A RARE Anglo-Saxon settlement has been unearthed on the site of an opencast mine south of Morpeth, including remains of at least eight buildings together with animal enclosures, trackways and artefacts including pottery.
The incredible discovery was made at the Shotton Surface Mine site on the Blagdon Estate, near Stannington, where an archaeological dig has been under way prior to excavation works starting.
The find, which is thought to date back to between the 6th and 8th centuries, was made by TWM Archaeology, which undertook the survey on behalf of Banks Mining [p.2].
It comprises at least six rectangular post-built halls – each thought to house a family unit – two buildings with sunken floors and a system of enclosures, fences and trackways.
Anglo-Saxon pottery, loom weights and metalworking residues have also been recovered from the site.
And the archaeological investigations also revealed a number of other sites, including several Iron Age roundhouses, ditches and pit alignments, which were used as land divisions.
Karen Derham, Northumberland County Council Assistant County Archaeologist, who has been advising the local authority’s planning department and the excavation team said: “This is a really exciting discovery.
“We know Northumberland was at the heart of the early medieval Kingdom of Bernicia and yet archaeologists have so far only discovered a very small number of settlement sites, all previously in the north of the county.
“The surface mine at Shotton has given us the first direct evidence of Anglo-Saxon settlement in this part of the county and has confirmed its potential for making important archaeological discoveries. Post-excavation work is ongoing and will help to expand our knowledge of how people lived and used the site.”
Jonathan McKelvey, Archaeological Project Manager for TWM Archaeology, said the site is not only a significant archaeological find for the county, but an important comparative site for other Anglo-Saxon sites elsewhere in the country.
“Beyond the previously known sites in the north of the county, the archaeological evidence appeared to be very sparse, restricted to isolated finds and burials,” he said.
“Against this background, the recovery of the complete plan of a rural Anglo-Saxon settlement at the site is an important discovery.
“It provides for the first time direct evidence for the rurally-based agricultural economy that lay behind the cultural and intellectual flowering of this period in Northumbria.”
The investigations also included a rare opportunity to excavate a medieval industrial area including pottery kilns at the eastern end of the shrunken medieval settlement which lies beneath Shotton North and South Farms.
The potential of the site was recognised by Northumberland County Council archaeologists who advise the county’s development managers on whether proposed developments will impact on archaeological remains.
Records held by the county showed sufficient evidence of medieval and prehistoric remains to allow the county council to require detailed recording of the site before it was mined.
However, despite this extensive preliminary work, the elusive Anglo-Saxon remains came as a complete surprise.
Banks Mining has been operating Shotton Surface Mine since 2008 and currently employs 144 people on site, making the site one of the biggest industries operating in the area.
Part of the restoration proposals for Shotton include the Northumberlandian landform which is currently being constructed and will be open to the public in 2013.