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Following on from her extended series of posts in 2013, and a visit last year, once again Sue Brooke has revisited Caerau hillfort in Cardiff, to report upon this year’s activities there with a much more personal view.
Since 2007 I have been researching the local area around Caerau. You may recall that I discovered what was to be later confirmed as at least an Iron Age hillfort, right over my garden fence. Much to the amusement of family and friends I waxed lyrical about this field full of lumps and bumps, cow poo and bitey insects. Although not exactly ‘preserved in public record’ as they say, this was well hidden and completely forgotten about so I was desperately trying to keep it secret and therefore protected. Of course Time Team later came and showed it in all its wall mounted, 48 inch, HD screen beauty, then went away again.
CAER Heritage Project and Cardiff University have however been periodically running community digs and generally involving the local community in the work they have been carrying out over the last three years or so and local interest has been increased. Their website shows the work that has gone on, not only in the field but in local centres and schools. Now and then local press picks up the story and it even pops up on local news. The really lovely thing about this work is that it involves everyone who is interested. Groups of primary school children through to older people have all taken a real interest in the site and become involved at various levels.
Me? Well, I moved away from the area recently. It was really sad to leave my garden fence behind and I do miss the trees as well as the mystery of what they would tell me if they could speak. But, I’m not that far away so I am still involved in keeping a close eye on what is going on. I go to the community events up at the site and still spend time wandering around with my camera. I still research the local history there and am still turning up really interesting information about the people who lived in the area and how it links to other sites nearby as well as a little bit further away.
On the 4th of July the project held a Big Picnic. The original idea of this was to replicate the old Christian tradition of the Whitsun Treat which used to be held in the field at Pentecost. This is still fondly remembered by locals. I’m not sure if this is a Welsh thing but it involved local children being transported to various sites, clutching a spoon with their name taped to the handle and a bag of something that their mum or Nan (very important people are Welsh Nan’s!) had made that they would share. It was about coming together and having fun.
As well as the Big Picnic there would be a parade today with stalls, face painting, information on finds and tours of the ongoing excavations. Now, my grandson is really ‘into’ history. He has recently visited Castell Henllys in Pembrokeshire and has, I am very proud to say, developed a really impressive (for an 11 year old) knowledge of Welsh early history. He asks questions, reads real books and takes it all in. He came with us with promises that I’d show him all the ditches and ramparts that had set my own imagination off and started this whole thing going for me in the first place. So, off we went.
A new brown heritage site arrow has appeared – pointing the way to the hill from the main road that runs through Caerau. Just in case you miss it there is another a little further on. This secret triangular shaped field of ‘mine’ is most certainly not such a secret any more.
There were quite a few cars parked at the entrance to the site and we were met by two lovely students who welcomed us on our way up. That walk up is getting steeper, I’m sure. I was a little surprised at the cars that were allowed up the lane, meaning I had to ensure we were safely out of the way – I tutted at one point, I admit – but at least it gave me a minute to stand and get my breath back. The view as you round the final bend never fails to impress me and I’ve been up there many, many times.
The entrance to the field was set up with the promised stalls and it was all very busy with a real sense of community. CAER’s Olly Davies (beautifully face painted by Glamorgan and Gwent Archaeological Trust artists) and Dave Wyatt were in the middle of it all so it was nice to catch up. We were able to see some of the more recent finds. What is particularly nice is that it’s possible to actually hold these in your hand, rather than peer at them through the glass of a museum case, although that’s probably where they will find a home eventually. At least I hope so, rather than end up in a box on a shelf somewhere. The extremely knowledgeable and really friendly young women in charge there are able to tell you not just what you are holding but also where they were found, what the significance is and how they have made them look presentable. It was also good in that, for me, the star find from last year (the Neolithic flint arrow head) was also brought back home for the day.
A handout was provided to enable understanding of the objectives for this year, entitled ‘Digging Caerau’ – not exactly my most favourite phrase. Nonetheless, five areas of the field are being examined this year – four of which have been previously examined and re-opened for further investigation. One new area is being examined to ‘explore what appears on the geophysics to be a boundary probably dating to the Roman period.’ Guided tours were being given to small groups but we wandered off on our own to see what was going on. Well, it is my field, after all!
