Iron Age maritime nodes on the English Channel coast
Studies of Iron Age coastal sites in southern Britain have previously concentrated on Hengistbury Head, Dorset and Mount Batten, Devon. These sites have coloured our understanding of late Iron Age cross-Channel interactions. The possibility of many other coastal sites being identified has been dismissed due to the assumption that they would be archaeologically unrecognisable. This study was established to review this question on the southern coast of England. The aim was to determine the criteria and method by which Iron Age coastal sites might be identified, to apply that method, and to model how the suggested sites might have interacted. The physical nature of the English Channel coast in the Iron Age, contemporary vessels, and their port or harbour requirements are considered, and related to references in classical literature to Britain, the Channel and seafaring. Information from the coastal county Sites and Monuments Records, excavation records and published sources then provides an overview of the English Channel in the Iron Age. The characteristics of Iron Age coastal sites are determined and a list of key physical traits is developed. The list is applied to the Iron Age coast and 40 possible sites identified. Each is then classified as `definite', `probable', or `potential'. A gazetteer of all the sites is presented in Appendix One. The sites are considered as `nodes' - interface points on the maritime network - between sea-ways and their hinterland. Other key elements commonly found within a five kilometre radius of the coast are identified as components within the `coastal node complex'. Three of the sites (Hengistbury Head, Poole Harbour, and Bigbury Bay) are examined in detail as case studies, including original fieldwork which provides new data to compare with previous investigations. A model of `nodal interactions' is presented representing different scales of operation amongst the coastal nodes. Their relationship with other sites and with their hinterlands is discussed. This draws upon `port of trade' and `central place' theory and from social and economic models of gateway communities. The study is approached through a combination of maritime and terrestrial perspectives. It is concluded that coastal sites are identifiable in the archaeological record at a variety of scales. The conclusion provides a model for coastal interaction, trade and other relationships along and across the Channel in later prehistory and presents suggestions for future work.