Maiden Castle, Dorset

Maiden Castle, Dorset

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Maiden Castle is an Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

 hill fort
Hill fort
A hill fort is a type of earthworks used as a fortified refuge or defended settlement, located to exploit a rise in elevation for defensive advantage. They are typically European and of the Bronze and Iron Ages. Some were used in the post-Roman period...

 2.5 kilometres (1.6 mi) south west of Dorchester, in the English county of Dorset
Dorset
Dorset , is a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. The county town is Dorchester which is situated in the south. The Hampshire towns of Bournemouth and Christchurch joined the county with the reorganisation of local government in 1974...

. Hill forts were fortified hill-top settlements constructed across Britain during the Iron Age
Hillforts in Britain
Hillforts in Britain refers to the various hillforts within the island of Great Britain. Although the earliest such constructs fitting this description come from the Neolithic period, with a few also dating to the later Bronze Age, British hill forts were primarily constructed during the Iron Age...

. The name Maiden Castle may be a modern construction meaning that the hill fort looks impregnable, or it could derive from the British Celtic mai-dun, meaning a "great hill."

The earliest archaeological
Archaeology
Archaeology, or archeology , is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes...

 evidence of human activity on the site consists of a Neolithic
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 causewayed enclosure
Causewayed enclosure
A causewayed enclosure is a type of large prehistoric earthwork common to the early Neolithic in Europe. More than 100 examples are recorded in France and 70 in England, while further sites are known in Scandinavia, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Ireland and Slovakia.The term "causewayed enclosure" is...

 and bank barrow
Bank barrow
A bank barrow, sometimes referred to as a barrow-bank, ridge barrow, or ridge mound, is a type of tumulus first identified by O.G.S. Crawford in 1938....

. In about 1800 BC, during the Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

, the site was used for growing crops before being abandoned. Maiden Castle itself was built in about 600 BC; the early phase was a simple and unremarkable site, similar to many other hill forts in Britain and covering 6.4 hectares (15.8 acre). Around 450 BC it underwent major expansion, during which the enclosed area was nearly tripled in size to 19 ha (46.9 acre), making it the largest hill fort in Britain and by some definitions the largest in Europe. At the same time, Maiden Castle's defences were made more complex with the addition of further rampart
Defensive wall
A defensive wall is a fortification used to protect a city or settlement from potential aggressors. In ancient to modern times, they were used to enclose settlements...

s and ditches
Ditch (fortification)
A ditch in military engineering is an obstacle, designed to slow down or break up an attacking force, while a trench is intended to provide cover to the defenders...

. Around 100 BC habitation at the hill fort went into decline and became focused at the eastern end of the site. It was occupied until at least the Roman period
Roman Britain
Roman Britain was the part of the island of Great Britain controlled by the Roman Empire from AD 43 until ca. AD 410.The Romans referred to the imperial province as Britannia, which eventually comprised all of the island of Great Britain south of the fluid frontier with Caledonia...

, by which time it was in the territory of the Durotriges
Durotriges
The Durotriges were one of the Celtic tribes living in Britain prior to the Roman invasion. The tribe lived in modern Dorset, south Wiltshire and south Somerset...

, a Celt
Celt
The Celts were a diverse group of tribal societies in Iron Age and Roman-era Europe who spoke Celtic languages.The earliest archaeological culture commonly accepted as Celtic, or rather Proto-Celtic, was the central European Hallstatt culture , named for the rich grave finds in Hallstatt, Austria....

ic tribe.

After the Roman conquest of Britain
Roman conquest of Britain
The Roman conquest of Britain was a gradual process, beginning effectively in AD 43 under Emperor Claudius, whose general Aulus Plautius served as first governor of Britannia. Great Britain had already frequently been the target of invasions, planned and actual, by forces of the Roman Republic and...

 in the 1st century AD, Maiden Castle appears to have been abandoned, although the Romans may have had a military presence on the site. In the late 4th century AD, a temple and ancillary buildings were constructed. In the 6th century AD the hill top was entirely abandoned and was used only for agriculture during the medieval period.

