Plymouth Archaeology Society

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Mark Corney

3rd March 2008

Mark admitted to a passion for the late Romano-British period and to what was happening in the 5th and 6th centuries and this enthusiasm was clearly evident in his very lively talk.

Hillforts were being constructed from Late Bronze Age into the Iron Age with some of them going out of use by the Middle Iron Age. Mark’s work for the Royal Commission and subsequent involvement with the English heritage Wessex Hillfort Project has led him to believe that Hillforts have a role in the gradual transition from Roman Province into a series of British states that are eventually absorbed into the Anglo Saxon kingdoms. By surveying sites such as Maiden Castle and many other Hillforts and comparing the subtleties of the earthwork ramparts with excavated sections there is clear evidence of refurbishment. In the past this was thought to be Roman due to a lack of datable material, but some of this final refurbishment could be post Roman.

Somerset really stands out as having produced a very good body of evidence for the reoccupation and refurbishment of Hillforts in the early post Roman period. Alcock’s excavations at South Cadbury produced remarkable results dating from early prehistory through to 11th century AD. The fact that the defences are completely refurbished and a new gate constructed in the south west entrance demonstrates that the hilltop was a major focal point in the early post Roman period. Some very diagnostic potsherds recovered from South Cadbury and many other sites in the south west include North African red slipwares, Easter Mediterranean pottery and amphorae. The South Cadbury Environs Project is showing that what is going on in the environs reflects what is happening on the hilltop. There is very late Roman activity continuing well into the 5th century and beyond that there is an even later phase of activity.

 Mark covered sites from Somerset, Gloucester, Dorset and Wiltshire and the evidence for refurbishment that has    been    found.    This     evidence Includes drystone walls and new gates in the defences, Roman temples, cemeteries and pottery and metalworking finds dating from the late 4th century through to 7th/8th centuries. For example, although the early the Hillfort at Poundbury went out of use by the 5th century BC there is evidence for later activity in the area, there are Mediterranean imported wares, a Roman cemetery with stone mausolea dating to the late 4th century and also metalworking dating to 5th - 7th century  AD. At Hod Hill a high status buckle dating to the late Roman into the 5th century was recovered from a posthole, this buckle was a prototype of the Sutton Hoo variations. Surface finds from a nearby field has produced a variety of Roman building material indicating a probable villa site. A couple of Anglo Saxon brooches have also been found there.

 Earthwork survey near many of these sites shows that frequently Roman settlements and villas are found close to Hillforts. Mark’s own double villa site at Bradford-On-Avon is sited very close to Budbury Hillfort (now under a housing estate). The villa itself shows signs of a later, possibly 5th century, conversion leading to the hypothesis that there was a partial conversion from a villa estate into an Episcopal estate.

 In conclusion, the evidence of black-burnished pottery continuing into at least the mid 5th century along with British metalwork brooches, pins and buckles dating also to this period could suggest that elite groups were maybe returning to the Hillforts. Quite a lot of evidence is circumstantial but re-examination of old material could help clarify things. The Hillforts were an ancient focus of power both on a spiritual and temporal level to the surrounding population.

Shirley Ryan


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