Dorset Archaeology

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Chalbury Hillfort, Dorset, England

Above is a photograph of Chalbury Hillfort in Dorset, southwest England. One of the first hillforts in Britain, Chalbury was occupied for around 2000 years the Bronze Age until the Roman period.

Growing up in Dorset, I was spoilt for archaeology; the South Dorset Ridge Way, a bank of chalky hills that stretches right across the southern part of the county, is peppered with historic monuments dating right back to the Neolithic (4000 – 2000 BCE). At least 500 earth works have been identified along this majestic ridge, including hillforts, Neolithic long barrows and Bronze Age round barrows. It is even possible to simply find ancient pottery shards poking out of the top soil of ploughed fields.

Chalbury Hillfort presides over the village my family live in; from the top there are breathtaking views of the sea and surrounding countryside. The Dorset coast was once an important trading network and Weymouth Bay would have probably been a busy port. Protected on all sides by steep valleys and being of course an amazing vantage point with a clear view of the bay, its easy to see why people might have chosen to build a strong hold up here.

Chalbury has been somewhat over-shadowed by nearby Maiden Castle hillfort. Occupied since the Neolithic, Maiden Castle has been extensively studied and excavated and during its Iron Age hey-day was the largest hillfort in Europe.

Also visible from Chalbury are a staggering number of Bronze Age barrows – great mounds of earth standing on the ridges of surrounding hills; the tombs of leaders and important members of the community. The people who once lived here may have found comfort in being surrounded by their ancestors.

I have always felt a great interest in and connection with the ancient people of Dorset. The structures and monuments they left behind were part of my every-day life growing up; I flew my kite at Maiden Castle, went on school trips to reconstructed round houses and ate picnics on burial mounds. I have always wanted to know more about these people, how they lived and how they saw the world.

Working at the Dorset County Museum archaeological archive allowed me to get close to and handle many objects found at sites around Dorset. I was also lucky enough to be introduced to them by some very knowledgeable people who have spent their lives increasing our knowledge of the county’s past. A recent trip back to Dorset has inspired me to do a series on Dorset archaeology. Expect photos and information.

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