The Site - Prehistoric
Gefrin has been a focus for human activity for over 10,000 years, 85% of this falling within the period we call ‘Prehistoric’. Its attraction lay in its elevated, well drained vantage and access to a variety of habitats including wooded upland and river margins, including the wide flat expanse of the Milfield Basin. More important however was its position at the pinch-point of a natural east-west corridor between the upper Tweed Basin and the north-east coastal plain.
Mesolithic (circa 8000-4200BCE)
A handful of flints show Mesolithic hunter/gatherers active at the site during the middle stone age.
So begins a lengthy period of intermittent settlement by farming communities attracted by its thin light sands. Their presence is revealed from their residue of stone and flint tool debris, with groups distinguishable one from another through the succession in pottery styles found at the site. Round-based Carinated Bowl Wares indicate settlement at Gefrin around 4000BCE. This style of pottery continued in use until superceded around 3500BCE by communities using Impressed Wares, – a thicker and often heavily decorated ware in a wide range of bowl, bucket and jar forms. By the close of the Neolithic, and overlapping into the Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age (2400-2000BCE) bucket-shaped forms emerge at the site we label Grooved Ware from the linear and impressed decoration and occasionally applied cordons they bear.
While the succession of pottery styles hint at a lengthy and complex activity at Gefrin throughout the Neolithic period, the number of features of recognizably Neolithic date remains in single figures. They include one, possibly two pits found in the early 1950’s near the northern limit of excavation, and not far from these a complex pit deposit of domestic debris that included Grooved Ware and a fine polished stone axehead. From near the eastern edge of the site two pits were excavated in 1976, one producing a middle Neolithic radiocarbon date and the other packed with early Neolithic Carinated Ware.
Though our understanding of this complex period is increasing, at Gefrin the picture remains a tantalising flicker of shadows, – powerful argument for more focussed attention on extensive areas of excavation in future, as well as critical revision of the excavated evidence to date. Might we not for example, bear in mind the possibility of the post-built rectangular buildings found beneath the palace buildings in 1956 being their houses?
Polished Stone Axehead
The Chalcolithic and Bronze Age (2400- 800BCE)
By around 2000BCE the character of the site changes noticeably. This is an age in which religious belief is highly visible through the construction of large monuments for gatherings, such as henges & stone and timber circles, the erection of standing-stones and extensive cemeteries that reveal through the interplay of different mortuary traditions, complex and evolving threads of thought amongst communities.
The whole of the knoll at this time appears as a platform for ritual gatherings and interment. At its eastern end a large ditched enclosure with an external bank and opposed entrances (temple/henge) was built, with a substantial single standing stone beyond. So began a long tradition of burial at Gefrin, an extensive cemetery of flat graves and barrow mounds containing both cremations and inhumations, some in small stone-lined cists. Many were accompanied with pottery, the range of types –Beakers, Food Vessels, Food Vessel Urns, Collared Urns and Cordoned Urns, showing it to have been in use over several centuries. Nearby settlement is indicated from the of a pyramidal loom-weight found at the site.
The discovery of what may be Flat-rimmed Ware hints at continued use of the site in the late Bronze Age. It is however possible that by the close of this period, if not before, settlement may have migrated to a more defensive location at the top of Yeavering Bell.
We often imagine our prehistory as a distant, remote place. However, we are closer to our heritage than we sometimes think. To span those vast 10,000 years, every word on this page need only represent 15 or so years…