Archaeo-Environment on behalf of Barningham Estate
Barningham Moor forms part of the Pennine uplands of County Durham, bordering North Yorkshire, and is well known for its wealth of prehistoric remains. In 2016, work was carried out to upgrade some of the access tracks on a part of the moor containing a number of scheduled archaeological sites including an Osmail Gill stone circle, prehistoric cairns and burial mounds, rock art, hut circles, field boundaries and burnt mounds. A track skirted around the edge of a scheduled undated cairn-field at Badger Way Stoop, consisting of six cairns and a rubble bank that had possibly formed part of an associated enclosure. NAA was commissioned to carry out a watching brief during drainage work and trackway replacement along this part of the route, to determine whether the archaeological remains extended beyond the legally protected area.
A mechanical excavator was used to strip the turf that had developed over a trackway c.2.5m wide. Topsoil was also removed from a parallel 5m-wide strip to allow for excavation of a new drainage ditch. Material excavated from the ditch was used to create the new trackway, following ecological restrictions for the scheme.
Apart from two undated tree-throws, no other negative or upstanding archaeological remains were identified during the work. However, adjacent to Badger Way Stoop cairn-field a thin buried soil horizon was identified extending for 60m along the stripped area. This material may have eroded down the slope from slightly higher ground to the south in the area containing the cairns. The buried soil consisted of a layer of greyish brown silty clay, c.2–10cm thick, containing occasional flecks of charcoal and, more importantly, pieces of worked flint and chert. Following this identification, a sampling strategy for the soil layer was put in place. Eleven 1m-square test pits, at a distance of 5m from each other along the route, were hand excavated through the deposit in order to recover a representative sample of the lithics and identify any significant spatial distribution. All fragments of flint, chert, quartz or similar materials, whether obviously worked or not, were recovered. Bulk soil sampling from these test pits ensured recovery of even very small items. Construction work along this part of the route was limited to the trackway only.
A total of 224 pieces were recovered, most of which were natural although 23 displayed signs of deliberate modification, along with two burnt pieces of natural flint. Distribution of this material was not even; approximately half was found in the area of the initial discovery (test pits 1 and 2) and the remainder across a separate area encompassing test pits 6 to 9. This suggests that two distinct lithic episodes or ‘sites’ might be represented, albeit very close together. The worked pieces included a flint core, flint and chert flakes and blades, a chert piercer and scraper, and eight pieces of debitage (working waste). A quartzite pebble showed evidence for battering and abrasion and had probably been used as a hammerstone during lithic manufacture. Several of the pieces, including the flint core, a retouched flake and the piercer, were diagnostic of probable Late Mesolithic or Early Neolithic manufacture, while two bladelets might have been associated with manufacture of Mesolithic microliths.
The location of the artefacts suggests that the knoll immediately to the south may have been the focus of early activity, prior to being occupied by the Badger Way Stoop cairns. Such prominent upland outcrops appear to have been favoured locations for occupation during the Mesolithic, especially if located close to a water source and overlooking the surrounding landscape. Badger Way Stoop is located between two streams draining northwards where the site overlooks a broad valley connecting to lower-lying landscape along the Rivers Greta and Tees.
Mesolithic flint scatters have previously been found elsewhere on Barningham Moor. While a small assemblage, the lithics recovered during the recent trackway renewal work add to this pattern of early exploitation of this part of the Pennine uplands. They also contribute towards our understanding of the dynamics of the Late Mesolithic/Early Neolithic transition when hunter-gatherers were adapting to a more sedentary farming lifestyle, the process that is the subject of various academic research projects.
Robinson, G. (2017) Barningham Moor Access Tracks, County Durham: Final Report. Northern Archaeological Associates Ltd Report 17/74. Available free of charge at: https://doi.org/10.5284/1052535
Robinson, G. and Foulds, F. W. F. (2017) A Late Mesolithic or Early Neolithic findspot on Barningham Moor, County Durham. Lithics 38: 32–39.