and youth workers; to amazing community group activists; to talented and questioning young people and school children; to local residents with pride and integrity of all ages. Everyone seems to get what we are trying to achieve and indeed many have been willing to lend us their time and considerable abilities in order to make the CAER Heritage project and Digging Caerau happen.Dave3

Since the Digging Caerau excavation started on 24th June 2013 we’ve been joined on site by pupils of a range of ages together with highly committed teachers from Glyn Derw High school; by numerous and equally committed local residents who’ve been willing to talk to us about the site, to jump in trenches and trowel or set up gazebos or shift tools or even make a film about our project; we’ve been joined too by local primary school age kids and mums after school who’ve helped us sieve the spoil heaps. We’ve been warmly invited and welcomed to the Glyn Derw Garden Party where we were able to share our finds to date while making Iron Age pots and chatting with local kids and adults. We’ve been made cakes and tea at community groups and been allowed to record the memories and folklore of the area. Frankly it’s been an amazing response!

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So what better way to celebrate this (and the opening of our new heritage trail) than with a massive Iron-Age barbeque; a free hog roast for all on top of Caerau hillfort under crystal blue skies on a Saturday afternoon in early July with our own bouncy hillfort! A big thank you to our partners at Action Caerau Ely and funders the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Arts and Humanities Research Council for helping us to make this happen.

The pictures from this event speak for themselves. Caerau and Ely are great places full of great people. The rest of the world needs to take notice of this and celebrate these communities and their amazing heritage, including what has almost certainly been one of the largest and most important historical sites in southeast Wales for over 2,000 years. As my new mate from Caerau pointed out at the start, our time on earth might be just a split second compared to the history of this place, but let’s make the best of that time and put Caerau hillfort back where it belongs. As a place that is central to the identity, history and cultural life of the Cardiff area…just as it was in the Iron Age!

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p.s. Hope to see you all this Saturday at the CAER Heritage Project road show at the Ely Festival…

CAER Project Mural Restored

Pupils from Glyn Derw High School worked with Paul Evans, CHP lead artist, on the restoration of The CAER Heritage Project mural. The mural had been quite heavily ‘tagged’ since it was originally created from designs developed with a group of young people from Pethybridge Youth Centre – and we wanted the mural restored to its original splendour for our celebratory event on 6th July. After some great work the mural is back to its brilliant best – check it out if you can on Cwrt-Yr-Ala Road as you make your way up to see the excavations at the hillfort!

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Restoring the ‘tagged’ mural
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Back to its best!
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Paul talks about the mural’s creation at the celebration event

 

Conserving the finds from Caerau

Excavation Finds Officer Johanna blogs about how we look after the finds from the dig…

My name is Johanna and I am one of the finds officers at the current excavation of Caerau Hillfort. Being a finds officers means I don’t do a lot of digging, but I take care of anything the archaeologists find after it has been taken out of the ground. I clean and pack the objects, make sure they are properly marked and taken to a room in one of the local schools where we lay them out to dry safe from rain or the heat of the sun. Some of the finds, for example iron age pottery, are very fragile and can  become crumbly from too much water, and materials like bone can get cracks when it dries too quickly in the sun, so I look after all the objects while they are being excavated and after.  I have studied for three years at Cardiff University to become a conservator, and I graduate this summer. Being a conservator means that I am professionally trained in handling and preserving archaeological objects, and understanding their decay mechanisms and how to prevent them from further decay after excavation.

During the first week of the dig we found this spread of a pot which is probably from the late Iron Age. It was a rainy day, so I was on site with the archaeologists who found it to help them lift the fragile pieces out of the ground and protect them from the rain afterwards.

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The pieces are a little bit difficult to see in this picture because they are muddy, but after I cleaned some of them they turned out to be dark brown, almost black.

The excavation has produced some prehistoric pottery, but the majority of the pottery we find is Roman.  The Iron Age has to be cleaned carefully introducing a minimal amount of water, but many of the Roman finds can be cleaned using regular tap water and a soft toothbrush. This is something I do with my colleague Vicky on site every day, and we also pick out pieces which are sturdy enough to be cleaned without any training so visitors can join us and get a feeling for what we do. We have also cleaned a lot of the Roman pottery with the help of groups of children from the local schools when they are visiting us on site, and we have found some very nice pieces with decorations on. It is always fun cleaning the pottery since we never know what we will find under the layer of soil.

