OPENCAST operations have revealed the remains of at least 50 Iron Age homes in Northumberland.
The remnants of the roundhouses, in a two-hectare area enclosed by a ditch and bank, have been found at Banks Mining’s Delhi surface mine on the Blagdon Estate near Seaton Burn.
It is one of the biggest settlements ever excavated by archaeologists in a single operation in the North East.
The job by Tyne and Wear Museums Archaeology took five months.
It backs the growing realisation that Iron Age populations in the region were not confined to the hillforts of the uplands.
It appears that communities were also spread quite densely in the lowlands.
In the past few years other Iron Age settlements have emerged during development at Newcastle Great Park and also at another Banks site at Pegswood in Northumberland.
And archaeologists are keeping watch as work begins on the Banks site at Shotton near the Blagdon operations. The Blagdon site is thought to have been occupied for up to 500 years, with a number of features showing how it evolved over that time.
Northumberland County Council archaeologist Nick Best said: “The relatively undisturbed nature of the site makes interpretation of what we’ve found there much easier, and being able to examine and record it all in such detail over many months has enabled us to gather a great deal of useful information on how people lived around 2,500 years ago.
“There is a lot more Iron Age archaeology in the North East than, until relatively recently, we had expected.
“What is good lowland farmland now would have been good farmland then and an attractive place to settle.
“The discovery of this site has conformed what we were beginning to suspect and that is that there is settlement in the lowlands as well as the uplands and it is more dense than we thought.
“One of the benefits to archaeology of opencast working is that big areas are exposed and through the planning process developers have certain obligations to the archaeology.”
Steven Harrison, managing director of Banks Mining, said: “Close co-operation between Banks and the county archaeologist’s team has ensured that this important site has been assessed without compromising either our mining operations or the full investigation of the settlement.
“We are now looking at undertaking similar operations at the site of the Shotton mine, where coaling will begin in the near future, and hope to be able to report similarly exciting discoveries in due course.”