Saturday, May 3, 2014

Maiden Castle and the Bronze Age

DSC05657 (1300x969)Britain was settled about 6000 years ago; the discovery of bronze (copper and tin) coincided with a growth in the native Celtic population and consolidation into villages.  Before the arrival of the Romans, society appears to have become less stable, less agrarian, and villages retreated into hill-forts, 30 of them in Dorset alone.  The best known is Maiden Castle, outside Dorchester about 35 miles from where I live.

And the beast, above, is an Ooser, a local demon which inspires terror in the minds of the foolish DSC05649 (1300x960)and the wicked.  I should be so lucky.

‘better to putter about the Thomas Hardy memorabilia and manuscripts, where lie gems like Happiness is but a mere episode in the general drama of pain. 

Now I miss the Ooser…

Saturday arrived unexpectedly sunny and cloudless, despite predictions of rain, so ‘headed up after cooked breakfast.  The location is not well (actually, not at all) signposted, so the route has to start in town. 

And, once there and appropriately coffee’d and sun’d, there’s no place better than the Dorset County Museum.

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Its an attic of a place, lots of archeological and natural history exhibits covering the Jurassic through Roman eras of Dorset.  Everything is well-marked, with a quirky local twist.  The exhibit on Leisure Through the Ages is vaguely disapproving of the whole concept; sections on local brewers and quarrymen lament the loss of jobs and lifestyle while documenting the everyday lives of the citizens. 

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The depictions of Maiden Castle, and of the Bronze and Iron Age artifacts found there, are excellent DSC05664 (1300x974)(despite grumbles about farmers plowing fields before scientists can reach them).  I can now distinguish varieties of Barrows (right: large domed mounds) by age and gender, and the stone chips characteristic of Dorset tribes.

Then (after a coffee and review), it was off to find the castle, actually a huge mound of earthworks southwest of town (with barrows).  It’s an impressive mound, surrounded by huge serrated bulwarks and weaving access corridors, all grassed over to prevent erosion.  The grass, in turn, is kept under control by hundreds of pale ragged sheep scattered across the flat expanse of the hilltop.  Hundreds of people once lived here before being turned out by the Romans in the first century and moved to the river at Dorchester (its hard to understand how they did get water: the books suggest”dew collection pits”).

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There is a trail around the rim that gives good views and access to a few historical markers.  It’s an impressive site, though: its easy to appreciate what daily life must have been like and how the first glimpse of the Romans coming up from the south might have looked.

With pauses all around the walk to consider philosophical and historical questions (‘glad I have wireless access on the Nexus) and to DSC05679 (1300x966)admire the view (Dorchester, right), it takes about an hour and a half to cover it well (and to nod to the other walkers going clockwise and encountering one another time after time). 

There is so little known about the period that its easy to get my head around it in an afternoon – I’m sure that the more recent portions of Life in the UK won’t be so easy about the various rulers after the War of the Roses.

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