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Changing Times | Iron Age sites in the Chichester District

Last week we heard all about the fascinating burial of an Iron Age warrior discovered at North Bersted in 2008, but what other local Iron Age sites have been discovered in Chichester District?

 

This article will identify some of the key local sites to help build up a picture of local life in the Iron Age.

 

Early in the Iron Age people occupied hillforts. In Chichester District early hillforts are known at Goosehill Camp and South Harting Beacon. These were designed to protect small agricultural settlements and their associated herds of domesticated animals in times of crisis. Only a small proportion of Goosehill Camp has been excavated in the 1950s, however these investigations revealed evidence of two roundhouses.

 

Later, larger hillforts such as The Trundle, high up on St Roche’s Hill overlooking the coastal plain, were constructed as a statement of power. Although their primary purpose may well have been defensive, it is clear that they were also a place for communities to gather in more peaceful times. The hillfort would have been a focal point for trade and administration for the farming communities dispersed throughout the landscape below. At the time The Trundle would have comprised of a high earthwork mound with a wooden defensive wall constructed on top. The only means of entry were two gates enclosed by a steep ditch. Excavations revealed that the eastern gate was destroyed by fire in around 100 BC. Later investigations by English Heritage suggest the site encompassed up to 14 circular hut platforms.

 

Smaller settlements were dotted around the landscape below. One such settlement was discovered part way down the southern slope of the Trundle at Lavant in the 1990s. The settlement contained between 10 and 13 roundhouses alongside associated granaries.

 

Towards the end of the Iron Age, the local area was inhabited by the Regni (or Regini) tribe, a branch of the Atrebates. Hillforts were abandoned in favour of settling along the coastal plain. Farms and field systems from this period have been discovered at Copse Farm, Oving and Hazel Road, North Bersted. At Copse Farm excavations revealed evidence of two farmsteads, one of which dates from the late Iron Age.

 

An abundance of animal bone on the site suggests pastoral farming was taking place, as well as the possibility of small scale metal-working. At North Bersted, investigations in the 1970s discovered an extensive network of drainage ditches, forming the boundaries of a system of fields. The ditches were traced over an area of 5 hectares, although how far the network extended is unknown.

 

At Westhampnett, a Late Iron Age cremation cemetery revealed over 160 graves, the remains of pyres and some small shrines. It is now known to be the largest and earliest (125 BC – 40 BC) Iron Age cemetery found in Britain. You will hear more about this fascinating cemetery in next week’s article.

 

The Late Iron Age saw exploitation of the coastal zone, with salt production becoming an important industry at a number of sites within Chichester Harbour, including Chidham. To extract the salt, sea water would have been heated in salt pans. As the water evaporated more sea water would have been added until a concentrated brine remained. The brine was then transferred into ceramic containers where it was slowly boiled to remove all remaining water. The salt left behind would have been used in a variety of ways including flavouring and preserving foods.

 

Two sites at Chidham were excavated in the late 1980s revealing briquetage (ceramic from equipment used in the heating process), burnt flint and pottery. The first site, Site A, comprised of a compact layer of pottery and briquetage as well as a small pit. Site B, contained briquetage and a large trench, which may have been utilised as a source of salt water.

 

In some areas Late Iron Age settlements were defined by banks and ditches, known as the Chichester Entrenchments. The Entrenchments are one of the largest Iron Age defensive systems in southern England and are the first signs of the emergence of Chichester.

 

To find out more about life in the Iron Age, and the life, health and death one individual, The North Bersted Man, considered the most elaborately equipped Iron Age warrior to have been discovered in England to date, don’t forget to visit our brand new exhibition ‘Mystery Warrior: The North Bersted Man’, opening tomorrow (Saturday, January 25).

 

The exhibition has been made possible thanks to the kind donation of the finds by Berkeley Homes, a £50,000 grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and signature sponsorship from Irwin Mitchell.

 

Thanks to generous funding provided by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, The Novium Museum has programmed a range of wonderful, free activities and events to accompany the exhibition.

 

These include a fantastic programme of lectures by experts in their field, family activity days bringing the Iron Age to life at The Novium Museum, and Community Days celebrating the story of the Mystery Warrior at the heart of where the discovery was made in North Bersted.

 

To find out more, visit: thenovium.org/mysterywarrior

 

By Amy Roberts, collections officer at The Novium Museum

 

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