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We might be a small island, but we've got a big history.
Everywhere you stand, there are worlds beneath your feet.
And so, every year, hundreds of archaeologists across Britain
go looking for more clues into our story.
Who lived here, when and how?
There was a blade in here and here...
So he's being attacked from all angles.
Archaeology is a complex jigsaw puzzle drawing everything together,
from skeletons to swords, temples to treasure.
-He's biting his shield.
-Biting his shield, yeah.
From Orkney to Devon,
we're joining this year's quest on sea, land and air.
We share all of the questions and find some of the answers
as we join the teams in the field...
Our written history doesn't begin until the Roman Invasion.
But for about 2,500 years before that
the people of Britain living through the Bronze and the Iron Ages
were producing beautiful, intricate pieces of metalwork,
like this fantastic gold torque.
Which does suggest that the culture of prehistoric Britain
was more sophisticated than we might sometimes imagine.
Metal is at the heart of the ages of Bronze And Iron,
but there's much more to pre-Roman Britain than that.
This year's archaeology gives us incredible glimpses into a world
that's unfamiliar, complex and sometimes very strange.
Like the Bronze Age skeletons changing our understanding of prehistoric death rituals...
This is starting to look very strange indeed.
..the metal Cauldrons revealing the secrets of Iron Age feasting...
and the mysterious monument emerging from the mud where it's lain for two millennia.
Oh, that's just amazing!
The Britain we know is not a place our Bronze Age ancestors would recognise.
When the era began in around 2300 BC, much of this land was covered in forest.
Bronze Age people changed the landscape.
They used the first metal tools,
cleared forests and lived in settled communities.
The population rose to around half a million people.
Their lives are still mysterious to us.
But each year archaeology reveals more surprising evidence.
This year's revelations begin at a site uncovered between 1989 and 2002.
The University of Sheffield were digging on the Hebridean Island of South Uist.
They were excavating a terrace of Bronze Age houses.
Under the floors, they discovered something quite unexpected.
Including what appeared to be one complete adult male
and one complete female.
They were buried with their arms and legs bent and drawn up
in a recognised early Bronze Age style known as a crouched burial.
Complete Bronze Age skeletons are rare,
so this was already the find of a lifetime.
The bones were brought to Sheffield for examination.
This was the beginning of a long investigation that now suggests
Bronze Age attitudes to death were far stranger and more complex
than we had ever imagined.
This might not look quite as exciting as visiting a dig,
but so much of the information that we can glean from archaeology
comes not just from the excavation itself
but from looking at artefacts and bones later on in the laboratory.
As a human bone expert, I'm really excited about
looking at this particular collection of skeletons,
which have the potential for revolutionizing our ideas
about life and death in the Bronze Age.
I think I press this button...
Osteoarchaeologist Christie Willis has been part of the Cladh Hallan Project since 2004.
-So this is your lab?
Here we have the two main skeletons from Cladh Hallan laid out on the table for us.
'We're starting with the male.'
Looks nicely preserved.
He's very nicely preserved.
'This appears to be a normal adult skeleton.
'But a closer look reveals it's anything but.'
Take a look at this jaw.
What we can see is the occlusal surface itself,
which is the top part of the teeth.
It's actually quite worn down.
OK, so the grinding surface of the teeth?
I'd agree with that, certainly quite worn.
But if we look at his top teeth, they're actually all missing.
All the molars have gone.
Not only have they gone, they went a long time ago.
Because of all the anti-molar tooth loss. Exactly.
'The upper and lower jaws seem to be a mismatch.
'It's hard to see how the lower teeth would have become so worn down if the upper teeth were missing.
'Christie suspects that this skeleton is more than one man.
'To see if this strange discovery was a one-off, she turned her attention to the female.'
This is a beautiful female pelvis, isn't it?
It's really nice. It has a very wide obtuse sciatic notch there.
Typical female traits.
But the skull, osteologically, is male.
It has a very large occipital protuberance at the back here.
But that, to me, wouldn't immediately make me think
it was from a different skeleton.
I'd think this is a female,
because we'd go with the pelvis as the main indicator.
But a woman who looked a bit manly, perhaps.
That's exactly right.
But because I knew what we had with the skeleton behind us,
I felt more research was necessary.
'In the case of the second skeleton,
'just looking at the bones wasn't enough.
'To investigate whether it, too, was made up of more than one person,
'Christie arranged for some of the bones to be tested for DNA.'
-And what were the results?
-We have three individuals here!
This is starting to look very strange indeed.
If there are three individuals, which bones belong to each individual?
So we have the male skull.
And then we have a female pelvis.
And then we have...
The humerus here has been tested and that's a different individual.
-That's given a different DNA haplotype reading.
Close examination suggests that both these skeletons
are made up of the bones of at least three different people.
As far as the team knows, these are the first examples
of complete British Bronze Age skeletons
constructed from the remains of multiple individuals.
But this extraordinary discovery is only part of the Cladh Hallan mystery.
For the next stage in the investigation,
I've come to meet Professor Mike Parker Pearson,
one of Britain's foremost experts on both the Bronze Age and on burial archaeology.
So I'm delighted to be meeting him to talk about those very odd Cladh Hallan burials.
Mike asked his team to take their examination inside the bones.
Normally, once bacteria have moved in,
decay spreads through the skeleton.
Sections of the Cladh Hallan bones, though,
revealed that this process had suddenly halted.
So what we've got is decay starting
but, instead of reaching out through the whole bone, it's being stopped.
And that's the really exciting thing
because that's one of the key indicators that we're looking at.
Preservation of soft tissue at some time soon after death.
The evidence suggested that the Cladh Hallan bodies
had not decayed normally.
The bones were found buried in shell sand,
but looked as though they'd been in a much more acidic environment.
The clue as to what had happened was in the landscape.
The environment of South Uist includes acidic peat bogs.
The preservative qualities of peat prevent decay in organic material,
like human tissue.
Mike's final conclusion was extraordinary.
The Cladh Hallan bodies had been deliberately put into peat
for long enough to mummify them.
His team had discovered Britain's first Bronze Age Mummies.
-So you were surprised?
-To put it mildly.
If anyone had asked me,
I would have just dismissed it and said, "Complete fantasy."
And even when we came up with our results initially,
some people were very sceptical.
But the great thing is, we've had many years to actually work on this
and demonstrate it beyond doubt.
Mike doesn't believe the mummies were buried immediately,
but rather kept above ground to play a part in society.
To our eyes, this is an alien concept, but there are parallels.
'Looking round the world,
'what do we know about other mummy-using societies?'
And the whole point is that you mummify
because you actually want the mummies
to continue to play a role among the living.
The mummies may have been made into composites of different individuals
either long before or immediately prior to burial.
Mike thinks they could have been used as ancestor figures,
perhaps to provide the community with advice.
This is actually them figuring out what happens when you die.
It isn't the end, there's something beyond.
But it's also a series of quite complicated states of being -
alive, not quite alive and, finally, fully dead.
This investigation is still unfolding.
It seems unlikely that the people of South Uist
were alone in making mummies.
So, Mike's asked his team to begin to examine
bone sections from some of Britain's other crouched burials.
One of the first comes from Cambridgeshire -
far from the Hebrides.
Analysis of the bones' interior
revealed that decay had started and then stopped.
A very similar pattern to the Cladh Hallan mummies.
This stage of the project is still in its infancy.
The aim is to discover if the evidence from other crouched burials
suggests they were also mummified,
and whether mummies were part of life across Bronze Age Britain.
I have always been intrigued by these Bronze Age crouched burials.
And it now seems that we have real evidence
that at least some of them may have been mummified.
This is like a forensic case -
you've found a body and you have to work out how it's got there.
You have to work out the processes it's gone through
before it was buried in the ground and you found it.
And how extraordinary that we can use these modern scientific techniques
to unlock secrets from bodies that have been buried for thousands of years.
Bronze Age people altered their landscape by building permanent settlements.
But their Britain was still much wilder than ours.
In one corner of the country,
archaeology is helping to recreate an environment they would recognise.
This might look like the surface of Mars,
but, in fact, I'm in the middle of the Cambridgeshire countryside,
and this is a massive quarry,
providing gravel for the construction industry.
Not long ago, this was farmland,
but, before that, this landscape was part of the Cambridgeshire wetlands.
In prehistory, these wetlands supported both people and wildlife.
Quarrying began in 1997.
Once the quarrying is over,
the level of the land here will really be too low
to make it useful for agriculture.
But that is very good news for the wildlife,
because this whole area will be returned to wetland.
So, a very similar environment to what was here in the Bronze Age.
The work of the Cambridge Archaeological Unit
is informing the recreation of these wetlands.
Working ahead of the quarry,
the archaeologists have now surveyed and excavated 1,000 acres of land.
The evidence they've uncovered shows us how our pre-historic ancestors
used their environment to survive.
It's nice that the material we've been getting out from the lake...
We're getting a nice resonance in terms of what we're finding.
It's early days, but one of the nicest finds
is this piece of wood, which has been gnawed by beavers -
you can tell, their tooth marks are quite distinct.
One can almost relate them - this is one of the beaver jaws.
So, we know the beavers were here in Willingham Mere
in the later Bronze Age and Iron Age,
and we know they're being exploited, primarily for their pelts.
Lots of arrowheads like this from the early Bronze Age.
They were hunting, no doubt about it.
Here at the Ouse Fen Nature Reserve, the quarrying has ended
and the process of rebuilding the wetlands has already begun,
managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
Further archaeological discoveries show that beavers
shared this landscape with creatures so exotic,
we'd never imagine them living in Britain.
-This is a Dalmatian pelican bone.
This was a huge bird, with a wingspan of about three metres overall.
You can see where the feathers were fixed along the bone there.
Oh, that's just extraordinary,
these bumps all along the surface of the bone.
This is absolutely massive.
That's so much longer than my ulna in my forearm.
