Season 3 (2012)

Burrough Hill panorama

Welcome to the 2012 Webdiary!

This page contains a week by week summary of the 2012 excavation season as it unfolded, with many pictures of the key discoveries. The excavation season ran from mid-June to mid-July 2012.


The 2012 season of excavation concentrated on areas of the hillfort interior and the surrounding rampart earthwork (trenches 5, 6, and 7). The aim was to better understand the nature of occupation within the hillfort and how it might have changed over time.

Burrough Hill, 2012 trenches looking east. Copyright Neil Rathbone.Trench 5 is located to investigate a cluster of pits within the hillfort interior. It is clear from the geophysical survey that the hillfort interior is full of pits (black dots on the image left).  Many of these will have been used for storage of seeds for the following years crop, and protection of surplus food. Others may have been used as small-scale quarries for building materials, water-collection and burial of significant objects. Storage pits are a common feature of many hillforts across Britain and one function of these sites may have been to provide centralised storage for the wider farming community of the area.  Excavation in the 1960’s has shown the variety of pits and the dates when they were used (Iron Age and Roman) and our work this year will add significantly to that record.

2012 trench plan
Geophysical survey of Burrough Hill showing trench locations for 2012

Trench 6 is located on the western side of the hillfort with the aim of revealing more about the main rampart construction and occupation inside the hillfort.  This area was chosen as it coincides with a break in the ramparts, allowing us access to the archaeology whilst minimalising disturbance to the earthworks. Previous excavations of the main hillfort rampart have revealed a steep drystone walled outer face, supported by a clay-capped dumped rubble core and sloping rubble layers on the interior.  This years excavations in Trench 6 will provide the fullest view of the ramparts to date, and will reveal much about their construction, use of materials and hopefully chronology.

Trench 7 is located in the northern part of the hillfort and targets an intriguing rectangular-shaped feature identified on the geophysical survey results.  This may represent a Roman structure and its location coincides with a concentration of Roman pottery from this part of the hillfort.  This trench has much potential to inform on how Burrough Hill was used during the Roman period. Excavation of Trench 7 is funded through a grant from the Roman Research Trust.


Week 1:Welcome to the first entry of the 2012 dig blog from Burrough Hill!

Trenches 5 and 6 were opened by machine the previous week ready for the 1st year students’ arrival on site on 10th June. This is a view across the hillfort at the east entrance, looking west with trench 5 in the foreground and trench 6 just visible in the distant background.

view of 2012 trenches

trowelling trench 5The initial pre-excavation tasks before tackling the Iron Age remains were to clean the trenches with a good hard trowel to more fully reveal the deposits (T5 shown here), and then photograph and plan before getting down to digging.

Despite an uneven mix of summer sunshine and unseasonably torrential rain (with the crew looking like they’ve just spent the day at Glastonbury), many exciting features are emerging from both trenches including a round house, some very large pits, and a section of hillfort rampart (images below). All of which will be investigated in the weeks to come.

rampart revealed in trench 6 recording a rampart

Week 2

The team have been especially quick to learn the varying excavation skills, meaning that, despite the continued shockingly wet summer and difficult digging conditions the second week of the 2012 season (and the final week for the 1st year students), saw a huge amount of progress in both trenches with many features investigated and some exciting discoveries made. This shows precise section drawing of a pit in Trench 5

pit recording in Trench 5 week 2


rampart digging, Trench 6

This image shows careful excavation of the rampart in Trench 6. It is now beginning to give us a good understanding of the construction methods used to build the rampart.

pit with animal bone, Trench 6 week 2

It’s the season of the pits with many in both trenches of varying sizes and all containing substantial artefact assemblages of pottery, animal bone, quern stones, loom weights, and other interesting objects.

This image shows disarticulated animal bone in the base of a pit in Trench 6.


This image shows two pits almost fully excavated in Trench 6.

Pits dug, Trench 6 week 2

school visit in Trench 5 week 2

A key aspect of this project is outreach. Local primary schools from the region visit the excavations reguarly for a tour of the hillfort, the trenches, and a chance to hold some of the finds. Thanks to the Ernest Cook Trust for helping fund and promote these visits.

