| 6 November 2005
Large Neolithic settlement unearthed in Britain
Archaeologists have unearthed what is thought to be one of the largest Neolithic settlements in Britain, which was probably associated with a nearby series of nine prehistoric ritual centres. The discovery, which includes buildings, a human burial pit, tools, pottery and ritual objects, was uncovered at a Northumberland quarry.
The discovery was made during routine archaeological investigation of the quarry, which is run by Tarmac. The settlement, near Milfield Village, Northumberland, includes at least three buildings dating to the 4000 BCE Early Neolithic period and three buildings from the 3000 BCE Later Neolithic period. The site is in an area with a rich archaeological history, dominated by the enormous Yeavering Bell hill fort, built 1,000 years after the huts and henges on the plain below. The dwellings are surrounded by timber and earth bank henges so close in date it is assumed they must have been built by the same people.
Each building was rectangular and made of timber and possibly thatch. The largest was 13 metres long and 5 metres wide. The houses are 900m from a series of henge monuments - the largest of which was 100m in diameter and surrounded by banks, ditches and scores of wooden obelisks.
Nearby, the archaeologists have also found a much earlier settlement dating from around 1,000 years before the henges were constructed. This earlier settlement appears to have consisted of two roundhouses and a grain storage building - and this reveals bizarre evidence of prehistoric ritual practice. Inside one of the houses, archaeologists have found the remains of a human skeleton buried in a pit. It is possible that the individual - a child or teenager - was a close relative who the inhabitants of the house wanted to keep within the family, even after death.
This earlier settlement - dating from 6,000 years ago - has also yielded three storage pits, probably used originally to store grain but ultimately used to contain some sort of refuse, possibly of a ritualised nature. In one pit archaeologists have found a rough-out for a carved stone ball, of a type thought to have been used in ceremonial rituals.
Archaeologists said the find was highly important because remains of buildings are rarely found on Neolithic settlements in England. Dr Jonathan Last, from English Heritage, said: "To find the remains of so many buildings from the Neolithic period grouped together is incredibly important. We hope that analysis and scientific dating of finds from the site will reveal much more about the date and function of these structures and establish whether they were homes or ceremonial buildings."
The site will provide important evidence for the debate on whether neolithic people lived a mobile existence as their hunter-gatherer forebears are thought to have done, or whether they lived a more sedentary existence in permanent houses. The excavations have been funded jointly by Tarmac and a grant delivered by English Heritage through the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF).
Sources: 24 Hour Museum, BBC News (2 November 2005), Guardian, Northumberland Today, The Times (3 November 2005), The Independent (4 November 2005)
Share this webpage: