The Prehistoric Resource Assessment 2007

by John Hodgson and Mark Brennand

With contributions by David Barrowclough, Tom Clare, Ron Cowell, Mark Edmonds, Helen Evans, Elisabeth Huckerby, Keith Matthews, Philip Miles, David Mullin, Michael Nevell, John Prag, Jamie Quartermaine and Nick Thorpe.


The Palaeolithic period represents a time span cover- ing almost the last half million years (Fig  2.1). Early material from the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic is uncommon on a  national  scale,  and  there  are no known sites from the North West. For a considerable part of this time the region was inhospitable due to glaciation, although the warmer, interglacial and interstadial  periods  would have  undoubtedly   seen gatherers and hunters exploiting the area that now forms the  region.  The  Late  Upper  Palaeolithic  (c 11,000 to 8000 BC) represents the final stages of the Devensian glaciation. The archaeological evidence is sparse but certainly  demonstrates the presence of human  groups in the region during  this  time. The Mesolithic represents the period from the end of the Devensian glaciation at c  8000 BC to the widespread adoption  of Neolithic   culture  and economy  some- time after c 4000 BC. The division between Early and Late Mesolithic is generally taken to be approximately 6500 BC.

Fig 2.1 A late prehistoric boat of dug out construction, recovered from Baddiley Mere in 1911 (Cheshire County Council).


Late Palaeolithic  deposits from the Late Devensian late glacial epoch, although not abundant, have been identified  throughout  the North West,  eg from St Bees (Coope  & Joachim 1980, Coope 1994) and the tarns of Cumbria (Pennington 1970) in the north, to Cheshire (Leah et al 1997, 50) and Greater Manchester (Birks 1964-65) in the southern part of the region. As the ice retreated and the climate became warmer in the Late Devensian interstadial period, the vegetation on the  drier  land  developed  into an  open  birch, juniper  and  willow scrub  with a  rich   herbaceous flora.  This was ultimately   replaced  by  more open grassland with less stable soil conditions.

Environmental changes resulted in a general rise in sea-level as the ice cap melted, an increase in rainfall, and natural successions of woodland vegetation. In the earliest phase of the Mesolithic, by c 7250 BC, the coastline of North West England lay at c  -20m OD (Tooley  1974, 33). This produced  a coastline drawn roughly  along  a line  from just west  of Anglesey to west of Walney Island in Morecambe  Bay, forming a belt of now submerged land, more than 20 km wide (Tooley  1985, Fig. 6.1). By c    5200 BC the sea level had risen to -2m OD,  and Britain  had become  an island (Tooley 1974; 1978; 1985).

Palaeoenvironmental    analysis   has    illustrated   a sequence  of environmental  changes  culminating  in increasing forest cover, up to about 500m OD (Tallis 1975, 1999). The open grassland of the Late Deven- sian III (c 11,000 to 9500 BC) was succeeded in the Early Mesolithic firstly  by juniper, willow and birch scrub, then by a hazel woodland with pine, followed by a mixed  deciduous  woodland of oak, elm, birch, hazel and  lime.  In many  areas swamp,  and  subsequently fen, formed behind the present coastal zones and in poorly  drained hollows within inland and upland areas. About 7000-6000 cal BC alder spread throughout   the  region  possibly  as a response to a change to wetter conditions or as the result of human or animal interference (Chambers & Elliot 1989). Throughout the Mesolithic, when mixed woodland covered much of the drier ground, there is evidence that  suggests  that  mire surfaces were  being  burnt. The North West  Wetlands  Survey and Taylor  et al (1994) have recorded  discrete bands of charcoal in peat deposits, often dated to the period, throughout the region, from Solway Moss (C) to Lindow Moss (Ch).  These bands are often correlated with brief changes in pollen diagrams, eg at Little Haweswater (C) (Taylor  et al  1994),  Thwaite  House  Moss  (L) (Middleton  et  al  1995,  182-190)   and   at  Walker’s Heath (Ch) (Leah et al 1997, 81-7, 221-4), suggesting small clearances followed by woodland regeneration.

The wetland areas in North West   England expanded further at the Late Mesolithic/Early Neolithic transition, when the falling sea levels of the Lytham  VI marine transgression  (Tooley  1978) left behind large areas of wet minerogenic soils along the Irish Sea Coastal Plain, which  developed into the coastal raised mires (Cowell & Innes 1994; Middleton et al 1995; Hodgkinson et al 2000, 23-84).

Although it has traditionally been argued that there is no definitive proof for early activity in Northern Brit- ain, there is evidence which suggests a Later Palaeolithic   presence  in  Cumbria (Young   2002). Interpretations   have  been   problematic,    however, with the majority  of assemblages  mixed with typo- logically ‘later’ artefacts, often a result of disturbance of the cave deposits with which this material is com- monly associated. Salisbury (1992) provided the first discussion of such evidence from caves around the southern Cumbrian limestone. Despite a piece of red deer  antler  from Kirkhead  Cave  being   dated  to 11,050-10,400 cal BC (Salisbury 1992), the close dat- ing  of artefacts  from lower  stratigraphic  contexts remains unresolved (Wood  et al 1969; Ashmead  and Wood 1974;  Gale  &  Hunt 1985;  Salisbury  1986, 1988; 1997; Tipping  1986; 1990). However, the Late Devensian zone III (c 11,000 to 9500 BC) dating for some of the Kirkhead  Cave lithic  material remains unchallenged (Young 2002). A single flint bladelet from Badger Hole, Warton (L) has parallels with the Kirkhead material, and may also represent Late Upper Palaeolithic activity. Early indications of human activity have been identified at High Furlong in the Fylde (Hallam  et al 1973)  in the Late Devensian  II warm interstadial period. Here the skeleton of an elk displaying signs of hunting  was preserved within shallow  water  deposits.  The  skeleton  was dated  to 13,500-11,500 cal BC (Jacobi et al 1986; Middleton et al 1995, 87), although this date has recently been slightly refined towards the later end of this spectrum (R Jacobi pers comm).

Fig 2.2 The possible Late upper Palaeolithic rockshelter at Carden Park (Chester Archaeology).

Excavations  at  Lindale  Low Cave  (C) recovered potentially the earliest evidence for occupation in the region, in the form of a large angle-backed blade of Creswellian type, sealed beneath a stalagmite floor (Salisbury 1988; 1992). A single flint bladelet similar to those from Kirkhead Cave and Badgers Hole was recovered from a separate location within the cave, and is unlikely to be contemporary.  Excavations  in caves at Blenkett Wood, Allithwaite (Salisbury 1997) may  also  have  produced   Late  Upper  Palaeolithic tools,  alongside later lithic  artefacts,  faunal  remains and  human bone  from highly  disturbed  contexts (Young 2002). Excavations at the cave of Bart’s Shelter on the Furness Peninsula have produced  80 complete lithic implements (Young  2002), including  a Late Upper Palaeolithic shouldered point (R. Jacobi pers comm). The late glacial faunal assemblage in- cludes elk and reindeer, while  remains of bear and pig  remain undated (R Jacobi  pers comm).  Recent excavations at Carden Park (Ch; Fig 2.2) have also produced Late Upper Palaeolithic material including a Cresswell point,  representing  the  first  in situ  Late Upper Palaeolithic material from the county (


The evidence for Mesolithic activity across the region is heavily influenced by the exposure of diagnostic material, and concentrations of fieldwork in particu- lar areas. Scatters of lithic  material provide the main evidence  for  any  nature  of  occupation  (Harding 2002, 15) and few organic or structural remains have been   identified.  Palaeoenvironmental   evidence  is, however, fairly widespread. This indicates repeated woodland reduction episodes, and in the uplands burning of the woodland to encourage regeneration and browsing,  which  may  have been an important part  of  land-use  (Mellars   1976a; Middleton  et  al 1995). The clustering of Later Mesolithic material in raised  beach contexts  around  the  Esk estuary  (C) suggests that communities were exploiting coastal resources and  inland  freshwater  tarns (Bonsall  et al 1994). Perhaps the most dramatic  evidence consists of a series of human footprints preserved in silts and muds  at  Formby  (M),  some of which  date  to the Later Mesolithic (Fig 2.12), indicating activity along  a near-shore  intertidal  environment  (Gonzalez  et  al 1997).

In western Cumbria, Later Mesolithic flint scatters have been located on the raised beaches of the maxi- mum  marine transgression and along clifftops north of St Bees (Cherry  & Cherry 1983; 2002). There are extremely few perceptible technological differences between Later Mesolithic  and Early  Neolithic lithic scatters in the region and it has been suggested that a microlithic  technology persisted in Cumbria into the Neolithic (Cherry & Cherry 2002; Evans 2004). With the possible exception of some sites where microliths form the  majority  of tool forms represented,  the identification of purely Later Mesolithic scatters in the area is problematic as the majority of assemblages derive from surface scatters and erosion  scars. The visibility of earlier material is influenced by sea level changes  and  may  have  been  truncated   over   the course of the Later Mesolithic, Early Neolithic or later (Cherry & Cherry 2002).

Fig 2.3 Hand axe from Tatton, Cheshire (Cheshire County Council).

At Monk Moors on the west Cumbrian coast two large microlithic scatters incorporating  a variety of largely geometric microlith  forms  have been investi- gated  (Cherry  & Cherry,  1986).  Site  1 revealed  an arrangement of hearths and stakeholes covering an area 7m by 2.4m, corresponding with highest densi- ties of artefacts recovered from the ploughsoil (Bonsall, 1989). Radiocarbon  determinations from a hearth indicate occupation of the site at 5970-5630 cal  BC (Bonsall  et al  1986,  Hodgkinson  et al 2000). Nearby at Williamsons Moss, extensive activity was centred around the banks of an inland lake formed after 5473-5074 cal BC (Bonsall et al 1994). Excava- tions  revealed  a  lithic   assemblage  of  more than 32,000  pieces  and  a variety  of occupation  remains that  have  not seen  full  publication.  Radiocarbon dates of ‘wooden structures’ dated to the 5th millen- nium BC and taken to be indicative  of year-round occupation of the site (Bonsall 1981) are now, how- ever,   believed    to   have   been   natural    features (Hodgkinson  et al 2000;  Croft et al 2002). The  lithic assemblages and the range of dates from both Williamsons  Moss  and  Monk Moors  span from c 5790-5360 cal BC to 1252-910 cal BC and are indicative of multiple activity phases, not solely Later Mesolithic as has commonly  been implied. The only current artefactual evidence for Mesolithic activity from the central Lake District is the find of a small number of microliths from the environs of the Roman fort at Waterhead, at the north end of Windermere (Fell 1971; CFA 1993; Manning & Dunwell 1995).

Fig 2.4 Excavations of an Early Mesolithic site at Greasby, Merseyside (Ron Cowell/National Museums Liverpool).

Both Earlier and Later Mesolithic material has been identified from cave sites on the southern Cumbrian limestone (Salisbury 1992; 1997; Young 2002). An assemblage of Early Mesolithic microliths, some manufactured  from volcanic  tuff, have been recov- ered from Bart’s Shelter, along with a bone  or antler point dated  to 6210-6190  cal  BC (R Jacobi  pers comm). Further sites in Furness have been identified and  have  been  excavated,  by both antiquarian  and more recent investigators. The finds from these excavations are believed to incorporate a variety of mate- rial  dating  from the  Later  Palaeolithic,  Early  and Later Mesolithic onwards but few sites or full assemblages  have  been  analysed  or published  in detail.

Without close analysis of finds (some of which are currently unaccounted for) the typological dating of a number of these implements as Early Mesolithic remains  unresolved,  with interpretations  based  on individual analyses of difficult and often chronologi- cally mixed assemblages. Mesolithic flintwork has also  been   identified  on the   limestone in  eastern Cumbria together with an early find of bone harpoon heads at Crosby-on-Eden (Hodgson 1895; Cherry & Cherry 1987a; Cherry & Cherry 1995). Assemblages of Late  Mesolithic  and  Neolithic   date  have  been found sealed beneath burial mounds at Borwick (L) (Olivier 1988), and on the bank of the River Kent at Levens Park, (C) (Cherry & Cherry 2000), implying repeated use of some locations into the Neolithic.

Excavations at the Crook O’Lune near Caton (L) recovered 480 flint and chert artefacts, the majority comprising  waste  material,  such  as single-platform cores (OA North forthcoming  a). Tool types in- cluded burins, microliths and crudely made leaf shaped arrowheads. Chert  and flint were present in more or less  equal  proportions,  with some  of the most  intricate  tools  being  made from chert. There were few features associated with the assemblage, but this  does  add  to the  larger  collection  of material found in the  area (Penney  1978;  Williams  1998) which  now numbers  over  1400 artefacts.  A small collection of similar material was recovered from Hornby (L) (OA North 2002a),  also  on the  River Lune.

Until recently, to the south of Morecambe Bay the main areas of prehistoric occupation were thought to be confined to the north Wirral coast (Hume 1863; Varley  1964; Roeder  1900). The  North West Wetlands Survey (Middleton 1990; Cowell & Innes 1994; Middleton et al 1995), and a large-scale programme of systematic field survey (Cowell  1991; 1992c; Cowell & Innes 1994), have added considerably  to the picture. The pattern of coastal Mesolithic settlement is now known to extend along the present Sefton coast, around the valley of the river Alt. Potential Later Mesolithic  material  has been  identified  within the area of the former coastal zone, alongside large scat- ters at Banks near Southport and on the north side of the Ribble estuary at Peel. Smaller scatters have been identified on islands of sandy soils, such as at Halsall (L) and Downholland (L) (Middleton 1997). Systematic fieldwork in inland areas is more generally characterised by the recovery of small numbers of lithic forms, including  blade debitage, scattered widely across the landscape (Cowell 1991a; Cowell & Innes 1994; Middleton 1993; Middleton 1997; Hall et al 1995).  Excavation  of a  pit at  one of these  loca- tions,  at  Tarbock  (M),  recovered burnt hazelnuts which  have been dated to c  4800 BC (Cowell 2006). The main exception to this pattern comes from lar- ger concentrations of Later Mesolithic lithic material from Mawdsley (L) and Halton (L) in the Lune valley (Penney 1978). The majority  of the assemblages are small in comparison  to many sites  in the Pennines (Mellars  1976a), but are reasonably consistent,  sug- gesting that they are representative of the nature of occupation in south Merseyside, west Lancashire and the  Fylde  (Cowell  &  Innes  1994;  Middleton  et al 1995; Middleton 1997).

The western Wirral  sandstone ridge  has produced the best Early Mesolithic evidence from the western lowlands  at  Greasby (M;  Fig  2.4) and Thurstaston (M) (Cowell 1992b), which includes the densest con- centration of Mesolithic  finds  in the county.  Later Mesolithic  assemblages  are  also  known from sites such  as at Irby (M) (Philpott & Adams forthcoming; Philpott & Cowell 1992). Excavation of Early Meso- lithic sites at Greasby Copse and Thurstaston Dungeon has shown that these sites are fairly  typical of those found elsewhere in that  they cover relatively large  areas, 200m2    or more,  and incorporate  a full range of flint reduction  material and a wide variety of tool forms.  The Greasby site also includes stone- lined pits.  Radiocarbon  dates  from Greasby  Copse are awaited. Finds of raw material at both sites are interpreted  as strong evidence that the North Welsh coast was being used for the exploitation of local chert sources (Cowell  1992b). South of the Mersey, the Triassic sandstone mid-Cheshire ridge forms the focus for Mesolithic sites (Fig 2.5), a small number  of which have been located by fieldwalking around Frodsham (Varley 1964; Longley 1987). A little to the south, four separate flint scatters from fields around the  village  of Ashton  include  both early  and  later forms (Leach 1942).

The  central  Pennine  uplands  of Lancashire  and Yorkshire have produced  one of greatest concentra- tions of Mesolithic sites in the country, and this evi- dence has played a dominant role in interpretations of the period. Early work was undertaken on the flint assemblages of the Pennines during the late 19th cen- tury (Stonehouse  2001, 19) and from the 1920s by Francis Buckley  (1924), whose work has subse- quently been developed by others (Clark 1932; Switsur & Jacobi 1975; Jacobi,  Tallis  et al 1976).  In addition to Buckley’s finds and records  a large collec- tion of lithics and archives were accumulated by Pat Stonehouse (Stonehouse 1989; 1994; 2001). During the 1990s the West Yorkshire Archaeological Service also  undertook  research  on the  Mesolithic  archae- ology of the southern Pennines, sometimes working on sites  first investigated by the earlier researchers (Spikins 1995; 1996). The sites largely occur where erosion of the post-Mesolithic peat overlying mineral soil has taken place. Such material ranges from a few pieces of struck flint to several thousand (Stonehouse 1989). By contrast, sites within the Pennine foothills at  Tatton  (Higham  &  Cane 1999),   Manchester Airport, and Mellor (Redhead & Roberts 2003) have been located as a result  of excavating  sites  of later periods.

