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Evidence of human activity within Northumberland goes back at least 8,000 years. At this time the people were nomadic. They did not build permanent houses or erect monuments to their dead, but traveled across the land gathering plants and vegetables and following the herds of deer which were a source of food. Animal skin would have been used for tents and clothing whilst tools would have been from bones, stone or flint. Sometimes these ancient tools can still be found in rock shelters and caves. It was not until people started to farm and to herd animals that they constructed their permanent homes and elaborate religious and funeral monuments. In Northumberland, the earliest monuments are about 5,000 years old and they include:
Cup and Ring Marks
These ancient markings may be found on exposed rock faces in the northern hills. They usually involve cup shaped depressions surrounded by concentric circles, joined by grooves. One of the most dramatic sites is at Lordenshaw, signposted off the B6342, 3 miles south of Rothbury. Possibly as old as 5,000 years, these marks would have required great patience and skill to chisel into the rock but today their meaning has been lost in the mists of time. They have nonetheless attracted a great deal of attention from modern mystics believing in earth magic. Other good sites for Cup and Ring marks are the high moors such as Weetwood and Fowberry which lie between Wooler and the coast.
Thought to have primarily religious origins from some 4,000 years ago, sometimes these circles are combined with ancient burial sites. Amongst the most interesting in Northumberland are the Hethpool Stone Circle in the College Valley (northern Cheviots), and the Three Kings Stone Circle near Byrness in Redesdale. Both are in the Northumberland National Park. The Stob Stone near Matfen is a striking example of a single standing stone.
There are many remains of these cairns in Northumberland which formed the focus of religious and funery activities some 3,500 years ago. Initially bodies were buried in stone cists and were accompanied by gifts for the afterlife. A particularly good example may be found at Blaerwearie, near Old Bewick, some 10 miles north west of Alnwick.
Sites from the golden age of Northumbria and other Christian heritage attractions in Northumberland and the surrounding area include:
Off the B6318, 4 miles north of Hexham. The site of the battle in 635AD where King Oswald defeated Cadwallon of Gwynedd (North Wales) to restore the Kingdom of Northumbria to its dominant position in 7th century Britain. It is marked by a wooden roadside cross beside which there is a good interpretation panel telling the story of the battle. The little church of St Oswald, 100 yards from the cross, was rebuilt in 1737 and is now a site of pilgrimage. Between the cross and the church is the line of Hadrian's Wall which was still standing at the time of the battle. It is strange but true that Heavenfield is the only known battle involving Hadrian's Wall, although the Romans had left Britain some 200 years previously.