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Maiden Castle Hill fort, Dorset          Source: Dorset Council

Roman vs Britons Battle of AD43 Never Happened Says Academic


An archaeologist has been accused of ´inventing´ an AD 43 battle after digging up skeletons of an ancient Britonic tribe.

It was recorded as the ´massacre´ of a tribe of Britons in Dorset’s Maiden Castle by a Roman legion, by archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler in the 1930s, but now a Professor of Archaeology at Bournemouth University believes the entire war story was a figment of his imagination.

Regarded as one of the nation’s most horrific battles, the AD 43 event was actually created by an archaeologist with a flair for storytelling, new research claims. This colorful account was first written by archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler after he excavated the site with his wife between 1936 and 1937, subsequently claiming he had discovered a ‘war cemetery’.

Sir Mortimer Wheeler (left) at the excavation site at Maiden Castle with his wife (center) in the 1930s. (Society of Antiquaries held at Historic England Archive)

Sir Mortimer Wheeler (left) at the excavation site at Maiden Castle with his wife (center) in the 1930s. (Society of Antiquaries held at Historic England Archive)

And according to a report in The Daily Mail, as a result of Wheeler’s lies, for many decades this famous ancient face-off has been described as ´the massacre´ of a tribe of Ancient Britons by a Roman legion led by future emperor Vespasian.

Definitively Lies

Wheeler claimed the remains of the 56 ancient British warriors he had found buried had been interred ´in a rush´ and he found what he described as ´terrible injuries´. And having failed to denounce any of these claims, English Heritage, which manages the hillfort site on the outskirts of Dorchester, held this account as the correct history of the site. But now, Dr Miles Russell, Professor of Archaeology at Bournemouth University claims ´absolutely no evidence´ exists for any such ‘great battle’ at Maiden Castle.

Wheeler's account tells of a ´furious´ battle between invading Roman soldiers and a desperate tribe of the ´Durotriges´, which led to their slaughter and enslavement, but in the latest volume of the Oxford Journal of Archaeology Dr Russell said ‘countless books, papers and television documentaries have treated a speculative Roman assault upon the hillfort as a ´definitive fact´- but it never happened.

Lie Upon Lie Upon Lie?

Sir Mortimer wrote that he found skeletons in ´tragic profusion´ which held the archaeological hallmarks of a fierce battle leading to the Roman conquest of Britain but Dr Russell says modern studies reveal the whole idea that battle wounded bodies were dumped hastily in graves was ´false´ as in fact they were carefully laid beside one and another.

Huge ramparts at the Maiden Castle site. (Ray Beer CC BY-SA 2.0)

Huge ramparts at the Maiden Castle site. (Ray Beer CC BY-SA 2.0)

The real world statistics, according to Dr Russell, prove that ´74 per cent of the 52 discovered bodies found suffered violent deaths´, but rather than all having died at one battle the remains proved to be from a wide timeframe ranging from 100 BC to 50AD suggesting the people lived through ´multiple periods of stress, competition and conflict’. And perhaps the most disturbing ´fact´ in all this is that by 43 AD Maiden Castle ‘had largely been abandoned’ which means the archaeologist entirely bent actual British history to fit his predetermined romantic notions.

English Archaeological Hoaxes

Well timed archaeological forgeries, fakes and hoaxes can make their creators fortunes, but they often ruin reputations as they can send teams of academics in the wrong direction on wild goose chases sometimes for several decades. Archaeological hoaxes are often accepted because the information they promise can be so tempting, and most famously is the Piltdown Man case, so named after the amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson presented skeletal remains in 1912 to the Geological Society in London showing both ape-like and human-like features together in a single skull.

Two scientists involved in the Piltdown Man case attempted to reconstruct Piltdown man’s cranium and mandible. (British Natural History Museum photo)

Two scientists involved in the Piltdown Man case attempted to reconstruct Piltdown man’s cranium and mandible. (British Natural History Museum phot o)

The skeleton was accepted by scientists at the Natural History Museum in London and a new link, the  Eoanthropus Dawsoni, was confirmed. Dawson got away with his scam and died in 1916, but in 1949 new dating technology arrived that changed scientific opinion on the age of the remains using fluorine tests. Dr Kenneth Oakley, a geologist at the Natural History Museum, discovered that the Piltdown remains were only 50,000 years old.

The Posthumous Deconstruction of Reputation

Following these findings, biological anthropologist Dr Joseph Weiner and human anatomist Wilfrid Le Gros Clark, both from Oxford University, worked with Dr Oakley to further test the age of the Piltdown findings and they eventually revealed the skull and jaw fragments actually came from both a human and an orangutan. And this was no mistake by the archaeologist as scratches on the surfaces of the teeth revealed that they had been filed down to make them look human and in conclusion: Piltdown Man was a deliberate scientific fraud.

According to an article on Oxbow Books called ´Murder, Money and Academic Mayhem: the power of the archaeological hoax´ the Natural History Museum was ridiculed in newspapers and even the Victorian novelist Arthur Conan Doyle was accused of having orchestrated the hoax, but Charles Dawson was eventually credited as the Grand Master of the entire scam.

And now we know the 1930s archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler was a similar charlatan, one would expect English Heritage, who manage Dorset’s Maiden Castle, to have something to say regarding his hoax, but sadly they ¨declined to comment¨, according to The Daily Mail.

However, on their website they do acknowledge that work that took place on the site in the 1980s, saying:

“Work on a different area of the site in the 1980s questioned the evidence for a direct Roman assault on Maiden Castle. It suggested that signs of burning in the houses probably resulted from ironworking, while the arrowheads found around the site may have belonged to the Iron Age inhabitants. Moreover, the skeletons were buried carefully, not with the haste intimated in Wheeler’s account.”

It would seem a recall of the site guidebooks is in order, and a revised version, reflecting the recent developments be written.

Top image: Maiden Castle Hill fort, Dorset          Source: Dorset Council

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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