New discoveries at Worlebury Camp hillfort

A project led by Cardiff University on the Iron Age of Somerset has revealed some interesting facts about the people who inhabited Worlebury Camp some 2,000 years ago.

Their research has looked at five different hillforts across Somerset, utilising cutting-edge archaeological techniques to examine human remains from sites including Worlebury Camp in Weston-super-Mare.

The remains from Worlebury were excavated in the 1850s by Rev F Warre, and some are on display in Weston Museum. They were excavated from a handful of the 93 stone-lined pits visible today in the interior of the hillfort.

The team examined how individuals were treated after death, through taking samples of bone and assessing them. It was discovered that they were subject to ‘excarnation’ – exposing a body to the elements through so called ‘sky-burial’ – a technique rarely practised in this area of Britain in the Iron Age.

Whether meeting with a violent end, such as at Worlebury, or having died naturally, and regardless of where they were from, all remains were treated in the same way after death. They discovered that people were buried soon after death, but dug up when soft tissue had rotted away, with some bones being extracted and circulated or curated before being deposited elsewhere.

Further research was undertaken into the origins of the inhabitants of these hillforts, and those who lived at Worlebury provided some interesting results. Six of the 18 individuals were examined using isotope analysis. This technique 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 individuals provided results that show 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.

“The exciting results of this new research offer us a real insight into life, and death, in this part of Britain in the Iron Age,” said North Somerset Council’s Senior Archaeologist Cat Lodge. “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 Camp hillfort through a programme of research and maintenance of the monument itself, we’re certain to learn even more about those people who settled here over 2,000 years ago, and I look forward to helping to enhance the story of one of North Somerset’s historic gems.”