Iron Age Hillfort Defences and the Tactics of Sling Warfare
by Peter Robertson. xii+132 pages; illustrated throughout in black & white. 257 2016. Available both in printed and e-versions.
Printed ISBN 9781784914103. £25.00 (No VAT). Epublication ISBN 9781784914110. £19.00 (Inc. UK VAT)
Was the purpose of an Iron Age hillfort to defend people and resources or was it there to show the power of the community and its leaders? Was the Middle Iron Age trend to large complex ‘defences’ a response to developing tactics of assault or did the huge amounts of construction work serve the purpose of building community identity through shared labour?
The name ‘hillfort’ implies a defensive purpose, but in recent decades alternative interpretations have gained favour, based on analyses suggesting that hillforts are poorly suited to military purposes and on views of Iron Age society that emphasise the importance of boundaries, symbolic display and communitybuilding. Excavations of hillfort interiors reveal they were sites for many activities; large caches of stones suggest that sling warfare was one.
This book reports an investigation of these issues. Sling accuracy at a hillfort was measured for the first time, in a controlled experiment comparing attack and defence across single and developed ramparts. Tactical scenarios modelled from the results showed that hillfort development gave defenders increased advantage. These results support defence as the explanation for the features of the enclosing works of hillforts. Full details of the method and analyses are included.
…it is a very interesting account of what seems to have been a well-conducted piece of experimental archaeology, and contains some valuable data. It would serve as extremely useful source material for a comprehensive study of Iron Age British warfare. - Slingshot (March/April Issue, 2017)
This study has produced some exciting, though still provisional, results and highlights the potency of the sling. On demonstrating that hillforts were constructed for military reasons it is less conclusive; that old controversy will not be so easily resolved, but this type of rigorous study at least provides some empirical patterning to bring to the debate. - Harold Mytum, University of Liverpool, www.prehistoricsociety.org (August, 2017)