My biggest concern prior to the Time Team investigations was that my hillfort would be dug up. Mr Cadw Inspector reassured me that this would not happen. I’ve seen the finds that have come out of the ground, so to speak, and found them fascinating. From my grandsons perspective he was thrilled to wander around and to see postholes within the trench, confirming that this was an area that people had actually lived in. As you may know, for local historians like me the people are as important as the place. But, the site itself, for me, is losing its special character. It is changing, losing its ‘feel’ underfoot and the magic of the lumps and bumps is fading along with the brown scarring of the excavated trench areas.
Since Welsh Nan’s are very important I had wandered off with the lad to show him how to interpret the various aspects of the site that had really grabbed my attention way back in 2007. But now, whilst the ramparts are still clearly visible one inner rampart now has a ditch cut through it. Please don’t misunderstand; it’s a really painstakingly created section from which the archaeologists are intending to gain dating evidence and environmental samples. But to me it’s a whacking great chunk out of the rampart that really won’t be the same once it’s refilled.
This is really evident in the beautiful ditch that once swept across part of the site. You couldn’t fail to see it and it was really easy to photograph. It looked like something special to me. Trouble is it looked like something special to Time Team and the other diggers too, so now it’s gone. I’ve since looked back over some of my early writing and the phrase ‘it’s quite possible to see ditches and ramparts untouched’ really jumps out. I wanted my grandson to experience that sense of standing in or on something special. Something that made a person curious and excited about what may have been there, who may have built it, why and when. To me that sense of excitement has gone now as not all of those lumps and bumps are there any more – I feel that is really quite sad.
I completely understand that archaeology is a science. Indeed, my own first degree is a Bachelor of Science (with honours, obviously!) but my science is more social, of ordinary people and of ordinary places. So whilst the archaeologists are looking down into mucky holes getting dirt under their fingernails I can be found looking through dusty old books, looking up and out and, quite often across. Both, whilst different perspectives, should complement each other in being able to tell the story of a place and understand the people who lived within it. But, and this is a big but, I don’t think digging things up, taking them away and, as a result of this changing the really special characteristics of the site will benefit anyone in the end. Perhaps I just have an emotional attachment to this hillfort but to me it all feels really selfish.
All in all my grandson enjoyed his day. He was able to get an idea of the hillfort from the Lidar images and the visual representations on show, ask questions about how a roof was put on the roundhouses, look into trenches and to see the burial mounds clearly visible on the mountain opposite. He took photos and met with ‘real’ archaeologists. He was (reasonably) impressed with his Nan’s knowledge and perhaps gained a different perspective of the site from that. I just have this nagging feeling that he would have enjoyed it quite a bit more if he could have felt what I did when I first went into that field. It was only eight years ago.
As we left Olly came to chat and asked what I was doing now – I explained I had moved house recently but that I had a found a new site of interest that I felt linked in to the Caerau site. His eyes lit up and he asked where, I told him to b*gger off, there is no way he is digging this one up…
Many thanks to Sue for this report of her day out to revisit an old favourite. Have you recently revisited a favourite site? Or are you planning to do so during this year’s Festival of Archaeology? If so, why not submit a short article and share your visit with others on the Heritage Journal?
A guest post by Dr Sandy Gerrard.
Our understanding of the past relies on carefully collecting information and piecing together the fragments to provide an insight into what happened in the distant or not too distant past. The process of converting the data from whatever source into explanations is called interpretation. We all do this countless times every day. We see something and in order to understand what it is we interpret it and react accordingly. Our reactions are likely to be based on experience and so it is with archaeological interpretation. The better one understands a subject the better are the chances of coming to a fully justified explanation which consequently has more chance of being right or at least being close to the mark.
Sometimes there is very little data to go on, whilst on other occasions there may be loads and often it can be contradictory. Interpreting archaeological data can therefore be very difficult and challenging and at the end of the process one may simply not be able to provide any answers and instead the reward maybe further questions. This I find an appealing aspect of archaeology and relish the opportunity to examine and re-examine ideas, theories and hypothesis.
