Bringing the Iron Age and Romans to life in southern Britain: Danebury hillfort and Brading villa
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Oxford
Unit of AssessmentGeography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
History and Archaeology: Archaeology, Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
Utilising the results of large-scale research programmes by Barry
Cunliffe and his Oxford team, the museum facilities connected to both
Brading villa and Danebury hillfort bring to life the Iron Age and Roman
periods for the general public. In addition, they promote substantial
learning into key periods in prehistory, and during Britain's
incorporation into the Roman empire, which are often neglected.
Cunliffe's work has had fundamental impact through first the
establishment and then the shaping of two museum facilities: the Museum of
the Iron Age in Andover and a Visitor Centre at Brading. The work at
Danebury is of long-standing origin, and began in 1968, but has been given
significant new impetus since 2011 by a substantial HLF grant, which has
created new educational materials, guided site visits and online
resources. The excavations at Brading took place between 2008 and 2010 and
were fundamental to the development of the new Visitor's Centre. Both
facilities use recent finds and visual representation to give a more
enriched sense of community life in these localities over a millennium and
a half, starting at around 1000BC.
The research has had educational impact on visitors to these two museum
facilities, including large numbers of school children, the general
public, and archaeology and museum professionals, and on individual
volunteers who have worked on the sites. By attracting visitors to the
sites and museums, the research has also improved the experience of local
The nature of community in the Iron Age and through into the Roman period
has long been a focus of research at Oxford. The excavations at Danebury
and its surrounding sites (1969-2006) and then Brading (2008-2010)
explored issues of architecture, site arrangements and social space.
Hillforts such as Danebury represent the first large-scale agglomerations
of people in Britain, many living in large round houses. Excavations at
Danebury established that the hillfort was built around 550 BC, the
defences were remodelled several times, but enclosed a defended area of 5
ha, containing roundhouses and granaries, replaced by storage pits.
Excavations also found that the hillfort was then abandoned following a
final violent destruction and burning c. 100 BC [R1].
Between 1997 and 2006, the Danebury Roman Environs Programme, led by
Professor Cunliffe, examined the development of rural settlement into the
Roman period looking at the history of vernacular architecture and
technologies of agricultural production. Key sites include the villas of
Houghton Down (1997), Grateley South (1998-9), Fullerton (2000-1),
Thruxton (2002), Dunkirt Barn (2005-6); and the native settlement of Flint
Farm (2003) [R2]. These sites demonstrate the variety of rural
settlement in the area, in addition to the evolution of the agricultural
landscape from the Iron Age onwards [R3]. The research of Cunliffe
and his team includes aerial and geophysical surveys, excavation of the
sites, recording, analysis and conservation of materials, publication of
features and finds (in both scholarly and popular media), and the
preparation of artefacts for display. The sequence at Danebury and
surrounding sites showed a move from roundhouse occupation in the early
Iron Age, with large communal public space in the centre and private space
under the eaves, to aisled barns. Starting in the first century AD, aisled
barns are rectangular in shape, showing the influence of Roman basilica,
but have a congruent use of space to earlier roundhouses, with central
public space and more private use either down the sides or at one end.
This shift from round to rectangular is a rare instance when changes in
form do not indicate changes in function [R2]. Excavations at
Houghton, Dunkirt, Thruxton and Grateley were especially important in
establishing the nature of the form and its uses [R4].
At the second key site, the Brading villa, Cunliffe's were the first
large-scale excavations to take place since the 1880s. Cunliffe's team's
excavations included the investigation of eight buildings within the villa
complex. Over three seasons, Cunliffe and his team established the
architectural sequence at the site from a late Iron Age enclosure to an
early aisled hall (building 4), constructed in the late 1st or early 2nd
century, and replaced by a more substantial aisled hall (building 2) at
the end of the 2nd century. The winged-corridor house with rich
mosaics, which we see today as the villa, was built in the late 3rd
or early 4th century. This building represented a major social
shift in the use of the site, probably with the elite family moving into
the winged-corridor house and those lower on the social spectrum living in
the aisled hall [R4, R5]. The discovery of traded pottery and
metal shows that widespread trade links already existed in the late Iron
Age; these were developed in the Roman period, when the villa enjoyed
links with many areas of the Empire [R4].
The historical development in living space and trade has been an
especially important link between the two projects, with the development
of rectangular forms of architecture in the first century AD being
well-evidenced in the Danebury environs and then also at Brading. The
emerging importance of the aisled hall from earlier circular forms is a
key response of indigenous populations to incoming Roman influence,
becoming the basis of the early medieval hall, which then lasted through
until the early modern period [R6].
Oxford researchers involved in the programme:
The team was led by Professor Barry Cunliffe (Professor of European
Archaeology until 2006, when he became Emeritus Professor based in the
Institute of Archaeology). A large team of researchers from Oxford has
also been involved in these two excavations including: Cynthia Poole
(Researcher — employed 1981-97 through the Danebury Trust and on short
term contracts until 2006), Lisa Brown (Pottery Specialist, 1993-6
employed by the Danebury Trust and on short term contracts until 2008),
Emma Durham (Research Assistant to Cunliffe, who helped organize
fieldwork, employed Oxford University 2000-2006) Wendy Morrison (DPhil
Student and Site Supervisor, 2008-10).
