Excavations in Caerau, in the west of Cardiff, have unearthed rare traces of an enclosed Bronze Age roundhouse – one of only a few settlements of this type known in Wales.
The newly discovered structure sits within view of Caerau Hillfort, one the largest Iron Age hillforts in south-east Wales (see CA 295). CAER Heritage – a partnership between Cardiff University, Action in Caerau and Ely (ACE), heritage partners, and community volunteers (see ‘Odd Socs’, CA 389) – has been investigating in and around this hillfort for over a decade, and in 2022 the project turned its attention to an open space called Trelai Park, located half a mile to the south-west.
Trelai Park is already known to contain the remains of Ely Roman Villa, excavated a century ago by Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who concluded that it was built around AD 130, at least 100 years after the abandonment of Caerau Hillfort. Now, new excavations 200m south of the villa, led by CAER Heritage and directed by Dr Olly Davis with the support of over 200 volunteers, have revealed further evidence of the area’s prehistoric roots.
In April, geophysical surveys carried out by CAER Heritage in conjunction with Dr Tim Young of GeoArch revealed evidence of a trapezoidal enclosure containing a roundhouse. At first, the archaeologists thought that this structure might date from the late Iron Age, around the time Caerau Hillfort fell out of use. Soon after the project’s excavation teams broke ground in July, however, volunteer archaeologist Charlie Adams unearthed a clay pot (PICTURED ABOVE) from the enclosure’s ditch, which prompted a wholesale reassessment of the site’s chronology.
Archaeologist Tom Hicks, who led the sub-team that made the discovery, told CA that the pot was decorated in a style reminiscent of Deverel-Rimbury Ware, which indicated it came from the middle Bronze Age. Further decorative elements were then revealed during conservation of the pot by Leonie McKenzie and her colleagues at Cardiff University, as Tom explained, ‘We saw some decoration on it – thumbnail imprints which were quite easy to see with the naked eye – but it was only when they had a real close-up look at it that they could see corded decoration on it as well.’
The discovery of the pot provides illuminating new information for the date of the site and its place within the local archaeological landscape. As CAER Heritage Project Co-director Dr David Wyatt, Reader in Early Medieval History at Cardiff University, commented, ‘We came looking for the missing link between the late Iron Age and early Roman period. What we found is something much more remarkable and much older. We believe the roundhouse could now have been constructed in the mid-to-late Bronze Age, going back to between 1500 and 1100 BC.’
The dating of the site also sheds new light on Bronze Age settlement in Wales. As Tom explained, ‘We’ve got lots of evidence in Wales for middle Bronze Age metalwork and burial but, to date, settlement has proved elusive. Trelai [Enclosure] wouldn’t be out of place in southern England, but enclosed settlement sites in Wales for that period are very rare. Most other middle Bronze Age sites in South Wales, such as Rumney on the Wentloog Levels and Redwick on the Gwent Levels, are open settlements of one or two roundhouses, but overall very few are known.’
Further post-excavation analysis of the pot, which will include a lipid analysis to examine any residues left on its interior, is now underway to find out more about its former contents and decorative context. The team hopes to continue investigation of the enclosure site in the coming years.