Keys to the Past


Starting with D - 42 Glossary entries found.

In this section of the website you can find out more about specialist and technical terms archaeologists sometimes use. There is also lots more information about famous people and historic events in the north-east.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Z 1-9

Dado Rail; Dado

A division along a wall about waist height. This may act as a division for decorations, such as a dado rail, which may have plaster mouldings on.


A short bladed weapon. These are shorter than rapiers and swords, and more decorative than knives. They have been found in many periods - Bronze Age examples have been found at Reaverhill and Allerwash in Northumberland. Medieval examples are often shown on effigies.


This is a raised platform, where a Lord and his immediate family might sit, in a Medieval hall. This would show their status.


A mechanism used to hold back water in a river, gathering pond or reservoir, so it can be controlled for some purpose. They may be earth or masonry. There is an important Post-Medieval dam at Acklington Park mill, (see under Smeaton, John).

Datestone; Date stone

Stone with a date on. This might be the date of a building, usually as decoration above a door, or where flood levels have reached. Flood levels are recorded at Warkworth Hermitage, Northumberland.

Davison, Alexander

Alexander Davison (1750-1829) was a contractor who provided supplies to the navy, and was best known for his friendship with Admiral Nelson. He was born near Woooler and, as a young man, travelled to London for work in a counting-house. However, he soon moved to Canada with his brother, where he became a successful shipowner. He returned to England and married in 1788. He provided supplies to the government, including army uniforms, weapons and transport, for over twenty years. He became a very wealthy man and entertained important figures including the Prince of Wales and William Pitt. He also used his wealth to buy Swarland Hall and Park near Alnwick, in 1795, on which he spent much money improving the building and grounds. However, in the early 1800s he was accused of defrauding the government and in 1804 spent a year in the Marshalsea Prison. He was convicted again in 1809 and was ordered to repay over £18,000 and was sentenced to another 21 months in prison. These scandals ruined his reputation, and he was forced to sell his London house and many of his possessions. He died after a short illness in 1829 and was buried in Kirknewton churchyard. His son, William, later erected an obelisk to his memory on the hill overlooking the church.

He first met Horatio Nelson in Canada. He became a close friend of Nelson's, as well as his financial advisor and prize agent. When Nelson died Davison was a leading mourner, and he erected a column on his estate at Swarland Park to commemorate their friendship.


Ecclesiastical title for someone in charge of the day-to-day running of a cathedral.


These are the small flint chips and fragments left over after making flint tools.


A type of Gothic style decoration dating to the late 13th to mid-14th century. Also known as Geometric.


Deeds are legal documents of ownership to a building or an area of land. Early deeds are useful for archaeologists and historians as they often contain descriptions of the property or the land.

Deerpark; Deer park

A place where deer are enclosed by a high wall or fence with a wide ditch on the inside. This would allow deer to jump in - but not out. This allowed the hunting of deer especially, though boars, wolves and wild cattle might also be hunted. Deerparks in the Medieval period required a licence from the monarch. This was called the Right of Saltory. As such deerparks were major status symbols of wealth and influence. Deerparks might also contain shelters for humans called hunting lodges and the deer in winter, as at Auckland castle in the 1760s AD. Less emphasis was placed on hunting in the Post-Medieval parks - but the deer were still enclosed to add natural interest.


Land in private ownership. For example, a manor house and its estate.


A Roman Silver (Ag) coin. This was the main coin of the currency - being 10 asses. By Diocletian in the 3rd century AD it had been superseded.

Dendrochronology; Dendrochronological

As trees grow they produce annual rings of their growth - relating ultimately to the climate and nutrients they received in the growing season. A tree will therefore store this information in its wood - even if it is cut down this pattern, like a barcode, will be retained for the period of growing.

Comparison of several trees growing in the same area at the same time will produce a similar, but not identical, pattern. If a sequence of 50 tree-rings can be matched to a master sequence of all the growing seasons, then a date for a timber can (sometimes) be established.

