Archaeologists urge public to head for the hillforts

Archaeologists are encouraging members of the public to get involved in a major project to map all the hillforts across Britain and Ireland.

The research team from Oxford and Edinburgh universities, in collaboration with University College Cork, is aiming to create the first online database listing information on around 5,000 hillforts. Called 'An Atlas of Hillforts in Britain and Ireland', the final database will be a freely available resource for the public to find out more about their local monuments which, according to the scholars, have been the subject of very little research until now.

The vast scale of the project means that the researchers will rely on volunteers to identify and record the characteristics of thousands of forts. They are seeking information not only about the upstanding, well-preserved forts but also the sites where only cropmarks and remnants indicate where forts once stood.

From today, members of the public can start to feed information about the characteristics of their local hillfort into online forms on the project website. Details such as the style and number of ramparts, ditches or entrances will help build up a complete picture of the regional variations and patterns. One big question that the researchers want to examine is how hillforts were used, and whether their purpose varied greatly across different regions of Britain and Ireland.

The four-year project is being funded through the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The database will eventually be freely searchable by region and by various hillfort characteristics, and be linked to Google Earth/Maps so that each fort can be seen within its landscape setting. The aim is to produce both an online searchable atlas and a paper atlas showing and analysing the different characteristics and regional variations.

Gary Lock, Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at the University of Oxford and co-director of the project, said: 'There is huge variety in where the hillforts were sited and the materials used to construct them. Hillforts in the upland areas are often stone-built, while those in lowland areas are often made of timber and earth.

'Some were constructed in prominent positions on the very top of hills, while others were on slopes or not even on hills at all. We want to shed new light on why they were created and how they were used.'