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We visited the Coldrum Stones previously, about 3.5 years years ago, so it’s time for a revisit as part of our occasional A-Z series.
The best preserved of the Medway Megaliths, Coldrum is a Neolithic Longbarrow, one of several in this part of the country. Recent radiocarbon dating of at least 16 individuals buried within the chamber at Coldrum, has shown that this particular monument was probably constructed nearly 6,000 years ago. This date from Coldrum makes it one of the earliest known monuments in the British Isles. Similar dates have been suggested for the Early Neolithic Long Hall buildings found during excavations for the HS1 railway, at the White Horse Stone site, on the other side of the River Medway.
The Coldrum monument now sits on the edge of a deep lynchet down which some of the stones, including the capstone, have tumbled. A rectangular enclosure of sarsen stones sits behind the monument to the west. it is this enclosure which led to the early identification of Coldrum as a ‘stone circle’, later rebuffed by Petrie, among others.
Flinders Petrie and Benjamin Harrison surveyed the site prior to the first excavations at Coldrum being undertaken by F. J. Bennet and colleagues in 1910, though some pottery finds had been unearthed in 1856.
‘No sooner had I put my fork in, than I at once turned up some human bones, under only a few inches of soil’.
Five skulls, and bones of up to 22 individuals were excavated, along with pottery sherds, and a flint ‘saw’. The finds were split between the Royal College of Surgeons, and Maidstone Museum. Bennet’s excavations were written up and published in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 43 (Jan. – Jun., 1913), pp. 76-85. and can be accessed via JSTOR.
Folklore has it that an underground tunnel existed between the stones and the local church, containing ‘treasure’, and it may be that attempts to find this tunnel in antiquity caused the escarpment to collapse, as Bennet makes reference to a ‘cave’ in the slope.
The name ‘Coldrum’ comes from a farm lodge which lay nearby to the south, but which is now demolished. Using the National Library of Scotland facility to search older OS maps, shows that on the 1870 survey, the Coldrum site is marked as the remains of a stone circle.
On the 1909 map, two further stone circles are marked in the vicinity of the lodge, but by the time of the 1936 survey, these have been demoted to ‘sarsen stones’ whilst the monument itself is now in the care of the National Trust, having been purchased by the Trust ten years ealrier. The site is now dedicated as a memorial to Benjamin Harrison of the Kent Archaeological Society, who spent much of his adult life looking for evidence of Kent’s earliest settlers.
An excellent review by Paul Ashbee of the various investigations at Coldrum can be found in Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 118 1998, available for download from the Kent Archaeological Society archives (pdf link)
Last weekend, a group of diverse individuals came together at the Rollright Stones, in Oxfordshire for the latest Heritage Journal Megameet. The weather stayed fine, if a little chilly at times, and a good crowd turned up from all corners of the country, including all the usual suspects. There was much discussion covering a variety of topics, many involving an appreciation of old stones, rock art, cave paintings, wildlife and the power (and use) of social media. And of course there were the stones to appreciate: The King’s Men circle, the King Stone and the Whispering Knights burial chamber.
Jane Tomlinson, the Heritage Journal’s ‘artist in residence’ created a very quick iPad ‘doodle’ of the stones, which given the light/screen glare and the time involved was considered an impressive piece of work by all who saw it on the day. For your delectation and delight, we’ve been given permission to reproduce it for the masses, below (click to embiggen).
Some quotes from some of the participants on the day:
- “Loved every minute of it, only wish it could have been longer”
- “Great to meet old friends again”
- “Such a shame we can’t do this more often”
- “Even the kids enjoyed themselves”
- “Such a lovely bunch of people!”
Planning for next year’s meet will begin soon – there has been talk of a possible overnight camp for those hardy souls who indulge in such things (and have a distance to travel).
Before the days of English Heritage, Cadw and the like, many scheduled ancient monuments across the UK came under the remit and protection of ‘the man from the ministry’ – the Ministry of Works.
In an early version of today’s ubiquitous information boards, signs were erected at many sites, giving often very brief information, but warning that the site was under protection, and that any damage would be punishable by law. These signs were often made of long-lasting cast iron, and many can still be seen today around the country.