References to the research
[R1] Cunliffe, B. 2003. Danebury Hillfort. Stroud: Tempus.
[R2] Cunliffe, B. 2008. The Danebury Environs Roman Programme.
A Wessex Landscape During the Roman Era. Vol. 1, Part 1,
Overview; Vol. 2, Parts 1-7, Houghton Down,
Longstock, Fullerton, Grateley South, Grateley, Thruxton, Rowbury Farm,
Wherwell, Flint Farm, Goodworth Clatford, Dunkirt Barn, Abbotts Ann,
Oxford: English Heritage and Oxford University School of Archaeology
[R3] Cunliffe, B. 2008. Continuity and Change in a Wessex
Landscape. Albert Reckitt Lecture 2008. Proceedings of the British
[R4] Cunliffe, B. 2013. `For men of rank ... basilicas' in Living
and Working in the Roman World, H. Eckardt and S. Rippon (eds) Journal
of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series 95: 95-110.
[R5] Cunliffe, B. 2013. The Roman Villa at Brading, Isle of
Wight: the excavations of 2008-10. Oxford: Oxford University School
of Archaeology Monograph 77.
[R6] Cunliffe, B. 2013. Britain Begins. Oxford: OUP.
Research funding: Funds of £1,000,000 have been obtained from a
variety of sources, including English Heritage, Garfield Weston Trust,
Headley Trust, Wolfson Foundation, Esmee Fairburn Foundation and
Gulbenkian Foundation. Specific Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grants
• Grant of £43,500 to Hampshire County Council for `Discover Danebury
Project', Dec 2011-Jul 2013.
• Grant of £2,056,000 to The Brading Visitor Centre and Museum, 2003-04.
• Grant of £35,000 for The Brading Visitor Centre and Museum, 2008-09.
Details of the impact
Central to the impact of work on Danebury and Brading has been the
establishment of the Museum of the Iron Age at Andover and the Museum and
Visitor's Centre at Brading. The archaeological excavations and the
research on the inhabitants of the sites, conducted by Oxford researchers,
have brought to life the Iron Age and Roman periods. The research has
provided the basis for the narrative upon which both museum facilities are
based, so as to promote substantial learning of our earliest history.
Architectural forms provide key materials and narrative thread in both
facilities, showing how family and broader social structures were
influenced by the movement from round to rectangular architecture,
culminating in the villa complex seen at Brading in the third century AD.
The Oxford researchers have helped to design exhibits of the finds, and
develop descriptions of the excavations and modes of life both in the Iron
Age and Roman periods. The activities in both places are run through
Charitable Trusts, which have been integral to the research work and its
public dissemination. The Brading Visitor Centre, funded by an HLF grant,
was based on the findings of the excavation and research. Two Trusts care
for the villa, the Oglander Family Trust (run by the family owning the
villa) and the Friends of Brading Roman Villa. The Danebury Trust (a
charitable partnership between Oxford University, Hampshire County Council
and English Heritage) is responsible for the Danebury site and the Andover
Museum, and has been funded by grants from charitable and governmental
bodies since its inception.
Danebury Hillfort and the Andover Museum of the Iron Age:
In 2013, the Museum of the Iron Age employed three full-time and three
part-time employees (one qualified curator) and benefitted from a
supportive group of Friends for volunteer activities. Within Hampshire's
Museums Service as a whole, five (of 120 employees) are directly involved
in caring for the Danebury collections (the Conservator, Registrar,
Collections Manager, and Collections Officers). In addition to the new HLF
programme, the material excavated from Danebury plays an important
part in the cultural programme of Hampshire County Council, and attracts
significant numbers of visitors and volunteers. Over 30,000 people per
annum (not including school visitors) came to the Andover Museum of the
Iron Age and 60,000 people per annum visited Danebury hillfort, with a
good number visiting both [Section 5: C3]. The Museum has been
well received by teachers and members of the general public alike. One
teacher stated: `Organised a school trip here — lovely atmosphere, well
led, pacey learning and hands on activities'; while another visitor
remarked: `Excellent to see local history that is well preserved. I was
interested throughout and will be back again soon!' [C5]
Although the Andover Museum is of long-standing origin, museum and
educational activities concerning Danebury received considerable new
impetus through a recent HLF grant in 2011, awarded to Professor Cunliffe
and the Deputy Head of the Museum Service Learning, Access and
Interpretation Team (£43,500) [C4]. This funding enabled new
resources (based on the research [R1, R2]) to be created for use
both by schools and the general public. Researchers and museum staff
worked collaboratively to produce story podcasts, a film, children's
explorer sheets, teacher guidance notes, and activity resources (most of
these are accessible through the project website) [C1]. Between
2011 and 2013, 760 school children from 21 schools visited Danebury
hillfort and the Museum of the Iron Age [C3].The museum also held
activity days and guided walks to encourage members of the public to
engage with the hillfort (over 700 people attended these over the same
period) [C3]. Further tools to attract visitor engagement include
the construction of an `earth seat' on the site of an Iron Age roundhouse
as a teaching aid and place of contemplation.
