Maiden Castle is one of the largest and most complex Iron Age hill forts in Europe, around the size of 50 football pitches. It is home to giant multiple ramparts mostly built in the first century BC that were once protected by hundreds of residents. When it was first built, the gleaming white chalk ramparts would have towered over the surrounding landscape.
Excavations have taken place at the site for years and have turned up a number of vital insights into Britain’s history.
Among them, a Neolithic enclosure from around 3500 BC and a Roman temple built in the fourth century AD.
Archaeologists have also found evidence of a late Iron Age cemetery where many of those buried had suffered horrific injuries.
One of the bodies found among these burials that piqued interest in research circles was explored during the Smithsonian Channel’s 2020 documentary, ‘Mystic Britain’.
Professor Neil Sharples, an archaeologist at Cardiff University, has spent decades investigating the world of Iron Age hill forts.
More than 80 years ago, a body was dug up from the fort, and as the documentary’s presenter, Clive Anderson, noted: “There was something very unusual about the burial.”
Standing over one of the trenches that was excavated in the Thirties, Prof Sharples said: “At the bottom of this pit there is a burial of a young male, probably 20 to 30 years old, and he’s sort of sitting up at the bottom of this pit.”
Most of the Iron Age burials on record were laid in a fetal or crouching position, not sitting upright.
In addition to this unusual burial, Prof Sharples believes the location of the body is “highly significant”.
He explained: “In about 350 BC, they decided they were going to expand and make Maiden Castle the biggest hill fort in the region.
“But there’s a huge ditch right in front that looks like flat ground today but that’s actually a six metres deep, v-shaped ditch.
“That was filled in, and they built a new rampart.”
The new rampart is exactly where the body was buried.
Prof Sharples continued: “Clearly this is some kind of deliberate sacrifice to mark the construction of this new event — this expansion of the hill fort.”
There is no evidence on the skeleton for how the man might have died.
In 2019, further bodies were found at another Iron Age hill fort around 50 miles northeast of Maiden Castle.
The pit at the Danebury Iron Age fort near Winchester was first discovered in the Seventies.
Excavations are ongoing, but the bodies found in 2019 were also explored during ‘Mystic Britain’.
Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford, said: “We found a bath-shaped pit that was rather unusual.
“Right in the centre was this human pelvis by itself at the bottom of the pit.”
Other bones belonging to the body, such as the victim’s femurs, were found scattered across the grave.
Prof Cunliffe explained: “They chopped the legs off at the top of the femurs and then slashed through the middle of the body, through the soft part.
“They took the pelvis area out of the body and placed it at the bottom of the pit.”
Marks on the bones suggest that the body was hacked into pieces.
It is unknown whether the victim was hacked before or after he was killed.
The Danebury Fort was used for almost five centuries and covers 12 acres.
It is believed to have been built around 2,600 years ago.