Not forts and not always on a hill
December 30, 2017 9:11 AM   Subscribe

Maiden Castle is the largest and one of the most impressive Iron Age hill forts in Britain, rising dramatically above the Dorset countryside and enclosing an area of 19 hectares. The peak of its occupation was from 400-200BC, when it was the politcial centre and preeminent settlement of the Durotriges tribe, although it was built on top of earlier Neolithic remains. After the Roman invasion, a shrine was built in the fort and it became a site of pilgrimage. Here are nine more impressive hill forts in Britain. Earlier this year, Oxford University created the Hill Fort Atlas mapping over 4,000 known hill forts in Britain and Ireland.
posted by Helga-woo (23 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
I love that google site in the first link, but for the love of all that is good and right on the web, stop with the horizontal scrolling sites. Please.
posted by tclark at 9:50 AM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is cool, I want to go check the Google goodies when on a real computer,my poor little ancient kindle is no match for Google earth exploration.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 9:53 AM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

There’s an apartment complex in downtown Oakland called “Hill Castle Apartment Hotel” with its name on an enormous rooftop sign visible from miles away. A friend joked that it was like a four-word history of architecture.
posted by migurski at 10:09 AM on December 30, 2017 [18 favorites]

> "Here are nine more impressive hill forts in Britain."

One of those is about 20 miles from me. I should go see it sometime.
posted by kyrademon at 10:21 AM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Maiden Castle? From the Iron Age? Someone notify Steve Harris and Bruce Dickinson, this epic practically writes itself.
posted by Ber at 10:24 AM on December 30, 2017 [9 favorites]

I've always been the romantic sort that likes to imagine themselves in ancient times walking the pure land. This is exactly the kind of thing that scratches that itch. Thanks.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:23 AM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Several years ago I visited the Iron Age hill fort Uffington Castle in Oxfordshire. If you ever have the opportunity, this is good one to visit because of its proximity to several other historical landmarks - Uffington White Horse, Dragon Hill, Wayland's Smithy, and The Ridgeway.
posted by zakur at 11:40 AM on December 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

I recently became huge fan of the long-running (20 years!) British tv program(me) Time Team after being directed to it by another MeFite in an AskMe about archaeology..

For those unaware, it is a reality show that showcases a new three-day, rapid appraisal archaeological dig of a different (usually British) site, each episode. They cover from prehistory right through to WWII. Hosted by presenter Sir Tony Robinson (Blackadder’s Baldrick), and with a charismatic and quirky team of experts, more than 200 episodes are available on YouTube, including the regular weekly eps plus dozens of seasonal specials.

They spend a number of episodes investigating Iron Age structures. Here is their excellent special on the Iron Age forts, which includes the above-linked Maiden Castle. Cheers!
posted by darkstar at 1:26 PM on December 30, 2017 [11 favorites]

Many thanks for this! I've visited a few, but nowhere near 4000. Maiden Castle is excellent.
posted by carter at 3:06 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I happened to visit an Iron Age fort in Cornwall yesterday, it was unusual in that it was estuarine apparently (thanks National Trust). It wasn't on a hill. It was in a lovely location, with some great views up the Fal River from the local fields.
posted by biffa at 3:53 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Brilliant post.

I love imagining day to day life in one of these places, and this really scratches that particular itch. Thanks!
posted by Sphinx at 4:00 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I visited Maiden Castle in 2003, and it was fantastic. That was our last vacation before our son was born. I'm looking forward to getting back there with him, and I think he'd like the fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast as well.
posted by mollweide at 4:31 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's certainly possible that some of my ancestors lived there or nearby as my dad's family is mostly from the southern parts of Britain. I feel like I should read more about that area of history.
posted by octothorpe at 7:36 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mini McGee and I enjoyed this very much!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:38 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Lovely article, thanks for posting.
> stop with the horizontal scrolling sites
On Windows, most web browsers will scroll horizontally if a Shift or Ctrl key is held down while scrolling the mouse wheel
posted by anadem at 9:07 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

This read super well on mobile. Thank you for sharing!!
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:25 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

The map of hillforts is great (and apparently I drive through the remnants of a hillfort every time I go to the shopping centre, though it's only visible via cropmarks).

Is there any explanation of the distribution of the forts? There is a notable reduction in density of them between Watling Street and around the current Scottish border. I doubt that's due to modern destruction of them, as this area has lots of places that haven't been intensely settled (and the higher density regions do include intensely settled areas). I don't think it can be to do with productivity in the Iron Age, as I can't imagine Yorkshire having less agricultural productivity than southern Scotland at the time.
posted by Vortisaur at 4:34 AM on December 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hill forts can be difficult to find if the area they're in has been overgrown. I visited a park in Ireland once that had a series of hill forts. It took me two walks around the trail and even knowing more or less exactly where they were before I was actually sure I had found one.
posted by lagomorphius at 7:57 AM on December 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

It’s a shame the fort-building technology back then was limited to blankets and pillows. If they had used stone then some of the structures might have survived to this day.
posted by um at 7:55 PM on December 31, 2017 [3 favorites]

Great to see Old Oswestry in the 'nine more impressive hillforts...' link. I grew up in the shadow of the place and it's always held a mystical place in my heart. At the moment, there's a campaign to try and prevent the bloody stupid council from green lighting a housing development at its foot.
posted by Myeral at 7:08 AM on January 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Very nice post, thanks for bringing it.
posted by Daddy-O at 7:58 AM on January 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've had such a good time finding hill forts on google maps. This panorama from the Isle of Man, South Barrule Fort is just so extraordinary I have to share it.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 12:54 PM on January 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Vortisaur I've been trying to track down some online sources that answer your question, but I've not found anything yet. I'm not an Iron Age specialist, so this all very much outside of my wheelhouse.

The problem is, the short answer is: No one knows.

The slightly longer answer is that no one knows and it's complicated. Part of the problem is the data we have isn't even across the country. The Hill Forts Atlas pulls together a few different datasets. A lot of our modern archaeological knowledge comes from development and construction, so if there isn't construction happening, there's no new information. There's traditionally been a bias for certain periods in certain parts of the country. And my favourite story I heard at a conference recently, there are more listed buildings in south-west England because the Inspector of Ancient Monuments* had a horse, so wasn't limited by petrol rationing. Here's a blog that pulls together some of the data to make heat maps, and discusses some of the issues.

There does seem to be a different settlement pattern in the north east, and the population was more pastoralist. Barry Cunliffe discusses it in his book Iron Age Communities in Britain, if you can get hold of it. I have an earlier copy, so I'm not sure how much that's changed with recent research.

Iron Age East Yorkshire in particular had it's own distinct culture, the Arras Culture, which was likely influenced by the Le Tene culture on the continent. They used chariot burials, which is all kinds of fabulous.

*Cool job that still exists!
posted by Helga-woo at 1:21 PM on January 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

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