In a celebration of these old signs, Sue Greaney, an English Heritage Historian, has recently launched a new Facebook Group, the “Ministry of Works Signage Appreciation Society“, with a view to collecting as many photos of the surviving signs, and their latter day replacements as possible.
The group is open for anyone to join and contribute photos or reminicenses. We would encourage all those interested in the history of our ancient scheduled monuments to join in.
Every year, up and down the country, field schools provide the opportunity for students and volunteers to ‘get their hands dirty’ by becoming involved in real archaeological excavation work. It can be tough, rough, uncomfortable but ultimately satisfying work, and the benefits it brings to the rest of us in terms of the increase in knowledge of the past are innumerable.
Many of these exploratory or research digs are run by universities or local archaeology societies, and often include an Open Day near the end of the season, for interested memmbers of the public to see what’s been going on and why, what’s been found and how it’s been interpreted.
For those of us who are geographically separated, or maybe not quite so mobile or flexible as we once were, many of these digs provide regular updates via their site diaries, published in blogs online. This provides a degree of outreach, and allows inclusion of many people in the project who may not be able to physically take part or visit. To this end, here’s a very brief overview of some of the 2014 digs that have caught our eye this summer.
Run by the Faculty of Science & Technology at Bournemouth University, the Durotriges Project is an archaeological investigation studying the transition from the late Iron Age to the early Roman period in southern England.
Caerau (Cardiff University)
Now in it’s 18th (and final) year, the dig at Silchester has been directed by Prof. Martin Fulford. Visitors are always welcome – there’s even an iPhone app available!
Since 2009, an international team has been excavating the Roman fort and town at Binchester and surveying its place in one of the richest archaeological landscapes in the world.
This year’s fourth season at Ipplepen in Devon, run by the University of Exeter, will return to the Roman road and associated burials revealed in 2011, and a complex series of enclosures and structures thought to be part of the largest Romano-British settlement in Devon outside of Exeter.
The Vindolanda Trust has been accepting volunteers on to its excavations since its foundation in 1970 and over 6400 people have benefited from this challenging experience so far.
The Lyminge Archaeological Project is an ambitious programme of village-core archaeology. It is directed by Dr Gabor Thomas of the University of Reading.
DigVentures run crowd-funded digs, this is their second year at Leiston Abbey in Suffolk.
Overseen by Dr. Neil Faulkner, the Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project (SHARP) is one of the largest independent archaeological projects in Britain, and firmly rooted in the local community.
by Katharine Range
Castlerigg Stone Circle, near Keswick in Cumbria, is one of the most beautiful stone circles in Britain. It stands on a superb natural plateau commanding a panoramic 360 degree view over the surrounding fells. The slightly oval-shaped ring is among the earliest raised in Britain; about 3000 BC during the Neolithic period. To give a bit of context, this was slightly after the construction date of Newgrange in Ireland, thought to be about 3200 BC and about the same time as the earliest phase of Stonehenge; several hundred years prior to the structure we know today. Cumbria is rich in the stone circle department, having some 50 in number which range from the dramatic, large circles, such as Castlerigg at just over 32 metres, to the diminutive Castlehowe Scar at just 7 metres. There are 38 stones in a circle approximately 30 metres in diameter. Within the ring is a rectangle of a further 10 standing stones. The tallest stone is 2.3 metres high. They are all un-hewn boulders, although some have fallen in the 5000 years since they were raised. It has been estimated there were originally around 41 stones, so Castlerigg is relatively well preserved when compared with other circles in the British Isles.
Castlerigg Stone Circle was one of the first sites to be covered under the Ancient Monuments Protection Act in 1888 and in 1913 it was acquired by the National Trust through the efforts of Canon Rawnsley. The circle was first brought to public notice in 1725 by the antiquarian William Stukeley, who recorded that the circle was “very entire, consisting of 50 stones, some very large.” But in 1849, in his Guide To The Lakes, Jonathan Otley reported the current 38 stones. The original purpose of the site is unknown. It could have been used as a trading post. Three stone axes have been discovered inside the circle. In the Neolithic period axes were made from volcanic stone quarried in the fells. Current thinking has linked Castlerigg with the Neolithic Langdale Axe industry in the nearby Langdale fells: the circle may have been a meeting place where these axes were traded or exchanged. Ritually deposited stone axes have been found all over Britain, suggesting that their uses went far beyond their practical capabilities. Exchange or trading of stone axes may not have been possible without first taking part in a ritual or ceremony.
