12 to 10,000BC
About 12 to 10.000 thousand years ago, only a few ticks of the clock in Geological Time, the last Ice Age is thought to have ended and the glaciers, estimated to have been some 800 feet deep over the Skelton area, began to retreat to their present Arctic level.
Britain was connected to the rest of Europe until about this time and the emerging land was gradually colonised by plants and then animals.
Closely followed by parasites and predators, including an ugly, half hairy animal who had the poorest sense of hearing, scent, eyesight, taste, etc but was the most intelligent and cunning.
This creature would eventually kill many of the other animals and many of his own kind to extinction, Man.
Skeletons of wild ox and deer have been found in peat bogs just a few miles from Skelton and have been dated’ to around this time.
It has been claimed that layers of charcoal are the result of human activity.
The many burial sites or “howes” on the hills around Skelton provide the first real evidence of humans in these parts.
Tools of stone and flint show that Man was in this area at a time when he still survived by hunting and making temporary camps.
It is surmised that about this time these neolithic people began farming and living in settled communities.
They clearly believed in an after life and buried their dead in long barrows – communal tombs covered with a mound of stones.
These graves are found on high ground and thought to be connected with sun and ancestor worship.
Cremation had often taken place and the remains buried with items of jewellery, weapons and articles of daily life.
Knowledge of using metals – first copper then bronze – spread to Britain.
The Howe Hill Barrow at Brotton, a mile or so from Skelton, probably dates from this time.
It contained a hollowed out oak tree, which held the remains of a man.
The use of iron for tools and weapons was introduced.
Some historians say tribes of Celts, displaced their predecessors, about this time.
There were perhaps intermittent movements of people across the North Sea, as this was to be the pattern for the future.
The use of iron made it possible to farm the heavier soils of the lowlands.
There is no evidence of settlements, which would have been of timber and thatch, but the iron age people built earthworks on high positions for defence and remains of these can still be seen.
Britain was invaded and conquered by the Romans.
This area was part of the realm of Brigantia, which stretched from the Peak district north to the Tyne and coast to coast.
At first the Brigantes accepted a client state position under the Romans, but later revolted.
The Roman legions were ordered North, made their headquarters at York and defeated the Brigantes at Stanwick, near Richmond.Forts were established at Malton, Catterick and Aldbrough [near Boroughbridge], and this area became part of the district of Maxima Caesariensis.
It was to remain under Roman rule for the next 350 years.
Building of Hadrian’s Wall between the Tyne and Solway.
When some legions were withdrawn there was an uprising in Brigantia and some Roman forts sacked.
Order was restored by Septimus Severus, who carried the suppression right up into Scotland.
The next century seems to have been peaceful.
There was a town at Catterick and Aldbrough, with streets laid out in a grid and public buildings etc, but nothing known closer to this area.
‘Wades Causeway’, the Roman road, still seen on Wheeldale moor, seems to head from Pickering towards Whitby.
Foundations of villas with mosaic floors and heated bathhouses have been found at Malton.
Until recently the only evidence of the Roman presence in this area was a soldier’s helmet and a few coins, which were found at Guisborough and the Signal Station on Huntcliff.
Now a Roman Villa has been unearthed on the coast near Loftus and the archaeologist, Dr Stephen Sherlock, believes there could be much more to find.
Britain was divided into four administrative zones by the Romans.
This area was part of Britannia Secunda which stretched from the Humber to the Tyne.
Christianity replaced much of the nature worship of previous times and there was a Bishop at York.
Attacks by Anglo Saxons on the east coast had caused the Romanised Britons to build beacon towers to warn of raids from the sea.
There was a signal station on Huntcliff.
It was first identified in 1862:-
….three labourers in the employment of the late Mr. Rigg of Brough House were digging soil near the summit of Huntcliff, and stumbled upon some ancient walling and other remains.
The find was reported to and inspected by Canon Greenwell and Canon Atkinson.
Some items were unearthed and were duly chronicled by the latter as Roman.
In 1911 these items were acquired by Hornsby and Stanton at an auction for threepence. They located a Mr James Bell, who had superintended the digging and was able to point out its exact spot, and they determined to dig further.
25 coins were found, the earliest showing Constantius 337 – 361 and the latest dated to 395 – 408.
The fort-like station was square with thick stone walls and a 20ft ditch.
Excavations revealed a well, 14 feet deep and 6 feet wide, in which were 14 skeletons, leading to suppositions of a successful attack by the Anglo-Saxons.
An iron axe, a bronze vessel and a jet finger ring were also found.
Fragments of black calcite gritted cooking pots from the site are now classified as ‘Huntcliff ware’ and appear to be confined to the short period when Huntcliff and the other Yorkshire signal stations flourished.
By 1953 the area of cliff where it stood was almost eroded away and by 1979 totally gone.
An account of the excavations was printed in the ‘The Journal of Roman Studies in 1912’ with the photographs below.
One of the photographs though has been sitting forgotten on a lantern slide in the Institute of Archaeology, Oxford archives.
Lecture at Saltburn 13th March 1911.
“Definite traces, too, of the Roman occupation of the district had also been detected, including a Roman Camp, Roman coins of the time of the Emperor Valentine and fragments of Roman pottery.
There were also indications of a Roman road running from near Huntcliff to Street Houses, near Loftus.“