It's remarkable to think that birds like these once flew over Britain.
In Europe, Dalmatian pelicans only survive today in large wetlands,
like Romania's Danube Delta.
But, by reinstating the reed beds at Ouse Fen,
the RSPB has already attracted back
some of the smaller birds that once lived here.
Do you think a Bronze Age person sitting right where we are now
would recognise this landscape?
I think they would, absolutely.
Because we've actually produced the diversity,
we've got grassland, we've got reed here, we've got cattle grazing,
birdsong in the background.
I feel we've almost made it.
We're back in the Bronze Age!
The Cambridge team will be digging ahead of the quarry
for many more years.
Their excavations have produced tens of thousands of finds,
helping to build up a detailed picture of everyday life
right back through the Bronze Age.
Each object has to be carefully cleaned and catalogued.
This huge task belongs to finds supervisor Dr Jason Hawks.
It's simply a matter of just very gently probing
any obvious areas of surface dirt.
So there we are - it's a very slow, painstaking process.
All those little bits of it.
There we go, little bits of soil coming off there.
-It's quite nerve-racking.
-No, it is!
'Bronze axes like this were more resilient
'and better for woodworking than the stone tools that went before.
'The finds here aren't just practical, though.
'They include personal objects that connect us directly to prehistoric people.'
Well, these are quite interesting.
You can see that all of these shells have been perforated,
all in exactly the same place on the shell.
I mean, presumably, they were...they were strung,
-they were suspended...
-And they might have been jewellery?
-They might have been a necklace.
I still go to beaches today and pick up shells
-and try and make necklaces out of them.
It seems extraordinary that so much concrete evidence of our ancestors' lives
has been preserved and painstakingly identified.
Now, what about these little lumps of clay?
Is it lumps of clay you've got there?
-Now, why are these important?
Well, these are really, really very intriguing.
If you look very carefully,
you can actually see the faintest of impressions
of textile on the original surface of that piece of clay.
That almost looks like hessian sacking, that kind of appearance.
'This imprint is the ghost of a Bronze Age fabric,
'perhaps even clothing, preserved for millennia.'
It's these traces, these amorphous, lasting traces,
of somebody going about their day-to-day life,
that I think really does just make you sit back and think, "Wow,"
you know, that...that's such a real point of connection
with someone that was living 4,000 years ago.
-Makes all the hours of cataloguing worth it.
The excavations here have revealed evidence
not only of the people who lived here during prehistoric times,
but of an entire vanished world.
Just imagine pelicans flying over these wetlands
in a landscape that our Bronze Age ancestors would recognise.
The Bronze Age began
with the arrival of metal from Continental Europe by sea.
European metal has been discovered in East Anglia,
so the Waveney River may have been one of the early routes
by which goods were brought into Britain.
The trade in metal and other commodities
would continue into the Iron Age.
For the past five years,
a team from the University of Birmingham
has dug alongside the Waveney River.
What they're uncovering is not metal
but a series of vast and mysterious timber structures.
It's likely these structures were built
partly because of the importance of the river trade.
But they also give us an insight into the complex beliefs of our ancestors.
What makes this excavation so exciting
is that this is a wetland site,
so we have organic remains preserved here,
the sort of things which just wouldn't stick around
in any dry-land archaeological site.
And, crucially, the team are finding wood
which has been preserved for thousands of years.
And today they're hoping to actually extract some of that wood.
Prehistoric people built trackways across Britain,
but rivers were an easier way to move goods around.
Dr Henry Chapman is taking me to the site by this ancient route.
We're getting evidence now of quite complex boats.
We also have evidence for quite basic boats.
The way I imagine it is, you've got people sort of bobbing around
on...on everything from coracles to, er...to dug-outs...
And then, you know, you have your posh person,
he's got the lovely sewn-plank wonder-boat.
So, I think a real variety.
It's populated - you see a landscape like this
and there are people here - and you would know it.
'The structures appear to date from the Iron Age,
'when this land lay within the territory of the Iceni tribe.
'The evidence that's emerging shows they put enormous effort
'into building these ostentatious constructions,
'to impress traders and other travellers.'
So, what would a trader in prehistoric times
have seen as they came up this river?
It would be weird, wouldn't it?
If you imagine the first time you come up, it's sort of...
it's badlands as you're coming up the river.
And occasionally there would be gaps in the vegetation
and you'd be seeing these long lines of very unnatural timbers.
Huge posts, standing above the ground,
probably two or three metres above ground,
which is a massive statement, really, completely over-engineered,
far too much effort for anything which is vaguely practical alone.
It would have been quite strange,
you would know that you'd arrived somewhere.
This is what the traders might have seen -
tracks that ran for up to a third of a mile,
flanked by rows of massive oak posts.
As you'd expect, these were probably pathways across boggy land.
But in prehistory manmade structures like this
would also have been an extraordinary and impressive sight.
There is no written record of their existence - without archaeology,
we wouldn't know they were here.
Dr Ben Geary is in charge of lifting the posts.
