Danebury Fort, the Formidable Home of Iron Age Britons

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Danebury Fort, also known simply as Danebury, is an Iron Age hillfort located in Hampshire, England. It is one of the most extensively studied hillforts in Britain and is known for its archaeological significance. It has been researched and excavated between 1969 and 1988, more than any other hill fort in England. As such, it allowed archaeologists and historians to get an ideal glimpse into the life that unfolded in an Iron Age hillfort. Recently, it has been implicated in the existence of a previously unknown Iron Age ruler, revealed by a coin. What do we know about this stunning historical heritage site?

Danebury Fort Through the Ages

Danebury Fort is located in the county of Hampshire, England. It’s situated near the village of Nether Wallop, in the southwestern part of Hampshire, approximately 19 kilometers (12 mi) northwest of the historic city of Winchester. The fort’s location on a hill provided it with strategic advantages, such as a commanding view of the surrounding landscape. Hill forts of the Iron Age were most commonly built on such formidable locations, allowing them greater defensive capabilities and better territorial control.

Entrance to Danebury hill fort. (benjgibbs/ CC BY 2.0)

Entrance to Danebury hill fort. (benjgibbs/ CC BY 2.0)

It was constructed during the Iron Age, particularly the Late Iron Age period. The exact dating of its construction is an ongoing subject of research, but it is believed to have been established around 500 BC and was occupied through the 1st century AD, until the Roman conquest of Britain. Over this lengthy period of active use, the fort has been renovated and expanded many times. New ditches were dug, better ramparts established, more houses added. This indicates that Danebury was very important to its inhabitants, and that they had to constantly upgrade their home in order to make it livable and better defended.

A representation of Danebury Hill fort taken from a screenshot from the youtube video: Ancient Skeletons Reveal Secrets of Britain’s Most Spectacular Hillfort (History Hit/Youtube)

A representation of Danebury Hill fort taken from a screenshot from the youtube video: Ancient Skeletons Reveal Secrets of Britain’s Most Spectacular Hillfort (History Hit/Youtube)

This massive hill fort is characterized by its circular layout, which is a common feature among Iron Age hillforts in Britain. The fort’s circular shape encompasses an area of approximately 5.2 hectares (13 acres). The circular shape, earthworks, and ditches were defensive features designed to protect the inhabitants from external threats. Circular enclosures are much easier to defend than square ones, and simpler to maintain and build as well. Our ancient predecessors knew this all too well, and that is why the design stuck around for so long.

The Fortress Home of Ancient Britons

Danebury Fort is renowned for the extensive archaeological excavations that have taken place there. Notably, the most comprehensive excavations were conducted in the 1960s and 1970s by the noted archaeologist Barry Cunliffe. These excavations yielded valuable insights into the daily lives and activities of the Iron Age people who inhabited Danebury. These excavations at Danebury revealed a wide range of artifacts. These included pottery, tools, jewelry, and other everyday items used by the inhabitants. The artifacts provide significant information about the material culture and technology of the Iron Age people who lived at Danebury. And, for English archaeology on a whole, the finds were truly invaluable.

Danebury Fort is believed to have had a special role in the Late Iron Age society of Britain. Its circular layout and extensive defenses suggest that it might have functioned as a center for trade, agriculture, and possibly as a place of regional significance with leadership structures, such as a chiefdom or tribal leadership. Sadly, history does not remember which tribe populated it, or what was its ancient name. But even so, its importance is clearly evidenced from its size and its defenses.

A view from Danebury hill. (© Mike Faherty/CC BY-SA 2.0)

A view from Danebury hill. (© Mike Faherty/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Like many other Iron Age hillforts, Danebury was abandoned around the time of the Roman conquest of Britain in the 1st century AD. The exact reasons for its abandonment are still a subject of scholarly debate. Changes in political and economic structures, as well as the impact of Romanization, are among the factors believed to have contributed to its abandonment. Remember, the arrival of the Romans brought a chaotic change into the society of Iron Age Britons. It was an invasion that changed the social and the political landscape of Britain in just a few generations. And with Danebury being located so close to the sea in the south, we can assume that it was one of the first hill forts to feel the brunt of the Roman attacks.

One of the Most Important English Archaeological Sites

Danebury Fort is a protected archaeological site and is managed by Historic England. It remains an important site for research and education in the field of archaeology. The site is open to the public and attracts visitors interested in the history of the Iron Age in Britain. The well-preserved earthworks and the wealth of archaeological findings make it a significant historical and educational resource.

The fort’s historical and archaeological significance lies in its ability to provide a window into the lives of Iron Age people in Britain and the role of hillforts in their society, as well as the changes that occurred during the transition to Roman rule in the region.

Top image: Aerial image of Danebury Fort, an Iron Age hillfort in Hampshire, England. Source: Hampshire Hub and University of Southampton/OGL v1.0OGL v1.0

By Aleksa Vučković

References

Cunliffe, B. 1983. Danebury: Anatomy of an Iron Age Hillfort. Batsford Ltd.

Grimbly, S. 2013. Encyclopedia of the Ancient World. Routledge.

Wacher, J. 2000. A Portrait of Roman Britain. Routledge.



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