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Historic England Research Records

Maiden Castle Causewayed Enclosure

Hob Uid: 1537734
Location :
Dorset
Winterborne St. Martin
Grid Ref : SY6693088480
Summary : The Early Neolithic causewayed enclosure at Maiden Castle occupies only the eastern part of the hill, and has an approximate area of 8 hectares, making it one of the larger examples in England. It is overlain by a large Iron Age hillfort which has restricted investigation of the Neolithic remains. The west side of the Neolithic enclosure is overlain by the long mound, a 500 metre-long earthwork. Wheeler identified that the earliest phase of the hillfort followed the line of two concentric circuits of causewayed ditch. The inner ditch contained several episodes of filling and substantial numbers of artefacts. In 1985-6 surveys of the hill and its environs raised the possibility that a north-east to south-west earthwork running into the west hillfort entrance may originally have been a freestanding cross-ridge dyke. A third, outermost Neolithic ditch may also exist 30 metres outside the known outer ditch. A further `Neolithic mound' of unknown extent may lie yet farther east. Early Neolithic pits around the eastern hillfort entrance and the east end of the long mound, were shown to extend south-west of the hillfort. The manufacture of flint axeheads and other large core tools on the site was confirmed. The assemblages from nearby sites strongly suggest that axehead-making was focused at Maiden Castle. Recent research has concluded that the enclosure at Maiden Castle began to be built probably in the 3550s or 3540s cal BC. It is possible that the two circuits were dug in the same year, almost certainly within a single generation. The enclosure ditches filled up quickly, both ditches were filled probably by 3550-3530 cal BC. The use of the enclosure was remarkably short, lasting no more than a single generation. Indeed the outer ditch may have been infilled possibly in less than a year. It is probable that the outer ditch of the causewayed enclosure had been dug and had filled up by the time the long mound was constructed.
More information : The Neolithic enclosure at Maiden Castle occupies only the eastern part of the hill, and has an approximate area of 8 hectares, making it one of the larger examples in England. It is overlain by a large Iron Age hillfort which has restricted investigation of the Neolithic enclosure circuits. Within the ramparts of the hillfort, the west side of the Neolithic enclosure is overlain by the long mound, a 500 metre-long earthwork.
The Neolithic enclosure and long mound were not identified until Mortimer Wheeler's excavations of 1934-7; previously investigations were focussed on the Iron Age hillfort remains. Wheeler identified that the earliest phase of the hillfort followed the line of two concentric circuits of causewayed ditch approximately 15 metres apart. The inner ditch contained several episodes of filling and substantial numbers of artfacts. Once the Neolithic ditches were substantially full and a turfline had developed over them, the 500 metre-long mound was built across them. In the long mound ditches were concentrations of cattle bone, including several cattle skulls. There were undated inhumation burials in the area of the long mound, although their relationship to it was unclear. In addition to polished stone and flint axeheads, Neolithic levels yielded much larger numbers of complete and fragmentary flaked flint axeheads, some of them apparently unfinished, and Neolithic pottery.
A new campaign of fieldwork took place in 1985-6, funded by English Heritage. The project entailed landscape survey around the monument as well as detailed earthwork and geophysical survey of the hilltop itself. The earthwork survey emphasised the tripartite character of the long mound, and raised the possibility that a north-east to south-west earthwork running into the west hillfort entrance may originally have been a freestanding cross-ridge dyke. (1-2)

The manufacture of flint axeheads and other large core tools on the site was confirmed. The absence of comparable features from other assemblages from the surrounding area strongly suggests that axehead-making was focused at Maiden Castle, despite the wide availability of suitable raw material.
Accounts are given of research on assemblages from causewayed enclosures. The third note is on 'Maiden Castle' where both axe production and flake- and blade-manufacture from local material are in evidence. (3)

Subsequent to the 1985-6 project, Paul Martin considered the question of whether Maiden Castle was defended in the Neolithic. Martin remained undecided as to whether the arrows reflected conflict, formed a part of the overall pattern of deposition at the site, or both. (4)