As you can see, we've got some highly technical and expensive equipment
to lift this post out.
There's nothing very glamorous about getting one of these posts out of the ground,
-as you're going to see.
'The timber has only survived
'because it was sealed in waterlogged peat.
'On other sites, it would have rotted away.'
It's certainly wobbling, it's like a tooth that wants to come out.
Grab the rope.
That's not budging.
'This is no easy task.
'The builders carved the posts into sharp pencil points...'
-Exciting and nerve-racking at the same time.
'..then drove them deep into the mud.'
Oh... Is it moving? Is it moving?
-Is that coming, Kris?
-I don't know.
Yep, it is. Alice, can you help with the rope?
-Here it comes. Oh, my goodness!
-Towards this way.
-Towards me, Kris.
Look at that! You can see where it's been shaped - that's beautiful.
That's just amazing.
And that is hard timber.
'Often the only evidence of prehistoric metalwork
'is the tools themselves.
'But, through this unusual preservation,
'we can see how our ancestors used metal
'to build these remarkable constructions around 2,000 years ago.'
It's just amazing how fresh this looks.
And because it's worked in a fairly crude way,
you can identify individual axe marks on it.
Yeah, you can see, if you like, individual moments in time,
you know, that process, and you can see in your mind's eye -
or I can see in my mind's eye, at least -
you can see someone sort of crouched over the wood,
you know, working a tool.
And that's why wetland sites are, you know, really so important,
because you see that human detail
in the nature of the tool marks and the woodworking.
The evidence the team have uncovered suggests that these structures
were made up of hundreds of posts.
And it tells us how our ancestors used metal tools
to transform the natural landscape into a manmade environment
that was a statement of territory and identity.
I can just imagine this field as a prehistoric construction site.
They would have cleared any trees that were in their way,
and then hauled in these massive pieces of timber.
You can imagine the sound of the metal axes ringing out
and instructions being shouted.
So this was a massive undertaking.
It would have required the efforts of the entire community.
Many different goods were traded in prehistory,
but metal had a particular importance.
To gain a deeper understanding of our ancestors' minds,
we need to know why metal was so much more
than just a material for making tools.
Norwich Museum have lent us some Bronze Age metal objects
discovered in East Anglia.
One of my favourites here is this lovely axe.
It's an early Bronze Age axe, which was... It's not a native design.
Where might it have come from?
It's from Germany, imported, so we know there's trade going on,
that people living in this area were, from the early Bronze Age at least,
trading with Continental Europe.
In the Bronze Age, people used metal to express status.
Its value was as much symbolic as practical.
You look at this beautiful torque.
This material, the actual gold, probably comes from Ireland,
imported either as a raw material or as a finished object.
There is something weird going on with metal during this time, isn't there?!
Well, a lot of things are being traded, but metal's really special.
It requires a weird understanding of technology and alchemy almost,
to actually create something from a rock.
It must have seemed so magical to be able to extract
-this very different material from stone.
And I think it's also unlike anything you can create naturally.
'It seems that Bronze and Iron Age people
'believed that metal had other-worldly qualities.
'They used metal objects like these to make religious offerings,
'often burying them near water or placing them directly in it.'
'Henry thinks that water was spiritually significant.'
Water is special.
It's neither this world nor a different world.
The surface of the water is kind of a metaphor for it.
You can see through it, sort of, and as you deposit something
you can sort of see it go into this other world
and become hidden beneath the peat.
I think that's probably quite a sort of magical process.
'Metal had multiple values.
'Henry believes the same is true for those vast timber monuments.'
They were stunning structures to impress traders,
practical pathways and spiritual gathering places by the river.
Water was really important to those prehistoric people
in a way that it's really difficult to get at and properly understand.
We know they put offerings very deliberately into water,
and here we are, as modern archaeologists,
looking at a site where water is helping us
get in touch with our ancestors.
It's the very nature of the waterlogged, peaty soil
which preserves their wooden constructions so brilliantly.
The Bronze Age became the Iron Age in about 700 BC.
Iron was stronger than bronze.
With iron-tipped ploughs, heavy soil could be cultivated.
Our ancestors used this new metal to create more farmland,
turning Britain into an increasingly man-made landscape.
Archaeology shows there were three big sources of iron -
the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, the Weald in Kent,
and the Jurassic Ridge of Leicestershire.
Excavations at Burrough hill fort, near Leicester,
are producing evidence that tells us how iron changed the lives of ordinary people.
Antiquarians and archaeologists have been studying hill forts for at least 150 years.
But in the past people have tended to concentrate on the great earth ramparts,
the earthworks around the outside,
whereas now archaeologists are starting to focus
on what's going on inside the hill forts,
trying to work out what Iron Age people actually used them for.
There were over 3,000 hill forts of different types across Britain.
Burrough was built in around 500 BC.
It served a farming community of up to 5,000 people.
It's a chance to find out something more
about these massive features in our landscape,
which are at once so familiar but so enigmatic.
The excavation is being run by the University of Leicester.
