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Archaeological dig finds prehistoric humans enjoyed Heath barbecues

Soil erosion work unearths Iron and Bronze Age finds

14 June, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Heath Ranger Danny Murphy at the site on Parliament Hill

THE ancient history of Parliament Hill has come to life this week after archaeologists found evidence of what they believe are remnants of prehistoric humans taking a walk to the summit – and perhaps settling down for a barbecue of animals they hunted on the common land.

Archaeologists and experts from the British Museum have joined Heath rangers digging trenches on the summit of Parliament Hill – and have found plenty of evidence of humans in the form of pieces of charcoal and flint, dating from both the Iron and Bronze Ages.

Heath Ranger Danny Murphy has been overseeing work on the famous viewpoint to stop soil erosion and re-position benches so those who make it to the top can enjoy the views. As work began on the north-east-facing slope, he called in a team of archaeologists with the help of the Highgate Society’s Michael Hammerson, who also worked at the British Museum as an archaeologist, to discover what lies beneath the surface – and the results are exciting.

Archaeologists from Compass Archaeology worked with Heath staff to dig trenches around 18 inches deep – and even at such a shallow depth they turned up plenty of interest. Mr Murphy said: “We have come across what look like Iron Age and Bronze Age deposits – the first of their kind recorded in this area.”

It includes flint and shards of charcoal in the clay, possibly dating from 1200 BC, suggesting humans lit fires at the summit and used tools there. Another find, less easy to explain, is a Roman roof tile, which may have been used for infill at some point – or could point to more dramatic findings yet to be discovered. The new artefacts are currently being looked at by experts at the British Museum.

Mr Murphy, who has worked on Hampstead Heath for 34 years, said: “It is lovely to know the Heath we walk across has been used by Londoners for thousands of years.”

Once the results are in, Historic England will decide whether to continue digging for further evidence of how humans have used the Heath. The area is already known for its archaeological discoveries. During the dam-strengthening project, historians found evidence going back thousands of years, ranging from shards of pottery to clay pipes used by workmen in the 1700s, while to the north of Parliament Hill, there is an Iron Age barrow. And the discoveries at the top of the hill even shed light on the 20th century.

Mr Murphy added: “We came across an army cap badge, which dates from the Second World War. There was an anti-aircraft gun at the summit, so it may come from someone who was manning it.”

Less appealing is the number of ring pulls found. Mr Murphy said: “They were phased out in the 1990s – and just under the surface we have found a lot of them.”

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