School of History, Classics and Archaeology


Bollihope Common Archaeology Project

 Bollihope Common (NY 978 353) is located in the upper section of the valley of the Bollihope Burn, a tributary of the River Wear.

The long-term aim of the Bollihope Project is to reconstruct the land-use and settlement history of this area of the North Pennines from prehistory into the historic period.

We began fieldwork at Bollihope in 1998, and to 2005 focused on circular features thought likely to date to the Iron Age and/or Roman period.

Our aims were a) to assess whether traditional models of ‘upland desertion’ in the Late Bronze Age stand up to serious questioning in this landscape, and b) to explore issues of site continuity and material culture change as a result of the Roman conquest.

We have subsequently uncovered a rare, northern example of a Roman-British ironworking complex (a furnace/forge, and associated charcoal pit).

In future years, we aim to focus on post-Roman sites, and on industrial remains in particular.

During the 1830s and 1840s Weardale and Teesdale formed the most important lead-mining area in the world, with 30% of Britain's lead coming from the region. Bollihope Common bears many marks of lead nineteenth century lead extraction.

Lead was being mined in the North Pennines long before the 19th century, however.

A small number of Roman lead smelting sites have been excavated in the region and mining and smelting were undertaken throughout the medieval and post-medieval periods.

It is possible, therefore, that lead extraction and smelting have been carried out on a near-continuous basis in some parts of Weardale since Roman times.

A key aim of the Bollhope Common Project in future years will be to explore this possibility, and to assess its implications in terms of land use, continuity and social change.

The Bollihope Common Archaeology project provides high-quality fieldwork training for some 25 Newcastle undergraduates every year.

We also operate as a community archaeology project, offering local residents (young and old) an opportunity to take part in the excavation free of charge.

We run an annual programme of walks and talks during the excavation season, and in so doing work closely with regional heritage and tourism partners, including: