Skeletons of women and children massacred in Iron Age battles found at Fin Cop in Derbyshire

By Culture24 Staff | 18 April 2011
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A photo of a pit of brown soil
An Iron Age hillfort has been uncovered at Fin Cop in Derbyshire© Archaeological Research Services Ltd
A 2,000-year-old ditch crammed with the “gruesome” massacred remains of women, babies and a teenager has been found on a hillfort built as last-gasp attempt to save war victims at Fin Cop in the heart of the Peak District.

The women and children are thought to have been slaughtered during tribal battles in about 440 BC. Experts believe the mass grave represents the first selective Iron Age attack ever found in Britain.

A photo of a brown soil pit on grassland
Only ten metres of the 400-metre plot have been excavated so far© Archaeological Research Services Ltd
Only ten metres of the 400-metre trench has been excavated, with archaeologists expecting to find hundreds more skeletons in further digs on the Derbyshire site.

“For the people living at Fin Cop the hurriedly constructed fort was evidently intended as a defensive work in response to a very real threat,” said Dr Clive Waddington, the Project Director for Archaeological Research Services.

“The gruesome discoveries have reopened the debate on the purpose of hillforts. In recent years there has become an almost accepted assumption that warfare in the British Iron Age is largely invisible.”

The women and children were flung into the ditch at the bottom of the hillfort after dying of flesh wounds. The absence of adult males suggests men from the community may have been sold as slaves or forced to join the opposing army.

Bones of cattle, sheep, pigs and horses were also found, showing that the fort also sheltered animals.

The hillfort consisted of a four metre-wide stone wall behind a rock-cut ditch, built as a defence against lethal weapons.

An overhead photo of flat green grassland
Fin Cop is a highly popular local beauty spot© Archaeological Research Services Ltd
The forts served as trading routes and centres for tribal gatherings and were usually built on acidic soils, but the limestone ground at Fin Cop has allowed the bones to survive.

Ann Hall, Project Manager for Longstone Local History Group, said the discoveries had changed the outlook of residents.

“Locals have always viewed the hill as a peaceful spot,” she said.

“Now we have uncovered the sad evidence of an ancient massacre and learnt that our well-loved land mark is also a prehistoric war grave”.

The project to investigate Fin Cop has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Peak District  National Park Authority and English Heritage.

Hundreds of volunteers and schoolchildren have taken part in the excavations since 2009, and the campaign won the Best Community Project at the British Archaeology Awards in 2010.

Watch a video about the project:

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