Archaeologists race the clock to excavate an Iron Age hill fort used by the Romans before it collapses into the sea


Water and erosion can be helpful to archaeologists by revealing the best places to excavate, but it can also be a curse, which is why a team is racing against time to explore an ancient Iron Age hill fort known as Dinas Dinlle before it collapses into the sea.

The prehistoric hill fort of Dinas Dinlle in Wales overlooks the sea from a strategic high point on the cliff. It dates back to around 800 BC to 43 AD, making it over 2,000 years old.

The Dinas Dinlle hill fort seen from inland. Image via YouTube.

The ancient Romans knew of and possibly even occupied the fort at one time, which is why Roman coins were found during excavations. In fact, some archaeologists believe that a Roman lighthouse may have stood on the site.

“There is a possibility that the prominent, squarish stone mound inside the fort is the remains of a building or tower; could it be a Roman pharos or lighthouse? Early medieval occupation of this prominent site is also very likely,” the team of archaeologists working for the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales said.

“That’s not to say Romans occupied the site but perhaps a tribe lived there that traded with the Romans,” Gwynedd Archaeological Trust’s Dan Amor told the BBC.

The walls of a 43 foot roundhouse has also been excavated, found under three feet of sand that is believed to have buried the site during a sandstorm in 1330.

“It’s probably the biggest one I’ve ever seen in 30 years of archaeology,” senior archaeologist David Hopewell said. “In another trench we have another big wall which may be another roundhouse but we’re not entirely sure yet. The main problem is that everything is under a metre of sand and we’re wondering if it blew in in the big storm in 1330 – so it looks like it’s been buried for a long time and it’s superbly preserved.”

The team excavates a rock wall at the Dinas Dinlle hill fort. Image via Twitter.
The remains of the rock wall found during excavations at Dinas Dinlle. Image via Twitter.

After being forgotten for centuries, the fort would be put to use during World War II as a pillbox, or armed guard post, by the British military to act as a defense against possible invasion by Nazi Germany.

Example of a World War II-era pillbox overlooking the English Channel on the British coast. Image via Wikimedia.

After that, it became part of a golf course, but has since been scheduled as a monument and stands as an important part of Welsh and United Kingdom history.

But if you look closely, you can already see that the fort does not look complete. That’s because at least 25 percent of it has fallen into the ocean.

Part of the fort has collapsed into the sea, and the rest of it will eventually suffer the same fate. Image via YouTube.

The fort used to be a complete circle that would have extended further out, but the sea has been increasingly washing it away since 1900, and the collapse has only sped up because of climate change and stronger storms.

According to The Independent:

Peat deposits at the foot of the cliff below the hillfort have led scientists to estimate the sea would have been a kilometre away 4,000 years ago.

But recently, greater levels of erosion have been seen at the southern end of the fort where considerable impacts were recorded in February this year.

Part of the current work on the fort is to assess the impact of climate change on the structure.

Rising sea levels, the drying out and desiccation of soils, flooding and more frequent storms all present “significant challenges” to Dinas Dinlle, hastening the erosion of the monument, the team said.

Experts say the entire site could be gone within 500 years, or sooner depending on how strong storms become and how high sea levels rise.

View of the hill fort from the sea, which is slowly eroding it away. Image via YouTube.

Faced with the imminent collapse of the prehistoric site, the team is racing the clock to find as much as they can there and document every inch while they still can, even using laser technology known as LIDAR to map it out.

Every discovery is precious and will demonstrate for future generations that the hill fort did exist.

The ongoing slow death of the hill fort at Dinas Dinlle also stands as an example of why humans should take climate change seriously. Because it’s wiping out our history.

“Dinas Dinlle encapsulates the risk to our coastline from climate change,” said Andy Godber of the National Trust. “Our coastal adaptation policy for Dinas Dinlle is to accept the loss of this important site, being part of this innovative project allows us to learn more about the history of human occupation here, while we still can.”

One day, we will no longer be able to visit and experience this hill fort. It will have disappeared forever as many other ancient sites along the coast have done. Only the destruction is speeding up today, sending a message that humans are at serious risk of losing our heritage and history if we don’t act to protect it now. It’s possible we could save what is left of Dinas Dinlle and spare other sites the same fate. But we need to act immediately to do so before it’s too late.

See more from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales:


Featured Image: YouTube screenshot


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