Fundamental to the proper interpretative process is to embrace all the available evidence and to assess it comprehensively. Often much evidence still remains to be found and some may be hidden out of sight, but it is of paramount importance to ensure that at least the information that is readily available is used and used objectively.
A while back I was asked by Cadw if I would like to meet with them to discuss the situation at Mynydd y Betws. I responded positively saying:
“an on-site meeting would be most appropriate as some of the issues can only be properly considered there and we could then re-convene somewhere indoors to deal with the paperwork issues that are best dealt with out of the elements.”
Pretty clear I would have thought. Cadw have offered a meeting and I have accepted. Sadly in the perverse universe inhabited by Cadw, senior management were inexplicably informed that I had been:
“offered a face-to-face meeting, which Dr Gerrard has refused”.
Several interpretations of this situation are possible and most of them should concern anyone interested in the management of our past.
Is this a pile of stones or a Bronze Age burial cairn? Clearly sometimes the evidence is far from obvious and mistakes are understandably made. But surely we should expect the guardians of our heritage to understand the difference between Yes and No?
A guest post by Dr Sandy Gerrard.
When studying the past one normally tries to collect and examine all the known evidence before reaching a conclusion. Sometimes there is not much to go on and any conclusions are therefore inevitably provisional. On other occasions there is loads of evidence though this does not necessary make it any easier to work out what is going on. In Wales some archaeologists have come up with a solution to this age old problem.
Sites with little or no evidence can be lumped into whatever category takes their fancy on the day. The solution for sites with loads of evidence is even more ingenious. You disregard all the evidence that does not suit your conclusion and hey presto the required result. Magic!
An example of this ground breaking approach to archaeological interpretation is provided by the Archwilio entry for the Bancbryn stone alignment which somehow manages to ignore the archaeological excavations carried out by Cotswold Archaeology, a survey conducted by Cadw and the analysis presented in the Heritage Journal over the past few years. Instead it relies solely on carefully selected sections of a report prepared by Cadw and skilfully manages to present an interpretation that the same Cadw report dismisses as unsubstantiated.
This would be amusing if our heritage was not in these people’s hands.
Over the years the Heritage Journal has highlighted various issues regarding the protection of archaeology in Wales. It now seems that the Welsh Assembly Government agree with most of our concerns and have acknowledged problems with the existing system.
A Heritage Bill designed to tackle these problems is to be introduced in late Spring 2015 and amongst the proposed changes is the idea of making the designation process “more open and transparent by introducing formal consultation with owners and establishing mechanisms to review decisions”. Currently the process sometimes gives outsiders the impression that it is very secretive, inconsistent and often ill-informed. The move to a more transparent system should be welcomed by everyone with an interest in protecting Welsh heritage. Clearly as well as ensuring the creation of a designation system that works it is crucial that it is funded adequately. Providing that the Welsh Assembly can deliver on their promises to change the system and ensure that sufficient resources are made available Welsh heritage may have a better future.
Every year large numbers of scheduled ancient monuments are damaged. Cadw’s own figures (which are probably very conservative) indicate that between 2006 and 2012 there were 119 cases of unlawful damage to scheduled ancient monuments in Wales. Furthermore Cadw acknowledge that there has been only one successful prosecution under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 in the last 25 years. There is clearly a very large problem here and it is therefore somewhat disappointing that Cadw initially overlooked it. It is tempting to think that the recent case of damage to a length of Offa’s Dyke jolted them into making a late change to the proposed Heritage Bill. Hopefully their proposed remedy will work and ensure that the really important archaeological sites in Wales are finally offered some degree of protection.
A scheduled farmstead at Mynydd y Betws severely damaged in 2012 did not even appear on Cadw’s list of damaged sites. The site remains on the schedule but no remedial works have been carried out to protect the battered vestiges. Let’s hope the new proposed heritage protection system serves us better than the current one.
