A grisly discovery has produced an archaeological mystery during recent excavations at Fin Cop hillfort in Derbyshire, England. Archaeologists working alongside community volunteers, uncovered nine bodies dating to the Iron Age, roughly thrown into the defensive ditch, but there is so much more to this remarkable site.
Fin Cop is located on the crest of a steep sided bluff overlooking the valley of Monsal Dale. The actual hillfort itself commands panoramic views over the surrounding countryside. However, activity on the site dates much further back in time than the Iron Age construction.
The hilltop was a place for burying the dead during the Early Bronze Age (c. 2300-1200 BC). Along the western edge of the escarpment, near where Fin Cop is located, there is current evidence of at least five cairns/barrows. The investigation of one of the cairns in the 1920’s by Major T. Harris, a local antiquarian, found a cist burial, along with the remains of 30 individuals, a collared urn and a food vessel.
A number of finds of Neolithic worked stone from the interior of Fin Cop attest to activity during the fourth-third millennia BC.
The discovery of a Mesolithic stone quarry site for chipping stone artifacts from chert is unique in England and bodes well for Mesolithic studies in the region. An important priority is to obtain some dating control on the activity and to consider new and existing assemblages from the region in terms of their chert component and their similarities, or otherwise, with the chert available from Fin Cop
A comprehensive radiocarbon dating scheme showed the hillfort was constructed in the period 440-390 cal BC (68% probability).
The first season in 2009 located a female skeleton (Skeleton 1) in the ditch fill. Aged between 21 – 35 years, she had been thrown into the ditch along with the rocks of the dismantled rampart. The awkward angle of the skeleton suggested a casual disposal of the body rather than one that showed any special care had been taken. She had then been covered over with rocks from the rampart very soon after. During analysis of the human remains, it became evident that the woman had either been heavily pregnant, or had been thrown into the ditch with a baby, as fragmentary pieces of a very young child’s skeleton were also found.
During the 2010 excavations, the remains of a further eight bodies – two women, a male teenager, a young child, and four babies – were found, having also been thrown into the ditch not long before the rampart wall was pushed in.
Dr Clive Waddington, who directed the two-year dig commented that previously “Hill forts had been seen as displays of power, prestige and status rather than places with a serious military purpose.” The discoveries at Fin Cop have reopened the debate on the purpose of hill forts. He added, “ For the people living here, the hurriedly constructed fort was evidently intended as a defensive work in response to a very real threat.”
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