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Defended settlement on Humbledon Hill

List Entry Summary

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 Culture, Media and Sport.

Name: Defended settlement on Humbledon Hill

List entry Number: 1402212


Defended settlement on the summit of Humbledon Hill

The monument may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.


District: Sunderland

District Type: Metropolitan Authority

Parish: Non Civil Parish

National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Grade: Not applicable to this List entry.

Date first scheduled: 04-Nov-2011

Date of most recent amendment: Not applicable to this List entry.

Asset Groupings

This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.

List entry Description

Summary of Monument

A defended settlement of Iron Age date which developed from a Later Bronze Age palisaded enclosure, surviving as the buried remains of its ditches and partially surviving banks.

Reasons for Designation

* Rarity: it is a rare survival of a lowland, coastal hillfort or defended settlement * Potential: the archaeological information stored within this settlement will contribute to our knowledge and understanding of prehistoric settlement, economy and society. * Survival: despite the fact that it has suffered losses, significant archaeological deposits have been demonstrated to remain at the site * Group value: it forms part of a significant wider group of prehistoric funerary and settlement sites in the area, some of which are designated as scheduled monuments. * Period: hillforts and defended settlements are seen as one of a relatively large range of monument classes known to characterise the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age.


Hillforts are defended places, surrounded by one or more circuits of banks and ditches, and generally placed on hilltops, ridges, spurs or promontories. The enclosing defences of hillforts were of earthen construction, some sites having a single bank and ditch, others having more than one. They were built and occupied during the period from about 900 to 100BC. Hillforts were built across Europe but they are not found everywhere: within England the main hillfort areas are Wessex, the Welsh marches and the south-east, where they are often very large; smaller hillforts are found in the south west and Northumberland, and in the latter, even smaller 'defended settlements' were also constructed, some located on hilltops, others are found in less prominent positions. There are few hillforts in eastern England, the Pennines or the north-west.

Entrances were often elaborate and their interiors are sometimes full of the remains of round houses, storage pits and agricultural stores confirming that, although thought to be defensive in nature, they may have performed other roles including settlement, food storage, as meeting places and perhaps religious centres. Hillforts and defended settlements sometimes incorporate Bronze Age round barrows and are associated with a number of other monument types in their contemporary late prehistoric landscape; at some sites, mainly in the uplands of the Anglo-Scottish border the earthen ramparts represent a second phase of defence, the first having been a substantial timber fence or palisade.

During the construction of a reservoir on Humbledon Hill in 1873 a large round barrow containing three Bronze Age pottery vessels and associated cremations was uncovered along with two inhumations and an iron knife. In 2003 geophysical survey revealed the buried remains of a defended settlement encircling the summit of the hill. Limited archaeological evaluation in July 2006 confirmed the presence of a double ditched enclosure, and two pieces of pottery, considered prehistoric, were recovered from the ditches. In 2007, further archaeological evaluation at the site confirmed the presence of a buried prehistoric settlement and further dating material was recovered.


The settlement on Humbledon Hill includes the western half of a defended settlement; to the east, the settlement has been compromised by housing development, gardening activities and the construction of a Victorian reservoir. This area is not included in the scheduling, given the level of disturbance to which it has been subjected. Geophysical survey in 2003 and archaeological evaluation in 2006 and 2007 demonstrated that the defended settlement includes a roughly sub-circular enclosure measuring a maximum of 75m north east to south west by 62m north west to south east, within two ditches and a medial bank. The inner ditch is c.0.5m wide and 0.5m deep and is considered to be the remains of a palisade trench, which formerly contained a wooden fence. The outer ditch is situated about 9m outside the inner ditch and measures up to 3m wide and 1m deep. Between the two ditches there is a stone and earth bank standing to a maximum height of 0.8m interpreted as the remains of a rampart. There is an entrance through the west side of the enclosure. Two substantial, ditched features immediately outside the settlement on the south and south west sides have the same character as the outer ditch and are considered the remains of structures associated with it. Prehistoric pottery, recovered from the ditches, demonstrated that the inner ditch was dug during the later Bronze Age and the outer ditch was subsequently dug during the Iron Age. Animal bone, some of it burnt, and flint pieces were recovered from parts of the ditches. Also recovered was what was identified as the corner of a triangular loom weight of Iron Age date. Within the interior of the enclosure, there are a series of pits, each 2m in diameter and archaeological evaluation also uncovered what was thought to be the part of a Bronze Age round cairn.

Extent of Monument: The monument includes the remains of the settlement and associated ditched features with a margin of 2m around the north and east sides considered essential for their support and protection. Further remains identified by geophysical survey beyond the double-ditched enclosure are later in date and are not included in the scheduling.

Selected Sources

Books and journals
Higham, N, The Northern Counties to AD 1000, (1986), 127-129
Hale, D N, Still, D A, 'Durham Archaological Journal' in Geophysical Survey at Picktree, Chester-le-Street and Humbledon Hill, Sunderland, , Vol. 17, (2003), 1-7
Gaskell, N , 'Archaeological Evaluation on Land at 24 Alpine Way, Sunderland, Tyne and Wear' , CP/558/07. NPA Ltd: Nenthead, Cumbria , 2007,
Tyne & Wear HER No 157,

National Grid Reference: NZ3800555228


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End of official listing