Having asked Cadw if they would keep us in touch with developments at Bancbryn there was no news. Instead the only snippets emanating from the organisation were a few tweets from a Cadw officer who had been copied into internal correspondence and who clearly despite having never visited the site felt confident enough to announce to the world:
The Mynydd Y Betws wind farm stone row ﬁasco – a ﬁeld boundary not neolithic but hey what do I Know? dlvrit/17rD8J
Mynydd y Betws stone row is conveniently placed next to a sheep track—- Mhmm those sheep must like neolithic archaeology!
These comments provide a window into Cadw’s “balanced” approach to heritage protection whilst at the same time illustrating a total failure to understand basic fundamentals of field archaeology. Cadw now accept that there is no evidence to support the field boundary interpretation and even after all this time there is actually no evidence to support the position that the alignment is not Neolithic. These tweets clearly indicate that even before the assessment process had started that some sort of uninformed biased consensus had enveloped Cadw’s mind set. The second tweet provides the clearest indication that the officer concerned has no field experience or they would have known that most stone rows are “conveniently placed next to” sheep tracks. This is because sheep respect ancient features in the landscape whilst Cadw…
The Ringmoor Down stone row on Dartmoor is conveniently placed next to a sheep track—- Mhmm those sheep must like neolithic archaeology!
An internal Cadw e-mail written three days after they were asked to consider the Bancbryn stone alignment for scheduling provides an insight into much of what followed.
“I think we know the answer to the questions raised – although if it does prove to be schedulable it might prove awkward. But we are under pressure to do something. At present the line is that DAT are keeping it safe and assessing the feature. Should we though bring it to a head by arranging an urgent inspection so that we can discount this for scheduling (or otherwise), as the pressure to do something will not go away in the meantime.” (Cadw official, 19 January 2012).
This item of correspondence written at a time before anyone from Cadw had visited the site acknowledges that it would be awkward for them if the site was of national importance. The suggested remedy would on the face of it seem somewhat prejudiced. The (or otherwise) reads very much as an afterthought and there is an implicit assumption that the site will be discounted for scheduling – and all of this before they have even seen it. Some might think this approach lacks balance.
An awkward feature that should be discounted for scheduling (or otherwise)
Three days after Cadw were asked to consider the Bancbryn stone alignment for scheduling the responsible Cadw officer informed her colleagues that she was starting to lose her temper. This outburst was attached to a proposed reply to a couple of emails sent to Cadw on 16th and 17th January 2012.
What can have been said to have triggered this outburst?
- asked to see the evidence that the area had been covered in dense vegetation.
- expressed concerns that it was now apparently acceptable practice to ignore areas covered with dense vegetation during an assessment on areas adjacent to scheduled archaeology that are to be destroyed.
- expressed surprise that no archaeological earthwork survey work has been conducted as part of this project.
- asked that a fresh survey be conducted as a matter of priority.
- informed Cadw that Dyfed Archaeological Trust had claimed that they did not have time to monitor this development in the field.
- expressed concern that an earlier response had suggested that mitigation would be limited to a watching brief.
- asked that a scheduling assessment be carried out as a matter of priority.
- asked to be kept up to date with progress.
- requested that the site be accorded sensitive handling.
Whatever the reason it was surely a somewhat inappropriate reaction to genuine concerns expressed in a constructive manner.
The final irony is that the Cadw officer “forgot” to send the reply!
By Dr Sandy Gerrard.
As part of the planning conditions imposed by the Planning Inspector at Mynydd y Betws he stated: “No development shall take place within the site until a programme of archaeological work has been implemented in accordance with a written scheme of investigation approved by the Local Planning Authority in consultation with Cadw”
In August 2010 the necessary approval was obtained with a Cadw Officer stating:
“I have read through this WSI and can conﬁrm Cadw’s agreement to what is a comprehensive programme of work linked to the appropriate professional standards.”
Please can someone tell me how can a Written Scheme of Investigation (WSI) which does not include any earthwork recording in a landscape which Cadw described in 2006 as having a “density of visible upstanding archaeological sites and monuments of many periods” be described as comprehensive?
Furthermore the Planning Inspector had already stated in his report when mentioning archaeological sites that “it would appear from the site inspection that some are not specifically recorded.”
