Staple Howe: a palisaded hilltop enclosure in Knapton Plantation


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

North Yorkshire
Ryedale (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SE 89852 74959

Reasons for Designation

A palisaded hilltop enclosure is a small defended site of domestic function dating to the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age (c.550-440 BC). Their distribution is largely restricted to north-eastern England, the Borders and southern Scotland. They are generally located on spurs, promontories or hilltops covering areas of less then 0.4ha. The boundaries of these sites are marked by single or double rock-cut trenches which originally formed the settings for substantial palisades. Remains of circular buildings are found within the palisaded areas, along with evidence for fenced stock enclosures. Palisaded sites are the earliest type of defended settlements recorded in the area and are thought to be a product of increasingly unsettled social conditions in the later prehistoric period. They imply an extensive use of timber, confirmation that large areas were heavily wooded at this time. Although the palisades at individual sites may have undergone several phases of replacement or refurbishment it is thought that the tradition of building this type of site spanned only around 150 years. After this the use of earthen banks and ditches to form the defensive perimeter became more common. Excavation has demonstrated that at several sites the earthen defences were preceded by timber palisades. Palisaded enclosures are a rare monument type with fewer than 200 known examples. They are an important element of the later prehistoric settlement pattern and are important for any study of the developing use of defended settlements during the later prehistoric period. All identified surviving examples are believed to be nationally important.

Although not visible as earthworks, the monument at Staple Howe has been recorded by partial excavation and was one of the first of such sites to be identified. Further evidence of the structure of the palisade defences and of dwellings and other structures within the enclosure survives below the surface. Despite the fact that numerous burial sites and linear earthworks of the Bronze and Iron Age periods have been identified on the Wolds, indicating a large population in the area in prehistoric times, few settlement sites are known. Staple Howe, which is the only positively identified site of its type on the north edge of the Wolds, is therefore of considerable importance for our understanding of settlement in the area during the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages.


The monument includes a Late Bronze/Early Iron Age palisaded hilltop enclosure situated on a natural chalky knoll half way down the northern scarp of the Wolds in Knapton Plantation. Separated from the main ridge of the Wold by a deep ravine, the steep-sided knoll rises to 115m above sea level and is a naturally defensive spot with commanding views over the Vale of Pickering and the Carrs. The Wolds are known to be rich in prehistoric remains, including Bronze and Iron Age linear earthworks and Early Bronze Age burial mounds. Although the exposed and practically soil-less hilltop bears no visible traces of the prehistoric settlement, the below-ground remains of the palisade defences and some internal structures were identified during T C M Brewster's excavations in the 1950s. Subsequent to the excavations, concrete markers were inserted into the backfilled foundation pits of these structures to indicate their position and a footpath was constructed up the west side of the knoll to assist visitors' access. Brewster's excavations revealed that the earliest defences comprised a relatively lightly-built stockade near the top of the knoll and with three minor entrances in addition to a main gateway on the south side. This palisade was later replaced with a stronger one, located further down the slope, on a line approximating to the 111m contour. The later defences were remodelled on at least one occasion and comprised a stout timber revetment packed behind with chalk. The southern entrance was maintained throughout the life of the settlement but, presumably to increase the security of the enclosure, only one entrance existed in the later phase. The internal structures included the post-holes, hearths and floor surfaces of three huts, and the foundations of a rectangular timber granary, raised on stilts. Among the finds from the site were bronze razors of the 'Hallstatt C' type, objects of jet, bone and antler, Bronze and Iron Age pottery, clay spindle whorls and loom weights. Fragmentary human remains were also found.

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


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Brewster, T C M, The Excavation of Staple Howe, (1963)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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