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The Heathery Burn Bronze-Age Hoard

Part of the Heathery Burn Bronze-Age Hoard


The objects in the North Pennines Virtual Museum illustrate the activities of the people who lived here. The earliest known occupation sites in the North Pennines date from about 10,000 years ago during the Mesolithic Period when nomadic ‘hunter-gatherers’ wandered into the area after the last glacial phase of the Ice Age. The first surviving objects are from the Neolithic Period - examples of rock art such as the Tortie Stone cup-and-ring marked boulder in Geltsdale and several well preserved stone axes from about 2,400 BC.

During the Bronze Age, from about 4,000 years ago, permanent farmsteads of round houses and small fields appeared in the North Pennine landscape.   Many tools and weapons were made of stone, wood and bone as they had been in earlier times, but some were now made of bronze. A spectacular hoard of Bronze Age objects, dating from about 1,000BC, was made in the nineteenth century within Heathery Burn Cave, Stanhope. This is now in the British Museum; it includes spearheads, axes, knives, tongs, bracelets and cheek pieces from a horse harness, all of bronze, together with jet rings and anklets and armlets of gold. Another find of gold in association with a burial was made at Kirkhaugh, near Alston, where a gold earring was recovered from a burial mound in the 1930s. Other substantial Bronze Age metalwork hoards have been found at Eastgate (Weardale)  and Gilmonby (Bowes).

From about 800BC, iron technology was introduced into the North Pennines, marking the onset of the Iron Age.   Settlement continued to expand gradually throughout the lower slopes of the dales during the Iron Age and into Roman times; it can be impossible, without excavation, to distinguish between Iron Age farmsteads from before the Roman Conquest and similar sites occupied during the Roman occupation known to archaeologists as 'Romano-British' farmsteads. Two such settlements were excavated in the 1970s at Forcegarth Pasture, near High Force in Teesdale: finds included Roman and native pottery, quern stones, spindle whorls, loom weights and evidence of iron smithing. Similarly, the recent excavation of a stone-built roundhouse on Bollihope Common (Weardale) uncovered evidence for agricultural activity and iron working.

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