NORTHUMBERLAND, UK.-One of the largest Neolithic settlements so far discovered in Britain has been found at Tarmac’s Cheviot Quarry near Milfield village in Northumberland as a result of a partnership project between Tarmac, English Heritage, Northumberland County Council and Archaeological Research Services Ltd (ARS Ltd).
The remains, some of which pre-date Stonehenge and found over an area equivalent to two football pitches, include those of at least three buildings dating to the Early Neolithic period (around 4,000 BC) and three buildings dating to the Later Neolithic period (around 3,000 BC), together with hearths, rubbish pits and storage pits. Remains of buildings are rarely found on Neolithic settlements in England.
Inside one of the Early Neolithic buildings, a human burial had been placed in a pit accompanied by broken pottery and charred wood. Hundreds of pieces of pottery including well-made bowls and cooking pots have been found, as well as flint tools, a cereal grinding stone and a rough-out of a carved stone ball, thought to be some kind of ritual object.
Knowledge of Neolithic settlements and how their inhabitants lived remains a contentious issue in British archaeology. In particular there is debate about whether Neolithic people lived a mobile existence as their hunter-gatherer forebears are thought to have done, or whether they lived a more sedentary existence in permanent houses. This site will provide important evidence for this debate.
The discovery was made as a result of routine archaeological investigation at the quarry site in June 2005.
Tarmac estates manager Mike Young said: “We work closely with archaeologists at many of our sites around the country, and are proud to have contributed to some very interesting and significant finds. This find is particularly exciting, and we’ve been able to build up a great working group with English Heritage, ARS Ltd and Northumberland County Council. It’s a great example of partnership working and a great testament to all involved, that will ultimately bring the benefits of such important archaeological research to the wider public”.
Dr. Jonathan Last, Head of Research Policy for Prehistory at English Heritage, said: “To find the remains of so many buildings from the Neolithic period grouped together is incredibly important. This exciting discovery offers huge potential to improve our understanding of Neolithic ways of life in the North-East of England. We hope that the analysis and scientific dating of finds from the site will reveal much more about the date and function of these structures, and establish whether they were homes or ceremonial buildings.”
Dr. Clive Waddington of Archaeological Research Services Ltd and director of the site, described it as: “One of the most important sites of its kind to be discovered, providing an exciting opportunity to further understanding of Britain’s first farmers, their way of life and beliefs about the world.”
Sara Rushton of Northumberland County Council said: "This is a major find. It's the first opportunity to study in detail how Neolithic people lived and used the landscape around these monuments.
"It backs up what's already known about the significance of this area of Northumberland during the Neolithic period. It builds on what we already know from a number of prehistoric earthwork enclosures."
The work has been funded by Tarmac and a grant from DEFRA’s Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund delivered through English Heritage.