Altogether Archaeology's Research Strategy Overview
A Very Brief Introduction to the Archaeology of the North Pennines.
The reports for all the projected listed below can be found in the Report section of the website, as can the full version of this document.

This brief summary of the archaeology of the North Pennines outlines developments in human society over the past 10,000 years, illustrated by reference to fieldwork projects undertaken by Altogether Archaeology (AA) members. A much more detailed overview, containing references to published reports and other sources, is contained within Part 1 (Resource Assessment) of the North Pennines Archaeological Research Framework In addition, much further information is contained with AA project designs and project reports. All these documents are available in the ‘Reports’ section of the AA website.

The North Pennines landscape holds clues to the activities of people over the past 10,000 years, extending back to the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) when the first bands of hunters wandered into the area after the Ice Age. Until the advent of Altogether Archaeology, relatively little archaeological research had been undertaken here in comparison with other areas of northern England, but recent work has demonstrated a previously unrecognised wealth of archaeological remains, that together form a rich and complex historic environment.

This recent work has taken place largely through two initiatives: Altogether Archaeology, initially as an HLF-funded project managed by the North Pennines AONB Partnership and latterly as an independent archaeology group (having a much wider remit than the North Pennine AONB boundary), and the Miner-Farmer project, a survey led by Historic England that has revolutionised our understanding of the historic environment of Alston Moor, including the Roman fort at Whitley Castle and its environs, at the heart of the North Pennines.

Thanks to this work, coupled with earlier studies of some areas and the recent Lidar Landscapes surveys of extensive areas including Weardale and Teesdale, we are increasingly able to study the complex archaeological heritage of the North Pennines as a fascinating subject in its own right, rather than as a relatively insignificant backwater of interest only to those engaged in the study of adjacent lowlands. However, we still only know a tiny bit of the story of the past 10,000 years; there are still numerous sites awaiting investigation and countless secrets to be revealed!

Lidar landscape surveys of relevance to many periods:
 1 Allen valleys & Hexhamshire (2015)
 2 Teesdale, Weardale & the Upper Derwent valley (2017)

Extensive multi-period archaeology site. Roman period native settlements and field system, hut circle, bloomeries, lead smelting site and charcoal pits immediately south east of East Force Garth, which is ESE of Cow Green reservoir in upper Teesdale.  The 3D Lidar model can be viewed here. Image ©S Eastmead
  Hunters and Gatherers
The Mesolithic, c10,000 - 4,000BC

The first people to live in the North Pennines after the end of the Ice Age, from about 12,000 years ago, were ‘hunters and gatherers. They lived a nomadic lifestyle, moving around the landscape to exploit available natural resources in a manner probably not greatly different from that of many nineteenth-century Native American communities. They have left few clues as to their presence in the North Pennines other than their flint tools and weapons, recovered from numerous places ranging from ploughed fields in Weardale and Teesdale, to upland locations like Allendale Common, and even at altitudes in the region of 800 metres OD at Teeshead and on Dufton Fell.
One particularly fascinating site is Staple Crag, not far downriver from High Force in Upper Teesdale, where hundreds of small worked flints have been recovered from the eroding riverbank, demonstrating that a temporary campsite, probably visited for a few weeks each year, existed here perhaps 8,000 years ago. The AA excavation on the shore of Cow Green reservoir in Upper Teesdale was the first ever excavation designed specifically to investigate a Mesolithic site in the North Pennines.

Altogether Archaeology projects especially relevant to the Mesolithic:
 1 Cow Green Mesolithic settlement (July 2015 & July 2018).
  2015 Excavation at Cow Green Reservoir. Image ©S Eastmead  
  From the first farmers to the first metalworkers
The Neolithic, Chalcolithic and early Bronze Age (c4,000 – 1,500BC)

Between 6,000 years and 4,000 years ago, during the Neolithic (New Stone Age) communities throughout the North Pennines gradually adopted farming alongside long-established practices of hunting, fishing and gathering. We have very little evidence of where these people lived, but polished stone axes, beautiful leaf-shaped flint arrowheads and other stone tools provide evidence of Neolithic activity. The settlement pattern throughout the Neolithic and into the early Bronze Age may well have retained a degree of mobility from Mesolithic times, with some places occupied only seasonally.

