5. Discussion

The results of the combined geophysical surveys provide new evidence for the nature and layout of occupation in the south end of the hillfort interior, demonstrating a complex sequence of domestic and activity features that have a significant impact on our understanding of this area. Although geophysical prospection can only provide a rough representation of characteristics of occupation and cannot be used to build a chronology of the features observed, the archaeological features identified testify to the intensive habitation and settlement over the course of several successive phases (Figure 16). The settlement, permanent or otherwise, would have been inhabited by a community made up of several families or kin groups.

Figure 16
Figure 16: A possible phase of roundhouse and rectangular structures in the south field in the context of the first hachured plan of the hillfort earthworks dating to 1882, draped over a 'Hillshade' model depicting the current state of the site. (© Crown Copyright (2016). An Ordnance Survey service. Lidar data ©Environment Agency 2014)

Evidence for Iron Age-period structures in the interior have hitherto been limited to the two roundhouses excavated in the early 1960s some 61m north-north-east of the church, of which very little information is known, and a partially excavated gully of a possible roundhouse observed in 'Area I' in 1946 (Kenyon 1950). The identification of at least 23 gully-defined circular buildings belonging to at least two phases confirms the presence of a sequence of roundhouses in the south end of the hillfort interior. Post-built rectangular structures, including possible four-post and six-post structures, demonstrate that this south-east facing area was densely occupied by a range of building forms. Despite the constraints of the survey, the majority of the identified structures appear to be concentrated at the centre of the south end of the hilltop, which may have been the main focus of domestic and craftworking activity within the hillfort. While speculative, this may in part be due to the presence of possible internal quarry scoops adjacent to the lee of the rampart in the south field. If a similar sequence of structures were distributed throughout the area of the original interior, the enclosed space would have been inhabited by a substantial population. The timber and thatch required to construct the buildings evident - as well as the possible earlier palisade enclosure and later rampart revetment - would have required large areas of land dedicated to a system of managed woodland (Reynolds 1982).

The range of structural forms present is consistent with the regional record for the first millennium BC (Willis 2006). The dimensions of the areas enclosed by drip gullies and the pattern of doorway orientation are typical of roundhouses observed in hillforts throughout Britain (Oswald et al. 2006, 78). The density of structural activity appears to contrast with the pattern apparent at the other hillfort sites in the region, instead finding closer parallels with the large long-lived 'agglomerated settlements' at Crick in Northamptonshire (Hughes 1998), Humberstone (5th-1st century BC - Charles et al. 2000; Thomas 2011) and Beaumont Leys (5th-3rd century BC - Thomas 2008; 2011).

The possible rectangular structures identified are similar in form and size to the series of small rectangular structures excavated at the large 'agglomerated' settlement at Beaumont Leys, Leicester (Thomas 2008), and the long-lived settlement at Elms Farm, Humberstone (Charles et al. 2000, 137). Traditionally interpreted as ancillary buildings (e.g. agricultural stores), four- and six-post structures are common features in the interiors of hillforts across Britain, notably in the Welsh Marches (e.g. Musson et al. 1991 – Breidden, Powys) and Wessex (e.g. Sharples 1991 – Maiden Castle, Dorset).

Despite the lack of contextual information, activity associated with the pits excavated in the eastern half of the interior account for much of the limited material record relating to the internal occupation of the hillfort. Isolated anomalies revealed by gradiometer survey seem to imply a number of pits are also present in the south end of the area enclosed. Compared to Burrough Hill, however, where a recent magnetometer survey and excavation has confirmed the distribution of a significant number of pits throughout the interior (including a large pit lined partially with clay and containing preserved cereal grain), the south end of Breedon hillfort appears to have been occupied by a relatively sparse concentration of pits (Thomas and Taylor 2010-2014). This may represent a subtle difference relating to the role of the hillforts as places to manage stores of grain for cultivation and consumption. Careful excavation is required to demonstrate something of their potential function and capacity (cf. Reynolds 1979; Cunliffe 1993, 18).

The two configurations of subdividing ditches newly revealed in the south field imply a degree of internal occupational planning within the enclosed area. Morphologically the ditches differ slightly from the systems of sinuous sub-rectangular ditches which enclose two roundhouses and a pit cluster within the extramural settlement at Burrough Hill (Thomas and Taylor 2011, 6), and the two ditched and D-shaped enclosures within interior at Crow Hill, Irthlingborough (Parry 2006, 145). These enclosure ditches appear more consistent with the pattern of settlement enclosure that emerged in the Middle and Late Iron Age in the East Midlands (Willis 2006, 101). Although the system of rectilinear ditches is seen to intersect several sequences of roundhouses, detailed area excavation is necessary to unpick the stratigraphic relationships between these groups of features.

Any future study of the site should attempt to establish a more tightly defined chronology regarding the origins and principal periods of activity, with the hope of demonstrating how the earthworks and settlement relate to the range of first millennium BC occupation sites dated by absolute methods both regionally (e.g. as at Wanlip, Beaumont Leys and Humberstone) and nationally. This could be achieved through a thorough re-assessment of the surviving material archives, using modern research methods combined with systematic sampling for the purpose of absolute dating (as at Burrough Hill; Taylor et al. 2012).


Cite this as: Whittaker, C. 2019 Breedon Hill, Leicestershire: new surveys and their implications, Internet Archaeology 52.

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