John Thomas is digging what's been called a guard's chamber,
perhaps used to control access to the fort entrance.
In the Iron Age, it would have looked very different.
You've got two massive stone-built walls coming all the way in,
so it would have been a very imposing entrance passage.
What we've found here...
-So this is the wall here?
-The very base of the wall.
You can see really nice facing stones here.
Dry stone wall,
but originally we think that this wall would have stood at least as high as this.
Right up there?
If not higher, and then with a timber palisade on top.
It's just fantastic revealing it, isn't it?
Because you suddenly realise that underneath all smoothed contours,
when this was new, it would have been much more angular.
-It would have looked like a medieval castle.
-Yeah, imposing and showy.
Just like a medieval castle,
Burrough would have towered over the landscape.
A safe haven in times of trouble.
But the artefacts John and the team have uncovered
make it clear that the hill fort played a much wider role for the community than just this.
We're getting some idea of the types of things that happened in here.
What we've got mostly is evidence of weaving.
And this is interesting, worked bones that have been perforated,
presumably for suspension at some point,
but they're also highly polished at one end,
-they're probably big bodkin-type needles or something.
-Oh, that's lovely.
We've also got evidence for different craft activities.
The main other activity that seems to have been taking place is metalworking.
We've got this fantastic punch here,
somebody would have been hammering the end
to punch holes through sheet metal, that kind of thing.
-Well, I think that would have been pretty effective!
-I reckon so.
We don't expect to find metalworking in a guard's chamber.
But this new evidence suggests that in times of peace
this was a workshop providing tools for the community.
What are we doing, just cleaning?
Yeah, just sort of trowelling back gently.
This excavation will run every summer for five years,
allowing the archaeologists to build a more complete picture
of how our ancestors used hill forts.
Just outside the ramparts, they're digging a group of roundhouses
where some of Burrough's farming families may have lived.
-This would have been a big roundhouse, wouldn't it?
The interior is about eight and a half, nearly nine metres across.
How many people would have lived in here?
We're probably looking at a single extended family,
so anywhere between half a dozen and perhaps 15 people could quite easily live in a house of this size.
With iron tools, Britain could produce more food.
By the end of the Iron Age, archaeologists believe
the population had grown to around one million.
The team have discovered several rotary quern stones for grinding flour.
Iron helped make them more efficient than simple Bronze Age querns.
So this is an absolutely wonderful thing, and a great bit of technology.
This spigot is the key.
Hole drilled in the bottom stone,
iron spike which centres the top stone over it.
Absolutely crucial, because if you try and use a rotary quern without it
it'll go off centre very quickly and you simply couldn't use it.
They've also discovered an iron blade.
Simple tools like this transformed agriculture.
-It's a very nice piece.
-So what might the handle have been made of?
Possibly a wooden handle, bone, but also antler.
The idea with the blade is of course you can then sit the handle in that.
-Slot it in.
-And the rivet holds it to place.
It almost feels like it's some kind of industrial revolution,
that they've discovered this fantastic new hard metal,
and then they're just thinking, what on earth can we do with it?
That certainly seems to be the case, although it doesn't happen overnight.
This is really more about increasing and improving agricultural innovations
associated with the arable harvest and with feeding that ever-increasing population.
I think that, by the time we get to the Iron Age,
we still see some aspects of life that seem very foreign to us.
But on the other hand there are things, particularly objects they were using on a day-to-day basis,
that seem very familiar,
and that's because they have this new material that we know from our lives.
Here's an iron knife blade.
Now, this is a familiar object to us.
It's not a world away from the knife you're using to eat your dinner with.
When hill forts were built between 900 and 100 BC,
Britain had no sense of itself as a united island.
But strong regional identities and tribal groups began to emerge.
Some experts believe that population growth put pressure on resources,
which led to violent raids between these communities.
70 miles north-west of Burrough,
a dig at another important hill fort called Fin Cop
has revealed powerful evidence for this.
The fort lies in the bucolic Peak District of Derbyshire.
Fin Cop hill fort is a much-loved beauty spot,
but archaeologists and locals wanted to find out more about its history,
so an application was made to dig through part of its ditch.
Excavations began in 2009, led by Dr Clive Waddington.
What he discovered was shocking in the extreme -
evidence of an Iron Age massacre.
Now, we found the first body about here.
The head was twisted to one side.
One arm was behind, one arm in front.
Just over here, we got another adult woman.
We opened a second trench,
and we found evidence for another five bodies.
In total, Clive and his team unearthed the remains of nine people.
To piece together a fuller picture of what happened at Fin Cop,
the next stage was a thorough examination of those skeletons.
These are the bones of a teenager, probably a boy.
Analysis has revealed that his skull was cut by a sharp blade like a sword.
The wound had never healed, so it must have happened around the time of his death.
Other members of the group also show signs of similar injuries.
This is the body of an adult woman. She's about 20 to 30 years old.
And she's quite interesting, because on her left cuneiform, which is a foot bone,
we can see this really quite clear cut mark
caused by a sharp blade.
