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Hillforts at War: From Maiden Castle to Taniwaha Pā

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 February 2014

Ian Armit
Affiliation:
Division of Archaeological, Geographical and Environmental Sciences, University of Bradford, Richmond Rd, Bradford, West Yorkshire BD7 1DP

Abstract

Following Wheeler's excavations at Maiden Castle, the multivallate hillforts of Wessex came to be seen as responses to a specific form of warfare based around the massed use of slings. As part of the wider post-processual ‘rethink’ of the British Iron Age during the late 1980s and 1990s, this traditional ‘military’ interpretation of hillforts was increasingly subject to criticism. Apparent weaknesses in hillfort design were identified and many of the most distinctive features of these sites (depth of enclosure, complexity of entrance arrangements, etc) were reinterpreted as symbols of social isolation. Yet this ‘pacification’ of hillforts is in many ways as unsatisfactory as the traditional vision. Both camps have tended to view warfare as a detached, functional, and disembedded activity which can be analysed in terms of essentially timeless concepts of military efficiency. Consideration of the use of analogous structures in the ethnographic record suggests that, far from being mutually exclusive, the military and symbolic dimensions are both essential to a more nuanced understanding of the wider social role of hillforts in Britain and beyond.

Résumé

Suite aux excavations effectuées par Wheeler à Maiden Castle, on en est venu à considérer les forteresses de sommet de colline à plusieurs remparts du Wessex comme des réactions à une forme particulière de guerre reposant sur l'usage en masse de frondes. Faisant partie de la ré-évaluation post-processuelle plus générale de l'âge du fer britannique au cours de la fin des années 80 et dans les années 90, cette interprétation traditionnelle, ‘militaire,’ des forteresses a été de plus en plus sujette à critique. On identifia d'évidentes faiblesses dans la conception des forteresses et un grand nombre des traits les plus caractéristiques de ces sites (profondeur de l'enclos, complexité des moyens d'accès, etc…) furent interprétés comme étant les symboles d'un isolement social. Pourtant, cette pacification des forteresses est, sous beaucoup d'aspects, aussi peu satisfaisante que la version traditionnelle. Les deux camps ont eu tendance à considérer la guerre comme une activité détachée, fonctionnelle et désincarnée qu'on peut analyser en termes de concepts, essentiellement intemporels, d'efficacité militaire. L'examen de l'usage de structures analogues dans les archives ethnographiques donne à penser que, loin de s'exclure mutuellement, les dimensions militaire et symbolique sont toutes deux essentielles à une compréhension plus nuancée du rôle social plus étendu des forteresses en Grande-Bretagne et au-delà.

Résumen

Tras las excavaciones de Wheeler en Maiden Castle, los fuertes multivallados de Wessex fueron interpretados como la respuesta a un tipo específico de guerra en el que se utilizaban las hondas en gran cantidad. Durante los años 80 y 90, el replanteamiento post-procesual de la Edad del Hierro en Gran Bretaña cuestionó cada vez más la tradicional interpretación militar de los fuertes. Se detectaron aparentes puntos débiles en el diseño de los fuertes y muchas de las características más distintivas de estos sitos (profundidad del foso, complejidad de las entradas, etc.) se reinterpretaron como símbolos de aislamiento social. Sin embargo, en muchos sentidos esta “pacificación” de los fuertes no es tan satisfactoria como la visión tradicional. Ambas posturas tienden a ver la guerra como una actividad separada, funcional y desconexa, que puede analizarse en términos de eficiencia militar esencialmente inalterables. La consideración del uso de estructuras análogas en el registro etnográfico sugiere que, lejos de ser mutuamente exclusivas, las dimensiones militar y simbólica son esenciales para una comprensión más matizada del papel social más amplio que desempeñaron los fuertes en Gran Bretaña y más allá.

Zusammenfassung

Nach Wheelers Ausgrabungen in Maiden Castle wurden die vielförmigen Höhenfestungen in Wessex als Reflex auf eine besondere Art der Kriegsführung gesehen, die sich auf einen ausgeprägten Einsatz von Schleudern stützte. Diese traditionelle ‘militärische’ Deutung der Höhenfestungen wurde im Zuge der weit reichenden post-prozessualen ‘Neubetrachtung’ der Britischen Eisenzeit in den späten 80ger und 90ger Jahren zunehmend kritisiert. So wurden augenscheinliche Schwachstellen in ihrer Anlage identifiziert und viele der charakteristischsten Merkmale dieser Fundstellen (z.B. die Tiefe ihrer Gräben, die Komplexität der Eingangsanlagen usw.) eher als Symbole sozialer Trennung gedeutet. Diese ‘Befriedung’ der Höhenfestungen bleibt jedoch in vieler Hinsicht ebenso unzulänglich wie die traditionelle Sichtweise. So tendieren beide Sichtweisen dazu Krieg als einen rein funktionalen, losgelösten Vorgang zu sehen, der notwendigerweise im Sinne zeitloser Konzepte militärischer Effizienz analysiert werden kann. Durch das Heranziehen analoger Strukturen aus ethnographischen Quellen wird aber deutlich, dass sich die militärische und die symbolische Interpretation der Anlagen nicht gegenseitig ausschließen, sondern für ein nuanciertes Verständnis der weit reichenden sozialen Funktion der Höhenfestungen in und außerhalb Großbritanniens von großer Bedeutung sind.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Prehistoric Society 2007

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