During the Bronze Age, from about 4,000 years ago, permanent farmsteads of round houses and small fields appeared in the North Pennine landscape.
A good example can be seen by the Hilton Beck, Scordale, where recent survey work has recorded a complex of house platforms, field walls and field clearance cairns extending over about 20ha. One such site has been excavated, at Bracken Rigg in Teesdale, where a single large timber roundhouse (8.5m in diameter) dating from about 1,500BC stood within an irregular enclosure of about 0.7ha. Many similar sites must have stood within and around the AONB, though few have yet been discovered.
Much more common throughout the region are cairns, roughly circular piles of stone built to cover burials and also as convenient repositories for stones cleared from fields. Some cairns are found in substantial cairnfields, such as at Crawley Edge above Stanhope in Weardale, where more than 40 examples are recorded. Excavations here in the 1970s demonstrated that the cairns date from between 2,000 and 1,500BC: finds included a cremation burial in an urn, jet beads, several flint tools. In 2011, the AONB Partnership’s Altogether Archaeology project excavated what was thought to be a Roman signal station on Appleby golf course; it turned out to be a 4,000 year old early Bronze Age burial monument containing several cremation burials.
Throughout the Bronze Age, 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. Nobody knows why these objects were deposited within the cave, but as they were found in association with bones, including at least three human skulls, they probably represent some kind of ritual deposit.
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).