Late Bronze Age and Iron Age Agenda

La1: How can we improve our understanding of the chronology of Late Bronze Age and Iron Age north-east England?

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Scientific methods must be explored with the intention of providing firm dating for later prehistoric sites, for example optical dating of sediments where organic preservation is poor and thermoluminescence dating for ceramics. The relative lack of easily datable material culture and the failure of chronological models derived from settlement morphology means that absolute scientific dating techniques provide the best opportunity to establish a robust chronological framework for the later Bronze Age and Iron Age of the region. Although long-established, dating techniques such as radiocarbon dating have been greatly refined by the use of Bayesian statistical techniques and the use of new sampling techniques, such as the increased practice of single entity dating.

Appropriate curatorial and conservation decisions flow from a good understanding of the nature of the archaeological resource. The collection of material suitable for Bayesian modelling is perhaps the top priority for fieldwork strategies. As greater certainty into settlement types and sequences is attained, resources can be directed into this area.  A major re-assessment of the chronology of later prehistoric settlement in the region should feed through to educational material, such as museum displays and popular publications. These should be rewritten in the light of our new knowledge about the period. Any new evidence for the chronology of late prehistoric settlement will feed directly into the regional HERs The field-testing of new techniques also offers the potential Research agenda and strategy Late Bronze Age and Iron Age for collaboration between the university departments and commercial archaeological contractors.

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Radiocarbon dating, Bronze age, Iron age, Optically stimulated luminescence, Thermoluminescence

La2: How can we improve our understanding of late prehistoric settlement and settlement patterns?

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While the collapse of settlement chronologies based on morphology now means that it is timely to review typological systems of site classification, it is apparent that there are differences in the dating and landscape context of the differing components seen in the archaeology of the period (Haselgrove 2016, 365-8; Anderson 2012, 302). In addition to the essential work of developing a secure chronology, excavation strategies must look at exploring examples of all ditched enclosure and palisade forms to refine the developing model. Site function and role in social organisation, in particular the social role of settlements in the landscape, should be addressed. In addition to creating secure chronologies through new development-led excavation, targeted re-excavation of previously excavated sites should be considered, with the specific aim of retrieving better dating evidence. This is an effective way of dating well-known existing sites without large-scale excavation.

The need for firmer chronologies is particularly acute for upland settlement sites. Many sites have been identified in the region’s uplands through survey and aerial photography but there is still a pressing need for these sites to be placed in their correct chronological framework. For example, despite their widespread distribution in the uplands, the dating of ‘scooped settlements’ is entirely unclear. Resolving their date may enable researchers to tackle wider questions relating to the impact of Roman control in the region. The absence of settlement hierarchies is an important element of the later prehistoric archaeology of the sub-regions in the North-East. There is potential to improve our understanding of the ways in which these societies functioned, and better appreciate their later chronological development. The extensive, upstanding upland archaeology of the Cheviots and its well-preserved hillforts make this line of research of particular importance.

The good record of publication of the region’s development-led excavations needs to continue to bring the housing sites to full publication.  This should include not only the full analysis and dissemination of recent, development-controlled excavation, but also the post-excavation analysis and publication of a range of important backlog sites.

The identification and recording of settlement dating to the Late Bronze Age and Early iron Age remains the highest priority for the region. More precise dating of previously excavated sites may produce evidence of sites having an earlier start date and longer currency. The association of settlements with landscape elements, like pit alignments, dykes and linear boundaries is also required to progress the wider aim of understanding landscapes rather than just points of habitation.

A major re-assessment of the chronology of later prehistoric settlement in the region should feed through to educational material, such as museum displays and popular publications. These should be rewritten in the light of our new knowledge about the period. The impact of a series of major archaeological excavations within the area should be reflected in interpretative projects aimed at the general public (either temporary/permanent exhibitions and/or popular publication). A long-term project of excavation and field survey would provide the ideal context for the establishment of a major community archaeology project, drawing on both the local population and interested individuals from across the region. The Great Chilton Project, initiated by Durham County Council, has shown the potential of community involvement in the  excavation of prehistoric settlements (Archaeological Services Durham University 2014c). The increased understanding of the chronology of late prehistoric settlement will feed directly into the regional HERs.

