Bronze Age cairnfield, prehistoric enclosure, Romano-British settlement and medieval shielings 500m south of Mounthooly


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014769

Date first listed: 24-Jul-1996


Ordnance survey map of Bronze Age cairnfield, prehistoric enclosure, Romano-British settlement and medieval shielings 500m south of Mounthooly
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Northumberland (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Kirknewton


National Grid Reference: NT 88174 22009


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

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 (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.

In Cumbria and Northumberland several distinctive types of native settlements dating to the Roman period have been identified. The majority were small, non- defensive, enclosed homesteads or farms. In many areas they were of stone construction, although in the coastal lowlands timber built variants were also common. In much of Northumberland, especially in the Cheviots, the enclosures were curvilinear in form. Further south a rectangular form was more common. Elsewhere, especially near the Scottish border, another type occurs where the settlement enclosure was `scooped' into the hillslope. Frequently the enclosures reveal a regularity and similarity of internal layout. The standard layout included one or more stone round-houses situated towards the rear of the enclosure, facing the single entranceway. In front of the houses were pathways and small enclosed yards. Homesteads normally had only one or two houses, but larger enclosures could contain as many as six. At some sites the settlement appears to have grown, often with houses spilling out of the main enclosure and clustered around it. At these sites the remains of up to 30 houses may be found. In the Cumbrian uplands the settlements were of less regimented form and unenclosed clusters of houses of broadly contemporary date are also known. These homesteads were being constructed and used by non-Roman natives throughout the period of the Roman occupation. Their origins lie in settlement forms developed before the arrival of the Romans. The homesteads are common throughout the uplands where they frequently survive as well preserved earthworks. In lowland coastal areas they were also originally common, although there they can frequently only be located through aerial photography. All homestead sites which survive substantially intact will normally be identified as nationally important. Shielings are small seasonally occupied huts which were built to provide shelter for herdsmen who tended animals grazing summer pasture on upland or marshland. These huts reflect a system called transhumance, whereby stock was moved in spring from lowland pasture around the permanently occupied farms to communal grazing during the warmer summer months. Settlement patterns reflecting transhumance are known from the Bronze Age (c.2000-700 BC) onwards. However, the construction of herdsmen's huts in a form distinctive from the normal dwelling houses of farms, only appears from the early medieval period onwards (from AD 450), when the practice of transhumance is also known from documentary sources and, notably, place-name studies. Their construction appears to cease at the end of the 16th century. Shielings vary in size but are commonly small and may occur singly or in groups. They have a simple sub- rectangular or ovoid plan normally defined by drystone walling, although occasional turf-built structures are known, and the huts are sometimes surrounded by a ditch. Most examples have a single undivided interior but two roomed examples are known. Some examples have adjacent ancillary structures, such as pens, and may be associated with a midden. Some are also contained within a small ovoid enclosure. Shielings are reasonably common in the uplands but frequently represent the only evidence for medieval settlement and farming practice here. Those examples which survive well and which help illustrate medieval land use in an area are considered to be nationally important. The Bronze Age cairnfield, enclosure, Roman period native settlement and medieval shielings south of Mounthooly demonstrate evidence of agriculture and settlement over a considerable period on a discrete promontory of land. The cairnfield and enclosure represent the earliest known activity on the promontory. The cairnfield is well preserved and evidence relating to Bronze Age agriculture will survive within and beneath the clearance cairns. They are rare examples of Bronze Age activity in the bottom of the College Valley and will contribute to the study of land use at this time. The Roman period native settlement is well preserved and will retain significant archaeological deposits. It is situated in an area of broadly contemporary settlements of high quality and forms part of a wider archaeological landscape. The shielings are well preserved, the southernmost one has retained its full ground plan and both will retain significant archaeological deposits. They are part of a string of shielings found along the bottom of the College Valley all built in similar locations, on slightly raised ground adjacent to water. They will contribute to the study of medieval settlements and land use in the Cheviots. Overall, this group of sites will contribute significantly to our understanding of the organisation and development of land use and settlement from prehistoric times to the medieval period.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes a Bronze Age cairnfield comprising six cairns, a prehistoric enclosure and annexe, a Roman period native settlement and two medieval shielings situated on a gently sloping triangular promontory. The promontory is defined by a low bank to the south, by the steep valley of the Braydon Burn to the east and by the broader valley of the College Burn to the west. The site is overlooked by high ground on the east, south and west. The Bronze Age cairnfield comprises six clearance cairns. Four cairns lie within the enclosure, one is incorporated within the enclosure bank, and a sixth cairn lies 8m to the south of the enclosure. The cairns are sub circular in shape and measure between 1.5m and 3.75m in diameter and stand between 0.3m and 0.4m high. All have exposed stone on the surface. The bank which defines the promontory is slightly curved, runs east-west and is 100m long and up to 0.25m high. It is made of earth and stone and encloses an area of 0.81ha. There is an entrance 2.5m wide situated 43m from its western end. Running south from the eastern side of this entrance is an earth and stone bank measuring c.112m long and up to 0.25m high. At its southern end it turns westward to the edge of the slope down to the College Burn, forming a roughly triangular annexe to the promontory enclosure and providing an additional 0.3ha. There is a possible entrance, c.2.75m wide, at the southern end. It is suggested that the enclosure and annexe, although not physically connected, are of Bronze Age date and composed of cleared stone which was also used to build the clearance cairns. They are interpreted as a corral or stock related enclosure. The Roman period native settlement lies on the edge of an old river terrace of the College Burn to the west of a modern sheepfold which partly overlies its eastern edge. The river terrace forms the western edge of the settlement which measures 30m north-south by 17.5m east-west. The settlement consists of two scooped depressions, up to 1.8m deep, contained within an earth and stone bank up to 0.6m high and 3m wide; the bank is very denuded on the north side. There is an entrance 2.5m wide on the south west corner and its western edge is defined by a rubble bank running north-south along the edge of the river terrace for c.10m. Beneath and around the modern sheepfold are several low banks which, although they do not form any clear outline, are thought likely to be associated with the native settlement. Two medieval shielings survive as turf covered building foundations adjacent to the steep western bank of the Braydon Burn. The most northerly shieling is situated 11m north east of the modern sheepfold and has had its south west half mutilated by stone robbing. The surviving portion measures 5m wide by 6.25m long with walls up to 0.25m high. The second shieling is situated 100m SSE of the first and is located outside the enclosure bank. There is much stone exposed through the grass cover. It measures 13m north east to south west by 6m north west to south east. The walls are c.1m wide and stand to a maximum height of 0.25m. There is a suggestion of an internal partition dividing the shieling in half. The sheepfold and fence posts are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included.

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.

Legacy System number: 24615

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Archaeology Section, Tyne, Wear Museums, , College Valley Survey: Mounthooly, (1994), 4
Archaeology Section, Tyne, Wear Museums, , College Valley Survey: Mounthooly, (1994), 1-2
Archaeology Section, Tyne, Wear Museums, , College Valley Survey: Mounthooly, (1994), 2
Archaeology Section, Tyne, Wear Museums, , College Valley Survey: Mounthooly, (1994), 4
Archaeology Section, Tyne, Wear Museums, , College Valley Survey: Mounthooly, (1994), 2

End of official listing