« PreviousContinue »
some supernatural being, usually termed a dragon, keeping watch over a secret hoard at its centre. At some distinct date there has been an attempt to learn the truth of this tradition. The mound, which is still called the Gunnerton Money Hill, has been scooped out to a considerable depth from the top and eastern side.
These castrametations—terrace lines of field culture workings for iron--and burial mounds are the chief vestiges remaining in this part of Western Northumberland of its aboriginal inhabitants. They are interesting relics of a departed race who peopled this island in times before the dawn of history. When we ask who the builders of these cyclopean structures were, and when they lived, we are unable to give any definite reply. Most probably they were a portion of the Japhetan family, who, as Mr. Wright informs us, first overspread the countries and islands of Western Europe. When we compare the characteristics of these early remains with those by antiquaries elsewhere in England and Scotland, we may, perhaps, conclude that these ancient Northumbrians were of the Celtic race. If we follow the guidance of Ptolemy and other ancient geographers, we may further decide that the tribe or nation was that of the Gadeni, whose exact tribal boundaries are not accurately ascertained, but who appear to have peopled the western parts of Northumberland, the small portion of Cumberland north of the river Irthing, the western part of Roxburghshire, the whole of the county of Selkirk, with Tweeddale, a great part of Mid-Lothian, and nearly all West Lothian. This warlike and powerful tribe had the Brigantes as their neighbours south of the Tyne, and the Ottadeni eastwards on the coast of the German Ocean. These wild, inaccessible regions of mountain and moorland were well calculated to develope a spirit of bravery and independence. And thus we find that when the Emperor Severus invaded these parts, his legions were appalled at the strength, activity, and ferocity of the Northern Britons.
From a comparison of the materials used in the construction of the hill-forts and lowland fastnesses of this district, and their general conformation, I cannot find any sufficient warrant, as far as this region is concerned, for the supposition entertained by the Rev. W. Barnes (Notes on Ancient Britain, p. 41), that the two classes of fortifications were built and occupied at different, and perhaps, widely distant times. He remarks, “ These wood-fastnesses (of which Cæsar and Strabo speak), seem to have been the trefydd in the lowlands and nor the caeran of our hills, which might have been antiquities even in those days"—the days of the Roman invasion and colonization of Britain.
As to the social life of these remote times, perhaps, the closest analogy and resemblance will be met with in the condition of the North American Indians, amongst whom Dr. Wilson (Prehistoric Man, vol. i, chap. i, p. 6) conceives that he has found “the living present of the long obliterated past of the Allophylian of Britain's prehistoric ages.”
Mr. GEORGE TATE, F.G.S., etc., said that, having for several years investigated the early antiquities of Northumberland, he would respond to the call of the president. The paper read, gave an interesting description of the relative position of several of the ancient remains in Tynedale; but the author had not produced the best kind of evidence to support his speculations; nor did he seem acquainted with the facts elicited by better methods of investigation, than he had adopted. If we are to arrive at satisfactory conclusions as to the age of such antiquities, and as to the character of the people of whom they are the remains, archæologists must follow the course pursued by the geologist, who is not content merely to look at the outside of a rock and then to speculate on its age and origin; but, with hammer in hand, he will spend days and even weeks in breaking it up to find the organisms it contains, and from these he can arrive at sound conclusions both as to its age and the conditions under which it was formed. In like manner, must the antiquary condescend to use the spade and the pickaxe, to open the barrow and clear away the débris from ruined hut and camp, so that he may find relics which may throw light on the age of the structure and on the character of the people to whom they originally belonged. By this method, extensive explorations were made during the summers of 1861 and 1862 into the ancient British remains among the Cheviots, in the valley of the Breamish and on Yevering Bell and its neighbourhood. The Berwickshire Naturalists' Club were enabled to make these investigations, through the liberality of His Grace the Duke of Northumberland; and two reports have been printed in the Transactions of that body, giving an account of the explorations. Before referring further to these, I may notice that the author of the paper speaks of a copper battle-axe found near Corbridge; but this instrument is a bronze celt, peculiar for its ornamentation, but not found in association with any ancient British remains. He also calls a house described by Bede, British, while there seems to be little doubt of its being one of the ordinary Saxon dwellings. The ancient British remains examined by excavations, were in the wild hilly districts of North Northumberland, and consisted of fortified towns, the oppida of that people, great forts which crested the higher hills; smaller yet strong fortlets on the slopes of the hills and in the high valleys ; hut circles, which were within towns and forts and scattered around the lesser fortlets; and barrows, the sepulchres of this people. A fortified town and ancient British oppidum, at Greaves Ash, near Linhope, is the most remarkable of these antiquities; its ruins cover an area of about twenty acres. Situated in the valley of the Breamish, on elevated ground, tolerably
