Ancient ramparts with connections to prehistoric farmers, Roman soldiers and 20th century artists
Between about 400 and 200 BC, at the height of its Iron Age occupation, the hillfort would have been densely packed with houses, roads and storage buildings and bustling with people and their livestock.
This community was part of the Durotriges tribe who lived in modern Dorset and parts of Wiltshire, Somerset and Devon.
Throughout the Iron Age, the hillfort was constantly modified to suit the changing needs of its inhabitants.
In the middle Iron Age (550–300 BC), a much larger area was enclosed and the ramparts were made much larger and more elaborate. Once randomly organised, the houses were now built in regimented rows.
Seventeen areas of the site were excavated, with roundhouses, the temple, a cemetery and the ramparts all explored. The team identified the earlier hillfort and deduced the complex sequence of construction and enlargement.
Mortimer Wheeler’s evocative description of the history of the site became a classic piece of archaeological writing.
One discovery was a late Iron Age cemetery of 52 individuals, some of whom had violent injuries. Mortimer Wheeler thought these were war graves, the result of an attack on the hillfort by the Roman army. However, the careful internment of individuals with grave goods suggests this was an ordinary cemetery.
In 1985 and 1986, further excavations took place at Maiden Castle led by Professor Niall Sharples.
These uncovered the Neolithic sequence, led to a re-interpretation of Wheeler’s ‘war cemetery’ and shifted away from a purely defensive explanation towards the idea that the hillfort was a symbol of community cohesion and domination.
As well as excavation, the 1980s research project included detailed surveys of the earthworks, geophysical surveys and research into the surrounding landscape.
These showed that the hillfort had been built at a junction of earlier major land divisions and showed the dense nature of the Iron Age occupation in the interior.
In the last few years, a radiocarbon dating project called Gathering Time has provided much more precise dates for the construction of the early Neolithic causewayed enclosure and bank barrow at Maiden Castle. It has shown that activity was relatively short-lived, taking place over no more than two generations.
Inspired by Maiden Castle's history and impact on artists and writers, English Heritage and creative partner Splash and Ripple have produced their own artistic interpretation of the site.
Echoscape is an immersive audio experience exploring the stories of Nash, Hardy and an imagined Iron Age storyteller called Nonna.
Susan Greaney, Rose Arkle