Scheduled Monument.
Although known primarily as a hillfort, the Neolithic deposits represent some of the earliest monumental remains in the area. Causewayed enclosures and bank barrows are rare forms of monument nationally and their association at Maiden Castle is one of only two cases to be identified. The Neolithic monuments at Maiden Castle exerted an influence upon the location of monuments to the north: two long barrows were aligned upon the bank barrow, and these later formed foci for Bronze age round barrow cemeteries.
The earliest features to be identified at the site include a group of pits across the hilltop, associated with Early Neolithic flintwork. Environmental evidence suggests that the pits date to around 4000 BC, a time when the hilltop was first cleared of woodland. Soon after this, a causewayed enclosure was constructed on the eastern plateau, enclosing an area of about 8ha. The enclosure was defined by two concentric lines of ditch, constructed as a series of irregular segments situated 14m-15m apart. The inner ditch is 3m-4m wide and was constructed as segments later joined together. The outer ditch is 1.7m-2.4m wide and constructed as segments associated with causeways 5m-6m wide. The enclosure may have contained a long barrow and is associated with two human infant burials. Around 3500 BC, and after the enclosure had fallen out of use, a bank barrow was constructed near to the centre of the hilltop, part of it overlying the western end of the causewayed enclosure. (5)

Recent research into the dating of Neolithic enclosures concluded the following:
The causewayed enclosure at Maiden Castle began to be built probably in the 3550s or 3540s cal BC. The inner circuit was constructed probably in 3560-3540 cal BC. The outer circuit was built probably in 3560-3535 cal BC.
The constructions of the two circuits at Maiden Castle are so close in date that it is not possible to determine which was dug first. It is perfectly possible that the two circuits were precisely contemporary, that is, were dug in the same year. It is very probable that they were constructed within 20 years of each other, and almost certain that they were constructed within 40 years of each other. Whatever the order of the construction of the circuits, the enclosure was in place within a single generation.
On the basis of the material dated from their fills, the enclosure ditches filled up quickly. Overall, both ditches were filled probably by 3550-3530 cal BC.

The use of the Maiden Castle causewayed enclosure was remarkably short. Overall, the period between the cutting of the first ditch and the final filling of the last ditch lasted probably 1-20 years or the span of a single generation. The inner ditch probably took a few years to fill up, probably 1-20 years. In contrast, it appears that the outer ditch filled up even more quickly, perhaps more quickly than can be reliably estimated by radiocarbon dating. The model estimates that the outer ditch was infilled possibly in less than a year.
The eastern and central parts of the long mound were constructed probably in 3545-3395 cal BC. It is probable that the outer ditch of the causewayed enclosure had been dug and had filled up by the time the long mound was constructed. It is more difficult to estimate the duration of the gap between the disuse of the enclosure and the initiation of the long mound. This can be estimated, however, to have lasted 1-160 years.
There was almost certainly a gap between the use of the enclosure and the construction of the dated portion of the long mound.
The Maiden Castle causewayed enclosure was short-lived, in use for 50 years at most. The results suggest that the outer ditch - at least on the eastern side of the enclosure - was dug and filled possibly within as little as a year. The inner ditch probably took at most 35 years to infill, and the succession of `midden' layers would fit this longer estimate.
Sharples and others have suggested that the enclosure could be seen as the place for dangerous ritual. Roger Mercer has suggested a context of warfare and conflict. When considering these theories with the new dating evidence indicating a very short timescale, this would indicate the rituals or threats were undertaken and resolved very quickly and without recurrence.
The causewayed enclosure at Maiden Castle emerges as a monument built and used rapidly in the 36th century cal BC. (6)

At time of recording in 2011, online access to the information about the designation (scheduling) noted in source 4 is provided via the National Heritage List for England. (7)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : English Heritage book of Maiden Castle
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Source Number : 2
Source : Maiden Castle : excavations and field survey 1985-6
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Source Number : 3
Source : Lithics and Early Neolithic enclosures
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Page(s) : 44-51
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Vol(s) : 10
Source Number : 4
Source : Was Maiden Castle defended in the Neolithic?
Source details : Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Bournemouth
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Source Number : 5
Source : Scheduled Monument Notification
Source details : West Dorset, 09-OCT-1981, revised 24-SEP-1997.
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Source Number : 6
Source : Gathering Time: Dating the Early Neolithic Enclosures of Southern Britain and Ireland
Source details : Chapter 4.3 Maiden Castle
Page(s) : 164-192
Figs. : 4.29-47
Plates :
Vol(s) : 1
Source Number : 7
Source : World Wide Web page
Source details : English Heritage 2011. 'English Heritage: The National Heritage List for England' <> [Accessed 13-JUL-2011]
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Monument Types:
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Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : Unified Designation System UID
External Cross Reference Number : 1015775
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : DO 1a
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (National No.)
External Cross Reference Number : 22959
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : SMR Number (Dorset)
External Cross Reference Number : 1 131 142 A
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SY 68 NE 201
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Related Warden Records :
Associated Monuments : 452139
Relationship type : General association

Related Activities :