HILLFORT INTERIORS

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Storage pits at Conderton Camp (Hereford and Worcs). Those which cut into earlier pits have been stone lined, to prevent collapse. (J.Dyer)


The excavation of hillfort interiors shows that there were considerable variations, which must reflect their function. Careful planning seems to have taken place and distinct areas appear to have been set aside for dwellings and storage, often separated by streets. The majority efforts contained circular buildings mostly 6–8 m. (6.7– 8.7 yd) in diameter, but sometimes as much as 15 m. (16.4 yd). On some sites like Hod Hill (Dorset) huts took up much of the interior. Garn Boduan in Gwynedd still shows the hollows of about 170 huts of Iron Age date. Such sites can probably best be seen as permanently occupied defended villages. At Danebury (Hants) the early period huts were concentrated beside a street on the southern side of the fort, whilst much of the interior was filled with four-post structures, interpreted as granaries, and storage pits. The main road in the centre of the site led to the footings of a rectangular building some 4 m. (44 yd) square, which may have been replaced four times. This structure has been interpreted as a shrine, but in view of the concentration of granaries and pits around it with an enormous food storage capacity, it might be more appropriate to see it as the central exchange building from which orders for the distribution of commodities within the fort were controlled.


Conderton Camp (Hereford and Worcs) is very much smaller (1.2 ha./3 acres) and may well have been subservient to the nearby Bredon Hill fort (4.5 ha./11 acres). It contained the stone footings of about a dozen circular huts, each some 6 m. (6.6 yd) in diameter, accompanied by many storage pits, some of them dry-stone lined. In contrast Arbury Banks (Herts) with an area of 5 ha./12.4 acres seems only to have contained one large round house and a number of small farm buildings.


Many of the circular houses were similar to the example at Little Woodbury. The outer walls might have been of wattle work daubed with clay, or of vertical timbers bedded in a continuous wall slot; 1.5 to 2 m. (1.6×2.2 yd) inside the walls a ring of posts often supported the conical thatched roof. It would have been possible for the outer walls to have carried a roof on their own provided that the top of the wall was suitably bound by a ring beam which would prevent the lateral thrust of the roof timbers forcing the walls outwards. In western and northern areas the outer walls were built of dry-stone about 1 m. (1 yd) broad and 1.5 m. (1.6 yd) high, often with interior posts to help support the roof. Houses were thatched with straw, reeds or sometimes turf. Floors were usually of rammed chalk or clay or of bare stone, covered with straw, reeds and possibly herbs. A high standard of carpentry was available and door frames and furnishings were comparable to those produced in medieval times. It is worth comparing the interior area of these round houses with that of twentieth century homes. A structure 8 m. (8.7 yd) in diameter had a floor space of 50 sq. m. (60 sq. yd), whilst one of 10 m. (11 yd) diameter (78.6 sq. m./94 sq. yd) was comparable to an average modern house with lounge, three bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom and hallway. Certainly such a house would be big enough for quite a large family.


The excavations at Danebury revealed traces of 21 stake-built round houses with walls of wattle-work construction. Their roofs may have been built in the traditional conical fashion and thatched, or the poles may have been bent over to form a beehive-shaped roof, which would then have needed some kind of weatherproofing. Similar stake-built houses may have stood at South Cadbury and Winklebury hillforts. The light construction of these buildings might suggests a temporary or perhaps seasonal function.


We should not assume that all round houses were intended for human habitation. They would have served equally well as storehouses, workshops, or animal and equipment sheds. Thousands of post holes found at places like Danebury cannot be interpreted but must have supported a variety of temporary pens and enclosures for animals and poultry, as well as corn and household drying racks.


Many of the four-post structures, together with six-post examples, seem to have been solidly built and may have supported a platform which stood about a metre off the ground. On this was erected the building proper, avoiding damp and excluding rodents. Whilst the usual interpretation of these as granaries (allowing easy access to quickly needed food) makes good sense, there is no reason why they should not have served an alternative function as storehouses for items such as skins and fleeces. Contemporary storage pits in the forts would have functioned as granaries for seed corn. Whilst most four-posters were too small for houses (about 1.5 m./1.6 yd square), they have been interpreted at Croft Ambrey (Hereford and Worcs) as barracks for soldiers in training and elsewhere as platforms on which the dead were exposed. Four-posters with less robust posts were possibly supports for hay ricks, suggesting the winter foddering of animals inside the hillfort. We should certainly be cautious of assuming that these structures all had the same function.


We have talked at length about circular houses in hillforts. Rectangular buildings are also known, although they are by no means as common in Britain as they are on the continent. Seventh-century examples are best recorded at Crickley Hill (Glos) where half a dozen houses between 10 and 25 m. (11–27 yd) long and well over 3 m. (3.3 yd) broad were ranged along a street leading from the eastern entrance. Structurally they consisted of two rows of aisle posts, with external wattle and daub walls, of which little trace remained. At Moel-y-Gaer (Clwyd) the stone floors of about 20 rectangular structures have been uncovered. Smaller than at Crickley Hill, they average 6 m. (6.7 yd) long by 3.5 m. (3.8 yd) wide and do not seem to have had earth-fast footings. At Credenhill (Hereford and Worcs) rectangular buildings 3.5 m. (3.8 yd) by 2.5 m. (2.7 yd) were found, but the probability that they had raised floors seems to put them in the four-poster class rather than that of dwellings. There is clearly a fine line of differentiation here and it is hard to decide to which group such rectangular structures as those found at Maiden Castle, Rainsborough and Winchester belong. Perhaps the answer is that they were general purpose structures such as workshops and storehouses.

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