Other possible uses include a meeting place for tribal gatherings, a site for religious ceremonies and rituals or even an astronomical observatory. It is important to archaeo astronomers who have noted that the sunrise during the Autumn equinox appears over the top of Threlkeld Knott, a hill 3.5 km to the east. Some stones in the circle have been aligned with the midwinter sunrise and various lunar positions.
Excavations in the inner ring in 1882 provided very little in the way of archaeological finds, although quantities of charcoal were discovered. What subsequently happened to the samples of charcoal is unknown, other than they are now likely to be lost or, if not, too contaminated to be worth modern scientific analysis. Nevertheless, Dover’s excavation is the only one to have been carried out at Castlerigg. A wide space to the Northern end of the circle, framed by two large stones may have served as an entrance to the site. In the early 20th century, a single outlying stone was erected by a farmer approximately 90m to the south west of Castlerigg. This stone has many linear ‘scars’ along its side from being repeatedly struck by a plough, suggesting that it was once buried below the surface and also why the farmer dug it up. It is not possible to say whether this stone was originally part of the circle, or just a naturally deposited boulder.
There is a legend that it is impossible to count the stones of Castlerigg; that each attempt will result in a different answer. However as with most legends, there is a small kernel of truth here. Over the years, smaller stones have “appeared” next to the larger ones.This is due to erosion of the soil around the stones through time and visitation by we humans. These stones seem to be “packing” stones, used to support the large stones when the circle was erected and would have been buried originally.
Another story involves one well-documented sighting of a strange light phenomena. In 1919, a Mr. T. Singleton and a companion watched as white orbs travelled slowly over the stones. Strange lights are a recurring theme at many ancient sites all over the world and may well have been one of the reasons our ancestors built monuments in specific places. Although there is plenty of speculation, it is thought to be most probable that they are caused by natural processes related to fault lines.
It has been noted that many of the stones of Castlerigg seem to reflect features in the surrounding hills, as though the landscape site is an interplay between the sacred space and the landscape beyond. Although open to criticism, it seems as though there are many features at Castlerigg that still have to be examined in the context of how ancient man would have experienced the site.
I have to remind myself, somewhat enviously, that ancient man was so much more in tune and aware of what was around him in nature. Even though he could master it, he was still part of it. Today most of us have no concept of that, caught up as we are as to whether we remembered to “check in” on Facebook while visiting Starbucks or Castlerigg. When I visit somewhere as breathtaking as Castlerigg, I am humbled. And this for me, is the heart of why these sites should be protected and cared for as most precious.
It’s been a while, but Sue Brooke has once again managed to get a response from one of the prinicpals on the Caerau dig. In a departure from our usual email response format, Sue actually managed to sit down with Niall Sharples for a chat at Caerau. Here’s her report…
Over the last 8 days I’ve been popping up to the CAER Heritage Project excavations. I’ve seen lots of exciting things in the ground, held some beautiful items, learned a lot and generally have thoroughly enjoyed myself. I’ve met Professor Niall Sharples quite a few times before and he has always stopped to chat. I emailed him to ask him to do a little ‘Inside the Mind of…’ article but really had got nowhere fast. Fair enough though, he has been quite busy during the digging season. However, having seen him a few times up on the hill I decided to ask if he would sit and answer my list of 10 questions. ‘Yes, of course, tomorrow’, he would say. Tomorrow would come and I would bump into him just as he was leaving and I was arriving or, just as I was leaving and he was arriving. Still, undeterred I kept my list of questions tightly tucked into my bag. On day 8 I arrived on site and yes, he was there. Unfortunately so were the BBC, following him around with their television cameras. In the distance I could see him being filmed on the edge of a trench, arms waving as he did his press relations thing. Ah well, I thought, not today.
Since this is a community dig that involves lots of visitors there were a group of local young people attending. Some were digging, some were sieving and others were helping to clean the finds. Some young people were making pots out of clay, learning how these were made and the skill that it took. I wandered around the site to see how things had progressed in the trenches and eventually sat to watch some pot making, keeping well out of the way of the telly cameras.