So this would have been from the inside of the foot.
Quite an unusual injury,
but it's possible that she was running away with her leg trailing,
and they've caught her on the back of her foot
or the inside of her foot as she'd been running.
After the group came under attack,
their bodies were hurled into the ditch of the fort,
and the stone ramparts thrown down on top of them.
The group includes four tiny babies,
two so young they may have still been in the womb,
the others aged 8-11 months.
So this is one of the collar bones. We can see here...
to give you some sense of size of it,
so really very small individuals,
and these would have been despatched as well along with the adults.
These people and their fort date to around 400 BC,
about the middle of the Iron Age.
Results from the excavation suggest the fort was attacked
while still being built, and was never completed.
The motivation for building this fort is something we can only guess at,
but the fact that it was unfinished
and that the fort was attacked really quite quickly after they started building it
suggests it was being thrown up quickly in advanced of a threat that they perceived was coming their way.
The dig only covered a small section of the ditch.
Clive thinks further excavation would reveal more skeletons.
Hill forts played multiple roles as expressions of prestige
and as gathering places for the community,
but the evidence from a place like Fin Cop also reminds us
that they were defensive
and that violence was a part of Iron Age life.
As the Iron Age population grew,
tribal chiefs became increasingly important.
Feasting provided a valuable opportunity for chieftains
and communities to come together.
In 2004, a dozen cauldrons were found in a pit
near the village of Chiseldon in Wiltshire,
the largest hoard of Iron Age cauldrons
ever discovered in Europe.
Metal was precious.
Sacrificing such a huge amount was incredibly rare.
So it appears the cauldrons were deliberately buried,
at the end of a huge feast perhaps, to mark an important event.
Earlier this year, the process of full analysis began.
The Chiseldon Cauldrons have been described as gobsmackingly unique.
And they provide experts with a rare opportunity
to look at feasting during the Iron Age.
And to find out how they're getting at this information
I've come here to the British Museum.
I'm not going to the public galleries, but behind the scenes
to the Department of Conservation and Scientific Research.
After more than 2,000 years underground,
the cauldrons were packed with soil.
They were so fragile they had to be wrapped in plaster
before being lifted from the pit.
In charge of the enormous job of preserving them
is conservator Alex Baldwin.
-So this is one of the cauldrons.
It is, yeah. It's quite large.
So where was this one found in the pit?
We've got a reconstruction of the pit here,
and it's this one here.
They're pretty crammed in, aren't they?
They are quite crammed in, yeah.
-So can I help, can I hold this bit?
-Yeah, yeah. Please do.
'Alex is saving all the soil,
'pollen and organic residue from inside the cauldrons.
'When this is analysed it may tell us exactly what was being eaten
'and drunk, and even what time of year this huge feast took place.
'Each cauldron will take up to 200 hours of work.'
This is looking less like excavation
and more like dissection now.
Yes, it's very much like that, they're very fine tools.
One of my favourites is a bent spoon.
-What do you use that for?
-It's like a little dustpan,
very useful for getting into small spaces.
'Under the soil and corrosion,
'the cauldrons have iron rims around the top
'and copper bowls beaten to less than one-fiftieth of an inch thick.
'Making them would have taken enormous metalworking skill.
'Alex's work has already confirmed
'that the burial of the cauldrons was careful and deliberate.
'This is very strange to us,
'but it may have been done as a religious offering
'and perhaps as a statement of power and wealth.'
If you look at the rim, here, you can see
there's a lot of fibrous brown material running along it,
which is actually remains of straw or grass, something like that.
It shows these objects were put in the ground with quite a lot of care,
that the pit was lined with the straw
and the objects were placed in and then covered as well.
It's almost like they've been wrapped up in tissue paper or grass to keep them safe.
The cauldrons were discovered near a hill fort known as Barbury Castle.
This lies just off the Ridgeway, an ancient track
that linked at least 20 hill forts together.
An ideal place for an Iron Age gathering.
A Greek writer describing Iron Age feasting rituals
told of blazing hearths, cauldrons full of meat
and brave warriors being offered the finest portions.
And the Chiseldon Cauldrons seem to provide us
with direct physical evidence of the importance of feasting.
But how do they complement what we already know
from other Iron Age finds?
Dr Jody Joy is curator of the British Museum's European Iron Age collection.
He analyses the evidence that Alex uncovers.
This is quite special cos we've actually got some decoration on the cauldron.
So can you see the ears or the horn of a cow,
then it comes down, two eyes there,
-and then it comes down to a snout, can you see the nostrils?
This is especially exciting,
because if reflects the discovery of two cattle skulls within the pit.
'Perhaps the remains of animals that were cooked in the cauldrons
'and eaten at the feast.'
Jody, how important do you think feasting was
to these Iron Age people?
A feast is an excuse for people to get together
and it helps with the continuation of society.
It's a kind of social glue, if that makes sense, so you may have
groups of animals bought together in some kind of market,
then have a feast or have marriage alliances, all that kind of thing.
All of these things happen around the excuse, which is
the large consumption of food and drink.