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I train up local volunteers to help us wash the finds

Another part of my job is to decide which objects we can’t clean on site and need to send to a professional

with access to a proper conservation lab. Last week this beautiful glass bead was found, and I decided it needed a more delicate treatment than scrubbing with a toothbrush.

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Late Iron Age glass bead

I have always wanted to try doing archaeology, and the first few days, before there were any finds for me to work with, they allowed me to take part in the digging. It was very hard work, and an experience which I am happy to have. It has given me a new understanding of the archaeology profession and the process which brings the finds out of the ground and into my care. I am enjoying all aspects of the job, the beautiful nature around the hillfort, the close connection between the history of the site and the local community, and all the interest we are getting from visitors, and working on site in close collaboration with the archaeologists. I am now looking forward to two more weeks, and I’m very excited to see what more will come out of the ground at the Caerau Hillfort!

 

My first experiences of digging at Caerau Hillfort

Cardiff University’s Exploring the Past Student Midnight blogs about her first day on site…

I’m filled with excitement as we drive through a red brick housing estate and find the semi-hidden track leading to the top of Caerau hill at our first attempt. I’ve never been on an Archaeological excavation before, my only relevant experience being Geology digs whilst I was at University. Whilst I hope for the same camaraderie as at Geology digs and have watched enough ‘Time Team’ to have some idea what to expect, I am still a little nervous as we exit the car and my sighted assistant guides me to the gazebos set up in the field on the left of the track.

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My area to excavate

Once there I’m quickly directed to Olly, our site manager, who gives me the tour of the site and assigns me an area to excavate with some colleagues. Basically the trenches that were excavated by ‘Time Team’ when they visited the site last year have been extended so that Trench 3 for example is now a 30 by 20 metre rectangle.

The area I’m assigned to is a 1 metre by 5 metre oblong on the north western side of trench 3, situated with the 1 metre side on the outside edge (rampart?) of the trench and the 5 metre edge at right angles into the trench. It’s possible to make out a change in ground colour from the outside edge (red) to a darker band which contains a rocky band near the other end of our designated area.

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The soil is extremely tough to trowel and hard like concrete

As we start to dig it soon becomes apparent that this will be no easy matter. The soil is like concrete, clay rich and solid. Although we sieve this bit we don’t find much of anything. However, as dull at that may sound, removing these top layers and outer layers enable more interesting things to be revealed which would otherwise go un-noticed. So whilst it was hot, sweaty and somewhat thankless, digging up that outer red band was essential to the bigger picture being built up of what could potentially be under trench 3.

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Our progress by the end of the day

As we got nearer to the darker band we continued to sieve the soil that was coming up. We still hadn’t found anything but we were making steady progress and finished the day having cleared about 2 metre’s in, to about a depth of 3 or 4 inches. Given how hard the soil was to break through we felt we’d done a good job getting that far. Than it was off to the pub for a well earned pint and discussion about the days work.

Digging Caerau Hillfort – Week 1

CAER Heritage Project’s Olly Davis blogs about the first week on site…

What a week – lots of sunshine, lots of sun-burn and lots of archaeology! We started opening up the site on Monday with a JCB to help us strip off the topsoil – there’s about 30-40 cm of ploughsoil on Caerau Hillfort that needs to be removed to find the archaeological deposits (Caerau must have been heavily ploughed in the past).

We’ve managed to open up three trenches during this week – two to examine a couple of ditched enclosures and the third to look at the site of an Iron Age roundhouse. We knew where the features were from the geophysics we did with Glyn Derw pupils last year and from the Time Team excavations, but this year we’ve opened much larger areas to try and understand the nature of the occupation on the site – we want to know who lived there, how long they lived there and what their lives were like.

Trench 3 is large – 20 m by 30 m and positioned right over an Iron Age house. We’ve only just managed to clean back the trench to reveal the archaeology, but already we can see that there’s lots going on. We’ve actually identified at least two roundhouses here as well as several rectangular structures – presumably the remains of Iron Age four-post granaries (although until we dig them we can’t be sure!). We’ve also uncovered a short section of the hillfort’s inner rampart – it’s less than 1 m high now but must have been much taller in the past. The weird thing is, we cut a section through it and found some Roman pottery – has it got in there through root action (dragged down by plant roots) or does it mean something much weirder – that the hillfort boundary isn’t Iron Age at all, but late- or post-Roman date? Hopefully we’ll resolve that question in the next few days (my own feeling is that the rampart must be Iron Age, but trench supervisor Nick disagrees! One of us will be right and owe the other a pint!).

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Trench 3 fully open – can you spot the roundhouses?

