Northwestern inner bank of Vespasian's Camp
|UNESCO World Heritage Site|
|Official name||Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites|
|Location||Wiltshire, United Kingdom|
|Criteria||Cultural: i, ii, iii|
|Inscription||1986 (10th Session)|
Vespasian's Camp is an Iron Age Hillfort in the town of Amesbury, Wiltshire, England. It is located less than 2 miles (3 km) from the Neolithic and Bronze Age site of Stonehenge and was built on a hill next to the Stonehenge Avenue.
Although the Roman general Vespasian campaigned through Wessex after the Roman invasion of Britain, there is no evidence to suggest he came to this hillfort or had any military base here. The name was given to the site by William Camden, who during the Elizabethan era toured the area and gave the hill its romanticised name.
The hillfort stands on the western fringe of Amesbury and borders the River Avon on its southern side, and the A303 on its northern edge. It is inside the boundaries of the Stonehenge World Heritage Site inscribed in 1986. Several other hill-forts are located nearby, including Danebury to the east, Sidbury Hill and Casterley Camp to the north, Yarnbury Castle to the west, and Figsbury Ring and Old Sarum to the south. Ogbury Camp 3 miles (5 km) south may have been a satellite enclosure of Vespasian's Camp. From north to south the hill-fort is 730 m in overall length and 374 m wide at the southern end, narrowing to 100 m wide at the northern end. It encloses an area of some 15 hectares. The bank is up to 40 m wide and up to 6 m high above the ditch bottom. The ditch is up to 10 m wide with a low counterscarp bank up to 18 m wide on the outside of the ditch, creating a maximum overall width of the hill-fort's defences of 68 m.
Prehistory of the site
The hill on which Vespasian's Camp stands was used during the Neolithic era, as indicated by the Neolithic pits found near the centre. Excavations suggest that the hill may have been part of the Stonehenge ritual landscape during this period. The first building of the hillforts banks is believed to have occurred during the late Bronze Age (between 1100BC-800BC) with some later building in the early Iron Age (700BC-350BC). There appears to be an entrance on the northern and southern sides. Unlike most regular hillforts of the time, Vespasian's Camp has a somewhat unusual shape, appearing from above as an arrowhead. The southern banks are constructed with angled corners (possibly to take the shape of the hill alongside the Avon into account), which is not a common feature in most round hillforts in the south.
Excavations have revealed a metre thick layer of domestic waste that suggests the hill was heavily occupied after the banks were constructed. The absence of significant middle Iron Age finds suggests that the population on the hill had declined by then.
It had been assumed that most of the archaeology had been lost during the 18th century landscaping by a Marquess of Queensberry but documentary research showed that the hillfort had escaped most of the landscaping and excavations were begun in 2005. These focused on an area near Vespasian's Camp known as Blick Mead. The first finds discovered tools ranging as far back as the mesolithic. It also revealed that what had been thought to be a water feature was an ancient spring which might have been part of a seasonal lake.
Further work in 2010 uncovered a 12 cm layer of mesolithic material including 10,000 pieces of struck flint and over 300 pieces of animal bone, a find described by Professor Tim Darvill as "the most important discovery at Stonehenge in many years.". The struck flint tools were discovered in pristine condition, sharp enough to cut the fingers of some of the excavators, and it is believed that the layer may extend a few hundred metres more. One tool was made out of worked slate, a material not found in the local area. A possible source could be a slate glacial erratic, though there are none known to exist in the vicinity, or the slate could have been carried from the nearest ready source which is in North Wales. If this is the source it shows that thousands of years before Stonehenge this may have been a "special place to gather".
Evidence suggests that the spring area was used for huge feasts including the consumption of aurochs and as a centre for tool making. In addition an unusual form of Mesolithic domestic site was found, a semi-permanent site for families called a 'homebase'. Dates for the site show that it was used between 6250 and 4700 BC making it the oldest residential site in this area.
The Middle Ages until today
A road came to be constructed over the hilltop in the middle ages, and now separates the southern corner from the rest of the fort. The A303 was cut through the northern section of the hill in the 1970s, just below the northernmost bank.
During the 18th Century, the hillfort was landscaped as part of the Marquis of Queensbury's grounds around Amesbury Abbey. A grotto, vista and paths were constructed and substantial tree planting was carried out.
- "Vespasian's Camp". English Heritage. Retrieved 23 April 2013.
- "The Megalithic Portal"
- "Field work at Vespasian’s Camp"
- Hilts, Carly (19 April 2013). "Vespasian's Camp: Cradle of Stonehenge". Current Archaeology. Retrieved 23 April 2013.
- Cooper-White, Macrina (2014-12-19). "New Stonehenge Discovery Hailed As 'Most Important In 60 Years'". HuffPost. Retrieved 2017-07-04.