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Maiden castle

Maiden castle is perhaps the most spectacular Iron Age hill-fort in Britain. However, this 50-acre hilltop 3 miles south of Dorchester has a longer history stretching back to the neolithic, when a causewayed enclosure was constructed on its eastern end. Subsequently around 3500 bc a bank barrow 600 yards long was built along its central spine.

The Iron Age fort, initially enclosing 25 acres, was built over the neolithic camp around 600–500 bc. Its double eastern gateway, subsequently elaborated by the addition of stone revetting and outworks, already hinted at a special status compared to other neighbouring sites, and this was confirmed around 400–300 bc when the defended site was doubled in size. The defences were gradually elaborated by the addition of further ramparts, finally achieving their present form around 100 bc. Wheeler argued that the multivallate ramparts were for defence in depth against sling warfare, and certainly it was defended against Roman attack around ad 43–5, as skeletons with wounds from sword cuts and ballista bolts were found buried in the east entrance. In the 4th cent. ad a small Romano-Gallic temple was constructed in the interior.

John Collis

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Maiden Castle

Maiden Castle, prehistoric fortress, Dorset, S England, near Dorchester. The finest earthwork in the British Isles, c.120 acres (50 hectares) in area, is there. Two sets of large-scale excavations at this site indicate it was first occupied during the Neolithic period (c.2000 BC); two concentric ditches define this early, 15.8-acre (6-hectare) occupation. It was then abandoned until the early Iron Age (c.300 BC), when an elaborate system of enclosing banks and ditches was built, making it one of the largest hill forts in Europe. It subsequently underwent numerous changes in form and function. It was abandoned c.AD 70, shortly after the Roman invasion, and its inhabitants moved to a nearby valley town.

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