After a while Professor Sharples appeared and asked if I wanted to ask my 10 questions. Oh yes, right! We found a couple of chairs quite near and sat in the sun. I’m not sure how I thought this would work. I had questions, I had paper and a pen (well 3 – just in case) so I just asked the questions and made notes about the answers. We chatted about some things that came up, discussed things I hadn’t thought of and generally made our way through the questions. It was all rather laid back but, for me, very interesting.
What sparked your interest in archaeology? was the first question on my little list of ten. Well, apparently it was women – ‘there was a better class of women involved in the archaeology course’. Although this was said, kind of tongue in cheek, I got an inkling that there may be just a little grain of truth in that comment! Niall did however go on to talk about how, when he was younger, he had an interest in what he described as the ‘weird mysteries’ to be found in books such as those written by Erich Von Daniken. Inside my head I could hear a nice little sigh of relief. Having spent quite a few days up at the dig I had chatted to the Cardiff University students who gave me the impression that Professor Sharples was ‘fierce’ and that he ‘knew everything.’ So here I am, sat with the fierce guy, in the corner of a Welsh hillfort, who ‘knows everything’. When he mentioned Von Daniken I was delighted as I had read him too. I knew what he was on about! That felt like a good start.
Niall described how he had initially started at Glasgow University studying archaeology, maths and Scottish history. He didn’t actually learn geography but had an interest in it. Niall described how archaeology was a really interesting subject and one that allowed him to combine history and the geography that he enjoyed. He dropped maths after a couple of months. Niall felt that history was something that ‘could actually be open to interpretation and although an academic subject is not actually based on anything scientific’. Archaeology, in his view however, “…has to have an evidential base. Links between research and the actual archaeological evidence is clearer and therefore provides a far better connection to the past”.
So, how did he get properly started as a ‘real’ archaeologist rather than just a class based student? It was after he had gained student experience on the Glasgow University digs led by Leslie Alcock. Niall worked and learned on digs such as that led by Alcock during the later part of the 1970’s at Dundurn in Perthshire. Niall described one of his own early but exciting finds. It became clear as we chatted that Leslie Alcock really stimulated Niall’s original interest in archaeology. We spoke briefly of the digs Alcock had directed locally to Caerau at Dinas Powys and of course, at Cadbury Castle. He also talked about working on digs alongside David Clarke, now of the National Museum of Scotland. Niall found David to be what he described as an ‘interesting guy’ and together they worked on such sites as that at the very well known Neolithic site at Skara Brae. Niall credited Leslie Alcock as ‘probably the person who has most influenced my career’.
Niall has been recently found working on Ham Hill in Somerset so, excluding that site I asked which other site had he thought of as his most interesting project. Niall talked about Bornish, in the Outer Hebrides, a Iron Age and Norse settlement. I was a little surprised at his very obvious enthusiasm for the Vikings but Niall explained that the site there ‘…integrated different categories of evidence. There were structures, ditches, stratification, all giving up lots of chronological evidence and providing a very complicated story’. It is this kind of complication that clearly holds Nialls attention. I got the impression that he would find absolutely no fun at all in going onto a site, digging it and finding archaeology that all fitted nicely into a neat story. A little bit like his ‘weird’ Von Daniken mysteries – there clearly has to be that little bit of an extra challenge, to stretch him just that little bit more.
We talked about what Niall felt was his favourite British site, at which point he threw up quite a few names. Maiden Castle, on which of course Niall famously worked, and Mousa an Iron Age coastal Broch in the Shetlands, which was a site not familiar to me at all. Finally, Avebury a placename recognizable to most. When I asked him to explain why he simply stated that they were ‘spectacular’.
My next question was about what Niall felt was his biggest archaeological or heritage regret. He described his feeling that archaeology had gone downhill. He spoke with passion about the lack of available resources, the way museums were no longer being valued and what he described as the ‘quality of the experts’ available. He accepted that everyone, with experience properly gained, can become an expert but stated that today’s archaeologists are valued more and more for their ‘ability as good administrators’. Archaeology had become privatized and ‘heritage is not now being looked after as it should be’. The opinion now tends to be more that private companies will pay. There is a real sense of over commercialism. Such emphasis was placed by Niall on this subject that I struggled to keep up with writing my notes.
Moving on I asked if you could change one thing about current heritage protection legislation then what would it be. He answered quite simply that “Archaeology should be returned to the care of the government and they should be investing more in their heritage”. My next question was if you could address Parliament for 30 seconds what would you say – referring to his answer from the previous question he stated, and I can quote, “It would be that!”
Grateful that my next question changed the subject I then asked Niall if he hadn’t made it in his archaeology career then what did he think he would be doing now. He gave it a little bit of thought and said he quite fancied being a film producer or director. I commented along the line of this being rather different to what he did now but he disagreed. He made the comparison with the dig up at Caerau saying there were lots of people there to organize and that, at the end of the dig, they were hoping to be able to tell a story. Just like making a film. He quickly pointed out that he had no ambition to be a film star, which I could understand since we were chatting immediately after he had been filmed over and over for a news item.
The questions were almost done. My last question was, away from his day job what did he do to relax. He talked about how he likes to simply watch TV and films. He still likes his mystery books only now preferring crime novels and murder mysteries by authors such as Ian Rankin and Denise Mina. He pointed out though that he does read ‘literature’ too, particularly admiring the work of Gabriel Marquez on South America.
Once the questions were out of the way we chatted a little bit more about the finds up at Caerau and I thanked him for answering the questions for me. As we got up to leave a young person who had been washing some finds came up with a wet pebble. Niall took it from her and said, “Ah yes, that could be a games piece. Although it’s a pebble it’s water worn and shouldn’t be up here. Where did it come from? Was it the river? Was it used to play games with?” The young lady took back her discovery and just stood looking at it. I just loved it!
Many thanks to Niall (and to Sue). Previous articles in this series can be found here, or by using our Search Bar, and the term ‘Inside the Mind’.
If you work in community archaeology or heritage protection and would like to take part, or have a suggestion for a suitable willing subject, please contact us.
We like to think of our ancient monuments as silent, unchanging sentinels, but this isn’t always the case, sometimes they go walkabout!
One of the delights of visiting Cornwall is the chance to catch up with friends who live in the area and on a recent trip Philip, a friend of ours who knows of my penchant for old stones, presented me with the gift of an old Francis Frith postcard. In a slight diversion from my usual prehistoric focus, the postcard depicts the old cross at Cross Common, Landewednack, a short distance east of Lizard town.
For those that don’t know, Cornwall is littered with old crosses of various forms, many of which date back to medieval times (9th-15th centuries). Whilst many remain in, or near their original positions, many crosses have been discovered in various odd situations: used as gateposts, fireplace lintels and church benches or built into church walls, hollowed out and used as feed troughs (ref. Sithney Church cross). The cross at Landewednack, just east of Lizard town, indicates the road down to the church and the postcard shows the cross as it was in 1907 when the photo was taken.
Arthur G Langdon, in Old Cornish Crosses (1898) describes the cross at Landewednack as follows:
The cross stands on the right-hand side of the road leading from Lizard town to the sea.
The edge of the stone is outlined by a bead, and there is an entasis on the left side only of the shaft, the right being slightly concave.
Dimensions. — Height, 4 ft. 11 in. ; width of head, 1 ft. 11 in. ; width of shaft, 1 ft. 4 in.
Front. — On the front is a Latin cross, nearly the full height of the stone, formed in a similar manner to that on the cross at Pradannack, Mullyon. Within the bead on the head is the upper portion of the cross ; it is equal-limbed, and extends to the neck. At this level the bottom of the lower limb is suddenly narrowed, and for the remainder of the distance is indicated by two widely incised lines. Between these lines and the bead on the angles are two plain surfaces, the upper ends of which, where they terminate at the neck, are rudely shaped to the narrowed parts of the shaft.
Back. — On the head is an equal-limbed cross in relief having widely expanded ends.
On the postcard, which presents the view looking back toward Lizard town, the cross is in exactly the same location noted some nine years previously by Langdon. On the Ordnance Survey 6″ map, Cornwall Sheet LXXXIV.SE & XC.NE, published in 1908 the location of the cross is clearly marked to the south of the road.
