Treatment of people after death 2,000 years ago discovered at hillfort

Cat Lodge and team at Worlebury Hill Fort.Picture: Mark Atherton

Cat Lodge and team at Worlebury Hill Fort.Picture: Mark Atherton - Credit: Archant

New discoveries around how people were treated after death 2,000 years ago have been made at an ancient hill fort.

A project led by Cardiff University has revealed facts about the people who inhabited Worlebury Hill Fort 2,000 years ago.

Their research has looked at five hillforts across Somerset, utilising archaeological techniques to examine human remains from sites.

The remains at the Iron Age hill fort, in Weston Woods, were excavated in the 1850s and some are on show at Weston Museum.

The team examined how individuals were treated after death through assessing bone samples.

Researchers found they were subject to excarnation, a technique of removing the flesh and organs of the dead before burial, leaving only the bones.

Regardless of a person's means of death, or where they were from, all remains were treated in the same way.

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They discovered people were buried soon after death, but dug up when soft tissue had rotted away, with some bones being extracted and circulated before being deposited elsewhere.

North Somerset Council's senior archaeologist, Cat Lodge, said: "The exciting results offer us a real insight into life, and death, in this part of Britain in the Iron Age.

"The results also demonstrate a multi-cultural society, and whether you were local or from further afield, in death everyone was treated in the same way.

"As we continue to uncover the secrets of Worlebury Hill Fort, we're certain to learn even more about those people who settled here more than 2,000 years ago, and I look forward to helping to enhance the story of one of North Somerset's historic gems."

MORE: Council disputes 'shameful' hill fort stewardship claims.

Six of the 18 individuals were examined using isotope analysis, which looks at the carbon, strontium, nitrogen and oxygen content in human teeth to determine the type of environment people lived in and the kinds of diets they were raised on.

Five of the six people provided results which showed they were raised in a coastal location in southern Britain, and in an area of carboniferous limestone, consistent with being raised on the hillfort.

The other individual appears to have been raised in warmer climates, perhaps the Iberian Peninsula or the Mediterranean.