our history

Cardiff Archaeological
Society at 60

 ‘Leisure could bring treasure’ said the headline in a Cardiff newspaper in 1960, following an appeal from a young man who wanted to start an archaeological society. However, treasure was not on Tom Jones’ mind: he was looking for people, preferably young people, who were interested in archaeology for itself and for a chance to take part in excavations. The response was encouraging and the nucleus of the Cardiff Archaeological Society was formed in a local hostelry in true archaeologists’ style.

Cardiff professionals, such as Dr Hubert Savory and Donald Moore of the National Museum of Wales and Lesley Alcock at the University of Wales, were approached on how to proceed. There were initial misgivings but once the seriousness of the venture was established, they became very supportive with advice, help and encouragement. The support of the professional archaeologists has continued and grown closer over the intervening years.

Initially, meetings took place in an empty shop where time was spent in studying aerial photographs and at the weekends field walking was undertaken, looking for suitable sites on which to excavate. Eventually a site which had been recognised by Dr Savory was chosen. All the necessary permissions from landowners and the then Ministry of Works were granted and excavation by this group of amateurs commenced – but only on Sundays!

The site was a 12th-century ring work in the village of Llantrithyd in the Vale of Glamorgan, a few miles outside Cardiff, which was believed to be the home of the moderately wealthy family of William de Cardiff. The excavators were mostly young people, including school children (some of whom are still Society members!). Little did they realise that the excavation would last until 1969.

A number of prehistoric finds were made during the Llantrithyd excavations, including a rare c. 2250–1900 BC early Bronze Age archer’s wrist guard, the first of such to be found in Wales. Wrist guards are usually associated with burials and these and some human remains indicate the local presence of a beaker burial. The wristguard is made of volcanic ash and is heavily polished to give it its gleam.   

In 1962 excavations were also undertaken on a weekday evening at the late 13th-century Bishop’s Palace in Llandaff, Cardiff. Unfortunately, most of the area within the curtain wall was given over to allotments, so only a narrow strip along one side was accessible and the excavation proved inconclusive. 

‘Leisure could bring treasure’ proved to be prophetic in the case of Llantrithyd when, in 1962, a hoard of nine silver pennies dating from the reign of Henry I were uncovered. One of the coins was clearly marked “Cardiff”, conclusively proving that there was a mint in the town at that period. The report of the excavation can be downloaded from the Society’s website: www.cardiffarchsoc.btck.co.uk/Projects/Llantrithyd

Winter lecture programmes were commenced in 1961 and initially held in the Friends’ Meeting House on Charles Street; today they are hosted by Cardiff University. From the beginning, eminent professional archaeologists have given their time and expertise to speak to a committed and knowledgeable membership.

From 1969, excavations were undertaken at a barrow site at Welsh St Donats. This was to be the last of the Society’s excavations, although survey work at Coed Parc Garw burial chamber in Coity took place in 2003-2004. 

Since then the Society has been providing both financial and practical assistance to projects undertaken by Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and Cardiff University. In 2010 assistance was given to the dating of remains found at the Lesser Garth cave in a hill just outside Cardiff. You can learn more about this work here: www.cardiffarchsoc.btck.co.uk/Projects/LesserGarthCave

In 2011 the history of Roath Mill was researched and a ground resistivity survey was conducted to confirm its location.  The history and results of the survey can be found at www.cardiffarchsoc.btck.co.uk/Projects/RoathMill

Since then, the Society has been involved in the Caer Heritage Project, which aims to explore the history and archaeology of Caerau hillfort. It involves many heritage organisations in the area and the Society helps in a number of practical ways. www.caerheritageproject.com 

From small beginnings 60 years ago, the Cardiff Archaeological Society has evolved into a respected organisation that continues its close association with Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and Cardiff University and contributes to the understanding of the history of this part of south Wales.

IHenry I pennies coin hoard

By permission of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales


Llantrithyd Archer's Wrist guard

By permission of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales