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Bronze Age cairnfield, prehistoric enclosure, Romano-British settlement and medieval shielings 500m south of Mounthooly

A Scheduled Monument in Kirknewton, Northumberland

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Latitude: 55.4915 / 55°29'29"N

Longitude: -2.1888 / 2°11'19"W

OS Eastings: 388165.007613

OS Northings: 621983.813382

OS Grid: NT881219

Mapcode National: GBR F44Y.X8

Mapcode Global: WH9ZT.B7YG

Entry Name: Bronze Age cairnfield, prehistoric enclosure, Romano-British settlement and medieval shielings 500m south of Mounthooly

Scheduled Date: 24 July 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014769

English Heritage Legacy ID: 24615

County: Northumberland

Civil Parish: Kirknewton

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northumberland

Church of England Parish: Kirknewton St Gregory

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument includes a Bronze Age cairnfield comprising six cairns, a
prehistoric enclosure and annexe, a Roman period native settlement and two
medieval shielings situated on a gently sloping triangular promontory. The
promontory is defined by a low bank to the south, by the steep valley of the
Braydon Burn to the east and by the broader valley of the College Burn to the
west. The site is overlooked by high ground on the east, south and west.
The Bronze Age cairnfield comprises six clearance cairns. Four cairns lie
within the enclosure, one is incorporated within the enclosure bank, and a
sixth cairn lies 8m to the south of the enclosure. The cairns are sub circular
in shape and measure between 1.5m and 3.75m in diameter and stand between 0.3m
and 0.4m high. All have exposed stone on the surface.
The bank which defines the promontory is slightly curved, runs east-west
and is 100m long and up to 0.25m high. It is made of earth and stone and
encloses an area of 0.81ha. There is an entrance 2.5m wide situated 43m
from its western end. Running south from the eastern side of this entrance is
an earth and stone bank measuring c.112m long and up to 0.25m high. At its
southern end it turns westward to the edge of the slope down to the College
Burn, forming a roughly triangular annexe to the promontory enclosure and
providing an additional 0.3ha. There is a possible entrance, c.2.75m wide, at
the southern end. It is suggested that the enclosure and annexe, although not
physically connected, are of Bronze Age date and composed of cleared stone
which was also used to build the clearance cairns. They are interpreted as a
corral or stock related enclosure.
The Roman period native settlement lies on the edge of an old river terrace
of the College Burn to the west of a modern sheepfold which partly overlies
its eastern edge. The river terrace forms the western edge of the settlement
which measures 30m north-south by 17.5m east-west. The settlement consists of
two scooped depressions, up to 1.8m deep, contained within an earth and stone
bank up to 0.6m high and 3m wide; the bank is very denuded on the north side.
There is an entrance 2.5m wide on the south west corner and its western edge
is defined by a rubble bank running north-south along the edge of the river
terrace for c.10m. Beneath and around the modern sheepfold are several low
banks which, although they do not form any clear outline, are thought likely
to be associated with the native settlement.
Two medieval shielings survive as turf covered building foundations adjacent
to the steep western bank of the Braydon Burn. The most northerly shieling is
situated 11m north east of the modern sheepfold and has had its south west
half mutilated by stone robbing. The surviving portion measures 5m wide by
6.25m long with walls up to 0.25m high. The second shieling is situated 100m
SSE of the first and is located outside the enclosure bank. There is much
stone exposed through the grass cover. It measures 13m north east to south
west by 6m north west to south east. The walls are c.1m wide and stand to a
maximum height of 0.25m. There is a suggestion of an internal partition
dividing the shieling in half. The sheepfold and fence posts are excluded from
the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Cairnfields are concentrations of cairns sited in close proximity to one
another. They often consist largely of clearance cairns, built with stone
cleared from the surrounding landsurface to improve its use for agriculture,
and on occasion their distribution pattern can be seen to define field plots.
However, funerary cairns are also frequently incorporated, although without
excavation it may be impossible to determine which cairns contain burials.
Clearance cairns were constructed from the Neolithic period (from c.3400 BC),
although the majority of examples appear to be the result of field clearance
which began during the earlier Bronze Age and continued into the later Bronze
Age (2000-700 BC). The considerable longevity and variation in the size,
content and associations of cairnfields provide important information on the
development of land use and agricultural practices. Cairnfields also retain
information on the diversity of beliefs and social organisation during the
prehistoric period.

