Opencast operation on land north of Newcastle reveals new prehistoric site

The Brenkley archaeological site
The Brenkley archaeological site

More evidence has emerged of what is described as a “dynamic” landscape of prehistoric settlements in the North East.

Excavations carried out by Headland Archaeology at the Brenkley Lane surface mining site to the north of Newcastle have revealed an Iron Age settlement across a five-hectare area which is centred on four roundhouses within a double rectangular enclosure.

The Iron Age dated from around 800BC to the Roman conquest.

The two month-long dig, on behalf of operators Banks Mining, has revealed a complex series of archaeological features spread across the site, with the remains being grouped into three main phases of activity.

Most of the remains uncovered relate to an extensive period of occupation during the Iron Age, with a series of large rectangular ditches enclosing several concentrations of ring gullies, which are the foundation trenches of the settlement’s buildings.

Pits and other features, such as boundary and enclosure ditches, have also been uncovered, suggesting that buildings had been rebuilt several times.

Objects uncovered include Iron Age quern stones for processing grain, a spindle whorl for weaving, ceramic vessels used in salt transportation and Bronze Age pottery, suggest that a mixture of domestic and food-processing activities were carried out in the area, with features nearby thought to relate to the management of livestock.

An early Bronze Age cemetery, dating from between 2,100BC and 750BC, is represented by three cremations, while a period of medieval activity between 500 and 1,500 years ago is shown by a grain-drying kiln and extensive rig-and-furrow agriculture.

In 2008, one of the most complete Iron Age settlements to be excavated in the North East, which comprised approximately 50 roundhouses in an enclosed two-hectare area, was unearthed at Banks’s now-restored Delhi surface mine on the Blagdon Estate near Seaton Burn.

Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at The Banks Group, said:

“It’s fascinating to see how this area was worked and inhabited through the ages.

“We’ve worked closely with archaeologists across many of our sites for several years to ensure that detailed investigations are carried out and proper records kept.

“These discoveries simply wouldn’t be coming to light without the surface mining work .

“We’re very pleased that our coal mining operations at Brenkley Lane have led to these latest discoveries which further enhance the understanding of our region’s history.”

Ed Bailey, project manager at Headland Archaeology, said:

“The results of our work have added to the growing body of Iron Age sites around Newcastle that have been excavated in recent years which suggests a dynamic landscape of interrelated settlements across the area during this period.”

Previous discoveries as the Dellhi and Shotton surface mining sites have included a regular system of prehistoric landscape division.

Pit alignments ran perpendicular to the south bank of the River Blyth, which archaeologist Jon McKelvey suggests may have marked off areas such as pasture, woodland and access to water for communities.

Three large Iron Age settlements have also been revealed at Blagdon Park and East and West Brunton, with substantial banks and ditches designed to illustrate the wealth and power of the occupants.

It is now thought that in the late Iron Age the coastal plain, for at least 25km north of Newcastle, was covered with settlements at 1km intervals.

An Anglo-Saxon settlement was also found at Shotton consisting of six halls.

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  28 Nov 2014

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