Monday, 4 February 2019

Uffington Castle

This is an Iron Age hill fort in Oxfordshire, close to the prehistoric Uffington White Horse, and built around 600-700BC on the foundations of an earlier Bronze Age site. This is very common. The ‘Age’ may have changed but the same people and their descendants remained.

The term of ‘hill fort’ is something of a misnomer: it was applied by 18th century antiquaries to almost any construction on a hill and there is little evidence that many were indeed forts.

View from Uffington Castle

Its prominent location on a hillside, with far-reaching views across the surrounding vales, shows its purpose. It was intended to be seen. Even today, 2500 years after it was constructed, the embankments and ditches stand proud from the hill and proclaim to every passer-by for miles: this place is ours.

The surrounding ditches, dug by hand with basic tools, are several metres deep. Look at the people in the background of the photo for a size comparison. This would need a workforce of hundreds for several months. The soil was used to construct banks on either side and the innermost bank had a stone parapet. A stunning display of might from a distance; even more so close up. It is far more work than necessary for simple defence: it’s a symbol of power and control, intended to impress.

Uffington Castle’s impressive ditches.

The ditches may be reminiscent of the older henges and enclosures – Avebury is only a few miles away – which had impressively deep ditches and would have been well known to the Iron Age people as ancient and magical sites. In the earlier cases, the surrounding water had spiritual significance; whether this was understood by the Iron Age builders or whether it was simply a display of mundane power, is unclear.

The site was occupied for several centuries and also had significance in the Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods. Graves and a shrine from these periods have been found. By this point, the impressive and now long-unoccupied site had probably acquired mythic or magical status, and was treated as such.

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