Online hillforts atlas maps all 4,147 in Britain and Ireland for the first time

28-06-2017 by Reception User

With the help of citizen scientists from across England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, a research team funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has spent the last five years sifting and recording information on all the hillforts across Britain and Ireland. They have discovered there are 4,147 hillforts in total, and have collated details for every one on a website that is accessible to the public – and completely free.

The team was led by Emeritus Professor Gary Lock of Oxford University and Professor Ian Ralston of Edinburgh University with the help of archaeologists at University College Cork. This unique resource will provide free access to information about world-famous sites as well as many previously little-known hillforts, helping ramblers, cyclists, naturalists, and local history enthusiasts discover all the sites in their local area. Professor Gary Lock said: “We hope it will encourage people to visit some incredible hillforts that they may never have known were right under their feet. It is hoped that the atlas will help raise the profile of hillforts that are half-hidden and underappreciated in their local community.”

Mostly built during the Iron Age, the oldest hillforts date to around 1,000BC and the most recent to around 700AD.  Hillforts were central to more than 1,500 years of ancient living: with numerous functions - yet to be fully understood – perhaps settlements, perhaps communal gathering spaces, perhaps defensive, perhaps all three. The research also shows that, fascinatingly, not all hillforts are on hills; nor are they all forts.

Hillforts are an astonishing reminder of the ancient past; monumental impressions left by our ancestors on the landscape. But some of them are more obvious, and more well-known than others. This new atlas draws on the latest research and maps all 4,147 - it makes this facet of our ancient heritage accessible to everybody including the general public and researchers. Professor Gary Lock hopes ‘that this resource will be the starting point for a new period of interest and research into hillforts, we have collected the data it is there for people to download and work with thin their own research interests’.

Through the citizen science initiative, around 400 members of the public collected data about the hillforts they visited, which was later analysed by the research team. This process helped to develop the knowledge and skills of volunteers and enthusiasts and has recently won the Oxford University Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Award.  

The atlas database, built by John Pouncett, Spatial Technologies Officer of the School of Archaeology, will also be accessible on mobile devices and as such can be used while visiting a hillfort. A paper atlas is also in development, to be published in summer 2018.


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