Trench 4 is much smaller, just 10 m by 10m. It was placed to investigate the entrance into a ditched enclosure within the interior of the hillfort. We’ve found the entrance and it looks like there must have been a gateway (there are two opposing postholes). From the fills of the ditch we’ve recovered lots of Late Iron Age/Early Roman pottery (1st century AD) and our star find yet – an amazing glass bead that must have been part of a beautiful piece of jewellery.

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Trench 3 is 15 m by 4 m and sits directly over a trench opened by Time Team. There are two ditches in the trench – one is quite wide (up to 3 m) and full of Roman pottery – but later than that in Trench 4. Here we have a ditch of probably 2nd-3rd century AD in date, presumably a Roman farmstead placed within the ancient hillfort boundaries.

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Roman pottery in the ditch fill in Trench 5

We’ve had about 20-30 archaeologists and volunteers on site each day and lots of visitors – please come and check out the excavations if you can and get involved with digging Cardiff’s most important prehistoric site!

Jeff’s Blog – My visit to Neath Castle and Neath Abbey

Neath Castle – substantial stone works remains of this castle in the town centre of Neath.  A stone sign marks the site of a Roman fort (Nidum) built in 75AD to watch over the river Nedd.

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Me outside the castle gatehouse

In the late 12th century Robert FitzRoy, Earl of Glouchester and lord of Glamorgan established his own fortress, Neath Castle, which dates back to the 12th century.  Almost 50yrs later in 1231, Morgan Gam and Llewelyn ab Lorwerth destroyed much of the castle, which forced Richard De Clare, Lord of Glamorgan to re-build it in stone.

I was really impressed with this castle – the gate house and a small court yard remains are still a nice place to visit.

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Neath Abbey

My next stop took me to Neath Abbey – a really nice place, but the only put off for me is that the abbey is in a middle of an industrial estate.

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Inside Neath Abbey

In October 1130 Abbot Richard and 12 monks came from Savigny in France to set up a new abbey on lands donated by Richard de Granville, which he had captured 10 years earlier from the Welsh.

The abbey became Cistercian in 1147 along with all the other Savgniac monastic houses.  A Tudor mansion house was added the the site in the late 1600s.

This site is now up for sale by Cadw, and the National Trust is taking it over.

Jeff’s History Blog – My visit to Old Beaupre Castle

Today I visited a lovely place called Old Beaupre Castle, in the Vale of Glamorgan. Substantial remains of a castle largely built in 14th to 16th centuries. Once owned by the Mansels and later on the Bassets.

Richard Basset supported King Charles 1st during the English Civil War. After the kings defeat he was forced to pay a hefty fine, which created such a financial strain that he abandoned Beaupre castle in favour of a modest home elsewhere.

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Court yard at Old Beaupre
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Me sitting on the steps leading into the cellar
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My favourite view
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The front door

One of the key points to this castle is the porch way in the court yard. DSCN3982

Jeff’s History Blog – My trip to Llancarfan and Penmark

On this trip I decided to check out Llancarfan first. This is a quiet little village set in the middle of rolling green hills of the country side – first stop is the village church, St Cadoc. This church dated back to 1190. This church has a battlement tower, with a gold stag lighting conductor, painted on the south wall is a 17th century Apostles’ creed. The nine-sided font with leaves underneath is 14th century and there is a stoop beside the south doorway. Nice church well worth a visit.

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St Cadocs Church

My next trip took me 2 miles west of Llancarfen, to the village of Penmark approaching a church of St Marys. I was really impressed with this church also again set in a small village I could see Roose airport in the distance.  I don’t recommend cycling to this place – too many hills. This church dated to 12th century although the south doorway suggests the nave is 14th century and some of this church was rebuilt in 1860. The mouuments included those of Cathrine Lewis 1682 and Thomas Lewis 1689. In the field next to this church, is the ruins of medieval Penmark castle, composed of inner and outer ward, the site combines traces of 12th century ring work the stone building was added in the following century, est by Robert Fitzhamon as a primary caput for the region. Penmark Castle was constructed by the Umfravilles, lords of Penmark at about the time of Fitzhamons death in 11th century.

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St Marys Church

The Unfravilles owned Penmark Castle for over 2 centuries and then passed it to the St John’s family, when Elizabeth Umfraville married Alexander St John.

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Penmark Castle

The St Johns continue to hold the stronghold until 1656, when they sold the castle to Colonel Phillip Jones a leading Parlimentarian. Some claimed that Owain Glyndwr assaulted the castle in 1402.