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Iron Age

Iron Age circa 499 BC - AD 71

Weapons made from bronze may have looked magnificent, but nothing was really as effective and reliable as an iron sword, axe or spearhead. Pollen records show that woodland clearance, in the Yorkshire Dales, begins to accelerate with the coming of iron technology. We also see the rise of defensive structures throughout Britain and it seems likely that with increasing population and a worsening climate, a powerful ruling class appears, capable of defending farmers from outside threats and in return expecting a share in the produce from the land. In the Yorkshire Dales we have a handful of the hill top sites called hillforts where such people are assumed to have lived, for example the one on the top of Ingleborough and a more recently discovered one on How Hill, Downholme. Neither are classic examples however, since How Hill is small and Ingleborough may even have been a cemetery and place of ritual rather than a defended settlement.

The farmers who served the powerful chiefs of these defended places lived much as their Bronze Age ancestors had done before them. With little or no dating evidence it is virtually impossible to distinguish either their field systems or their settlements. Prehistoric field systems certainly survive in the Dales with extensive areas in Swaledale and between Kettlewell and Grassington in Wharfedale. These systems are based on long earth and stone boundaries that run up valley sides with occasional cross walls. These so-called ‘co-axial’ field boundaries (for example the Marrick system, in Swaledale or those in Upper Wharfedale) enclosed large areas, extending for more than a kilometre from the present limits of enclosed moorland.

As for where these farmers lived, that is just as hard to decide. Field archaeologists have found the remains of many isolated stone hut circles that may or may not be houses. One such is located above Conistone in Old Pasture. Clusters of these huts may be communities or family groups but none of these sites has secure dating evidence either.


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