The southern Pennine sites are represented by sur- face assemblages of varying sizes (Jacobi et al 1976; Tallis et al  1976).  Most  of the  upland  scatters  are dominated  by microliths,  often  forming more than 90% of the assemblage, with the greatest concentra- tion being found in a  fairly restricted area between Saddleworth  and  Marsden  (Barnes  1982).  Further south,  a  foothill valley  ridge  location  at  Alderley Edge (Ch) has produced several locations with Meso- lithic lithics, including potentially early material (Longley  1987; Cowell  2005). Further to the north, the Pennines are seemingly almost devoid of sites but this may be a reflection of the limited fieldwork un- dertaken there.

Fig 2.5 Notched flint bladelet from Weaverham, Cheshire (Portable Atniquities Scheme)
Fig 2.6 Neolithic axe from Moston, Crewe & Nanteich (Cheshire County Council)

Where  excavation  has taken  place (Barnes 1982; Buckley  1924;  Radley  & Mellars  1964; Stonehouse 1986) upland   sites   are  generally   represented   by circular arrangements of struck flint over small areas, often  with hearths or evidence of burning (Spikins 1995; 1996; 2002; Poole 1986; Howard-Davis 1996). Structural  evidence  may  be  represented  by  small stake holes or circular arrangements of stone. A small flint assemblage was excavated at Radcliffe (GM) in the Irwell valley, and this included an axe-sharpening flake. A multi-ringed post structure was also exca- vated but a direct  association with the flint was not established (Spencer 1950; Clark 1954). The site at Tatton Park (Ch; Fig 2.3) has produced an early Mesolithic flint scatter associated with a natural hol- low (Higham  & Cane  1999),  while  details  are  still awaited  for the  associations  of the  relatively  large lithic scatter  from the  Manchester  Airport excava- tions (Thompson 1998).

Ritual, Religion and Ceremony

Little is known of Mesolithic religion or burial prac- tice for the country  as a whole. There have been claims for a Mesolithic date from some of the human remains recovered from cave contexts (Young 2002), but these have not been scientifically dated, and may equally date from later prehistory.

Technology and Trade

Although flint-bearing chalk is present at the same latitude  to the  east  in Yorkshire  and  Lincolnshire, and to the west  in County Antrim, natural flint is almost entirely absent from the region. Pebble flint does occur  in localised  pockets  of coastal  shingle, and is likely to be a result of a disintegrating  chalk formation lying beneath the Irish Sea (Cross  1939). Flint also occurs in small quantities in boulder clay. The presence of black and grey chalk flint within assemblages suggests sources in East Yorkshire (Jacobi 1978; Cherry  & Cherry 1987a; Cherry & Cherry 2000, 25-7; 2002) and the Flamborough Head area (Cherry  & Cherry 1987a; Durden 1996) although an Irish origin cannot be ruled out for some of this material  (Cherry  &  Cherry  1996;  Edmonds  2004). The ubiquity of chalk flint in eastern areas has been taken to suggest  the exploitation  of sources  to the east  rather  than  the  west  (Cherry  & Cherry  2000, 2002) which  in turn might suggest  the presence of long distance trade networks and exchange, possibly integrated within the seasonal movement of peoples. However, the evidence and sourcing  of material re- main equivocal.

In the eastern  Cumbrian  uplands Late Mesolithic scatters  primarily  consist  of local  cherts  (c  60%), while  pebble flint was  also  used,  probably  sourced from local and Pennine river gravels. The dominant use  of chert  on the  Early  Mesolithic  Wirral sites probably  represents  exploitation  of a source  within the limestone hills running along the west side of the Dee estuary, sometimes called Gronant chert. Derby- shire chert began to be widely  used in the Pennines during the Late Mesolithic (Radley 1968) and this is a potential source for the chert found on the lowland sites east of the Mersey estuary. The source for lithic forms manufactured from volcanic tuff in the north of the region is still believed to be glacial drift origi- nating from the central Cumbrian Massif (Bradley & Edmonds 1993). There is as yet no evidence that the high quality material in the central Lakes was ex- ploited at source until the Early Neolithic (Bradley & Edmonds 1993).


During  the 5th millennium BC disturbed ground and associated small gaps in the woodland cover became more common  across the region. They occur both around the coastal areas and around the central mosslands, and even continued  into the 4th millen- nium BC in Merseyside and Lancashire  (Cowell  & Innes 1994; Middleton et al 1995). At the coastal sites of Bidston  Moss  and Flea  Moss Wood these  phe- nomena are accompanied by cereal-type  pollen at c 4900-4500  cal  BC, mirrored  at  a number   of other sites in North West England and Northern Ireland (Edwards & Hirons 1984).

If cereal-type, rather than positively identified cereal pollen, is taken as representing the introduction of domesticated  plants  into the  region  at  such  an early date, the implications are that Mesolithic com- munities were adopting aspects of an agricultural economy (Simmons & Innes 1987). All the sites where this phenomenon is found  lie along the western seaboard of Britain (Edwards & Hirons 1984), suggesting widespread contacts along the western coast. Small-scale agriculture  may have gradually be- come part of the Mesolithic repertoire, in addition to the established lifestyle of gathering and hunting. It is notable  that  the  two local  occurrences  are  both found in the coastal zone, where stronger evidence for the repeated use of the same locations is found (Bonsall 1981). The apparent lack of technological change between the flint assemblages of the Later Mesolithic and Early Neolithic also demonstrates a gradual change, and suggests that many aspects of Neolithic  lifestyle and economy were already in place by the 5th millennium BC.


The onset of the Neolithic  can be placed within the centuries around 4000 BC. Traditional narratives and perceptions  of the Neolithic   have concentrated on the  ‘sea change’ thought  to separate  the  transitory hunting and gathering lifestyle of Late Mesolithic groups from the increasingly settled agriculture practised by Neolithic  communities. The distinctions between these periods are commonly  defined by the appearance of ceremonial and funerary  monuments together with a new artefact ‘package’, including pottery and distinctive lithic  forms (Fig 2.6). Recent interpretations have, however, stressed that while there are many shared elements of material culture and architecture across Britain as a whole,  the manner and chronology of the introduction  of domesticated plants and animals, and the use of particular monumental forms (Fig 2.7) may have varied considerably   across different regions.  Furthermore, received wisdom concerning the changing character of settlement  has been questioned, and it has been suggested that Neolithic societies maintained a sig- nificant degree of seasonal or transitory movement in some areas (eg Barrett 1989; 1994; Topping  1997; Whittle  1997)  and  more permanent  settlement  in others (eg Cooney 1997; Barnatt 1999; 2000).

The Late Neolithic (3000-2500 BC) is regarded  as marking   a  phase  of  intensification  of  settlement, land-use and artefact production,  and has been asso- ciated with the first  indications for the existence of social hierarchies (Bradley & Edmonds 1993). There is increasing evidence for long distance communica- tion and interaction, particularly in the realm of ritual and ceremony.  In parts of the north,  however, the period is also seen as one  where  distinctive regional characteristics become apparent (Piggott  1954; Brad- ley 1984; Harding et al 1996).

The Bronze Age is usually divided  into three phases, namely  Early  (from c   2500 BC),  Middle  (c 1500-1100 BC) and Late (c 1100-600 BC). While it is accepted   archaeological   terminology   it  must   be emphasised  how artificial  it is  to draw  a boundary between the Later Neolithic  and Early Bronze Age. At a national scale the Early Bronze Age marks the introduction of bronze metalwork,  changes  in pottery styles, the increased occurrence of single burial traditions and changes in monumental building. At a regional scale there are hints at broad changes in religious, agricultural and social practices during  the latter half of the 3rd millennium BC, but there is also evidence throughout  the region for a large measure of continuity in the archaeological record. It is by no means certain when the first metals were used within the North West, and the continued  exploitation  of sources of stone can be seen in the production of axe hammers during the 3rd millennium BC.

Fig 2.7 A possible Neolithic causewayed enclosure at Green How, Aughertree Fell, Cumbria (English Heritage).


The maximum marine transgression around the time of the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition has been iden- tified in a number   of areas situated around the 8m contour, which has been associated with Later Meso- lithic and Early Neolithic lithic scatters. Former shorelines  are  represented  by  shingle  ridges, some now lying up to 1km inland, the formation of a num- ber of which  have been closely dated (Tipping 1994; Clare et al 2001).

The upland evidence suggests that during the 5th, 4th and 3rd millennia, communities were involved in the creation and management of forest and heathland clearings in a variety  of topographic  settings.  Both upland  and lowland  areas were exploited,  with evi- dence suggesting occasional small scale cultivation on the coastal plain and the eastern limestone plateau (Pennington  1975; Skinner 2000). Clearance appears to begin in the Later Mesolithic, and material at Howgill Castle (C) contained cereal pollen dated to c 4000 cal BC (Skinner 2000). Temporary  small-scale clearance episodes, which  are often associated with records of cereal pollen, continued after the regional elm decline, dated at 3900-3640 cal BC at Red Moss (L) (Hibbert  et al  1971),  and  4340-3970  cal  BC at Knowsley Park (M) (Cowell & Innes 1994, 148). Pa- lynological analysis from Hatchmere, Norley (Ch) (cited in Higham  & Cane 1999,  37),  provided  evidence for forest clearance dated to 4260 to 3950 cal BC, with a further episode between 3700 and 3300 cal BC. Evidence for possible selective clearance of oak was discovered at Bar Mere (Ch) at a similar date (Schoenwetter 1982, 11), but cultivation seems not to have taken place at this time. A charcoal layer within the peat at Lindow  Moss (Ch) dated to 3950-3640 cal BC may represent vegetation  clearance  and is  contemporary with the local Elm Decline (Turner & Scaife 1995, 17).

Cereal pollen from Barfield Tarn (C) (Pennington 1975) was identified in the main ‘elm decline’ phase, after a primary  phase of clearance at 4457-3825 cal BC (Hodgkinson et al 2000). This would appear to be broadly concurrent with other dated ‘double elm de- clines’ in the region (eg Tipping  1994). Upland clearances  appear mainly  to be  associated  with the maintenance of open or grassland areas at the edge of the treeline, occasionally through  the use of fire (Pennington 1975; Skinner 2000). Palynological work undertaken at Ehenside Tarn on the west Cumbrian coast has a long history and has produced  a range of radiocarbon dates some of which  were very early in the development of the technique (Arnold & Libby 1951;  Godwin &  Willis 1960;  Walker 1966; Hodgkinson et al 2000, 74-5). Recent re-analysis and radiocarbon dating of pollen data from Ehenside Tarn illustrate the main periods of activity around the tarn edge span between c 3900 and 1500 cal BC, with increased charcoal at between c 3000 and 2600 cal BC (Walker 2001). This activity, together with increased rainfall over the course of the Neolithic,  appears to have been instrumental in causing the erosion of mineral soils and the formation of peat in upland contexts (Pennington 1975; Skinner 2000). In the central  Cumbrian  Fells  peat  formation at  Great Rundale  has been dated  to c  3300 cal  BC (Skinner 2000), and at  Thunacarr  Knott dates  from an axe- working site overlain by peat span from 3250 to 2850 cal BC (Clough 1973).

Fig 2.8 Pollen diagram from Coniston Water, Cumbria, where 1, 2 and 3 denote successive clearances of quercus and alnus each followed by regeneration and a transient peak of betula. The first episode of clearance is associated with an elm decline, with a gen- eral decline in Oak and Alder (I on diagram) from the Bronze Age onwards (after Pennington 1997, with permission from Geof- frey Halliday).

The  pattern  of small  clearances  detected  in the Neolithic  continued throughout the Bronze Age (Fig 2.8). Evidence suggests a deterioration in climatic conditions and widespread regeneration of secondary woodland in the lowlands, heather moorland in the uplands and wetter conditions on the mire surfaces. At  Leasowe  Bay,  north Wirral,  deposits  dated  to 2700-2200 cal BC may be associated with sea  level rise, with alder, fen carr and Sphagnum bog the domi- nant vegetation in the area (Kenna 1986, 5). Sea level was generally lower than today from the Late Neo- lithic (Tooley 1978), but from c  1800 BC the present coast and dune system in Merseyside was largely in its present position (Innes & Tooley 1993). On the Fylde coast the transgression of Lytham VII is dated to the Early Bronze Age, while the north Wirral coast also becomes wetter before c 1600 BC (Kenna 1978).

The dated pollen record for this period in the re- gion is not extensive, but sites that cover the earlier and Middle Bronze Age (or part of it) include White Moss (C), Helsington Moss (C) and Foulshaw Moss (C) (Wimble  et al  2000),  Knowsley  Park  (M),  Parr Moss (M), Simonswood Moss (M) and Mount  Pleas- ant, Waterloo (M) (Cowell & Innes 1994; Leah et al 1997). In other pollen diagrams in the region there is no evidence for a change  in the landscape of the pe- riod, with lowland and upland sites either not dated well enough or showing little change in the scale or scope of clearance  from the general pattern  of the earlier  periods   (Howard-Davis  et  al  1988;   Barnes 1982; Dumayne 1995).

Tephra  sealed  within the  peat  deposits  of  the North West comprise a series of very important chronological markers. Tephra are released into the atmosphere at the time of a volcanic eruption and are deposited on the landscape. Individual tephra have a unique chemical signature which  can be identified to specific volcanic eruptions. One such layer at Fenton Cottage, Over Wyre (L), (Middleton et al 1995, 150; Wells et al  1997)  has  been  identified  as the  fourth eruption  of the Hekla  volcano  in Iceland  dated  to between  2560-2142  cal  BC and  2288-1892  cal  BC (Dugmore et al 1992).

Settlement and Land-use

The region’s broad topographical range and close juxtaposition of coastal, wetland and dry land envi- ronments may have allowed gathering and hunting to remain of primary economic importance well into the period after which domesticated crops and animals became available. It is also likely that there were variations between different parts of the region in the frequency  of cereal  use  as  an  adjunct  to wild re- sources. Although  interpretation from the absence of cereal  pollen  is  fraught with difficulties,  there does appear to be a degree  of patterning in the evidence that could have archaeological implications. After an initial  cereal  phase  in north Lancashire  at  the  elm decline, subsequent woodland reduction episodes provide no hint of the presence of cereals (Middleton et al 1995), and there is no evidence for cereals in the Pennine fringe areas, nor across most of the interior. It would perhaps  be surprising if cereals played no part in these areas as the Neolithic   progressed, but circumstantially it seems that they may have been characterised by  a greater emphasis on animal man- agement, either wild or husbanded. However, faunal assemblages are also rare, and details of diet and sub- sistence are still unclear. An exception is an auroch’s skull,  red deer  antlers,  dog and  horse  skulls  and several vertebrae excavated at Leasowe Bay, north Wirral, in the 1960s (Huddart et al 1999, 569) subse- quently dated to the 3rd millennium BC (Kenna 1986, 5), which may relate to the exploitation of a now sub- merged forest off the north and west Wirral coast.

Other than the presence of monuments, the major- ity of the record for Neolithic occupation comprises surface lithic  scatters and signals in pollen diagrams. The location and intensity of fieldwork have varied according to topography, agricultural regimes and individuals.  Parts  of Cumbria  have  seen  extensive survey  and  publication  (Cherry  1963;  1965;  1969; 1982;  Cherry  &  Cherry  1983;  1984a;  1985;  1986; 1987a; 1987b; 1992; 1995; 1996; 2000; 2002) but the distribution of work is not even. The relatively high incidence of pasture in Cheshire has resulted in less fieldwalking, and consequently a low density of lithic scatters has been identified. Leach (1942) carried out an extensive fieldwalking survey at Ashton, near Chester  recovering  Neolithic  material,  and material of Neolithic date accounts for the majority of lithics recovered from fieldwalking at Tarvin (P Miles pers comm).

There is only a small amount of excavated evi- dence, and  few stratigraphically  secure assemblages can be directly  related to Neolithic occupation. It is often difficult to determine the purpose of excavated post-built structures, and such evidence for domestic buildings  remains  rare  on a  regional  and  national level. An extensive palisade of posts at Plasketlands on the Solway Plain has been radiocarbon dated to 3970-2535  cal  BC and  4032-3720  cal  BC (Bewley 1993). The posts appear to be an annexe to a large ditched  enclosure, although association between the two is not proven. The site has been interpreted  as a domestic   settlement   (Hodgkinson  et  al   2000) al- though its function  remains unknown.

