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Prehistoric enclosed settlement, Iron Age hillfort and medieval shielings on Humbleton Hill

A Scheduled Monument in Akeld, Northumberland

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Latitude: 55.5483 / 55°32'53"N

Longitude: -2.0539 / 2°3'14"W

OS Eastings: 396693.532745

OS Northings: 628284.540122

OS Grid: NT966282

Mapcode National: GBR G438.3X

Mapcode Global: WH9ZH.FT50

Entry Name: Prehistoric enclosed settlement, Iron Age hillfort and medieval shielings on Humbleton Hill

Scheduled Date: 24 September 1934

Last Amended: 21 June 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016714

English Heritage Legacy ID: 31729

County: Northumberland

Civil Parish: Akeld

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northumberland

Church of England Parish: Wooler St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument includes two enclosed settlements of prehistoric date situated on
the summit of Humbleton Hill with panoramic views, especially to the north and
south. The inner enclosure is an Iron Age hillfort and the outer enclosure is
thought to be Neolithic or Bronze Age in date. There are numerous circular
house platforms, mainly within the Iron Age hillfort, as well as later
features such as medieval shielings and stock pens.
The outer enclosure is irregular in shape, measures a maximum 290m east-west
by 210m north-south and, for most of its length, follows the natural break of
the slope. On the south side a steep ravine provides an added defence. The
enclosure is defined by a low bank of earth and stone along the north west
side, on average 5m wide by 0.7m high externally. The eastern side of the
enclosure has many facing stones surviving in situ, indicating a wall between
2.5m and 3.5m wide at the base. This eastern side curves uphill towards the
outer rampart of the Iron Age hillfort. It has been suggested that this may
represent an episode of rebuilding and that its original course continued
southward along the break in slope to the edge of the ravine. The original
entrance is believed to lie at the south west corner, and measures 4m wide and
is defined by a series of large stones set on edge. On the northern side of
the enclosure are three possible unrecorded excavation trenches which cut
across the bank exposing the core. Several possible house sites lie within the
enclosure and more than one phase of activity is represented. Traces of later
prehistoric cord rig cultivation have been noted within the northern part of
the enclosure on a roughly east-west axis.
The inner enclosure is roughly `U'-shaped with its open end to the south,
above the edge of the ravine, measuring 110m both east-west and north-south.
It is of a more massive construction than the outer enclosure and comprises a
stone rampart with a second, inner rampart, on the east side. The outer
rampart survives as a broad bank of stone, approximately 10m wide. This
feature originally comprised a double stone wall and the outer faces of both
walls can be traced intermittently. A series of small quarry scoops behind the
inner wall on the east side are thought to be the source of at least some of
the construction stone. The north to north west sides of the hillfort were
protected only by the inner wall; the defences were enhanced by the natural
scarp and sheer granite outcrops. The entrance to the hillfort, 1.5m wide,
lies in the south east side of the outer rampart and is marked by large
granite boulders. A second entrance lies at the south west corner, close to
the edge of the ravine, but may be a later modification. The inner rampart
survives as a bank of loose stones, 9.5m wide on average and up to 1m
high, with a short section of well preserved walling at the northern end; both
the inner and outer faces are intact. There is an entrance approximately
midway along its length. In the area between the inner and outer ramparts
there are up to eight circular house platforms. Within the inner rampart there
are 20 circular house platforms, between 4m and 8m in diameter; these are
commonly defined by a terrace into the hillslope, although there are traces of
at least one house defined by a ring groove earthwork, now partly overlain by
stone moved from the rampart. The date of these houses and the phase of
settlement on the hilltop to which they relate cannot presently be determined.
A cairn of unknown date, 9m in diameter and 2m high, stands on the summit of
the hill within the inner rampart and is built from stone robbed from the
rampart, although recent additions may mask an earlier feature.
A number of small enclosures abut the inner and outer sides of the hillfort
rampart and the outer enclosure bank, and two lie about 30m outside the outer
enclosure. They are interpreted as medieval or later shielings or stock pens,
and are defined largely by loosely built bands of stone.

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

Small multivallate hillforts are defined as fortified enclosures of varying
shape, generally between 1 and 5ha in size and located on hilltops. They are
defined by boundaries consisting of two or more lines of closely set
earthworks spaced at intervals of up to 15m. These entirely surround the
interior except on sites located on promontories, where cliffs may form one or
more sides of the monument. They date to the Iron Age period, most having been
constructed and occupied between the sixth century BC and the mid-first
century AD. Small multivallate hillforts are generally regarded as settlements
of high status, occupied on a permanent basis. Recent interpretations suggest
that the construction of multiple earthworks may have had as much to do with
display as with defence. Earthworks may consist of a rampart alone or of a
rampart and ditch which, on many sites, are associated with counterscarp banks
and internal quarry scoops. Access to the interior is generally provided by
one or two entrances, which either appear as simple gaps in the earthwork or
inturned passages, sometimes with guardrooms. The interior generally consists
of settlement evidence including round houses, four and six post structures
interpreted as raised granaries, roads, pits, gullies, hearths and a variety
of scattered post and stake holes. Evidence from outside numerous examples of
small multivallate hillforts suggests that extra-mural settlement was of a
similar nature. Small multivallate hillforts are rare with around 100 examples
recorded nationally. Most are located in the Welsh Marches and the south-west
with a concentration of small monuments in the north-east. In view of the
rarity of small multivallate hillforts and their importance in understanding
the nature of settlement and social organisation within the Iron Age period,
all examples with surviving archaeological remains are believed to be of
national importance.

Within the landscapes of upland Northern England there are many discreet
blocks of land enclosed by banks of stone and earth or walls of rubble and
boulders. Many date from the Bronze Age, although earlier and later examples
also exist. They were constructed as stock pens or as protected areas for crop
growing and were sometimes sub-divided to accommodate animal shelters and hut
circle settlements for farmers or herders. The size and form of enclosures may
vary considerably, depending on their particular function. Their variation in
form, longevity and relationship to other monument classes provides important
information on the diversity of social organisation and farming practices
among prehistoric communities. They are highly representative of their period
and a substantial proportion of surviving examples are worthy of protection.
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 upland 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 evident 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 the area are considered to be nationally important.
The prehistoric enclosure, Iron Age hillfort and medieval shielings on
Humbleton Hill are well preserved and retain significant archaeological
deposits. Information on the relationship of the outer enclosure to the Iron
Age hillfort will be preserved, providing an insight into changing use of this
hilltop in later prehistory. The monument is also situated within an area of
clustered archaeological sites whose remains are well preserved and forms part
of a wider archaeological landscape in the northern Cheviot Hills. It will
contribute to the study of the wider settlement and land use pattern at this

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Waddington, C, 'Northern Archaeology' in Humbleton Hill Hillfort Survey, , Vol. 15/16, (1998), 71-81
RCHME, Humbleton Hill, Northumberland. Field Survey Report, (1997)

Source: Historic England

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