An Iron Age settlement at Thorpe Thewles

The Iron Age site at Thorpe Thewles was identified from an aerial photograph taken in 1976 by Leslie Still. In this image the crop has stayed greener for longer over buried ditches where the soil has a higher moisture content. Also visible is a circular drip-gully that surrounded a large central roundhouse.

Between 1980 and 1982 Cleveland County Archaeology Section excavated over 50% of the enclosure. The ditch forming the enclosure was over 3 metres wide and 2 metres deep and the considerable upcast had been used to form a bank, probably on the inside. The bank would have been capped with either a stout wooden fence or a thick set hedge to protect the community’s livestock from bad weather and marauding wolves, wild boars and brown bears, then still native to the north of England.

At the centre of the enclosure was a large central roundhouse. This was extremely complex due to several phases of construction and there is evidence to show that the house was rebuilt at least twice. A substantial drainage ditch, over 1.5 metres wide, surrounded the house which was 13m in diameter. The house would have had a frame of timber posts with wattle and daub walls with a thatched conical roof. The building probably stood for 70-100 years before it was destroyed by fire.

Initially this house would have been grouped with one or two ancillary buildings but most of the interior of the enclosure was given over to the livestock.

As time went on the population increased and more and more structures were built within the enclosure. Eventually the enclosure ditch was backfilled and the site assumed an open character. The settlement by this stage no longer resembled a defended farmstead but would be much closer to a village in size, density and complexity.

The settlement at Thorpe Thewles is particularly important as it was especially productive in terms of animal and environmental remains. This demonstrated that cattle were the principal livestock which would provide beef, milk, leather, horn, bone and manure. Sheep were also common and would have provided a source of wool to the local economy. Carbonised seeds were present showing that the principal crops were spelt wheat and six-row hulled barley.

In two cases horses skulls had been deliberately buried suggesting some form of ritual deposition.

The majority of the finds from the site were domestic in nature, including pottery and quern stones (for milling grain). However a fragment of a gold-wire object, probably an earring, proved a more exotic find. This was probably a continental import of the 1 st century AD.

The settlement was abandoned shortly after the Roman Conquest of the north of England at around 80AD.

Further Information

The now out-of-print report on the excavations can be downloaded in full from the Archaeology Data Service (you will need to accept the ADS terms and conditions in order to view the report). For general information on the Iron Age in the area please download our free ‘Iron Age Teesside’ booklet from our Resources. Younger readers might enjoy building our downloadable ‘cut-out’ Iron Age Roundhouse or trying our colouring sheet.

Online Shop

Ready to purchase

Contact Us

Get in touch

Join our mailing list

About Tees Archaeology

Tees Archaeology provides archaeological services to the people and local authorities of Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees.

Website Design & Build by In Studio

Skip to content