At Cocklakes, near Carlisle, a small hearth pro- duced  a radiocarbon date of 3650-3510 cal BC (Johnson et al  in prep). The  hearth was cut  by the corner of a sub-rectangular or sub-rectangular structure that may also have been Neolithic,  although it remains undated. A probable later sub-rectangular enclosure has been excavated at Arthill Heath Farm, (Ch). Within  an extensive ditch was a two-phase palisade with a number  of buildings dated to 2790-2570 cal BC and 2210-2020 cal BC (Nevell 1988a). Appar- ently unenclosed early Neolithic post-built structures have been excavated at Tatton Park (Ch) radiocarbon dated to 3500- 2945 cal BC (Higham & Cane 1999). The end of occupation of a second  structure was dated  to 2195 to 1680 cal  BC (Higham  &  Cane 1999). A nearby pit containing oak charcoal, carbonised bone, fruit and seeds was radiocarbon dated to 3370-2925 cal BC (Higham & Cane 1999). Excava- tions  on Storrs Moss (L) revealed a layer of wood associated with worked flint and chert. The timbers were dated to 3694-3384 cal BC, although it was suggested  that  this  represents  a minimum   date  and occupation may date to the later 5th millennium BC (Powell et al 1971), and Mesolithic material was also present on site (Middleton et al 1995, 134)

The traces of a probable rectangular structure were excavated at Oversley Farm (Ch; Fig 2.9) comprising linear construction trenches, postholes and a central hearth or cooking pit, dated to 3975-3675 cal BC (Garner forthcoming). The pit or hearth contained a large pottery assemblage, a high  percentage of char- coal,  fire-cracked  stone  and traces  of naked  barley and crop weed species. Lipid analysis on the pottery identified the presence of sheep or goat fats within vessels  believed  to be utilised  for cooking (Garner forthcoming,  20). The rectangular building  was subsequently overlain by a possible second rectangular structure with hearth deposits dated to 3015-2985 cal BC, demonstrating either a remarkable continuity  of occupation or a reoccupation and rebuilding  on exactly the same location.

Recent  excavations have revealed large  quantities of Neolithic  ceramic and lithic  material deposited in pits and tree-throw hollows. These sites may be in- dicative of clearance and settlement, although the precise depositional circumstances of these deposits remain unclear.   Pits   containing   Early   Neolithic Grimston  Ware at Whalley (L) (Beswick & Coombs 1986) and Norton  (Ch) (Greene & Hough 1977), and late  4th  millennium  BC dates  for pits  at  Beeston Castle (Ch) may represent some form of occupation or even sites of communal gatherings and activities (Ellis 1993). Excavations  at Roose Quarry and Hol- beck Park on the  Furness Peninsula (C) have produced assemblages including leaf-shaped arrowheads, flakes of polished volcanic tuff and Early Neolithic pottery (Jones 2001; OA North 2002b). At Holbeck Park, deposits within a tree throw hollow contained

106 sherds  of earlier  Neolithic   pottery  associated with a  rod microlith   and two unpolished  flakes  of volcanic  tuff (OA North 2002b). Five  radiocarbon dates,  including  one taken from a charred  grain  of wheat, have provided a date range of 4000-3700 cal BC for the  assemblage  (E Huckerby  pers  comm). Similarly  at  New Cowper  Farm, Silloth  (C), several tree-throw   hollows   contained   an   assemblage   of Neolithic pottery (R Coleman pers comm).  Pits and scoops containing Grimston  Ware and stone tools have been excavated at High Crosby near Carlisle (McCarthy 2002, 36) and small quantities  of Grimston  Ware and Grooved  Ware were also recovered from pits and other features at Scotby Road, Carlisle (McCarthy 2002, 37).

A settlement is the suggested source of 162 fragments of Peterborough Ware discovered in the mound of a round  barrow at Woodhouse End (Ch) (Rowley   1977),   although   such   an   incorporation would appear  far from inadvertent  or accidental. These small, highly  weathered sherds represented at least 23 vessels, and comprise the largest assemblage of Peterborough Ware in the region. Another poten- tial settlement site was uncovered during excavations at  the medieval village of Norton (Ch),  where pits containing Grimston  Ware and flint flakes were exca- vated (Greene and Hough  1977, 80; Mullin 2002a). Grimston Ware  and  leaf  arrowheads   have  been recovered  from Beeston  Castle  (Ch) but were  not directly associated with charcoal which produced late 4th millennium BC dates (Ellis 1993). Further finds of Grimston   Ware have been made within the city of Chester during excavations at the Roman fortress, Abbey  Green  (McPeake  &  Bulmer 1980;  Mullin 2002a)  and  sherds  from an almost  identical  vessel have been found recently at 67 Handbridge, to the south of the River Dee (K Matthews pers comm).

A unique assemblage of Neolithic  material was recovered during the drainage of Ehenside Tarn (C; Fig 2.10) in 1869. Finds included roughout  and polished stone axe blades (one of which  retained its wooden haft),  polissoirs,  animal  bones and wooden  objects including   a  bowl,   paddles  and  ‘clubs’  (Darbishire 1874). Radiocarbon  dates from organic material taken from environmental cores on the site suggest episodes  of  occupation  throughout   the  Neolithic (Walker 2001) although some of the artefacts recov- ered may be later, as Roman  pottery was also present in the original  finds  collection  (Fair  1932). One  of the activities on site certainly  appears to have been the polishing of roughout  axe blades, quarried from sources in the central fells to the east.

Without radiocarbon  assays  the dating of surface lithic  scatters  has  proved   more problematic.  The presence of leaf-shaped arrowheads, relatively rare in the region, has been taken to be the sole flint form indicative of an Early Neolithic  date (Cherry & Cherry 1996) although they are also known to occur into the Bronze Age. Scatters associated with Group VI axes, either  complete  or re-worked,   have  also been used to indicate Early Neolithic occupation. However  these  artefacts  are consistently  associated with assemblages containing either scatters of micro- liths  or later  typological  forms,  (Cherry &  Cherry 1996; 2002) and axe production   in the region took place into at least the Later Neolithic  (Bradley & Edmonds 1993). The  presence of both group VI axes and leaf-shaped arrowheads with apparently Later Mesolithic material suggests that a largely microlithic technology  persisted  in  Cumbria  throughout  the Neolithic   (Cherry  and  Cherry  1996;  2002;  Evans 2004). The  evidence from the few sites  with Neo- lithic  diagnostic material in north Lancashire (Middleton et al 1995) and Merseyside (Cowell  & Innes, 1994) also argues for a large measure of continu- ity of some Mesolithic lithic forms.

At a broad scale there are hints as to the nature and character   of  Earlier   Neolithic   occupation.   West Cumbrian areas such as Eskmeals, Williamsons Moss (Bonsall  1981;  1989;  Bonsall  et al 1986;  1994)  and Ehenside  Tarn  (Darbishire  1874;  Hodgkinson  et al 2000) suggest that some places were used repetitively over relatively long periods of time, whilst small, less dense occupation evidence in other areas may indi- cate  short  term  or transitory  occupation.  With the exception of the work of Cherry and Cherry (1987b; 1996;  2002)  little  is  known about  the  character of Neolithic upland occupation. The available evidence suggests that in the eastern uplands, Neolithic  activity was clustered around  the  heads of major  rivers,  as well as in the vicinity of Neolithic monuments (Skinner 2000; Cherry & Cherry 2002). Much of the pollen data from upland contexts suggests a degree of continuity, with upland clearance in evidence from the Earlier Neolithic  onwards. There are no secure dates for the onset of cairnfield construction in the region, though evidence from other areas of North- ern England is beginning to suggest that this may have begun during the Later Neolithic to Early Bronze  Age  (Evans  & Edmonds  forthcoming).  In the western coastal zone, the majority  of those flint scatters identified are clustered around the 8m con- tour (Cherry & Cherry 2002), probably in relation to the  maximum  marine  transgression around  c   3800 BC. A number of hearth sites have been identified on the  west  coast  associated  with limited  amounts  of lithic  evidence (eg Cherry 1982), and although incompletely  published, excavations at Eskmeals ap- pear to have revealed dense evidence of Prehistoric occupation ranging from the Later Mesolithic to the Earlier Bronze Age (Bonsall et al 1986; 1994). On the Furness Peninsula excavations of a sand dune  occu- pation  site  at  Walney North End revealed  hearths, middens, small amounts of Beaker pottery and a considerable  assemblage  of lithic forms of a  probable Later Neolithic/Early Bronze Age date (Cross 1938; 1939; 1942; 1946; 1949; 1950; Barnes 1955, 1970). Recent  excavations at  Sandscale,  3km to the north east of Walney, have identified a small posthole structure and pits associated with a lithic  assemblage of Later Neolithic/Early Bronze Age date including  a small polished  Langdale axe, a barbed and tanged arrowhead and thumbnail scrapers (Evans & Coward 2004). In central Carlisle plough  or ard marks have been found at a number  of sites beneath Roman levels. Although  undated, these features are thought to be of Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age date, on the  evidence  of large  numbers  of flints  from the same excavations (McCarthy 1993, 1-2).

Fig 2.9 Neolithic structure excavated at Oversley Farm, near Wilmslow, Cheshire (after Giffords).

There  are four potential  Neolithic sites  from the Over Wyre mosses (L), including  Lytham (Middleton et al 1995, 57-8, 89, 230), and St Michaels over Wyre, where an in-situ plain sherd of pottery,  a leaf-shaped arrowhead, and two further pieces of waste flint waste were recovered from peat associated with dates of 4330-3955 cal BC (5285±80;GX-17293)  and 4244-3812 cal  BC (5230±80;  GX-17294).  There  are also concentrations  of stone axes in the coastal  area  of the north Fylde, around Pilling  Moss, five of which have  come  from below  the  peat  (Middleton  et al 1995, 195). Stone axe concentrations are also associated with the urban areas of north Wirral, Warrington  and the Manchester conurbation, with a thin distribution northwards on the Pennine slopes. Fewer Neolithic sites have been identified in Mersey- side,  although  lithic   material  has  been  recovered from the area to the south of the estuary of the river Alt, while a  small  Late  Neolithic  flint  site  is  re- corded  in the vicinity of Oakmere (Ch). Generally, in lowland Merseyside and Cheshire the lithic  distribution pattern  is  biased  towards  single or near-single findspots (Cowell & Innes 1994; Leah et al 1997).

On the  present  beach at  Formby  Point (M; Fig 2.12),  Gordon Roberts  has recorded  footprints  of humans  and animals in compacted  silts and muds. The prints include  animals such as aurochs, red deer and roe deer, and interspersed within these are over 150 trails   of  human adult   and  child   footprints (Roberts  et al  1996).  In the  southern  part  of the beach the  prints  are  found at  two levels.  Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dates for the lower beds suggest they could  be of later Mesolithic date, although the wide date ranges  also cover the Neolithic  period. The upper silt beds contain animal prints that are older than 1920-1480 cal BC (Gonzalez et al 1997). There  is  also  a dog  jawbone from this layer, and aurochs and red deer jawbones and a complete set of unshed antlers dated to 2570-2380 cal BC (Gonzalez & Huddart 2002), have also been recovered  from the  beach. A short  length of wooden structure excavated on Hightown beach, Crosby (M; Fig 2.11), may have been part of a longer trackway,  and  has produced  radiocarbon  dates  of 3960-3675  cal  BC (5020±60  BP; Beta-119008) and 3795-3630 cal BC (4910±60BP; Beta-119010; R Cowell pers comm).

Fig 2.10 Arefacts recovered from Ebenside Tarn in 1869 (after Darbishire 1873).


Little is known about Early Bronze Age settlement sites as few excavations have taken place and secure dating is scarce. The problem is compounded by the fact that  many sites  with evidence for Bronze  Age occupation also saw activities  in both the Neolithic and Iron Age. A small number  of putative ‘Bronze Age’ roundhouses  have seen excavation but there has been little reliable dating evidence and a number  of features were found to have been disturbed funerary structures and ringcairns. A relatively small Early Bronze Age timber roundhouse  was excavated at Stephenson  Scale  (C) with a minimum   diameter of 4m, containing  an  internal  hearth,  stakeholes,  and pits containing burnt stones (N Thorpe pers comm). At Botcherby,  Carlisle, a circle  of postholes with a diameter of 9m and with a ‘porch’   to the west was associated  with Bronze Age pottery.  Although  the excavators suggested that this feature may have been a free-standing timber circle with a religious  purpose (Barkle 1998), its interpretation as a roundhouse  can- not be ruled  out.  A number of large,  shallow  pits excavated at Cocklakes, near Carlisle, contained large amounts of charcoal and fire-cracked sandstone, and material from two of these features produced radio- carbon dates of 1780-1680 cal BC and 1740-1600 cal BC (Johnson et al in prep).

In  Cumbria  there  is  a  wealth  of  evidence  for ‘clearance cairnfield’ construction on the lower fells (Fig  2.13),  which  has traditionally  been  associated with Bronze Age improvement of land for grazing or cultivation. Investigation of cairnfields has a long history with numerous excavations and surveys in the 19th and early 20th centuries (eg Clifton Ward 1878; Dymond  1893; Swainson Cowper 1888). During  the 1980s and 1990s a programme   of large-scale upland survey was undertaken by the Lancaster University Archaeological   Unit  (now  Oxford  Archaeology North).  More than  13,000  individual  features  were recorded   on  the   western,  southern   and   eastern Cumbrian fells (Quartermaine 1989; 2002; Quarter- maine & Leech forthcoming).

The  simplest cairnfields  are small,  randomly  dis- tributed groups of cairns with no associated boundary  banks  or structures,  and it has been  suggested that they represent small clearings for stock grazing on a  temporary  or seasonal  basis  (Quartermaine  & Leech forthcoming).  Further  groups  display stone-banked boundaries and appear to form what may be termed proto-field systems. The most complex of the groups incorporate field systems, with the cairns compartmentalised  into areas  or fields.  These  field systems  are  found to be  associated  with cultivated plots, albeit limited in size, and also stone founded unenclosed  roundhouses  or house  platforms.  Rela tively few examples of this type of settlement have been identified to date, but the classic example is the Town Bank IV system in West Cumbria (Quartermaine 1989).

Preserved  pollen from  cairn excavations at Barnscar on the western coast of Cumbria illustrated the presence of woodland when the cairns were initially constructed (Walker 1965) and the ground surface beneath the cairns had been scorched and stripped, with shallow in-filled pits suggesting the excavation of tree roots. While the initial exploitation of some upland areas probably did occur in the Bronze  Age, few modern or large-scale excavations of clearance cairnfields have taken place and there is little  direct  dating  evidence. Cairnfield  construction or  reuse  may   in  fact   have  begun  in  the  Later Neolithic  and Early Bronze Age and continued through to the post-medieval period. Excavations of a small  cairn  at  Birrel  Sike,  in West Cumbria  pro- duced  a date of 2290-1741 cal BC (Richardson 1982) which is contemporary with upland Bronze Age cairnfields  from Dartmoor  (Wainwright  et al  1979), Derbyshire   (Barnett   1994) and   Northumberland (Jobey 1981).

Fig 2.11 Excavation of a Neolithic timber structure at Hightown beach, Merseyside (Ron Cowell/National Museums Liverpool).
Fig 2.12 Aurochs footprints preserved in sediments within the intertidal zone at Formby (Ron Cowell/National Museums Liverpool).
Fig 2.13 Cairns on Heathwaite Fell (OA North).

The  circumstances that  prompted  their  construction, and the nature of the agricultural activity practised   on  the  associated  land   have  been  the subject of some debate, with suggestions of primarily pastoral  (Dimbleby  1961) and  arable  agricultural practices (Fleming 1971; Yates 1983) leading to clear- ance. To an extent the debate has been clouded by an assumption that all cairnfields are broadly similar, roughly contemporary,  and reflect a consistent  agricultural strategy. Variation in the character and form of cairnfields and their associated field systems may easily  represent  both arable  and  pastoral  practices (Quartermaine & Leech forthcoming).  While the clearance of stones may be a primarily agricultural operation,  the cairns may also serve  as demarcation or boundary features and may contain or cover fu- nerary deposits, relating to tenure rather than any single agricultural factor (Johnson 2001). Excavation of cairns at Barnscar suggested that the cairns were not simply random piles of stones but had  a consistent  structure  with a  clay  core  (Walker  1965).  At Bank Moor  (C) high levels of charcoal coincided with the first appearance of cereal pollen at c 1950 cal BC, and cereal pollen and charcoal are present, discontinuously,  for much of the Bronze  Age (C Skinner pers comm). This may suggest cyclical, small-scale arable production  and intermediate stock grazing, although only high-resolution pollen analysis would be able to substantiate this.

Further south there also appears to be a strong degree of continuity from the Late Neolithic  into the Bronze Age, although much evidence for occupation is in the form of lithic distributions. While a Bronze Age element can often be distinguished within larger assemblages, dating remains problematic  on a regional scale. A lithic scatter from High  Legh (Ch) led to the assignation of a  late prehistoric, possibly 2nd millennium  BC date,  to one of two enclosures identified from aerial survey by Higham in 1981 (Nevell 1991a, 18-19; 2003a).

North of the Ribble,  excavations at Bonds Farm, Pilling  (L),  revealed stake  structures  together  with coarse pottery,  metalwork and an amber bead or spacer plate, with radiocarbon dates averaging 1445-1397 cal  BC (Edwards  1978a; 1978b;  1992a).  This provides the best chronological control for an associated flint assemblage in this part of the region. There are also other excavated sites that may indicate a mo- bile element within  the earlier Bronze Age settlement pattern.  The  site  at  Piethorn  Brook (GM),  near Rochdale,  produced  a stake-built structure with a hearth, a small amount of flintwork, jet and shale ornaments,  and Collared  Urns  and  Beakers  (Poole 1986). A further probable upland settlement context may    be    associated   with   four   Beakers,    from Castleshaw, east of Manchester (Thompson 1974).

