Casting Back to Iron Age Chettle with Martin Green

by Becky Burchell
13th February 2024

Butser Ancient Farm


Becky Burchell interviews local archaeologist Martin Green, whilst walking the ancient paths surrounding the village of Chettle.

Martin Green is a local Cranborne Chase legend. A passionate archaeologist, Martin is a time traveler of this ancient landscape, revealing stories, places, people and creatures whose essence still lingers with us today. After visiting the impressive museum he created at his home near Sixpenny Handley, I invited Martin to walk the Chettle landscape with me on a sunny May evening, as part of my research for developing a new events series called ‘Women of the Dark Skies’.

I was creating this storytelling pilgrimage to take place at night, leading women along the footpaths surrounding Chettle, connecting them to the history, ecology and spirituality of this land. The story I was writing was set nearly 2000 years ago, in the late Iron Age, after the Romans had invaded, but before Boudicca’s rebellion.

To give authenticity to the story, I asked Martin to walk with me to travel back in time to when the Durotriges tribe lived in scattered settlements across these familiar chalk downlands…



Becky: So Martin, we are now walking past St Mary’s Church towards Chettle House parkland, with the village of Chettle now behind us. What would have been here where we stand 2,000 years ago?

Martin: Village settlements like the one we now know as Chettle, tend to have been created later than the Iron Age, usually in the Saxon period. Most of the Iron Age settlements around here were found on the downlands, away from the modern day villages. We see evidence of an Iron Age settlement on Chettle Down, which is about half a mile from the village we know today.

Becky: Here we have reached the chalk track that divides Chettle House parkland, with some fine clusters of mature and ancient trees set amongst lush grassland, with cows grazing. What would this view have looked like to our Iron Age ancestors?

Martin: By the end of the Iron Age, this whole landscape would have been carefully maintained with complex field systems in place. The tribes knew all about crop rotation and would have grown similar food to what we grow in our arable fields today, such as wheat, barley and beans. They also would have had cows, pigs, horses and sheep grazing, with dogs bred to help with herding, just like to today.

Becky: As we walk out of the parkland and into Chettle’s Little Woods, we can see plenty of hazels that have been coppiced, alongside broad oaks and beech trees. Would these woods have been here for our ancestors to benefit from?

Martin: We don’t know whether this specific woodland was here, but there would have other wooded areas, dotted across the chalk downland, probably covering a similar proportion of land to our local wooded areas today. This would have also been well tended, with the trees being coppiced for firewood and building materials, for example as the base for their roundhouse walls. And it wasn’t just the hazel that was coppiced, which is commonly seen today, but a whole range of our native trees. Using new LiDar scanning technology, we can see evidence that beneath our modern woodlands are the shapes of ancient field patterns. (visit the Chase and Chalk LiDar portal here, to find out more about the local scans for Chettle:

Becky: We are standing now next to one of the two local neolithic long barrows. This one is known as Chettle Long Barrow, which has views back down the valley to the village. It sits on the parish boundary, almost exactly halfway between Tarrant Gunville and Chettle villages. What do we know about our long barrows here?

Martin: Chettle Long Barrow feels like it borders the village, but in fact that’s just by accident, because because it is unlikely there would have been a settlement in the valley when the barrow was constructed. These barrows were build around 3,500 BC or thereabouts, they get used again over time and you will often find secondary burials from different ages. There has been evidence of Roman burials and also Saxon burials in similar local long barrows. Hoards of items such as coins etc have also been found in burial mounds, suggesting that people were honouring these sacred places throughout different periods of history, including during the Iron Age.

Becky: As we leave Chettle Long Barrow, we are walking towards Chettle Down, where there is evidence of Iron Age and older settlements. As we approach, what would we have seen up on this downland 2,000 years ago?

Martin: We would probably see a cluster of thatched round houses, a small settlement in comparison to the villages we know today – more like a large farmstead. Extended family groups would have lived there, sometimes with a banked enclosure for a bit of protection, to keep their livestock in and other unwanted animals out. There is also a big depression in the middle of Chettle Down, which may have been a pond. It’s rare to find evidence of iron tools in Iron Age settlements, because the metal was nearly always recycled and reused. The iron used here in Chettle would have been brought in as ore from elsewhere, as there are no natural deposits in the local area. Most likely it came from Hengistbury Head and was smelted within the settlements.