Monday, 17 May 2021

Archaeology triumph: Hidden Iron Age fort found by ‘citizen scientists’ stuns researchers

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An Iron Age hillfort, hitherto hidden under overgrown trees and foliage, has been discovered with the help of “citizen scientists”. Members of the Beacons of the Past managed to identify the site, located in the Chiltern Hills, from a series of digital survey images taken last year. The hillfort was eventually verified by researchers and archaeologists on August 6.

It is thought the circular site dates from the early Iron Age in England.

The current dates are estimated between 800BC and 500BC.

Work will now take place in order to preserve the site as an area of historical significance.

Much of the hillfort found remains intact.

The discovery included a 9m-wide (30ft) bank and an external ditch that is 7m (23ft) wide.

Its perimeter is more than 500m (1,640ft) in length.

Many believe that the fort would have once covered 7.5 acres (3 hectares).

Interestingly, despite their name, hillforts are often neither on a hill, nor used as forts.

Archaeologists generally agree that the forts may have been used as defended settlements.

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They may also have served as production sites or stock enclosures.

The new site in the southern Chilterns was first identified through images from a large scale LiDAR scan of the area.

Resounding developments and the deployment of LiDAR technology within archaeology has enabled the field to make significant discoveries in areas never before accessed.

It can penetrate foliage that might hide archaeological sites, using laser pulses.


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Earlier this year, Andrew Petersen, Director of Research in Islamic Archaeology at University of Wales Trinity Saint David, told how improved technology was “creating the opportunity to make fine discoveries like never before”.

With the most recent Iron Age discovery, Beacons of the Past’s trained volunteers, known as “citizen scientists”, helped look through LiDAR data to help identify sites.

The exact location of the hillfort has not been disclosed to protect the site and the landowner’s privacy.

Preservation work will now take place in order to maintain what remains of the hillfort.

There are no plans to excavate the site at present.

Project manager and archaeologist Dr Wendy Morrison said: “Although one can never be certain of the age of a prehistoric earthwork without excavating for dating evidence, visual inspection of the rampart and ditch, paired with its location, dominating views in the landscape, give me the confidence to say this is very likely to be an Early Iron Age univallate hillfort.”

Beacons of the Past is a National Lottery Heritage Fund project hosted by the Chilterns Conservation Board.

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