In the  early part  of the  20th century,  a wooden trackway  was  located  during   peat  cutting,  across low-lying  mosses below Whitbarrow Scar (C) (Munn Rankin 1910; Barnes 1904). This was provisionally dated to the Later Bronze Age but the stratigraphic context of the trackway was later radiocarbon-dated by Wimble (1986) to 1592-1260 cal BC (Hodgkinson et al 2000). The presence of a Bronze  Age sword and a ‘wooden  chariot wheel’ found close to the trackway may also suggest votive deposition in the area. Along with finds of metalwork the Lancashire wetlands have also produced evidence of at least three wooden trackways in Stalmine Moss, including  the oak plank trackway of Kate’s  Pad (Fig  2.14), which  has been dated to the Early Bronze Age on stratigraphic asso- ciation (Middleton et al 1995, 60-62). There  are also lithic finds, consisting of the occasional large concen- tration of finds and also a much larger group of quite small sites, consisting often of only one or two pieces (Middleton  et al 1995).  This  sparse  distribution  of largely single finds  is  also  found to the east  in the central Fylde and inland Merseyside, and may suggest non-intensive or temporary occupation on a repeated or seasonal basis.

Middle  Bronze  Age  settlement  was  recorded  at Irby, Wirral, where one main circular structure was identified, with pottery, possible oven fragments, bronze working  debris and evidence for cereal farm- ing dated  to 1620-1130 cal  BC (Philpott & Adams forthcoming). At Kirkby, north Liverpool, a probable circular structure associated with Collared Urn sherds produced radiocarbon determinations of 1910-1410 cal  BC and 1945-1655  cal  BC (Adams  1995). Two small pits containing Middle Bronze Age pottery at Ditton Brook in Tarbock  produced   a radiocarbon determination of 1620-1130 cal BC (Cowell 2000b).

In  Merseyside  and  northern  Cheshire  there  are three localities with technologically  later prehistoric lithic scatters of possible Bronze Age date at Hale (Ch),  Irby  (Philpott &  Cowell   1992),  and  Little Crosby (M) (Cowell 1991b). Palaeoenvironmental evidence is  sparse  for the coastal  area  at  this  time, but a context for this type of site may be suggested close to the Little Crosby site at Mount Pleasant, Wa- terloo,  north Liverpool,  where  cereal-type  pollen with other potential arable indicators is centred on c 1960 BC (Innes & Tooley 1993). A bone midden of wild animals  dated  to c 2030 BC from the  north Wirral coast also provides a potential context for the activity represented by stone tools (Kenna 1978).

More reliable  settlement  evidence  was recovered from Oversley Farm (Ch) on the site of the Second Runway at Manchester Airport (Thompson 1998; Garner 2001), although there are discrepancies be- tween the Neolithic and Bronze Age radiocarbon dates.  Excavations   revealed  a  Beaker  pit  and  a ‘hollow  way’, as well as at least two circular buildings, associated with pits filled with ‘midden’ deposits (Garner 2001). The site appears to have continued in use throughout   the  Middle  and  Late  Bronze  Age, although the smaller number of features (mostly pits) and the ephemeral structural evidence might suggest less intensive occupation than earlier phases. Up to 2000 sherds of Bronze Age pottery were recovered, much of it Early Bronze Age, including Beakers, Cordoned  and Collared  Urns,  incense/pygmy  cups and Food Vessels. A small amount of Later Bronze Age pottery is also represented in the assemblage. A large quantity of lithic artefacts were recovered from Mesolithic and Bronze  Age  contexts  including blades, scrapers and a barbed and tanged arrowhead.

Excavations  at Beeston  Castle (Ch) revealed evidence for an enclosure  formed  by  a sand dump rampart,  which  was probably  timber-laced,  with a scatter of pits and postholes representing contempo- rary settlement to the rear. Timber from the rampart was radiocarbon-dated  to 1270-830 cal BC and a de- liberate deposit  of two Ewart-phase socketed  axes, placed 4m apart, was recovered  from under the rampart (Ellis 1993, 47). A total of seven circular buildings were assigned a Late Bronze  Age or Iron Age date (Ellis 1993, 39). The  settlement  may have been  a specialist Late Bronze Age metalworking site as crucibles,  moulds  and refractory  debris were re- covered from the site and, although the evidence is equivocal,  swords  and  ferrules  seem to have  been amongst  the  objects  manufactured.   Evidence   for Late Bronze  Age structures was excavated at Brook House Farm (Bruen  Stapleford, Ch) where  two roundhouses were dated to 920-780 cal BC and 800-350 cal  BC (Fairburn  et al  2003,  25),  although  the presence of earlier features might suggest that this represents a continuation of settlement from the Middle Bronze Age.

The fill of a posthole from a possible roundhouse at  Tatton  provided  a  radiocarbon  determination  of 2195-1680 cal  BC, although this was interpreted  as the final occupation of a Neolithic  structure (Higham & Cane 1999,  32). An undated roundhouse  associ- ated with stakeholes which probably represented fences, was also excavated (Higham 1985a, 78).

Fig 2.14 Excavations in 1950 of the Neolithic timber track-way at Kate’s Pad, Pilling, Lancashire (with kind permission of WH Lawrenson).

Ritual, Religion and Ceremony

Even though there appears to be a good  deal of continuity from the Mesolithic in terms of land-use, technology   and   settlement   patterns,   the earliest monumental construction appears to be an almost entirely Neolithic phenomenon. Monuments are poorly represented in the southern part of the region but the density of such sites increases greatly in the north. While the larger monuments are generally agreed to be religious sites of some nature, to make  a similar distinction between the secular and religious for many Neolithic  sites is often down to the interpretation of the individual archaeologist. For exam- ple  pits  and  tree-throws  containing  burnt material, pottery and flint (Greene & Hough 1977; Beswick & Coombs 1986; Jones 2001; OA North 2002b; R Coleman pers comm) may be interpreted as domestic rubbish pits or as the site of special, structured depo- sition, with symbolic overtones. Equally, religious activity may not be entirely restricted to monumental settings, and the use of natural features as a focus for religious activities and artefact deposition has been noted (McKenny Hughes 1904; Horne 2000; Mullin 2001; Edmonds et al 2002; Evans 2004).

It should be noted that many monuments, however isolated they now appear, may have originally formed part of extensive complexes that were built up over time. Areas such as Askham Fell (C) and Burnmoor (C) appear  to demonstrate  good  preservation  and survival of multiple monumental structures, although little investigation has been undertaken  on these complexes apart from varying levels of non-intrusive survey work.

Henges, Stone Circles and Stone Rows

Fig 2.15 Aerial view of the Long Meg stone circle, Cumbria, revealing the cropmark of an adjoining enclosure (Cumbria County Council).

Stone circles  such as Castlerigg and Long  Meg and her Daughters (Figs 2.15 & 2.22) are probably the most widely known prehistoric monuments in North West England, and generally considered to be amongst the earliest stone circles in the British Isles (Burl 1976, 59). Castlerigg was also one of the first monuments  in the country  to be selected  for state guardianship, in 1883. Considering their national sig- nificance, remarkably little work  has been undertaken on the stone circles under  modern  conditions,  and few sites have been scientifically dated. Excavations at Carlisle Airport in 1996 uncovered evidence for a complex of timber  and possible stone settings,  po- tentially contemporary with a single date of c 3500 cal BC (Flynn  1998). Recent survey, aerial photography and environmental work (Soffe & Clare 1988; Clare 1999, Clare et al 2003) continue  to demonstrate the value of non-invasive  techniques  in placing monuments within their wider landscape setting.

Burl (1976,  58) proposed  four phases  of stone circle construction in Cumbria, dating from the Neolithic to the Middle Bronze Age. While the larger open circles are still believed to be the earliest, there are numerous problems with this proposed typology. The  dating  of some  sites  was  based  on excavated burial evidence, often of Bronze Age date, from the central  areas  of a  number   of the  circles  (Barnatt 1989). Without  adequate dating or phasing it cannot be ascertained whether internal cairns are secondary to stone circles, or even that the construction of the stone circle was the final phase of the monument, as recently discovered on some Scottish  sites  (Bradley 2000). Many of Burl’s ‘later’ circles (1976, 60) may in fact be better understood as relating to kerbed funerary cairns, and the re-use of earlier open sites (Evans and Edmonds forthcoming). It is clear that some stone circles developed over several phases or were used over a considerable period of time, and the purpose,  forms of use and  symbolism  of stone  circle sites  is  likely to have also  changed over  time.  The ring cairn overlying the Late Neolithic  timber circles at Oddendale (Turnbull  & Walsh 1997) demonstrates this complexity and longevity of phasing, and empha- sises that many elements, such as timber settings, cannot  be  detected  without excavation.  The  pre dominantly  Bronze  Age  cairn  at  Hardendale  Nab (Fig 2.18) may also have a Neolithic  origin,  suggest- ing  a considerable longevity  of depositional activity (Howard-Davis & Williams 2005).

Much  speculation  has taken place concerning  the relationship between stone circles and henges, in which  monuments   from  Cumbria   have  taken   a central role (Burl 1976; 1988). In Cumbria the architectural  crossover between henges and stone circles is particularly strong with both  henges and the larger of the stone circles sharing strong architectural and locational themes. The major henges  are Mayburgh (Fig 2.16) and King Arthur’s Round Table, just to the south of Penrith (C), with the traces of a third enclo- sure, Little Round Table, visible to the south and further   defined   by   geophysical   survey   (Topping 1992). King Arthur’s Round Table was excavated by Collingwood in  1937 and   Bersu   in  1939 (Collingwood  1939; Bersu 1940; Bradley 1994) when cremated  bone  was recovered  from the interior  of the monument, but no other datable material. Hengiform structures at Gutterby and Summerhill, on the west  Cumbrian  coast,  have recently  been identified from aerial photographs. Although little is known about these features, they suggest that previously drawn geologically deterministic distinctions between the  distribution  of henges and  stone  circles  (Burl 1976) have been overstated. Further possible monu- ments in Cheshire include a possible Late Neolithic/ Early Bronze Age pit circle at New Farm, Henbury (Rowley   1975a,   1975b) and   possible   hengiform monuments identified from aerial photographs close to Sutton Weaver   (J Collens pers comm)  and at Aighton in west Lancashire (R Philpott  pers comm). A possible hengiform monument  has also been seen on aerial photographs near  Radcliffe (GM; N Redhead pers comm).

The   avenue  of  standing   stones   at   Shap   (C) probably represented one of the most impressive prehistoric  monuments  within the north of the region, although  this  has been largely destroyed over the last three centuries or more, and it is estimated that only a small fraction  of the stones remain standing in their original monumental form (Clare 1978). Survey has suggested that the lines of stones may have once stretched  for over 3km, and it has  also been suggested that this was constructed in two distinct  phases to the north-west and the south-east of the barrow  on Skelworth  Hill.  Excavation  beneath one of the fallen stones revealed a complex  packing arrangement during the original erection of the stone, but no diagnostic dating evidence (Clare 1978).


The analysis and interpretation of aerial photographs has recently extended the national distribution of Neolithic  enclosures into the North West (Oswald et al 2001).  In addition to the large enclosure adjacent to and putatively overlain by the stone circle of Long Meg (Soffe & Clare 1988) a number  of enclosures in Cumbria have recently been recognised or reinter- preted as potentially Neolithic, including Carrock Fell (RCHME 1996a), Skelmore Heads (RCHME 1996b), Howe  Robin (RCHME 1996c)  and  Green  Howe (Horne 2000). Some of these had been previously identified as Iron Age hillforts (Powell 1963, 20; RCHME 1996a). Early  Neolithic  enclosures are un- known in the south of the region but a number   of sites consisting of pits with deposits of pottery situ- ated on hilltops could have acted as a form of special site perhaps performing a more  than local role.


The  Neolithic   has been  categorised  as  a  time of multiple, communal burials, often of disarticulated remains within tombs and long cairns. However, the paucity of both monuments and excavated evidence from the region  does not provide a sufficient basis for an authoritative overview of funerary practice.

Cheshire has a single Neolithic megalithic burial chamber, the  Bridestones (Fig  2.17), on its  eastern boundary. The monument  has parallels in south west Scotland and Ireland (Clifford & Daniel 1940, 157; Powell et al 1969; Longley  1987, 44-6) and seems to fit within  a general tradition of long cairns within  the North West. However, the burial deposit in the Brid- estones appears to have been cremated bone, highly unusual in long cairns where large numbers of inhumations was the common  practice (Powell et al 1969). Cremation  is  more commonly   practised  in  Irish Court Cairns  and  the  Bridestones  may  also  share some affinities with the Irish tradition. A scheduled long barrow at Loachbrook Farm near Congleton may in fact be a cattle plague burial mound of post medieval date or a natural landscape feature (Mullin 2002b). The site of the Calderstones, Liverpool, a possible  Passage Grave  with parallels on Anglesey, has been destroyed (Forde Johnston 1957; Cowell & Warhurst  1984).  Another  possible  burial  site  lies north of the Ribble where a surface scatter of exotic flint arrowheads and other implements were located near Peel Hall Farm, Lytham Moss (L) (Middleton et al 1995).

Fig 2.16 Aerial view of the Henge monument at Mayburgh, Cumbria (Cumbria County Council).
Fig 2.17 The megalithic burial monument the Bridestones, Cheshire (Cheshire County Council).

In Lancashire the only known Neolithic chambered cairn is the Pikestones, on Anglezarke Moor (Bu’Lock 1958), although a second chambered  round cairn has recently been identified through survey (Howard-Davis 1996). A site known  as Round  Loaf, situated nearby, has also been tentatively identified as a  burial  monument  (Howard-Davis  1996)  but this may equally be a natural feature.

A total of twenty-five possible long cairns have been  identified  in  Cumbria  (Collingwood  1933a; Manby 1970; Masters 1984; Quartermaine & Leech forthcoming). None of these has been excavated or recorded   in  detail   and  the   majority   have  been identified solely through  their external morphology. A number  have been destroyed and the secure characterisation (and location) of others remain questionable.  Some  examples  are  present  in cairnfield contexts, particularly on the south-western fells, but without excavation or dating evidence, it is difficult to distinguish between a funerary monument and clearance (Evans  2004). A tradition of long barrow construction utilising natural features is evidenced by Greenwell’s   excavation  of  Crosby  Garrett  in  the Eden Valley, which  was partially formed from a distinctive limestone outcrop (1866, 389-91).

The possibility of a Neolithic round barrow tradition in Cumbria is suggested by the morphology  of the two excavated ‘long’  cairns at Raiset Pike (Masters  1984)  and  Skelmore  Heads  (Evans  2004; Clare 1979). The longcairn at Raiset Pike (Kinnes & Longworth  1985) was apparently formed  from two separate  round cairns  conjoined  to form a  single monument  (Clare 1979). Greenwell’s (1877) description of the excavation of this feature left much to be desired, and it has been subject to a variety of interpretations (Manby 1970; Ashbee 1970; Kinnes 1979; Masters 1984; Annable 1987). What appears to have been a wooden and stone mortuary house containing a number  of disarticulated burials, had been burnt  in situ before the construction of the cairns. Within the body of the mound were many un-burnt  deposits of broken  and  scattered  human bone,  principally  of children, and a variety of faunal remains including ox, horse,  sheep or goat and pig. The  burials at Raiset Pike may have been similar to examples in western Scotland where a number  of early simple box graves in individual  round cairns  were later  covered  by  a single long cairn (Lynch  1997). The mound  at Skelmore Heads is more oval than it is long. The site was excavated by Powell (1963; 1972) but was found to have been subject to the attention of a local antiquarian group, who recorded the presence of some pot- tery and bones. The  existence of a  large transverse slab  in the barrow  adjacent  to one end of the destroyed burial deposit has been taken to correspond to the  mortuary  structure  at  Raiset  Pike  (Manby 1970; Powell 1972; Masters 1984).

There  are numerous  burial and ceremonial monuments of the Later Neolithic and Early Bronze Age in Cumbria. Evidence for funerary cairn cemeteries or clusters are often but not exclusively situated close to the large freestanding stone circles.  Examples of funerary  cairns  excavated  in  these  contexts  have produced material of Later Neolithic to Early Bronze Age date, with others containing later urned cremation burials (Evans & Edmonds forthcoming).  The upland   surveys   carried    out  by   the   Lancaster University Archaeology Unit indicate that in general, cairnfields are not closely associated with ceremonial complexes (Quartermaine & Leech forthcoming)  but there  are  some  associations  with cairn  cemeteries (Evans & Edmonds forthcoming).

