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Archaeological dig at park could uncover 2,000-year-old hidden history

1 July 2022

Residents are digging for clues into what archaeologists believe could be an Iron Age settlement, located underneath their local park.

The Caerau and Ely Rediscovering (CAER) Heritage Project, a partnership between Cardiff University, Action in Caerau and Ely (ACE), local schools, residents and heritage partners, has turned its attention to Trelai Park, half a mile  from Caerau Hillfort, a heritage site of national significance where Cardiff University archaeologists and community members have previously discovered Neolithic, Iron Age, Roman and medieval origins.

This dig will be focusing on an area of the park 200m south of Ely Roman Villa, a structure which was excavated 100 years ago by Sir Mortimer Wheeler, the first lecturer in Archaeology at Cardiff University. A villa is a lavish house and the occupant of Ely villa could have been an incoming Roman. Sir Mortimer showed that the villa was built around AD130, approximately 60 years after the Roman conquest and at least 100 years after the hillfort was abandoned.

Geophysical surveys by the CAER Team and Dr Tim Young of GeoArch in April this year revealed the additional enclosed settlement, containing a roundhouse rather than a Roman building. This latest dig is the first time this newly discovered “Trelai Enclosure” has been investigated.

As well as the dig, which goes on until July 15, a community open day with activities for children is taking place on Saturday July 2, between 11am and 3pm.

CAER Heritage Project Co-director Dr Oliver Davis, based at Cardiff University’s School of History, Archaeology and Religion, said: “After a challenging two years during the pandemic, we are excited to be back out conducting an archaeological dig at Trelai Park, an area steeped in history, even though it’s perhaps more well-known nowadays as a green space popular with sports clubs, dog walkers and families.

“Although we don’t have confirmation of what lies beneath the land yet, the enclosed settlement is typical of many Late Iron Age sites in the region. It is tempting to suggest that this site, as well as the nearby Ely Roman Villa, may well have origins in the Iron Age, possibly around the time Caerau Hillfort was abandoned.  Is it an earlier ‘precursor’ to the villa, perhaps the residence of an important family who moved out of the hillfort? Or could it be part of the villa estate, possibly the homestead of estate workers or even an industrial complex?

“Whatever we find, we hope as many people as possible will get involved so they can learn about the fascinating past behind this part of Cardiff.”

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

In the early 20th century, Trelai Park was the location of the Cardiff Racecourse. It has also been used as an airfield and was a barrage balloon site during the Second World War.

ACE Co-Director Dave Horton said: 'We're so excited to be working with local people and Cardiff University to uncover more of our extraordinary shared history again!  Previous digs have provided fascinating stories of past communities, whilst providing us with inspiration to continue building our own shared life together today.  CAER heritage is the project that just keeps on giving!”

Pupils from Cardiff West Community High School, which adjoins the park, will also be taking part in the dig. So far, four young people from the school have received CAER Heritage scholarships, which provide support to help students onto a degree programme.

Cardiff West Community High School Headteacher Martin Hulland said: “We are delighted to be partnering up with ACE and Cardiff University again to explore the rich heritage of our part of the city. Year 7 pupils will be actively involved in the dig and they hope to assist in the discovery of a range of exciting artefacts.

“We would like to thank Cardiff University for their outstanding support for the school. These experiences and the CAER Scholarships make a huge difference to our students.”

Last year, a new £650,000 community and visitor attraction - The Hidden Hillfort Community Heritage Centre – was opened near Caerau Hillfort.

For more details or to get involved in the dig, telephone: 02920 003132 e-mail: or go to

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