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Iron Age


Iron Age 800 BC to AD 43

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Cliff Castle

Cliff Castles are found all along the ‘Celtic Fringe’ in Cornwall, Devon, Wales, Ireland and Brittany. They were constructed by building one or more ramparts and ditches across the neck of a coastal promontory and have much in common with hillforts, including the fact that both site types appear in the fourth millennium (from 500 BC) and go out of use in the first century AD, around the time of the Roman occupation. Like hillforts, their purpose is being re-evaluated in the light of information from recent excavations and studies – they do not seem to function primarily as settlements, and their coastal location suggests they may have played a particular role in maritime trade.


‘Fogou’ is a Cornish word meaning a cave, and Cornish fogous are prehistoric underground passages constructed by excavating a trench and lining its sides with either large stone blocks or drystone walling, and then roofing this passage with large flat slabs. Fogous are often found in association with later Iron Age or Romano-British period settlements, but modern investigations have done little to solve the enigma of their function – they may be ritual structures, or have been used for storage or as a place of refuge.


At the top end of the hierarchy of later Iron Age settlement are the hillforts. Defined by one or, more usually, two or three imposing ramparts, these sites are interpreted as central places overseeing large tribal territories. The ramparts may have been intended to impress rather than to have functioned as a defensive barrier as few signs of warfare ever come from excavation. They were constructed from around 500 BC and appear to go out of fashion in the years following the Roman Conquest.