Great Tosson : Iron Age (700 BC – AD 70)
The hillfort at Tosson Burgh (NU 023004) occupies a carefully chosen naturally defended site overlooking the Coquet valley to the north, west and east. Though there are no traces of habitation within the ramparts, the fort is unexcavated, and such features may survive below ground level. Though precise dating is impossible without excavation, comparison with other Northumbrian hillforts would suggest a date of construction some time after 600 BC, in the Early Iron Age (Oswald et al. 2000, 51).
At this time many other hillforts were being established, particularly in the Cheviots, although Tosson Burgh is one of a number overlooking the river Coquet. Some hillforts, such as Wether Hill, near Ingram (NU 013144) seem to have had earlier origins in the form of timber defences known as palisades, which in some cases may date to the Late Bronze Age.
The strong situation of Tosson Burgh hillfort suggests that it was intended for use as a fortification, though a public display of power and status may have been equally important (McOmish 1999, 113). Though evidence of habitation may yet be found inside the rampart, the fort is not large in area, in common with many other hillforts in Northumberland, and is unlikely to have supported any sizeable population. Smaller hillforts may have served as defended farmsteads established by autonomous small groups, rather than proto-urban centres.
In all likelihood, there is no single explanation for all so-called hillforts; they may have served as animal enclosures, market places or trading stations, defensive enclosures, community centres, places of worship and expressions of power and status in a competitive society. Only detailed work, such as that recently undertaken as part of the "discovering our hillfort heritage" project, has the potential to understand this very complex situation.
The majority of the Iron Age population of this area is likely to have lived on small farmsteads, much as in preceding times, in roundhouses with adjacent stockyards, perhaps enclosed by a substantial bank or ditch, though the study area as yet contains no known settlements of this type.
Picture : Great Tossan Hillfort