Neolithic people built great communal monuments; the magnificent Cumbrian stone circle of Long Meg and her Daughters, one of the most important and enigmatic Neolithic sites of northern England lies on the western fringes of the North Pennines in the Eden Valley. Excavations here by AA suggest the stone circle dates from about 3,100BC and was preceded by a great earthwork enclosure several centuries earlier. On an altogether more local scale, several little stone circles, like the example at Lunehead, probably stood in late Neolithic/early Bronze Age times. A recently recognised ‘henge’ (a circular platform surrounded by circular bank and ditch) near Garrigill, is another example of a local late Neolithic or Chalcolithic monument. These local sites may have played a similar role to parish churches in later times, providing foci for ritual and possibly also for burial. The enigmatic rock carvings known as ‘cup-and-ring marks’, of which several survive most notably in Upper Teesdale around Cotherstone and Eggleston, also date from this period. One example, the Tortie Stone near Hallbankgate, was excavated in 2011, but little information was found as to its original date or function.

Metal technology was introduced from about 2,400BC during the Chalcolithic (copper age); the first metal objects were of copper and gold, with bronze following soon after. AA members made a spectacular discovery during their reinvestigation of a burial mound at Kirkhaugh (Alston) originally excavated in 1935 – a very early gold hair-tress ornament that made a pair with one found back in the original excavations, along with several other important artifacts.

In 2010, Altogether Archaeology volunteers excavated a mound on Appleby Golf Course, thought to be a 2,000 years old Roman signal tower; it turned out to be a 4,000 years old Bronze Age burial site, containing several cremation burials. Many other burial cairns are known from the North Pennines, but few have been excavated in modern times.

Altogether Archaeology projects especially relevant to the Neolithic, Chalcolithic and early Bronze Age:
 1 Tortie Stone, Hallbankgate (2011).
 2 Brackenber (Appleby Golf Course) burial cairns (2011 & 2013).
 3 Dryburn ‘henge’, Garrigill (2013).
 4 Long Meg Stone Circle survey and excavation (2013 & 2015).
 5 Ravensheugh survey (2013).
 6 Ravensheugh landscape survey (2013).
 7 Kirkhaugh cairn, Alston (2014).
  'Long Meg and her Daughters' Stone Circle. Image ©S Eastmead  
  Round houses and round cairns
The later Bronze Age and Iron Age (c1500BC – 100AD)

From the mid Bronze Age, from about 3,500 years ago, permanent farmsteads of round houses and small fields appeared in the North Pennines landscape. The first Bronze Age settlement ever recognised in northern England, dating from about 1500BC, was excavated in the 1970s at Bracken Rigg, Upper Teesdale, where a large timber roundhouse stood within an irregular enclosure of about 0.7 hectares. Further examples of Bronze Age settlements have also been recognised. A good example can be seen by the Hilton Beck, Scordale, where recent survey work has recorded a complex of house platforms, field walls and field clearance cairns extending over about 20 hectares. Substantial cairnfields, such as at Crawley Edge above Stanhope in Weardale where more than forty examples are recorded, have been noted in a few places.
A very important hoard of Bronze Age objects, dating from about 1000BC, was made in the nineteenth century within Heathery Burn Cave, Stanhope. This includes spearheads, axes, knives, tongs, bracelets and cheek pieces from a horse harness, all of bronze, together with jet rings and anklets and armlets of gold. Most of the finds are now in the British Museum; the cave has been destroyed by quarrying. Other comparable though smaller hoards have been found in the North Pennines, mostly from wet places such as bogs or ponds into which they were probably deposited as votive offerings.

