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A major excavation is under way to explore the unclear history of Britain’s largest Iron Age hill fort.

The Ham Hill Iron Age hill fort site spreads over 80 hectares making it the largest in Britain

The Ham Hill Iron Age hill fort site spreads over 80 hectares making it the largest in Britain

The purpose of the Ham Hill site in Somerset is not known but researchers are now hoping to gain a deeper insight into life 2,000 years ago.

A joint team from the universities of Cambridge and Cardiff have begun a dig at the 88-hectare site to learn more.

Work is due to continue until September 2013 by which time the team hope to have a clearer map of its interior.

Niall Sharples, from Cardiff University, said: “It’s a bit of an enigma. Ham Hill is so big that no archaeologist has ever really been able to get a handle on it.

“People think of these places as defensive structures, but it is inconceivable that such a place could have been defended.

“Thousands of people would have been required; militarily, it would have been a nightmare.

“Clearly, it was a special place for people in the Iron Age, but when did it become special, why, and how long did it stay that way?”

Researchers believe the site may have been a monument and was somehow meant to create a sense of community, collective identity, or prestige.

‘Communal identity’

Christopher Evans, from the Cambridge archaeological unit, said it was a rare opportunity to tackle the site’s big issues on the scale they deserve.

“We don’t know if the site’s development was prompted by trade, defence or communal identity needs,” he said.

“Equally, should we be thinking of it as a great, centralised settlement place – almost proto-urban in its layout and community size?”

One of the key aims of the current excavation will be to pin down the rough date of the hill fort’s construction.

Smaller scale digs at the site have produced a number of finds, including human remains, the skeleton of a dog, pottery, iron sickles and the remains of a house.

‘There is also a wonderful pearched right on the top of Ham Hill tat serves a mean ‘Ploughmans’ and a great pint’ – Somerset tour guide

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An ancient burial site which dates back thousands of years has been reopened to the public after two years of repairs.

The Long Barrow, known as Hetty Pegler's Tump, could date back as far as 3200BC

The Long Barrow, known as Hetty Pegler's Tump, could date back as far as 3200BC

Uley Long Barrow in Gloucestershire, known as Hetty Pegler’s Tump, was closed while urgent structural work was carried out at the Neolithic site.

Structural damage to the interior dry stone walls of the burial chamber had left it in an unsafe condition.

English Heritage has overseen the work to restore the 120ft (37m) long monument which dates back to 3200BC.

Mark Badger, from English Heritage, said: “We are delighted that this very significant Long Barrow is once again open to visitors.

“The archaeological investigations carried out during the urgent works by the Cotswold Archaeology team have also confirmed the original plan of the burial chambers which were excavated in both 1821 and in 1854.”

Samples of original Neolithic mound material will now be taken away for analysis in a bid to establish a more accurate date.

The scheduled monument is managed by Gloucestershire County Council on behalf of English Heritage and is named after Hester Pegler, the 17th century owner of the field in which it sits.

It is one of a series of ancient stone structures known as the Cotswold-Severn barrow group, sited near Dursley and overlooking the Severn Valley.

Very little is known about who was buried there other than that they were from some of the first settled farming communities

Link: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/uley-long-barrow-hetty-peglers-tump/

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