Iron Age Defended Enclosures

The Atlantic coast of Europe is dominated by a rather different settlement pattern: that of the small defended enclosure. All would appear to be variations on a simple theme and, although very little is known about Iron Age settlement in Ireland, stretch from the northern isles of Scotland down to Galicia and northern Portugal.

Such homesteads defended the occupants — but also their resources, as the four-post structures found within them may have been raised-floor granaries which would have provided secure storage. A similar outcome was achieved by building underground stone-lined cellars known as souterrains or fogous and associated with an above-ground settlement. These have been found in Scotland, Cornwall and Brittany. However, the simple theme — control over individual units of agricultural land and the protection of its products — may not indicate an Atlantic coast that was linked by much more than common necessity and response.

The smaller defended enclosures that can be found in Britain most likely represent individual farmsteads. They would often have contained circular timber roundhouses, working hollows and two- and four-post settings (indicating anything from drying racks to raised-floor granaries). The roundhouses were roofed with conical thatch and there were various methods of wall construction, including wattle-and-daub, turf and drystone types. Often, however, all that remains (bar buried archaeological deposits) is a circular drainage ditch or circular house platform.

The enclosures differ greatly terms of size and shape, from small single palisaded, embanked or walled enclosures (which can be round, oval or rectangular in plan) to larger multiple embanked enclosures, defined by concentric rings and elongated and embanked funnel-like approaches (which have been interpreted as an aid to the control and movement of cattle). These multiple-banked enclosures often have very slight outer banks and ditches and can usually be found on sloping ground in upland areas. Many of these small defended farmsteads were designed as much to safeguard the valuable stock animals from rustling as to protect the inhabitants.

Locations of Iron Age Defended Enclosuress in Roman Britain