Ancient mass grave uncovered at Britain’s largest Iron Age hillfort

From MailOnline. Grave at Ham Hill.

Grave at Ham Hill.

I wrote about this last week as a blurb in the Archaeology and Science Links on 09/02/13, with a link to the article.  I didn’t spend too much time on it then because there weren’t that many details published about the human remains that had been recovered.  But MailOnline and The Independent have published more information on the skeletal remains the archaeological team unearthed.

An immense excavation is underway at the Iron Age hill fort site at Ham Hill in Somerset, England.  This massive site measures 800,000m2, but only a small portion of the site has been unearthed.  Archaeologists from the Universities for Cambridge and Cardiff have dug up evidence of a mass murder, with possibly thousands of victims.    The joint team believes the massacre happened around the start of the Roman invasion, because Roman weapons (ballista bolts which were fired by catapult) were found among the bones.

Many of the bodies have cut marks on the bones near the joints, which suggests the bodies were defleshed and chopped up.  Dr. Marcus Brittain, the Cambridge archaeologist who is leading the excavation, believes that this grisly act occurred in the first or second century.  There are a few theories as to what happened.  One suggests that the Romans executed people to maintain order between indigenous tribes.  This argument is supported by the presence of Roman weapons among the skeletal remains.  But defleshing bodies is rarely associated with the Romans.  Another theory suggests that the indigenous Britons were behind the defleshing because they had a reputation of being brutal to human remains, often putting polished skulls in doorways.

Archaeological excavations at ancient Roman sites are rare because they are protected.   But the stone underneath Ham Hill is an important building material in southern England and is required for the conservation of historic buildings.  So an exception was made for the hillfort to extend the existing stone quarry.  In exchange a joint archaeological investigation by the universities of Cambridge and Cardiff was funded.

Read more at:


The Independent

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