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Skeletons and roundhouses: Dorset slowly gives up its prehistoric secrets

The secrets of Dorset’s prehistoric past are being revealed as more details emerge from the excavation of a town in rural Dorset – the largest yet uncovered in the UK.

Skeletons and roundhouses: Dorset slowly gives up its prehistoric secrets
Excavations of ‘Duropolis’ [Credit: Jonathan Beal]
Excavations of ‘Duropolis’ at Winterborne Kingston by Bournemouth University archaeologists are revealing more about the extent of Iron Age occupation and the people who lived there.

The site containing skeletons and roundhouses was first uncovered last year. Duropolis comes from the the local Iron Age tribe the Durotriges.

Covering an area of just under four hectares, it contained more than 150 roundhouses, along with storage facilities, animal pens and agricultural outbuildings. It appears to have been occupied from around 100 BC – when most of the hillfort enclosures of Dorset, such as Maiden Castle and Hod Hill, were being abandoned.

It is being excavated by staff and students as part of the annual Durotriges Big Dig. People have the chance to see and explore the site at an open day this Sunday, 10am to 3pm.

Project co-director Paul Cheetham said: “Large open settlements such as this may have been the natural successors to the heavily defended hillforts, perhaps suggesting a time of relative peace and stability.”

Co-Director Dr Miles Russell said: “The existence of this site, coupled with the evidence that Maiden Castle was largely abandoned in the first century BC, shows that the idea that when the Roman legions arrived in AD 43, they attacked the hillforts and slaughtered the inhabitants inside is a myth.”

He added: “People think that towns were introduced by the Romans in the 1st century AD, and that’s simply not true. What we’ve here are all the elements of an urban system a good hundred years before the Romans arrived and it seems to be continuing up until the point that they left.

“What we’re finding is continuity; a very densely settled area providing a good idea of what life was really like in prehistory at the time the Romans arrived.”

Excavations this year have uncovered the southernmost limits, revealing a Late Iron cemetery – with eight bodies discovered to date.

“Understanding of our Iron Age past is significantly improved by this find, given the advances in scientific investigation – such as DNA and isotope analysis which provide an insight into population movements and ancestry,” added Mr Cheetham.

“Accessing skeletal information from this date in the UK is extremely rare, as most pre Roman tribes either practiced cremated or placed bodies in rivers or bogs, so this data could completely change our understanding of the Iron Age.”

Source: Dorset Echo [July 07, 2016]

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