An unusual Late Neolithic burial was discovered at Sandpit Field, Eddisbury (Ch) in 1851 consisting of a large  urn associated  with cremated  bone  (Varley 1950). Recent analysis by Longley has shown the urn to be a Durrington Walls substyle of Grooved Ware (1987,  52),  and  this  association  of Grooved  Ware with cremated  bone  is  extremely  uncommon.   A ‘number’  of other  urns  were  also  found,  perhaps indicating a destroyed round barrow.

Fig 2.18 Excavations at Hardendale Nab, Cumbria (OA North).

Ringcairns occur in a variety of contexts in Cumbria and are found in association with areas of cairnfield, stone circle complexes, and cairn cemeteries in addition to isolated examples in the high fells (Hodgson et al in prep). Although these features had traditionally been thought  to be Middle Bronze Age in date, many appear to have been in use from the Later Neolithic  and Early Bronze Age (Lynch 1993).


The numerous burial and ceremonial monuments of the Later Neolithic  and Earlier Bronze  Age display a wide variety of architectural, funerary and mortuary traditions. Despite small-scale excavation of many of these in the 19th  and 20th  centuries, a dearth of exten- sive modern excavation and analysis means there is little secure dating evidence for the majority of these features. Additionally, similar forms of burial furni- ture appear  to have  been  in use  from the  Early Bronze Age until at least 1100 BC (Longworth 1984). Evidence for funerary cairn cemeteries or clusters in Cumbria are often but not exclusively situated close to the large freestanding stone circles. Examples  of such complexes of monuments occur in association with the Eden  Valley  and Shap circles, and on the Furness Peninsula in association with Birkrigg stone circle. Where funerary cairns in these contexts have been excavated, some burial traditions and associated material culture indicate a Later Neolithic/Early Bronze Age date, whilst others contain later urned cremated remains (Evans & Edmonds forthcoming).

The first phase identified at the cairn at Oddendale, on the eastern Cumbrian Fells, took the form of two roughly concentric  rings of timber settings dated to 2859-2579 cal BC, 2853-2466 cal BC and 2583-2483 cal BC (Turnbull & Walsh 1997). The timber circles were  superseded by  two rings of granite  boulders, subsequently overlain by a ring  cairn, surrounding a central pit which probably contained  a crouched  inhumation. The ringcairn structure contained deposits of cremated bone  and sherds of Collared Urn and food vessel and a small sherd of AOC beaker.

Beaker burials are relatively uncommon  throughout the region, although there is evidence for a small number in the north.  These include two cist burials near Penrith (Taylor 1881), at the centre of a  ringcairn/barrow at Levens Park (C) (Turnbull  & Walsh 1996) and beneath a cairn recently excavated near Aspatria  (C), although no bone survived (F Giecco pers  comm).  A  cairn  excavated  at  Mecklin  Park, Stanton Bridge,  produced  a sherd of Beaker pottery (Spence 1937), while excavation of second cairn produced a jet necklace, a flint knife and sherds from a food vessel (Fletcher 1985). Urned cremation ceme- teries have been excavated at Ewanrigg on the Sol- way Plain and Allithwaite (Fig 2.19), both in Cumbria (Bewley et al 1992; Wild 2003)  and  a large cemetery of at least fifteen urns was observed during construction work at  Garlands  Hospital,  Carlisle,  in 1861 (Hodgson 1956). The cemetery at Ewanrigg spanned the Neolithic-Bronze  Age transition  (2460-1520  cal BC) while  at  Allithwaite  the  cemetery  was  Early Bronze Age, with radiocarbon dates of 2101-1747 cal BC, 1922-1637 cal BC and 2027-1741 cal BC. These excavations are the  only  examples of their  type in Cumbria to have been radiocarbon-dated,  and both revealed  urned   cremated  remains  associated  with natural  features.  Recent  excavations  at  Milnthorpe (C) recovered  one unurned  and two urned crema- tions, provisionally dated on ceramic evidence to the later Bronze Age (Archaeological Services University of Durham 2005), although awaiting scientific dating. Circular structures of wood and stone, incorporat- ing burials and later sealed by funerary or ring cairns appear to have been a relatively common  monumen- tal form in the north during the Later Neolithic and Early Bronze Age (Mawson 1876; Swainson Cowper 1888; Collingwood  1901; Dobson 1926; Turnbull  & Walsh 1996; 1997; Evans & Edmonds 2003). Recent excavations  have demonstrated  the  variation,  complexity  and longevity  of these  sites  and  perhaps  a long term commitment to particular sites by the communities who built and maintained  them (Turnbull & Walsh 1997; Howard-Davies & Williams 2005). The excavation of a funerary  cairn  at Levens Park (C) (Sturdy 1976) revealed a large circle of boulders surrounding a central Beaker inhumation (Turnbull & Walsh 1996).  Two further inhumations and a covering  barrow were later added. At Borwick (L) a ring ditch  encircled a double inhumation burial dated  to  1740-1640  cal  BC (Olivier  1988).  The inclusion of a metal axe with the primary burial is an extremely  unusual trait,  mirrored in few other  in- stances in England. This was later overlain by a stone cairn with evidence for further multiple funerary depositions. The timber  circle at  Bleasdale  (L) may reflect similar elements of funerary practice, although internal elements differ. A penannular ring ditch contained a timber circle 11m in diameter, surrounding a central   feature  containing   two  inverted  Collared Urns,  an accessory cup  and  probably  cremated  re- mains (Dawkins 1900; Varley 1938). This feature was subsequently covered by a mound  and encircled by a timber circle or palisade with a diameter of approximately 46m, although the chronological relationship between the inner and outer elements was not established. A radiocarbon date of c  2200 BC from the inner ditch is not considered reliable due to the unknown  provenance of the dated material (Gibson 1998, 49).

Fig 2.19 Excavation of a Bronze Age cremation urn at Al- lithwaite, Cumbria (OA North).
Fig 2.20 Bronze Age barrow at Brownlow, near Mellor, Greater Manchester (GMAU).

North of the Mersey the largest concentration of burials  comes from the  Pennine  uplands, although several occur in the lower reaches of valleys, particularly around Bolton. A noteworthy concentration of ringwork type burial and ceremonial sites is found in a small  area  in the  north-east  of the  area, around Burnley. This group is quite distinct and suggests a relatively localised architectural tradition.  Work at Astley   Hall  Farm,   Chorley,   and  Carrier’s   Croft, Pendleton, represent two of only a limited number of excavations on Early Bronze Age sites in Lancashire south of the Ribble. At Astley Hall Farm a penannular  ditched  enclosure was found  enclosing two Collared  Urns  and  four deposits  of cremated remains. One of the urns contained the cremated remains  of a child  with the  remains of a  wooden bowl, pottery sherds, burnt flint and traces of a cop- per  alloy  artefact.  Associated with the  ditch  was a worked quartzitic pebble, tentatively identified as a fragment of a phallus. At Carrier’s Croft, Pendleton, excavations revealed an Early Bronze Age circular stone setting with a cobbled  floor, sealing three Collared Urns containing cremated remains. One of these was associated with five sherds of re-fired Beaker Ware, a bone button,  four quartz crystals and a gold  object  described as a ‘bead’, with Beaker af- finities. Work continues towards publishing these sites.

In common  with many  other  regions,  the  Early Bronze Age evidence from Cheshire and Greater Manchester  is  dominated  by  funerary  monuments. These appear to have gone out of use in the Middle Bronze Age but, unlike other regions, there is little evidence for the large scale ‘settling down’  and construction of settlements and associated field systems in either county during the later Bronze Age.

In the  south  of  the  region,  the  main form of Bronze Age burial is multiple cremations, often asso- ciated with Collared or local Pennine Urns (Fig 2.20). The single grave tradition, largely associated with inhumation  and  stone  cairns  or earthen  barrows, accompanied by Food Vessels and Beakers, is represented only  by  a few examples  in the Pennines (Bu’lock  1963, 14).   Such sites appear to have been later used as the focus for secondary multiple burials associated with cremation.

A group of five barrows lies around Winwick, to the north of Warrington. Two were recorded during the late 19th  century (May 1904), while two have been excavated under modern conditions. One, badly dis- turbed, produced Beaker pottery. Another Beaker barrow at Southworth Hall Farm consisted of a two phase monument  with multiple cremations,  a Food Vessel, two Collared Urns and an accessory cup. The radiocarbon dates for the two phases spanned about 400 years between  approximately  the 18th and 14th centuries BC (Freke & Holgate 1990; Cowell 1991a). A flint dagger of Beaker type has also been found in the area of the barrow group (Cowell 1995; Hall et al 1995).

Towards the coast there are a number of low-lying burial  sites  in the  Weeton  area, at  Whiteprick  Hill, which  were recorded in the mid-19th   century during their destruction. One appears to have  been  a stone cairn  with ‘many  urns’  and  another  find of ‘urns’ came from close by. There are also records of a series of cairns of ‘fire-burnt broken stones’ in the vicinity (Middleton  et al  1995,  111),  which   are as likely  to have been burnt mounds as burial cairns.

A smaller group of barrows is located in Wirral and others are known from the urban area of Liverpool. The Wirral  examples include numerous finds of urns but few structures, suggesting some may actually rep- resent deposition of urns in locations without funerary mounds. ‘Several urns’ with cremations have been recovered  from the sandstone hill overlooking West Kirby and from the eroding cliff. On the island of Middle Eye, close to the mainland, an inverted urn may represent another site. In Liverpool, the Waver- tree burials consist of eight urns with burnt bones, of which only two Collared Urns have survived, with no record of an accompanying structure (Cowell 1991a). Later Neolithic traits may be seen in the multiple burials in ‘ringwork’  type structures in this area and concentric circles of stake holes beneath the mound at  Southworth  (Bu’lock   1963;  Freke  &  Holgate 1990). The probable Neolithic burial site of the Cal- derstones,  Liverpool,  may  have  been  open  in the early Bronze Age when some feet carvings, which have Bronze  Age parallels elsewhere, were added to the carvings on the stones of the chamber. Urns with burnt bone  are also recorded  as having  come  from within the  mound and  chamber   (Forde-Johnson 1957; Cowell 1991a; Cowell & Warhurst 1984).

In  Cheshire  a  total  of  109 Bronze  Age  round barrows  have  been  identified  (data  from SMR  and literature  search). Twenty-six of these are grouped within six cemeteries, but the majority occur in ones or twos. The most notable concentrations of barrows are those around  Withington/Joderell  Bank, to the west  of Oakmere  and to the west  of Macclesfield. Excavations  have been carried  out at  a number   of round barrow  sites  in the county,  but the majority remain unpublished beyond summary notes (see for example McNeil   1982; Rowley  1974; 1977; Wilson 1979; 1988). Radiocarbon-dating  has been carried out at many of these excavated sites, as  at Fairy Brow, Little Bollington  (Ch), where an un-urned cremation with a bronze  dagger was dated to 1520-1450 cal BC (Tindall & Faulkner  1989), and the general chronol- ogy  is  good,  although  lacking  in detail  of specific construction sequences.

Fig 2.21 Prehistoric rock art at Copt Howe, Langdale, Cumbria (John Hodgson).
Fig 2.22 The standing stone Long Meg, Cumbria (Lucy Drummond).

Archaeological  evidence for burial appears to cease during the Middle and Late Bronze Age, perhaps suggesting  the  disposal  of human  remains  in less archaeological visible ways, rather than the abandon- ment of formal funerary  ritual.  This  may  also  be linked to the increasing disposal of objects, especially those of metal, in wet and watery places during these periods.

A human skull, dated to c  1250-840 cal BC, associ- ated with wood  chewed by beaver, was identified at Briarfield  Nurseries   near  Poulton-le-Fylde   (L)  in 1997 (Wells & Hodgkinson 2001). It was thought  to have been deliberately deposited in the wetland in the Late Bronze  Age and the site appears to have been inundated possibly as a consequence of beaver damming.

A  second  human skull  recovered  from Ashton Moss in the late 19th century (GM) has been radiocar- bon dated to 1320-970 cal BC (Nevell 1997a). A Late Bronze Age ring ditch was partially excavated in 2003 at Poulton (L) containing fragments of a horse  skull and ‘coarse hand-made pottery’ apparently associated with fragments of cremated human bone (M Emery pers comm). This feature was assigned a Late Bronze Age/Iron Age date and work on the site is ongoing.

Burnt Mounds

Although these sites have been notoriously difficult to  interpret  (see  Barfield  &  Hodder  1987; O’Drisceoil 1988), they are generally accepted as being Middle to Late Bronze Age in date. A single example of a burnt  mound  is known from Cheshire, to the south-east  of Egerton  Hall  (Leah et al 1997, 141, 151). A Bronze  Age bracelet hoard was found close to the burnt mound (Leah et al 1997, 137) and it is a possibility that burnt mounds were involved in rituals  of  disposal  including   the  consumption  of food,  discarding of metalwork and other aspects of material culture (Mullin 2003a). A number of burnt mounds in Cumbria have been identified through recent fieldwork, bringing the known total to around 20 (Nixon  1980; Hodgson forthcoming). An example was excavated at Sparrowmire Farm, Kendal in 1999 and produced radiocarbon dates consistent with con- struction  and  use in the Bronze  Age (Heawood  & Huckerby,  2002). A second site was excavated at the Garlands Hospital site, Carlisle, producing  three radiocarbon  dates  from the Early  to Middle  Bronze Age, suggesting that the site was in use  for several centuries (Neighbour & Johnson 2005). A ‘box’ constructed  from birch poles from Branthwaite (C), which was associated with a Bronze Age dugout boat (Ward 1974), and an oak trough  from Lorton Moss (Wilson 1879), both contained burnt stones, and may represent evidence of similar activity.

Natural Places

In many   areas  of north Lancashire  and  Cumbria there is strong evidence for the deposition of cultural material and burials in natural features over the course of the Later Neolithic and Bronze Ages. Cave sites  and  solution  hollows  such  as those  at  Dog Holes cave at Warton (L), the Doghole at Haver- brack  (C) (Jackson  1913;  Benson  &  Bland  1963), Whitbarrow Scar (C), Kents Bank Cavern and Blen- kett Wood at Allithwaite (C) (Salisbury 1992; 1997) and Bonfire Scar and Bart’s Shelter on the Furness Peninsula (C) (Hodgkinson et al 2000; Young  2002) have revealed a variety of finds dating from the Upper Palaeolithic to the Early Medieval period. Sci- entific dating of the human bone from these caves has rarely  been  undertaken,  but the  association  of pottery and flint suggests that some of the remains may date to the Neolithic  and Bronze Age.

More tangible  evidence for deposition  during the Neolithic  and Early Bronze Age may be seen in de- posits   of  cultural   material,  including   stone  and bronze  axes, occurring  on the  southern  Cumbrian limestone,  especially in the environs of natural mounds    and    hummocks    (Edmonds  et al 2002). Beaker sherds were located  in a limestone  outcrop close to the Sizergh funerary cairn, and recent excavations revealed a small polished  stone axe in a gryke close by (McKenny Hughes 1904; Edmonds et al 2002; Evans & Edmonds 2003).

Rock Art

Until relatively recently rock  art  was thought  to be uncommon in the North West, but new discoveries have led  to an increased knowledge  of its  location and significance, as well as being suggestive of stylis- tic links with other regions (Fig 2.21). Gazetteers of occurrences have been compiled by Frodsham (1989) and Beckensall (2002). In Cumbria standing stones bearing rock art motifs occur within stone circles or as outliers, and are constituent parts of stone avenues between monuments, such as that identified at Kemp Howe (Clare 1978). Plain or decorated standing stones and prominent earthfasts also occur  as isolated or paired features  on natural routeways, in particular those close to monumental complexes. Standing stones or natural earthfasts adorned with rock   art   motifs  are   commonly    interpreted    as ‘waymarkers’ (eg Bradley 1992; 1993; 1998), further suggested in Cumbria by decorated earthfast panels such  as that at Chapel Stile, in the Langdale valley, and Patterdale, close to Kirkstone Pass.

Rock  art  motifs on the  inner  kerbs  of funerary cairns have been identified at Glassonby, Little Meg, Iron  Hill  South  and  Moor Divock  4 (Beckensall 2002). At Little Meg an internal cist excavated in the 19th century also incorporated  decorated stones (Beckensall 2002). The incorporation of these stones, which are likely to only have been visible before funerary cairns were added to these monuments, ap- pears to illustrate a change  in the significance of rock art between the Neolithic  and the Early Bronze Age (Bradley 1992; 1993; 1998). The Calderstones (M) is a probable passage grave, now  re-erected at a new site. The carvings on the stones include concentric circles, spirals, chevrons, arcs, and feet, which are all likely to date  from the  Neolithic   and  Bronze  Age (Forde- Johnston   1957;  Cowell   &  Warhurst   1984).   The motifs  may have been executed both before and after the incorporation of the stones in the monument.

