‘Hillfort’ is a term of convenience. It is widely recognized that the monuments in question are not restricted topographically to hills, and that their role may not have been primarily, and certainly not exclusively, for military defence. Nor are they restricted chronologically to the Iron Age, though during that period they are particularly prominent. The term came into general currency following the publication in 1931 of Christopher Hawkes’ paper, simply entitled ‘Hillforts’, in Antiquity, which also established their predominantly Iron Age date in Britain. Prior to that, Christison (1898) in Scotland had discussed ‘fortifications’, and Hadrian Allcroft (1908) for England had classified ‘earthwork’, both extending their studies into the Medieval period. But ‘hillfort’ for all its limitations has remained in general usage in Britain. Chronologically, this study is concerned with the ‘long Iron Age’; that is, including the post-Roman Iron Age in northern Britain especially, and with later Bronze Age antecedents. Geographically it is concerned with regional groups throughout Britain, but with further reference to Ireland, and in the wider context of relevant sites and developments in continental Europe. The key element of the sites under consideration is enclosure, physically or conceptually demarcating an area to which access is restricted or controlled. This may be achieved by rampart and ditch, stockade or fence, or by the incorporation of topographical and natural features such as cliff-edge or marsh. The scale of enclosing works may range from a relatively modest barrier to massive earthworks that reshape the landscape, and in structural morphology, from single palisade or bank to multiple lines, variously disposed. Topographically they may be located around hilltop contours, on cliffedge, ridge, or promontory, on spurs or hill slopes, in wetlands or spanning river bends, or across variable terrain. In area enclosed they may range from well under a hectare to 20 ha and more, with the territorial or terrain oppida of the late pre-Roman Iron Age attaining 300 ha or more. From size alone, therefore, we may infer a great diversity in the practical, social, and symbolic purposes that they may have served. At the smaller end of the scale, the distinction between hillforts and other enclosed settlements is sometimes a matter of subjective assessment, but otherwise their size and scale suggests that they were community sites, serving a social unit larger than a single family or household.
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