Ell's Knowe defended settlement and earlier palisaded site


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Ell's Knowe defended settlement and earlier palisaded site
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Northumberland (Unitary Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
NT 87232 27796

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.

During the later prehistoric period (seventh - fifth centuries BC) a variety of different types of settlement were constructed and occupied in the northern uplands of England. The most obvious sites were hillforts built in prominent locations. In addition to these a range of smaller sites, sometime with an enclosed area of less than 1ha and defined as defended settlements, were also constructed. Some of these were located on hilltops, others are found in less prominent positions. The enclosing defences were of earthen construction, some sites having a single bank and ditch (univallate), others more than one (multivallate). At some sites these earthen ramparts represent a second phase, the first having been a timber fence or palisade. This is the case at Ell's Knowe. Within the enclosure, a number of stone or timber-built round houses were occupied by the inhabitants. Stock may also have been kept in these houses, especially during the cold winter months, or in enclosed yards outside them. The communities occupying these sites were probably single family groups, the defended settlements being used as farmsteads. Defended settlements are a rare monument type. They were an important element of the later prehistoric settlement pattern of the northern uplands and are important for any study of the developing use of fortified settlements during this period. All well preserved examples are believed to be of national importance. The settlement at Ell's Knowe and its associated finds from the excavations indicate considerable human activity between the seventh and sixth centuries BC. Settlements of this date are rare both nationally and locally and contribute to our understanding of settlement and land use during the transition period between a bronze and an iron using economy.


This monument includes a hilltop defended enclosure situated on a promontory overlooking ground on all sides. Aerial photographs depict slight traces of ramparts, however on the ground they are most visible on the northern part of the site. The hilltop enclosure contains an area measuring 60m north-south by 70m east-west. Some limited excavation was carried out on the site in 1970 and in 1978. These excavations indicated that the settlement had originally been enclosed by a double palisade. The palisade trench excavated, varied in depth from a few centimetres to 0.5m in depth and about 0.5m wide. The palisade trench had been filled with stones, but the process of construction did not appear to be complete. A second phase of building was apparent which included replacing the incomplete double palisade with approximately three stone ramparts on gentle slopes and one rampart on steeper slopes on the east side. The surface traces of these ramparts are only slight. The entrance into the enclosure is located on the western side of the hill. Some hut circles can be seen inside the south side of the enclosure, of which three were excavated revealing slight structural remains below the ground. The hut circles measure between 6.1m in diameter and 7.7m in diameter. The site is exceptionally rich in finds including hand made pottery, stone pounders, flint scrapers, a spindlewhorl and pieces of an iron furnace. The hilt and upper blade of an iron sword were also found during the excavations. This indicates a substantial amount of activity taking place within the settlement interior between the seventh and sixth centuries BC.

MAP EXTRACT 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.


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

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Books and journals
Burgess, C, 'Univ of Durham & Newcastle upon Tyne Archaeological Reports 1978' in Excavations at Ell's Knowe, Northumberland, , Vol. 1979, (), 8
Burgess, C, 'Arch. Newsbulletin for Northumberland, Cumberland & Westmoreland' in Reports on Excavations in 1970, , Vol. 10,1971, (1971), 2-3
Ell's Knowe, Gates, T, NT8727/B, (1982)


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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