An Iron Age landscape

To find so many complete cauldrons in a single deposit is unprecedented anywhere in Europe. Furthermore, the excavation of any Iron Age cauldron under modern conditions is unusual.

Many earlier finds of cauldrons were chance discoveries made in the nineteenth century and relatively little is known about where and with what they were found. Overall, Iron Age cauldrons from Britain and Ireland are a relatively poorly researched class of object. Less than 90 were known before the Chiseldon discovery.

Cauldrons are substantial vessels capable of containing large quantities or food or liquid. It is therefore probable that they were not used for everyday purposes, but were instead used for the preparation of food or drink for large gatherings of people. Many authors believe that feasting was a central focus of Iron Age society and food was used as an important means of communicating social difference. However, few studies have considered the role of cauldrons and other metal vessels in feasts; they are seen merely as the material evidence for feasting.

The Chiseldon site is overlooked by two hillforts: Barbury Castle and Liddington Castle. Barbury is a so-called developed, multi-phase hillfort. Although its interior has never been extensively investigated, it was probably occupied for several centuries during the mid-first millennium BC. Liddington Castle was probably constructed sometime in the seventh-sixth centuries BC. Although it was in use up until the fifth century BC, in contrast to Barbury, it was never intensively occupied.

Even if these two sites were not in use at the time the cauldrons were deposited, they would still have been significant features in the landscape. The site is also located along the ridgeway, an ancient route linking a number of hillforts in the region. This was an ideal location for a gathering of different groups of people. A preliminary survey of the immediate area of the find spot has indicated that there may have been a small settlement.

The landscape in which the cauldrons were found
  • 1

    The landscape in which the cauldrons were found, looking towards Barbury Castle, an Iron Age hillfort.

  • 2

    The excavation site showing an Iron Age hillfort, Liddington Castle, in the background.


The landscape in which the cauldrons were found, looking towards Barbury Castle, an Iron Age hillfort.