About the site
The site is of national importance for both archaeology and nature conservation.
Danebury is one of the most studied Iron Age hill forts in Europe. 'Iron Age' describes the period between the end of the Bronze Age and the start of the Roman period (700BC to AD43). Evidence found suggests that the fort was built 2500 years ago and occupied for nearly 500 years. You can discover more and see some of the finds at the Museum of the Iron Age in Andover.
In the hill fort you can see the 'ring' of ramparts and the once hidden gateway. The earth works around the entrance give a feel for the success of the Danebury defences. You may notice that the ground slopes to a high spot in the centre of the ring. This area was a focal point for religious gatherings and important meetings. The subtle dips in the ground are where grain stores used to be. These dips are the only visible evidence of past excavations.
Large beech trees around the perimeter of the earth works make the site prominent in the surrounding landscape.
Danebury Hill Fort
Life at Danebury in the Iron Age
Life was short and harsh in the Iron Age. Danebury was predominantly a farming community, the people kept sheep and cattle, wove woollen cloth and made leather goods. As Danebury had few natural resources it relied on trade with other areas to get iron, tin, copper, salt, shale and stone. It is likely that woollen products and grain were traded in exchange for these.
A community of 300 to 400 people lived here for more than 400 years. During that time one of their main tasks may have been to protect livestock and grain from attack by raiding parties. Men, women and children may all have had to fight off invaders by hurling sling stones. Warriors fought with swords and sometimes used horse drawn chariots.
At the highest point of the hill there were shrines and temples. Religion was important to the people who lived at Danebury. Their pagan belief was that the gods lived in rivers, trees or other natural features. They made offerings to the gods and sometimes sacrifices. Some of the burials uncovered at Danebury are thought to have been sacrificial. Rituals were carried out by the priests, known as druids, who were respected in the community and acted as a link between the people and their gods. They were also law makers, teachers, storytellers and medicine men.
Beneath the modern fields lie the remains of smaller ancient or Celtic fields. Aerial archaeology has allowed us to map these systems, which appear as ‘crop marks’ or different colours in the soil. It shows that the farmed prehistoric landscape was just as busy as that of today.
The Danebury archaeological excavations, led by Professor Barry Cunliffe, from Southampton University, took place between 1969 and 1988. In total 57% of the interior has been excavated. There is evidence of 73 roundhouses, 500 rectangular buildings and thousands of deep storage pits.
The circular houses were for people and the store buildings and pits held grain, their most valuable commodity. The pits were dug from the chalk using tools such as mattocks. They had a narrow entrance or neck with a wider base. The pits were filled with grain and then sealed.
Other archaeological finds include more than 180,000 pieces of pottery, 240,000 bits of bone, stone objects, bone objects and many iron and bronze artefacts. A selection of the finds is on display at the Museum of the Iron Age in Andover.
Site Management at Danebury Iron Age Hill Fort
When Hampshire County Council purchased the hill fort in 1958, the earthworks where covered in beech trees. Most of these trees had reached a stage where they had become unstable due to disease and a long-term program of removal began.
Outside of the earthworks is valuable downland habitat, 12.8ha of which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The herb rich grassland supports some of our most beautiful blue butterflies.
Central Area Office, Crabwood Depot, Sarum Road, Winchester, SO22 5QS
Phone 01962 860948