Jody thinks that meat and alcohol were probably reserved
for special occasions.
Alcohol could be served in metal tankards.
This tankard was found in Northamptonshire in 1978.
If you see how large it is, it's phenomenally large, really.
-The capacity is around about four litres.
Yeah, it's absolutely huge. But if you notice this handle at the side,
you can probably only get about three fingers through the handle,
so it's not something you could lift up like this.
So possibly people are passing this around,
sitting down, then consuming alcohol and passing it around.
And having a really good glug of it, as it goes around.
Exactly, you bring this out and then down a few ales or down some mead.
The work on the Cauldrons has only just begun,
but we are already getting new insights.
Feasting must have played an important social and political role.
But there's clearly something else going on.
We are getting a glimpse of some very complex beliefs,
because after the feast those cauldrons aren't washed up,
they are carefully buried in the ground.
By the end of the Iron Age, the power of some chieftains
had grown into kingship.
But in 43 AD the Romans invaded,
sweeping through tribal territories
and taking many into their vast empire.
Now excavations at Calleva, near Reading, are changing
our perception of life in Britain before the Romans came.
These are amongst the most complete Roman town walls in Britain,
and today I'm looking out over green fields, but, had I been here
in the Roman period, all of that would have been
a busy, bustling town.
The archaeologists here are digging down through the Roman layers
to find the Iron Age town that lies beneath them.
And they may also have uncovered evidence
of British resistance to the Roman occupation.
Calleva was built in the 1st century BC,
perhaps 100 years before the Roman invasion.
The University of Reading has been excavating here since the 1970s.
This year, 250 archaeologists, students and volunteers
are on site for six weeks.
This is excavation on a grand scale.
But some of the most exciting finds are absolutely tiny.
Lisa Ludwick runs the team that processes all of the samples
coming out of Calleva's wells.
Ready to go, so now we just need to turn the pump on.
'This flotation tank is designed to pick up minuscule organic remains
'like plant seeds, which would never be spotted in normal excavation.'
As we break up the sample,
hopefully more bits will come to the surface.
What's that there? Is that something?
-I think that's a grain, it looks like.
-Can I pick it up?
If you're very careful.
Yeah, I think that looks...
-probably like a barley grain.
-I think so.
How fantastic. It's kind of micro-archaeology, isn't it?
Lisa specialises in archaeobotany, and she's been working on
the Iron Age samples emerging from this site for two years.
By collecting and analysing plant remains,
she can begin to work out what the ancient Callevans were eating.
This work has produced some quite unexpected results.
These are dated from AD30 to AD43, so we've got a seed of coriander,
and a few seeds of celery.
-So pre-Roman coriander?
These are very exciting, they're the earliest records of these in the country.
-In the whole of the UK?
-That's just brilliant.
There are all these plants
that we think only reached Britain when the Romans arrived.
-But they got here a few decades before.
-Then see if we can get anything else in.
-Gravel, gravel, gravel.
'A lot of household waste ended up in the town wells,
'so this process picks up all sorts of small but important finds.'
-Oh, I missed that.
-You'll come to recognise it with smaller bits first.
Oh, look at this bit. Oh, wow!
Oh, that's fantastic. It's got a really beautiful pattern on it.
Can you see these lines, these grooves
and then there's a kind of zig-zag pattern just punched into it?
That's really pretty.
A tiny little fragment that's been missed in the excavation,
but is picked up through wet sieving.
Pre-Roman Calleva covered 87 acres.
This trench represents just 1%.
On the left, the archaeologists are digging the Iron Age layers,
on the right, early Roman.
Field school director Amanda Clarke has clear evidence to show that
Iron Age Callevans led sophisticated lives before the Romans invaded.
This is very, very typical Roman ware - samian -
found in a well of Iron Age date here.
You can see there are little drinking vessels,
so they're quite posh, almost like fine dining,
but, you know, we are in the 1st century BC.
And the thing about them is that, at the base of them,
they have the makers' stamp,
so the potters who actually made these little vessels.
-So you can tell exactly where they came from?
-Yes, you can.
'Until these discoveries, we just didn't believe Iron Age people
'enjoyed such a refined way of life.
'These platters were imported from France.
'They are beautiful, but also mass-produced and affordable.'
These aren't barbarians that we're looking at in any shape or form,
these are people who are drinking out of lovely wine cups
and eating off plates.
Right. I think they recognized nice things.
They wanted the nice things,
and they've adopted and adapted them.
Pre-Roman Calleva was a wealthy town.
It was also carefully planned.
Archaeologists have uncovered the first evidence
to show that Britons developed urban planning
before Roman occupation.
We're actually walking on a lane
I would think that was established as early as the 1st century BC,
but perhaps, you know, early centuries of the 1st century AD.
Is this what you expect to find on an Iron Age site?
A lane with a proper gravely surface to it,
and it's running in a straight line.
It seems a bit Roman to me.
It was an amazing surprise to find such an ordered layout.
