Danebury story of the Iron Age
Telling tales: Many locals go to Danebury Fort just to enjoy the countryside. Picture: Liz Price
Sunday, December 16, 2007
DANEBURY Iron Age hill fort is 2,500 years old. It is located in southwest England, not too far from the famous stone circle of Stonehenge.
The hill fort was excavated by Professor Barry Cunliffe from Oxford University between 1969 and 1988 and is one of the best studied sites of the British Iron Age, the period between the end of the Bronze Age and the start of the Roman period, 700BC - 43AC.
As you walk up to the fort from the car park, there is little to see except for large Beech trees around the perimeter of the earth works. But as soon as you enter the modern gates into the hill fort you can see the "ring" of ramparts and the once hidden gateway.
Danebury was a well-defended site. Originally the fort had two entrances, but the west gate was filled in during the period of occupation and the east entrance became the main gate to the fort. Approaching the main entrance, attackers would be forced to zig-zag towards the inner gate and would have been an easier target for defenders.
The main weapon of this period was the sling and a stockpile of 11,000 river pebbles was found in a pit next to the gate. Men, women and children may all have had to fight off invaders by hurling sling stones. Fire would have been another effective weapon while spears and chariots were also used.
The Iron Age people were farmers and kept sheep and wove woollen cloth, kept cattle and made leather goods. As Danebury had few natural resources it relied on trade with other areas to obtain iron, tin, copper, salt, shale and stone. It is thought that a community of 300 to 400 people lived here for more than 400 years.
The earth works around the entrance will give you a feel for the success of the Danebury defences. The ground slopes to a high spot in the centre of the ring. This area was a focal point for religious gatherings and important meetings. There were shrines and temples as religion was important to the people who lived at Danebury. Their pagan belief was that the gods lived in rivers, trees or other natural features. They made offerings to the gods and sometimes sacrifices.
When the Romans arrived, hill forts fell out of use, with Romano-British people preferring to live in villas surrounded by their own farming estate.
The nearby town of Stockbridge developed during the mediaeval period and at this time Danebury was used only by shepherds and their flocks. During the 16th century Henry VII granted a charter allowing a fair to be held on St Margaret's Day (July 20) and this annual event may have taken place at Danebury.
The archaeological excavations showed that within the fort there was evidence of 73 roundhouses for human habitation and 500 rectangular buildings to store grain.
Other archaeological finds included more than 180,000 pieces of pottery, 240,000 bits of animal bone, stone objects such as querns (hand mills), bone objects used in the weaving process and many iron and bronze artifacts.
Some of the finds can be seen in the Museum of the Iron Age in Andover. The museum uses real objects from Danebury alongside lifesize models, reconstructions and dioramas to bring the Iron Age to life.
The site has been listed as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Apart from the historical interest, many locals go there just to enjoy the countryside and walk their dogs. But as you walk around, try and imagine what life would have been like for the people who lived there 2,500 years ago.
The Brunei Times