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Iron Age Hillforts in Britain and Beyond$
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Dennis Harding

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199695249

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199695249.001.0001

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(p.151) 6 Chronology
Iron Age Hillforts in Britain and Beyond

Dennis Harding

Oxford University Press

Hillforts are conventionally regarded as a phenomenon of the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age of temperate Europe, with some sites being constructed or reoccupied in the post-Roman Iron Age or Early Medieval period. In broad chronological terms, 1000 BC to AD 1000 covers the two millennia of the ‘long Iron Age’ in which hillforts are a major field monument. The concept of enclosure nevertheless has a much longer ancestry, from at least the earliest Neolithic. Some enclosed sites of the Neolithic and earlier Bronze Age in central Europe may be located on elevated ground or on promontories and may involve palisades or earthworks around their perimeter, just like Iron Age hillforts, so that the question arises whether these should not qualify as hillforts. To argue that their topographic location, or the scale or layout of enclosure, is not indicative of a primarily defensive purpose will not do, because some Iron Age hillforts seem to be compromised on these criteria. Nevertheless, by not entirely rational convention, hillforts as a regular class of field monuments are generally recognized from the Late Bronze Age, when their appearance in central and western Europe coincides with an intensification in the quantity and number of types of weaponry and defensive armour associated especially with the Urnfield culture. There are a number of hillfort sites in Britain where there is underlying evidence of Neolithic occupation, including occupation that was originally defined by enclosing works of earth or stone. There is no question of claiming continuity of occupation from Neolithic to Iron Age, but since the earlier earthworks would almost certainly still have been visible—at Maiden Castle, for instance, where the earliest Iron Age hillfort follows almost exactly the extent of the Neolithic enclosure—there is every reason to suppose that the existence of earthworks that would have been recognized as ancient, even if they were not formally venerated as places of ancestors, may have encouraged choice of these sites. An alternative interpretation would be simply to assume that the same advantages of location that commended themselves to Neolithic communities coincidentally satisfied equally the requirements of their Iron Age successors. But in that event the earlier monuments, like the Hambledon Hill long barrow or the Foel Trigarn cairns (Plate 14b), would hardly have been accorded the respect by later occupants that their condition indicates they were.

Keywords:   brochs, causewayed enclosures, dun, glass, hearths, iron working, promontory forts, querns, ringforts

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