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Dorset’s Archaeology in 250 Words #9: Wheeler’s ‘War Cemetery’ at Maiden Castle

May 2, 2017

AW Heritage Projects

In what has become one of the most famous excavations in British Archaeology, Sir Mortimer Wheeler spent four summers between 1934 and 1937 excavating at Maiden Castle, near Dorchester, Dorset.

Wheeler uncovered a late Iron Age cemetery of more than 52 burials with some male skeletons exhibiting horrific injuries. Wheeler believed this was a ‘war cemetery’ and clear evidence evidence for a Roman attack on the hillfort as part of Vespasian’s campaign through this part of southern England.

Wheeler was convinced the skeletons were direct evidence of this campaign and used evocative words to describe one skeleton in his ‘war cemetery’ near the inner bank of the eastern entrance:

one skull showed the square piercing of a quadrangular Roman ballista-bolt, whilst another skeleton – most vivid relic of all – had an iron arrow-head embedded deeply in a vertebra. This last unhappy warrior, as he lay grievously wounded, had been finished off…

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