Some of these pits being excavated from Trench 5 contained transitional Iron Age/Roman pottery known as ‘combed ware’ and early Roman pottery.


The highlight of the week goes to a pit in Trench 5.

When you see this many people looking into a pit you know something interesting must have come up...

looking in the pit, Trench 5 week 2

human bone pit

This large sub-rectangular pit looked much like the other pits at first with the usual assortment of artefacts (including Roman pottery), until human bones were located in amongst those of cattle bones.

The human remains consisted of a skull in the centre of the pit, and a quern stone was place on top of it (the quern is visible in this image). A tibia (just visible in the top right corner), and a rib was also recovered.

It is uncertain at present if it is a disturbed burial or some sort of special deposit. It is certainly very different to the crouched burial from 2011.


A detailed view of the human skull excavated in Trench 5. Early indications suggest it was a young male adult of muscular build.

All the human remains have now been removed from site for conservation and expert analysis.

skull in pit, Trench 5 week 2


Week 3

This week the second year undergraduate and distance learning students have arrived to pick up the tools and features left by the 1st years.

This shows Trench 6 looking north, the roundhouse is now being excavated in the background.

T6 overview, week 3
pit and roundhouse week 3

Based on the geophysical survey there are over 400 pits across the hillfort.

This very large rock-cut circular pit is the largest yet dug and measures 3m in diameter, and over 2.25m deep.

It cuts the backfilled roundhouse eaves-drip gully (also being excavated in the image).


The images below show a range of some of the huge quantities of artefacts being recovered from the pits, including: a large fragment of the base of an Iron Age pottery vessel, a glass bead, a bone pin, and a complete ring.

base fragment of Iron Age pottery

glass bead

bone pin


Week 4

Following a hugely successful open day, week 4 was the final week for 2nd years and distance learning students. So after the wettest, dullest, and coldest June on record, our hopes for a drier start to July proved elusive. Another very mixed week with work being heavily disrupted due to the continued wet weather. Well done to the 2nd year undergraduates and distance learning students who have put up with these difficult working conditions in their final week to get much dug in both Trench 5 and 6. Work in Trench 5 has drawn to a close, and attention will now turn to Trench 7. The new trench has been opened ready for action in week 5, first impressions indicate some Roman activity, but the character of it is as yet uncertain.

This busy image within Trench 6 shows the roundhouse gully being dug in the background, and recorded in the foregorund, along with a couple of later, larger, pits cutting into it.

roundhouse being dug, photographed, and drawn

These images below show distance learning students drawing a small pit or post-hole that is positioned within the roundhouse, there are several more discrete features still to be investigated. Elsewhere, a horse skull was deposited in the upper backfill of the roundhouse gully.

small burnt pit or post-hole within roundhouse animal jaw in pit

Week 5

The final week saw Trench 7 get fully investigated, led by Andrew Hyam of ULAS the team included members of Melton Fieldworkers and other local volunteers. A substantial linear feature (ditch?) was located, confirming the geophysical anomaly. Its full size and function remains uncertain. Most features (some pits and smaller curving gullies) contained Iron Age pottery, and one contained half of a large quern stone (used for griding corn to make flour).

Trench 7 ditch or beam slot Quernstone from Trench 7
Rampart in week 5

Meanwhile in Trench 6, work concluded on the roundhouse area, whilst interestingly a cluster of pits in one area were contained within a small sub-enclosure located to the rear of the roundhouse adjacent to the rampart. The rampart section itself was fully revealed and its full sequence of construction is now more fully understood.

Located below the rampart (and therefore pre-dating the construction of the defences) was a pit (visible in photo above on the right). this contained an interesting finds assemblage. Within this were the usual scored-ware pottery sherds and animal bone, along with numerous triangular clay loom weights, an iron razor, and two 'v'-shaped copper alloy objects (one shown here). This is a decorative shield fitting.

copper alloy object T6

So that concludes the 2012 season, these three pictures below perhaps sum up this year nicely, lots of rain, lots of mud, but despite this we still discovered much and recovered many finds!

rain mud finds

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