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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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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 05 August 2021

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(p.227) 9 Documentary Sources
Iron Age Hillforts in Britain and Beyond

Dennis Harding

Oxford University Press

Prehistorians like to think of prehistoric archaeology as the ‘purest’ branch of the discipline, in that interpretation and reconstruction of prehistoric societies is solely dependent upon the principles and techniques of archaeology, untainted by the predisposition of history. The unfortunate polarization of attitudes was only too evident at a recent International Congress of Celtic Studies, at which some younger archaeologists were utterly dismissive of any argument that was based upon classical sources, an intolerance that was only comprehensible in the face of the equally irrational faith placed in these sources, irrespective of context or chronology, by some of their senior colleagues. This kind of uncritical use of texts doubtless underlies Hill's (1989) exhortation that Iron Age archaeological studies should become more like the Neolithic. For others, the present writer included, the challenge of the Iron Age derives largely from the fact that it does span the threshold of history, and that Britain and Europe are therefore populated by named individuals and known communities, not just by inanimate pots and stone artefacts. The age of hillforts is substantially protohistoric, though Christopher Hawkes’ (1954) term parahistoric is probably more accurate for much of the British Iron Age, for which the relevant texts derive from literate neighbours rather than from even a minority literate group among the native community. Archaeologists since Hawkes have sometimes talked about such periods as text-aided, as opposed to prehistoric periods that were text-free. It may be arguable whether the presence of textual sources is an aid or a complication, but the phrase text-free implies a measure of relief that for these periods at least the archaeologist is free to interpret the evidence uninhibited by possible contradiction from historical records. The problem with text-aided archaeology, of course, was that it tended to be text-led; that is, that archaeology was seen as a means of ‘proving’ or at least illuminating history. The subordination of archaeology to history that was implicit in this approach is well illustrated by the way that Sir Leonard Woolley's excavations at Ur were popularly heralded as proving the flood of Genesis, or Kathleen Kenyon's excavations at Jericho were presented as discovering the walls destroyed by Joshua, notwithstanding the fact that the Neolithic town with which she was primarily concerned pre-dated Iron Age Joshua by several millennia.

Keywords:   alliances, cavalry, druids, fosterage, inauguration sites, oppida, pastoralism, pastoralists, ringforts, shields

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