Burrough Hill 2013

Earlier this summer, John Thomas and Andrew Hyam got the 2013 season of fieldwork at Burrough Hill Iron Age Hillfort underway with a survey of areas of erosion around the earthworks; before Natural England and other interested parties attempted to restore them. Following on from that, preparation began to machine two new areas of study ready for the first batch of students to begin excavating in June. The aim this year is to look at the south-west corner of the hillfort, at another possible Iron Age entrance and at another roundhouse. Another focus will be geophysical anomalies in the north-east corner of the fort. It is hoped that these will be a roundhouse, pits and possibly a linear boundary.

Cast copper-alloy strap junction dating to the 1st century BC.
Cast copper-alloy strap junction dating to the 1st century BC.

In other news, a much corroded object found last year has now been cleaned by Graham Morgan and has revealed itself to be a cast copper-alloy strap junction dating to the 1st century BC. These are very rare with examples known from Danebury and Hunsbury.

Following a survey of erosion of the ramparts the fourth season of excavation at Burrough Hill took place in June and July with two large areas (Trenches 8 & 9) being the focus of work this year. Both trenches contained significant new archaeological information relating to Iron Age activity, but we also discovered evidence of earlier and later human activity on the site, stretching the story of Burrough Hill further than we have previously been able to.

Trench 8: the rampart wall can be seen on the left, the roundhouse on the right and the C-shaped ditch in the centre.
Trench 8: the rampart wall can be seen on the left, the roundhouse on the right and the C-shaped ditch in the centre. Image by AerialCam

Trench 8 was located in the south-west corner of the hillfort to target geophys anomalies and test the idea that a conspicuous gap in the ramparts there may have been an Iron Age entrance (it leads quite nicely downslope to where natural springs are found). The geophys for this area appeared to show a roundhouse with adjacent enclosure, similar to the set-up we had recorded in Trench 7 in 2012 and we were hopeful of getting comparable information.

In the event, what we had thought was an Iron Age enclosure turned out to be part of a group of features with a probable Early Bronze Age date. The focus appears to have been a large ‘hengiform’ C-shaped ditch with a c.10m diameter and an opening to the north. Within the opening a squared shallow feature contained flint scrapers, an arrowhead and knapping debris and may have been a structure. To the rear of the C-shaped ditch a small pit contained fragments of at least three Beaker pots. Similar fragments of this pottery were found in the ditch and the possible structural remains hinting at broadly contemporary activity.

Iron Age activity was focussed on a complete roundhouse which, unusually, had remains of the buildings wall slot surviving, as well as the eaves-drip drainage gully. Several small pits, post holes and burnt areas also survived within the building. The entrance had been sealed at some point by two short gullies, both of which were rich in finds, contrasting with the main roundhouse features that were relatively finds free. A number of pits were located to the rear of the roundhouse, all of which contained different information. Two large pits contained predominantly animal bone assemblages, while another, affectionately nicknamed the ‘house clearance’ pit contained a series of domestic deposits including pottery, bone, hearth waste, loom weights and a virtually complete, but smashed rotary quern. Finally a pit behind the roundhouse contained layers of industrial waste and ash and at the bottom, a significant collection of decorative metal fittings from a chariot and what may be other horse-related equipment.

As for the possible ‘entrance’ well, we are still none the wiser on this but our work did reveal a well-constructed drystone wall running across the gap. This quality of stonework has only previously been seen in the main hillfort entrance so finding it here too may be significant. This wall may have defined or blocked an (as yet unseen) entrance in this corner of the hillfort. More questions than answers on this one I’m afraid.

Trench 9: with multiple roundhouses, boundary ditches and Roman walls.
Trench 9: with multiple roundhouses, boundary ditches and Roman walls. Image by AerialCam

Trench 9 was one of the larger and as it proved, more complex trenches that we have excavated so far. This area was located in the north-east corner of the hillfort and designed to investigate geophys anomalies of several roundhouses. Once the trench was machined and cleaned it became clear that it contained more than the geophysical survey had predicted, with multiple overlapping curving gullies that probably represent a sequence of roundhouses occupying this area of Burrough Hill. In terms of our understanding of how the hillfort was organised this trench is painting a different picture to the apparently ‘single use’ model shown by the roundhouse in Trench 8 for example. One complete circle (top right in the photo) appears to represent a full roundhouse but others were less well preserved. Associated pits produced assemblages of pottery, animal bone, loom weights and querns, including one that had been deliberately mis-shapen before deposition, in a similar way to the smashed quern in Trench 8.

Some of these roundhouse remains may have been used until quite late in the Iron Age occupation of the hillfort as several features contained transitional ‘combed ware’ pottery. A long- lived linear boundary (running up the right hand side of the photo) also spanned the Iron Age- Roman transition indicating continuity of use here. One big surprise in Trench 9 was a series of wall fragments which appear to date to the later Roman period. These did not show on the geophys but apparently relate to some sort of structure of the 3rd-4th century. The walls were badly damaged by medieval ploughing so it is difficult to determine exactly what these walls once belonged to but they do provide a focus of activity for the spread of late Roman pottery that has been recovered from the northern part of the hillfort during earlier excavations.

2013 has been another good year for bringing the results of our work to a wider audience and we worked hard on promoting the site via a series of local tv and radio interviews. We hosted seven school visits (approx. 300 children) one of which was filmed for BBC East Midlands Today for a future edition of ‘Inside Out’, four society visits, a Summer School and a day of digging for the Leicestershire YAC’s. Our Open Day this year attracted over 500 visitors and we also held a day at Melton Museum which had over 100 visitors to see finds, meet re-enactors and listen to talks about the year’s discoveries. Not a bad couple of months work on many levels.

One more year to go….

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