In this essay, I have been more concerned to emphasise alleged inadequacies than to grasp at tenuous straws of evidence in grappling with any meagre and misplaced aspiration to make the interpretative most of the numerous historical investigations of hillforts scattered across Wales. As ever, of course, it is easier to diagnose problems than to parade instant remedies, far easier to point out what is wanting and what cannot be trusted than to fill gaps exposed by criticisms. But, for this writer anyway, there is no merit in side-stepping the essential upshot of various issues debated above, for there seems no other admissible inference than that researching hillforts through serious fieldwork should now aim for nothing less useful than, primarily, the creation of sensitive surface records incorporating close contouring of topography, and thereafter, on those few occasions where resources permit, extensive and methodical area-excavation of both earthworks and interior, selecting for such treatment only examples that appear to have suffered little erosion, in full knowledge that this is liable to become a protracted and costly operation (and taking it as read that any such venture must be backed by an appropriate range of scientific analyses). As strategies and techniques stand, these ambitious variations on the two 'conventional/traditional' means of investigation appear to remain the best hope of coming to know hillforts better than we do so far.
No doubt, these ideas will prove unpalatable to some, for a variety of reasons, and not least because, in one way and another, expansive is bound to mean expensive — and that is assuredly as critical an issue as any. Notwithstanding objections of impracticability, however, it seems only honest to admit, indeed inescapable to conclude, that the adventurous aspiration voiced above is the one course offering real hope of attaining outcomes of lasting interpretative value in our attempt to understand the structural history of hillforts. Without that understanding, no amount of data relating to other aspects of these places can ever expect to realise anything like full potential.
It is important to appreciate just how few of the many hillforts in Wales have yet been examined on a suitable scale, so to comprehend that, viewed en masse, their study remains immature (a remark that would be no less true of much of England and Scotland). Given the hundreds of hillforts and related enclosures awaiting fieldwork even in Wales, as well as the sheer size of many of them, it may reasonably be argued that, with a few notable exceptions, systematic interrogation of these mighty monuments has scarcely started.
Internet Archaeology is an open access journal. Except where otherwise noted, content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY) Unported licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided that attribution to the author(s), the title of the work, the Internet Archaeology journal and the relevant URL/DOI are given.
Internet Archaeology content is preserved for the long term with the Archaeology Data Service. Help sustain and support open access publication by donating to our Open Access Archaeology Fund.