How archaeologists discovered more about the Quantocks

  • Students from King Alfred’s College Winchester starting to excavate a site at Volis Hill, where iron-smelters and smiths had been living and working from the Bronze Age to early Roman times.

In 2000, teams of archaeology students began investigating the Quantock Hills. They were looking for sites that can’t be seen any more because they are buried underneath present-day farming.

To help find their sites, they looked for air photos showing cropmarks like this. They can show where fields, tracks, protective banks and ditches and even houses used to be.

  • Can you see a pattern of dark lines and shapes where the crop hasn’t ripened yet?  Its roots are growing deep into the filled-up ditches of an ancient field system.

They did fieldwalking to look for finds on the surface of ploughed fields, and they did geophysics to get more information from below the ground.

  • This student is walking backwards and forwards across the field with a magnetometer. This measures magnetic changes which show if there is anything different underneath the soil.

Then they excavated the sites that looked most interesting.

  • Beginning excavations in 2000. The diggers are excavating dark soil from pits and ditches. The plastic bags contain finds and soil samples to look at more closely.  In the front is a planning frame and drawing board.
  • As time went on, a pattern started to appear. The archaeologists have removed some of the dark soil filling the ancient ditches and pits, which are the remains of  boundaries, field edges and wooden buildings.
  • Local schoolchildren helped to sieve the soil for finds.

The teams from Winchester worked on five sites in the South Quantocks. Because of their work we now know that several farming and metal-working communities lived on the Quantock Hills from prehistoric to Roman times. It seems that the Quantock Hills has always been a good place to live.

In 2001, archaeologists from Somerset County Council investigated Dead Woman’s Ditch. They dug a trench across it to see how it had been made. They found out that it used to be much deeper, steeper and longer than it is now.

  • This is how Dead Woman’s Ditch would have looked in prehistoric times when it was newly made. The stones that have tumbled into the ditch were originally used to strengthen the massive earth bank that ran alongside the ditch.