TerrACE Project

Specialists from the University of Tromsø Museum taking samples from the fill of one of the terraces.
Specialists from the University of Tromsø Museum taking samples from the fill of one of the terraces.
ARS Ltd staff and volunteers excavating within the trench spanning the terrace staircase.
ARS Ltd staff and volunteers excavating within the trench spanning the terrace staircase.
A photo showing the site within the Breamish Valley. In the background next to the blue plastic is the trench. Medieval ridge and furrow remains dominate the foreground.
A photo showing the site within the Breamish Valley. In the background next to the blue plastic is the trench. Medieval ridge and furrow remains dominate the foreground.

The innovative, multi-national TerrACE Project is a European Reseach Council-funded project combining archaeological, geomorphological, palaeoecological, aDNA and scientific dating data from this excavation, as well as parallel excavations in Greece, Norway, Belgium, France and Italy, in order to contribute towards our understanding of ancient agricultural terrace systems.

In 2019 we excavated an evaluation trench running downhill through a sequence of prehistoric agricultural terraces in the Breamish Valley, Northumberland. The terraces which we were investigating are one of only a handful in Britain which are well-preserved and have the ability to provide information about the technological capabilities of prehistoric communities during different climatic, economic and socio-political conditions. Results from previous excavations on the terraces indicate that they date to the Early Bronze Age but with the possibility of being even earlier.

Another aim of the project was to establish which types of crops were being grown here on this ‘marginal’ and relatively inhospitable part of the country. Additionally, we wanted to know whether they were being grown constantly as part of a permanent agricultural system, or whether the terraces were periodically abandoned and then reconstructed when the need arose.

By working with some of our partners from the University of Tromsø Museum and the Universities of Barcelona, York, Southampton, Salzberg, Milan, Louvain and Padua, we were able to extract organic soil matter, XRF, pOSL, phytolith and aDNA samples from four of the seven terraces identified during the excavations. We have also recovered charcoal samples which we will use to acquire dates for the construction and use of the terraces.

Make sure to keep checking back here as we post the results of this ground-breaking international project.

To visit the TerrACE Project website please click here. Alternatively, follow the progress of the project on its Facebook page here.

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