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Bronze Age unenclosed hut circle settlement, field system and cairnfield, 630m south west of triangulation point on Gains Law

A Scheduled Monument in Akeld, Northumberland

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Latitude: 55.5441 / 55°32'38"N

Longitude: -2.0799 / 2°4'47"W

OS Eastings: 395056.002692

OS Northings: 627827.949299

OS Grid: NT950278

Mapcode National: GBR F4XB.HD

Mapcode Global: WH9ZH.0XV5

Entry Name: Bronze Age unenclosed hut circle settlement, field system and cairnfield, 630m south west of triangulation point on Gains Law

Scheduled Date: 29 April 1998

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1017956

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29340

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


This monument includes an unenclosed hut circle settlement and an associated
field system comprising a cairnfield, cultivation terraces and field plots.
The remains survive as upstanding earthworks on the gentle south east slopes
of Black Law above a deeply cut ravine. The settlement and field system have
been surveyed and partially excavated by C Burgess between 1979 and 1982 and
are believed to date to the Early and Middle Bronze Age. Burgess proposed
three main phases of agricultural activity beginning with clearance cairns,
followed by lyncheted terraces and finally large irregular fields defined by
stone banks; some of the houses overlie field banks and are believed to have a
chronological sequence from south (earliest) to north (latest). They are
accompanied by features interpreted as stock pens and farmyards.
The unenclosed settlement comprises at least seven houses scattered along
the foot of a distinct break in slope. They survive as circular banks, on
average 1.5m wide and up to 0.5m high, and several are terraced into the foot
of the slope. The largest hut circle is 10m across and was partially excavated
by Burgess, revealing a stone structure superimposed on an earlier timber
house and a still earlier posthole structure. Early Bronze Age pottery sherds
were recovered from the house and the adjacent field. The associated field
system comprises a cairnfield of at least 50 clearance cairns situated in the
southern part of the monument. The cairns range in size, the largest measuring
5m by 6m and standing 0.5m high, and appear to be a mixture of clearance and
probable burial cairns, including a possible ring cairn. Some cairns have
evidence of a kerbed edge and some have a hollow in the centre, suggesting
possible antiquarian investigations. One cairn was excavated by Burgess and
revealed two grave pits, one of which contained a pottery vessel. The
northernmost of these cairns are incorporated into the lynchets of a system of
narrow terraces which lie across the central area of the monument. To the
north of these terraces a series of field banks, around 2.5m wide and up to
0.2m high, are interpreted as the latest phase of agricultural activity on the
site and show evidence of plough agriculture through the formation of lynchets
at some of the field margins.
The post and wire fence along the eastern side of the monument and the stone
wall at the western side of the monument are excluded from the scheduling,
although the ground beneath is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

Unenclosed hut circle settlements were the dwelling places of prehistoric
farmers. The hut circles take a variety of forms. Some are stone based and are
visible as low walls or banks enclosing a circular floor area. Others were
timber constructions and only the shallow groove in which the timber uprights
used in the wall construction stood can now be identified; this may survive as
a slight earthwork feature or may be visible on aerial photographs. Some can
only be identified by the artificial earthwork platforms created as level
stances for the houses. The number of houses in a settlement varies between
one and twelve. In areas where they were constructed on hillslopes the
platforms on which the houses stood are commonly arrayed in tiers along the
contour of the slope. Several settlements have been shown to be associated
with organised field plots, the fields being defined by low stony banks or
indicated by groups of clearance cairns.
Many unenclosed settlements have been shown to date to the Bronze Age but it
is also clear that they were still being constructed and used in the Early
Iron Age. They provide an important contrast to the various types of enclosed
and defended settlements which were also being constructed and used around the
same time. Their longevity of use and their relationship with other monument
types provides important information on the diversity of social organisation
and farming practices amongst prehistoric communities.

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, although the
majority of examples appear to be the result of field clearance which began
during the earliest Bronze Age and continued into the later Bronze Age. 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.
A regular aggregate field system is a group of regularly defined fields of
prehistoric or Roman date, laid out in a block or blocks which lie
approximately at right angles to each other, usually with a settlement as a
focal point. Fields are generally square or rectangular and the blocks give an
ordered, if irregular shape to the field system as a whole. They are
characteristically extensive monument types; the number of individual fields
vary from two to approximately 50, but this is, at least in part, a reflection
of bias in the archaeological record rather than the true extent of such land
divisions during their period of use, as continued land use often obliterated
traces of the full extent of such field systems. The fields were the primary
units of production in a mixed farming economy, incorporating pastoral, arable
and horticultural elements. As rare monument types which provide an insight
into land division and agricultural practice during their period of use all
well preserved examples will normally be identified as nationally important.
The Bronze Age unenclosed hut circle settlement, field system and cairnfield
on the south eastern slopes of Black Law survive in good condition despite a
limited amount of excavation. Excavation has provided dating evidence to the
Early Bronze Age and demonstrated the survival of significant archaeological
deposits. The monument is one of a group of Bronze Age settlements and field
systems situated at the head of the valley of the Humbleton Burn. It forms
part of a wider landscape of well preserved archaeological sites in the north
Cheviots and will contribute to our knowledge and understanding of settlement
and agriculture during this period.

Source: Historic England


NT 92 NE 84,
NT 92 NE 92,

Source: Historic England

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