Tag Archives: Taplow

Iron Age Hillforts of Marlow and Taplow

As a landscape archaeologist, Dr Paul Tubb considers that Bockmer lane (adjacent to Medmenham Camp) is probably an ancient North-South route as it continues in field boundaries beyond the lane itself, and that both Medmenham and Danesfield Camps are there to control this access to the River. This doesn’t necessarily imply that hillforts are always about defence; it is difficult to adequately defend so large an area and so we should regard these structures as a statement in the landscape. It’s all about being seen and saying ‘I am here’.

As Archaeology in Marlow have surveyed Medmenham Camp, both dimensionally, and partially with geophysics, Dr Tubb went on to consider these results. There is certainly a suggestion of a ring ditch, implying that the site may have been of some importance before the hillfort was constructed. The area on the geophysical results thought to have been a dewpond, Dr Tubb thinks is probably more like to be as the results of quarrying, as it looks to have gone down to the bedrock.

The location of Danesfield was probably picked because of the naturally steep cliff and its position in a reentrant valley. Not much can be said about the site in terms of previous archaeological reports as they do not seem to be available, but Danesfield and Medmenham are unusual in that both seem to have their entrances in the Northwest quadrant, whereas a significant proportion of hillforts (40%) have their entrances to the East. There has been no Early Iron Age pottery recorded and this ties in with the theory that hillforts in the Chilterns tend to be more Middle Iron Age, than Early Iron Age.

Medmenham and Danesfield are peculiarly close together. It has been suggested that they were constructed by two different tribes, but Dr Tubb points out that just South of Swindon, there are two hillforts, Barbury and Liddington, similarly close together, but not contemporary. Liddington is earlier than Barbury. So it is possible that the two Marlow hillforts represent a shift from one site to another, rather than the two sites being contemporary. More work needs to be done to establish dating evidence.

Further down the river, Taplow suffered from being misidentified as a garden feature. It’s not clear how this happened as it was identified on the maps.
Oxford report findings show enclosures small early and larger later one, with the mound inside the bottom of the later enclosure and lots of metal finds.

There was a series of fencelines and postholes, parallel, following approximately same course. All aligned, but using different construction techniques, sometimes inheriting features from previous constructions, notably a v-shaped ditch lined with trees similar to Boscombe Down lines of postholes. There was then a period of abandonment 500 years and then u-shaped ditches that don’t respect the old palisade lines, eventually replaced with a huge earth rampart, replacing the timber.

Wittenham clumps similar to Taplow as there’s an inner late bronze age enclosure, middle ironage round it, and outside (in car park) black earth site. Black earth sites are areas of darker, greasier soil with feasting debris and deliberate deposits of domestic material. Sometimes these sites can be several feet thick and spread over a large area. To call them middens is missing some of their symbolic purpose. Blewburton hill has black earth rampart-outlines, covered in chalk, underneath the earth ramparts, possibly using the past to validate their present by incorporating this older material into their new structure.

Generally hillforts usually have associated field systems and these have not been yet located for the Marlow hillforts and it would be interesting to see where they were. It is important to remember that not all hillforts were occupied and could in fact have been a location to assess what is “on the hoof” as cattle were an important resource in prehistory, as now.

Balksbury has intact delta enclosure shallow ditch with bank inside it. During the Bronze Age the area inside of the hillfort was probably used for cattle (black earth etc in one corner particularly), but in the Early Iron Age it was completely empty, and was reused and settled in the Late Iron Age.

When looking at hillforts, it’s important to consider the activity that occurs outside the hillfort. As well as black-earth sites, other evidence exists outside the ramparts of hillforts. Outside Cherbury fake copper vessels were found (copper becoming scarce by this point) and some new-fangled iron pins for decoration. Iron was not used in the same way as bronze, initially, it was a material of decoration, of special status-indicating items.

Dr Paul Tubb is a landscape archaeologist with 30 years experience, mostly in the chalklands of Wiltshire, Dorset and Hampshire. He is particularly interested in Bronze and Iron Age settlement. He is a tutor on the Part-Time Archaeology degree course at Bristol University and also teaches Continuing Education courses at Oxford and Reading.