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Caerfai volunteer blog: Joanne Murphy

Caerfai volunteer blog: Joanne Murphy

Digging at Caerfai

My name is Jo, and by day I am a Community Park Ranger, but when I'm not supporting wildlife and conservation, I love supporting archaeology, history, and the preservation of our cultures and heritage.

I was lucky enough to join the CHERISH funded dig at Caerfai in 2021. This Iron Age promontory site at Penpleidiau is surrounded by sea on 3 sides and protected on the north with not one but 4 (yes, 4!) rampart and ditch structures. Even though this site may seem protected, climate change and its proximity to the sea is causing it to erode away.  As a first investigation into the site, led by DigVentures, none of us really knew what to expect. What we found was spectacular and only raised more questions. Questions that would have to wait to be answered as time ran out and the trenches were back filled.

Jo excavating at Caerfai for the first time in 2021
Jo excavating at Caerfai for the first time in 2021

In 2022, with the dig being crowdfunded by DigVentures, CHERISH provided the wonderful opportunity of field school places. This was to help individuals develop their archaeological skills and understanding with the aim to capture as much information as possible before more of the site is lost. I was lucky enough to have one of these field school placements, and on returning to the site, the first thing I noticed was the amount of erosion that had taken place in one year. Around half a metre had fallen off the Western side. 

A wide angle image of people working on the excavation site at Caerfai on a sunny day
The 2022 trench, with the eroding edge denoted with orange fencing

The second to note was that this year was bigger, better, and bolder. A wider area dug meant a wider picture, and we certainly added to the story of Caerfai revealing several round houses, post holes and hearths, unearthing whett stones, spindle whorls and the most exciting, part of a crucible for smelting ore (which I found!). The most puzzling discovery of all, a beautiful stepped structure hiding at the bottom of one of the rampart ditches, which seemed to continue the length of the ditch. That’s one of many new theories and questions raised that will have to wait for the next dig.

A woman in a red t-shirt crouches in a trench, smiling
Jo excavating a section through the inner rampart in 2022

All in all, I not only got to practice skills taught in previous years but also developed new skills in geophysics, sampling, and recording. The opportunity provided by CHERISH has given me the confidence to join more digs and utilise everything learnt at Caerfai. 

I can't wait to get back out in the field, trowel in hand, and my mind open to the endless possibilities of this exciting site and others. Thank you, CHERISH and DigVentures.

A woman in a red t-shirt crouches at the edge of a trench, smiling at the camera and holding a toy puffin
Jo and Puffty reunited in 2022!

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End of Project Conference: Ambition, Delivery and Legacy

End of Project Conference: Ambition, Delivery and Legacy

Join us as we complete the CHERISH project with a final conference to disseminate and contextualise our research within the sector.

On Tuesday 21st March 2023 CHERISH will hold its final conference at the Printworks, Dublin Castle. We will present the final findings, products and lessons learnt from this 6-year, €4.9 million project. Most importantly, this will include launching our Good Practice Guidance: a how-to guide on the project’s “toolkit” for researching at-risk sites.

The day will include papers from members of the team, heritage professionals who have worked with the project, and those who have developed and refined the Toolkit. We will be joined by representatives from a wide variety of businesses, with Trade Stands to explore during refreshment breaks. Lunch and refreshments will be provided, and there will be a drinks reception in the evening 5-7pm as an opportunity to network.

The event is free and everyone is welcome:

Join us if you want to hear about the ways that we can approach coastal, intertidal and marine sites at risk from climate change. There will be chance to discuss the future of climate heritage, and how we as heritage professionals can engage with the risks posed by climate change.

If your company or organisation would like a trade stand at the event, please contact us directly at

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Caerfai volunteer blog: Eirlys Happs

Caerfai volunteer blog: Eirlys Happs

Caerfai excavation 2022

Hello, my name is Eirlys Happs, I’m 19 years old. I’m from Carmarthen in south Wales. Archaeology is a passion of mine.


