Ponteland ring ditch with people © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023
The upper portion of a food vessel from Ponteland © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023
The dagger burial at Ponteland © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023

In Autumn 2019, Archaeological Research Services Ltd excavated an Early Bronze Age ring ditch and later prehistoric rectilinear enclosures on land to the east of Ponteland School and Leisure Centre, in advance of upgrading the Centre and its facilities on behalf of Kier Group plc. The site lies beside the Fairney Burn, a tributary of the River Blythe, on the south-eastern outskirts of Ponteland, 10 km north-west of Newcastle.

An Early Neolithic post-built structure radiocarbon dated to 3947-3715 cal BC was revealed, along with a pit containing fragments of three Carinated Bowl vessels. Succeeding Early Bronze Age activity included a pit containing Beaker pottery dated to 2398-2146 cal BC followed by a ring ditch monument associated with four inhumations and two cremations.

The earliest burial, dated to 2026-1896 cal BC, was a female of about 15 years of age placed in an oval burial pit in a flexed position on her right side, with a second burial in the form of a cremated adult laid over the first burial’s feet. The ring ditch was probably excavated around the centrally-placed primary burial with an entrance causeway left across the ditch so that it was penannular in shape and the central area could be accessed. The ditch then started to silt up and the upcast bank partly slumped in. The partially-infilled penannular ring ditch and its entrance were then recut to create a continuous annular ring ditch, which then silted up naturally.

A rectangular building dated to 2133-1938 cal BC was located immediately adjacent to the ring ditch with possible associated pits. The function of the structure remains unknown but it could be associated with the adjacent funerary activity, perhaps the foundations of a charnel house, or part of a domestic settlement.

Around 1965-1773 cal BC a third individual, an adult, was laid on their right-hand side in a flexed position with a copper alloy dagger at the waist in a pit cut into the infill on the southern side of the ring ditch. As with the first grave this individual also had a cremated adult laid on their feet. Within a relatively short period a third grave containing an older female of 36-45 years of age, also flexed and laid on their right-hand side, dated to 2022-1828 cal BC was dug into the south side of the ring ditch so that it partly cut into the west side of the previous grave. Above her skull lay the fragmented remains of a Food Vessel. The final burial for which evidence survived was the fragmentary remains of an unsexed juvenile of around 9 years of age dated to 1869-1621 cal BC who was buried above the grave of the original burial. Both females displayed perimortem blunt force trauma of the skull suggestive of interpersonal violence.

After the final interment in the ring ditch the site may have continued in use, for example as pastureland, in the late 2nd and early 1st millennia BC. A Middle Iron Age farmstead settlement represented by circular structures and enclosures was then established. Initially, the farmstead comprised a series of unenclosed circular structures. This was followed by the construction of a rectilinear timber palisaded enclosure, the western half of which was centred on the location of the Early Bronze Age ring ditch, perhaps indicating that traces of this monument were still evident in the 1st millennium BC. A second enclosure was then constructed with subsequent alterations of the enclosure system taking place, including the addition of a droveway between the two enclosures, until the settlement was abandoned, probably by the end of the 1st millennium BC.

A report on the results of the excavations will be published in Archaeologia Aeliana later this year.

To find out about the features and finds discovered at the site please use the ‘Links and Downloads’ page to access the project report.

Map and site plan:

Ponteland site plan with map inset © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023
Archaeological Research Services Ltd