Accommodation Search for Northumberland and Scottish Borders
banner ad
Ford and Etal

Northumberland’s prehistoric sites

Northumberland’s Bronze Age sites

Cup and ring marks

Cup and ring marked boulder from Powburn Quarry now located outside the Ingram National Park Centre © Northumberland National Park

When people think of the history of Northumberland, many recall Lindisfarne, Viking raids, the Battle of Flodden andcross-border attacks by Scots.

However, the history of the county is much older, stretching back to the Mesolithic era and what is believed to be the oldest house in Britain as well as evidence of Mesolithic hunter gatherers in Mid-Tynedale and Allendale.

After amateur archaeologist John Davies found flint tools in a sandy cliff face near the coastal village of Howick, a team from Newcastle University unearthed a substantially-built structure that, by dating tools found inside, they believe could be 10,000 years old.

And one could be forgiven for mistakenly believing that every hilltop, valley and likely spot next to a stream will produce evidence of prehistoric activity.

About 5,000 years after Mesolithic Man had settled at Howick, the hunter gatherers had given way to the more agriculturally-minded settlers of the Neolithic Age, whose polished stone axes have been found throughout the county from Coquetdale to Ponteland.

In addition to evidence of Neolithic Man’s way of life, Northumberland also reveals how these prehistoric people dealt with death. Worth noting are two long cairns – the Devil’s Lapful at Kielder and the Bellshiel Law cairn near Rochester, inside the Otterburn military ranges.

The Bronze Age and Stone Age, too, left their mark on the county. Cup-and-Ring carvings range from the simplest cup-shaped hollow in rocks to the elaborate spirals at Morwick on the Coquet.

The Drake Stone

The ancient Drake Stone overlooking Harbottle © Northumberland National Park

Although, arguably, the finest prehistoric rock art in the county, if not the North East of England, is to be found at the remote Lordenshaws site near Rothbury.

Cup marks can also be found in the south of the county, particularly on the standing stones at Ingoe and Matfen.

As time progressed, Iron Age Man found his settlements and crops under threat and resorted to building hill forts to protect his family and cattle. Evidence of at least 50 such forts can be found in the Cheviots.

Although the hill forts of Northumberland were generally small affairs – averaging not more than half a hectare – that at Yeavering Bell covered 5.5 hectares (13.5 acres).

Contemporary with these fortifications, rectangular defended settlements began to appear on the lowlands of the coastal plain and several survive inland in high pastures in North Tynedale and Redesdale. Examples have been excavated at Tower Knowe near Kielder, Riding wood near Bellingham and Woolaw near Rochester.

This was the last major development in prehistoric Northumberland, with a basic layout and building design that remained unchanged for about 1,500 years.

Burial cairn, The Street

Burial Cairn, The Street, Hownam © Northumberland National Park