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It was generally agreed to have been part of the defences of an Iron Age settlement belonging to the Catuvellauni tribe of Ancient Britain. Although recent archaeological studies have proven the main 'devil's dyke' ditch, the deepest part of what was assumed to be defensive ditches, around the settlement, was in fact the only part to have such ditches. Erosion, was thought to be the reason nowhere else around the settlement had such impressive earthworks But tests have shown the settlement only ever had ditches along that part, the rest of the settlement was indefensible, just minor boundaries surrounded the majority of the settlement, more to keep animals from straying outside rather than defending the interior from attack. It has possible associations with Julius Caesar's second invasion of Britain (54 BC). Although theres no archaeological evidence of first century military activity anywhere in Hertfordshire.
Historic England refers to the Devil's Dyke as being part of a much larger site. Other sources are more specific as to what sort of earthwork it may be, suggesting that the dyke protects one side of an oppidum (a large fortified Iron Age settlement) covering about 40 ha. The area is marked as a "Belgic oppidum" on Ordnance Survey maps.
Today two sections of ditch remain. The western section, adjacent to the village, is the Devil's Dyke. It is around 30 m wide and 12 m deep at its largest. A smaller ditch to the east is known as "The Slad". A moat continues the line of the ditch to the south of The Slad. The River Lea could have served as a defensive barrier on the northern side of the settlement.
Belgic pottery was found in the 1970s during construction of the Wheathampstead by-pass which goes through the northern part of the putative oppidum to cross the River Lea. The Catuvellauni are often linked to Belgic Gaul. There was also a smaller amount of pre-Belgic pottery.
Conservation and access
Visitors are welcome to visit the Devil's Dyke. According to a plaque at one entrance to the dyke, the land was presented by Lord Brocket in 1937 on the occasion of the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
Other parts of the Wheathampstead earthwork are not accessible. According to Historic England, there is a risk to the site from arable ploughing, and it is included in the Heritage at Risk register.
Possible association with Julius Caesar
The site is a candidate for the strongly defended place where Julius Caesar fought Cassivellaunus in 54 BC, as described in his firsthand account De Bello Gallico. There are other possible locations for the stronghold (for example, Ravensburgh Castle, Hexton) and the historical evidence neither supports nor disproves the claim of the Devils Dyke.
The theory that Wheathampstead was attacked by Caesar was supported by Sir Mortimer Wheeler who excavated at the site in 1932. The sign at the entrance to the Dyke states that it is the probable place (based on the assertions of Sir Mortimer), which has led to the claim often being repeated as an established fact.
Some archaeologists including Cunliffe suggest that the Wheathampstead earthwork was connected with other local earthworks, particularly Beech Bottom Dyke, located four miles away to the south west. This could imply a single defensive earthwork running from the River Lea to the River Ver, and possibly a large enclosed settlement. The fortifications were probably erected by King Cunobelinus to define areas of land around their tribal centre at Verlamion – the predecessor of the later Roman city of Verulamium.
- Deil's Dyke - A linear earthwork in south-west Scotland.
- "Wheathampstead earthwork incorporating Devils Dyke and the Slad"". Retrieved 30 July 2017.
- "Wheathampstead". www.oppida.org (in English and French). Retrieved 29 July 2017.
- It does not mention the recipient of this gift.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Devil's Dyke, Hertfordshire.|
- Beech Bottom Dyke and Devil's Dyke at The Celtic Planet website
- Hertfordshire.com: Devil's Dyke
- mysteriousbritain - The Mysterious Sites of Hertfordshire
- The Modern Antiquarian: Devil's Dyke and the Slad
- Second plaque at the entrance
- Wheathampstead History