COMMON IN THE BRONZE AGE
archaeological digs (in 1911, 1912, 1922 and 1925) at several sites
on Birkrigg Common unearthed artefacts associated with burials that
have been dated to the Early Bronze Age of the period 1800 - 1500
B.C.; these four sites are now Scheduled Ancient Monuments.
1959 a socketed bronze axe head was discovered on Birkrigg
and six similar bronze axe heads were also discovered on
Skelmore Heads in 1902 (all now held by the Dock Museum,
Barrow). A similar axe from the late Bronze Age is illustrated
is no evidence of metal-working in Furness before the Iron
Age but copper ore was mined in more recent times from some
of the limestone quarries on Birkrigg near to the main Bronze
Age encampment (see later), so it is not out of the question
that some of these artefacts may have been made from local
copper ore. What may have happened is that, when bronze
axes replaced stone axes, these were imported into Cumbria
from the south, perhaps in exchange for copper ore. Certainly,
we know that all the bronze axes found in Cumbria have been
in Furness and the south east of the county, suggesting
that they came in the opposite direction to the traffic
in stone axe heads which in a previous era was from Cumbria
to the rest of the country.
the 1911 dig at the Stone Circle a spade unfortunately sliced
through a funerary urn. Reconstructed, the urn is approximately
14 cm high and 13 cm in diameter and is decorated in a geometric
pattern impressed into the wet clay, in this case made using
a twisted chord, perhaps of animal sinew.
second urn was discovered at the Appleby Camp.
excavation on Appleby Hill also yielded a bronze tatooing
awl from this same period. It was about 2 inches long and
of the type believed to have been used mainly by women.
images below were taken at the time of the digs and are
used here by permission of CWAAA. These items, and the bronze
axe heads, were donated to the Dock Museum but are not on
has numerous Bronze Age burial tumuli or barrows, some of
which have been excavated. The barrow on Appleby Hill where
the tatooing awl was discovered had had evidence of numerous
cremation burials, with black earth covered by a large stone
or slab, and in almost every case a small red, green or
quartz pebble was present. These pebbles are typical of
Bronze Age burials and were also discovered in some of Birkrigg’s
other burial tumuli. All the burials at the Appleby Hill
barrow were contained within a circle, of about 12 feet
diameter, that was surrounded by inwardly leaning stones,
each up to 24 inches tall – almost a second stone
circle buried within the barrow. Unfortunately this Scheduled
Ancient Monument is obscured by bracken (just visible left
of centre below)....
Birkrigg's best kept secret is another Scheduled Ancient Monument
just a few yards north of here at the end of Appleby Slack.
This historically very important site is shamefully neglected
and hidden in bracken; it is much less well known than the
stone circle. It comprises a pre-historic enclosed hut circle
encampment (with traces of three hut circles), a large stock
enclosure and a bowl barrow, which now show simply as a ripple
in the stand of bracken, showing best in low sun in mid-winter,
although almost entirely obscured in mid-summer....
burial chamber stands in the field to the south of the Common,
although this dates from the end of the Bronze Age. This large
and unusual disc barrow is at the north end of what seems
to be a long barrow. It was investigated archaeologically
in 1925 and found to comprise a vallum (or wall) of “door-step
sized” limestone blocks angled at 45 degrees, enclosing
a circle of about 54 feet in diameter. The burials are believed
to date from the Celtic or Iron Age period before the arrival
of the Romans.....
was probably the limestone grassland of Birkrigg that made
this whole area so attractive as a des-res in the Bronze Age
(dry springy turf is much better to sleep on than marshy low-lying
ground!). In addition, all the rain falling on the Common
percolates through the limestone until it meets an impermeable
layer and is forced out as substantial springs around the
edges as here at Bardsea, at Gleaston or flowing into Urswick
Tarn. This has provided a vital source of clear water since
Neolithic times; it emerges at a fairly constant rate and
temperature throughout the year.
Neolithic people settled around Birkrigg one object of their
worship was the sun – it was the life blood up on which
their food depended and it measured their year. Birkrigg was
the perfect place to establish the so-called "Druids'
Temple" or stone circle. It is no coincidence that the
circle was chosen, rather than a square or rectangle, as circles
reflect the shape of the sun and the moon......