A team of archaeologists has detected a conurbation of houses at a hill fort that once hosted some of the earliest occupants of a New Forest town, an area of southern England which includes one of the largest remaining tracts of unenclosed pasture land, heathland and forest in Britain.
East ramparts of the Buckland Rings hilltop fort, Lymington (Public domain)
Research Reveals Significant Archaeological Evidence
Buckland Rings is a spectacular embanked and ditched earthen fortress enclosing six acres within its triple ramparts. Until now, archaeologists have not been able to estimate the hillfort’s age accurately, but this could change very soon. A technologically advanced research at Buckland Rings Iron Age hillfort in Lymington, southern England, has divulged proof of 2,000 year old roundhouses within the fort’s ramparts as Heritage Daily reports. The geophysical research was directed by the New Forest National Park Authority with local volunteers and students from Bournemouth University. Seven pre-historic residences have been determined so far, which according to the experts were once home of hunters and farmers that occupied the lands of what is today Lymington. Archaeologists suggest that these ancient people lived in round wooden dwellings covered with a soil-based mixture and made a living by trading throughout Britain and across the sea.
Buckland Rings – artist’s impression, aerial view. (New Forest National Park Authority)
The Utility of Ancient Hillforts in Ancient Britain
As reported in a previous Ancient Origins article, British researchers undertook a large-scale project in 2013, in order to gather information on approximately 5,000 Iron Age hillforts scattered throughout the UK and Ireland. For those who might not know, hillforts are large circular defensive enclosures, protected by one or a series of steep ditches carved out of the earth, and are usually found on prominent hilltop positions, overlooking areas of strategic importance. While they were once thought to have been Roman constructions, archaeological excavations at the end of the 19th century revealed that they were entirely British in nature.
Some hillforts have been traced back to the Bronze Age but the vast majority were constructed in the Iron Age after 500BC. It was once thought that the hillforts had a purely defensive purpose, however, there is evidence to suggest that a wide variety of other activities took place there - domestic, cultural and industrial – suggesting that they functioned like defensible towns, or as administrative centers of a community, home to the local chief and prominent citizens. Interestingly, while hillforts can be found spread throughout the British Isles and Ireland, archaeologists have noticed that they are most prevalent in Southern and Western England.
Archaeologists Examine a Vast Area Covering Six Football Pitches
Fast forward to 2017, the team of archaeologists has been using the incredibly revealing Lidar surveying equipment to conduct the recent survey at Buckland Rings Iron Age hillfort in Lymington, has also spotted medieval field systems, which have helped them to understand significantly better the progress and evolution of the Buckland Rings community from prehistoric hamlet to modern day Lymington.
Lidar 3D image of Buckland Rings (New Forest National Park Authority)
The team closely examined a wide area of 4.3 hectares or nearly six football pitches as Heritage Daily characteristically points out, in order to determine disparities in the earth’s soil that show ancient human activity. Lawrence Shaw, Archaeological Officer for the New Forest National Park Authority, told Heritage Daily, “Buckland Rings is a fantastically well preserved hillfort that would have once towered over Lymington and even been visible from the sea. This project has allowed us to look back at the origins of this historic town and see how people were living thousands of years ago. We hope to continue with our research to uncover more details of early Lymington and help the local community to find out more about this fascinating site.”
Ultimately, Josie Hagan, a Bournemouth University archaeology student who participated in the research, told Heritage Daily that the project was not just successful (from an academic point of view), but also fun for the participants, “This survey was a great success and we had a lot of fun over the six days. The volunteers and students worked extremely hard to get a lot of ground covered, and this looks great in the results. It makes it all worthwhile when you get to piece the results together and see features that haven’t been discovered before.”
Top image: Buckland Rings - artist's impression from gates (New Forest National Park Authority)
By Theodoros Karasavvas