Monday, 12 August 2013

Ham Hill visit

Sunday 11th August was the visit to the Ham Hill excavation being carried out by Cardiff and Cambridge Universities and Cambridge Archaeology Unit.

The hillfort at Ham Hill is the largest in the UK, with almost 3 miles of ramparts enclosing 88 hectares. 'Hillfort' is a bit of a misnomer, in that although on hills they are not forts in the wild west tradition and not really for purely of a defensive function. They were probably for status, foci for the community or ritual and market complexes. Ham Hill is protected by English Heritage, who gave consent for the quarry extension to enable the supply of ham stone required for the conservation of the regions historic buildings.
Ham Hill & excavation area
Topographic and geophysical surveys show that 40% of the hillfort's interior has been quarried, but has revealed a multi-period occupation which includes roundhouses, roadways and substantial enclosures. This year excavators have concentrated on one of the enclosures and trenches positioned over the ramparts.
Main excavation area with main enclosure
During the Neolithic and Bronze Ages finds of pottery and flint artefacts show that people used this area for short and long term settlement. By the Middle Bronze Age, c.1500BC, large field systems were set out and long term settlement was the norm, with quern stones to process cereal from the fields.
In the Early Iron Age, c.800-350BC, the hillfort was constructed and densely populated, with the earliest evidence being a circular building under the rear of the rampart. They used a low ham stone wall for the building, to support the wooden and thatch roof, and it contained an intact hearth. The rest of the features in the main areas of excavation are much later, c.350-43AD. They consisted of two circular ditches, which would have surrounded the dwellings, and several clusters of pits, some of which are 2m deep. From these pits were found decorated pottery, quern stones, clay objects used in weaving, bone tools and animal remains, sometimes with human bones too. Remains of mustard seeds are normally associated with Roman period remains, but some were found here at this early date. Iron objects are rare, with a 'currency bar' being one of them. These were used as money, or so the theory goes, and cut into pieces according to value.

The trenches cut through the ramparts show that at least four phases of construction can be seen. Each phase was constructed differently, using either dumps of soil or large revetment walls of ham stone. Domestic waste was dumped against the ramparts. The final rampart was at least 4m high. Roman pottery and a projectile point mark the final use of the rampart.

This years work is to find out if the southern rampart is of similar construction to the north and to extend investigations into the northwest where a possible unknown entrance may be found, as the rampart here was sealed by up to 1m of quarry rubble.    

Pictures of the main excavation:
Senior Archaeologist Hayley introducing the site to DD members
Hayley showing members a grain pit
Digger showing a very nice section across the enclosure ditch
A very rare find of an I/A articulated skeleton

Find process hut
Pictures of the rampart excavation:
Cutting through the rampart
DD members being shown the dig at the rampart
The slope of the rampart beyond the dig

Thanks to Hayley for showing us around, DD members found it very interesting. This is last phase of digging on Ham Hill and it was an insight into a very rare event - a dig on a hillfort.

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