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 Altogether Archaeology

2010 - 2015 

The Altogether Archaeology project (largely funded by theHeritage Lottery Fund) brought together professional archaeologists andvolunteers to focus research on the historic environment of the North Pennines.The project had three key aims: to undertake high-quality archaeologicalresearch to investigate the ways in which people have lived in the NorthPennines over the past 10,000 years; to provide training for local people toundertake such work; and for all involved to have fun!

Led by Paul Frodsham, the AONB Partnership’s HistoricEnvironment Officer, the project attracted nearly 600 volunteers, and a hugeamount of exciting work was completed, and many exciting public eventsdelivered over a five-year period from 2010 – 2015. The project was awarded the2014 Bowland Award as the best project in any AONB; just reward for the hardwork undertaken by the volunteers.

Following completion of the project, the volunteers set uptheir own community group, also called Altogether Archaeology, to work with theAONB Partnership and other partners to continue the project’s aims. Furtherdetails about this group, including details of how to join it and reports onall work undertaken during the AONB project, are available on the AltogetherArchaeology group’s website: www.altogetherarchaeology.org

A further legacy of the Altogether Archaeology project isthe North Pennines Virtual Museum (www.npvm.org.uk) which showcases a number ofimportant archaeological finds from the area.

Highlights of the Altogether Archaeology project’s fieldworkcampaign include the following.

Cow Green Mesolithic campsite. The excavation of aMesolithic (Middle Stone Age, c7,000BC) camp site resulted in the recovery ofnearly a thousand pieces of artificially worked stone (chert and flint). Thesite, on a main route between Teesdale and the Eden Valley, may have beenoccupied seasonally over many years. Unfortunately, much of it had alreadyeroded into the reservoir by the time of the excavation, but the resultsnevertheless represent an important contribution to our understanding of thelives of some of our earliest known ancestors in the North Pennines.

Long Meg (Little Salkeld, Eden Valley). This magnificentNeolithic stone circle is linked to transport routes across the North Pennines,linking Cumbria with the north-east. Volunteers, in partnership with Durham University,completed a detailed topographic and geophysical survey of the stone circle andadjacent enclosure, followed by small-scale excavations that were featured onBBC Countryfile. Worked stone from Langdale and the Isle of Arran, and flintprobably from Yorkshire, suggest the site was part of a network of ‘specialplaces’ in about 3000BC, probably visited seasonally by people from far andwide. The results also demonstrate the huge potential for further workhere.  

Kirkhaugh grave (South Tynedale). The excavation of the graveof an early metal worker from about 2400BC, previously excavated in 1935, resultedin the discovery of several fascinating objects, including a very rare goldtress-ring (worn in the hair), the partner of one found in 1935.Extraordinarily, this was found by four schoolboys helping on the excavation,two of whom were great-great-grandchildren of the man who found the first oneback in 1935. This project generated media interest around the world, and for awhile was the most popular story on the entire BBC News website.

Brackenber Bronze Age burial mound (Appleby Golf Course). Acircular mound on the golf course was thought to be a Roman signal stationlinked to the nearby road across Stainmore, but the Altogether Archaeologyexcavations proved it to be twice as old as the Romans. It is an early BronzeAge burial mound, dating from a little after 2000BC. Find included pottery andflint tools. This reminds us that it can be dangerous to assume what a site ison the basis of surface features alone.

Epiacum molehill survey. The annual molehill survey withinthe Roman fort of Epiacum, as featured on Radio 4’s Today Programme, led to thediscovery of hundreds of Roman objects. These will eventually be written up andpublished, helping to tell the tale of this important but relatively littleknown Roman fort, which is thought to have been the focus of Roman lead andsilver mining in the North Pennines. (See www.epiacumheritage.org for furtherdetails)

St Botolph’s Chapel, Frosterley. Excavation of a medievalchapel, itself of very great interest, also found a stone cross dating from the8th century, proving that the village has much older origins thanpreviously thought. This suggests that may other North Pennines villages mayhave similar secrets buried beneath them.

Muggleswick Grange (near Consett). The investigation ofareas around the spectacular standing ruins of this important medieval grange,which provided food, timber and other resources for the monastery at Durham,resulted in the discovery of extensive previously unknown buildings. The workalso discovered remains of the medieval church, buried beneath the currentchurch. This work was linked to a programme of conservation work to thestanding ruins.

Westgate Castle (Weardale). The Bishop of Durham’s medievalhunting lodge at Westgate, probably dating from about 1300, also functioned asthe HQ for Stanhope Park and for lead mining operations in the surroundinghills. No sign of the building survived on the surface, but these excavationsuncovered substantial buried remains. The walls were seven feet thick and ofvery high quality masonry; a remarkably well preserved spiral staircase wasfound built into the thickness of the wall at the castle’s South East corner.Although now reburied (conserving it would have been impossibly expensive) theremains survive for more detailed investigation in future, and the chance tosee them was much appreciated by local people, so many of who came to the finalopen day that the presentations had to be repeated twice.

Killhope Buddle House. As part of work to conserve theBuddle House at Killhope Lead Mining Museum, volunteers undertook excavationsin the floor. To everyone’s astonishment, the well-preserved remains of timbermachinery, including three buddles (part of Killhope’s complex system ofwashing and sorting lead ore) were uncovered. Two were recorded and reburied inthe floor, while one was carefully lifted for conservation and display.  

Nenthead Mines survey (Alston Moor). Volunteers completed anextensive survey of watercourses throughout the extensive site of NentheadMines, followed by small-scale carefully targeted excavations at key places.Waterpower was crucial to operations at Nenthead, but the watercourses are nolonger maintained and damage from flowing water is causing serious erosion insome places. The results of the work are interesting in their own right, butalso crucial to the future management of the Nenthead landscape.

Allen Valleys lidar landscapes survey. Working with ProfessorStewart Ainsworth (well-known as the landscape archaeologist with Channel 4’sTime Team), volunteers used a specially designed methodology to examine lidarimages of more than 250 square kms of upland landscape around the Allen Valleysand Hexhamshire, resulting in the discovery of more than 1,000 previouslyundiscovered archaeological sites. These have all been accurately recorded, andthe results will be invaluable to future landscape management as well as tofuture archaeological research.

Holwick landscape survey (Upper Teesdale). The landscapearound Holwick was recorded in great detail using lidar, air photography,documentary survey, and walk-over survey. In addition, several ancientsettlement sites were surveyed in detail. The resulting report presents thefascinating story of the development of this beautiful area over thousands ofyears, and also provides a basis for much further fieldwork.

Aerial view of Whitley Castle Roman Fort - near Alston
Excavation at Maiden Way
Excavating stone staircase at Westgate Castle
Excavation at Shildon, near Blanchland