Curiosity got the better of me as I couldn’t recall having seen this cross in my travels, so I revisted the area. Today the view presents a much different story. Taking a comparison photo from roughly the same location shows that the cross is no more. The rough stone wall on the left is still there, as are many of the same buildings and rooftops:
The reason for the lack of the cross is evident on a Google Streetview image – the cross would have been located roughly where today’s junction lines are painted, close to the wall. This would present an obvious safety hazard.
However, the cross has not moved far, just a few yards northeast of its previous location onto a grass verge on the opposite side of the junction. The Pastscape entry for the monument describes the cross as “just about in situ” again after several moves. This assertion is repeated in the English Heritage description of the monument. If this is true, and the cross is now ‘back where it belongs’, then the postcard is an interesting relic in the history of the cross.
There is just enough space to squeeze between the cross and the hedge to take a facsimile of the original postcard, showing the extent of the shift in location:
If anyone has any information about when or why the cross was moved, we’d be interested to hear it! A good resource on Cornwall’s old crosses is Arthur G Langdon’s original ‘Old Cornwall Crosses‘, available for free download in various formats from the Internet Archive. Alternatively a more up to date listing can be found in Andrew Langdon’s (no relation) excellent series of booklets available from the Old Cornwall Society.
For information on some more ancient stones on the Lizard peninsula, see our brief tour.
As July rolls on, it’s time look again at the ‘Festival of Archaeology‘, co-ordinated once again by the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) running this year from 12th to 27th of July, and preceded by this year’s Day of Archaeology on Friday 11th, where archaeologists from all over the world blog about what they’ve been up to, showing the sheer diversity of activitities in the archaeological world – it’s not just about digging!
The CBA has been organising an annual UK-wide celebration of archaeology and heritage since 1990. The ‘Festival for British Archaeology’ grew out of ‘National Archaeology Week’ (NAW). Before that, the event took place over one weekend and was called ‘National Archaeology Days’ (NADS).
The Festival includes hundreds of special events individually organised and held by museums, local societies, national and countryside parks, universities, and heritage organisations across the UK. The Festival presents everyone the opportunity to learn about their local heritage, to see archaeology in action, and to get involved, from formal lecture sessions to hands-on archaeology to family fun events.
To this end, the CBA have once again updated their website for the festival, allowing searching for events across the country. The headline suggests over 1000 events are available to chose from, but the actual number from the search results seems to be down on my recollections of previous years. Running an open search on a region by region basis shows a total a little shy of 600 events, so unless the total (‘over 1000′) includes multi-day events such as museum exhibits, there is something wrong once again with the search algorithm.
The region with the biggest number of events is the SouthWest with 109 – no surprise there as I suspect it’s the biggest region – followed by the East Midlands with 73. I could find no results for Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man.
Looking at our main focus here on the Heritage Journal – Prehistory, there are 152 events listed across the country, which is a good percentage compared to previous years!
Once again, the range of events is wide, from talks, walks and excavation visits, through re-enactments, demonstrations and exhibitions to hands-on activities and family fun. So there really is something for everyone to enjoy. Why not take a look at the website and see what’s on in your area?
Heritage Action member Sue Brooke has been peeking over the garden fence again, and gives us this update on the Caerau Hillfort excavations in Cardiff.
Well the leaflet dropped through the door about two weeks ago. At the end of last week the local community magazine arrived, both with the invitation to ‘come and join the excavations.’ So I did.
I’ve written about Caerau Hillfort in Cardiff in the past via this journal. It was, you may recall, featured on a Time Team episode – one of the last in the final series made, shown in April 2012. It was actually also featured in one of the Time Team dig books. But since all this ended and the so called glare of publicity faded away it may seem like it has all been forgotten. Not so.
The CAER Heritage Project has been working constantly in the local areas of Caerau and Ely, (CAER is an acronym – Caerau and Ely Rediscovering). They have their own website and the usual Facebook group following as you would expect, but they are actually up there promoting their project aims of rediscovering the past.
Community excavations took place last year. Again this year, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, my triangular shaped field is the focus of activity for anyone interested either in local history or archaeology itself. I couldn’t get there myself last year but this year I found myself free for the first days of the planned dig, and since the weather has been so beautiful I accepted the invitation of ‘come and join the excavations’ and wandered along.