Maiden Castle has provided inspiration for composer John Ireland
John Ireland (composer)
John Nicholson Ireland was an English composer.- Life :John Ireland was born in Bowdon, near Altrincham, Manchester, into a family of Scottish descent and some cultural distinction. His father, Alexander Ireland, a publisher and newspaper proprietor, was aged 70 at John's birth...

 and authors Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy, OM was an English novelist and poet. While his works typically belong to the Naturalism movement, several poems display elements of the previous Romantic and Enlightenment periods of literature, such as his fascination with the supernatural.While he regarded himself primarily as a...

 and John Cowper Powys
John Cowper Powys
-Biography:Powys was born in Shirley, Derbyshire, in 1872, the son of the Reverend Charles Francis Powys , who was vicar of Montacute, Somerset for thirty-two years, and Mary Cowper Johnson, a descendent of the poet William Cowper. He came from a family of eleven children, many of whom were also...

. The study of hill forts was popularised in the 19th century by archaeologist Augustus Pitt Rivers
Augustus Pitt Rivers
Lieutenant-General Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers was an English army officer, ethnologist, and archaeologist. He was noted for his innovations in archaeological methods, and in the museum display of archaeological and ethnological collections.-Life and career:Born Augustus Henry Lane-Fox at...

. In the 1930s, archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler
Mortimer Wheeler
Brigadier Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler CH, CIE, MC, FBA, FSA , was one of the best-known British archaeologists of the twentieth century.-Education and career:...

 undertook the first archaeological excavations
Archaeology
Archaeology, or archeology , is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes...

 at Maiden Castle, raising its profile among the public. Further excavations were carried out under Niall Sharples, which added to an understanding of the site and repaired damage caused in part by the large number of visitors. Today the site is protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument
Scheduled Ancient Monument
In the United Kingdom, a scheduled monument is a 'nationally important' archaeological site or historic building, given protection against unauthorized change. The various pieces of legislation used for legally protecting heritage assets from damage and destruction are grouped under the term...

 and is maintained by English Heritage
English Heritage
English Heritage . is an executive non-departmental public body of the British Government sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport...

.

Before the fort



Before the hill fort was built, a Neolithic
Neolithic
The Neolithic Age, Era, or Period, or New Stone Age, was a period in the development of human technology, beginning about 9500 BC in some parts of the Middle East, and later in other parts of the world. It is traditionally considered as the last part of the Stone Age...

 causewayed enclosure
Causewayed enclosure
A causewayed enclosure is a type of large prehistoric earthwork common to the early Neolithic in Europe. More than 100 examples are recorded in France and 70 in England, while further sites are known in Scandinavia, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Ireland and Slovakia.The term "causewayed enclosure" is...

 was constructed on the site. Dating from around 4000 BC
4th millennium BC
The 4th millennium BC saw major changes in human culture. It marked the beginning of the Bronze Age and of writing.The city states of Sumer and the kingdom of Egypt were established and grew to prominence. Agriculture spread widely across Eurasia...

, it was an oval area enclosed by two ditches, It is called a causewayed enclosure because the way the ditches were dug meant that there would originally have been gaps. These gaps, and the bank being only 17 centimetres (6.7 in) high, indicate the site would not have been defensive. Instead the ditches may have been symbolic, separating the interior of the enclosure and its activities from the outside. Archaeologist Niall Sharples, who was involved in excavating the hill fort in the 1980s, has identified the hilltop views of the surrounding landscape as a likely factor for the enclosure's position. Situated on the side of the hill, it would have been visible from several miles away, and when first cut the ditches would have exposed the underlying white chalk and stood out against the green hillside. The interior of the enclosure has been disturbed by later habitation and farming. The site does not appear to have been inhabited, although a grave containing the remains of two children, aged 6–7, has been discovered. The enclosure is the earliest evidence of human activity on the site.

The purpose of Neolithic causewayed enclosures is unclear, and they probably had a variety of functions. As well as burials, indicating the site at Maiden Castle was important for rituals related to death, pottery from the coast and areas to the east and west indicate it was used as a meeting place which attracted people over long distances. Radiocarbon dating
Radiocarbon dating
Radiocarbon dating is a radiometric dating method that uses the naturally occurring radioisotope carbon-14 to estimate the age of carbon-bearing materials up to about 58,000 to 62,000 years. Raw, i.e. uncalibrated, radiocarbon ages are usually reported in radiocarbon years "Before Present" ,...

 indicates that the enclosure was abandoned around 3,400 BC. Arrowheads discovered in the ditches may indicate that activity at the enclosure met a violent end.