So why did Cadw and Dyfed Archaeological Trust not insist that at least these were recorded prior to destruction?
If they had perhaps a field system through which a road was driven would have at least been noticed before it was destroyed.
By Dr Sandy Gerrard.
On the 2nd January 2012 we were invited by friends to have a look at an area that was about to be destroyed by wind farm construction works. The wind farm was to occupy Mynydd y Betws and the part we chose to look at was around Bancbryn.
A few years earlier despite protestations from Cadw and Dyfed Archaeological Trust (DAT) permission had been granted by the Welsh Assembly Government for a wind farm to be erected subject to a whole raft of conditions. Amongst these were a couple of archaeological ones which sought to ensure that the archaeology was properly recorded prior to destruction. In 2011 a programme of work was carried out by Cotswold Archaeology who reported that very little had been found. With the green light in place construction work started towards the end of 2011 and it was then that we were approached by friends who were concerned that various planning conditions were being flouted.
The visit on 2nd January rapidly revealed that there were archaeological remains within the area that was scheduled for destruction. Traces of archaeological trenches were visible in places but these appeared to have missed the surviving remains. The local archaeological trust (DAT) were informed of our discoveries and eventually agreed to meet on the mountain on 16th January. The DAT officer agreed that the remains were of potential significance and asked the developers to stop work in their vicinity until they had been investigated.
In the meantime a request to schedule one of the sites was submitted to Cadw together with a question. Why had no attempt been made to look for and record the archaeology within the development footprint?
From this point onwards the archaeological organisations involved set about protecting their positions and in doing so exposed series flaws in the way that archaeology is conducted in Wales. Freedom of Information requests have revealed the highly questionable ways in which the various organisations sought to minimise the political fallout and the considerable lengths that they were willing to go to try and protect their vested interests.
Amongst the techniques used were: ignoring evidence; failing to substantiate claims; not publishing the excavation report, refusing to engage with many of the issues; conducting a biased scheduling assessment and attempting to withhold information. Perhaps most telling however was the role played by DAT who were simultaneously providing planning advice to the local authority whilst working on behalf of the developer. Where else within the planning system is a private company (DAT) able to act simultaneously on behalf of both the developer and the planning authority?
Running through the whole sorry saga however is a seam of complete incompetence. Fundamental mistakes were made at every turn – contradictions, inconsistencies, inaccuracies and contempt for public concerns are all apparent. During the coming months the evidence to support these and other claims will be presented.
Of course if any of the organisations involved would like to comment we would be happy to publish their responses in full (The Heritage Journal).
by Sandy Gerrard
Cadw’s refusal to designate the Bancbryn stone alignment allegedly hangs on a lack of compelling evidence to support a prehistoric date for the site. We have seen that this sort of nicety does not normally inconvenience them. The schedule is stuffed full of sites that lack any evidence (compelling or otherwise) to support their identification and a whole load more where the evidence strongly suggests that fundamental interpretative mistakes have been made. On an area of moorland not far from Mynydd y Betws at Carn Llechart (SN 69668 06275) stands a scheduled chambered tomb. Over the years doubts have been expressed regarding its identity but despite this and the lack of any evidence to support its identification as a chambered tomb it has remained firmly on the schedule. The surviving earthworks and slabs of rock can be most plausibly interpreted as a quarry. The dumps of waste are piled up into three neat banks, the slabs have been trenched around to expose their edges and one of the slabs has been split. There is no part of the evidence that does not fit a quarrying scenario whilst by contrast nobody seems to have been able to explain how the different components fit together to form a chambered tomb. Perhaps Cadw would like to explain what the compelling evidence is to justify the statutory designation of this feature.
Quarry pits visible at A with waste material dumps at B. Although scheduled as a chambered tomb the surviving features look like the result of quarrying. View from south east (28th December 2014).
A large split stone. The thin rock on the left has been split from the slab on the right. View from above and west.
Large slabs exposed by trenching along their edges. Material removed thrown up to form a bank along the western side. Classic quarrying remains. View from south east.