Lesser Garth Cave

The Remains in the Lesser Garth
The following is the Society's report on the outcome of our efforts in aiding research into the human remains that were discovered in the Lesser Garth Cave in North Cardiff. More information on this can be found in Archaeology in Wales, Volume 48, page 75

The Lesser Garth is a hill forming the west side of the Taff Gorge.  The entrance to the Lesser Garth Cave is at the top of a steep slope facing Cardiff and leads to an extensive cave system.

Excavations within the cave were first carried out just before the First World War, with further work done in 1920, 1963 and 1964.  These excavations revealed material from the Bronze Age and the Romano-British, Early Medieval, Medieval and Post-medieval periods.  The material included human remains, but conditions in the cave meant it was not possible to relate them directly to the other material, which also meant they were of unknown date.  Accordingly, whilst the importance of the cave as an archaeological site was known, the human remains themselves provided no value in understanding the significance of the site; particularly as it had to be possible that the human remains did not even relate to the dated material found in the cave. All the material from the cave is now in the National Museum of Wales (NMW). 


In 2007 Cardiff Archaeological Society (CAS) agreed to set up a project to fund examination and dating of the human remains provided the NMW was agreeable.  In the event the Museum could not have been more co-operative and a three-part plan was agreed.  The plan was to first to examine the skeletal remains, then select some for radiocarbon dating and finally publish a public report on the results of the work.

Richard Madgwick of Cardiff University was asked by CAS to carry out an examination of the remains. This showed that the material was very fragmentary, only three individuals being represented by more than three skeletal elements; accordingly it was impossible to say exactly how many humans the material represented.  However, Richard concluded that there was probably a minimum of seven individuals. Except for one young child, all were adults.

In discussions between Adam Gwilt of the NMW, Brian Davies and Monica Cox of CAS, and Richard Madgwick it was agreed that five of the seven individuals, including the child, should be radiocarbon dated and Adam arranged for this to be done.

Radiocarbon dating revealed that:

1.     The child is estimated to have died between AD 1629 and 1667

2.      Two individuals were Early Medieval, being dated between AD 425 to 544 and AD 572 to 655 respectively

3.     Two individuals were Medieval, being dated between AD 1251 to 1297 and AD 1261 to 1288 respectively.

The results were unexpected and unusual.  Mark Redknap of the NMW is unaware of any other medieval cave burials in Wales and only one Early Medieval burial, and that is in Denbighshire. The late date for the child, sadly, suggests some tragic event.

CAS funding has allowed the human remains to be related in time to other material from this cave, a major step forward in our understanding of this important site. However like so much research in archaeology it also raises further questions. An obvious one being why were burials being made in a cave in the Christian period?


The Taff Gorge viewed from the Garth Hill - the Lesser Garth is on the right.