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Bristol in the Iron Age


Iron Age Bristol

Map of Bristol in the Iron Age

Relatively little is currently known about Iron Age (c.550 BC - 1st century AD) in the Bristol region. Most of our information comes from the few excavated sites and written descriptions around the time of the Roman conquest in AD 43.

During the Iron Age, Britain was occupied by different tribes. Bristol was part of the territory of the Dobunni whose lands covered an area between northern Somerset and Worcestershire extending as far west as Wiltshire and Oxfordshire, and including the whole of Gloucestershire.

Hillforts are the best known type of Iron Age site. These were high status settlements and the largest were tribal centres. They generally consisted of a hill top site enclosed by earth banks and ditches. A wooden palisade of tall upright timbers usually stood on the top of the earth banks to strengthen their defences. Inside there would have been circular wooden post built houses, animal pens and large pits used to store food.



The remnants of three hillforts are still visible in Bristol - Blaise Castle, Kings Weston Camp and Clifton Down Camp - and all three are legally protected as Scheduled Ancient Monuments. Blaise Castle hillfort and Kings Weston Camp are located within the Blaise Castle Estate on Kings Weston Hill. Although they are about 300 metres apart, archaeological excavations suggest that Kings Weston had been abandoned by the time Blaise was in use.

Clifton Down Camp is beside the Avon Gorge, immediately north of Suspension Bridge Road. Two other hillforts, Stokeleigh Camp and Burwalls, lie on the opposite side of the Gorge, and it has been suggested that the location of these sites relative to one another hints that the River Avon may have been a boundary between two groups of Dobunni.


Iron Age finds

A late Iron Age and Romano-British site at Henbury (photograph by Cotswald Archaeology)

There have been occasional chance finds of Iron Age material across Bristol, pointing to a widely-spread population. Most people probably lived in small farmsteads with their families and evidence of these settlements has been found during excavation at Filwood, Henbury and at Hallen. At Hallen on the North Avon Levels, (which would have been a wetland at the time) the remains of two Iron Age circular houses were discovered in the early 1990s, buried beneath river silts. A hearth or oven made of stone slabs was found in one of the houses together with pottery fragments and animal bones. The site seems to have been seasonally occupied by a small group of people who grazed livestock on the wetland grasses. This community would have moved to higher ground before the area flooded in the winter months and returned to Hallen the following summer. Similar settlements have been discovered at Northwick in South Gloucestershire and at Goldcliff in Wales, suggesting that seasonal settlements for summer grazing of livestock were common around the Severn estuary.

Although when the Romans invaded Britain there was resistance in some places, the Bristol area seems to have remained fairly peaceful. Excavations suggest that for most people daily life here continued much as before, with new customs being adopted gradually as Roman influence spread.

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