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Socially-distanced archaeological dig brings community together

30 June 2020

Work being carried out on a test pit
Work being carried out on a test pit

People living near one of Cardiff’s most ancient monuments are being invited to help unearth further insights into the area’s rich archaeology and history.

The Caerau And Ely Rediscovering (CAER) Heritage Project is based around the important but little-known Caerau Iron Age hillfort. It is a collaborative project between community development organisation ACE - Action in Caerau and Ely, Cardiff University and local schools and residents.

CAER is asking people in the west Cardiff suburbs of Caerau and Ely who have gardens to undertake their own archaeological excavation as part of the CAER Big Dig. Participants will dig a small test pit of one square-metre, making a record of what they find. The results will be shared with Cardiff University archaeologists and the wider community as part of a collaborative research project, all of this with appropriate social distancing and safeguarding in place.

Previous studies have focused on the hillfort in Caerau, a deserted medieval village in north Ely and a Roman villa in Trelai Park, but surprisingly little is known about the places in between. Information from these test pit mini-digs will help chart how the area evolved from the Stone Age to modern times.

CAER project co-director Dr Oliver Davis, based in the University’s School of History, Archaeology and Religion said: “Although we’ve not been able to undertake a large-scale community dig that we had planned in Trelai Park due to Covid-19 and lockdown, there is still a huge amount of knowledge about the past that can be uncovered with this series of test pits. We haven’t investigated the wider area in this way before. It’s highly possible that there is important new archaeological evidence – from the community’s earliest origins to its latest inhabitants - waiting to be uncovered by local people and literally on their own doorsteps!”

We are also really excited to be involving pupils from our partners at Cardiff West Community High School as they begin to make their return to school after lockdown. We hope that being part of the project will help bring people of all ages together at this challenging time, to tell their own collective story – creating a new history of Caerau and Ely while learning new skills, making new friends, and connecting them to the community’s amazing past.

Dr Oliver Davis Senior Lecturer, CAER Heritage Project Co-director (Study Leave 2022/3 (Semester 1))

It is free to take part – local people who sign up will receive a pack which includes all the guidance and basic equipment they’ll need to dig and record their test pit. A digital pack is also downloadable for anyone who is interested but does not reside in Caerau and Ely.

People without gardens can also get involved by taking part in CAER Cupboard Archaeology – searching their homes for objects that might have a story to tell about the past.

The discoveries from both the CAER Big Dig and Cupboard Archaeology will contribute towards a digital exhibition of finds co-produced with local school pupils and heritage professionals from the Museum of Cardiff, building skills and educational opportunities for local young people.

The current dig is a continuation of a number of large-scale digs which have taken place in the area
The current dig is a continuation of a number of large-scale digs which have taken place in the area

Charlotte McCarthy of ACE said: “We are really hoping that this project brings our community members together at a time like this. It is also a great opportunity to come face-to-face with our history and heritage with the space we live in.”

Dr Martin Hulland, headteacher at Cardiff West Community High School said: “The Big Dig further reinforces our longstanding partnership with CAER Heritage, ACE and Cardiff University, which over the past eight years has opened up a host of new life chances and experiences for our students including opportunities for University scholarships.”

Both projects take place over the week of July 6. To get involved, sign up on the CAER website, message their Facebook page or call Charlotte or Sulafa on 02920 003132

This event is one of a series taking place this year to mark the centenary of Archaeology at Cardiff University.

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