The largest Iron Age hill fort in Britain.
One of the finest and most complex examples of an Iron Age hill fort in Europe, Maiden Castle is prominently located on a chalk hill top in the south Dorset downs. Built during the Iron Age (approximately 800 BC to 100 AD) these forts offer some of the most detailed evidence for prehistoric human occupation in the British landscape.
They also mark the beginning of the building of elaborate, defensive structures which then evolved into the fortified castles of the medieval period.
Maiden Castle was initially built around 600 BC as a single earth rampart on the eastern side of the hill. This was later extended to include the western part of the hill and in the 2nd century BC it was substantially rebuilt with three earth banks and two ditches.
Inside the ramparts there is archaeological evidence of post holes, trenches and floors, suggesting that more than 50 circular and rectangular huts occupied the area. Several hundred people may have been living there then, with their animals. Complete with a cemetery, it covered an area the size of 50 football pitches.
Hill forts in Britain
The thousands of hill fort sites in Britain such as Maiden Castle range from small enclosures to protect a single family, to more elaborate stockades complete with ramparts, which served as small towns. But not all of them were occupied. Archaeologists have offered a variety of explanations for their development.
They may have been strongholds at times of conflict perhaps brought about by climate change and population increases. Alternatively, although located in high places, they may have been built to express status or prestige, or to mark out territory, rather than as defence against attack or invasion.