Iron Age burials at Danebury Hillfort (excavations 1969-1988)
Danebury was an Iron Age hillfort occupied between 500 and 100 BC
The remains of at least 300 individuals have been found at Danebury, but less than 40 of them were complete bodies. Most of these were placed in disused storage pits, typical of Iron Age burial practice in Southern England from the 6th to early 1st centuries BC. The pits are within the settlement area, not in special cemetery zones. The burials were not accompanied by grave goods.
There are three principal categories of burial:
1) Whole bodies deposited soon after death before the flesh had decayed
2) Partial bodies buried some time after the connective tissue had begun to rot.
3) A number of partly articulated skeletons buried together.
Thirty-eight bodies from neonatal to about 45 years of age were found. Fifteen of these were males aged between 14-35, a higher percentage (39%) than would be expected from a typical population. The assumption is that young males were given preferential burial inside the hillfort.
Partial burials included those where arms and heads (in particular) were missing. There is no clear evidence for violent dismemberment and the suggestion is that they were buried after the flesh had decayed, however, the 15 isolated skulls found in pits were mostly male, and several had severe head wounds. These may represent the result of ‘head-hunting’ as war trophies.
Two hundred and eleven isolated bones were found, mostly long bones from the right side of the body.
The partially articulated bodies were dumped into pits and the bones were often scattered and mixed. Sling stones and animal bones were also present. There was no evidence of butchery.
Skeletal remains on show at the Museum of the Iron Age, Andover, include five skulls, plus the complete skeleton of an adult male aged 30-40 years, the complete skeleton of an adult male aged 17-25 years and a number of disarticulated bones, displayed in the manner in which they were found during excavation. A1979.1
Danebury excavations by Barry Cunliffe.
Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, with help from Stacie Elliot.