Excluding Maiden Castle, this site is the most impressive hillfort in Dorset. Built more than 2000 years ago, Hambledon Hill was a key settlement of the Durotriges tribe who dominated Dorset.

Prehostoric Hambledon Hill

 Hambledon Hill was occupied no later than the Neolithic period (around 4000 BC to 2500 BC) with archaeological examination, in the 1970s and 1980s by Roger Mercer, produced large quantities of Neolithic material, radio-carbon dated to 2900 – 2600BC. The massive Neolithic complex, is located SE of the fort, recently excavated. The causewayed camp of 8ha was surrounded by a single causewayed ditch and an inner bank. The discovery of Neolithic human remains, where the victims were slain by arrows, has been cited as evidence to suggest the site was a ‘frontier zone’ of the period. Whilst this can’t be substantiated, it is certain that the Dorset chalk escarpment in which Hambledon is found, was a site of good arable land and plentiful resources from the River Stour. It was, without doubt, prime territory in a subsistence based society.

Iron Age Hambledon Hill

The Iron Age fort we see today is a great example of a ‘contour fort’ (where the defences follow the contours of the terrain).  Originally built with a single ditch or rampart, which is a univallate hillfort its defences would have been improved, with additional stiches added to become a multivallate ditch system. Two ramparts and ditches, with an outer counterscarp bank, having inturned entrances to the N, SW and SE, enclosed an area of 12.5ha. It is unknown whether this was for additional defence or for status.  The ramparts would have originally been topped by a timber palisade with wooden gates barring the entrances.

There are 3 stages of construction: starting at the N end, enclosing 4.9ha, and dating from c300BC; the second stage took in the centre portion of the hill with a set of cross-banks; the final phase consisting of a further set of cross-banks was completed sometime between 50BC and the invasion of 43AD.

Some several hundred depressions within the interior, if interpreted as dwelling-huts decry a dense population.  Accommodation within the fort would have been round houses. Also inside the fort, at the highest point, is a Neolithic long barrow, some 70m in length.

Late Iron Age Hambledon Hill

By the late Iron Age Hambledon Hill was an important site for the Durotriges tribe. The Durotriges controlled other prominent hillforts in the area  including other prominent hillforts such as Hod Hill and Maiden Castle. Situated near the River Stour, Hambledon Hill was one of a chain of hillforts extended inland from the Iron Age promontory fort at Hengistbury Head. By around 100 BC, this was one of the most important trading posts in Britain with evidence being found of commerce with Mediterranean countries including Italy and Spain. This amassed the Durotriges tribe substantial wealth – evidenced by their gold coins – but the campaigns of Julius Caesar in Gaul (France) between 58 BC and 50 BC saw a vast reduction in this lucrative trade.

The decline of Hambledon Hill

When Hambledon Hill went out of use is not clear nor is its importance within the wider Durotriges tribe – was Hambledon, Hod Hill or Maiden Castle their primary site or is such a concept simply not applicable to society at that time? Whichever was the case, the site seemingly reduced in prominence during the first century BC due to the reductions in foreign trade and increasing focus on nearby Hod Hill. Certainly by the time of the Roman invasion of AD 43, which saw the Second Augustan Legion (Legio II Augusta) sweep through the South West, it was Hod Hill that bore the brunt of their attack.

Map References for Hambledon Hill – Dorset

NGRef: ST845126 OSMap: LR194

Sites near Hambledon Hill