Within a period of about 50 years, a bank barrow
Bank barrow
A bank barrow, sometimes referred to as a barrow-bank, ridge barrow, or ridge mound, is a type of tumulus first identified by O.G.S. Crawford in 1938....

 was built over the enclosure. It was a 546 metres (1,791.3 ft) long mound of earth with a ditch on either side; the parallel ditches were 19.5 m (64 ft) apart. Many barrows lie over graves and are monuments to the deceased, but as the barrow at Maiden Castle did not cover any burials, it has been suggested that it was a boundary marker, which would explain the limited human activity on the hilltop for the 500 years after the bank barrow's construction. Around 1,800 BC, during the early Bronze Age
Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...

, the hill was cleared and used to grow crops, but the soil was quickly exhausted and the site abandoned. This period of abandonment lasted until the Iron Age
Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...

, when the hill fort was built. The bank barrow survived into the Iron Age as a low mound, and throughout this period construction over it was avoided.

First hill fort



Hill forts developed in the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age, roughly the start of the first millennium BC
1st millennium BC
The 1st millennium BC encompasses the Iron Age and sees the rise of many successive empires, and spanned from 1000 BC to 1 BC.The Neo-Assyrian Empire, followed by the Achaemenids. In Greece, Classical Antiquity begins with the colonization of Magna Graecia and peaks with the rise of Hellenism. The...

. The reason for their emergence in Britain, and their purpose, has been a subject of debate. It has been argued that they could have been defensive sites constructed in response to invasion from continental Europe, built by invaders, or a military reaction to social tensions caused by an increasing population and resulting pressure on agriculture. The dominant view since the 1960s has been that the increasing use of iron led to social changes in Britain. Deposits of iron ore were located in different places to the tin and copper ore necessary to make bronze. As a result, trading patterns shifted, and the old elites lost their economic and social status. Power passed into the hands of a new group of people. Archaeologist Barry Cunliffe
Barry Cunliffe
Sir Barrington Windsor Cunliffe, CBE, known professionally as Barry Cunliffe is a former Professor of European Archaeology at the University of Oxford, a position held from 1972 to 2007...

 believes that population increase still played a role and has stated that "[the forts] provided defensive possibilities for the community at those times when the stress [of an increasing population] burst out into open warfare. But I wouldn't see them as having been built because there was a state of war. They would be functional as defensive strongholds when there were tensions and undoubtedly some of them were attacked and destroyed, but this was not the only, or even the most significant, factor in their construction".

There are around 31 hill forts in Dorset; archaeologist Sharples, who undertook excavations at Maiden Castle, proposed that hill forts were used to control agricultural land to support a large community. Those in Dorset were situated near expanses of fertile land. Monumental defences such as the ditch at Maiden Castle indicate that the land was disputed and communities fought each other for control. This is supported by Cunliffe, who argues that the elaborate earthworks such as those around the entrances to Maiden Castle and Danebury
Danebury
Danebury is an Iron Age hill fort in Hampshire in England, about north-west of Winchester . The site, covering , was excavated by Barry Cunliffe in the 1970s...

 were used to defend the weakest part of the hill fort. They increased the time the attackers took to reach the gateway, which would have left them vulnerable to defenders armed with slings
Sling (weapon)
A sling is a projectile weapon typically used to throw a blunt projectile such as a stone or lead "sling-bullet". It is also known as the shepherd's sling....

. Hoards of carefully selected sling stones have been found at both sites.

Constructed on a territorial boundary in about 600 BC, the first hill fort at Maiden Castle was a 6.4 hectares (15.8 acre) area surrounded by a single ditch. The hill it sits on is part of a ridge on the north side of the South Winterborne valley, which feeds the River Frome
River Frome, Dorset
The River Frome is a river in Dorset in the south of England. At 30 miles long it is the major chalkstream in southwest England. It is navigable upstream from Poole Harbour as far as the town of Wareham.-Geography:...