level, and with the high hill of Greenshaw sheltering it on the north ; it consists of three principal parts at a little distance from each other, but all so connected by intervening buildings and defensive works as to form one town. The most important of these divisions consists of a number of hut circles, within a large circle, defended by two massive stone walls, one being from five to seven feet, and the outer one being from ten to twelve feet in thickness, and nearly a thousand feet in circumference. The explorations revealed peculiarities of structure in these great cyclopean walls, which are fully described in the published reports. The walls of the huts exhibited the same kind of masonry; for the most part, they were quite circular, varying in diameter from eleven to twenty-seven feet, each with a well-formed entrance facing the east or south-east. Many of them were flagged with flat porphyry stones, and, in some cases, a raised row of stones across the entrance had acted as a check to a door which had opened inwards. The fire had been in the centre, as hearthstones were noticed still retaining the marks of fire, and in a similar structure near Yevering, charred wood was discovered on a central hearthstone. In one hut a rude low stone bench was observed, which may have been used as a bed. Some portions of the great defensive walls still remain five feet in height; and in some parts the walls of the hut circles are from two to three feet high. Originally, the former may have been from eight to ten feet, and the latter as much as five feet in height, probably a tapering roof, of timber, wattle-work, and sods or rushes rested on the walls of the huts. Forts, strong from their natural position, and from the thickness of their ramparts, crown many of the higher hills; perhaps the most remarkable is that of Yevering, a fine conical hill about fifteen hundred feet high. The summit is girt round by a thick wall, now broken down, enclosing an area, one thousand yards in circumference. Wild fancies were entertained by the antiquaries of last century respecting this place; it was with them a Druidical temple, and one, of keener sight or stronger imagination than others, saw an altar stone with the marks of fire, which had burnt human victims. Such notions are entirely groundless. Too high and exposed to be suited for permanent residence, Yevering might be occasionally inhabited during the summer, but like others in similar situations, it was a place of refuge and defence for the people inhabiting the valleys, when they were attacked by a too powerful enemy. The people lived on the slopes of the hills, and in high and dry valleys between these hills, in circular huts, protected partly by smaller strongholds, the residences of the chiefs. These strongholds or fortlets were from thirty to one hundred and fifty feet in diameter, with thick walls similar to those at Greaves Ash; and the huts were scattered around them; some of which were little more than pit dwellings, dug out of the hill-side. The antiquities described, in the paper read, are similar to those among the Cheviot hills; and it is noticeable, that they are similar to what are found in the south-west of England, in Cornwall, and in some parts of Scotland, leading to the inference, that, at an early period, the whole of the island was occupied by the same race. The arrangements, however, tell of a divided state of society—of separate tribes and clans, often at war with each other, Exposure to similar dangers in different periods, causes the adoption of similar methods of meeting these dangers, modified, however, by different degrees in civilization. The relation of the several kinds of antiquities to each other seems analogous to what we have in the middle ages on the Borders, where there was almost constant warfare. The great hill forts are like the baronial castles; and as the cottages of Northumbrians nestled under the protection of the mediæval pele, so were the ruder huts of the ancient Britons scattered in the valleys around or near to the strong fortlets. It has been asked what is the age of these antiquities. Sir Gardner Wilkinson is of opinion that the ancient Britons, alarmed by the first invasion by the Romans, erected such strong fortifications as that at Greaves Ash to protect themselves against this new and formidable enemy. Taking, however, the relics discovered as a guide, as well as peculiarities of structure, I think, they are referable to a much earlier period. Both in the valley