Maiden Castle is the largest and most complex Iron Age hillfort in Britain, located at Winterborne Monkton 2.5 kilometres (1.6 mi) south west of Dorchester, in the county of Dorset. The multiple ramparts of Maiden Castle enclose enclose an area of 18 hectares (45 acres)(about 50 football pitches), and it is 2.5km (1.5mi) around the inner circumference. The site was home to several hundred people in the Iron Age (80 BC–AD 43).
The earliest archaeological evidence of human activity on the site consists of a Neolithic causewayed enclosure and bank barrow. In about 1800 BC, during the Bronze Age, the site was used for growing crops before being abandoned. Maiden Castle itself was built in about 600 BC; the early phase was a simple and unremarkable site, similar to many other hill forts in Britain and covering 6.4 hectares (16 acres). Around 450 BC it underwent major expansion, during which the enclosed area was nearly tripled in size to 19 ha (47 acres), making it the largest hill fort in Britain and by some definitions the largest in Europe. At the same time, Maiden Castle’s defences were made more complex with the addition of further ramparts and ditches. Around 100 BC habitation at the hill fort went into decline and became focused at the eastern end of the site. It was occupied until at least the Roman period, by which time it was in the territory of the Durotriges, a Celtic tribe.
After the Roman conquest of Britain in the 1st century AD, Maiden Castle appears to have been abandoned, although the Romans may have had a military presence on the site. In the late 4th century AD, a temple and ancillary buildings were constructed. In the 6th century AD the hill top was entirely abandoned and was used only for agriculture during the medieval period.
Excavations in the 1930s and 1980s have shed light on the development of the hilltop, from its origins as a Neolithic enclosure over 6,000 years ago, through many centuries of modification during the Iron Age, to the building of a Romano-British temple here.
Winterborne Monkton, Dorchester, Dorset, DT2 9PT
Map Ref: SY670885 Landranger Map Number: 194
Latitude: 50.695203N Longitude: 2.468586W