The Later Phases at Danebury Ring Hillfort

Text by Barry Cunliffe

Sometime at the beginning of the third century Danebury Ring was refurbished on a grand scale. The rampart was considerably heightened and the fronting ditch re-dug to a deep V-shaped profile, and the two gates were totally reconstructed (image 15). This marks the beginning of Danebury’s late period (i.e. Danebury Ring periods 5-6). The internal arrangements were also reorganised at this time (Image 14). The main road continued in existence and two very distinct subsidiary roads were laid out in the southern half of the fort concentric with the rampart.

Much of this southern area seems to have been given over to the construction of massive four- and six-post buildings of granary type which were laid out in orderly rows along the edges of the roads. The houses of the late period occupied the lee of the rampart, as they did in the earlier period, those on the north and east sides making good use of the shelter afforded by the quarries. There were also some houses on the shoulder of the hill over­ looking the quarries.

Groups of storage pits were scattered around the interior; their spacing suggests that they were now in distinct clusters, perhaps relating to individual social groups. The central part of the site to the north of the main road seems to have been deliberately cleared and the area levelled with tips of chalk spread wherever there was a hollow in the ground left by a partially filled pit. Part of this central area was now occupied by distinctive rectangular buildings which were very probably shrines.

The late period continued for some 200 years (c.300-c.100 BC) during which time there were many alterations and rebuildings, though the broad outlines of the plan, once established, remained largely unchanged, with many of the buildings being reconstructed several times on much the same sites. The implication is of a very distinct continuity under the control of a strong centralising power.

The defences were not only maintained in good order throughout the late period but the main east gate (now the only gate) was dramatically improved and complex forward-projecting hornworks were added to lengthen the approach to the actual gates. The defensive implications of these works will be considered below but another aspect that should be explored is that this display of strength was inspired by social factors such as the need felt by the community to distinguish itself and demonstrate its exalted position to its neighbours. In other words it is possible that massive foreworks at gates were intended to be a widely recognisable symbol of status.

After more than two centuries of intensive occupation, sometime in the period 100-50 BC, the main east gate was destroyed by fire. After this the entrance was left undefended and the density of occupation within the fort greatly decreased, to such an extent that wholesale abandonment is implied.

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