Roebuck Hill, Jump

Project Profile

Project Title :

Roebuck Hill, Jump, Barnsley, South Yorkshire

Client :

Persimmon Homes

Type of Work :

Desk-Based Assessment, Evaluation,
Excavation and Post-Excavation Analysis

Project Gallery 

The enclosure   Plan of enclosure  
Pits inside the enclosure   Trench 6  
Industrial features   A workbench  


Roebuck Hill, Jump

A glimpse of late Iron Age and early Roman rural life in South Yorkshire

A staged programme of archaeological mitigation carried out for Persimmon Homes (South Yorkshire) Limited during a small housing development on Roebuck Hill, South Yorkshire uncovered exciting new evidence relating to rural life during the latter period of the pre-Roman Iron Age and the early days of Roman occupation in northern Britain.

The archaeological remains spanned approximately 9000 years from the late Mesolithic period to the 18th century. It included evidence of hunting and the manufacture of flint tools during the late Mesolithic, Neolithic and early Bronze Age and the remains of a late Iron Age and early Roman farmstead which provided a rare glimpse into the daily life of the rural communities that existed in South Yorkshire during the early period of contact with the Roman Empire. The excavations revealed that Roebuck Hill was under the plough during the medieval period but later, possibly in the 16th, 17th or 18th centuries became a focus for small-scale industrial activity.

Assessment and evaluation
The first stage of the project was an archaeological desk-based assessment which identified an important complex of late prehistoric and Romano-British settlement remains in Wombwell Wood to the north-east of the development area and a reasonably high potential for unrecorded prehistoric or Romano-British remains to be present within the development area itself. It also suggested that the development area had been farmland since at least the 18th century and that it was set in a landscape whose character had been dominated by fields, isolated farmsteads and a few small villages for hundreds of years from before the Norman Conquest until the 18th and 19th centuries.

A geophysical survey of the development area identified a number of potential prehistoric linear and curvilinear anomalies. Thirteen trial trenches excavated in January and February of 2006 confirmed that these related to a well-preserved prehistoric site comprising a small enclosure surrounded by fields with an industrial area located in the area of Trench 1. The site was further investigated through a combination of open-area excavation and archaeological monitoring.

The earliest activity on the site was represented by a scatter of worked flints in and around a natural hollow towards the south-eastern end of the site. The scatter included items dated to the late Mesolithic and was probably related to flint knapping waste accumulated from a series of temporary hunting or occupation camps. The presence of Neolithic and Bronze Age material within the scatter indicated that prehistoric communities were being attracted to Roebuck Hill over a period of several thousand years before it became permanently settled.

By the late pre-Roman Iron Age, a small settlement had become established within this same sheltered hollow. The earliest phase of settlement appeared to be an unenclosed late-Iron Age roundhouse, the only remains of which was an arc of post-holes. This roundhouse was then replaced by a later phase of settlement comprising a small enclosure containing a rectangular building, possibly of an early Romano-British date. It is unclear exactly when or why the settlement was abandoned but it is possible that the buildings were deliberately dismantled and the site levelled, to be replaced by a droveway and potentially fields. The evidence suggests that the area then remained in agricultural production for over a thousand years until the post-medieval period when industrial activity recorded during the excavation included a kiln that was probably linked to processing of iron ore.

Post-excavation analysis confirmed that the late-Iron Age/early Roman settlement at Roebuck Hill was a small farmstead, probably constructed within a largely open landscape. The settlement may have been open at first with a post-built roundhouse but was later enclosed by a ditch and possibly a bank. The enclosed settlement may have had a rectangular dwelling and the artefactual and environmental evidence indicates that the inhabitants were probably engaged in animal husbandry, small scale industrial activities including manufacturing loom weights, weaving, repairing or finishing objects upon a stone 'workbench'and the processing of crops, mainly barley and a little wheat. Waste in the form of burnt stone was prevalent in the back-filled deposits of many features, and some contained charcoal-rich deposits and burnt oak plank fragments that probably derived from the destruction of one or more structures by fire. Whilst the settlement appears to have been relatively poor and lacking finer goods when compared to some previously excavated sites in Nottinghamshire, the inhabitants of the farm invested in a well- made but locally produced beehive quern. Evidence of possible ritual or ceremonial practices was recorded in the form of the structured deposition of heated and broken quern fragments within feature 1673. This practice has parallels with similar deposition at other sites which have been tenuously linked to the abandonment of the settlement.

The excavation and analysis undertaken at Roebuck Hill has contributed much new information to the understanding of the late Iron Age/early Roman settlement within the South Yorkshire coalfields. Although few sites of this date have been investigated within the coalfield area, parallels can be found at similar sites within West Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and further afield.
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