The excavations here are revealing a quite unfamiliar picture of Iron Age life.
The people were living in a settlement we'd recognise as a town.
They were drinking wine, they were using olive oil,
dill and coriander in their cooking.
It's a sophisticated, urban way of living
that we don't expect to find in prehistoric Britain.
No medieval or modern town was ever built over Calleva,
which gives the archaeologists an unusually clear opportunity
to look at interaction between the Iron Age and Roman layers.
They're uncovering tantalising evidence that suggests
Calleva may have witnessed conflict between Romans and Britons.
'Professor Mike Fulford runs the excavations here.
'He's taking me into the early layers of the Roman town.
'Roman records tell us that after invasion
'the British chief Caratacus took them on
'at the famous Battle of Medway.
'It's the discovery of coins that may connect Caratacus to Calleva.'
You have some examples here, these tiny, tiny coins.
-Oh, aren't they lovely? Can I pick them up?
Oh, they've got little eagles on. Are they eagles?
-Yes, eagles on the reverse.
-Those are gorgeous.
-Are they silver?
-Yeah, they're silver.
The inscription reads CARA,
thought to stand for Caratacus.
Archaeologists use coins to plot the territories of Iron Age chiefs,
and many of these coins were found within a 25-mile radius of Calleva.
It's pretty suggestive that this was Caratacus's stronghold
and it was one of the wealthiest places.
A place to be where you get your tax, your tribute,
and exercise your power.
If Caratacus was using Calleva as a stronghold,
the Romans may have been keen to throw him out
and to stamp their authority on the town.
In the early Roman streets, the team is now finding metal artefacts
that indicate a possible Roman military occupation.
-This emerged last week.
-A little point.
-A little catapult bolt.
That looks vicious.
It is vicious, and you can see the socketing at the end here,
so a wooden shaft going in there.
And that would have been fired by a Roman ballista,
a catapult device,
so with a considerable range.
Previously, they uncovered traces
of what might have been a military building - and there's more metal.
Here is a beautifully preserved belt fitting.
-Part of a sword belt fitting?
-Something like that.
Really is definitely military, then?
It's not a part of normal attire?
Yes, it joins these other artefacts
we're accumulating, that point to a military occupation.
The early years of Roman rule saw sporadic rebellions.
The archaeology here
indicates that one of these may have reached Calleva.
In 60 to 61 AD, the British warrior queen Boudica
led her tribe in a great revolt against the Romans.
In layers dating to this period, the team have found signs
of burning and destruction.
Just here down in front of us, you've got this amazing smash,
at least one, possibly two large jars that have been broken.
You can see the rim.
More rim to your left,
and it's part of the debris of the destruction.
Calleva is likely to have been a newly-Romanised town,
a potential target for Boudica.
The evidence from the burnt layer suggests that the town
lay abandoned for up to 20 years around the time of her revolt.
That's a remarkable period of history, isn't it?
This must have been a terrible time.
You've lost everything, lost everything.
And, you know, there's no insurance. You just have to start again.
When you say there was no insurance,
you suddenly think, "Imagine having a house fire and not having insurance."
The Romans defeated Boudica's rebellion.
For nearly 400 years
their rule extended over much of Britain.
The symbols of their empire were stamped across this land.
This is Roman Calleva's amphitheatre.
It lies just outside the town walls.
There is no more powerful symbol of Roman culture in Britain.
But in fact this was built on the alignment of the old Iron Age town.
This year's archaeology has given us a deeper insight into
the sophistication and complexity of the ages of Bronze and Iron.
The Cladh Hallan mummies remind us our Bronze Age ancestors' beliefs
were just as complex as ours.
The Cauldrons bring us closer to the feasting rituals
at the heart of the Iron Age.
And the ancient timber structures of East Anglia allow us to explore the magic of metal and water.
The Romans brought us writing,
but written history only tells part of the story.
Archaeology not only fills in the gaps,
it paints a much more complex picture of our past,
and connects us with the lives of ordinary people.
And so, the digging continues.
You can get hands-on with archaeology yourself
with BBC Hands On History.
You can find events near you
and download family activities to try at home on the website.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Dr Alice Roberts travels back to the Ages of Bronze and Iron to discover what kind of a place Britain was before the Romans invaded. With no written history, only archaeology can provide the clues. Alice uncovers a world that is complex, sophisticated and pretty strange.
She examines the two Hebridean Bronze Age skeletons known as the Cladh Hallan mummies. Not only do they appear to have been mummified, new analysis has revealed they are made up of a jigsaw of different people. What did our ancestors use the mummies for? And are there more British mummies out there?
In Norfolk, Alice gets her hands dirty helping to pull up timber from a huge prehistoric monument that has been hidden in mud for at least 2,000 years. And she visits the famous Roman town of Silchester, near Reading, where archaeologists are digging below the Roman layers to reveal the Iron Age settlement that lies beneath, uncovering evidence for a sophisticated pre-Roman lifestyle.
Alice also examines the evidence that suggests Silchester could be the place where two British chiefs took a stand against the Romans.