. At the eastern end of the ridge and rising 132 m (433.1 ft) above sea level, the site of the first hill fort was not the highest point along the ridge, although the highest point is the neighbouring Hog Hill and is only 1 m (3.3 ft) higher. The hill projects
Topographic prominence
In topography, prominence, also known as autonomous height, relative height, shoulder drop , or prime factor , categorizes the height of the mountain's or hill's summit by the elevation between it and the lowest contour line encircling it and no higher summit...

 about 40 m (131 ft) above the surrounding countryside which is about 90 m (295 ft) above sea level. The defences were 8.4 m (27.6 ft) high and consisted of the V-shaped ditch and a rampart. The rampart would probably have been timber-faced around just the entrances. Elaborate timber facing would have been used to impress visitors. The site could be accessed by an entrance in the northwest and a double entrance in the east. The double entrance is unique in hill forts in the British Isles. The reason for a double entrance is unclear; however, archaeologist Niall Sharples has suggested that it was a form of segregation. It is likely that several farming communities lived in the hill fort and wanted different entrances.

The defences of the first hill fort were rebuilt on at least one occasion; the ditch was deepened by 1.5 to 7 m (4.9 to 23 ft). The spoil
Spoil
Spoil or spoils:*Plunder taken from an enemy or victim.*Material removed during:**excavation**mining**dredging*An Australian rules football tactic, see One percenter #Spoil...

 from re-digging the ditch was deposited on the back of the rampart. At the same time, the defences around the eastern entrances were made more complex. A bank and ditch were built outside the two entrances, and a bank was erected between them. The bank had a wall faced with limestone, which originated over 3 km (2 mi) away. Sharples believes this would have created an impressive entrance and was a demonstration of the settlement's high status. The Early Iron Age archaeology has been largely destroyed due to later activity on the site. However, nearby Poundbury
Poundbury
Poundbury is an experimental new town or urban extension on the outskirts of Dorchester in the county of Dorset, England.The development is built on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. It is built according to the principles of Prince Charles...

 and Chalbury date to the same period, so through comparison it is possible to infer the Early Iron Age activity at Maiden Castle. From parallels at these sites, Niall Sharples deduces that it was probably densely occupied, with separate areas for habitation and storage. Not much is known about the material culture
Archaeological culture
An archaeological culture is a recurring assemblage of artifacts from a specific time and place, which are thought to constitute the material culture remains of a particular past human society. The connection between the artifacts is based on archaeologists' understanding and interpretation and...

 and economy of the Early Iron Age, and the paucity of finds from this period at Maiden Castle makes it difficult to draw conclusions about activity on the site.

Developed hill fort



In the Early Iron Age, Maiden Castle was generally unexceptional; it was one of over 100 hill forts of similar size built around the same time in the area that is now Berkshire
Berkshire
Berkshire is a historic county in the South of England. It is also often referred to as the Royal County of Berkshire because of the presence of the royal residence of Windsor Castle in the county; this usage, which dates to the 19th century at least, was recognised by the Queen in 1957, and...

, Dorset, Hampshire
Hampshire
Hampshire is a county on the southern coast of England in the United Kingdom. The county town of Hampshire is Winchester, a historic cathedral city that was once the capital of England. Hampshire is notable for housing the original birthplaces of the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force...

, and Wiltshire
Wiltshire
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...

. In the Middle Iron Age, Maiden Castle was expanded and in the process it became the largest hill fort in Britain and one of the largest in Europe. According to archaeologist Niall Sharples it is, by some definitions, in fact the largest in western Europe. In about 450 BC, Maiden Castle was expanded from 6.4 hectare. The area was initially enclosed by a single bank and ditch, with the bank standing 2.7 m (8.9 ft) high although the ditch was shallow. The hill fort's expansion was not unique; it was one of a series of "developed hill forts" in southern England. As some hill forts were expanded, many of the smaller hill forts that had proliferated in the Early Iron Age fell out of use, as was the case in Dorset. The developed hill forts in Dorset were spaced widely apart. This, and the abandonment of the smaller hill forts in the area when the developed hill forts were built, indicates that these developed hill forts were important. The developed hill forts of Berkshire, Dorset, Hampshire, and Wiltshire were equally spaced apart, with roughly equal access to resources such as water.

The emergence of developed hill forts has been attributed to Iron Age society becoming more complex. The emergence of one dominant hill fort in an area indicates that the inhabitants of a particular hill fort became more important than their contemporaries, possibly through warfare. However, a general dearth of evidence for destruction and an increase of artefacts associated with crafts and industry suggest that the reason for change was economic. Hill forts may have become important as centres of trade. This is supported by the possibility that the multiple rings of ditches often employed at developed hill forts (the technical term for which is "multivallate") were likely to be not just defensive; so many ditches and ramparts, such as those at Maiden Castle, were excessive for defence alone so were likely used as statements of power and authority. Developed hill forts were generally densely occupied; this is best demonstrated at Danebury, where 57% of the site has been excavated. While developed hill forts were of a higher status than their smaller predecessors, they were not all equal and Cunliffe states that the Maiden Castle's monumental defences probably indicate that it was of higher status than other developed hill forts.


