In 2015, Archaeological Research Services Ltd excavated a series of prehistoric – Roman rectilinear enclosures at the site of the former St George’s Park Psychiatric Hospital, Morpeth in advance of residential development on behalf of Linden Homes Ltd. The site lies on the north-east edge of Morpeth and overlooks the River Wansbeck to the south. Evaluation trenching, targeting a number of linear magnetic anomalies identified in a geophysical survey, revealed a high concentration of archaeological features within the south-west corner of the proposed development area. These included a potential later prehistoric rectilinear enclosure which then became the focus for excavating an area covering 1.28ha.
The earliest archaeological features encountered were pits containing Early Neolithic Carinated Bowl, Late Neolithic Grooved Ware and Beaker pottery fragments. The pit with Late Neolithic Grooved Ware pottery also contained charred fragments of hazel which produced a notably early radiocarbon date of 3365 – 3106 cal BC. The current chronology suggests that Grooved Ware appeared in southern England by c. 2,900 cal BC and may have been emergent in northern Scotland as early as 3,400 cal BC. This suggests that the timing of Grooved Ware adoption in Northumberland is in line with its use in parts of northern Scotland, and that Grooved Ware adoption should perhaps be seen as a wider north-east British phenomenon.
A cluster of six inter-cutting pits and a posthole containing fragments of Flat-Rimmed Ware pottery, along with an oval enclosure, produced two radiocarbon dates between 2010 BC – 1621 BC. The pits probably represent domestic activity at the site, whilst the enclosure is interpreted as an Early Bronze Age enclosure associated with corralling livestock.
The site was occupied by a Middle Iron Age farmstead which was initially represented by a single roundhouse enclosed by a rectilinear timber palisade. When the palisade started to decay a new rectilinear timber palisade and roundhouse were constructed in the same part of the site. This was rebuilt a third time, comprising a roundhouse enclosed by a timber palisade and bordered by what is interpreted as an exterior ancillary structure with two associated radiocarbon dates between 385 BC – 200 BC. The palisaded enclosure was probably associated with the management of livestock. The only artefact recovered was a single fragment of Iron Age pottery.
After a period of abandonment, a Roman farmstead was established, which included a much larger, near continuous rectilinear ditch circuit, three interior livestock pens and domestic structure, five feed stores or shelters, and a droveway. This was roughly centred on the location of the Iron Age enclosures, perhaps suggesting that traces of the final enclosure was still evident when the Roman farmstead was created. Five radiocarbon dates from charred hazel recovered from the fills of ditches and roundhouses indicate that the farmstead was occupied from the late 1st – early 2nd century AD to perhaps as late as the 4th century cal AD. The farmstead may have been supported by the Roman army based at Hadrians Wall and their associated demand for food and tribute.
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.