LIFE IN THE IRON AGE ON SUTTON WALLS.
Between 1948 and 1951 Dame Kathleen Kenyon excavated the Walls and was able to give us a picture of these early days.
Geographically the importance of the site lies in its command of the Lugg valley.
The great embankments (ramparts) were built in stages, some of the final ones being finished just before the arrival of the Romans in Herefordshire.
The earliest people to use the site are identified as Middle Iron Age, possibly of 3rd or 2nd century BC, who used pottery decorated with very simple motifs, including designs rather like running ducks. Similarly decorated pottery is found across the West Midlands. Pottery was manufactured locally in three main areas – the Malverns, the Woolhope Dome, and Martley.
These earliest people did not build any ramparts, but by 100 BC earthen defences were being constructed, which were later reinforced by timber and stone. The ramparts were constructed from material which was obtained from scoops and hollows around the inside of the hillfort and from workings and ditch cutting at the foot of the rampart slope. One phase of rampart building may be dated from a sherd of pottery to about AD 25.
Kathleen Kenyon showed that the inhabitants lived in largely circular wattle and daub wooden huts, kept cattle, sheep and pigs and cultivated land to produce wheat. The wheat was ground in hand operated stone mills (querns). Salt was an important commodity and this arrived packed inside baked clay containers from Droitwich. It was used as a preservative rather than for flavouring food. One of the huts was found to have a sandstone cooking hearth with a complete, but broken, enormous pottery jar on it. This jar had been repaired and was originally made in the Malvern area.
The inhabitants spun and wove cloth, made iron tools and worked bronze. A large rare iron anvil was discovered by Kathleen Kenyon,and is one of the largest such artefacts of the period known in the British Isles. It was made from one ‘bloom’ of iron, possibly a mild steel, which was forged into shape.
Deer must have been present in the area as various artefacts were made from antler including some parts of harness used for horses.
Within the Walls at that time there must have been a thriving, active community which was almost self-sufficient.
All the artefacts recovered from the 1948-51 excavations are in the Hereford Museum, and a number of them are permanently displayed.
There are over thirty similar hillforts in Herefordshire. In general archaeologists do not believe the Herefordshire hillforts were permanently occupied villages as they are hilly, exposed and inhospitable places generally lacking water.
Keith Ray writes in his book ‘The Archaeology of Herefordshire: An Exploration’, that ‘For whatever purposes the forts were built, there can be no doubting the huge amount of effort required for the construction of the often massive, and sometimes multiple, earthen banks and ditches that mark their perimeters. A significant motivation for their construction must therefore have been to demonstrate the power and prestige of the people concerned. ‘
Sutton Walls would have been impressive site with a wooden palisade constructed on top of the crest of the hill. These outstanding views would have provided the people of Sutton Walls with an early warning system to prepare for any attacks. Equally importantly the design of the hillfort would have enabled the group to display their power to other hillfort groups.
They were certainly important as places of refuge in times of danger but were most likely used as meeting places for local Iron Age groups where communities gathered to celebrate festivals, perform religious rites and hold markets.
The evidence of a more permanent community on Sutton Walls during the Iron Age makes the hillfort of particular interest.
We do not know how long it took our ancestors to build Sutton Walls but archaeologists believe that the building programme would probably have been divided between local farming families who would have been allocated a part of the hillfort where they would have undertaken construction at quieter times of the year. Indeed the responsibility may have been passed down the family from generation to generation.