Keys to the Past

Glossary

Milfield Basin

The Milfield basin forms the largest physically contained alluvial flood basin in Northumberland. It also straddles two key communication routes running north-south and east-west with the entrance to Glendale forming the junction of these two axes. Immediately overlooking this naturally defined cross-roads is the most prominent hill of the northern Cheviot rim; Yeavering Bell. When viewed from the lower lying ground of the basin proper it is the twin-topped hill of Yeavering Bell that stands out most markedly against the southern horizon.

In the Mesolithic period groups were generally targeting settlement on well drained gravels and sandstones, preferably adjacent to the wetland habitats important for economic exploitation, and avoiding wetland and clay habitats for habitation, although smaller sites indicative of brief periods of activity are found on these geologies, probably due to short episode hunting activities.

In the Neolithic period at least 9, and possibly as many as 15 henges were built here, forming a network of religious sites in the area. These were sited within in a complex arrangements of ditches and droveways. There are also many examples of prehistoric rock art in the surrounding area- the main groups of rock art along the route leading towards the Milfield basin are intervisible with one another, so that travellers might approach each of them in turn. It may be no accident that they are found in places where the vista changes, and where the next group of carvings along that route comes into view.

When viewed from the lower lying ground of the basin proper it is the twin-topped hill of Yeavering Bell that stands out most markedly against the southern horizon. Therefore, positioned at a key communication junction, and in the lee of the most prominent hilltop, Old Yeavering (Gefrin) clearly occupies a rather special place in the dramatic landscape of the Milfield basin. Positioned on a gravel terrace immediately above the frequently flooded alluvial basin, Yeavering remained high and dry on the fringe of a vast tract of fertile resources immensely attractive to hunter-gatherer and early farming communities. Stone-Age activity from the Mesolithic through to the Neolithic has been discovered both at Old Yeavering and more widely across the basin. However, recent research has indicated that the distribution of Stone-Age activity was tied to patterns of land-use that utilised different parts of the landscape in different ways. It is argued that through an understanding of the differential pattern of landscape exploitation in the basin across space and time we can glimpse something of the way stone-age inhabitants of the valley viewed and understood Yeavering and the wider landscape.

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