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Hillfort, Settlement, Bronze age, Iron age, Enclosure, Excavation, Dyke (defence), Linear earthwork, Survey, Pit alignment, Scooped settlement, Palisade, Upland

La3: How can improve our understanding of late prehistoric landscapes in north-east England?

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Much archaeological work on the Bronze Age and Iron Age in the region has focused on individual settlements, integrating the results of lidar and satellite photography survey and interpretation. In particular, more work is needed on later prehistoric subsistence strategies, including garden plots, cord rigg, field systems, cairnfields, linear boundaries and droveways. Wider patterns of landscape change are also an important topic for further research, particularly those longterm processes associated with apparent upland desertion in the Bronze Age and the potential recolonisation of such landscapes during the Iron Age. More upland pollen sequences with accurate dating would help to provide the environmental context for these changes. Although there have been many cores taken in the North Pennines some now need to be re-dated to maximise their potential. An improved chronology would allow these data to feed into a series of research questions. For example, many patches of cord rigg are believed to be of prehistoric date, yet little is known about the formation processes which led to their creation and the preservation processes which resulted in their survival.

The need to achieve the optimum understanding of a site, where total excavation is not possible, is at the heart of the development-control process. It is essential that briefs written by local government archaeological officers make clear and explicit recommendations about the way in which sites should be dug to ensure that data retrieval is maximised. Research into sampling strategies will feed directly back into the decision-making process. Synthetic research into the optimum levels of excavation will assist planning archaeologists justify the mitigation measures they request, as part of the planning process.

Geophysical prospection offers real potential for Iron Age and lowland Bronze Age settlement. Even in areas with relatively good cropmark preservation, geophysical techniques have proved more effective in identifying later prehistoric sites and may prove particularly useful in recognising open settlements.

Aerial photography has proved effective in recognising prehistoric features, though supplementary work is required to date them. In upland and marginal landscapes, lidar survey can compliment AP programmes and provides a very cost-effective means of covering large areas.

Provision of information in appropriate digital format would provide significant added value to the region’s SMRs. Research into excavation strategy would ideally involve collaboration between local authorities and other partners, such as English Heritage and possibly universities. There is also the potential for international co-operation following the model of the PLANARCH project, which involves Kent, Belgium, the Netherlands and France (Hey and Lacey 2001, Blancquaert, & Medleycott, 2006). It would be desirable to see research to test the effectiveness of mitigation strategies for site discovery, as has been the done in the Netherlands to test the efficiency of Dutch archaeological heritage management and to suggest the optimal strategies for trial trenching survey, based on the results of simulations (Verhagen  and Borsboom   2009).

Aerial photography has the potential to recognise large numbers of previously unknown sites, and results should feed directly into the appropriate HERS. As the North Pennines area covers parts of three different counties there is the potential for significant collaboration here between local authorities as well as the North Pennines AONB.

Increased environmental work is likely to require collaboration between the archaeological curators and universities, this work has the potential for forming the basis of PhD research. Extensive upland survey is an ideal activity for wider community participation, and could contribute to significant archaeological research. There is potential for an educational element as a component of resulting conservation measures, supplying general information via leaflets and visitors centres, and in providing specific conservation advice to landowners via DEFRA Environmental Stewardship Schemes.

Re-interpretation of the later prehistory of the region’s uplands coupled with effective publication of sites should feed through into relevant educational and publicity material.

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Environmental sampling, Lidar survey, Aerial photography, Settlement, Bronze age, Iron age, Field system, Excavation, Geophysical survey, Linear earthwork, Pollen, Cord rig, Drove road, Cairnfield, Upland

La4: How can we develop our understanding of the use and exploitation of the coastal zone during late prehistory in north-east England?

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There is increasing evidence for the exploitation of the coastal zone in later prehistory, but little work to bring together the diverse strands of evidence involved. Despite the presence of extensive upland pollen samples, the coastal areas of Northumberland are underrepresented. This partly reflects the perceived lack of suitable deposits, even though recent work demonstrates their potential.

With the publication of major sites associated with the salt industry (Sherlock 2007: Proctor 2012) and synthetic reviews of the implications of the industry for our understanding of the social economy of the period (Sherlock and Vyner 2013, Proctor 2016), this area of research has made great strides since the last review.    Prehistoric salterns may survive on Coatham Marsh. The salt trade was undoubtedly an important aspect of regional exchange, particularly in the south of the region. This is reflected in the discovery of some Iron Age briquetage and the indirect evidence of important settlements on the esturine fringe, as at Greatham, Hartlepool (NAA 2016). A detailed coastal survey attempting to recognising salt production sites would furnish important evidence for regional economic specialisation could be facilitated using lidar and satellite photography. Comparative research on late prehistoric salt production elsewhere in the country may help to characterise likely areas of survival.

Research is also needed on the numerous wooden canoes found in the region’s museums, addressing later prehistoric woodworking techniques and early boat-building technology. A re-consideration of their contexts may also shed light on early exploitation of the prehistoric coastline and waterways. Minimally intrusive RC dating would assist in providing objective dating evidence of log boats in museum collections.

The identification of suitable lowland peat deposits will allow suitable management regimes to preserve this sparse resource. This is also likely to intersect with the conservation demands of wildlife and ecology curators.

Identification of possible early salt production sites will require appropriate conservation and management regimes. Conservation techniques used on large wooden objects, such as boats, should be reconsidered, allowing appropriate decisions to be made when new discoveries are made. There is scope for extending the work around the Tees to other river mouths in the region, also for collaborative research on early salt production with other regions in Britain and along the North Sea littoral, as well as for wider comparative work between the north-eastern canoes to those found around other major rivers, including the Humber and the Thames.

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Radiocarbon dating, Lidar survey, Salt production site, Settlement, Bronze age, Iron age, Boat, Satellite imaging, Canoe, Logboat

La5: How can we better understand the range, use and chronology of material culture in north-east England during late prehistory?

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The region’s museums hold extensive collections of late prehistoric material culture, including lithics, ceramics and other items, but these collections are under-exploited, and recent budget cuts have made access to important collections more difficult. The combination of new research questions, new dating and sourcing techniques has significant potential. For example, relatively little is known about regional and national exchange networks and work on provenancing stone tools, ceramics and metals has some way to go.

Late prehistoric depositional practices provide insights into the symbolism and ritual of early societies in the North-East. The contextual/depositional approach to hoarding pioneered by Richard Bradley (1990) and Fraser Hunter (1997) should be extended to the North-East; not all hoards are from wet places and the detailed analysis of quern provenance has pointed to the existence of votive hoards across all areas studied in detail (Heslop 2008, 2016).

Collecting strategies used in commercial archaeology will be influenced by any new research of this kind, and suitable forms of analysis should be specified in briefs provided by local government curators. Certain contexts, such as ditch terminals, may be more likely to contain structured depositions and should be preferentially sampled.

A wider problem in British archaeology is the decline in the number of period artefact specialists as highly skilled and experienced researcher retire from practice. Universities should encourage the study of material culture, and reverse the trend for it to be seen as somehow inferior to other aspects of archaeological research.

Improved knowledge of existing museum collections should feed through into the interpretation provided in the museum for the general public. There is also scope for interpretation related to the use of scientific techniques. Increased accessibility could be achieved through the creation of digital archives of laser scanned finds, which can be downloaded for further research or 3-D printing, as has been done for Roman metalwork and sculpture at Newcastle University.

Work on these existing collections would provide suitable PhD or MA theses and will involve collaboration between universities and museums. Wider synthetic research on the later prehistoric depositional practices, possibly carried out in a university context, needs to feed through to local government curators and contractors.

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Ceramic, Bronze age, Lithic implement, Iron age, Hoard, Laser scanning survey

La6: How can better understand the use of ceramics in late prehistoric north-east England?

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Later prehistoric assemblages are not as rare as has been traditionally thought, especially in the south of the region. Basic issues, such as chronology, use, production and deposition, should be tackled.

The dating evidence for later prehistoric pottery in the region has often been based on stratigraphic evidence and settlement morphology, but the widespread usage of Bayesian modelling can transform the chronological framework of ceramic typologies. The total size of the regional ceramic assemblage has perhaps doubled over the past ten years. When the current wave of housing sites are published, it may be time for a major regional review of the north-eastern late prehistoric ceramic tradition. This should embrace geological provenancing to answer long-standing questions about the degree to which ceramics were locally produced or exchanged across distance.

The symbolic importance of the deposition of material culture in later prehistoric contexts is now more widely appreciated, not only the votive deposition of high quality metalwork, but also day-to-day refuse (cf. Hill 1995). A better understanding of deposition practices can help us to improve our understanding of later prehistoric ritual activity (cf. Pope 2003), and will allow more targeted sampling and increased recovery levels. The increased size of the assemblage and the adoption of consistent recording standards will assist research into these issues.

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Ceramic, Bronze age, Iron age, Pot

La7: How can we better understand late prehistoric stone objects and lithic assemblages?

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More work is needed on later prehistoric worked stone and should cover a large range of material from worked lithic assemblages to coarse stone tools and querns. Coarse stone tools in particular are often overlooked, but there are clear opportunities for research into their forms and the provenance of stone types. A new chronology of forms, made available through the improved chronological framework, would be extremely useful, and could be matched by a careful consideration of the context of deposition. Some flint assemblages may be of late prehistoric date.

Rather than simply assuming that all such material is residual, later prehistoric lithic assemblages may be instructive as a means of identifying sites through fieldwalking. The work of Jodie Humphrey (in press) has shown that it is possible to characterise Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age lithic assemblages.

The Yorkshire Quern Survey has demonstrated the potential for looking at objects from manufacture, procurement, use, re-use, fragmentation and deposition. The identification of the geological origins of querns has great potential in enhancing our understanding of social and economic interaction in across and outside the region. The improved dating of settlement horizons has potential for questions relating to the date of the introduction of rotary technology into the north-east. The re-assessment of the chronology of Thorpe Thewles by Bayesian RC dating has questioned the 5th century currency for beehive querns that was suggested by the TL dates. Similarly, the use use of better scientific dating, allied to the careful use of early Romano-British finds, can help date the replacement of beehive forms by flat disks of the Roman period.

Coarse stone tools are often isolated finds, and their role as indicators of later prehistoric settlement should be assessed. There is considerable scope for re-assessing existing lithics collections and collections of querns in the region’s museums. The use of laser scanning to record assemblages will improve the quality and accessibility of the record.Any research on objects in museum collections should feed through into interpretative material. The required synthesis will draw on museum collections and have access to recently excavated material. It is essential that research derived from this topic reaches other finds specialists. This may be a possible PhD research topic.

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Radiocarbon dating, Bronze age, Lithic implement, Iron age, Stone, Quern, Fieldwalking survey, Laser scanning survey

La8: How can we develop and improve our understanding of metal objects and assemblages in late prehistoric north-east England?

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There is a need to move beyond the construction of typologies of bronze objects and explore patterns of production, distribution and deposition.