After finishing college and deciding not to attend university yet, I fell into a slump many know well. During this time I began to rekindle my love for the Welsh language and missed speaking it as often as I used to. I attended a Welsh first language primary school despite being raised till then, singly in English. 

A young person standing in a trench, wearing a red shirt and white t-shirt, holding a trowel and hand shovel, with the sea and coast behind them.
Eirlys with their trowel and hand shovel, ready to dig!

Prior to this I had only ever had a passing interest in history and had never considered archaeology past the occasional episode of Time Team. However this set in motion the drive that led me to dig at Caerfai this year. I love celtic cultures, languages and art styles among many aspects of history. 

I love celtic cultures, languages and art styles among many aspects of history.

On my first day I dug in the rampart trench, a deep cross section of the ditch.

Part of four towering banks, which would’ve originally been not only bigger but more grand.

The magnificent earthworks were most likely used to deter invasion and emphasise the wealth or even religiousness of the area and its inhabitants.

A trench with several people working in it, on a green grassy headland with the blue sea behind
The main trench on a sunny day - a hive of activity!

I was delighted to speak with visitors and another cherish funded venturer in Welsh. Sites like this can make many feel very close to their predecessors, Welsh, English or otherwise. Sites like this can make many feel very close to their predecessors, Welsh, English or otherwise. 

Sites like this can make many feel very close to their predecessors, Welsh, English or otherwise. 

Throughout the week I worked in many other areas, but most notably to my aching muscles, backfilling trench 5. I was soon back in the rampart trench for my last two days of cleaning and planning.

Planning, the process of meticulous recording in the trench, was an utterly new skill to me despite having seen it done; it was delicate work to discern contexts (soil deposits) and then measure each one. 

A close up shot of a deep archaeological trench through a rampart
The rampart trench (with Puffty investigating)

While I was sad to leave this site, I gained so much from my week at Caerfai which I admit, I would never have been able to attend without cherish funding. 

I am vastly grateful to all those at cherish who gave a wonderful talk and this much valued opportunity; everyone at dig ventures for creating a welcoming, inclusive and informative environment; last but certainly not least to the Cardiff university students who were constantly warm and humorous despite their hard work. 

A young person in a red shirt holding a toy puffin on a hand shovel
Eirlys and Puffty in the main trench
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Grab your boots, bring a sense of adventure……and get digging!

Grab your boots, bring a sense of adventure……and get digging!

Have you ever wanted to take part in an archaeological excavation? Finding buried treasure and learning about the past….

Following the success of the CHERISH community excavation at Caerfai Promontory Fort near St Davids in Pembrokeshire last year, the team are excited to offer another opportunity to investigate the site.

Between September 3rd – 18th 2022 DigVentures are organising a second  season of excavation at Caerfai.  The field school will teach excavation skills, how to locate archaeological features and investigate the impacts of climate change.  

The CHERISH project is offering 4 funded places for students aged 17+ interested in following a career in archaeology or people who are currently unemployed and looking for training opportunities.   Each place is worth £700 and funds a week at the dig.   We’re unable to provide accommodation and applicants must also ideally live in Pembrokeshire.   

If you’d like to apply, please send a short paragraph [300 words max] on why you’d like to attend the field school.  You’ll also be asked to write a blog and social media posts during your time on the dig.  You’ll be supported in this by the CHERISH team.   

Caerfai Excavation September 2021 – a montage of all the volunteers and staff involved

Details of the field school can be found

For info:

Dig Ventures are the first Chartered Institute for Archaeologists’ Accredited Field School with a dedicated and structured field school curriculum to train volunteers in all aspects of the dig process and support the Archaeology Skills Passport.

Please email your application to , making sure to include your name, address and whether you are a student or currently unemployed.    Deadline for Applications – Friday 5 August


We’d love to see you on site!  

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