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Iron Age Dacre

The archaeological evidence for an Iron Age settlement is at 200 to 240 metres above sea level on the ridge above the modern village of Dacre (or Dacre Top as it is known locally). There are signs of round houses in at least two locations and iron making and forging have taken place on at least one of these sites.

 

A hearth has been discovered that may have been the smelting furnace and two other hearths nearby appear to have been associated with forging. There are significant amounts of hammer scale and other magnetic debris and a small piece of iron has been recovered from the wall of one of the forging hearths. These features are located on the horizon on the right hand side of the photograph below.

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Dacre Pasture

There is landscape evidence of around fifteen Iron Age huts across several unimproved fields on land previously known as Dacre Pasture but it is often slight and insignificant to a newcomer. In some cases parts of a circular bank may be observed marking the circumference of the structure while in other cases a floor can be identified by the sedge growing in the moist soil above the impermeable surface.

 

In one case the stones that formed the sides of the entrance can be seen and this is shown in the photograph below. The stone that formed the right side of the entrance is standing left of centre with the other one of the pair lying to its left with sedge growing between them. There is little visual evidence of the floor of the hut but its presumed shape is oulined by blue flags. An excavation is scheduled that should provide firmer evidence of the original structure.

The Site of an Iron Age Hut

The feature that first indicated prehistoric iron working at Dacre was a shallow depression 50 metres away from the above hut site, more or less circular but not particularly siginificant at first sight but which now appears to have been a hut circle with a working area beide it. A slag find led to the suggestion of Iron Age metal working and the discovery of hammer scale in the soil around a boulder close by confirmed it, prompting the feature to be named the Dacre Iron Age Smithy. Subsequent work has revealed that there is much more than that single iron working site for the remains of eight bowl furnaces have been discovered nearby together with three smithing hearths, all typical Iron Age technology and in close proximity to several hut circles. In addition, less than 100 metres away, the bases of three small stack furnaces have been discovered, features that post-date the bowl furnaces and that could indicate Roman influence.

Bowl furnaces are the simplest and least efficient method of making iron while stack furnaces were more complicated to construct but the efficiency of the smelting process was improved. The examples referred to are of an early type, small and llghtly constructed but stack furnaces continued to be the main method of iron making until the 16th century although their sizes increased and structures became more substantial with the passing of the centuries.

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Bowl Furnace

Smithing Hearth

Base of Stack Furnace