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Maiden Castle

Maiden Castle is a fortified hilltop site in Dorset, England.

History of Maiden Castle

It has a long, discontinuous, history of use as a settlement and ritual centre spanning over 4000 years from the beginning of the Neolithic period to late Roman times in the 4th century AD.

However, the most important architecture at the site belongs to the period between 500 BC and AD 50, and the spectacular nature of these Iron Age remains has tended to obscure the significance of the earlier features. Maiden Castle was excavated between 1934 and 1937 by Mortimer Wheeler testing of his results took place in 1986 and 1987.

The eastern knoll of the hill was first occupied in the mid-4th millennium BC by a Neolithic settlement bounded by a system of ditches.

After this settlement had gone out of use, a long mound known as a bank barrow was constructed: running for 546 m from the eastern knoll across the earlier ditches to the western knoll, it is the longest known example of its type.

This monument was probably connected with ritual, as two child burials were found near the eastern end. During a gap in the occupation of the site a circular structure, probably a Bronze Age (c. 2300–c. 750 BC) round barrow, was erected on the western knoll. From c. 500 BC, during the Early Iron Age, the first hill-fort ramparts were constructed, enclosing the eastern knoll and largely following the line of the Neolithic ditches (for further discussion of Iron Age hill-forts .

These timber-framed ramparts with their deep ditches were broken by entrances on the west and east; the latter was more elaborate, with two timber-lined entrance passages. This first hill-fort was then extended to enclose an area of 19 ha, encompassing the western knoll.

Restructuring of the ramparts and elaboration of the gateways took place on at least two further occasions, the first when new ramparts were added (one on the north and two on the south), and again when all the ramparts were enlarged to the spectacular height of c. 20 m from the top of the bank to the bottom of the ditch.

Although the full width of these defences was over 120 m, this distance was still within the range of a sling, and hoards of slingstones (up to 22,260 stones in one hoard alone) were found in piles near the entrances.

The interior of the Iron Age fort was densely occupied by houses and stores, neatly arranged in streets. There is evidence of metalworking at the site, and many fine objects were recovered, including imported coral and elaborate horse trappings (Dorchester, Dorset Co. Mus.).

Towards the end of the site’s occupation 38 burials were made at the eastern entrance: some scholars believe these to have been victims of a Roman attack on Maiden Castle in AD 44 (one man’s spine still had a Roman arrowhead in it, but it is not clear whether all the burials are war dead).

 A few years later the site was abandoned in favour of nearby Dorchester, but during the 4th centuryAD the hill became the site of a Romano-Celtic temple and an associated house.

Maiden Castle Map

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Maiden Castle Pictures

Maiden Castle Roman Temple - click to enlarge

Maiden Castle aerial view 1937