Monday, 13 July 2009

Somerset: Cadbury Castle

Cadbury Castle is an Iron Age hill fort in the civil parish of South Cadbury in the English county of Somerset. It is famously associated with King Arthur

Cadbury Castle is located five miles north east of Yeovil at grid reference ST62862512. It stands on the summit of Cadbury Hill, a limestone hill situated on the southern edge of the Somerset Levels, with flat lowland to the north. The summit is 500 ft (150 metres) above sea-level. The hill is surrounded by four terraced earthwork banks and ditches and a stand of trees.
Excavation at and around the site has discovered Iron Age, Roman and Saxon artefacts. The excavation was led by archaeologist Leslie Alcock from 1966-1970. He identified a long sequence of occupation on the site and many of the finds are displayed in the Somerset County Museum in Taunton.
Prehistoric occupation

Earthworks at Cadbury Castle

Yetholm-type shield from South Cadbury. Displayed at Somerset County Museum, Taunton.

The earliest settlement was represented by Neolithic pottery and flints along with a bank feature. The site was also occupied in the Late Bronze Age and throughout the Iron Age.
The castle is a multivallate hill fort built around 400 BC. Large ramparts and elaborate timber defenses were constructed and refortified at least five times over the following centuries. Excavation revealed rectangular house foundations, a blacksmith, and a possible temple indicating permanent oppidum-like occupation. There is evidence that the fort was violently taken and reoccupied by the Romans around AD 50.
Cadbury Hillfort Plan

Radical revisions of the Bronze archaeology on the lower slopes appear derived from discoveries during excavations and survey work by the South Cadbury Environs Project show the area to have been very busy during the second millennium BC. Finds include the first Bronze Age shield to have been found during an excavation in north west Europe; the shield is an example of the distinctive Yetholm-type. Two kilometers south east of the hillfort, a metal-working building and associated enclosure of the same period.
Excavations of the south west gate in 1968 and 1969 revealed evidence for one or more severe violent episodes, associated with weaponry and destruction by fire. Whereas the excavator, Leslie Alcock, believed this to have been dated to around AD70, Tabor argues for a date associated with the initial invasion, AD43-44. Havinden states that it was the site of vigorous resistance by the Durotriges and Dobunni to the second Augusta Legion under the command of Vespasian.

Historic occupation
Following the withdrawal of the Roman administration, the site is thought to have been in use from c. 470 until some time after 580. Alcock revealed a substantial 'Great Hall' (20 x 10 metres) and showed that the innermost Iron Age defenses had been refortified, providing a defended site double the size of any other known fort of the period. Shards of pottery from the eastern Mediterranean were also found from this period, indicating wide trade links. It therefore seems probable that it was the chief caer (castle or palace) of a major Brythonic ruler and home to his royal family, his teulu (band of faithful followers), servants and horses.
Between 1010 and 1020 the hill was reoccupied for use as a temporary Saxon mint, briefly standing in for that at Bruton.
Local tradition, first written down by John Leland in 1532, holds that Cadbury Castle was King Arthur's Camelot.
As for the name "Camelot", one must acknowledge the British toponymy over centuries, for instance the word "bury" referring to a fortification. Certainly this castle stands close to the River Cam with the villages of West Camel and Queen Camel in proximity. Combining this with the word "lot" to mean a piece of land with a given purpose gives relevant and local meaning for the name Camelot (Land by the River Cam).
The site and the Great Hall are extensive, and the writer Geoffrey Ashe argued in an article in the journal Speculum that it was the base for the Arthur of history. His opinion has not been widely accepted by all students of the period.
Militarily the location makes sense as a place where the south-western Brythons (perhaps from the kingdom of Dumnonia) could have defended themselves against attacks from lowland Brythons. Refortification may have been a response to the great Saxon raid of c. 473. If Arthur was indeed conceived at Tintagel, as tradition asserts, as a prince of Dumnonia, Cadbury would have been close to his eastern frontier. Although the name 'Cadbury' is generally considered to be a Saxo-Brythonic hybrid meaning 'Battle-Fort', David Nash Ford suggests that the prefix derives from Cado, King of Dumnonia in the time of Arthur, which is supported by Bush who says the origin of Cadbury is Cado's fort.

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