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Ancient Hillfort Research

Archaeologists call on Citizens to Help in Ancient Hillfort Research

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Researchers in Britain are undertaking a large-scale projec t to gather information on approximately 5,000 Iron Age hill forts scattered throughout the UK and Ireland and are calling on the help of citizens to research their local hillforts.

Hillforts are large circular defensive enclosures, protected by one or a series of steep ditches carved out of the earth, and are usually found on prominent hilltop positions, overlooking areas of strategic importance. While they were once thought to have been Roman constructions, archaeological excavations at the end of the 19 th Century revealed that they were entirely British in nature.

Some hillforts have been traced back to the Bronze Age but the vast majority were constructed in the Iron Age after 500BC.  It was once thought that the hillforts had a purely defensive purpose, however, there is evidence to suggest that a wide variety of other activities took place there - domestic, cultural and industrial - suggesting that they functioned like defensible towns, or as administrative centres of a community, home to the local chief and prominent citizens.

The aim of the British researchers is to create a public database of hillforts, titled ‘An Atlas of Hillforts in Britain and Ireland’ in order to develop a clearer picture about how these defensive structures were used.  The database, which will be made available online, will eventually be searchable by characteristics, such as building material, and by region. While hillforts can be found spread throughout the British Isles and Ireland, they are most prevalent in Southern and Western England.

The research team is calling on citizens to submit information about their local hillforts on the project website to help in the formulation of the database, including information about style, position on the hill and features, such as nature of ditches or entrances.

Co-Director, Ian Ralston, of the University of Edinburgh, said they hope the project will lead to discoveries of new archaeological sites and new information about ones that are already known.  "We expect the results of this project to change our vision of these iconic monuments," said Ralston.

By April Holloway

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