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Henge, Romano-British amphitheatre and Civil War fieldworks known collectively as Maumbury Rings

A Scheduled Monument in Dorchester, Dorset

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Latitude: 50.7081 / 50°42'29"N

Longitude: -2.4402 / 2°26'24"W

OS Eastings: 369015.308443

OS Northings: 89918.965678

OS Grid: SY690899

Mapcode National: GBR PY.RTB1

Mapcode Global: FRA 57S6.M5N

Entry Name: Henge, Romano-British amphitheatre and Civil War fieldworks known collectively as Maumbury Rings

Scheduled Date: 1 October 1962

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1003204

English Heritage Legacy ID: DO 41

County: Dorset

Civil Parish: Dorchester

Built-Up Area: Dorchester

Traditional County: Dorset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Dorset

Church of England Parish: Dorchester and West Stafford

Church of England Diocese: Salisbury


The monument includes a henge, a Romano-British amphitheatre and Civil War fieldworks situated in the centre of Dorchester. The henge, amphitheatre and fieldworks are superimposed on one another with visible remains of all three elements. They survive as a roughly circular enclosure bank with an internal diameter of up to 64m, the bank measuring approximately 4m wide, broken and terraced in places with a maximum height of 4m externally and 5.6m internally. There is an entirely buried internal henge ditch, and a bulge in the earthworks to the south west marks the site of the gun emplacement. From the centre of the enclosure the ground slopes gradually upwards. The single entrance is to the north east. The gun emplacement has levelled part of the bank and is composed of a steep ramp of material with a level platform thus created on the summit. A large stone once existed on the western side of the entrance until 1846 when it was buried. No traces of this stone were made during partial excavations in 1879 or during those of H St George Gray in 1908 - 13. The latter excavations revealed the Neolithic origins of the enclosure with an external bank and internal ditch, the latter constructed by a series of at least 45 funnel-shaped shafts up to 11m in depth cut into the chalk. Finds included antler, animal and human bone, flints, carved chalk including a phallic-shaped object and limited pottery including a Grooved Ware sherd and a Beaker sherd from secondary fill material. Antler picks have subsequently produced un-calibrated radiocarbon dates of 1690-1700 bc +/- 70. During the Romano-British period the henge earthworks were modified by the internal excavation of an oval, level arena floor and the cutting of seating into the scarp and bank which was subsequently revetted with either chalk or timber. Chambers were cut into the bank to the south west and one on each side of the centre. Objects recovered on the arena floor and elsewhere suggested a 4th century date for the final usage of the amphitheatre although there was a 2nd century inhumation. The Civil War fieldworks were begun in 1642 and are visible as terraces and a gun emplacement platform to the south west. An unfinished well near the north western edge of the arena and finds of 160 lead pistol bullets on the eastern bank all date to this phase, along with an up to 2.7m wide ditch beyond the northern enclosure bank. Subsequently the interior of the enclosure was under cultivation, and ridge and furrow was noted on Taylor's map of Dorset in this area in 1765.

Sources: HER:-
PastScape Monument No:-451843

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Henges are ritual or ceremonial centres which date to the Late Neolithic period (2800-2000 BC). They were constructed as roughly circular or oval- shaped enclosures comprising a flat area over 20m in diameter enclosed by a ditch and external bank. One, two or four entrances provided access to the interior of the monument, which may have contained a variety of features including timber or stone circles, post or stone alignments, pits, burials or central mounds. Finds from the ditches and interiors of henges provide important evidence for the chronological development of the sites, the types of activity that occurred within them and the nature of the environment in which they were constructed. Henges occur throughout England with the exception of south-eastern counties and the Welsh Marches. They are generally situated on low ground, often close to springs and water-courses. Henges are rare nationally with about 80 known examples. As one of the few types of identified Neolithic structures and in view of their comparative rarity, all henges are considered to be of national importance. The Romano British amphitheatre is an elliptical structure with a long axis of between 50m and 115m comprising banks of raised seating around a level interior space. The seating banks are breached by at least one entrance passage giving access to the arena and in some instances to the seating. The amphitheatre was invented towards the close of the Republic and was considered especially characteristic of the Roman Empire. Dates have been ascribed principally on the basis of associated finds of pottery and coins and to a lesser extent by analogy with other buildings of a known construction date. Archaeological evidence suggests their construction in England began at the time of the Conquest, around the mid 1st century AD and reached its peak in the latter part of that century. No new amphitheatres were built after the late 3rd century but there was renewed interest in renovation of many existing structures at this time. There is some evidence that some sites were used for defensive purposes in the 5th century and later. Some amphitheatres were in use continuously throughout the Roman period, although this use may have been seasonal, others were abandoned in the 2nd century and never re-used. Others had a period of abandonment followed by renovation in the latter part of the 3rd century. Final abandonment appears to occur by the latter half of the 4th century AD. The most distinctive features are the arena and surrounding seating banks. The former was a level space excavated below ground level and the latter are embankments built in part, if not wholly from the material up-cast material from the arena. Amphitheatres have five main constructional components: the arena; seating banks or cavea; entrance passageways and ramps; inner revetment wall; and outer revetment wall. Minor components include inner safety fences, perimeter drain, axial drain, shrines, apsidal recesses in the arena wall, a raised access walk or podium and a tribunal. The excavated surface of the arena was often covered with sand, gravel or paving slabs. Amphitheatres are confined to the south of England, the most northerly being at Chester. They were often located on the outskirts of settlements and are usually discrete isolated monuments. They are nationally rare with only twelve known examples. English Civil War fieldworks are earthworks which were raised during military operations between 1642 and 1645 to provide temporary protection for infantry or to act as gun emplacements. The earthworks, which may have been reinforced with revetting and palisades, consisted of banks and ditches and varied in complexity from simple breastworks to complex systems of banks and inter- connected trenches. They can be recognised today as surviving earthworks or as crop- or soil-marks on aerial photographs. The circumstances and cost of their construction may be referred to in contemporary historical documents. Fieldworks are recorded widely throughout England with concentrations in the main areas of campaigning. Those with a defensive function were often sited to protect settlements or their approaches. Those with an offensive function were designed to dominate defensive positions and to contain the besieged areas. There are some 150 surviving examples of fieldworks recorded nationally. Despite partial excavation the henge, Romano-British amphitheatre and Civil War fieldworks known collectively as Maumbury Rings survive comparatively well and are indicative of regular periods of adaptive re-use of a specific location placed within a well developed settlement and indicate in this important palimpsest the continued strategic, social and political importance of this location throughout a prolonged period and even its value agriculturally. These elements will retain further archaeological and environmental evidence relating to their construction, function, relative chronologies and relationships, longevities of the key elements and their overall landscape context.

Source: Historic England

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