Excavation of Bronze Age enclosure hidden under city park
28 June 2023
An archaeological dig which uncovered what is believed to be the earliest house found in Cardiff has resumed at a city 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, is at Trelai Park, half a mile from Caerau Hillfort, a heritage site of national significance where archaeologists and community members have previously discovered Neolithic, Iron Age, Roman and medieval origins.
This year’s excavations of the roundhouse at Trelai are focusing on the floor, which has remained largely intact and unspoiled beneath the grounds of the park’s playing fields for 3,500 years.
Prior to last year’s initial dig, experts were hoping the structure could provide the missing link between the late Iron Age and early Roman period, showing what happened to people once they had moved on from the Hillfort.
But it was discovered that in fact, the roundhouse, located near Cardiff West Community High School, actually predates it to around 1500 BC. A clay pot discovered at the site and which has since been painstakingly put back together, dated the enclosure to the Bronze Age.
The latest archaeological dig involves 100 community volunteers as well as 200 pupils from local schools.
CAER Co-Director Dr Oliver Davis, based at the University’s School of History, Archaeology and Religion, explains: “We’re opening up further what we believe could be the earliest house discovered in Cardiff. The dig last year showed us that the floor of the roundhouse is remarkably well-preserved, giving us the chance to examine the surface that people were walking on 3,500 years ago. We’ll also be able to investigate other features of the roundhouse. This is a very rare opportunity for archaeologists. We are hopeful our excavations will give us further clues and insights into the origins of the Welsh capital.”
He adds: “The heritage of this area is of massive importance. It’s of national significance. The archaeology of this area is the envy of every other part of Cardiff. We’re so grateful to be working with the community to uncover this wonderful bronze-age story that has lain hidden for so long.”
Bringing people together
Michelle Powell of Action in Caerau and Ely said: “I am so excited to see what is discovered at the community dig this year. What's great about the digs, and this is our 8th, is that they involve people of all ages, providing opportunities to develop new skills, bringing local people together to discover our incredible heritage. Both the digs and our CAER Heritage Centre allow us to tell a different story about our community - showcasing the incredible knowledge, talent, activism and warmth in Ely and Caerau - which, in many ways, is really at the heart of what ACE is all about too.”
Scott Bees, 34, is a first year student on the BA Ancient History and Archaeology Course. A former postman, he decided to pursue a degree after receiving a CAER Heritage bursary to complete the University’s Exploring the Past pathway programme.
A dad to five daughters aged six to 15 who lives with his family in Ely, he said: “My wife decided to go back to college a year before me and she persuaded me to do the same. I wanted to show my kids that you can always go for your dreams.
“Last year I was here as a volunteer, fitting it in around work. Now I’m here for a whole month as a student getting real archaeology experience.
“I adore my history - I drive my kids nuts by taking them to different castles and monuments. But there is such a rich cultural heritage right here where we live. We should be using that to lift the area up.”
Regular volunteer Jacque Young, who has lived in Caerau for more than 50 years, said: “I’ve loved getting involved. There’s a lot of interest from people living nearby, asking how we’re getting on. Word has really spread. It’s exciting thinking this can be found on your own doorstep.”
Dylan Bond, 20, is a second-year Ancient History and Archaeology student who has lived in the area all his life.
He said: “I used to play football on these pitches every week. It’s mind blowing that just under my feet there was a roundhouse and a Bronze Age enclosure. Back then, nobody around here knew what was here – all you could see was a pile of long grass.
“I can’t wait to see what we find. It feels special to be involved.”
Headteacher of Cardiff West Community High School Martin Hulland, which is situated a short distance from the site, said: "Our students are proud to be involved once again in uncovering the rich heritage of their area. Students from Years 7 and 8 will take part in the dig and aim to uncover more significant archaeological evidence. It will be an amazing learning experience for them, and we continue to be proud partners with ACE, CAER Heritage and Cardiff University. I cannot wait to see what is unearthed in this next exciting phase."
The dig is taking place at Trelai Park until 7 July, with an open day taking place on June 24, from 10am until 2pm. To find out more contact: caerevents@ACEPLACE.org or via Facebook: @CAERHeritage
Findings from this month’s excavation will be showcased at an exhibition at the CAER Heritage Centre to be held in December.