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Cairnfield, unenclosed hut circle settlement and area of cord rig 190m north east of Pigdon's Leap

A Scheduled Monument in Alnham, Northumberland

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Latitude: 55.4031 / 55°24'11"N

Longitude: -2.0524 / 2°3'8"W

OS Eastings: 396776.875103

OS Northings: 612128.800764

OS Grid: NT967121

Mapcode National: GBR G53Y.GY

Mapcode Global: WHB08.FGW8

Entry Name: Cairnfield, unenclosed hut circle settlement and area of cord rig 190m north east of Pigdon's Leap

Scheduled Date: 29 October 1968

Last Amended: 10 October 2001

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1020250

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32771

County: Northumberland

Civil Parish: Alnham

Traditional County: Northumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northumberland

Church of England Parish: Upper Coquetdale

Church of England Diocese: Newcastle


The monument includes the known extent of the upstanding and buried remains of
a cairnfield, an unenclosed settlement and area of cord rig cultivation of
Bronze Age date, situated on the east bank of the Pigdon's Sike, a tributary
of the Spartley Burn. The cairnfield, situated on a level shoulder is visible
as the remains of up to 32 irregularly shaped mounds of stone. In size, the
cairns can be divided into two groups; there are about five larger cairns
ranging in size from 4m to 6m in diameter, which stand to a height of 0.4m to
0.5m. The remaining cairns are considerably smaller than this, being on
average 2m in diameter and 0.1 m high. Two of the larger cairns were partially
excavated in 1962-3. The first, which is situated towards the western end of
the cairnfield, is visible as a circular stone built mound 6m wide and 0.5m
high with a large hollow at its centre. Upon excavation this cairn covered an
irregularly shaped area demarcated by a narrow rock cut trench 0.6m wide. On
the inside edge of the trench there was a low bank of earth and brash, largely
upcast from the digging of the trench. The inner side of this low mound was
marked by an insubstantial kerb of small stones which enclosed a roughly
circular area 4m in diameter. Contained within this area there was a spread
of burnt wood containing a scatter of worked flints; at the centre of this
deposit small pieces of burnt bone were recovered associated with a decorated
bronze pin of Bronze Age date. This spread of wood and bone is thought to
represent the remains of a funeral pyre. The second cairn situated at the
south east side of the cairnfield contained a shallow hollow interpreted by
the excavator as a grave; the lack of a burial was thought to be due to
earlier disturbance of the centre. In addition to small pieces of flint, an
arrowhead and two pieces of pottery of Bronze Age form were discovered.
At the south western edge of the cairnfield on gently sloping ground there is
a discreet group of five circular enclosures defined by ditches. These are
thought to be the remains of circular, timber houses forming an unenclosed
settlement. Each is visible as a level circular or oval platform, set into
the slope and defined by a ditch. The most prominent measures 7.5m in
diameter within a surrounding ditch 2.5m wide and 0.2m deep. There is an
entrance in the south east side visible as a raised causeway 2m wide. This
hut circle was partially excavated in 1962-3 when a low mound surrounding the
ditch was uncovered and a flint tool and a fragment of jet were found. The
four remaining hut circles are less well pronounced as their ditches have
become infilled with silt. They range in diameter from 9m to 12m overall and
are largely visible as a scarp marking the backs of the platforms where they
are terraced into the slope. These scarps vary in size from 0.2m to 0.45m
high. The most westerly of the hut circles contains a small cairn 3m in
diameter and 0.35m high at its centre.
At the northern end of the cairnfield there is a small area of cord rig
cultivation visible across an area measuring 32m by 24m. The narrow furrows,
which are visible as a change in vegetation colour, are about 0.25m wide and
about 1.5m apart.

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

In a densely settled and highly developed country such as England, the
landscapes of all but the most bleak mountain summits are, to varying degrees,
the product of centuries and millennia of human development. Except in areas
today considered to be marginal, most traces of the earliest stages in this
process have been erased or modified by later development and only survive in
a fragmentary manner. The prehistoric settlement remains that survive beyond
the margins of more recent cultivation in upland areas such as the Cheviots
provide a rare opportunity to recognise the prehistoric shape of the
The Breamish Valley is one of the main valleys draining the Cheviot Massif.
Because of comprehensive field survey during the 1980s, it is also one of the
best recorded upland areas in England. The field evidence for human activity
within the valley is diverse and spans at least five millennia from the
Neolithic to the post-medieval period. Of particular importance are the well-
preserved and extensive upland prehistoric remains, including settlements,
field systems and cairnfields. On the enclosed land within the valley,
archaeological remains are more fragmentary, but they survive sufficiently
well to show that human activity extended below what is now open fell land.
Due to excellent state of survival, their archaeological integrity, and their
rarity in a national context, most recorded prehistoric and later monuments
within the Breamish Valley will be identified as nationally important.

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. 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.
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. 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.
Cord rig is the term used to describe a form of prehistoric cultivation in
which crops were grown on narrow ridges subdivided by furrows. Cord rig is
frequently arranged in fields with formal boundaries but also occurs in
smaller, irregular unenclosed plots varying between 30 sq m and 60 sq m in
size. It often extends over considerable areas, and is frequently found in
association with a range of prehistoric settlement sites and with other types
of prehistoric field system. It generally survives as a series of slight
earthworks and is frequently first discovered on aerial photographs. The
evidence of excavation and the study of associated monuments demonstrates that
cord rig cultivation spans the period from the Bronze Age through to the Roman
period. The discovery of cord rig cultivation is of importance for the
analysis of prehistoric settlement and agriculture as it provides insights
into early agricultural practice and the division and use of the landscape.
The cairnfield, unenclosed hut circle settlement and area of cord rig 190m
north east of Pigdon's Leap survives well. The distribution of
individual cairns within the cairnfield will add to our understanding of the
way in which prehistoric field plots were organised. The association of the
cairnfield with cord rig cultivation will also enhance our knowledge of
agricultural practice at this time. Partial excavation has shown that at least
some of the individual cairns contain funerary remains which are important for
the information they can provide about the date of the cairnfield and the
beliefs of the society who used it. The unenclosed settlement is well-
preserved, and the form and method of the construction of the houses will add
to our knowledge of the nature and use of this type of settlement. Taken
together, with other prehistoric settlements and field systems in the
vicinity, the settlement, agricultural and funerary remains south of High
Knowes are an important addition to our knowledge of settlement and society at
this time.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Jobey, G, Tait, J, 'Archaeologia Aeliana' in Excavations On Palisaded Settlements And Cairnfields At Alnham, , Vol. ser 4 44, (1966), 5-48
NT90SE 23,
NT91SE 23,

Source: Historic England

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