Cadbury Castle, Somerset
|Location||near South Cadbury and Yeovil|
|Website||reference Megalithic Portal|
The site has been excavated revealing artifacts from human occupation and use from the Neolithic to post Roman eras.
Hill forts developed in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age, roughly the start of the first millennium BC. The reason for their emergence in Britain, and their purpose, has been a subject of debate. It has been argued that they could have been military sites constructed in response to invasion from continental Europe, sites built by invaders, or a military reaction to social tensions caused by an increasing population and consequent pressure on agriculture. The dominant view since the 1960s has been that the increasing use of iron led to social changes in Britain. Deposits of iron ore were located in different places to the tin and copper ore necessary to make bronze, and as a result trading patterns shifted and the old elites lost their economic and social status. Power passed into the hands of a new group of people.
Archaeologist Barry Cunliffe believes that population increase still played a role and has stated "the forts provided defensive possibilities for the community at those times when the stress of an increasing population burst out into open warfare. But I would not see them as having been built because there was a state of war. They would be functional as defensive strongholds when there were tensions and undoubtedly some of them were attacked and destroyed, but this was not the only, or even the most significant, factor in their construction".
Cadbury Castle is located 5 miles (8.0 km) north east of Yeovil. It stands on the summit of Cadbury Hill, a limestone hill situated on the southern edge of the Somerset Levels, with flat lowland to the north. The summit is 153 metres (500 ft) above sea-level on lias stone. The hill is surrounded by four terraced earthwork banks and ditches and a stand of trees. The hill fort is overlooked by Sigwells, a rural plateau rich in archaeological remains.
Excavation at and around the site has discovered Iron Age, Roman and Saxon artefacts. Excavations were undertaken by Bennett in 1890 and Gray in 1913 followed by major work led by archaeologist Leslie Alcock from 1966–1970. He identified a long sequence of occupation on the site and many of the finds are displayed in the Museum of Somerset in Taunton.
The earliest settlement was represented by pits and post holes dated with Neolithic pottery and flints. A bank under the later Iron Age defences is likely to be a lynchet or terrace derived from early ploughing of the hilltop. The site was also occupied in the Late Bronze Age, from which ovens have been identified, and throughout the Iron Age. It was the object of a major programme of excavations from 1966–70, directed by Leslie Alcock.
The castle is a multivallate hill fort built around 400 BC. Large ramparts and elaborate timber defenses were constructed and refortified at least five times over the following centuries. Excavation revealed round and rectangular house foundations, metalworking, and a possible sequence of small rectangular temples or shrines, indicating permanent oppidum-like occupation. There is evidence that the fort was violently taken in around AD43 and that the defences were further slighted later in the 1st century AD after the construction of a Roman army barrack block on the hill top. A report of the prehistoric and Roman activity identified by Alcock's excavations was published in 2000 which modified somewhat the earlier conclusions of Alcock.
Radical revisions of the Bronze Age archaeology on the lower slopes, derived from discoveries during excavations and survey work by the South Cadbury Environs Project, show the area to have been very busy during the second millennium BC, including bones radiocarbon dated to 3500 and 3300 BC. Finds include the first Bronze Age shield from an excavation in north west Europe discovered during work by the South Cadbury Environs Project. The shield is an example of the distinctive Yetholm-type. Although carbon dating implies that the shield was deposited in the 10th century BC, metallurgical evidence suggests that it was manufactured two centuries earlier. A metal-working building and associated enclosure, roughly contemporary with the period of manufacture, was discovered two kilometres south east of the hillfort.
Excavations of the south west gate in 1968 and 1969 revealed evidence for one or more severe violent episodes, associated with weaponry and destruction by fire. Whereas the excavator, Leslie Alcock, believed this to have been dated to around AD70, Tabor argues for a date associated with the initial invasion, AD43–44. There was significant activity at the site during the late third and fourth centuries, which may have included the construction of a Romano-Celtic temple. Havinden states that it was the site of vigorous resistance by the Durotriges and Dobunni to the second Augusta Legion under the command of Vespasian.
Following the withdrawal of the Roman administration, the site is thought to have been in use from c. 470 until some time after 580. Alcock revealed a substantial "Great Hall" (20 x 10 metres) and showed that the innermost Iron Age defenses had been refortified, providing a defended site double the size of any other known fort of the period. Shards of pottery from the eastern Mediterranean were also found from this period, indicating wide trade links. It therefore seems probable that it was the chief caer (castle or palace) of a major Brythonic ruler and home to his royal family, his teulu (band of faithful followers), servants and horses.
Between 1010 and 1020 the hill was reoccupied for use as a temporary Saxon mint, briefly standing in for that at Bruton. Some small scale fortification of the site may also have occurred in the 13th century.
As for the name "Camelot", one must acknowledge the British toponymy over centuries, for instance the word "bury" referring to a fortification. Certainly this castle stands close to the River Cam with the villages of West Camel and Queen Camel in proximity.
The site and the Great Hall are extensive, and the writer Geoffrey Ashe argued in an article in the journal Speculum that it was the base for the Arthur of history. His opinion has not been widely accepted by all students of the period.
Militarily, the location makes sense as a place where the south-western Brythons (perhaps from the kingdom of Dumnonia) could have defended themselves against attacks from lowland Brythons. Refortification may have been a response to the great Saxon raid of c. 473. If Arthur was indeed conceived at Tintagel, as tradition asserts, as a prince of Dumnonia, Cadbury would have been close to his eastern frontier. The name 'Cadbury' is generally considered to be a Saxo-Brythonic hybrid meaning 'Battle-Fort'. Other scholars suggest a derivation from the personal name Cado, borne by a figure associated with the area.
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