From about 800BC, iron technology was introduced into the region, marking the onset of the Iron Age, enabling the production of more efficient tools and weapons. Settlement and agriculture continued to expand gradually throughout the lower slopes of the dales during the Iron Age and into Roman times. Two settlements with roundhouses were excavated in the 1970s at Forcegarth Pasture, Teesdale, dating from the first and second centuries AD; finds included Roman and native pottery, quern stones, spindle whorls, loom weights and evidence of smithing. A farmstead of similar date has recently been excavated on Bollihope Common, Weardale, and AA investigated one at Gilderdale Burn, within sight of the Roman fort at Epiacum (Alston). Several dozen further such settlements, sometimes with extensive field systems, have been recorded over recent years using lidar in many other parts of the North Pennines. It is impossible to tell from surface evidence alone whether these date from the Iron Age or Roman periods; some may have spanned both and even been occupied through into post-Roman times. Some may have been the homesteads of Roman period ‘miner-farmers’, who worked in the lead and silver industries as well as tending their own farms, just as people did here in post-medieval times one and a half millennia later.

Altogether Archaeology projects especially relevant to later Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman times:
 1 Ravensheugh landscape survey (2013).
 2 Sewingshields survey (2014).
 3 Gilderdale (Epiacum) settlement excavation (2014).
  Gilderdale next to Epiacum Roman Fort. Image ©S Eastmead  
  Iron-Age round house at Gilderdale. Image ©S Eastmead  

Towards the end of the first century AD, following the Roman invasion, a network of Roman roads, studded with forts and marching camps, was constructed to enable troops to pass unhindered throughout northern England. The uplands we now referred to as the North Pennines were effectively enclosed by such roads, including the Stanegate (and Hadrian’s Wall) to the north, Dere Street to the east, and Stainmore to the south. The Maiden Way ran between the forts at Kirkby Thore and Carvoran (on the Stanegate) passing close by Alston where the fort of Epiacum (Whitley Castle) was constructed, presumably to oversee lead and silver mining in the region. Recent fieldwork, in particular a detailed field survey by English Heritage, has added greatly to our understanding of Epiacum, now widely recognised as one of Britain’s best-preserved Roman forts.

Signs of Roman military activity elsewhere in the North Pennines are few and far between. Two third-century altars from Weardale, dedicated to Silvanus (a woodland god often associated with hunting) suggest that many areas retained a woodland cover and were perhaps reserved for elite hunting expeditions. One of the most intriguing questions about the Roman period in the North Pennines, which demands much further study, relates to the ways in which the Roman military interacted with ‘native’ populations. As noted above, some Iron Age roundhouse settlements were probably occupied into Roman times, and possibly beyond, while others may have been founded and abandoned during the twelve or so generations of the Roman occupation.

Altogether Archaeology projects especially relevant to Roman military archaeology:
 1 Epiacum molehill survey (2010 - 2014).
 2 Maiden Way (Epiacum) Roman road excavation (2011).
 3 Kirkby Thore geophysics (2013).
 4 Hadrian’s Wall milecastles geophysics (2014 & 2015).
 5 Hexham Fell Roman road (2016).
  Hexham Fell Roman road lidar image. Roman road in-between annotations 1 and 2.
Image ©S Eastmead
  Anglo-Saxons and Vikings
The early medieval period (c.410 – 1066).

We currently have very little evidence for activity in the North Pennines between the end of the Roman administration in the early fifth century and the Norman Conquest of 1066. During the seventh and eighth centuries, the North Pennines lay within the great Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria but seems never to have been anything other than a peripheral zone. In 883, much of the land between the Tyne and the Tees was granted by King Guthred to the Community of St Cuthbert; thus, it was owned and managed by the ecclesiastical authorities in an early version of what would become County Durham.

Four fascinating settlement sites dating from the late eighth century have been partially excavated at Simy Folds on Holwick Fell (Upper Teesdale). These consist of rectangular buildings and small, enclosed yards: one of them produced evidence for iron smelting and smithing. Place-name evidence suggests that northern and eastern parts of the North Pennines were dominated by Anglo-Saxon communities, while Norse (Viking) influence was much greater to the south and west, in Teesdale and the Eden Valley.

Some present-day villages, and churches, certainly have origins in the Anglo-Saxon period, but next to nothing is known of their early history. The discovery by Altogether Archaeology of fragments of an eighth-century cross at Frosterley, Weardale, was a spectacular discovery and suggests that many other villages may have similarly early origins.