Maiden Castle expanded westwards, and the ditch was extended to enclose the neighbouring Hog Hill. The peaks of the two hills encompassed by the new, larger hill fort were separated by a dry valley
Dry valley
A dry valley is a valley found in either karst or chalk terrain that no longer has a surface flow of water.There are many examples of the latter along the North and South Downs in southern England...

. A shaft dug into the valley was possibly used as a water source. Almost immediately after the single ditch enclosure was expanded to 19 ha (46.9 acre), work began on making the defences more elaborate. The existing rampart was heightened to 3.5 m (11.5 ft), and more ramparts and ditches were added. On the south of the fort, four ramparts and three ditches were added, but because of the steepness of the northern slope of the hill the fourth rampart did not extend all the way round, and only three ramparts were built on the northern side. At the same time, the eastern entrance was again made more complex through the addition of further earthworks, lengthening the approach to the site.

The four-post structures common in hill forts throughout England are also found in Maiden Castle. Their purpose on this site is uncertain however, since at 2 m (6.6 ft) square they have been considered by archaeologists to be too small for dwellings; as a result, it has been concluded that these structures were probably granaries. The presence of granaries suggests that the fort was used to control the area's food supply. Little evidence has been discovered for houses in Maiden Castle during the sites reconstruction in the 5th century BC; this is probably because the site has not been fully excavated and a quarry used to provide material for the rampart may have obliterated the evidence. It appears that houses were not built near the ramparts until after the defences were complete. Maiden Castle was occupied throughout the Iron Age and its inhabitants lived in roundhouse
Roundhouse (dwelling)
The roundhouse is a type of house with a circular plan, originally built in western Europe before the Roman occupation using walls made either of stone or of wooden posts joined by wattle-and-daub panels and a conical thatched roof. Roundhouses ranged in size from less than 5m in diameter to over 15m...

s. The later houses appear to be organised in rows, and to be roughly similar in size, a reorganisation which indicates the increasing power of the elites over Iron Age society.

Bronze objects such as pins, jewellery, and rivets have been found on the site, dating from the Middle Iron Age. As there was no local source of tin and copper ore, this demonstrates long distance trade, probably with the southwest. Although bronze was not produced at Maiden Castle, there is evidence of it being reworked. Good quality iron ore could be found in the surrounding area, but the hill fort does not appear to have been a centre for iron production in this period; this is not unusual as very few hill forts in Berkshire, Dorset, Hampshire, and Wiltshire exhibit traces of iron production. Early in the Iron Age, most of the pottery found at Maiden Castle was produced locally – within about 15 km (9.3 mi) – however later on sources further afield became more important, and by the Late Iron Age 95% of the pottery came from the area around Poole Harbour
Poole Harbour
Poole Harbour is a large natural harbour in Dorset, southern England, with the town of Poole on its shores. The harbour is a drowned valley formed at the end of the last ice age and is the estuary of several rivers, the largest being the Frome. The harbour has a long history of human settlement...

 over 35 mi (56.3 km) away. This long-range trade has been taken as evidence for increasing relationships with groups of people over large areas and the emergence of tribal identities. Although Sharples states that developed hill forts such as Maiden Castle are not towns and cannot be considered truly urban because they are so closely related to agriculture and storage, Cunliffe and fellow-archaeologists Mark Corney and Andrew Payne describe developed hill forts as "town-like settlements", a form of proto-urbanism.

Decline


Across Britain, many hill forts fell out of use in the 100 years around the turn of the millennium. It has been suggested that this, and the contemporary change in material culture of the Britons (such as the introduction of coinage and cemeteries and an increase in craft industries), was caused by increased interaction with the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

. The developing industries may have resulted in a shift away from the hill fort elites, whose power was based on agriculture. Such change is not as obvious in Dorset as it is in the rest of Britain, but there is a trend for abandonment of hill forts in the area and a proliferation of small undefended farmsteads, indicating a migration of the population.

