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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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Inside and Outside of Hillforts

Inside and Outside of Hillforts

(p.91) 4 Inside and Outside of Hillforts
Iron Age Hillforts in Britain and Beyond

Dennis Harding

Oxford University Press

By the 1960s, a greater interest in the social and economic role of hillforts demanded more extensive excavation of their interiors. Whilst fieldwork was still dependent on volunteer labour and limited research funds, the expense of large-scale stripping by hand would have been prohibitive, and only with public funding of ‘rescue’ or ‘salvage’ excavation in advance of development was it practical to contemplate large-scale area excavation. Hillforts that were extensively excavated included Balksbury (Wainwright 1969; Wainwright and Davies 1995; Ellis and Rawlings 2001) and Winklebury (Smith 1977; Robertson-Mackay 1977; Fisher 1985) in Hampshire. Whilst large-scale examination of hillfort interiors is plainly essential to an understanding of their economic and social functions, there is a high probability that ephemeral features, the foundations of which did not penetrate into subsoil or bedrock, will be destroyed by mechanical stripping, if they have not already been damaged beyond retrieval by ploughing. So the question remains: how partial and therefore potentially misleading are the surviving plans of hillfort interiors thus exposed? Hillfort exteriors, arguably equally important to an understanding of the role of the enclosure as its interior, have been even more neglected, first because of an implicit assumption that the earthworks defined the area of the ‘site’, and second, because the logistical problems of excavating outside the limits of the ramparts increased exponentially with distance from the enclosure. The possibility, indeed probability, of activity contemporary with the occupation of the hillfort having extended beyond the limits of the rampart need not necessarily imply a social division between acropolis and polis on the eastern Mediterranean model. It simply requires a redefinition of the concept of what constituted the ‘site’ in which the enclosure earthworks are not the definitive criterion. The issue was identified more than thirty years ago (Harding 1979; Hingley 1980), and excavation and survey at Battlesbury Camp, Wiltshire (Ellis and Powell 2008) and Castle Hill, Little Wittenham (Allen et al. 2011), has shown its importance for future research. There are three principal, non-intrusive ways of investigating hillfort interiors and immediate exteriors. The first is by surface survey, not in itself as simple as may appear at first sight, since detecting and meaningfully depicting the highly fugitive traces of prehistoric occupation requires an experienced eye, sensitive to the residual surface signs of constructional activity.

Keywords:   animal husbandry, bastions, central places, four-posters, geophysical survey, hearths, multivallation, oppida, querns, ring-works

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