I first visited Maiden castle in Dorset as a young child, and naturally, a huge mound of earth was only really good for one thing when you are six years old – rolling down it and getting covered in dirt and grass clippings!
However as I aged and became fascinated with archaeology, we revisited the site, and I finally understood that Maiden castle was actually what remained of a giant iron age hill fort, one of the greatest to have ever been built. The site was first being used all the way back in the Bronze age, but only for growing crops before it was abandoned. Then in 600 BC, the first small stages of building work began, just a 16 acre hillfort, one of over 100 other hillforts of a similar size in Berkshire, Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire. Then in 450 BC, expansion began, and the enclosed area tripled in size, reaching an incredible 47 acres, making it the largest hillfort in Europe. The defences at Maiden castle were also made more complex. Originally, the hill fort was enclosed with a single ditch and bank, standing 2.7 meters high, but with the expansion in size, the ramparts were built up to be over 3.5 meters high, and four more ramparts and three ditches were also built. Not only that, the eastern entrance was made more complex with extra earthworks, making the approach to the site longer by far, which gave those in the hill fort more chance to view an oncoming enemy approach.
The Roman conquest of Britain, as we all know, came in the 1st century AD, and with the conquest, Maiden castle was abandoned by the original settlers – however the Romans took this as an opportunity. Archaeological excavations in the 1930s, led by Mortimer Wheeler and Tessa Verney Wheeler, showed that there was evidence of Roman Military presence, including a temple and ancillary buildings being constructed in the late 4th century AD.
Eventually though, the Romans moved on and the site was used for little more than in the medieval period, when local farmers used it for agricultural purposes. Nowadays, the site is a protected ancient monument, maintained by the English Heritage.
Join me next time to learn about another site!