Around 100 BC, Maiden Castle's organised street pattern was replaced by more random habitation. At the same time, the western half of the site was abandoned and occupation was concentrated in the east of the fort. Also during the Late Iron Age, some of the earthworks around the eastern gateway were filled in and settlement expanded beyond the entrance, and into the areas between the banks. Excavations by archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler
Mortimer Wheeler
Brigadier Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler CH, CIE, MC, FBA, FSA , was one of the best-known British archaeologists of the twentieth century.-Education and career:...

 in this area revealed several houses, storage pits, an area used for iron working, and a cemetery. On the industrial site, more than 62 kg (136.7 lb) of iron slag was discovered in an area of 30 sqm, and it is believed the site produced around 200 kg (440.9 lb) of iron. The amount of ore required could not have been supplied by local sources, so most likely originated from areas of specialist iron production such as the Weald
Weald
The Weald is the name given to an area in South East England situated between the parallel chalk escarpments of the North and the South Downs. It should be regarded as three separate parts: the sandstone "High Weald" in the centre; the clay "Low Weald" periphery; and the Greensand Ridge which...

, south west England, and Wales. Maiden Castle is one of the most important iron production sites from the Late Iron Age in southern Britain.

There is little evidence for burial in the Iron Age until late on in the period, and it is believed that the prevalent method of disposing of a body was by excarnation
Excarnation
In archaeology and anthropology, the term, excarnation , refers to the burial practice of removing the flesh and organs of the dead, leaving only the bones....

. Wheeler's excavations on the cemetery in the eastern gateway revealed 52 burials, but only part of the cemetery was investigated, so the total number of burials is likely to be at least double this figure. One area of the cemetery featured burials of 14 people who had died in violent circumstances, including one body with a Roman spearhead in its back. Wheeler used the "war cemetery", as he described it, as evidence of a Roman attack on Maiden Castle.

Roman activity and abandonment



In AD 43, the Roman conquest of Britain
Roman conquest of Britain
The Roman conquest of Britain was a gradual process, beginning effectively in AD 43 under Emperor Claudius, whose general Aulus Plautius served as first governor of Britannia. Great Britain had already frequently been the target of invasions, planned and actual, by forces of the Roman Republic and...

 began. Vespasian's subsequent campaign to conquer the tribes of the Atrebates
Atrebates
The Atrebates were a Belgic tribe of Gaul and Britain before the Roman conquests.- Name of the tribe :Cognate with Old Irish aittrebaid meaning 'inhabitant', Atrebates comes from proto-Celtic *ad-treb-a-t-es, 'inhabitants'. The Celtic root is treb- 'building', 'home' The Atrebates (singular...

, Dumnonii
Dumnonii
The Dumnonii or Dumnones were a British Celtic tribe who inhabited Dumnonia, the area now known as Devon and Cornwall in the farther parts of the South West peninsula of Britain, from at least the Iron Age up to the early Saxon period...

, and Durotriges in the southwest of Britain took place in AD 43–47. Based on the discovery of a group of bodies in the Late Iron Age formal cemetery that had met a violent death, archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler created a vivid story of the fall of Maiden Castle to Roman forces. He believed a legion wreaked destruction on the site, butchering men, women, and children, before setting fire to the site and slighting its defences. However, there is little archaeological evidence to support this version of events, or even that the hill fort was attacked by the Romans. Although there is a layer of charcoal, it is associated with the iron works, and the main evidence for slighting of defences comes from the collapse of an entranceway to the fort. Although 14 bodies in the cemetery exhibited signs of a violent death, there is no evidence that they died at Maiden Castle. The eastern part of the hill fort remained in use for at least the first few decades of the Roman occupation, although the duration and nature of habitation is uncertain. Many 1st-century Roman artefacts have been discovered near the east entrance and in the centre of the hill fort. It has been suggested that Maiden Castle was occupied as a Roman military outpost or fort
Castra
The Latin word castra, with its singular castrum, was used by the ancient Romans to mean buildings or plots of land reserved to or constructed for use as a military defensive position. The word appears in both Oscan and Umbrian as well as in Latin. It may have descended from Indo-European to Italic...

 and the settlement discontinued, as there is no known fort in the area and it was not uncommon for hill forts in the southwest to have been occupied by Roman forces. This was a characteristic of Vespasian
Vespasian
Vespasian , was Roman Emperor from 69 AD to 79 AD. Vespasian was the founder of the Flavian dynasty, which ruled the Empire for a quarter century. Vespasian was descended from a family of equestrians, who rose into the senatorial rank under the Emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty...

