We’re delighted to announce that archaeological excavations will soon begin at Wooston Castle, the Iron-Age hillfort in Fingle Woods. With the help of AC Archaeology, the Woodland Trust and National Trust will be looking to identify the age and purpose of the hillfort. This is particularly exciting for two reasons. Firstly, due to hillforts’ protected status and fragile nature they are very rarely excavated. Indeed, this will be the first excavation of a hillfort in the region for nearly a century. It therefore provides a rare chance to increase our understanding of Devon’s prehistoric past. Secondly, there are still spaces for people to get involved either as excavation or welfare volunteers, although the deadline is approaching fast! To find out more about the excavation and the two volunteer roles see the article by Bryher Mason, National Trust Heritage Manager for Dartmoor below.
Wooston Castle is an Iron Age hillfort with a dramatic position on a promontory jutting out into the Teign Valley. Its position high above the river gives the hillfort commanding views to the west; up the Teign Gorge and beyond, towards Dartmoor and also to the rolling landscape to the east. These views were revealed in spectacular fashion as part of the Fingle Woods Project (a partnership between the Woodland Trust and National Trust). Utilising teams of horse loggers they carefully extracted vast quantities of timber in order to protect the fragile archaeology that had been hidden by nearly a century of coniferous forestry planting.
Wooston is a relatively unusual hillfort as it does not sit right on the top of the hill. However, the tree clearance has demonstrated the strategic nature of the site where a huge expanse of landscape would have been visible to the people who used it. However, the remains of the hillfort’s banks and ditches are confusing and unconventional, leading to much speculation on the true nature of this fascinating site.
Now the site has been cleared of conifer and the bracken controlled, the Fingle Woods Project is undertaking a more detailed archaeological investigation of the site which we hope will help to reveal its secrets. In 2017 Wooston hillfort was surveyed using geophysical techniques to assess the likelihood that archaeological deposits had survived the forestry activity of the 20th century. The site was assessed using two techniques, magnetometry and resistivity. Magnetometry is a technique which measures and maps patterns of magnetism in the soil. Ancient activity, particularly burning, leaves magnetic traces that show up even today when detected with specialist equipment. Resistivity is a form of geophysical survey where electrical current is passed through the ground at regular points on a survey grid. Electrical resistance in the soil varies, and is affected by the presence of archaeological features. The patterns of resistance in the soil are then recorded, plotted and interpreted. We were delighted that the surveys were able to identify archaeological deposits across the site.
The Fingle Woods project has recently been granted consent to undertake an archaeological excavation at Wooston and we will target areas of particular interest identified in the geophysical surveys. As Wooston Hillfort is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, we will be looking at parts of the site which have been damaged by previous activity to ensure that we do not disturb undamaged archaeology elsewhere on the site. It is an amazing opportunity to investigate a little understood hillfort structure and we are particularly keen to identify a date for the occupation of the site. We should also be able to begin to understand more about the construction of the hillfort. There is also a possibility that we might be able to identify activities which were undertaken on the site (such as metalworking, crafts or animal husbandry).
The excavation will take place between Monday the 9th and Saturday the 21st of April, with a public open day on Saturday the 21st from 11am until 3pm with tours of the site, hands on activities and information about the excavation findings.We are also looking for volunteers to assist with the dig, in two separate roles. First, excavation volunteers, ideally with archaeological experience, who can commit four consecutive days to take part in the dig and receive training from AC Archeology. Second, welfare volunteer who will support the excavation teams with refreshments and ensure they are taking regular breaks. The welfare role is great opportunity to learn about the site and the excavation process for those with limited experience at digging. If you are interested in volunteering and would like to know more about either of these roles (or any other aspect of the project) please email: email@example.com.
The deadline for volunteers is Wednesday the 4th of April. This really is a once in a lifetime opportunity for volunteers and a rare chance to increase our understanding of Devon’s prehistoric past.