Neolithic and Early Bronze Age archaeology in the Midlands

Dawn on the Long Mynd, Shropshire

The National Trust cares for many unique and historic landscapes across the Midlands, many of which are scattered with the remains of prehistoric occupation. Below is a taster of the type of archaeological remains we look after from the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age period.

Barrows

Barrows are funerary monuments dating from the Late Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age (c.2400-1200BC). They were constructed as mounds of rubble or earth and can contain a single or sometimes multiple burials. The mounds can occur either in isolation or grouped as cemeteries and often also acted as a focus for burials in later periods.

There are a number of different types of barrows located throughout the Peak District and the uplands of Long Mynd in Shropshire. The monuments are often located in prominent hilltop locations with extensive views all around.

Mam Tor Bowl Barrows, Edale

Mam Tor is well known for its Bronze Age hillfort, however did you know that the prominent tor was also a focus for prehistoric burials prior to the hillfort being constructed? During the 19th century an excavation of two mounds, located at the south end of the hillfort, revealed a bronze axe and some prehistoric pottery which has been dated by archaeologists to the Late Neolithic or Bronze Age (c.2400-1500BC). One of the barrows was re-used during World War II as a searchlight emplacement and now has a trig point erected on top of it.

One of the barrows at the summit of Mam Tor with extensive views over the Peak District
View of Neolithic or Bronze Age Barrow on top of Mam Tor in the Peak District
One of the barrows at the summit of Mam Tor with extensive views over the Peak District

Shooter Hut’s Disc Barrow, Long Mynd

Disc barrows are the most fragile type of round barrow and usually date to the early and mid-Bronze Age. This example, often referred to as ‘The Shooting Box’, is a good example of an unusual class of monument. It is the only one of its kind known to exist in Shropshire. Unfortunately the upper central area of the barrow mound has been disturbed by the insertion of a grouse shooting hut (probably constructed sometime before 1895). This hut has now been removed and the lower portion of the barrow survives undisturbed.

Caves

Excavations of caves can provide some of the earliest evidence of human activity, and in the White Peak area of the Peak District there are a number of sites which have revealed significant archaeological remains from the prehistoric period.

Reynard’s Cave, Dovedale

This impressive looking cave is a natural feature behind a natural arch high up in the bank of Dovedale gorge. It was excavated in 1959 and evidence was revealed of its use as a temporary shelter (rather than a permanent habitation site) in the Neolithic, Roman, and Medieval periods. This was partially concluded based on the sparsity of finds and the lack of a hearth. Neolithic finds from the excavation consisted of two flint scrapers and some sherds of pottery.

The opening to Reynards Cave in Dovedale where prehistoric and later archaeological remains were discovered
Reynards Cave in Dovedale, Peak District
The opening to Reynards Cave in Dovedale where prehistoric and later archaeological remains were discovered

Worked flints and stone tools:

Stone and flint were made into a wide variety of different tools during the prehistoric period including arrow heads, knives, scrapers and axes. These tools were used for practical tasks like clearing land, cutting wood, and hunting. Creating these objects was a highly skilled task, and as such some tools are also thought to have additional symbolic significance.

Many of the flint tools found on National Trust land have been obtained as chance finds (e.g. one or two pieces found lying on the ground surface by people out walking), but other flints have been found by archaeologists systematically walking across ploughed fields or undertaking excavations.

Fine examples of Neolithic polished stone axes have been found in Shropshire at Wheathill Farm, Uckington Farm and Upper Brompton Farm, Attingham. At Midsummer Camp, in the Malvern Hills, several flint tools were also recovered during archaeological excavations of the hillfort during the 1920s; these items included a Neolithic axe and a flint scraper.

Archaeology dig

National Trust Heritage Records Online 

Explore the entire Heritage Records Online website to discover more about the archaeology cared for by the National Trust