Altogether Archaeology projects especially relevant to the Early Medieval period:
 1 St Botolph’s Chapel, Frosterley (2013 & 2014).

  Frosterley: large fragment of an 8thC Anglo-Saxon cross. Many other fragments were found.  
  Frosterley: lovely carved head that still remains rather mysterious as to its origins. Image ©S Eastmead  
c1066 - 1603

After 1066, England was divided up amongst William the Conqueror’s loyal followers, many of whom built castles to protect their property. In the North Pennines, transport and communications were still very much based on the Roman road network, and some important Norman castles, of which Brough and Bowes are good examples, were built on the sites of Roman forts. Other medieval castles were constructed at numerous places in the North Pennines. During the three centuries preceding the Union of the Crowns in 1603, the region was constantly threatened with cross-border reiving associated with Anglo-Scottish border conflict; linked to this, in about 1600, several bastles (thick-walled defensible farmhouses with living accommodation at first-floor level over a byre) were built in the Allen valleys and on Alston Moor.

In medieval times, all the land owned by the Community of St Cuthbert came under the jurisdiction of the immensely powerful Prince Bishops of Durham. Upper Weardale was maintained as a vast hunting forest, subject to special forest law rather than common law. Between 1250 and 1300, Stanhope deer park was set up within the forest, along with some 30 new vaccaries (seasonally occupied, tenanted cattle ranches). Westgate Castle, recently investigated by Altogether Archaeology volunteers, was built to function as the Bishop’s hunting lodge and the administration centre for the vast Weardale Estate, which generated much income through lead mining as well as agriculture. Several of the thirteenth-century vaccaries grew into hamlets and villages, some of which still survive today. Other great medieval forests in the North Pennines included those of Teesdale, Geltsdale, Gilderdale, Milburn, Lune and Stainmore. Many other deer parks existed, for example at Wolsingham, Waskerley, Marwood (near Barnard Castle) and at Thorngarth in Lunedale. The Prior of Durham maintained a grange at Muggleswick, near Castleside, with attached park; today the ruins of Muggleswick Grange are amongst the most spectacular in the North Pennines, and recent Altogether Archaeology fieldwork here has demonstrated that many associated remains still survive below ground.

Medieval villages consisted of rectangular houses clustered round a green or, more typically in the upper dales, set out along a road, each house having a long field known as a ‘toft’ behind it. Beyond the village were communal ‘ridge-and-furrow’ fields and hay meadows, and beyond these, communal grazing land and woodland.

The upland pastures were occupied seasonally by herdsmen who moved from the villages with their livestock to the uplands in spring and living in crude shelters known as ‘shielings’ through the summer months before returning with their beasts the following autumn. The beasts would then be over-wintered in the lowland fields, being fed largely on hay harvested from the village hay meadows. Recent survey work by Altogether Archaeology volunteers has demonstrated the complexity of the medieval landscape at Holwick, Upper Teesdale, where the remains of several settlements have been recorded amongst extensive relict field systems.

Altogether Archaeology projects especially relevant to the Medieval period:
 1 Holwick survey (2011)
 2 Westgate Castle (2011).
 3 Muggleswick Grange (2009-2011& 2015).
 4 Bradley Green settlement survey (2015).
 5 Well House settlement excavation (2017 - 2019).
  Trench 3: Cruck House at the Well Head settlement, Holwick, Teesdale. Image ©S Eastmead  
  A ‘Miner-Farmer’ landscape
Post-medieval times c.1603-1900

From medieval times, the North Pennines became one of Britain’s most important lead mining regions. Mining was on a relatively small scale until the mid-eighteenth century, but from this time until the late nineteenth century much of the area was dominated by lead mining and the landscape was transformed. Levels were driven miles underground to exploit the lead veins, and the ground surface became studded with mine complexes, dressing floors and smelt mills. The hills were criss-crossed by leats providing water power to various sites, flues taking noxious gasses away from the smelt mills to chimneys high in the hills, and tracks and railways providing access to all the different sites.

