Despite a history of study stretching back to the early 19th century, the hillforts of Cheshire have figured little in discussions of the British Iron Age. This new volume details the results of the Habitats and Hillforts Landscape Partnership Project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Although centred on landscape management, this project enabled new archaeological fieldwork to be conducted on six hillforts situated along Cheshire’s Sandstone Ridge.
After a general introduction, the first few chapters cover the history of research within the study region, a summary of surface lithic scatters, and archival research on William Varley’s inter-war excavations at Eddisbury hillfort. These are followed by sections dealing with topographic, geophysical, and LiDAR survey: all are doubtless useful, especially for the future management of the sites, though they provide little new archaeological information. More important are subsequent chapters detailing the results of small-scale excavations at the Woodhouse, Helsby, Eddisbury, and Kelsborrow hillforts, which together make up approximately half the volume.
Despite the restrictions placed on the excavators (who had to avoid well-preserved deposits), a number of interesting insights were gained, particularly on the rampart structures. The proposed evidence for Bronze Age construction of the Cheshire hillforts is, however, somewhat tenuous. Two rather imprecise OSL (optically stimulated luminescence) dates from Woodhouse, and four radiocarbon dates derived from unspecified wood charcoal from Kelsborrow and Helsby, probably attest to Bronze Age human activity on the hilltops, but not necessarily hillfort construction. The better-dated Eddisbury hillfort produces, by contrast, a more conventional Iron Age sequence.
The final chapters cover the environmental background and a relatively brief and regionally focused discussion. Overall, the volume is well-written and nicely illustrated, and will be essential reading for anyone with a serious interest in the prehistory of the Cheshire region.
This review appeared in CA 336.