Dendrochronology is that tree-ring dating. In Britain a master chronology of all the growing seasons has been obtained from the present to the first Palaeolithic trees in Britain, over 10, 000 years ago. A core of oak can then be taken from a timber, (be it a structural building part such as a cruck) or artefact, and compared to the master chronology - there are several master chronologies for different parts of the country. Statistical comparison between the sample and a master chronology can then be used to provide a date of when the sample started growing and was felled.

However, it is important to note that at least 50 rings need to be matched, that the samples may be of re-used wood and that seasoning of wood may have occurred between the wood being felled and actually used. Furthermore, under circumstances of disease or poor weather no or false rings may be produced causing problems in analysis. Currently there is only a master chronology going back into prehistory for oak - other species were used in the past. In the northeast there have been wood imports from the Baltic area of fir and spruce trees since the Medieval period for structural building work. Current research is ongoing on producing a master chronology for these woods.

Dere Street

A Roman road that ran from Yorkshire to Scotland. This crossed the Tees at Piercebridge, County Durham, heading north to Lanchester area and cut across to Corbridge, then northwards again through Hadrian's Wall to the northwest, passing the marching camps at Fourlaws, Featherwood, Chew Green and near the forts at West Woodburn and High Rochester. It was used as a later boundary and drove road. In part it is still overlain by many roads such as the main A1(M) and A68 roads of today. It is thought to have been constructed/used by the 80s AD. This had its own fortlet at Chew Green for repair and pulling wagons.
Cross-section of a typical Roman raod.

Deserted Medieval Village; Deserted Medieval Settlement

These are settlements which have been abandoned leaving only the remains of earthworks. Confusingly many of these villages are not completely deserted nor are they all medieval. Villages shrank in size or completely disappeared over a long period for many different reasons. Some declined after the Black Death, a deadly plague, killed many people in the 14th century. Often changes in the economy or farming practices led people to find other jobs than farming and move away to the towns. This happened at many villages in Northumberland and Durham, mainly in the 17th and 18th centuries. Occasionally, wealthy landowners deliberately moved villages because they though that they spoilt the view. They were then often rebuilt somewhere else. Archaeologists often know deserted medieval villages as DMVs.

Desktop assessment; Desk based assessment; Desk-based assessment

This is a kind of assessment based on pre-existing research. It brings together all the information known about a site and estimates the extent to which archaeological remains survive and makes a guess as to their importance.


Group of parishes under the general control of a Bishop or Archbishop. There are several Bishops for Northumberland and Durham. The Church of England has the Bishops of Durham and Newcastle, whilst there is a Catholic Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle.


(reigned 284-305AD)
Roman emperor who split the empire to make it easier to manage.


The name 'dissenter' was used to describe a number of Christian groups, including the Presbyterians, Baptists and Quakers, who did not follow the Church of England in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was illegal to be a dissenter until the law was changed in 1689, but a dissenter could not join the army or hold any official jobs until 1828.

Dissolution of the Monasteries; Dissolution; Dissolution of Monasteries; Dissolved

Between 1536 and 1540 all the monasteries, King Henry VIII abolished convents and friaries in England. This was partly because the king had left the Catholic church, whilst most monks continued to belong. It also brought much wealth to the king, as all the land and property was given to the king, who sold much of it. The Dissolution was very unpopular in some parts of the country, and led to a rebellion in the North, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536).

Distillery; Distilling

A chemical process where a liquid or tar-like mixture of chemical compounds is heated up. This causes the lighter, or those with a lower boiling point, to be evaporated first to rise through tubing as a gas. Since the curling tubing, (called a worm), was cold the compounds cool and return to being a liquid, which can be taken away. If the heating is just right a pure liquid can be obtained. Places were this was carried out are called distilleries.