Technology, Production and Exchange

Polished Stone Tools

Cumbria is well  known  as a source of stone utilised for stone tool production  (Fig 2.23), and the distribu- tion of stone axes is perhaps the best evidence for long distance exchange networks during the Neo- lithic. Although  the term ‘axe factory’  is perhaps an unfortunate misnomer, the debitage and waste evi- dent today clearly demonstrates the scale of working. Early  research on stone axes was driven  largely by chance discoveries (Fig 2.24). The majority  of the blades  found in the  North West  came from cultivated  fields  and  a regular  crop  of blades  has  also been brought  to the surface on the coast. Most blades are recorded as having been found  in isolation but the region does contain several ‘hoards’ of flaked and/or  ground  stone  axes (eg Barnes 1963; Evans 1897; McIntyre 1937; Rawnsley 1902). Groups have also been recovered  from fissures and  gaps in out- cropping    stone,    as   at   Skelmore    Heads,   near Ulverston,  where  four  flaked  stone  blades  were found in 1959 in a limestone gryke (Barnes 1963).

Fig 2.23 Pike O Stickle in Langdale, Cumbria, site of Neolithic axe production (OA North).
Fig 2.24 Neolithic polished stone axe from Moston, Crewe and Nantwich, Cheshire (Cheshire County Council).

An early success in the petrological fingerprinting of different  groups of axes and the tracing  of these back to their points of geological origin was the link- ing of a  specific petrological group of axes (Group VI) with outcropping  sources in the central Cumbrian Fells (Table 1). Work on implements made from this distinctive volcanic tuff has demonstrated that  in addition  to a  local  distribution,  many  are found at  greater  distances:  over  the  Pennines  in Yorkshire, in Scotland, Ireland and across much  of central and southern Britain. To date, four broad source groups  have been petrologically identified in the region (Clough & Cummins 1988).

These groups are for the most part represented by axes, and occasionally by other (potentially later) artefacts such as axe hammers and perforated implements. By far the largest of these is Group VI (Fell & Davis 1988). Some materials can also be found away from their parent  sources, carried as glacial erratics and deposited  when  temperatures rose. It has been argued for some time that distribution studies have paid  insufficient  attention  to  the  contribution   of these erratics (Briggs 1976; 1989).

Archaeological fieldwork on sources has tended to concentrate  on the extraordinary  sites  found along the line of the Group VI tuffs. What  was first referred to as the ‘Stake Pass Industry’ was re-named by Clare Fell to reflect a more substantive link with Great Langdale (Bunch & Fell 1949; Fell 1954; Plint 1962). Since then, there have been several campaigns of survey and excavation at various locations in the Cumbrian Fells (eg Bradley & Edmonds 1993; Claris & Quartermaine 1989; Clough  1973; Houlder 1979). These have yielded  evidence for quarries, excavated blockfields,  and  flaking  floors away  from the  out- crop.  These  demonstrate  different approaches  to working   and a date range for activity that currently stretches from the early 4th to the mid-3rd  millennium BC. Additional, probably smaller worked outcrops, are likely to exist in the central fells.

Group VI axes and  related  forms dominate  the inventories of implements from the region. That said, finds of group XV implements are well  represented and there is at least one axe of Group IX, which has its  source at  Tievebulliagh  in County Antrim. One pattern worthy of note is a tendency for the bulk of Group VI roughout   axes to be  found within Cumbria itself, albeit right across the area (Bradley & Edmonds 1993; Edmonds 2004).

Beyond  petrology  and  distribution,  the  study  of axes has emphasised questions  of morphology  and typology,  Clare Fell being the most important con- tributor to debate (Fell 1964). Together with others (eg Manby  1965; 1979),  her  research has suggested the existence of several forms, including ‘Cumbrian Clubs’. Varied in size but usually large, these are highly distinctive, often with a slight waisting towards the butt and flattened facets on either side.

In addition to the distribution pattern of struck flint, polished stone axe finds are common  across the south of the region. Some axes from the region, particularly in the north,  occur on what may be settlements, but others may represent other types of sites or activities.  For example five of the nine axes from Pilling  Moss have come from below the peat, which represents a reed  swamp  environment during the earlier part of the Neolithic (Middleton et al 1995, 195). The ritual deposition of Bronze Age metalwork is often associated with wet places and this may sug- gest that such activity took place at an earlier date.

Group VIEpidotised intermediate tuff of the Borrowdale Volcanic SeriesCentral Lake District
Group XIA fine silicified tuffGreat Langdale area
Group XVMicaceous sub-GreywackeSouthern Lake District
Group XXXIVLeucogabbroCarrock Fell, Cumbria
Table 1: Classification of Neolithic stone axes from the North West.

Other  axe  concentrations  are  associated  with the urban  areas of north Wirral, Liverpool,  Warrington and the Manchester conurbation, presumably reflect- ing the development that  has taken  place.  On the southern Pennine slopes, axes are found mainly at or above the 200m contour  while north of the Ribble there have been few axe finds within the Pennines.

A total of 81 Neolithic  stone axes have been recov- ered  from both excavation  and  surface  collection from Cheshire. Of these, 31 have been petrologically examined (Robinson 1976; Coope et al 1988) and the raw material is predominately flint and Groups VI (Langdale)  and  VII (Penmaenmawr).  Two jadeite axes have been found  in the county, and this includes the  second  longest  in the  country  found at  Lyme Handley (Longley 1987, 49).

Perforated Stone Implements

Perforated stone implements appear to have  a chro- nology that lasts throughout  the Early Bronze Age, tailing  off  by  c   1300 BC.  Socketed  and  shafthole stone axes of later Neolithic/Early Bronze Age date are numerous  in many  areas of Cumbria, particularly close to the coast. Like Langdale axes, the over- whelming majority of examples were recorded by antiquarian writers of the late 19th  and early 20th  cen- turies  and little  is  known of their  original  context, although  they  have been known to occur in burial contexts (Edmonds 1995; Roe 1979, 23). The axe types are made from a variety of locally available rock (see Roe  1979)  and  in general have a wider topog- raphic  distribution  than  Neolithic  axes,  with some located in upland areas in addition to the coast and valleys. In Lancashire, Pilling Moss in the Fylde has a concentration of perforated stone implements and there is a thin scattering of axe hammers  in the Burnley, Rossendale and Macclesfield areas.

Axe hammers dominate the perforated implement finds from Cheshire, with fewer battle axe and macehead  finds  than  may  be expected  elsewhere in the country (Roe 1979, 26). Three implements from Cheshire (an axe hammer,  an adze and a mace head) come  from find spots  in rivers  and  a further  two have been recovered from wetland contexts (Leah et al 1997, 151). Perforated implements also share a distribution  pattern  coincident  with round barrows and metalwork finds.


The  locally  available flint  sources  appear  to have been extensively exploited  during  the Neolithic and Bronze Age while better quality flint material was probably sourced from areas outside the region, presumably arriving via networks of trade and exchange. Although  many of the widely accepted typological or chronologically  diagnostic  forms for the  Neolithic are represented, assemblages are often characterised by informal or multiuse forms suggesting the expedient use of available raw materials where these were easily available. Mesolithic traits continue throughout a  large part of the Neolithic,  and in turn Neolithic types  are  also  found in Early  Bronze  Age assemblages. In the north, assemblages producing ‘Bronze Age’ material are confined mainly to coastal sand dune sites characterised by pebble flint assemblages. The sort of rough flake technology  present in these contexts is commonly  used to differentiate between periods (Pitts & Jacobi 1979; Edmonds 1987).

Fig 2.25 Part of the Alderley Edge copper mines complex, Cheshire (Cheshire County Council).

Where lithics have been located in association with Bronze Age burials, these are in general undiagnostic. A Bronze Age date for some surface lithic  scatters has been  suggested through spatial association with Beaker pottery in the eastern uplands (Cherry & Cherry 2002). However, although domestic Beaker pottery is often found in later contexts than that as- sociated with burials, the situation remains unclear. It is likely that a number  of ‘later’ scatters in both up- land and lowland  contexts  are Bronze  Age  in date but have remained  unrecognised  due to mixing  and the inadequacies of traditional lithic typological schema.

In Cheshire two high quality flint daggers typologi- cally dating to the Early  Bronze  Age have been re- covered. One from Acton  Bridge in 1974 (Longley 1987, 79) was allegedly found  with some bones and a second was recovered  from Basford.  These daggers are similar in form to examples from Scandinavia and have  predominantly  late  Beaker  associations  (Clark 1931; Grimes 1931).

Mining and Metalworking

Alderley  Edge  (Ch;  Fig  2.25)  is  one  of the  best known prehistoric copper mining sites in the coun- try. Evidence for earlier mining and mining tools has been  known since the  17th century  (Ixer  &  Budd 1998, 21) and the site was amongst the first prehis- toric  mines to be recognised  in the country.  Boyd Dawkins excavated at Bryndlow  Levels in 1875, re- covering over 100 grooved stone hammers from the site. Sainter (1878) examined the Bryndlow  site and recovered  more hammers  from pits  3-4m deep  as well  as an oak  shovel.  This shovel was recently  re- discovered (Garner 1994) and yielded a radiocarbon date of 1980-1520 cal BC. Further sites in the area are  known although  much   evidence  has  been  re- moved by later mining  (Gale 1986; 1989; 1990). It is noteworthy that metal from the Alderley Edge source has been traced within  bronze artefacts of the Ewart Park period, c 1020-800 BC (Rohl & Needham 1998, 107-8), which  are considerably  later than  the current evidence for the ore extraction.

Despite the presence of copper ores and several finds of prehistoric stone hammers in the Coniston area,  no direct  evidence  of  prehistoric  mining or extraction is  known from the north of the region, possibly a result of both extensive and intensive later working. Evidence for the conversion of copper ore into metal objects has been recovered from Beeston Castle,  where 20 fragments of bivalve  clay  moulds and five crucible sherds were recovered from excava- tions  within the  Late  Bronze  Age  enclosure (Ellis 1993). The  mould fragments  were generally poorly preserved  but parts of matrices  for casting  swords and ferrule were tentatively identified and probably dated  to the Ewart  phase  (Ellis  1993, 55). A local source of copper was available, located at Bickerton, although there is no firm evidence that these deposits were exploited  (S Timberlake pers comm). Cremated remains within the secondary phase of a  barrow at Gawsworth  (Ch) were  accompanied   by  a  ceramic object which may have been a mouth  bellows associ- ated with metalworking (Mullin  2003, 15). Within  the north,  a ceramic tube recovered from a grave  at Ewanrigg  (C) dated  to 2290-1750  cal  BC (Bewley 1992), may represent a connecting  rod to join a pair of bellows to a metalworking furnace. There was no further evidence to suggest the adult (possibly male) within the grave was a metal worker, and no further metal  was found on the site.  Evidence for casting comes from Croglin (C) where two halves of a stone mould for casting a leaf-shaped double looped  sock- eted  spearhead were  found in June 1883.  This  was dated  to the  Late  Bronze  Age  by  Hawkes,  but a spearhead matching the mould has yet to be found.


Fig 2.26 Late Bronze Age socketed axe blade from Tremlow, Cheshire (Cheshire County Council).

The known Bronze Age metalwork has entered col- lections  as a consequence of piecemeal  discoveries over the last 250 years and is consequently eclectic in nature, and comparatively few items (2%) have come from archaeological excavations. Most objects are single  finds  which  potentially  represent  individual acts of deposition (Fig 2.27). The remainder are ob- jects recovered from barrows. The nature of the deposition of many items of Bronze Age metalwork may  have a religious  or ceremonial significance,  al- though  in almost  all  cases contextual  information beyond general location is lacking (Barber 2003, 43).

Potential evidence for the earliest use of metal in the region comes from the axe marks found  on wood excavated from the trackway  known  as Kate’s Pad, (L) in 1949, where narrow mortise holes may indicate bronze  axe use. The  trackway  was initially dated to the Later  Bronze  Age but has  now been  dated  by stratigraphic   association   to   2559-1950 cal   BC (Middleton et al 1995, 60-65). The earliest metalwork in the North West of England includes 25 flat axes (Barrowclough  in prep). Typical  of these  (although not its context) is the find from Manor Farm, Borwick (L), with a relatively late date of 1740-1640 cal BC (Olivier 1988). Also present within  the region are flanged axes, such as one from Radcliffe (GM), awls, tanged spearheads and daggers.

By far the largest number of metal objects of Middle Bronze Age date are palstaves, of which 74 are known  (Barrowclough in prep). Also present, but in  much   smaller   number   are  haft-flanged   axes, looped spearheads and rapiers. In his analysis of met- alwork  from the  north of England  Burgess  (1968) assigned the Middle and Late Bronze Age metalwork of the  North West  to the  Wallington  tradition of metalworking, in contrast to the Willburton  tradition of southern England.

The Late Bronze Age assemblage is dominated by socketed axes (Fig 2.26), of which  there are 69 from the region. Gold ornaments are also included  such as the gold torcs from Maplas (Ch) and gold lock-ring from Portfield Camp (L). Swords, although present, are  comparatively  rare,  with only  ten examples re- corded from the region.  There  are, however,  some early examples and types which  are rare in Britain as whole,   such  as  the  Ambleside  hoard  (Needham 1982). Hoards are considerably  smaller than many contemporaneous  ones in the south of England. Typical North West hoards are those from Congleton,  Whalley and Winmarleigh. The latter consisted of a barbed spearhead, lunate spearhead, two spearshaft ferrules and a three-ribbed socketed axe.

Fig 2.27 Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age razor from Milnthorpe, Cumbria (PAS).


Beakers within burial contexts  are not common within the region, with a single example know  from Cheshire  (Mullin 2003,  13).  The  pottery  becomes only slightly more common within the north of the region and only a handful of burials accompanied by Beakers have  been  recorded  (eg Taylor 1881; Turnbull &  Walsh  1996;  Fig  2.28).  Beaker  sherds have been found in a variety  of different contexts, sometimes implying  curation  of vessels  or of frag- ments,  such as five  burnt sherds associated  with a collared  urn at  Carriers  Croft,  Pendleton  (L) and within a funerary  cairn  at Mecklin Park (C) (Spence 1937).

Beakers  have  also  been recovered  from within a limestone gryke at Sizergh (McKenny Hughes 1904), a pit in a natural hummock  at Ewanrigg (C), in asso- ciation with the timber circle/ringcairn at Oddendale (Turnbull & Walsh  1997) and from domestic  contexts on North Walney (Barnes 1970). At Ewanrigg the  burial  containing  Beaker  pottery  was  dated  to 3350-2920 cal BC, which  was deemed too early for the    material    and   ‘not  archaeologically    acceptable’  (Bewley  et al  1992,  351).  A  sherd  of  AOC beaker from Oddendale is dated by association only, from the fills of post pits from the ringcairn to 2583-2483 cal  BC,  2859-2579 cal  BC and 2853-2466 cal BC (Turnbull & Walsh 1997), while at Tarbock, east of Liverpool, a short section of ditch contained Beaker pottery which  produced  a radiocarbon determination of 2120-1680 cal BC (Philpott 2000a, 120-122).

Food Vessels occur in a similar range of contexts to Beakers although they are more  often associated with cremation burials and Collared Urns (eg Mullin 2003, 14). However, a Food  Vessel was found associated with an inhumation burial at Ewanrigg (Bewley et al 1992).  This pottery has been located within funerary cairns at Moor Divock (C) (Greenwell 1876, 1877), Bleaberry Haws (C) (Swainson Cowper 1888), and associated with Collared Urns and cremation deposits at the Banniside (C) (Collingwood  1910) and Oddendale ringcairns (Turnbull  & Walsh 1997) and within four Cheshire round barrows. At Grappenhall 2 (Ch) a  Food Vessel  contained  cremated remains while  at  Church Lawton  2 (Ch) two Food Vessels were placed in pits in the mound of the barrow, but not apparently associated with cremated remains (Mullin 2003, 14). There is at present no secure dating for this pottery type in the north of the region. Food Vessel sherds from an apparent non-funerary context are known from Oversley Farm (Ch) dated to the centuries either side of 2000 cal BC.

Fig 2.28 Beakers recovered from cists at Clifton, near Penrith, in 1880 (after Taylor 1881).

The North Western Style of Collared Urn, belonging  to Longworth’s   Secondary  Series  (Longworth 1984), are the most frequently recorded style of Early Bronze Age pottery within the region, characterised by relatively deep collars and pronounced  lower collar lips. Collared Urns, as well  as accessory vessels/ incense cups where these have been identified, often appear to represent the primary deposit beneath the earthen barrows in the south of the region, whereas in the north they may be later insertions into funerary cairns or within the interiors of stone circles. They are  also  associated  with ringcairns  as well  as being deposited in limestone grykes, potholes and other natural  features.  Decoration  of urn groups  within Cumbria, including  those from Coniston, Ewanrigg, Garlands  and  Millom Without (Bewley  et al  1992) illustrate  strong  diversity  in form and  decoration (Wild 2003).

The majority of those recorded were recovered in the later 19th and earlier 20th centuries, and there is little  secure dating  either  for specific  ‘styles’  or the individual monuments within which  urns have been deposited.

