Public open day on Sunday June 26th, 11am to 4pm, Burrough Hill, near Melton Mowbray
Issued by University of Leicester Press Office on 21 June 2011
An ancient Leicestershire hillfort will reveal some of its historic secrets over the next month, as archaeologists from the University of Leicester welcome the public to visit the second season of major excavation of the site.
Situated on the Jurassic scarp with commanding views of the surrounding countryside, Burrough Hill near Melton Mowbray is one of the most striking and frequently visited prehistoric monuments in central Britain.
Despite the site’s importance, relatively little is known about its ancient past. Last year a team from the University of Leicester began a five-year survey and excavation of the site, with support from landowners the Ernest Cook Trust (a national educational charity), English Heritage and Leicestershire County Council.
Trenches dug within the fort last summer revealed part of its stone defences, along with a cobbled road, a massive timber gateway and a ‘guard’ chamber built into the entrance rampart. This room remarkably still had surviving Iron Age floors, complete with its hearths an incredibly rare find (www.le.ac.uk/departments/archaeology).
The most surprising discovery so far is evidence of a further large Iron Age settlement just outside the hillfort that was discovered by geophysical survey, suggesting that the hillfort community may have been even larger than thought.
This year the team is revisiting the massive eastern entrance to expose the remainder of the chamber and reveal clues as to what it was used for. Another area will target several roundhouses in the settlement outside in order to find out when and why so many people lived here.
The excavations will take place between 13th June and 15th July and will aim to add to results from a successful first season of excavation in 2010.
A public open day on Sunday June 26th (11am to 4pm) will include guided tours of the excavations and a display of archaeological finds, as well as a chance to meet an ‘Iron Age warrior’ and learn about life in a roundhouse. Many of these activities are funded by the Southeast Leicestershire Treasure Project which has made another wonderful Leicestershire Iron Age find, the Hallaton Treasure, available to the public. A guided walk around the hill fort will also be held at the end of the dig on Monday 18th July as part of the national Festival of Archaeology.
The University of Leicester is also organising a summer school for local pupils. Funding from Aimhigher in the East Midlands will enable 16 year 11 pupils from backgrounds under-represented in higher education to benefit from a residential experience, including working on the dig at Burrough Hill and skills development work with the Department of Archaeology.
Funding from the Ernest Cook Trust (www.ernestcooktrust.org.uk) has enabled the University to employ an outreach worker and create resource packs for schools, making the most of the site’s education potential.
Byron Rhodes, Leicestershire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Country Parks said:
“Burrough Hill Country Park is one of the most striking and historic features in the landscape of eastern Leicestershire. The well-preserved Iron Age hill fort dramatically crowns a steep-sided promontory of land with superb views. A prominent landmark and ready-made arena, the hill has long been a place for public recreation.
“I am delighted that the County Council is working in partnership with the University to delve deep into the parks history and I’m looking forward to seeing what further discoveries are made. The open day will provide the opportunity to showcase some of the amazing finds for the very first time and I would urge people to come along.”
Dr Patrick Clay, Co-director of University of Leicester Archaeological Services added:
‘This is a great opportunity to examine the development of this remarkable monument. Our understanding of Iron Age sites has increased enormously in the last 20 years but this has mainly been through examining lowland farmsteads and a few larger settlements. This work will help our understanding of the role of ‘hillforts’ and their relationship with the smaller surrounding settlements’.
The project is managed by Richard Buckley and co-directed by Dr Jeremy Taylor and John Thomas of the University of Leicester. It is funded by the University of Leicester, the British Academy and the Ernest Cook Trust.