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LiDAR and Citizen Science reveals Iron Age hillfort hidden in Chiltern woods

Wednesday 12 August 2020

The Chilterns Conservation Board’s Beacons of the Past project – a National Lottery funded project to investigate the Iron Age landscapes of the Chilterns – recently flew a bespoke LiDAR survey of the Chilterns, the first of its kind in this area and the largest high-resolution archaeological survey ever flown in the UK. Encompassing 1,400 km2, the survey, with the help of Citizen Scientist volunteers, has revealed thousands of archaeological features across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, and Bedfordshire.

One of the aspirations of the project was to locate any hillforts that might have been hiding in plain sight or under tree cover. Archaeologist Dr Ed Peveler, Landscape Heritage Officer for the project, and several Citizen Scientists each independently identified an earthwork in the southern Chilterns as a potential hillfort. Following careful assessment of the LiDAR and after consultation with and the full co-operation of the landowner, an extensive walk-over survey was undertaken by the Project team.

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Dr Ed Peveler on the ramparts of the newly discovered hillfort, which is buried in woodland. Image copyright Chilterns Conservation Board.

Project Manager and archaeologist Dr Wendy Morrison said ‘Although one can never be certain of the age of a prehistoric earthwork without excavating for dating evidence, visual inspection of the rampart and ditch, paired with its location, dominating views in the landscape, give me the confidence to say this is very likely to be an Early Iron Age univallate hillfort’ (c.800-500 BC). The surviving earthwork consists of a bank nine metres wide and an external ditch seven metres wide; running over 500 metres in perimeter, it would have enclosed an area of about 3 hectares (7.5 acres).

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The ditch and bank measure around 15 metres wide, and the ramparts survive to nearly 2 m tall. Image copyright Chilterns Conservation Board.

There is no public access to the site, and the exact location of the hillfort is currently being withheld to protect sensitive archaeology and the landowner’s privacy. The team are now actively engaged with the landowner to protect and preserve what remains.

The confirmation of a new hillfort in the AONB coincides with the Online LiDAR Portal’s one-year anniversary. Launched on 12 August 2019, the Portal now has nearly 3,000 registered users, who have spent hundreds of hours combing the data, and created records of over 10,000 archaeological features. There is still plenty of work to be done to continue mapping the archaeology of the Chilterns, from prehistory to the remains of WWI and WWII activity in the region, and you can help be a part of finding more hidden archaeological sites. With full training offered, the Online Citizen Science Portal can be found here: https://chilternsbeacons.org

Funded by a £695,600 grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and a number of partners such as the National Trust, Chiltern Society and local authorities, Beacons of the Past is providing a focus for community and public involvement through techniques such as remote sensing and survey, practical excavation, and research, as well as a programme of events and educational activities.

You can read more about the discovery in these articles:

BBC News

The Beyonder

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