Iron Age Dorchester

Thank you for reading our Web book about the Iron Age history of our school. Knowing your history is very important, because in this way you consider the cause-and-effect relationships of certain events, besides, you can become part of us, buy a personal statement at and present your ideas and possibilities. We have found out about the past history of our school and have developed this book with the help of Dorset County Museum; The Ancient Technology Centre, Cranbourne; our head teacher Mr Farrington and our class teacher Miss Johnson. We are trying to imagine what it was like on our school site 2000 years ago. There was no town of Dorchester, no Tesco, no Football ground, no Castle Park estate or Victoria Park. No cars, no electricity, no television, no computers, no books.

The people who lived here 2000 years ago were called the Durotriges. They were a tribe of Celts who lived all over the south of England and one of their main settlements was at Maidun. We call it Maiden Castle now, but Dun means Hillfort, so Maidun is a better name. Maidun had been developed over many years by digging ditches and building ramparts to make it more difficult to attack. The Durotriges liked living on the top of the hill because they could look out and see if anyone was approaching. There are lots of other hillforts over Dorset such as Badbury Rings near Wimborne.

Now some people think that the Celts must have been very primitive:but although they couldn't read or write they were very clever with their hands. They made beautiful brooches and jewellery out of metal for example. They also spun and wove wool into material and it was probably dyed to make it look attractive. They used natural plants, soils and water to make the dyes. They had discovered iron ore: iron in stone to be found under the ground. They also discovered that if you heated the stone, the iron would melt out and this could be used to make tools and weapons. They also used flint for tools. They could make spears, arrows, swords, shields and chariots. So they had discovered how to make wheels.

Life must have been tough for the Durotriges. Living at the top of a hill means that somebody has to go down into the valley every day to collect water. It would have been collected in bags made of animal skin. Everything they needed had to be grown, looked after, hunted and killed or traded. To build a house they needed to collect all the materials from the surrounding countryside.

The Durotriges grew crops like oats, wheat and barley. These would have been harvested in the autumn and the grain collected. Most of it would have been stored and every day some of the Durotriges, probably the women would have ground the grain into flour. The flour would have been made into bread by adding water and yeast. They would have used grind stones or quernstones to grind the grain into flour.

They would also have collected a lot of food that grew wild. This would have included mushrooms, berries, wild roots, nettles (they make lovely soup and do not sting) and fruit such as apples, pears, plums, damsons and sloes. They would have been very fond of wild honey made by bees.

They would also have kept animals in enclosures on Maidun. Goats for milk, cheese, meat and skins. Pigs for meat and fat. Cows for milk, cheese, meat and skins. Chickens, ducks and fowl for eggs and meat. The Durotriges would also have hunted in the surrounding countryside for wild animals to eat and to use for blankets for warmth in the winter. In those days they would have been able to hunt for deer, wild pigs, rabbits and an assortment of wild birds.

We know that the Durotriges were traders as well. They swapped a lot of things that they made or grew for other they needed. They had to travel to Hengistbury Head (near modern day Christchurch) to do this. This was a very importand trading centre and port and things came into Britain from across the channel in modern day France. The Durotriges would have swapped woollen goods, metal brooches, etc for salt, wine, clay pots etc from the Roman Empire. Hengistbury Head was one of the biggest towns in the whole of Britain 2000 years ago and Maidun was one of the most important hillforts.

The Durotriges probably liked singing songs, dancing and telling stories. After a hard day's work hunting or grinding wheat or looking after animals or making tools or clothes, we like to imagine them gathered around a fire, finishing off a meal of roasted pork, bread rolls, apples and mushrooms. We can imagine that some of the older people have lots of stories to tell of brave warriors or couples falling in love. Maybe some of the people have a special job of explaining the mysteries of the world by telling stories about the gods and spirits which look after the woods, the river, the sea, the moon and the sun. We're sure that sometimes there would have been special festivals and celebrations: in the depth of winter or the height of summer, or when important people were getting married or when they died. Maybe too they drew pictures on their houses about thigs that were important to them. Perhaps some people had skills in carving wood or stone to make toys for the children.

Well, in the first century AD, the Romans invaded Britain in search of slaves, silver and gold. Rumours of their advance towards Maidun would have spread. Maybe the Durotriges heard about the fantastic fighting ability of the Romans armed with new weapons and protected by armour. Maybe they discussed what to do if the Romans threatened their hillfort. Some of the leaders probably suggested fighting to protect their families, their houses, their way of life. Perhaps others suggested living in peace with the Romans and even paying tribute to them.

In fact, when the Romans arrived at Maidun, there was a short battle. Archaeologists have discovered bodies of the Durotriges who were killed. In particular, one warrior was killed by a ballista bolt: a weapon so superior to anything the Durotriges had, that it probably made them panic and give up. Anyway, we think that the Durotriges were told by the Romans to leave Maidun and disperse, spread out.

When our school was being built in 1993/1994, it was discovered that there was evidence that Celtic people had built houses on the site of the school (behind the playwall). The archaeologists found lots of post holes showing 3 or 4 roundhouses, storage pits, a cobbled courtyard, boundary ditches and fences, smaller shelters using post holes, pots, bones and other evidence.

Arhaeologists think that one family left Maidun and built new houses on the school site. It is this new settlement that we are trying to re-construct. This means trying to build a model replica using the techniques available to the Durotriges 2000 years ago. We don't really know what it would have looked like: it's really a lot of guesswork. So far we have built a roundhouse, a fence and ditch, a gateway, a shelter and clay oven, a storehouse on stilts and a chieftains's burial chamber. Next year we hope we can add something different: what do you think the Durotriges might have had?