Mystery over ancient remains of dozens of people in Somerset
On a prehistoric hillfort at Ham Hill in South Somerset, UK, archaeologists have uncovered the remains of dozens of people who died in a savage and mysterious way. However, there is something quite unusual about the finding and experts are unclear about the circumstances in which these individuals died.
The grisly find was made while researchers were studying Ham Hill’s massive defensive works, covering more than 80 hectares in Somerset. Archaeologists have been working on the site for three years in an attempt to understand more about the function of the fortifications and how such a large structure was defended by the local population against Roman invasion.
The first bodies were found in trenches around the perimeter where there are earthen ramparts, while a second lot of bodies were found in the centre of the hill fort in some type of enclosure, but archaeologists have no idea what the place was used for.
“There's an enormous amount of bodies starting to emerge, many of which are young ladies in their 20s,” said Dr Marcus Brittain, from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit. “There's a lot of human heads as well which is rather unusual - there are five so far.”
But archaeologists say that the ancient deaths are far more mysterious than fatalities of wars and battles. Some of the people whose remains have been found may have been killed by invading Romans, however, the corpses were ripped clean of their flesh, which was a practice carried out by ancient Britons rather than by Italian led legions. One possibility is that the individuals were killed by Romans but their bodies were dealt with by the locals in their traditional way. The alternative scenario might be that a neighbouring clan may have attacked.
However, the finding posing the most questions is the bodies, mostly dismembered, that were found in the enclosure on the hill.
"We have discovered a rectangular enclosure – the function of which is still open to theory – where a lot of human remains have been found," said Dr Brittain. "Most are partial – there a lot of heads where the remainder of the bodies have not been found - there are several semi-complete skeletons and one that's near complete.”
Theories range from the enclosure being a fortified farmstead in which some terrible or violent incident occurred, to the place being some sort of ceremonial space in which important decisions were made at certain times of the year, suggesting that the deaths may even have been the result of human sacrifice.
Human remains specialists are currently analysing the bodies to try to resolve this peculiar mystery.