Although much is known about the local lead industry, there is still much work to be done to record the remains of individual sites and to better understand the lives of communities associated with the lead industry. The potential for such work is well demonstrated by three recent Altogether Archaeology projects: at Dukesfield Smelt Mill near Hexham, where various features associated with the well-known ‘Dukesfield Arches’ were excavated; at Killhope, where original timber machinery was found intact and well preserved within the floor of the buddle house; and at Nenthead, where important survey was done to record old watercourses throughout the complex (water power was essential here, as it was at other lead industry sites, but now the water channels are no longer maintained the water flows out of control, causing much erosion of historic features).

Many lead miners lived in small farmsteads scattered throughout the dales, working their shifts in the mines and also growing produce to support their families. Limekilns were constructed to produce quicklime, used on the fields to improve the fertility of the acid soils and as lime mortar for the construction of buildings. Today’s distinctive landscape of scattered homesteads (most with a single building that originally combined cottage, byre and hayloft) set within a patchwork of stone-walled fields, generally referred to today as the ‘miner-farmer landscape’, dates essentially from the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century heyday of the North Pennine lead industry, when at least a quarter of all Britain’s lead came from the region. Huge quantities of quarried stone were used to construct hundreds of miles of dry stone walls throughout the North Pennines during the enclosure movement of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as previously communal pasture land was divided into stone-walled fields and allocated to individual landowners.

Many mining families lived in villages developed by the mining companies such as Nenthead,
Garrigill, Allenheads and Carrshield, or in larger settlements, such as Middleton-in-Teesdale, Stanhope, Alston and Allendale, that survived from medieval times and contained the ancient parish churches. Lead mining families throughout the region tended to be Methodists rather than Anglicans, and numerous Methodist chapels were built from the mid-eighteenth century, both within villages and at isolated roadside locations for dispersed communities. The lead mining companies supported several new schools during the nineteenth century in Teesdale, Weardale and Allendale, alongside numerous institutes and reading rooms.

North Pennine industries received a great boost during the mid-nineteenth century with the introduction of the railways, and the road network was also much improved. However, in more remote areas pack ponies continued to tread well-worn tracks to get ores to the nearest road or railway.

Although lead was the dominant industry, it was far from the only one. Iron was mined and worked on a local scale from medieval times, and from the mid-nineteenth century on an industrial scale at Tow Law and Stanhope Dene. Elsewhere, limestone, sandstone, whinstone and coal have all been worked on a large scale, and from the late 19th century the development of fluorspar, zinc, barytes and witherite mining helped to offset, albeit only to a small extent, the worst effects of the decline in lead mining.

Following the decline of the lead industry, the 20th century saw population levels decline throughout much of the North Pennines, with village shops, chapels, schools and pubs becoming redundant, sometimes being redeveloped for domestic use. Many isolated smallholdings in the Dales lie abandoned, while others have been redeveloped as holiday homes.

Altogether Archaeology projects especially relevant to the post-medieval period:
 1 Holwick survey (2011).
 2 Shildon Little Engine House, Blanchland (2011 & 2013).
 3 Dukesfield Arches (2012)
 4 Killhope Buddlehouse survey and excavation (2012 & 2013).
 5 Holymire Bastle (Epiacum) survey (2014).
 6 Nenthead watercourses survey and excavation (2014).

  Dukesfield Arches: Excavation plan trench 4.  

From the hunters and gatherers of prehistory to the miner-farmers of the nineteenth century, communities have continually left their mark on the historic environment of the North Pennines. Properly managed, this historic environment has much to offer the local economy, as well as being of great social and spiritual value to local people and visitors alike. It also offers huge potential for further research, as demonstrated by the results of numerous recent Altogether Archaeology projects. Using the results of the recently produced Research Framework for the North Pennines, the Altogether Archaeology Group looks forward to working with appropriate partners to further improve our understanding of this fascinating yet still under-studied area.
    View AA Reports    
  Author: Paul Frodsham
Published by: Altogether Archaeology
January 2019
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