Cardiff’s 21st-century skyline bristles with towering office and apartment blocks, but rising above them all in the western suburbs of the city are the ditches and banks of Cardiff’s Iron Age predecessor, Caerau Hillfort. Encircled by post-war housing developments and cut through by the A4232, one of the city’s busiest roads, Caerau (Welsh for ‘forts’) is nevertheless an impressive, and under-appreciated, site of national importance. Roundhouses, pits, and much pottery were found when Time Team excavated in 2012, leading to the claim that Caerau was a tribal stronghold of the Silures, who maintained such stout resistance to Roman military incursion in the 1st century AD.
The hillfort has been adopted by CAER Heritage, a partnership between local community group Action in Caerau and Ely (ACE), and Cardiff University, as well as local schools and volunteers. CAER Heritage is a model of genuine partnership between heritage professionals and community interest groups. Rather than ‘permitting’ local people to participate in archaeology as trowel fodder, the project is based on consensual decision-making and co-production. Members of the community are not secondary participants – they are the primary drivers, framing the research questions and creating new knowledge in the process of answering them.
CAER Heritage activities include geophysics, excavation, and artefact analyses. A group of volunteers meets weekly to clear scrub and bracken, and to maintain the hillfort site, while the Thursday evening Curiosity Club enables students aged 11 and older to explore aspects of the region’s heritage. Excavations planned for June and July 2022 will investigate the Roman villa site in nearby Trelai Park (the site of Ely Racecourse until the outbreak of the Second World War; it was then redeveloped as a public park). The villa was discovered in 1894, and was partially excavated by Sir Mortimer Wheeler in 1922 when he was Director of the National Museum of Wales.
The combination of Neolithic causewayed enclosure, Ely Bronze Age sword, Iron Age hillfort, Romano-British villa, roofless medieval church, and modern community provides ample material for the Six Ages of Caerau displays planned for the new visitor centre, which will host exhibitions, art installations, performances, and films, helping to raise the profile of the area, its people, and its heritage.
Further information: www.caerheritage.org
IMAGES: C Catling.
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