Background

Burrough Hill panorama

1796 plan and sketch
16th century plan and sketch of Burrough Hill

Hillforts are widely seen as emblematic of the Iron Age, but are unevenly distributed; Burrough Hill is one of very few in the East Midlands, comparable in national significance to the important (but now destroyed) site at Hunsbury in Northamptonshire. A series of small archaeological excavations at Burrough in 1935, 1960, 1967 and 1970-71 show occupation from the Neolithic period (c.4000-2000 BC) to the 4th or even 5th century AD. The most intensive period was in the later Iron Age (c. 100 BC–AD 50) and, more unusually, in the 1st century AD; later use was sporadic at best . As at Hunsbury, the finds indicate wide ranging trading contacts, in both cases very likely linked to the proximity of good-quality iron ores.  After people stopped living at the hillfort, the interior and surrounding fields were farmed in the medieval period and were ploughed until the parish was enclosed in the 17th century.  The hillfort was in fact also used as a fairground in medieval times and later became the venue for steeple-chasing organised by the Melton Hunt for a large part of the 19th century!

1960 excavation at the hillfort entrance
cobbled road and stone walling at the hillfort entrance

Archaeological fieldwork since the 1970s has shown that Burrough Hill sits in a densely occupied landscape of enclosed farms, larger aggregated settlements and important ritual foci.  This information provides a new perspective on Iron Age societies in a part of Britain once written off as sparsely inhabited and culturally peripheral. As well as providing a secure foundation for further research, this work has exposed the inadequacy of our understanding of the centrality (or otherwise) of Burrough Hill in its region. What was its social and economic status and relationship with other communities? Do these change over time? Did the occupation at Burrough overlap with other settlement types or were they mutually exclusive? Why was there a hillfort here at all when such sites are so rare in the East Midlands?

Source: John Thomas (ULAS) & Jeremy Taylor (University of Leicester School of Archaeology and Ancient History)

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