After five years, this summer saw the final season of excavations at Burrough Hill. John Thomas reports: this year, the Project aimed to tie up a few niggling questions that have developed over the years and have another look at the external settlement, previously looked at in 2011.
Trench 10 was located in the centre of the hillfort to examine a large amorphous blob revealed by the geophysical survey. Lo and behold, once machined we found… a large amorphous blob! Sophie Adams and her team excavated a variety of slots into the feature, which appears to have been a large quarry, probably for clay extraction. Pottery recovered from the backfill suggests a Late Iron Age or Early Roman date. Interestingly, there is no evidence for earlier features beneath the quarry suggesting the area had been relatively free of activity beforehand. One large Iron Age pit in the trench corner hinted at more exciting activity beyond the excavation area. This produced a fairly decent assemblage of domestic material including pottery, a cattle skull and the upper part of a beehive rotary quern.
Trench 11 revisited last year’s excavation in the south-west corner (Trench 8) to try and pin down the eliusive ‘backdoor’ of the hillfort – was it really there or had the ramparts been slighted at a later date? Trench 11 was a long L-shaped area that included a wider look at the ramparts and an area to the rear of the roundhouse we had examined in 2013. A few more Iron Age pits were revealed including one very deep cylindrical example and a large and shallow feature containing a large domestic assemblage and a bronze, possible finger ring. The western terminal of our Early Bronze Age ‘hengiform’ feature was also excavated and another sherd of Beaker pottery found.
Closer examination of the ramparts revealed evidence to support the idea that the gap in the south-west corner was indeed an original entrance (access to a water source via the natural springs on the western side of the hillfort being one reason for this. Excavation of the rampart contents showed a clear terminal to the western arm of the defences as it reached the gap, and hints of a framework of larger ironstone boulders supporting the whole construction, as we had previously seen in the main entrance. The gap was blocked at some point during the Iron Age by a well-built drystone wall – this year’s work revealed a shallow foundation cut into the earlier deposits. Layers overlying the wall, and collapsed rubble from it, contained Iron Age domestic remains suggesting that the blocking wall had started to collapse before occupation of the hillfort ceased.
Finally, Andrew Hyam opened two trenches on the outside of the hillfort to gain further information on the external settlement. Trench 12 was located over a large enclosure/roundhouse that appeared to be cut through on its western side by the hillfort quarry ditch. The relationship between the two features was not established but it is possible that the large quarry ditch acted as a western edge for the enclosure/roundhouse, which was also Iron Age in date. A small square annexe to the southern side was also found, which had nice evidence for stake holes in the base. Some evidence for Roman activity was also found in this trench. A spread of stone and cobbles incorporating several re-used saddle querns was apparently part of what had once been a larger surface. It had been badly damaged by ploughing but adds to increasing evidence for a late Roman farmstead located in and around the northern part of the hillfort.
The last trench re-visited Trench 3 from 2011, to complete the picture of buildings and enclosures that had previously been examined. The rear of one of the 2011 roundhouses was revealed, as well as a smaller, circular roundhouse/enclosure, within which was a pit cluster. It is possible that the pits were deliberately contained within the circular ditch, as we have seen on other areas of the hillfort. Pottery from these features indicated a very late Iron Age or early Roman date for their backfilling, with several sherds of transitional combed ware recovered. A nice little glass bead was also found in one of the pits.
This year’s excavations coincided with the introduction of all things prehistoric to the National Curriculum for primary schools. Hillforts are named as a good example for projects so needless to say; we had a fantastic response from local schools this year. All told we took over 700 schoolchildren around Burrough Hill this year, showing them the excavations and involving them in a range of activities revolving around life and death in the Iron Age. Throughout the entire project we estimate to have introduced Burrough Hill to around 2000 young people, all of whom have taken something from their experience (whether it was from the archaeology, being in the beautiful countryside or being in close contact with the livestock and their by-products!) Many thanks to Debbie Frearson, Anna Moosebauer, Bethan Boulter, Andrew Mayfield and James Earley for their fantastic help in managing the school visits this year, alongside Andy, Sophie and John. On top of this we had another very well attended Open Day (over 550 visitors) who were given guided tours of the excavations, learnt about local history and archaeology groups, the School and ULAS and were given a taste of the Iron Age by our wonderful re-enactors.
It has been a real privilege to work at Burrough Hill and everyone involved has done a fantastic job in recovering the evidence that will enable a detailed account of the hillfort’s history to be told. Hopefully in the future, Burrough Hill will be viewed in a similar way to some of the more well publicised hillforts. A huge thanks to everyone who was involved in the excavation and who showed their support along the way.
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