Winter scene at Fin Cop above Monsal Dale

Fin Cop Hillfort

...a darker history uncovered

The unruffled peace and quiet of a former Peak District hillfort site has been shaken by archaeologists’ grim recent discovery of scattered bones and skeletons, making national headlines.

Fin Cop is perched on the apex of a steep sided escarpment overlooking the deeply-carved and popular valley of Monsal Dale, near Bakewell in Derbyshire.

The hillfort commands panoramic views of the surrounding countryside, and had never previously been subject to scientific excavation.

Check out our Monsal Dale HD video

The discoveries are the culmination of years of work and intrigue. During 2009 and 2010, a programme of archaeological investigation, under the direction of Archaeological Research Services Ltd, was conducted by Longstone Local History Group.
More than 400 schoolchildren and local volunteers joined specialist archaeologists to research Fin Cop, which is said to date from between 440BC and 390BC.

The discoveries of the Iron Age skeletons comprised remains of only women and children, suggesting a somewhat disturbing selective massacre. The finds include the skeleton of a pregnant woman apparently crushed beneath a collapsed wall, one of a number of seemingly hastily-built defences before the occurrence of some kind of disaster.

The remains of a teenage boy were discovered gathered at the bottom of the ditch, along with a further seven skeletons - all women or children.

On a slightly less depressing note, not one of the nine skeletons show signs of violence, suggesting death might have been from flesh wounds, suffocation, or possibly disease.

Potential explanations could be a catastrophic plague, or perhaps the punishment of a particular household by the rest of the community.


The absence of adult male remains in the ditch remains a mystery, especially as traces of cattle, sheep and pigs were also found - along with horse bones, suggesting Fin Cop's inhabitants may have included people of high status.

Archaeologists’ debate has now turned to whether men may have been enslaved or pressed into military action by the victors in a battle.

The Peak District has always been a place of historical and archaeological intrigue, but the new findings have intensified the focus and brought Fin Cop to national attention. Next time you’re enjoying the peaceful, stunning views across Monsal Dale, spare a thought for those darker times.

Sean Cummins

April 2011


Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015