"Look, I can see for miles around on all sides, this is the place to build!" Was that what Iron Age man said when first he sighted Ham Hill, a great hill of golden sand stone; rising up from the lowlands of Somerset? Did he seek to fortify the hill against attack by enemies? Or did he spend all that effort on 3 miles of ramparts, as an original idea like a "nuclear deterrent"? Why did he keep piles of round sling stones for catapults for defence, or for slaying Of small animals for their meat, or for driving away wild, dangerous animals?
Eight members of WANHS had a specialist guided tour of the 88 hectares at Ham Hill on the 14th August, a damp, drizzly day. Put to shame by students from Cambridge and Cardiff, who kneeled or sat cross legged on the sand delicately moving the soil with tiny trowels, or cleaning bones and slivers of pottery with tooth brushes we pressed on.
We learned that Ham Hill had been occupied since the Neolithic Age. The ramparts were constructed in the Early Iron Age, circular houses, roadways, field systems, enclosures and pits were uncovered. Decorated pottery, quern stones, weaving and other bone tools, and surprisingly mustard seed, were all found. Was this to enhance flavour or did it have a medical value? Over centuries there were many ages of occupation, construction, infilling and abandonment, right up to the Roman occupation.
Suddenly, we stopped and stared! A skeleton in the ground! Unusual for bodies were thought to be exposed after death. Who was so important that he was buried? No artefacts in the grave. A few feet away a student was moving the soil from a skull, another skeleton was appearing as we watched.
Personally, seeing how today's neighbourhoods regard their neighbours as "foreigners", primitive tribes are always fighting each other the Romans arriving in Ancient Britain found warring tribes . I believe Ham Hill was fortified. Who built the ramparts? Slaves, captured from the enemies? Life was hard, if you wanted something the next tribe possessed, you went out and acquired it. What do you think?
With caution the experts revealed a whole history, but Ham Hill still holds many secrets.
PS. Food at the local pub is recommended.
Hailey: "This is just one of our grain pits outside our enclosure ditch. It's circular, has pretty steep sides, it's probably got a fire pit at the bottom but we haven't dug there yet. We think they were for storing grain and then they get used for secondary purposes, mostly deposition of objects, not rubbish objects, carefully placed. You can make out bits of pots-they may look like rubbish but in the other pits we have found large pots, we've found metal work within large pottery vessels. We think some of the pots have been deliberately broken; we often find halves of pots. The one's we have found and lifted are very fragile and fallen apart. Until we manage to stick the pieces together we don't know whether we have half a pot or a whole pot, clearly thought about disposition of things. We have done environmental sampling; a couple of the pots did have residues on them-Emmer wheat, Barley and unusually mustard; large quantities! Three ideas- taste, oil and nitrogen fixing to improve the soil. The original grain pits were excavated in the first year and are now quarried out so I can't show you them. I'm growing mustard as an experiment to discover any other properties the Iron-age people may have used".