It’s probably best that you understand, at this point, that although I find archaeology fascinating and, having watched probably most of the Time Team episodes I viewed myself as something of an armchair expert. But I never ever wanted what I had come to think of as MY triangular shaped field to be dug up. I had researched this field, written thousands of words on it, drawn maps of it, walked up and down in it and generally did my best to keep it as a secret. Although local legend, if you like, was that there was a Roman Fort located up alongside the old church of St Mary in the ring-work, I had always believed it to be the triangular shaped field that would hold the biggest and, hopefully earliest secrets. I could bore for Wales on the subject of this field.
When Time Team visited I spent each and every day up on the hill, horrified at the goings-on. I never thought for one minute that this field would give up shiny swords or gold treasure but I felt it was important to the development of the local area in which I have always lived. This hillfort is quite literally over my garden fence. I wanted to know more about who lived there, how they lived there and why? For me it was, and still is, as much about the people as the place.
But here I am, on my way to go back up the hill to yet another excavation. It is a long and very steep walk up. Thankfully it has been reasonably dry lately so it makes it far safer underfoot. I arrived at the foot of the hill to find the excavations signposted. It’s actually a very pretty walk up and definitely worth it when you eventually reach the top. The gates were open to the triangular shaped field and just inside there were some gazebo type tents which form an information point.
Some of the latest ‘finds’ are being cleaned up but they are displayed on trays and I was actually given some sherds of pottery to hold. In my hand! Cardiff University students are on hand to talk you though what they have found so far and it was really fascinating stuff. I know both project directors – Olly Davis and Dave Wyatt – from my early work with the group just prior to them forming the heritage project, and it was nice to catch up with them again. Olly walked me around the site, pointing out what they were doing and the significance of their very early discoveries. Olly explains things really well, not reverting to that dry academic way of speaking that you can often hear when the so called expert knows what he is on about but you simply end up nodding in bemused and confused agreement. Olly pointed out the various features actually in the ground, giving his early interpretation of them and setting them into a historical context that I, as a local historian with only a broad knowledge of history in general, could understand.
I was shown around the various trenches that have already been put in and met some of the university students involved. It was really nice to see the whole thing being recorded on film and in pictures by a local resident. Various local people were on the site and had been included in the digging itself. Olly told me that there had been 30 visitors to the site the previous day and they were expecting many more. Local schools have been fully involved again with the project. Local children and young people will be attending the dig, in planned visits, during the duration of the excavations.
There are potentially some important discoveries to be made up at the site. Without giving away too much of the detail there are signs of some exciting possibilities in the ground that could hold importance to understanding early life in Wales. Back at the gazebo I was shown the geophysical results and the Lidar images that have been taken and these were explained clearly to me. There is also a large reconstruction drawing on display – again the work of a local resident – which gives a nice insight to how the site may have looked. There is also a booklet – free of charge – that gives lots of information on the previous work undertaken and some of the discoveries made.
I have to say that this ‘red-carpet’ treatment wasn’t exclusive to me. I spoke with Olly asking him if he ever got the chance now to get in the trench and dig – which, after all is what he trained for, and he replied saying that showing people around and interpreting the site took up an awful lot of his time. Although he did agree that not having his nose in the trench did allow him a better overview of the site as a whole. We may make a local historian out of him yet!
Having had a really good look around I was relieved that the trenches weren’t taking over the whole of the field. The trenches from the previous excavations were now barely discernible and I expect that these recent ones will fade back into the grass with time. The work that is being done will certainly help me gain a better idea not only of the place but of the people who lived within it.
What makes this heritage project just that little bit different is that it includes the members of the local community; it actually encourages them in, gives them a trowel and makes them get dirty! The key objective of this project was to:
Put local people at the heart of cutting edge archeological research, to develop educational opportunities and to challenge stigmas and unfounded stereotypes ascribed to this part of Cardiff.
I think, from my visit today that CAER Heritage Project actually does what it says on the tin – even if they are digging up my triangular shaped field.
So, I now share the invitation with you. Go and join the excavations. They run from 30th June through to 25th July 2014. There is a lot going on up there that it probably wouldn’t be fair of me to share in this little article – please, go and see for yourself. I may see you there – I’m going back tomorrow only this time I’m going to dig!
There is also an article about the dig on the BBC web site.
All pictures © Sue Brooke