's campaign in the region; there was military occupation at Cadbury Castle
Cadbury Castle, Somerset
Cadbury Castle is an Iron Age hill fort in the civil parish of South Cadbury in the English county of Somerset. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and associated with King Arthur.-Background:...

 in Somerset
Somerset
The ceremonial and non-metropolitan county of Somerset in South West England borders Bristol and Gloucestershire to the north, Wiltshire to the east, Dorset to the south-east, and Devon to the south-west. It is partly bounded to the north and west by the Bristol Channel and the estuary of the...

, Hembury
Hembury
Hembury is a Neolithic causewayed enclosure near Honiton in Devon. It dates from the late fifth and early fourth millennia BC onwards to the Roman Invasion. The fort is situated on a promontory to the North of and overlooking the River Otter Valley at approx 178 Metres above Sea Level.It has given...

 in Devon
Devon
Devon is a large county in southwestern England. The county is sometimes referred to as Devonshire, although the term is rarely used inside the county itself as the county has never been officially "shired", it often indicates a traditional or historical context.The county shares borders with...

, and Hodd Hill in Dorset.

Maiden Castle had been abandoned by the end of the 1st century, a time when Durnovaria
Durnovaria
Durnovaria is the Latin form of the Brythonic name for the Roman town of Dorchester in the modern English county of Dorset.-Romans at Maiden Castle:...

(Dorchester) rose to prominence as the civitas
Civitas
In the history of Rome, the Latin term civitas , according to Cicero in the time of the late Roman Republic, was the social body of the cives, or citizens, united by law . It is the law that binds them together, giving them responsibilities on the one hand and rights of citizenship on the other...

, or regional capital, of the Durotriges
Durotriges
The Durotriges were one of the Celtic tribes living in Britain prior to the Roman invasion. The tribe lived in modern Dorset, south Wiltshire and south Somerset...

, a Celtic tribe whose territory was in southwest England. According to the ancient geographer Ptolemy
Ptolemy
Claudius Ptolemy , was a Roman citizen of Egypt who wrote in Greek. He was a mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer, and poet of a single epigram in the Greek Anthology. He lived in Egypt under Roman rule, and is believed to have been born in the town of Ptolemais Hermiou in the...

, writing in the 2nd century AD, Dunium was the main settlement of the Durotriges. Although Dunium has long been thought to refer to Maiden Castle, Hod Hill
Hod Hill
Hod Hill is a large hill fort in the Blackmore Vale, north-west of Blandford Forum, Dorset, England. The fort sits on a chalk hill that is detached from the Dorset Downs and Cranborne Chase. The hill fort at Hambledon Hill is just to the north.The fort is roughly rectangular , with an enclosed...

 and Hengistbury have been identified as two other possible sites for Dunium. Dunium may have derived from British duno- which meant "a fort". Sometime after 367, a Romano-Celtic temple was built at Maiden Castle in the eastern half of the hill fort. The date was deduced from a hoard of coins discovered beneath a mosaic floor in the temple. A central room, measuring 6 m (19.7 ft) square, was surrounded by a 3 m (9.8 ft) passageway, similar to many Romano-Celtic temples found in the south of England. Nearby were two other buildings: a rectangular building 7.9 by 5.5 m (25.9 by 18 ft) with two rooms that may have been a house for a priest, and a circular building that may have been a shrine. At the same time as the temple was built, the fort's eastern gateway was refurbished; there was possibly another shrine inside the gateway.