In Cumbria and Northumberland several distinctive types of native settlements
dating to the Roman period have been identified. The majority were small, non-
defensive, enclosed homesteads or farms. In many areas they were of stone
construction, although in the coastal lowlands timber built variants were also
common. In much of Northumberland, especially in the Cheviots, the enclosures
were curvilinear in form. Further south a rectangular form was more common.
Elsewhere, especially near the Scottish border, another type occurs where the
settlement enclosure was `scooped' into the hillslope. Frequently the
enclosures reveal a regularity and similarity of internal layout. The standard
layout included one or more stone round-houses situated towards the rear of
the enclosure, facing the single entranceway. In front of the houses were
pathways and small enclosed yards. Homesteads normally had only one or two
houses, but larger enclosures could contain as many as six. At some sites
the settlement appears to have grown, often with houses spilling out of the
main enclosure and clustered around it. At these sites the remains of up to 30
houses may be found. In the Cumbrian uplands the settlements were of less
regimented form and unenclosed clusters of houses of broadly contemporary date
are also known.
These homesteads were being constructed and used by non-Roman natives
throughout the period of the Roman occupation. Their origins lie in settlement
forms developed before the arrival of the Romans. The homesteads are common
throughout the uplands where they frequently survive as well preserved
earthworks. In lowland coastal areas they were also originally common,
although there they can frequently only be located through aerial photography.
All homestead sites which survive substantially intact will normally be
identified as nationally important.
Shielings are small seasonally occupied huts which were built to provide
shelter for herdsmen who tended animals grazing summer pasture on upland or
marshland. These huts reflect a system called transhumance, whereby stock was
moved in spring from lowland pasture around the permanently occupied farms to
communal grazing during the warmer summer months. Settlement patterns
reflecting transhumance are known from the Bronze Age (c.2000-700 BC) onwards.
However, the construction of herdsmen's huts in a form distinctive from the
normal dwelling houses of farms, only appears from the early medieval period
onwards (from AD 450), when the practice of transhumance is also known from
documentary sources and, notably, place-name studies. Their construction
appears to cease at the end of the 16th century. Shielings vary in size but
are commonly small and may occur singly or in groups. They have a simple sub-
rectangular or ovoid plan normally defined by drystone walling, although
occasional turf-built structures are known, and the huts are sometimes
surrounded by a ditch. Most examples have a single undivided interior but two
roomed examples are known. Some examples have adjacent ancillary structures,
such as pens, and may be associated with a midden. Some are also contained
within a small ovoid enclosure. Shielings are reasonably common in the uplands
but frequently represent the only evidence for medieval settlement and farming
practice here. Those examples which survive well and which help illustrate
medieval land use in an area are considered to be nationally important.
The Bronze Age cairnfield, enclosure, Roman period native settlement and
medieval shielings south of Mounthooly demonstrate evidence of agriculture and
settlement over a considerable period on a discrete promontory of land. The
cairnfield and enclosure represent the earliest known activity on the
promontory. The cairnfield is well preserved and evidence relating to Bronze
Age agriculture will survive within and beneath the clearance cairns. They are
rare examples of Bronze Age activity in the bottom of the College Valley and
will contribute to the study of land use at this time. The Roman period native
settlement is well preserved and will retain significant archaeological
deposits. It is situated in an area of broadly contemporary settlements of
high quality and forms part of a wider archaeological landscape. The shielings
are well preserved, the southernmost one has retained its full ground plan and
both will retain significant archaeological deposits. They are part of a
string of shielings found along the bottom of the College Valley all built in
similar locations, on slightly raised ground adjacent to water. They will
contribute to the study of medieval settlements and land use in the Cheviots.
Overall, this group of sites will contribute significantly to our
understanding of the organisation and development of land use and settlement
from prehistoric times to the medieval period.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Archaeology Section, Tyne, Wear Museums, , College Valley Survey: Mounthooly, (1994), 4
Archaeology Section, Tyne, Wear Museums, , College Valley Survey: Mounthooly, (1994), 1-2
Archaeology Section, Tyne, Wear Museums, , College Valley Survey: Mounthooly, (1994), 2
Archaeology Section, Tyne, Wear Museums, , College Valley Survey: Mounthooly, (1994), 4
Archaeology Section, Tyne, Wear Museums, , College Valley Survey: Mounthooly, (1994), 2

Source: Historic England

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