Is Norham A 3,000-Year-Old Medieval Castle?

By David Prudames | 09 August 2002
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Norham Castle, the keep and inner ward from the south-west. Photo Jonathan Bailey © English Heritage

Left: Norham Castle, the keep and inner ward from the south-west. Photo Jonathan Bailey © English Heritage

According to English Heritage archaeologists Norham Castle in Northumberland could be around 2,000 years older than previously believed.

Earth works in the immediate area of the medieval castle on the south bank of the River Tweed were the subject of a two-week survey in March this year, the results of which suggest they are the remains of Iron Age ramparts.

"All the evidence points to the possibility of an Iron Age fortification and settlement in the area much earlier than anyone previously believed," explained Trevor Pearson, English Heritage Archaeologist.

"If we're correct in our dating of this rampart, then Norham could well boast the site of the largest Iron Age hill-fort in Northumberland," he added.

"People have automatically assumed it is part of the medieval castle, but it has clearly been overlaid by medieval ridge and furrow cultivation and it doesn't seem likely they would do that if it was part of their rampart."

Norham Castle, view of the keep from the west with the remains of Clapham's Tower in the foreground. © English Heritage

Right: Norham Castle, view of the keep from the west with the remains of Clapham's Tower in the foreground. © English Heritage

Archaeologists used the Global Positioning System to produce a map of the area, which suggests the remnants of defences originally cut off the side of the hill most exposed to attack.

"Norham now seems to have been a much more important site than we've previously thought, both for its size and for the length of time it has been inhabited," said Peter Bromley, English Heritage Regional Director in the North East.

"There's no doubt the land along the Borders holds the clues to many exciting tales and we're only now beginning to unlock its secrets."

Presently, the site is located on privately owned land, separate from the English Heritage-owned Norham Castle and as yet there are no plans to provide full public access. However, it is clearly visible from the Castle and it is hoped some sort of access will be granted in the future.

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