On a sunny afternoon in late August, a group of amateur archaeologists and environmentalists met at the foot of the Cadbury Hillfort near to Congresbury, Somerset.
Vince Russett, County Archaeologist, welcomed the assembly and introduced Chris Short of YCCCART (Yatton, Congresbury, Clevedon and Claverton Research Group) and Faith of YACWAY (Yatton and Congresbury Wildlife Action Group) who would be assisting him in this talk on the hillfort and the biodiversity.
Counter to popular beliefs, archaeologists and environmentalist do co-operate and have together devised an action plan for the site to protect ifs heritage, enhance rights of way etc. Yatton and Congresbury parish councils have joint ownership of the site and although an invitation to attend was made by Chris. Disappointingly no representative was present.
Vince said that 50 years ago to this very day (the 25 August), Keith Gardner had had a request from the Ordinance Survey to dig test pits in the Hillfort that he discovered was to alter the history of archaeology in Somerset at that time! After the Roman legions left Britain in the 5th century it was thought that the local population would be scattered countryside, but thanks to the archaeology record it was shown through pottery and other finds on the hillfort, that the people returned and increased in numbers throughout the next couple of centuries. It was important to note that written records were scarce in the 5th and 6th centuries and were mistakenly called the Dark Ages, but in recognition of the great strides in Archaeology in shedding light on this period it is now known as the Late Antiquity period. We were then invited to climb the hill to Henley Wood to see the site of the Roman Temple.
The Quarry company discovered the Temple, a square building in 1966, and called in the local archaeologists. They found an iron age goddess figurine and sherds of iron age pottery which indicated that the site was a sacred place of worship which stretched from the iron age to the Roman period and beyond as a large ditch enclosure, a Terminus nearby held post Roman skeletons. These were all adult so the main burial area for the hillfort place must be elsewhere. Unfortunately the quarry company were allowed to destroy the temple as it was not a protected site at the time.
Before we entered the main fort area we stopped at a drove road which runs close to the hillfort. Vince speculated that this was why the fort was so important. The road provided a source of income and control. Nearby was a mound containing the local water supply built in 1907. In 1999 a pipeline was run up to the reservoir and Vince examined all the material excavated from the trench but not one piece of archaeology came out! He was amazed as that was not predicted.
On the hilltop there was evidence of post Roman occupation with two D shaped enclosures either side of an entrance known as guard chambers. Ken Dart, a research archaeologist in the 1960's had made a study of these and showed they were a feature of reoccupation. The most amazing thing was that when the people came back after the Romans had gone they built around houses completely ignoring the Roman architecture! This was corroborated at the Powys, South Cadbury and Tintagel hillforts. The people living on the hilltop were not impoverished as was thought but were of high status. Pottery from the Mediterranean and North Africa was found containing oil and wine, and glass vessels from Spain, France, Turkey, Italy and Germany. To keep the hill people in the manner they were accustomed to, local farmsteads provided them with that way of life.
We were finally taken to a corner of the fort overlooking Congresbury and took in the incredible view that the original occupants must have enjoyed.
Our thanks must go to Vince Russett and his team for making the day so enjoyable
and completing his tour before the torrential rain arrived!