A major excavation in South Somerset is drawing to a close after archaeologists from Cambridge and Cardiff Universities have spent the last three summers excavating on the largest Iron Age hillfort in the country.
Hillforts are one of the most common and wide spread monuments of British prehistory that date to the first millennium BC and last until the Roman conquest. It is unusual for a large area within a hillfort to be excavated due to their protection however Ham Hill stone is one of the most important building resources in southern England. Special permission has been granted and the Ham Hill Stone Quarry is funding an extensive exploration of the hillfort.
The main focus of the excavation has been on a large rectangular ditched enclosure, one of a number that are scattered across the interior of the hillfort. The excavated enclosure does not appear to be occupied but is a largely empty and short lived space, appearing to have been deliberately destroyed, perhaps after only 5-10 years.
It could be a meeting place, for the community to gather to make decisions. Another reason for thinking that this was a special place is the quantity of human remains found by the excavations. Several burials have been discovered, in pits and within the enclosure ditch. Fragments of human skull and other isolated bones have also been found which appear to have been scattered across the area, possibly circulated as tangible representations of ancestors. Were these ancestors called upon when important decisions had to be made?
Targeted trenches are providing an understanding of the hillfort boundary and have shown four major phases of construction. This year’s work is concentrating on the final phase which appears to be constructed at the end of the Iron Age to (unsuccessfully) defend the hillfort against the oncoming Romans. A small quantity of human remains found in the deposits behind the rampart is evidence for a violent assault. These remains appear to have been defleshed/chopped up and left exposed on the surface of the hill. Roman military objects have been discovered on the hill and it may well have been garrisoned in the initial period of the Roman occupation of the South West.
Councillor Sylvia Seal, Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture said, “It has been an astonishing summer for finds at Ham Hill, made by the excavation team and university students. It seems that our understanding of the importance and role of Ham Hill throughout the Bronze and Iron Age is changing as the archaeologists continue to discover more and more evidence. The onsite ranger team have enjoyed working with the team and look forward to sharing their discoveries with visitors to our fayre on Saturday 7 September.”