Later history



The 4th-century temple gradually fell into disuse and Maiden Castle was used predominantly as pasture. There is evidence for activity on the site in the form of a few post-Roman or Anglo Saxon burials, some possibly Christian, but the hill fort was not reused as a settlement. In the 16th and 17th centuries, a barn was built over the "war cemetery". The only other significant activity on the hill top after the Romans was a short period of cultivation in the 17th century, as demonstrated by traces of ridge and furrow
Ridge and furrow
Ridge and furrow is an archaeological pattern of ridges and troughs created by a system of ploughing used in Europe during the Middle Ages. The earliest examples date to the immediate post-Roman period and the system was used until the 17th century in some areas. Ridge and furrow topography is...

 caused by ploughing. The modern name for the hill fort is first recorded in 1607 as Mayden Castell; it is not unique to the site and occurs in several other places in Britain and probably means a "fortification that looks impregnable" or one that has never been taken in battle. Alternatively, the name may derive from the British
British people
The British are citizens of the United Kingdom, of the Isle of Man, any of the Channel Islands, or of any of the British overseas territories, and their descendants...

 mai-dun, meaning a "great hill". Over the following centuries, the site was abandoned completely and became open pasture, although it was of interest to antiquarian
Antiquarian
An antiquarian or antiquary is an aficionado or student of antiquities or things of the past. More specifically, the term is used for those who study history with particular attention to ancient objects of art or science, archaeological and historic sites, or historic archives and manuscripts...

s. Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy, OM was an English novelist and poet. While his works typically belong to the Naturalism movement, several poems display elements of the previous Romantic and Enlightenment periods of literature, such as his fascination with the supernatural.While he regarded himself primarily as a...

, who built his house
Max Gate
Max Gate is the former home of Thomas Hardy and is located in Dorchester, Dorset, England.Hardy designed and lived in Max Gate from 1885 until his death in 1928. It was here that he wrote Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure and The Mayor of Casterbridge, as well as much of his poetry.Max...

 within sight of it, described the castle in a short story, "Ancient Earthworks and What Two Enthusiastic Scientists Found Therein" (1885) about a local antiquarian who spent much time investigating the site. In 1921, composer John Ireland
John Ireland (composer)
John Nicholson Ireland was an English composer.- Life :John Ireland was born in Bowdon, near Altrincham, Manchester, into a family of Scottish descent and some cultural distinction. His father, Alexander Ireland, a publisher and newspaper proprietor, was aged 70 at John's birth...

 wrote Mai-Dun, a symphonic rhapsody, about the hill fort in Dorset. John Cowper Powys
John Cowper Powys
-Biography:Powys was born in Shirley, Derbyshire, in 1872, the son of the Reverend Charles Francis Powys , who was vicar of Montacute, Somerset for thirty-two years, and Mary Cowper Johnson, a descendent of the poet William Cowper. He came from a family of eleven children, many of whom were also...

 wrote a novel titled Maiden Castle in 1936, which was set in Dorset.

The first widespread investigation of hill forts was carried out in the second half of the 19th century under the direction of Augustus Pitt-Rivers, but it was not until the 1930s that Maiden Castle was methodically investigated, the first large-scale excavation of the interior of a hill fort. Between 1934 and 1937, Mortimer Wheeler
Mortimer Wheeler
Brigadier Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler CH, CIE, MC, FBA, FSA , was one of the best-known British archaeologists of the twentieth century.-Education and career:...

 excavated both the interior and the defences, work that was funded almost entirely by donations from the public. Wheeler's use of the media to disseminate information about the site resulted in Maiden Castle becoming well known. It was one of about 80 hill forts to have been excavated by 1940, in a period known as "hill fort mania" during the 1920s and 1930s.

Between 1985 and 1986 further excavations under Niall Sharples were prompted by the hill fort's deteriorating condition, partly caused by the large number of visitors to the site. Under the auspices of English Heritage
English Heritage
English Heritage . is an executive non-departmental public body of the British Government sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport...

, repair work and archaeological investigations were undertaken concurrently. Techniques such as radiocarbon dating were available to Sharples that were unavailable to Wheeler, allowing the site to be dated. The structure was made a Scheduled Ancient Monument
Scheduled Ancient Monument
In the United Kingdom, a scheduled monument is a 'nationally important' archaeological site or historic building, given protection against unauthorized change. The various pieces of legislation used for legally protecting heritage assets from damage and destruction are grouped under the term...

 in 1997, giving Maiden Castle protection against unauthorised change; it is now maintained by English Heritage. With parking facilities and information boards for visitors, Maiden Castle is open to the public all year round. Today, the site is in the civil parish of Winterborne Monkton
Winterborne Monkton
Winterborne Monkton is a hamlet and civil parish in the south-west of the English county of Dorset.It is just off the A354 road, three miles south of Dorchester. The village has a population of 84 , and consists of a few houses and a church. The great hill fort of Maiden Castle stands within the...

at .

External links