The site attracts members of Young Archaeology groups. The North
Hampshire Young Archaeologists Club, established in March 2000, and based
at Andover Museum, has approximately ten meetings annually. The club has
around 40 children registered at any one time, approximately half of which
it sees at each meeting. Between 2008 and 2013, these meetings have
included regular discussion of Danebury material and visits to the
Danebury Project sites [R1, R2; C3]. Contact with similar Young
Archaeologist groups in Bagshot and Southampton has also led these groups
to visit the site [C3].
In addition to Cunliffe's own academic and public lectures on Danebury,
Hampshire Museum staff have also given around 200 talks, lectures, and
presentations in the period 2008-2013, with the Danebury research material
as a core element. Danebury material also continues to be displayed
outside the site and museums as part of Hampshire Country Council's
touring exhibition programme (focussing on Hampshire's main nine sites)
and in the smaller Hampshire's Hidden Treasures display. Danebury
(including the excavation and research material) has also featured in
major exhibitions in Winchester and Andover, such as The Forgotten
Emperor (2010) [C3].
The excavations at Danebury have been the subject of several television
broadcasts. The Danebury site was the subject of a Team Team
special by Channel 4 in 2008, in which Professor Cunliffe was interviewed
and provided expertise. Cunliffe also appeared twice in the BBC series Neil
Oliver's History of Celtic Britain for in 2011, talking on the
subject of Iron Age Danebury. The popularity of Danebury, evident in the
repeats of earlier programs and the making of new ones, has brought the
site to an even wider audience, and made a significant impact on the wider
public's awareness of Iron Age Britain.
Brading Villa and the Brading Museum and Visitor Centre:
The Brading Museum and Visitor Centre was established in 2004, following
various sources of funding, including an HLF grant of £2,000,000 with
further varied funds of £1,000,000. The new villa complex was built partly
to protect the mosaics and fabric of the villa. However, once in place
museum staff in combination with Cunliffe and his team realised that new
educational possibilities offered themselves, and much work has been
carried out during and since Cunliffe's excavations to realise these
possibilities. The Visitor Centre introduces the villa complex, including
the famous mosaics, and the Museum provides a narrative of life in the
late Iron Age and Roman periods from the presentation of the finds and
their archaeological contexts. In both cases, the key materials and
insights were provided by Cunliffe's excavations. Currently the museum
facility attracts 35,000 visitors a year, with more coming to visit the
reconstructed Roman garden and landscape [C6].
As with Danebury and the Andover Museum, educational materials [C2,
C6] have been prepared for schools and over 100 school visits are
made every year, annually reaching over 2500 children on average [C6].
The Centre has won a number of awards, including Green Apple Awards for
Architectural Heritage (2009 — Silver Award and 2013 — Green Champion);
Tourism South East 2011 Small Visitor Attraction of the Year — Silver
Award; and a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence 2013. The Museum and
Visitor Centre have been well reviewed — `This museum is a lesson on how
to make a potentially dull visit, exciting! The route through the ground
plan is carefully constructed to give the best view of the wonderful
mosaics, and provides clear and interesting information on the history of
the house and it's inhabitants' and `A fantastic place for adults and
children. Loads for kids to do, our 7 year old loved the activities. Staff
were very helpful.' [C9].
There is also considerable volunteer activity around the villa complex,
and over the last year the Friends of Brading Roman Villa have given over
5000 hours to help with the running of the visitor facilities [C7].
They are also actively engaged in fundraising for the Centre and the site.
Volunteering has been a strong feature of the work at Brading, as the
excavations were carried out by a team composed of one third each of
professionals, students and interested locals [C7].
The Brading Museum has recently become a partner of the British Museum,
who will lend 52 antiquities from their collections for a forthcoming
exhibition (expected 2014) in Brading on Roman Sexuality. This partnership
demonstrates the national importance and appeal of the educational work
and research at Brading.
Sources to corroborate the impact
[C1] Websites for the Museum of the Iron Age at Andover and
Discover Danebury project, which credit Cunliffe's research: http://www3.hants.gov.uk/museum-of-the-ironage.htm
[C2] Website for the Visitor Centre at Brading Roman Villa — http://www.bradingromanvilla.org.uk/
[C3] Keeper of Archaeology, Hampshire County Council Arts &
Museums Service. Held on file - corroborates visitor numbers, and
[C4] Heritage Lottery Fund, £42,000 for new excavations (Prof.
Cunliffe's role credited in press release): http://www.hlf.org.uk/news/Pages/BringingHampshire%E2%80%99sIronAgetolife.aspx
[C5] Visitor reviews from the Museum of the Iron Age at Andover:
[C6] CEO Brading Visitor Centre and Museum. Held on file —
corroborates visitor numbers, exhibition and grant details.
[C7] Chairman of the Friends of Brading Roman Villa. Held on file
- corroborates information on the activities of the Friends of Brading
Villa, and anecdotally confirms the experience of volunteers.
[C8] Visitor Reviews of the Brading Villa Visitor Centre and