Illegal distilleries were set up to produce alcohol in secluded spots. This was because customs dues were high. This was done in stills in Upper Coquetdale, Northumberland, from the 1780s-1870s. Coal tars were extracted from the making of coke, whilst large stills where to separate the whale blubber in ports, like Berwick upon Tweed and Newcastle, noted for their involvement in the Arctic whaling trade. (A Berwick street is called Oil Mill Lane - possibly where distilling took place).

Dobson, John

(b.1787; d.1865) John Dobson was a painter, engineer, and surveyor. He was one of the most prolific Victorian architects in England who worked on over fifty churches and nearly one hundred houses. He also had a great impact on the design of Victorian Newcastle upon Tyne.

Domesday Book

An account made by the Normans of all the lands they considered profitable in England. It was made to show what land there was, who owned it and the taxes paid from that paid to the monarch. It took several years to write. It does not cover Northumberland and Durham, as well as some of Yorkshire, since the Harrying of the North after a northern rebellion after the Battle of Hastings. The name comes from The Bible's Domesday when the world ends and everyone is judged for their fitness for heaven.


Dominicans are members of the Order of Preachers, a Roman Catholic religious order founded in 1214 by St Dominic. In Britain they were often called Black Friars because of the black coat and hood they wore when preaching or hearing confession.


In some abbeys and monasteries the monks would all sleep in a large shared room known as a dormitory. In others they would sleep in separate cells.

Dovecote; Dovecot

A building or structure for doves and pigeons. They have openings for landing and access, and inside usually contain nesting boxes and ledges for roosting.

Dower house

A house that is lived in by the widow of a high-ranking person. It was usually built on a country house estate.


A surveying technique using a Y-shaped hazel branch or other material to locate buried features or watercourses.

Draw arches

Arches of a limekiln where the fire could be stopped and the finished product removed. These can be of varying dimensions and shapes, in extremes large enough wagon for ease of transportation.

Drawbar tunnel; Draw bar tunnel

A recess, or socket, at each side of a stone doorway in which a timber brace rested to prevent access to a building.


This is a moveable bridge that could be drawn up vertically to prevent an attacking force crossing a ditch. These could be pivotted or just brought or brought up at one end by using systems of weights. They could be employed with the barbican of a castle or just outside of a castle.

Dressing; Dressed; Dressing floor; Dressing plant

When metal ore compounds are mined they are usually brought out as a mixture of ore and other unwanted stone. This is called bouse, especially common for the Lead mineral Galena (PbS). To melt only the metal mineral compound it has to be dressed by separating from the bouse mixture. This can be done by hand or crushing the softer rocks in a crushing mill. The dressed Galena mineral is then washed in a washing floor. If this is done by hand it takes place on a dressing floor, a crushing mill can be called a dressing plant.

Drift mine; Drift

A tunnel driven into a hill almost horizontally. The term is usually reserved for coal mines, though the terms adit and level can also be used.

Droveway; Drove road

There is a long tradition of herding cattle between England and Scotland. The main route ways usually led over the upland area of the Cheviots. Some of these routes, such as Ermspeth, have Anglo-Saxon names suggesting that they have been in use for over 1000 years. They are often cut by large cross-dykes, which help control the passage of the herds. The movement of cattle along these routes died out in the post-medieval period.


The process of moving cattle from their place of rearing to the market. This was carried out in a big way in the 18th and 19th centuries especially - though small-scale droving only died out recently. The roads that drovers used were called drove roads and several are named where they cross The Scottish Border. These included Dere Street, The Street and Clennell Street from west to east in Upper Coquetdale, Northumberland.

Dry dock

Dock where a ship can be supported as the water is pumped out, so as to affect necessary repairs.

Drying kiln

See corn drying kiln.


A simple fortified settlement, usually defended by large drystone ramparts. They are only known in Scotland and Ireland.


A 2 as Roman coin. (The as was the base unit of the Roman currency).

Dye house

A building where cloth was coloured using dye.


Nationally a mound, sometimes retained by a kerb, that acts as a boundary.
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