However,  recently-derived  dates  from Ewanrigg span 2460-1520  cal BC (Bewley et al 1992), from Al- lithwaite span 2101-1747  cal BC, 1922-1637 cal BC (from the  same urn) and  2027-1741  cal  BC (Wild 2003) and examples from Ribchester have been dated to 2600-1900 cal BC and 2470-2030 cal BC (Olivier 1987).

Middle Bronze Age pottery from Irby consists of eleven fabrics,  probably  all of local origin,  with six radiocarbon dates spanning the period 1500-1010 cal BC (Philpott & Adams forthcoming).

Late Bronze Age pottery from Abbey Green, Chester   (McPeake   &   Bulmer 1980) has   been petrologically examined by Elaine Morris of the University  of Southampton  (unpublished  report in Grosvenor Museum,  see Mullin 2003a) and a source either in north Wales or from local drift deposits was identified.  Morris’ petrographic analysis of pottery from  Beeston   Castle (in  Ellis   1993) has   drawn attention to the similarities between the fabrics from Beeston and the Wrekin, assigning a local source to the Beeston material. Given the evidence from these sites and from the Breiddin, Powys (the pottery from which was also examined by Morris), a source  either at  the Wrekin itself  or from local drift deposits  is most likely for the inclusions in the Late Bronze Age pottery from all four sites.


The appearance of swords and spearheads within the Early and Middle Bronze Age may suggest intermit- tent feuding or conflict although the evidence is so far unconvincing, and it is notable that the region has an apparent  lack  of sword  finds  in comparison  to other parts of the country.

The  primary  burial  under   a  barrow  at  Lower Withington (Ch) was of the cremated remains of a woman  with a  possibly   fatal  wound to the  head (Wilson 1980; Thorpe forthcoming), but on its own this hardly represents evidence for warfare.

During   the  Late  Bronze  Age,  hilltops  begin  to be developed  as enclosed  sites,  usually  seen as the precursors to hillforts. Rather than being primarily defensive, it is a strong possibility that these sites had specialist functions, perhaps associated with metalworking, gatherings of some sort, or high status individuals.


A degree of mobility  may have been a feature of settlement throughout  the Neolithic,  and even into the Early and Middle Bronze Age. Broad processes of change may be seen taking place despite evidence for continuity, in seasonal movements of people and animals, and continued  re-emphasis of particular lo- cations,  such as complexes  of monuments.  By the Early Iron Age and possibly in some areas during the 9th or 10th century BC, this pattern may have changed.

The  appearance of the first  fixed farmsteads with large  ditched  enclosures, dispersed across the  landscape, coincides  approximately with the apparent disappearance of lithics and burials as major forms of evidence, while environmental changes  caused areas of land to become less productive. This may indicate an   intensification  of  land-use  and  settlement   in former  core  areas rather  than  depopulation,  as  is sometimes   implied   (Davey   1976;  Nevell   1992a). Some areas may have seen the establishment of more permanent tenure of land and resources by smaller individual  groups,  perhaps  based on the  extended family.  There are subtle differences in adaptation to these new conditions.

The increase in Late Bronze Age material deposited in the Ribble and wetlands of the Fylde may suggest that strong central socio-political control  was established across the landscape. In Cheshire, the rise of large defended enclosures, such as Eddisbury (Forde- Johnston 1965) or Beeston Castle (Ellis 1993) is also apparent. Whether these centres operated in relation to a seasonally mobile system or were part of a settlement hierarchy is not clear, although the latter is possibly  the  more likely,  given  the  pollen and environmental evidence.


One of the greatest problems for Iron Age archae- ology in the North West is the apparent scarcity of evidence, and an alleged poverty of material culture. Within a recent review of Iron Age studies the areas of Cumbria, Lancashire and Cheshire were described perhaps somewhat unfairly as a ‘black hole’ regarding the current state of archaeological knowledge (Haselgrove et al 2001, 25). Pottery is a rarity on most excavated sites, and indeed is apparently absent from many. Metal finds that can be securely dated to the period are rare (Fig 2.29), and generally confined to the southern part of the region. The overall picture is one of a society living  in relatively small, dispersed settlements with little evidence for non-organic mate- rial culture. This in turn has been taken as evidence for a relatively shallow settlement hierarchy, perhaps reflecting an egalitarian society (Nevell 1992a; 1999a). Although this view  has been challenged as an over- simplified interpretation of the evidence (Haselgrove 1996, 69; Matthews 2002a) despite 20 years of active research the region remains characterised by a lack of large settlement sites and an absence of extensive ceramic assemblages.

The northern part of the region lies within the so- called territory of the Brigantes, while the south has been presumed to be part of the territory of the Cornovii.   However,   evidence   for  the   extent of Cornovian territory is late 2nd century AD and refers to Romano-British, not Iron Age, administrative arrangements. There is no evidence that a people known  as the Cornovii  even existed during the Iron Age (Wigley 2001, 9). Likewise, the probable late 1st century  source used by the Alexandrian mathemati- cian Ptolemy in compiling  his Geography implies that Cumbria and Lancashire belonged to the Brigantes, but we cannot know whether this territorial arrange- ment was ancient or an innovation of Roman provin- cial government. This may actually be a catch-all collective phrase for the peoples inhabiting the north of England. Specific details of intra-tribal identity or how widespread political unity may have been across the north remains  elusive and references to the Setantii in Lancashire,  a Civitas Carvetiorum  in Cumbria (Rivet & Smith 1979, 301) and a people known as the Tectoverdi all date from the Roman period.


The lack of identifiable sites combined with less evidence  for anthropogenic  disturbance  within the pollen record  have led some to suggest there was a lower population density within the north during the Early Iron Age, and even abandonment  of the up- lands (Nevell 1992a; 1999a; 2004; Wimble et al 2000, 28), although localised clearance has been identified (Dumayne  1995, 27; Wimble et al 2000,  27).  

Fig 2.29 Late Iron Age cast copper alloy strap fastener from Cumbria (PAS).

In the Late Iron Age, in contrast to the archaeological re- cord,  there  are well-dated  pollen  data  that  suggest that there was widespread clearance activity, includ- ing cereal cultivation, throughout the North West. Examples  of this  can  be  seen  in pollen  diagrams from sites in Cumbria (Pennington  1970; Pearsall & Pennington  1973; Hodgkinson et al 2000; Wimble at al 2000; Walker 2001; Quartermaine & Leech forth- coming),  the  Lancashire  lowlands  (Middleton  et al 1995, 141-189; Wells et al 1997) and uplands (Mackay & Tallis 1994), from the western Pennine fringes of the Mersey Basin (Brayshay 1999) and from Cheshire (Leah et al 1997).


Across  much  of the  region,  Late  Pre-Roman  Iron Age settlement is poorly understood with a low level of surviving material culture and few dated sites lo- cated or investigated, although there is a growing body of excavated settlement evidence from Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Cheshire. Thus, only  a decade  ago  in a discussion  of the work in Solway Plain Bewley could  ask ‘where and what is the Iron Age?’  (Bewley 1994, 73), noting  that  to 1994 there were just five records of sites of Iron Age date in the Cumbria SMR (Bewley 1994, 63). Although  in Cum- bria  numerous  enclosure  sites  are  known both as earthworks in the uplands and as cropmarks in the lowlands, unequivocal Iron Age occupation is diffi- cult to identify owing to the scarcity of identifiable material culture. Equally, two palisaded enclosures of possible Iron Age date excavated at Burgh-by-Sands and Scotby Road, Carlisle, were defined by narrow and shallow  palisade  trenches  that  would probably have only been detected during excavation. More intensive survey on the low-lying  Solway Plain and its adjacent transitional zone has enabled Bewley (1994, 77) to argue for a potential pre-Roman  phase at several  sites,  including  Ewanrigg,  Wolsty  Hall (Blake 1959)  and  Boustead  Hill.  At Aughertree  Fell  (Fig 2.30) a long period of occupation is suggested by three enclosures, supported by the presence of Bronze Age finds from the adjacent barrows (Bewley 1994, 35). However, Bewley has argued that the dat- ing of rural sites which relies on the visible material culture may not tell the whole story of the duration of occupation (1994, 35). A similar assumption can be made for the southern part of the region south of the River Ribble where systematic aerial photography across Cheshire and Merseyside during the 1990s has revealed dozens of cropmark enclosures. When these have been fieldwalked the material culture remains of the  Iron  Age  is  extremely  limited  (Collens  1994; 1999).

Fig 2.30 Later Prehistoric enclosures on Aughertree Fell, Cumbria (Cumbria County Council).
Fig 2.31 Beeston castle, Cheshire (National Museums Liverpool).

Although Cumbria and North Lancashire  are pre- dominantly   upland   there   are  very   few   hillforts (Haselgrove  1996), and these are typically univallate and small in size, although displaying relatively impressive  defences eg Castle  Crag (LUAU 1998f). Further  potential  sites  in the  north are situated  at Cargo (C) (McCarthy 2002, 46) Carrock Fell, Warton Cragg (L),  Castlehead  (C) and Skelmore  Heads but none has secure dating for Iron Age construction or occupation.  Recent  investigation  of  a   mire-filled rock-cut  ditch  at  Shoulthwaite  (C) produced  two Early Medieval dates, although it was not possible to establish whether this actually represented early medieval reoccupation  of an Iron  Age site  (LUAU 1999d).   An  unusual   triple-ditched   enclosure   at Swarthy Hill (C) produced  a single Middle Iron Age date from an upper ditch  fill (Bewley 1992). By de- fault, these hillforts were once assumed to be classic Iron Age monuments, large, heavily defended sites, each acting as the focus  of a clan  or the seat  of a tribal chief, exerting considerable land control  on the immediate hinterland. More recently there have been claims to place many of these sites in either earlier or later periods. Where excavation has taken place, datable finds have been scarce and radiocarbon dates imprecise  (eg Bewley  1992,  39). In fact few hilltop sites  can be securely dated  to the Iron  Age in the northern part of the region.

So-called hillforts south of the Ribble are also scarce and appear to be confined to the upland fringes  of the  Ribble  Valley,  the  western  Pennine foothills and the central Cheshire Ridge. Excavations at Beeston (Ch), Castercliffe (L), Maiden Castle (Ch) and Mellor (GM; Fig 2.32) have all produced  early- to  mid-Iron   Age   radio-carbon   dates   (Matthews 2002a; Nevell 1999a). Radiocarbon dating suggests that the earliest sites are of Later Bronze Age date (perhaps  even  before  1000  BC,  as at  Beeston;  Fig 2.31) and that they were abandoned during the Middle Iron Age (Nevell 1999a). Until recently no hillforts had produced evidence for continued occupation during the Late Iron Age or at the time of the Roman conquest (Matthews 20002a), although there  is  artefactual   evidence  from  Mellor  for  a re-occupation  in the  later  1st  century  AD (Nevell 2001; Redhead & Roberts 2003). Until recently, exca- vations  within hillforts  have tended  to concentrate on ramparts and entrances. Although it has been as- sumed that the interiors were inhabited, little is known for certain. At Castle  Hill,  Eddisbury  (Ch), roundhouses with stone footings were built over the slighted ramparts, whilst extensive interior excava- tions  at  both Beeston  and  Mellor  have  revealed post-built roundhouses (Fig 2.32).

The poor visibility  of this  period  in the archaeo- logical record has meant that it has been difficult to recognise  open   settlements.  The   few which  are known  have resulted from accidental discoveries, for example during  pipeline construction, as at Lathom (L; Fig 2.34), and Bruen Stapleford (eg Nevell 2001; Matthews  2002a; Cowell  2003; Fairburn  et al 2003). There is  evidence  that  Middle  Iron  Age activity  at Irby was set within an enclosure, the scale of the excavations did not allow for confirmation of this (Philpott &  Adams  forthcoming).   While  the  large double-ditched curvilinear enclosures, where exam- ined,  have Iron  Age origins,  such  as Brook House Farm, Halewood (M) or Great Woolden Hall (GM), the majority of Iron Age sites are represented by single banked or ditch enclosures, and morphology  has frequently  been considered as an unreliable guide to chronology  (Bewley 1994, 32-34; Matthews 2002, 9), and the form of the settlement is generally considered to have more  to do with its function than  its date. Although aerial photographic analysis has revealed several potential promontory sites in the Irwell and Roch valleys and hill-top  enclosures in the uplands, it may be unsafe to date sites to this period on morphological grounds or on the basis of field- walking  finds  alone. The  form of the Middle  Iron Age settlement site at Mill Hill Road, Irby, is difficult to define, but the site had a long  occupation sequence dating  from the Late Bronze  Age to the Medieval  period (Philpott &  Adams  1999,  66) although it may be unsafe to regard it as typical.

The predominant recorded settlement sites within the uplands are simple enclosures, with a substantial bank, external ditch and a single entrance. Within the enclosures are typically one or more circular round- houses (Fig 2.33), and these are usually in the centre of the  enclosure  away from the outer  bank. Many have  been  dated  to the  Iron  Age  on the  basis  of some  radiocarbon-dated  parallels from North East England, although finds of Romano-British material suggest a degree of continuity on many sites. A series of more complex  enclosed settlements  are concen- trated on the eastern uplands of Cumbria. These are characterised by a low exterior enclosing bank, with a series of internal enclosures, dividing  banks and roundhouses. The sites may also have complex  en- trances.  The  enclosure on Askham  Fell  contains  a series of circular houses within its centre, with larger enclosures on either side, possibly for stock (Quartermaine  1988).  This  type  of  enclosure  has often been typologically dated on the basis of antiquarian excavations (eg Collingwood  1908) to the Roman period, although the occasional find of Romano-British pottery, not necessarily from stratified contexts, may be misleading.

The smaller lowland enclosures fall into a number of types  including  promontory   enclosures, oval  enclosures and sub-rectangular enclosures. Some are univallate and some are bivallate, and social ranking has been proposed  as a factor behind this difference (Matthews 1994, 53; Nevell 1992b; 1999b; 2004). It has also been proposed that the limited variations in size of enclosures is evidence for limited social differentiation and therefore for a lack of social (and settlement)  hierarchy  (Nevell  1999b,  63).  This  has been challenged on other grounds, notably the distri- bution of exotic material culture, as well as site loca- tion and social formation (Matthews 2002a, 33), al- though  the restricted  range of settlement types and sizes is not disputed (Nevell 2004). It has been sug- gested that during the Early Iron Age the smaller lowland promontory  enclosures, such as Peckforton Mere (Ch) or Oakmere (Ch), were closely connected with nearby hillforts in some form of settlement hier- archy (Matthews  1994, 53) although  these  sites  re- main undated. There is little information about the interior  of any of these  sites,  and the  nature, scale and duration  of occupation  is  unclear. It might be suggested  that  the  hillforts  were  home  to rather larger populations than the lowland promontory en- closures, and given the close geographical association between the two types, it has been proposed  that the latter may have been the residences of elites (Matthews 1994, 53; Nevell 1992b; 1999a). There are also hints that some of the single-ditched curvilinear enclosures, such as Legh Oaks I (Nevell 2003a), be- long to this early period, while some open sites, such as Brookhouse Farm (Bruen Stapleford, Ch) are cer- tainly  Early Iron  Age, and in this  case,  occupation begins during the Late Bronze Age.

The salt  towns  of the first  and  second  millennia AD are likely to occupy sites that were the centres of production   during   the  Iron   Age  although   it  is unlikely that  salt  production   was centralised in the way it was during  the Roman  period  and later. In- deed, the source of clays used in the manufacture of Cheshire Very Coarse Pottery (VCP)  is the Middlewich/Nantwich area of the Cheshire plain. Some supporting evidence for a more dispersed production pattern is provided by the excavation of a Late Iron Age  brine hearth  at Railway  Farm (Ch) in the Wheelock Valley (Nevell 2005a, 12-3). Recent excavations on the eastern  outskirts  of Middlewich uncovered  a brine boiling hearth incorporating pieces of briquetage, which was subsequently truncated by a Roman period ditch (Earthworks Archaeological Services 2004). This may represent a Late Iron Age (or very early Roman period) salt production site.


The two principal  types  of structures identified  are the roundhouse, typical of the British 1st  millennium BC, and an oval variant. Two apparent palisaded enclosures at Scotby Road, Carlisle, and Burgh-by- Sands  probably suggest a  defensive   purpose, although an Iron Age date for these sites is not cer- tain  (McCarthy 2002, 46). Although  there appeared to be evidence  for occupation  within the palisaded enclosures,  no buildings  were  recorded  (McCarthy 2002, 46). More typical are the excavated examples at Great Woolden Hall and Castlesteads (GM) (Fletcher 1992;  Nevell  1994,  32-33;   Nevell  1999b) where ditched    enclosures   contained    a   farmstead   with roundhouses. Both settlements began in the mid- to late  Iron  Age  but only  Great  Woolden  continued into the Roman period (around 200 AD). Dating of later prehistoric roundhouses  has been problematic, largely due to the paucity of chronologically diagnos- tic finds, although a roundhouse  excavated at Stephenson  Scale  (C) was probably  associated  with Iron Age sherds and a ‘Celtic’ glass bead (N Thorpe pers comm). Radiocarbon-dated roundhouses in- clude examples from Beeston, Mellor and Brook House Farm (Bruen Stapleford) in the southern part of the region. Examples from the lowland zone are typically of timber construction with timber posts such  as Great Woolden (GM) where  a nearly  com- plete plan of a double-ring house was dated to 65-15 cal BC (Nevell 1999b). A large rotary quern fragment and sherds of Very  Coarse Pottery  were associated with the house. A well-dated  sequence of round- houses  and  an  oval  structure  were  excavated  at

Brook House Farm (Bruen Stapleford) spanning the Middle  to Late  Iron  Age  (Fairburn  et al  2001),  al- though  occupation  on the  site  begins  in the  Late Bronze Age.

Fig 2.32 Excavation of Iron Age houses at Mellor, Greater Manchester (UMAU).

The site at Lathom contained four adjacent round- houses, with the last in the sequence being associated with Romano-British pottery. The largest house had a diameter  of 10.5m, with a central  posthole and  a double  entrance on an east to west axis. The outer eves-drip gully of the house produced radiocarbon dates  of 195-5 cal  BC (2090±40  BP; Beta-153894) and 170 cal  BC-cal AD 410 (1890±120  BP; Beta-153893). The  only  Iron  Age pottery  from the  site consists of two rim sherds from the terminal of the gully marking the eastern entrance, which tends to support the 1st  or 2nd century BC date for the struc- ture. A late prehistoric beehive quernstone (Fig 2.34), made from central Pennine Millstone Grit, probably from near Sheffield, was probably associated with the house (Brooks 1999). The enclosure at Mellor con- tained  a roundhouse  radiocarbon  dated  to 520-380 cal   BC,   although   an   extensive   assemblage   of Romano-British finds from the inner enclosure ditch attest to continued occupation throughout the Roman period. Two of the radiocarbon dates from the site at Tatton Park suggest occupation during the 1st  millennium BC (Higham & Cane 1999, 39). The published plan also shows an undated circular feature of evident Iron  Age form (Higham  & Cane  1999, 46). The multi-period site at Meols (M) on the northern tip of the Wirral Peninsula  is  best  known as  a source of unstratified material although timber structures were reported during the 19th century and included both rectangular and circular forms, which may be pre-Roman in date.

Within the uplands evidence for buildings usually consists of a  curtain wall of stone. Two apparently unenclosed  roundhouses  excavated  at  Baldhowend (C) appear to have been occupied in the latter stages of the 1st  millennium BC and the first two centuries of the 1st  millennium  AD (A Hoaen  and H Loney pers comm).

The excavation of a roundhouse  at Glencoyne Park (C) revealed three phases of occupation with only the middle  phase datable by artefacts to the Roman period, while the primary  and later phases of occupation were apparently aceramic and artefact free (Hoaen & Loney 2003, 59). The size of roundhouses is  variable,  suggesting  functional  variation,  as  reported from other parts of Britain. Examples of roundhouses  range from 11m and above in diameter (as at Mellor, Great Woolden Hall Farm and Brook- house Farm, Bruen Stapleford) to 4m at Tatton Park. The dominance of south-east facing entrances, noted on sites elsewhere in Britain is also evident in these examples (Fitzpatrick 1997, 77).

Subsistence and Agriculture

Evidence for subsistence practices is limited, as ani- mal and plant remains tend to be poorly  preserved. Nevertheless, Beeston Castle produced early evi- dence for the use of bread wheat Triticum aestivocom- pactum (Ellis 1993, 80) which can now be matched at Mill Hill Road,  Irby  (Philpott & Adams  1999, 70). Several other species are represented at Beeston, in- cluding  emmer  wheat  (T dicoccum),  spelt  (T spelta), barley (Hordeum s.),  oats  (Avena sp)  and possibly  rye (Secale cereale). No Iron Age plant remains or animal bone assemblages have been recovered from sites north of the  Mersey (Huntley  1995,  41;  Stallibrass 1995, 128), with the exception of the small assem- blage from Brook House Farm, Halewood (Cowell & Philpott  2000, 49). This group is dominated by cattle mandible fragments,  with some frog  and the  frag- ment of a tooth  from a sub-adult pig. The cattle bone shows good evidence for butchery practice, including the likely removal of the tongue and the extraction of marrow, while charring is indicative of cooking. How representative this small assemblage is of the pattern throughout  the region is unknown  and the recovery of more environmental remains is an important re- search priority (Stallibrass & Huntley 1995, 201).

Fig 2.33 Upland enclosures and hut circles at Town Bank, Cumbria (OA North).

Few so-called ‘Celtic  fields’ have been recognised in the region, the principal exception being at Long- ley Hill, Kelsall (C) (Bu’Lock  1955, 26). The remains of probable Iron Age cord and rig cultivation were found sealed  beneath  the  Hadrian’s  Wall  counter- scarp bank and the possible parade ground for Stanwix  fort,  at  Tarraby  Lane,  Carlisle  (McCathy 2002, 43-4). A buried lynchet excavated at Tatton Park  was   radiocarbon  dated  to 410 cal  BC-30 cal AD (Higham 1985a), although this is now believed to be sub-Roman in origin (Higham 1999). An extensive area of irregular coaxial fields to the south of Chester has been proposed  as pre-Roman (Matthews 2002b, 408), but the evidence for this is indirect and requires investigation. The main roundhouse at Lathom was constructed over an earlier, dismantled four-post structure,  interpreted  as a grain  store  (Gent 1983), with a  second  nearby  associated  with several  pits, which respected the entrance-way to the house, and may be contemporary.  Adjacent to the house were a series of shallow ditches which may have defined small plots or paddocks. These remain undated, but were shown  to pre-date  a Romano-British  trackway (Cowell 2003).

Ritual, Religion and Ceremony

There is little evidence for overtly religious or cere- monial activity of this period in the North West, as in England  as a whole.  Most  finds  are artefacts from bogs or watery places, often discovered in antiquity during peat cutting. The funerary monuments that dominate the regional Bronze Age all but disappear by 1000 BC and evidence for Iron Age funerary practice  has so far  proved to be elusive.  Possible  Iron Age burials include  a group  of three crouched inhumations at Crosby Garrett (C) (Whimster 1981, 169, 403). A cist burial  at  Billington (L) was  found be- neath  a barrow  associated  with one  or more  iron spearheads and was taken to be Iron Age by Whim- ster  (1981), as was an inhumation   burial  associated with sherds of pottery that was cut by the construction trench of the milecastle at Risehow (C) (Bewley 1994, 85; Bellhouse 1984). The  most definitive evi- dence is a crouched  inhumation burial recently exca- vated within a limestone  gryke at Levens (C) which has been radiocarbon-dated  to the 2nd or 1st  century BC (OA North 2004a),  demonstrating  a  degree  of continuity of Bronze Age practices.

The  treatment  of  the  ‘bog  bodies’  typified  by ‘Lindow Man’ from Lindow  Moss (Ch) appear to be a  tradition  with its  origins  in religious  practice, de- spite  scepticism  from some  authors  (Turner  1995, 122; Briggs 1995, 181). The stratigraphic  location of the remains of an individual, possibly  a woman, dis- covered on Scaleby Moss (C) in 1845 might suggest a late  prehistoric  date  (Turner  1988).  Likewise  a bog body from Seascale Moss (C) is believed to date from the Iron Age (Turner 1989) although the date of the remains is not certain (Hodgkinson et al 2000, 78).

Other indicators of religious activity or structured deposition may be represented by numerous finds of metalwork   and   carved   stone   heads  which   have ‘Celtic’ features. These heads are difficult to date and many have been moved from their original locations to adorn house walls or gardens, but originally they may have been placed next to springs or pools. Their distribution is skewed towards the Pennine foothills and uplands (Nevell 1992b).

Technology and Production

Pottery  appears to be rare in the region for most of the Iron  Age. After  the Late Bronze  Age to Early Iron Age ceramic types as seen at Brookhouse Farm (Bruen Stapleford) (Fairburn et al 2003) and Poulton (Ch) there are few examples of pottery, most appear- ing to belong either to the very early Iron Age or to its very end. This suggests a considerable  reduction in the use of pottery during the Early Iron Age. Some Early Iron Age material may be represented amongst the largely Middle Bronze Age assemblage from Mill Hill Road, Irby (Woodward in Philpott & Adams forthcoming),  but in the absence of a defined typology for the region this remains uncertain. The most characteristic artefact  of the period  is the so- called ‘Very Coarse Pottery’  (VCP),  a form of briquetage used in the production of salt from brine (Morris 1985, 352). This has been recovered  from most excavated Iron Age sites in the southern part of the region (Nevell 1999a; Nevell 2005a). Although most  evidence suggests  that  it belongs to the Iron Age there is some evidence from radiocarbon-dated contexts for a Late Bronze Age origin  for VCP (Fairburn et al 2003, 32; Nevell 2005a) and it was still in circulation  at  the  time of the  Roman  conquest. Within this long period of production  and use there is little evidence for typological development although there appears to be a poorly  represented variant at Beeston Castle, Brookhouse Farm (Bruen Stapleford) (Fairburn et al 2003), and Irby.

The outer ditch of the double-ditched hilltop en- closure at Mellor, near Stockport (GM),  contained a rare, almost-complete hand-made pottery vessel shown  by thin section analysis  to have come  from Castleton, Derbyshire (Redhead & Roberts 2003). A hill-top  enclosure at Rainsough near Prestwich (GM), was largely destroyed by sand quarrying in the 1930s, but excavations  around  its  periphery  in the  early 1980s revealed late prehistoric pottery sherds  as well as an  abundance   of fine Roman  wares dating  from the 1st  and 2nd centuries AD, including possible pre- conquest  imported  vessels  (Brisbane  1987;  Nevell 1994, 11-15). The Lousher’s Lane site at Wilderspool produced  one coarse gritty  potsherd,  interpreted  as being of Iron Age date (Hinchliffe & Williams 1992, 100), and it must be suspected that one or more of the structures are contemporary.

Fig 2.34 Iron Age Quernstone from Lathom, Lancashire (Ron Cowell/National Museums Liverpool).

While  an  attempt  has  been  made  to classify  the scanty Iron Age pottery from the Mersey Basin (Nevell 1994),  and a Bickerton-Mam Tor jar continuum has recently  been proposed  by  Matthews (2002a, 16),  too few examples  of Middle  and Late Iron  Age pottery  have been identified  to recognise broad patterns of form and fabric. Pottery from excavations at Middlewich in 2001 included  an almost complete plain jar; although found in a Roman  period context, the material is clearly of Iron Age date. The excavators compared it stylistically with Malvernian Ware of the mid-1st  century AD, but the fabrics do not match. Residual Very Coarse Pottery  was found in Roman contexts at  the recently identified Roman settlement in Nantwich but there was no firm evidence for Iron Age settlement.

The most  comprehensive assemblage  of ceramics and  metal  objects  comes from Beeston  Castle,  including  a clearly  high-status  leather drinking   vessel with copper  alloy  fittings  (Ellis  1993,  50) together with other material that appears to date largely from the first half of the 1st  millennium BC. The ironwork includes a La Tène I (conventionally dated c  450-325 BC)  dagger and a La Tène II (c 325-150 BC) spear- head together  with an  Early  Iron  Age type swan’s neck pin (Dunning  1935, 269). A steatite bead with La  Tène decoration  from Mill Hill Road, Irby,  enables it to be dated to the 3rd century BC (Foster in Philpott & Adams  forthcoming),   while  glass  beads from Tarporley and Chester are 1st  century BC to 1st century AD in date. Objects from stratified contexts show the difficulty of recognising diagnostically later prehistoric artefacts, as with a pounder  from Brook- house Farm, Bruen Stapleford (Fairburn et al 2003). Some are completely  unexpected,  such as the wooden  base from Brook House Farm (Halewood) with its radiocarbon date of c  875 BC which appears to have been at least five centuries old when discarded (Cowell & Philpott  2000, 46).

Elsewhere, discoveries are generally  without  con- text. Most spectacular is a La Tène bull’s head escutcheon from Crewe, belonging to the Late Iron Age. A terret ring from Stamford Bridge (Ch), although  published  as Roman  (Robinson  & Lloyd- Morgan  1984-5,  95), is  a  La  Tène type of the first half  of the 1st   century AD and is  therefore  a very Late Iron Age product,  as is a fine bronze cauldron from Bewcastle (C) (McCarthy 2002, 117). Many of the finds reported through the provisions of the Treasure Act are without  adequate context. There are very few Late Iron Age finds from Greater Manches- ter and only two decorated metal objects, represented by  a torc with bronze  beading from Littleborough and a bronze ox head ornament from Manchester.

Trade, Exchange and Interaction

Few diagnostic artefacts of the 1st millennium BC have been recognised (Fig 2.35), which  places limits on interpretations of both production  and trade. The exception is at Meols which has produced numerous exotic finds,  mostly  recovered during  the 19th cen- tury,  and dating  from the  1st   millennium  BC. The quantity of this material has allowed characterisation of the site as an  emporium, a beach trading  site of a type best known at Hengistbury Head, Dorset, but increasingly recognised on the west coast of Britain, as  at Whithorn.  The presence of coins suggest that some form of organised exchange was taking place at Meols and it is likely that it was carried out between local elites and foreign traders. This kind of exchange requires a society with a much  more  complex  economic organisation than we are accustomed to attributing to the Iron Age peoples of the region,  and a degree of social differentiation that has hitherto been difficult to perceive.

Fig 2.35 Iron Age stator from Tiverton, Cheshire (PAS).

Cheshire salt was exchanged over a wide region during the 1st  millennium BC, with VCP containers being distributed throughout the North West, the north Midlands and Wales (Morris 1985, 355; Nevell 2005a, 11-2). There is a small scatter of exotic goods in the lowland North West that has been  seen as socially significant. They include Coriosolite and Carthaginian coins from the coastal site at Meols, swan’s neck and ring-headed  pins  from several  sites,  glass beads  and  more surprising objects,  such  as a Massiliot  amphora  from the  Dee  Estuary.  Despite considerable  scepticism  regarding  the  origins  and status of many of these objects, at the very least they are indicative of trading links with the western Mediterranean  region  from the  5th  to 2nd centuries  BC (Matthews 2002a, 24).

Defence, Warfare and Military Activity

With few overtly defended sites and no burials, direct evidence for warfare is not discernible. Although  the 1st  millennium BC has been characterised as a period of endemic, small-scale, warfare throughout  Britain, it is unclear whether hillforts played a military role. It is also unclear whether the enclosed farmsteads were intended either primarily or incidentally as defensive. Four Iron  Age swords  are recorded  from Cumbria and   a  sword  pommel and  scabbard  mount from Brough. In particular, a fine La Tène sword within its scabbard was recovered  from Great Asby Scar by  a metal detectorist, although the exact context is not known (Richardson 1999).

A number of the ramparts of the large Cheshire hillforts have been investigated, and provide some indication of their defensive potential.

During  the Middle Iron Age Beeston Castle had a stone-rubble, timber-laced, and probably box-framed rampart, with an upper timber palisade. This in turn had replaced Later Bronze Age and Early Iron Age defences, which  developed from a possible  palisade circuit, into two phases of earthen banks.

Maiden Castle, Bickerton, had an inner timber- laced rampart with dry-stone revetment, which  may have been earlier than an outer earthen dump  rampart with outer stone revetment, which itself replaced an earlier palisade.

Eddisbury also had front and rear stone revetments added  to the  two-phase,  bivallate  earthen  rampart circuit of the hillfort.

At Beeston, Bickerton and Eddisbury, in-turned entrances are a feature of the rampart circuits. Additionally, at Eddisbury, the eastern entrance has a pair of rectangular stone guard-chambers, recessed into the  entrance  passage and  possibly  with a  timber supported bridge over the entrance, which  are both features common in hillforts in the northern Welsh Marches (Longley 1987).

Fig 2.36 Eddisbury, Cheshire (National Museums Liverpool).


Substantial areas of the north of the region appear to have been cleared, and were grazed by stock or cultivated with cereals prior to the arrival of the Roman military. There are likely to have been both enclosed and unenclosed settlements as identified in the southern part of the region, but few large and strongly defendable sites. Metalwork is relatively rare although fine metalwork is present and practices of selective deposition, especially in irretrievable contexts, must also be borne in mind. Evidence for burial or funerary practice is extremely rare. The perceived lack of artefacts within the archaeological record  has often been interpreted  as evidence of an impoverished culture (in comparison to southern England) whilst the lack of an extensive settlement hierarchy  has led to reconstructions of a society with little social stratification. However, the small number of high status and traded artefacts may suggest this is an oversimplification, at least in parts of the region. The Roman period references to the tribes of the North West  are not necessarily  a  reflection  of the political organisation of the peoples of the region for the larger part of the Iron Age, and aspects of cultural identity still rely on archaeological evidence.