Houses and hillforts

Some hillforts, like this one near Tredeger, Newport, were enclosed with multiple lines of banks and ditches (© Crown: RCAHMW)

Iron Age communities in Wales were complex and sophisticated, yet local rivalries may have spilled over into violence from time to time, particularly concerning access and control of resources. Some people lived in settlements like hillforts, which were enclosed by huge banks and ditches, but this did not just reflect military might. The elaboration of boundary earthworks relates to the status and prestige of the community and inter-communal power relations, rather than merely functioning as a defensive circuit.

Impressive entrance gateways at even small hillforts served as deterrents to would-be attackers and as statements of power and status. When freshly built, the boundary earthworks and entrances would have been even more striking than they are today. The greatest of them, such as at Caerau, were vast in scale and unprecedented in the effort invested to create them.

Hillforts were only one form of settlement, but they have survived conspicuously by virtue of their massive engineering and their siting on marginal land. On surrounding slopes and along valley floors were a plethora of lowland forts, small defended farmsteads and concentric corrals – specialist sites consisting of a larger outer enclosure and an inner yard for settlement. In many parts of Wales, Iron Age farmers sited their settlements on the most productive agricultural land, where farmers from medieval times to the present day have continued to cultivate.

Within the hillforts and smaller settlements were roundhouses made of wood or stone and thatched with straw or heather. These were the homes of Iron Age families and households and around which much of daily life must have been centred.

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