Volunteer army drafted to map every ancient hill fort

 
Tap o'Noth Hill fort, Aberdeenshire Tap o'Noth hill fort in Aberdeenshire. There are more than 5,000 of these ancient structures in Britain and Ireland but they have been little researched until now

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Archaeologists are drafting a volunteer army to help map every ancient hill fort across Britain and Ireland.

It is part of a project to create an online atlas of around 5,000 of these Iron Age monuments.

Prehistory enthusiasts are being asked to identify and record features such as ramparts, ditches and entrances.

Prof Gary Lock, of Oxford University, said: "We want to shed new light on why they were created and how they were used."

Despite their large numbers there has been little academic work on hill forts, how they were used and how they varied across Britain and Ireland, the researchers say.

Market days

Prof Lock, who has studied and excavated a number of the forts in England, said that despite their name archaeological evidence suggests they were not primarily used for military purposes.

"We have found pottery, metalwork and evidence of domestic activities like spinning and weaving, also of agriculture, crops like wheat and barley and of keeping pigs, sheep and cattle," he told BBC News.

Researchers believe they may have been meeting places for religious festivals or market days.

The oldest hill forts are in Ireland and Wales and are up to 3,000 years old. Many were abandoned after the Romans arrived in Britain, but in areas that the Romans did not occupy they were used for longer.

The research team want information not only on well-preserved forts but also on sites where only crop marks indicate their existence. The idea is to build a free online database.

"We are hoping that local archaeology societies will get involved," said Prof Lock.

Citizen science

"Rather than going to a hill fort on your own, it would be better, with a group of people, to talk about what you are looking at, which should make it easier to identify the various details," he said.

Segsbury Camp hill fort Segsbury Camp, in Oxfordshire, has large ramparts around it but others only exist as crop marks

Dr Jon Murden, director of the Dorset museum in Dorchester, which is owned and run by the county's natural history and archaeological society, told BBC News: "We would love to be involved.

"There are at least 50 hill forts to explore and understand on the South Dorset Ridgeway alone."

Volunteers will be able to feed information on their local hill fort into an online form on the Atlas of Hillforts project website from Monday.

"We are keen to see what the citizen science approach may reveal," said Prof Ian Ralston, of Edinburgh University, the project co-director.

"We hope that the public, including archaeological societies, will get behind this project as it should lead to the discovery of new sites and new information about sites that are considered to be well known. We expect the results of this project to change our vision of these iconic monuments."

The four-year project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The maps will be freely available to the public, searchable by region and linked to Google Earth to show the hillforts in the context of the landscape.

 

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  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 54.

    Hidden heritage is the curse of living on such pleasant green fertile lands.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 53.

    the exploitation of labour is nothing new has been in existence for ever

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 52.

    Just a thought, human nature being what it is.
    Maybe the reasons for building these hill forts were more about bolstering the local chieftains ego by using oneupmanship ( bigger, better, higher than yours etc ) and as a bonus somewhere to hold a festival on market day.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 51.

    There are so many around the valley where we live and there is almost always a village below- we seemed to have move down to the valleys but even today they are often welcoming and comfortable places with their own near by water supply- some for show and some for community living.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 50.

    its a pity they didn't start this when Prof Mick Aston was still alive.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 49.

    Hope they don't forget Knockfarrel, outside Dingwall in Invernessshire.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 48.

    #47. awaybob. My apologies. I actually completely misread what BJ typed. However, now understanding what he wrote, I completely agree with him. The majority of children of the new global culture couldn't care less about national, regional or localized history or heritage. Especially when it gives depth and soul to the host 'nation's' existence and conflicts with their patriarchal cultures.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 47.

    G-Ath, I think we all know what BikerJake meant.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 46.

    I imagine it puts a spanner in the works of the traditionally anti-English brigade to realize that genetically the ENGLISH people of today are actually predominantly of CELTIC (Brythonic) stock. If it cheers you up (and I have your permission) I have always preferred to refer to myself (as is my right) as British rather than English. I never refer to my country or my land as 'England'. /|\

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 45.

    #41. awaybob. Rather than predominantly carrying the I1 gene of the Germanic and Scandinavians, the fact that the ENGLISH (as known today) have the Celtic haplogroup RB1 as the more prominent shows that historians have been wrong. We did not all flee to Wales and Scotland. WE Celtic Britons here in 'England' ABSORBED the Saxons. In this sense, Celtic hill forts in England ARE ENGLISH HERITAGE.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 44.

    I know of 3 local to me. One at the back of Ardrossan, One on the Portencross hill next to Hunterson and Dunfion in Lamlash Arran!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 43.

    #41. awaybob. It's not clear in what sense BJ was referring to ENGLISH heritage so why jump on his back. There is an organisation named 'ENGLISH heritage' which he may have been referring to. These forts also exist in the land known as England. Therefore are inherited by the 'modern' English. The predominant DNA haplogroup of all ENGLISH people is the Celtic RB1 gene.Are you aware of that?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 42.

    SeaSickJustice;
    I seem to recall a recent story about an unemployed history graduate doing voluntary work at a museum, but having to give it up to swell poundlands bloated balance sheet :-)

    P.S. I think the unemployed are treated as social pariahs these days, So im not too sure where your describing them as idols comes from :-D

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 41.

    BikerJake, as these are from before the English arrived on these shores your point as about as valid as the one about dragons.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 40.

    Maybe some of the 2.5 million unemployed (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10604117) could help out. Volunteering for things like this says so much more than remaining idol.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 39.

    #35: What is "catchall celtic [sic] culture"?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 38.

    Very interesting initiative. I work as an archaeologist in Lithuania and we already have database for all hill forts ( [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] ), but I'm glad that UK is doing it right now because there might be some amazing insight made during all this work. Good luck!

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 37.

    Rather odd that this has not been gathered together before. What have those working in the area been doing? A simple map marking all known sites ought to have been basic. Can not an overlay to Google maps be made? One that could have many era options? Roman sites and roads, Mediaeval, Tudor, Victorian etc.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 36.

    Where I live near Sheffield there are several interesting hillfort sites-Carl Wark which noone is sure when it was built, Wincobank Hill in a prominant position opp. Meadowhall shopping centre and across the valley in Rotherham a bronze age settlement on Canklow Hill. Linking the fort at wincobank north to Mexborough is the Roman Ridge or Rig Dyke, a ditch the purpose of which is still unknown

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 35.

    . . . at last, a use for google maps! the satellite images will be invaluable . . . plus, it may help to lift the veil over who we are, or were . . . perhaps help to see beyond the catchall "celtic culture"

 

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