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‘Prehistory under our football pitches’: bronze age finds excavated from Cardiff sports field

‘Prehistory under our football pitches’: bronze age finds excavated from Cardiff sports field

At first sight, it does not feel like the sort of spot where you may happen upon extraordinary insights into the daily lives of the people who inhabited bronze age Britain.

But in the corner of a sports field in Cardiff, archaeologists and volunteers are uncovering a trove of artefacts on the site of two roundhouses that give clues into how people lived and worked there 3,500 years ago.

Last weekend people cheered and clapped as the team pulled out a clay furnace that a bronze age metalworker may have used to create weapons, tools and jewellery – believed to be only the second of its type found in the UK and regarded as a discovery of international importance.

Later this week a pot, possibly an urn, discovered nestling in the clay next to the furnace that could have contained the ashes of the prehistoric metalworker who used the furnace will also be extracted.

“It is so exciting,” says Oliver Davis, co-director of the Caerau and Ely Rediscovering Heritage Project (CAER). “The scope and scale of this site continues to astound us. We haven’t got a king under a car park [a reference to the discovery of the burial place of Richard III in Leicester] but we have prehistory under our football pitches.”

The spot in Trelai Park, Ely, was discovered in 2022 in a geophysical survey carried out when a school planned to build artificial sports pitches in a corner of the fields.

They found evidence of what turned out to be a large roundhouse – billed as the oldest house in Cardiff – and careful excavation was begun by CAER, a partnership between Cardiff University, the community development organisation Action in Caerau and Ely, local schools, residents and heritage bodies.

People digging in sandy ground at an archaeological siteView image in fullscreen

Since then they have found that actually two roundhouses were built on the site. The first appeared to have been deliberately taken down, presumably when the householders died, and a new one erected in its place.

Davis points out the position of the hearth in the centre of the more recent house. “Three and a half thousand years ago, you’d have a hearth blazing,” he says. “It would have been dark and smoky. We’ve found a lot of pottery there so we know that’s where they’re cooking, preparing, and probably eating food.”

In another area, the team unearthed evidence of cereals being prepared, in a third a number of flints, suggesting that was where tools were made. The floors of the two houses are intact because the field has never been ploughed. “It is the actual surface that people trod on in the bronze age,” says Davis. “That is incredibly rare. We’re getting this kind of incredibly rich picture of how people lived three and a half thousand years ago.”

Davis believes the furnace pre-dates the two roundhouses and the pot or urn may contain the ashes of a metalworking ancestor of the residents. He also thinks they may have found evidence of a timber circle under the houses. “It could have been an important gathering place,” he says.

An excavation siteView image in fullscreen

Ely hit the headlines last year when a riot took place after two teenagers who were being followed by the police died.

Dave Wyatt, a reader in civic mission at Cardiff University, thinks a vital part of the project is putting the community at its centre. “This creates new life opportunities for everybody and challenges a lot of the negative stories,” he says. When the Guardian visited on Monday, pupils from the Herbert Thompson primary school were being shown around.

A woman in an orange t shirt and dark hate kneels on a sandy groundView image in fullscreen

Scott Bees, a former postal worker from Ely and now an archaeology student, said: “The biggest thing I get from it is finding out where we all come from, where this community comes from.”

Volunteer Sian Davies, a retired care worker, found an arrowhead at the site last week: “To be given the chance to come down here and dig and delve in history means an awful lot. Finding something like an arrowhead is a joy.”

Source: theguardian.com