Evidence for a hitherto totally unknown prehistoric war has been discovered in northern England. Archaeologists excavating the remains of a large fortified Iron Age settlement at Fin Cop in the Peak District have so far found the skeletons of nine victims of what they believe was a massacre which took place around 2400 years ago.
However, they suspect that dozens of other victims may still lie buried there. Poignantly, the nine corpses – mainly of women and children – had been thrown into a two metre deep rock-cut ditch originally built to defend the settlement.
Only ten out of 400 metres of the ditch have so far been excavated. So it’s conceivable that the entire rock-cut dry moat could contain literally hundreds of victims. As well as killing the women and children of the ten acre settlement, the attackers also systematically destroyed it, tearing down the dry stone defences with extraordinary ferocity.
The archaeological investigation – led by Dr. Clive Waddington of Derbyshire-based Archaeological Research Services in collaboration with a local history group from the village of Longstone – has revealed that the victims’ skeletons and the masonry of the settlement’s defensive wall were all thrown into the rock-cut ditch at exactly the same time.
Most of the bodies were located between layers of stone which had been thrown into the ditch and which had made impact marks on their bones.
The victims were two women in their 20s, another adult of unknown gender, four babies, one toddler – and a teenager who had been cowering at the bottom of the ditch when he or she was buried under the cascading masonry.
Significantly, Fin Cop was probably not the only settlement to suffer from the attackers. For just a few miles way, at Bakewell, another fortified village appears to have been similarly destroyed.
The archaeologists are puzzled by the apparent absence of adult males at Fin Cop. It’s possible that the village’s warriors had left the settlement to attack the enemy but had been defeated, thus leaving the women and children relatively defenceless. But it’s also possible that the males weren’t killed because they were valuable as slaves required for heavy manual labour.
Nothing is known about the geo-politics of the period, so archaeologists have no real idea as to who the conflict was between. However, later on in the Iron Age, the territory was certainly a border or buffer zone between two major tribal groups, the Brigantes (literally the Pennine ‘Highlanders’) and the Corieltauvi.
The area around Fin Cop and Bakewell was of potentially considerable importance from a natural resource point of view – being rich in lead ore, a crucial mineral needed for the manufacture of various metal alloys.