Monday, 6 May 2019

Old Bewick Hillfort

The escarpment which flanks the hillfort, looking across the vale to the Cheviot Hills.

Old Bewick Hillfort is on a steep hill near the Cheviot Hills in Northumberland. It comprises two stone-walled structures of circular banks and ditches, side by side, built against the steep hillside to the south. Little remains of them today but they can easily be seen as circles of green and brown. Bracken is very fussy about growing on the remnants of historic sites, and these patterns are often the first clue to their presence. Several hut circles can be seen.

It is described as a fort but was a relatively small settlement, perhaps for one or two families, although the effort needed to create the walls and ditches perhaps suggests another purpose. It may have had religious significance.

The fort dates to the Iron Age but the site was of significance long before this time. Several Bronze Age cairns were built nearby, and excavation has revealed pottery urns, a necklace of jet and shale, and another necklace of amber. These were prestigious items and suggests the graves of wealthy or important people. The site was venerated long after the Bronze Age.

Cup-and-ring marked rock, prominent in the moorland.

The site is also significant for its cup-and-ring marked rocks. Northumberland is famous for these stones, which are found on many hillsides with substantial views, and those at Old Bewick were the first to be recognised as of ancient origin, rather than the work of an idle shepherd. They are thought to originate in the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age.

They resemble art found in Neolithic passage graves such as Newgrange in Ireland and Pierrowall in Orkney, and engraved slabs have also been found in Bronze Age burials in Northumberland.

Each carving is unique and uses the contours of the rock to enhance its art. They are certainly of great symbolic importance, but their meaning remains entirely unclear.


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