Prehistoric enclosed settlement, Iron Age hillfort and medieval shielings on Humbleton Hill


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1016714

Date first listed: 24-Sep-1934

Date of most recent amendment: 21-Jun-1999


Ordnance survey map of Prehistoric enclosed settlement, Iron Age hillfort and medieval shielings on Humbleton Hill
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Northumberland (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Akeld


National Grid Reference: NT 96704 28282


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Reasons for Designation

Small multivallate hillforts are defined as fortified enclosures of varying shape, generally between 1 and 5ha in size and located on hilltops. They are defined by boundaries consisting of two or more lines of closely set earthworks spaced at intervals of up to 15m. These entirely surround the interior except on sites located on promontories, where cliffs may form one or more sides of the monument. They date to the Iron Age period, most having been constructed and occupied between the sixth century BC and the mid-first century AD. Small multivallate hillforts are generally regarded as settlements of high status, occupied on a permanent basis. Recent interpretations suggest that the construction of multiple earthworks may have had as much to do with display as with defence. Earthworks may consist of a rampart alone or of a rampart and ditch which, on many sites, are associated with counterscarp banks and internal quarry scoops. Access to the interior is generally provided by one or two entrances, which either appear as simple gaps in the earthwork or inturned passages, sometimes with guardrooms. The interior generally consists of settlement evidence including round houses, four and six post structures interpreted as raised granaries, roads, pits, gullies, hearths and a variety of scattered post and stake holes. Evidence from outside numerous examples of small multivallate hillforts suggests that extra-mural settlement was of a similar nature. Small multivallate hillforts are rare with around 100 examples recorded nationally. Most are located in the Welsh Marches and the south-west with a concentration of small monuments in the north-east. In view of the rarity of small multivallate hillforts and their importance in understanding the nature of settlement and social organisation within the Iron Age period, all examples with surviving archaeological remains are believed to be of national importance.

Within the landscapes of upland Northern England there are many discreet blocks of land enclosed by banks of stone and earth or walls of rubble and boulders. Many date from the Bronze Age, although earlier and later examples also exist. They were constructed as stock pens or as protected areas for crop growing and were sometimes sub-divided to accommodate animal shelters and hut circle settlements for farmers or herders. The size and form of enclosures may vary considerably, depending on their particular function. Their variation in form, longevity and relationship to other monument classes provides important information on the diversity of social organisation and farming practices among prehistoric communities. They are highly representative of their period and a substantial proportion of surviving examples are worthy of protection. 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 upland 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 evident 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 the area are considered to be nationally important. The prehistoric enclosure, Iron Age hillfort and medieval shielings on Humbleton Hill are well preserved and retain significant archaeological deposits. Information on the relationship of the outer enclosure to the Iron Age hillfort will be preserved, providing an insight into changing use of this hilltop in later prehistory. The monument is also situated within an area of clustered archaeological sites whose remains are well preserved and forms part of a wider archaeological landscape in the northern Cheviot Hills. It will contribute to the study of the wider settlement and land use pattern at this time.


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The monument includes two enclosed settlements of prehistoric date situated on the summit of Humbleton Hill with panoramic views, especially to the north and south. The inner enclosure is an Iron Age hillfort and the outer enclosure is thought to be Neolithic or Bronze Age in date. There are numerous circular house platforms, mainly within the Iron Age hillfort, as well as later features such as medieval shielings and stock pens. The outer enclosure is irregular in shape, measures a maximum 290m east-west by 210m north-south and, for most of its length, follows the natural break of the slope. On the south side a steep ravine provides an added defence. The enclosure is defined by a low bank of earth and stone along the north west side, on average 5m wide by 0.7m high externally. The eastern side of the enclosure has many facing stones surviving in situ, indicating a wall between 2.5m and 3.5m wide at the base. This eastern side curves uphill towards the outer rampart of the Iron Age hillfort. It has been suggested that this may represent an episode of rebuilding and that its original course continued southward along the break in slope to the edge of the ravine. The original entrance is believed to lie at the south west corner, and measures 4m wide and is defined by a series of large stones set on edge. On the northern side of the enclosure are three possible unrecorded excavation trenches which cut across the bank exposing the core. Several possible house sites lie within the enclosure and more than one phase of activity is represented. Traces of later prehistoric cord rig cultivation have been noted within the northern part of the enclosure on a roughly east-west axis. The inner enclosure is roughly `U'-shaped with its open end to the south, above the edge of the ravine, measuring 110m both east-west and north-south. It is of a more massive construction than the outer enclosure and comprises a stone rampart with a second, inner rampart, on the east side. The outer rampart survives as a broad bank of stone, approximately 10m wide. This feature originally comprised a double stone wall and the outer faces of both walls can be traced intermittently. A series of small quarry scoops behind the inner wall on the east side are thought to be the source of at least some of the construction stone. The north to north west sides of the hillfort were protected only by the inner wall; the defences were enhanced by the natural scarp and sheer granite outcrops. The entrance to the hillfort, 1.5m wide, lies in the south east side of the outer rampart and is marked by large granite boulders. A second entrance lies at the south west corner, close to the edge of the ravine, but may be a later modification. The inner rampart survives as a bank of loose stones, 9.5m wide on average and up to 1m high, with a short section of well preserved walling at the northern end; both the inner and outer faces are intact. There is an entrance approximately midway along its length. In the area between the inner and outer ramparts there are up to eight circular house platforms. Within the inner rampart there are 20 circular house platforms, between 4m and 8m in diameter; these are commonly defined by a terrace into the hillslope, although there are traces of at least one house defined by a ring groove earthwork, now partly overlain by stone moved from the rampart. The date of these houses and the phase of settlement on the hilltop to which they relate cannot presently be determined. A cairn of unknown date, 9m in diameter and 2m high, stands on the summit of the hill within the inner rampart and is built from stone robbed from the rampart, although recent additions may mask an earlier feature. A number of small enclosures abut the inner and outer sides of the hillfort rampart and the outer enclosure bank, and two lie about 30m outside the outer enclosure. They are interpreted as medieval or later shielings or stock pens, and are defined largely by loosely built bands of stone.

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: 31729

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Waddington, C, 'Northern Archaeology' in Humbleton Hill Hillfort Survey, , Vol. 15/16, (1998), 71-81
RCHME, Humbleton Hill, Northumberland. Field Survey Report, (1997)

End of official listing