The green hilltop of Fin Cop seems peaceful and unthreatening to a modern spectator, but beneath the ground is a mass grave dating back to the Iron Age. This raised many questions when the fort was uncovered and showed evidence that parts of it had been built quickly in response to a threat to the settlement.
Hillforts were originally assumed to have been built for warfare, but without much evidence of actual conflict many were instead viewed as a show of wealth and power.
The findings from Fin Cop give one of the only examples of warfare in Iron Age Britain, but other settlements have been discovered which show similar evidence. This is challenging our ideas of Iron Age warfare and defence once again.
First excavated in 2009 by Longstone Local History Group, the project aimed to find out what kind of enclosure it was and the date of it, Fin Cop instead exposed the body of a woman who was either heavily pregnant or had a very small infant with her. Her body was dated to around 300 BC and had been thrown into a ditch. However, because her body was complete, and not a collection of selected body parts, this rules out the usual types of ritual deposit typical of Iron Age Britain.
Other skeletons were also uncovered in later excavations in 2010, 2012 and 2014, perfectly preserved due to the limestone composition in this particular area. Most of the skeletons found are complete but others are only partial as a result of disturbances caused by animals. Wear and decay on the teeth also provided information on the kind of diet and life they lived, supported by the animal bones found within the settlement, along with thousands of stone tools which establish the location as a centre of activity long before the fort was built.
The skeletons were all identified to be women and children which added further mystery to the narrative. This raises the question as to what happened to the older men of the settlement. It is speculated that they were either sold as slaves, left with the attacking army, or possibly haven’t been discovered yet as it is suggested that many more bodies lie beneath the surface of Fin Cop.
Another skeleton revealed that of a teenager, is thought to be a male although it is hard to tell due to the young age of the skeleton. His bones show signs of a broken and healed clavicle, damage to his foot, and anaemia. A 3D printed version of his skull is shown in the Buxton Museum with a facial reconstruction. This gives us a more engaging insight into the faces from the past, and adds an essence of humanity back into the display.
The Fin Cop community excavation was managed by Longstone Local History Group with professional support from Archaeological Research Services Ltd, Bakewell.
Find out more about the project on their websites: