Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Agenda

NB1: How can we better understand the chronology of prehistoric rock-art?

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Rock art is one of the most distinctive, yet poorly understood aspects of the Neolithic and early Bronze Age in the north-east. It is vital that rock art is not studied in isolation: developments in our understanding of it will only emerge when we establish links between it and other aspects of contemporary society. Future research is required in chronology.

 

Recent work by Clive Waddington at Hunterheugh has illustrated the potential of small-scale, targeted excavation for clarifying the phasing and chronological development of rock art sites, as have comparable fieldwork projects in Scotland. Small-scale excavations at a variety of rock at sites throughout the north-east, extending from Barningham Moor in the south to North Northumberland, should be undertaken in an attempt to generate new chronological data.

 

An improved understanding of the chronology of prehistoric rock art will allow scholars to identify regional and national variation in development of the phenomenon. It will also contribute to an improved appreciation of the wider relationship between rock art and spatially associated prehistoric field monuments.

 

Related/linked questions: NB2, NB3

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Bronze age, Neolithic, Excavation, Rock art

NB2: How can we better understand the spatial context of prehistoric rock-art?

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Rock art is one of the most distinctive, yet poorly understood aspects of the Neolithic and early Bronze Age in the north-east. It is vital that rock art is not studied in isolation: developments in our understanding of it will only emerge when we establish links between it and other aspects of contemporary society. Future research is required into its spatial context

 

Rock art did not exist in isolation; it was frequently associated with other prehistoric monuments, particularly cairns and enclosures. We need to study ‘rock art landscapes’, and to seek to establish relationships between rock art and other things within these landscapes. Areas which might usefully targeted include Roughting Linn and Lordenshaw (Northumberland) and Barningham Moor (County Durham).

This will contribute to an improved appreciation of the wider relationship between rock art and spatially associated prehistoric field monuments.

Related/linked questions: NB1, NB3

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Monument, Bronze age, Neolithic, Rock art, Survey

NB3: How can prehistoric rock art be best conserved and managed for future generations?

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Rock art is one of the most distinctive, yet poorly understood aspects of the Neolithic and early Bronze Age in the north-east. It is vital that rock art is not studied in isolation: developments in our understanding of it will only emerge when we establish links between it and other aspects of contemporary society. Future research is required into how to manage and conserve it.

 

A better understanding of the processes of the decay and erosion of rock art is required. Future research might build on existing technical developments in recording and monitoring rock art sites of various ages both in Britain and abroad. Knowing which sites are most at risk will enable us to target resources at these, while acknowledging that not all sites can be preserved forever. A programme of photogrammetry, which can be done by volunteers with just a little training, should be undertaken with a view to producing 3D models of most if not all of the region’s rock art; these models would have a range of potential uses, and would be a good record of any sites that might be partly or even wholly lost through natural erosion.

This will allow managers, landowners and curators to better monitor and manage this important aspect of this heritage resource, providing improved on-site understanding and conservation, as well as enhanced wider, academic contextualisation.

Related/linked questions: NB1, NB2

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Bronze age, Neolithic, Rock art, Photogrammetric survey

NB4: How can we better understand early prehistoric settlement and agriculture?

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Very few Neolithic or early Bronze Age settlement sites have been excavated in the region, other than in north Northumberland around Milfield. There is a need to assess the nature of settlement throughout the period; eg to what extent did it remain mobile and when and how did the permanently occupied farmsteads of the early to middle Bronze Age, with their associated field systems, develop. We also need to try and better understand the onset of the Neolithic: what happened to all the ‘Mesolithic people’ and did they become part of ‘Neolithic’ society? In much of our region the general settlement pattern should be investigated through structured programmes of fieldwalking, a task ideally suited to large numbers of volunteers with appropriate levels of professional supervision. The results of such work must then be merged with those of earlier work in the attempt to identify intraregional patterns.

Work to further this research might include detailed survey of settlements and their surrounding landscapes. There is also a need for targeted excavation, with a particular focus on the chronological evolution of selected landscapes. Excavation in areas surrounding settlements may also help identify areas of middening or dumping of rubbish and this would lead to a better understanding of discard patterns across prehistoric sites.

This would improve local, regional and national appreciation of how NE England relates to other patterns of contemporary settlement and agriculture? An  improved appreciation of value, rarity and distinctiveness will feed into decisions and management policies being made by local government curators.

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Settlement, Mesolithic, Bronze age, Neolithic, Excavation, Midden, Fieldwalking survey

NB5: How can we better understand the distinctive forms and traditions of Neolithic enclosures in north-east England?

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Enclosures of probable or possible Neolithic date show considerable variation and need to be adequately characterised. Several Neolithic enclosures have now been recognised in Cumbria and from these it is clear that models of Neolithic enclosure based on examples in the south of England are insufficient to explain more northern sites. Numerous enclosures survive throughout the region as cropmarks and while most will eventually prove to be of Iron Age or later date it is probable that a small number will date from the Neolithic (some may be multiphase, as may some upland ‘hillforts’). An initial programme of survey work, with small-scale excavation, would secure much information relating to the chronology and function of these sites.

This will allow a more nuanced appreciation of regional distinctiveness and value for local curators and managers.

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Neolithic, Enclosure, Excavation, Survey

NB6: How can we better understand the spatial and chronological context of standing stones – ranging from individual standing stones to rows and circles?

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A range of stone settings exists in the region, including single standing stones, pairs of stones, stone rows and stone circles. Remarkably, there has been very little detailed work on these sites, and the results of recent work have been somewhat surprising. In particular, our appreciation of their chronology must be improved.

There is a need for detailed field survey of a sample of these sites, including examples of the main monument forms. This should be supplemented by targeted excavation and, where appropriate deposits are found, scientific analysis including radiocarbon dating.

Better contextualisation of these upstanding monuments will help their management by allowing an improved appreciation of how they potentially relate to other above ground and below ground features. It also has the potential to lead to an improved understanding of the extent of any regional distinctivity amongst such monumental traditions.

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Radiocarbon dating, Bronze age, Neolithic, Excavation, Stone, Survey, Stone setting, Stone circle

NB7: How can we better understand the large number of small cairns (field-clearance and burial) that survive in upland areas of north-east England?

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Large numbers of stone cairns survive in the upland regions of the North-East, including field clearance cairns and burial cairns. Further research should include:

Detailed field survey of cairns and groups of cairns in order to record their precise form and place them in their wider landscape context. This should include geophysics to examine ‘empty’ areas within and around some groups of cairns. These sites must not be studied in isolation; all survey work must consider landscape context in addition to the structure of individual monuments and monument clusters.

The excavation of a representative sample of cairn types, building on the results of survey. Previous excavation on cairns has demonstrated the complexity of even apparently very simple structures, so, where possible, excavation should be total. It is important that scientific dating accompanies fieldwork.

Further synthetic work on cairns, barrows and other early bronze Age burials throughout the North-East, building on the important work done recently by Chris Fowler (2013). This must be closely linked to the analysis of museum collections and (where possible) scientific analysis of skeletal material (eg for C14 dating and DNA analysis).

While we have hundreds of ‘early Bronze Age’ burial monuments, very little is known of Neolithic burial practice anywhere in the region. Carefully targeted investigation of one or more of the region’s long cairns would probably prove very rewarding, as might the investigation of large hilltop round cairns.

Better contextualisation of these upstanding monuments will help their management by allowing an improved appreciation of how they potentially relate to other above ground and below ground features. It also has the potential to lead to an improved understanding of the extent of any regional distinctivity amongst such monumental traditions.

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Monument, Barrow, Radiocarbon dating, Bronze age, Neolithic, Burial, Excavation, Cairn, Geophysical survey, Survey, Burial cairn, Clearance cairn

NB8: How we understand the distinctiveness and variation within the region and compared to other neighbouring areas?

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As clearly demonstrated within the NERFF2 Assessment, there is much variety in the quantity and nature of data from different parts of the north-east region. Until basic survey work is undertaken in the ‘empty’ areas, we cannot hope to know the extent to which this pattern reflects any kind of reality in the Neolithic and early Bronze Age.  The imminent availability of high-resolution lidar data for the entire region offers opportunities for large-scale survey projects, although this will not help with the identification of sites on heavily ploughed land. There were clearly differences in the nature of activity at different places at any one time, a pattern further complicated by differing rates of change through time. Linked to this, there is a need for detailed palaeoenvironmental studies in different places. It is also important to consider how things within our region relate to adjacent areas, including SE Scotland, Cumbria, Yorkshire and places across the North Sea. There is a need for detailed synthesis which fully addresses the nature of regional variations through the Neolithic and early Bronze Age, and which can be updated as new information becomes available (the NERRF2 Resource Assessment provides a basic framework for this, but much more detail is necessary).

Improved understanding of inter- and intra-regional variation will improve the management of monuments by enhancing our ability to place the archaeological resource in its wider context.

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Environmental sampling, Lidar survey, Bronze age, Neolithic, Survey

NB9: How can we develop and improve our chronologies for Neolithic and Early Bronze Age in north-east England?

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Trajectories of development vary significantly even within the region, and if these differing patterns of social change are to be synchronised and more refined models of change generated, it is essential to have greater chronological clarity. Some previously excavated sites should be re-examined in the attempt to generate further information regarding their chronology, and there is also potential for the retrospective dating of material held in museums.

New dates should be incorporated into the regional corpus and subjected to appropriate statistical analysis to enable the construction of ever more complex and reliable models. AMS dating and Bayesian statistics would both allow for greater dating precision and experimentation with other absolute dating techniques, such as archaeomagnetic dating and optical luminescence dating, must also be encouraged.

A register of radiocarbon dates from the Neolithic and Bronze Age of the North-East, including all newly generated dates and the re-calibration of older ones, should be established and maintained.

Improved understanding of basic chronological framework of this period will help all researchers and curators working on the Neolithic and Bronze Age in NE England.

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Radiocarbon dating, Bronze age, Neolithic, Archaeomagnetic sampling, Optically stimulated luminescence

NB10: How can we better understand landscape and settlement in the Neolithic and Bronze Age in both the uplands and lowlands?

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Whereas individual Neolithic monuments have been excavated, our appreciation of the extent and nature of wider Neolithic landscapes is less good (though there are some exceptions, such as around Milfield, Northumberland, and at Street House, Cleveland). Many other places, such as Upper Coquetdale and parts of the Durham Dales, offer clues of a Neolithic presence but have seen relatively little fieldwork. In other places, such as much of eastern County Durham, the Neolithic appears essentially absent. Large-scale walk-over survey offers some potential to build up a picture of these landscapes, although any extensive survey can only be of real benefit when combined with more detailed investigation, focusing particularly on providing a chronological framework. While extensive survey of this kind may identify monumental sites in upland areas it may be less successful in locating more less visible, but no less important, Neolithic and Bronze Age sites such as lithic scatters.

The Neolithic pit groups of the Milfield Basin are currently unique in the North-East, but it is not clear how far this is merely a function of more intensive work in the area. Because they offer no obvious surface trace, they may exist but not yet have been recognised elsewhere. It is important that pit groups, when identified, are adequately characterised, including their chronological range, any possible variation in date according to their geographical location and size, as well as their relation to other evidence for Neolithic activity, such as lithic scatters.

It is unlikely that any of the major changes occurring during the Neolithic and Bronze Age period, such as the adoption of farming or the increased occupation of the uplands, took place at a uniform rate across the North-East. The various topographical areas of the North-East probably followed different trajectories, varying according to both the natural landscape and differences in social organisation. It is not possible to extrapolate theories about such changes across the region using data derived from only a few sites. It is important that these gaps are filled and new data are placed in a secure chronological context. Pollen cores should be as closely dated as possible, using both AMS dates and calibration utilising Bayesian statistical approaches.

A particular challenge is to integrate lowland and upland landscapes. This issue remains methodologically problematic due to the very different potential for survival of Neolithic and Bronze Age activity in the two zones. Questions about the pattern of colonisation of upland areas from the lowlands can only be addressed, however, through a unified strategy.

The good quality of monument survival in upland areas gives us the opportunity to explore particular landscapes in real detail. Major research questions here include:

i       How do we characterize the changing nature of Neolithic/Bronze Age landscapes; what is the relationship between clearance cairns, ‘reave’-like stone banks and field systems?

ii     How and when do field systems develop?

iii    Is it possible to breakdown and order the evidence from clearance cairns? Can we identify relationships between ‘clearance’ and ‘burial’ cairns within some cairnfields that might cast some light on the ways in which these landscapes were utilised through time?

iv    How was early farming organised on a landscape scale?

 

These themes can be explored through small-scale targeted excavations; particular clusters of sites and monuments can be highlighted for the great research potential they afford. These could include:

i       Broomridge/Goat’s Crag/Roughting Lynn/Ford Moss (Northumberland)

ii     Frankham Fell/How Tallon/Eel Hill/Barningham Moor (Co. Durham).

 

One area in which there is need for significant new research is the Neolithic occupation of the Cheviots where, surprisingly, little has been recorded. A project is needed to assess whether this lacuna is real or due to a lack of fieldwork. This might be addressed by upland survey, aimed initially at identifying sites but followed by more detailed survey work and excavation which would allow sites to be dated; some such work could potentially be undertaken within the Northumberland National Park Authority’s proposed Cheviot Hills Archaeology Project. It is also crucial that the Royal Commission’s South-East Cheviot survey is published, or at least made accessible online. There is a need for further research on the lowland zones, particularly east Durham and the coastal zone of Northumberland. These areas are less responsive to the walk-over surveys that provide significant new data in the upland areas. Instead, it is likely that sites will either be identified through development-led fieldwork or large-scale research project such as the Milfield Basin project.

One area which may offer particular research potential is South Shields, where there is evidence for a Mesolithic/Neolithic palimpsest on a coastal estuary. This would allow the evaluation of the survival of prehistoric deposits in an urban context and the exploration of possible causewayed enclosure around the hilltop. This area should be flagged up as an area of particular importance by development-control officers. Due to the built-up nature of the area it would be valuable to construct a deposit model of known surviving archaeological stratigraphy and areas of probable survival.

Any detailed exploration of prehistoric landscapes must also include detailed analysis of environmental data. Currently the geographical spread of pollen cores is very uneven; they are concentrated in upland areas. While any additional data will be important, there is a particular need to increase pollen coring along the coastal zone, the Northern Cheviots and lowland County Durham. Pollen cores from peat deposits are not the only locations from which environmental data may be derived, and the potential for prehistoric land-surfaces sealed beneath structures such as cairns should not be ignored.

The Mesolithic/Neolithic transition is a period of great importance; pollen evidence can contribute to the debate concerning its nature and chronology, particularly through the recognition of periods of clearance and early cereal pollen. It is essential that the chronology of such events is as tight as possible; this can only be achieved through increased use of high-resolution radiocarbon dates. Recent developments in statistical approaches to the calibration of radiocarbon dates should be employed. Information thus generated should be used to inform ongoing debate about the nature of the ‘Mesolithic-Neolithic transition’ and the extent to which this was a result of incoming ‘Neolithic farmers’ or the adoption of agriculture by ‘Mesolithic hunters and gatherers’.

The extent and nature of arable farming and sedentary settlement throughout the Neolithic are still very much up for debate. The transition of later Neolithic patterns of settlement and subsistence, possibly still including much mobility, to those of the middle Bronze Age, when permanently occupied farmsteads and villages were the norm, also requires detailed study. Linked to this, we need to try and learn more about settlement patterns during the Chalcolithic; who were the ‘Beaker Folk’ and are they best regarded as harbingers of fundamental long-term change or a relatively insignificant interruption in an otherwise ongoing Neolithic sequence? DNA work potentially has much to offer this debate.

When identifying new sites an appropriate balance should be struck between conservation and research. Sites must be preserved for the future, but it is essential that sufficient excavation takes place to allow detailed understanding. Due to their importance, settlement sites should be published as fully and as rapidly as possible.

Important settlement sites are likely to be recognised during the development-control process, and contractors should be made aware of their importance, so that they can be picked up as early as possible (i.e. at evaluation stage). Care should be taken to identify any related contemporary features that may help to characterize the function of the site, particularly of Neolithic enclosures. Adequate provision for environmental sampling and analysis of the fill of these features should also be made. Strategic use of geophysical survey may help identify related features within the enclosure or in the surrounding area.

It is vital that there is regional agreement on the terminology used to record Neolithic enclosures on HERs. A greater understanding of the chronology of Neolithic sites is indispensable to clarify the extent and nature of the archaeological resource. A requirement for absolute dating techniques should be written into briefs for development-control archaeology on sites of this date.

The decision to Schedule is an important mechanism for protecting sites, but positive management regimes must be linked to assessments of their current condition. Any such assessment must be carried out with a view to academic research potential (Frodsham 1995a). Scheduling is not always easily applied to all new sites, particularly lithic scatters and palaeoenvironmental sites. Other forms of management will need to be found, which may also require fieldwork.

Newly identified sites, including those of palaeoenvironmental importance in both upland and lowland contexts, must be recorded adequately on the regional HERs.

 

Educational:

The importance of developing interpretative models based on local evidence, rather than that derived from southern English data, needs to percolate through to undergraduate and postgraduate teaching in the region’s universities.

In the major upland areas of the region, the Cheviots and the North Pennines, tourism is becoming an important element of the local economy. It is also in these areas that upstanding Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments are most likely to survive. While it is important that new information about the prehistoric archaeology of this region is fed through to the public, it is also vital that any increase in site visits is balanced by appropriate conservation measures. Educational initiatives must go hand-in-hand with these initiatives. In upland areas, large-scale walk-over surveys may provide a suitable activity for local community or amateur archaeology groups.

 

Infrastructure:

Both the Durham and Northumberland North Pennines, the uplands of Northumberland and the North York Moors fringe are contiguous to upland areas outside the North-East region. Any research should liaise with neighbouring regions to ensure methodological consistency and sharing of data.

 

Links to other agendas:

The need for on-going management survey was highlighted by Quartermaine (2002, 35), particularly focusing on basic identification survey to cover large areas of upland rapidly. He also promotes the need to bring together a ‘survey of surveys’, collating all the smaller-scale surveys carried out in each county. Finally, he advocates the need for large-scale projects focusing on the whole landscape, not just individual settlements. These should also include detailed environmental research on vegetational history (Quartermaine 2002, 36).

Frodsham (2000, 19) identifies a need to develop a better understanding of the Neolithic period in the Cheviots and to integrate this evidence with the Neolithic occupation of the lowlands. Bradley (2002, 39) calls for the publication of the former Royal Commission’s surveys in the Cheviots.

English Heritage has identified the transition from Mesolithic to Neolithic (c. 5,000-3,000 BC) and the 3rd millennium BC, the period that sees the development of settlement, burial and monument types typical of the Later Neolithic, as two crucial periods for further research (English Heritage 1997, PC2, PC3, 44). It has also highlighted Territories and Tenure in the 4th and 3rd millennium BC as a major chronological priority, noting the need for more excavation from upland sites and increased analysis and recovery of environmental data (English Heritage 1997, P6, 47). This transitional period has also been highlighted by Harding, Frodsham and Durden (1996, 191-192) who advocate a holistic approach.

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Environmental sampling, Radiocarbon dating, Settlement, Mesolithic, Bronze age, Neolithic, Field system, Excavation, Lithic scatter, Geophysical survey, Pit, Survey, Pollen, Causewayed enclosure, Clearance cairn, Palaeolandscape component

NB11: How can we better understand Neolithic and early Bronze Age monumental and burial traditions?

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There is great diversity in Neolithic/Early Bronze Age monumentality in the region and a pressing requirement for greater order to be imposed on these data. The great heterogeneity amongst cairn types and stone settings requires clarification, both morphologically and chronologically. This might be addressed in a variety of ways, including detailed survey of individual classes of monuments and targeted excavation to anchor them chronologically. Upstanding monuments are unlikely to be excavated through development-control archaeology; study is more likely to be carried out in a research context. A particular issue that could be easily resolved through small-scale fieldwork is the authenticity or otherwise of ‘tri-radial cairns’ as prehistoric monuments.

Enclosures are one of the suite of monument types known from the Neolithic of the North-East, but they are often interpreted from work done in the south of England. It is still not clear how far these sites are a homogenous class of monuments, or whether there is considerable diversity. As with many other monument classes their chronology needs refining more precisely; the morphology of these sites, and the extent of activity within enclosures and within the surrounding area also need further research. Recent work at Long Meg, in the Eden Valley just a few kms outside the north-east region, has demonstrated the potential for small-scale and relatively inexpensive excavations to generate very important information, including chronological data, for Neolithic enclosures.

Useful work could be done regarding the location of different types of monument within the region. This might cast light on transport routes, links with adjacent regions, and potentially concepts of ‘territories’ within different landscapes. Differences in monument types between areas of the region on a large scale, eg between the North Pennines and the Cheviots, and on more of a micro-scale, for example between adjacent valleys, might be worthy of study.

GIS could be used to explore possible astronomical alignments, or alignments with significant landscape features, that might be built into some monuments. Such analysis could potentially tell us things about the thinking behind the design and use of monuments.

Funerary behaviour is a particularly important aspect of prehistoric monumentality. There is ample scope for further work moving beyond the form of the monuments themselves, to explore the nature of the burial rites themselves, building on work undertaken recently by Chris Fowler (2013). Major variation is noticeable in the provision of grave-goods and in the treatment of the body (i.e cremation or inhumation), although the decisions behind these choices remain unclear. How might these variations within Neolithic and Early Bronze Age mortuary behaviour relate to social, gender, age or chronological distinction? The chronological element of this variation is of particular importance. Any potential Late Mesolithic/Early Neolithic burial sites should be identified and the shift in burial traditions from Neolithic into Early Bronze Age must be investigated further. Reinvestigation of old excavation reports and museum collections potentially has much to offer.

Increased analysis of Neolithic skeletal material is needed, though such material may be difficult to find. We currently know very little about Neolithic populations, with virtually no evidence for longevity, stature or pathologies. The recovery of more skeletal material would allow the application of new techniques, such as isotopic analysis, opening up research avenues into patterns of population movement and migration (cf. recent work on the ‘Amesbury archer’; Fitzpatrick 2013) and issues relating to dietary changes (for example, to what extent were maritime resources exploited, and how did this change over time?). It is possible that flat cemeteries and ring ditches investigated as part of the development-control process may produce burial evidence but it is important that any skeletal material discovered in this way is fully recovered and analysed, using absolute dating techniques wherever possible.

More work could usefully be undertaken on the chronology and function of burnt mounds. These have been recorded in numerous places throughout the region but very little work has taken place on them to date.

 

Strategic

Any improvement of our understanding of Neolithic monuments will inform decisions concerning their management. The ability to distinguish between different forms of cairns, for example, might feed through to management agreements and the DEFRA Environmental Stewardship Scheme. The advent of the ‘right to roam’ will have implications for monitoring of increased erosion; it is essential that the academic potential of such work is considered in parallel with the demands of conservation. The use of absolute dating techniques and full survey should be a requirement where appropriate. It is also important that the re-interpretation of monuments is fed back to the HERs allowing the necessary updates to existing entries to be made. There needs to be regional agreement about the ways in which such sites are recorded on HERs.

 

Educational

Upstanding monuments are one of the most publicly visible aspects of the prehistoric archaeology of the region. It is essential that any re-interpretations feed through rapidly to public interpretation, both for museum displays and in print.

The survey work required to further this research would make an ideal project for local archaeological groups, if provided with adequate specialist training and equipment. Their potential has been borne out by recent work on tri-radial cairns by the Borders Archaeology Group.

Analyses of variations in the burial record will require broad synthetic work, bringing together dispersed information held in archives, museums and on HERs, as well as potential new fieldwork. There is potential here for one or more MA or PhD theses.

 

Infrastructure

New work, whether surveys or excavation, should be published and appropriately disseminated. Research in neighbouring areas, such as Cumbria, Southern Scotland and North Yorkshire, would provide useful parallels.

Some evidence for prehistoric burial is currently only available as ‘grey literature’ and an avenue for its dissemination should be found in the near future.

 

Related/linked questions:

Richard Bradley notes the need to investigate the relationship between monuments and the process of artefact production. He also highlights the lack of good dating evidence for henges and enclosures (Bradley 2002, 40-41) and suggests a programme of small-scale excavation (cf. Harding 1981).

The relationship between classes of monument and their wider landscapes is recognised as an area of future research (Harding et al 1996, 193-194), together with the role of monuments in the landscape; for example, were they central places or is this merely an assumption (Bradley 2002, 41)? Questions like this could be answered by systematic field-walking and the need for a large-scale, integrated landscape approach is echoed by Frodsham (2000, 19).

The nature of the region’s few Neolithic long cairns has already been stressed (Frodsham 2000, 19; Vyner 2000). Frodsham also notes the need to explore the early adoption of round cairns, and particularly the fact that large hilltop cairns may be of Neolithic date. He also highlights the need for a long-term, integrated study of Neolithic and Bronze Age burial practices, including the sampling of both long cairns and round cairns (Frodsham 2000, 19). The need to explore the development and relationship between differing Neolithic burial traditions, and the evidence for the Neolithic use of round cairns in the region has also been noted (Harding et al 1996, 193).

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Monument, Mesolithic, Bronze age, Neolithic, Burial, Enclosure, Excavation, Cairn, Cemetery, Fieldwalking survey, Ring ditch, Survey, Burnt mound, Stone setting, Round cairn, Long cairn, Funerary, Diet

NB12: How can we better understand early prehistoric lithics?

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Lithics form the most common element of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age material culture. Despite the important lithics collections held in the region’s museums and the collection of new material through development-control projects much work is still needed, particularly their analysis and publication. The dating of assemblages must be a priority, as typologies remain poor. An area of particular importance is the Mesolithic/Neolithic transition. Do collections with diagnostic Late Mesolithic and Neolithic forms imply occupation (perhaps intermittently) in both periods, or were ‘Neolithic people’ still using ‘Mesolithic tools’?

A greater understanding of the raw materials used is also required. Most studies of provenance have focused on axes, and there is now a need to identify the sources of raw materials used in less high-status tools. A greater understanding of the origin of these materials has real potential to expand our understanding of contact and exchange in Neolithic and Early Bronze Age society.

A new audit of museum collections would be useful, designed to recreate links between objects and the actual places in the landscape from which they came.

 

Strategic

Lithics assemblages acquired through development-control archaeological work should be properly analysed. Information about assemblages which have been re-dated through new research should be fed back to the region’s HERs/SMRs so that their entries can be updated. Under current legislation it is not possible to protect lithic scatters through Scheduling; alternative ways must be sought of protecting these potentially important records of prehistoric activity.

 

Educational

Any re-assessment of museum collections should be fed back into interpretative material.

 

Infrastructure

Methods of analysing and publishing lithics material from the region must be standardised. This requires consultation with specialists within and beyond the region.

The publication of those assemblages currently only accessible via ‘grey literature’ is important, even if it may not always be worth making individual assemblages available

 

Related/linked questions:

Richard Bradley (2002, 38) questions the extent to which Late Mesolithic and Early Neolithic artefacts may be distinguished, and suggests that one way forward is to reconsider the so-called ‘mixed’ flint scatters published by Young, noting the need for supplementary stratigraphic evidence.

A renewed consideration of the supply of raw materials in the Neolithic/Early Bronze Age could help define the extent of contact across the Pennines (Bradley 2002, 39-40). The need to develop a better understanding of Neolithic mobility through consideration of the exchange of axes and other lithics has also been noted (Frodsham 2000, 20), some authors prioritising the systematic mapping of lithics by their raw material source (Harding et al 1996, 194-195).

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Mesolithic, Bronze age, Neolithic, Lithic working site, Lithic implement, Lithic scatter

NB13: How can we better understand the adoption and use of metalworking and metal objects in the Early Bronze Age?

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The study of metal objects from Early Bronze Age contexts has been focused mainly on their typology and new ways of exploring these artefacts, including analysis of contexts of deposition, are now required. Full metallurgical analysis of a sample of Early Bronze Age metal artefacts in the region’s museums would also be useful.

It is possible that evidence of early copper mining may survive in the North Pennines; various clues exist but no definite early mining sites have yet been located. The Beaker grave at Kirkhaugh (Alston Moor) may relate to early copper prospecting. A search for possible early sites should begin with geological analysis to ascertain areas in which early mines might have been located; there are not many such sites and it would not take long to examine them all on the ground.

A main priority should be to acquire better understanding of production and early metalworking technology. There is an urgent need to try and locate early production sites. There may be some relationship between burnt mounds and early smelting sites; this would make a useful research project.

It is crucial that any early Bronze Age metalworking sites identified through development-control archaeology are subject to a full range of scientific analysis, and to involve the English Heritage Regional Science Advisor at an early stage when such remains are located.

 

Educational

A detailed exploration of the metallurgical composition of existing early Bronze Age objects would make a suitable PhD or MSc thesis.

 

Related/linked questions:

Harding, Frodsham and Durden note the need for a better chronology of high-status artefacts in the region, to help clarify the dynamics that led to their production and circulation (Harding et al 1996, 195). The identification of Bronze Age mining activity in England has been prioritised by the Historical Metallurgy Society (Cranstone 1991a, 7).

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Bronze age, Metal, Metal industry site, Metal processing site, Metal extraction site, Bronze, Copper, Copper working site, Burnt mound

NB14: How can we better understand the adoption of ceramic technology and the use of ceramic objects in the Neolithic and Bronze Age?

More information on this question
More information:

A great deal of work to classify and date early and late Neolithic ceramics (summarised in the Resource Assessment) has taken place over recent years, almost all of it on finds from the Milfield area though occasional finds have also been made elsewhere, notably at Street House. Absolute-dating should be attempted where possible for contexts from which pottery has been recovered, and also for the pottery itself (thermoluminescence dating). The latter approach might enable retrospective dating of existing material held in museum collections.

There is still much scope for improved dating of Chalcolithic and early Bronze Age vessels throughout the region, including Beakers, Food Vessels, Food Vessel Urns and Collared urns.  The relative distributions of these different types of vessel throughout the north-east also require further analysis, building on important recent work by Chris Fowler (2013).

The use of early ceramics should be investigated through residue and lipids analysis.

Results of all such work should be collated into an enhanced regional pottery database and classificatory system.

 

Provision should be made for the absolute dating of those contexts from which ceramics are recovered as part of the development-control process, where this can be achieved reliably.

 

Educational

Any re-assessment of museum collections should be fed back into interpretative material.

 

Infrastructure

There is a generally recognised need for publication of existing ceramic assemblages currently only accessible through ‘grey literature’. While individual assemblages may be small in size, they have greater research value as a group

 

Related/linked questions:

Harding, Frodsham and Durden note the need for improved pottery chronologies in the region (Harding et al 1996, 195).

Found in the following Frameworks:
North East Research Framework
Categories:
Radiocarbon dating, Ceramic, Bronze age, Neolithic, Pot, Beaker, Collared urn, Thermoluminescence