Iron-working has also been little researched, and there is an opportunity for basic work on this topic, particularly the production process. While the raw material is said to be widely available, little actual research has attempted to quantify and characterise raw material procurement and the organisation of the technology. The advent of large, open-area excavation has increased the potential for recognising areas of iron-working within settlements; its study will also have implications for our understanding of the social use of space in later prehistory, just as an improved appreciation of origins of metal used in the region will inform patterns of long-distance trade links within and beyond the North-East. At some point in the Mid to Late Iron Age, there is a democratisation of the technology, which see the material being worked on many of the larger settlements excavated. The social consequences and repercussions of this for other aspects of material culture (the ability to manipulate iron is needed to use rotary querns) has yet to be considered.

Upland landscapes provide contexts in which upstanding remains relating to metalwork may survive and here further research in the North Pennines and north Northumberland may be particularly valuable. Although such sites may be recognised during extensive field survey, they will require absolute dating to confirm their chronological context. How far can radiocarbon dating from charcoal extracted from slag help with dating such sites? What potential might these sites have to provide detailed evidence for the technology of late prehistoric metal production, as well as for the surrounding landscape and for early forest management?

Any synthesis must draw on museum collections and would require access to recently excavated material. It is essential that research reaches other finds specialists. This may be a PhD research topic, but there is also scope for larger scale projects exploring metalwork from beyond the region, for example, in the North-West and southern Scotland.

It is important that evidence for early iron-working from development-driven excavation is analysed by appropriate specialists. With the acquisition of sufficient data, there is scope for more substantial synthetic work although, given the relative scarcity of material, this may be more appropriate at a trans-regional level.

Detailed field survey will require advice from appropriate specialists, including for archaeometallurgy, plant macrofossils and absolute dating. Collaboration might be sought between local bodies (for example, Northumberland National Parks Authority, North Pennines AONB, Northumberland and Durham County Council) and universities. There is also scope for wider scales of survey involving neighbouring regions such as Cumbria and southern Scotland.

It is not uncommon for bronze metalwork to be reported as small finds by members of the public, particularly via the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Such reports should be followed up by a detailed investigation of the find spot. Archaeological organisations should continue to support the PAS and acknowledge the contribution it makes to the academic research and public archaeology.

Technical details about the composition of later prehistoric metalwork may have implications for their conservation in museums. The use of geophysical techniques should be promoted in a development context by local government curators.

Further magnetometer survey with appropriate specialist methodology is required to highlight possible iron-working within settlements.

There is a growing problem of a lack of suitably qualified and experienced specialists who can bring the highest academic standards to the study of metal artefacts and the archaeological residues of production.

Upland field survey should involve local amateur groups.

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Environmental sampling, Radiocarbon dating, Settlement, Bronze age, Metal, Iron age, Geophysical survey, Iron working site, Survey, Slag, Bronze, Iron, Bronze working site, Upland

La9: How can we better understand late prehistoric funerary rituals in north-east England?

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The modest progress in adding to the data-set can be contrasted with theoretical advances in understanding of the context of earlier finds. Where material is preserved for observation, as, for example, at Stanwick, the significance of the status of the location and the meaning of the act of burial can be investigated The recovery of any bone remains will be vital to improving our knowledge of the basic anthropology of the population of the period. Evidence for associated mortuary rituals also has wider implications for our understanding of late prehistoric society. AMS dating of cremated bone offers the potential to improve our chronological understanding of later prehistoric burials; it may also help identify previously invisible Iron Age burial practices, and will give a greater chronological control over our understanding of Bronze Age monument use.

The characterisation of areas of possible survival of later prehistoric burial types (possibly relating to soil type or archaeological context) may impact on advice from development control officers. Archaeological briefs should stipulate that all later prehistoric cremated human bone is dated using AMS techniques, and, where relevant, use Bayesian statistical techniques in their analysis, and that isotopic analysis of suitable material is undertaken where appropriate. Any evidence relating to Iron Age burial will significantly impact on our basic knowledge of later prehistoric society. This should be recognised in subsequent popular synthetic publications.

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Radiocarbon dating, Bronze age, Iron age, Burial, Cremation, Funerary