of the Breamish, on Yevering itself, and in the fortlets in the valley, several flint weapons and instruments and a quantity of broken pottery of the coarsest kind were found; in one of the huts was discovered a portion of an armlet of white opalised glass, similar to some obtained in Switzerland, belonging to the so-called bronze age, and similar to others from Scotland, taken out of a moss, and from under a cairn. A portion of an armlet of variously coloured glass was got out of a hut at Yevering, and a fine green glass bead out of a hut in the Breamish. Other armlets made of polished oak were in a hut on the top of Yevering. And within the same great fort was found a copper pin, which appeared to have been part of a fibula. There were no golden ornaments. The bones of a horse and the horns of the red deer were found in the valley of the Breamish. When these cities, forts, and dwellings were first constructed, the ancient Britons were far from being in a savage state; they had a rude civilization of their own, and had made some advance in art. Though their glass ornaments may have been imported from Phænicia, they made their own bronze and flint weapons and instruments, and their domestic vessels of clay. Hunters they were doubtless, and keepers of cattle; but some of them, at least, had settled within walled towns, and were, to some extent, employed in cultivating the soil and raising corn-probably oats, for from the teeth of an Ancient Briton, taken out of a cist at Tossin, being worn flat in the crown, he may have lived upon hard vegetable feed. Numbers of querns of a primitive type, found over the district explored, prove that corn was ground and used; and as the under stone of one of these querns was found, as a flag in a hut, we have evidence of the use of hand-mills by the early occupants. Terraces on the hill sides, the most remarkable of which are at Heathpool, seem to me to mark the spots of this ancient cultivation, which indeed could only be carried on at moderate heights among the hills, since much of the lower parts of the country would be covered with swamps and woods. Two reasons would cause cultivation to be practised on horizontal terraces at an early period. Less mechanical power would be required to form ridges along the side of the hill, and the heavy rainfalls of the mountainous regions would be less liable to wash away the soil from ridges that were horizontal, than from those up and down the hill. Many barrows had been opened; and in one of them near to Yevering Bell, an interesting discovery was made, tending to prove that iron was known to, and used by the Ancient Britons, at a period earlier than archæologists are willing to admit. In this barrow, along with flint weapons and instruments, and potsherds, some lumps of iron slag were found; and this discovery throws some light on the origin of heaps of iron slag, which I have met with in several places in the wild moorlands, distant from modern habitations. Respecting them there are no traditions, and connected with them are no remains of furnaces or other buildings; but they are not far distant from ancient British camps and forts. It is, therefore, not improbable that these heaps mark the spots where ancient Britons smelted the iron-stones of the district. In a cist at Tossin an iron weapon was found, associated with urns scored with the zigzag pattern, characteristic of ancient British interments. Of this I have given a description in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries for Scotland. Probably enough, iron was more in use than is generally supposed; for from its rapid oxidation, it is only in very dry situations that it can be preserved. Such facts throw serious doubts over the Scandinavian classification of antiquities into stone, bronze, and iron ages. Certainly they can apply only in a very general and indefinite manner to Northumberland. Weapons of stone, wood, or bone may in many parts of the world have been used before those of metal; but it is not certain that metals were unknown in any period of British history, and it may be that the material used would depend much on the means of the individual; while the chieftain could procure the bronze sword or spear, or even the more valuable iron weapon, his humble follower may have been unable to obtain any better than one of wood or stone. I am inclined to conclude, that the remains we have been discussing belonged to the Celtic race, such a swere in possession of the island when Cæsar invaded Britain. Of any preceding race we have no evidence in Northumberland. No kumbecephalic skull has ever been discovered. All that I have seen or heard of were of the brachycephalic form, which I regard as the true type of the Northumbrian Celts. These few expositions may, I hope, give some idea of what has been done in the investigation of early antiquities in Northumberland; and I must say, that if we are to make any real progress, archæologists must carefully gather facts by actual labour and excavations among the interesting remains which abound in this county, and from these we may eventually be able, by inductive reasoning, to obtain a clearer and more extensive knowledge of primeval history.