There is evidence of human presence in the area we now know as Calderdale, stretching back to the Middle Stone Age. Flints from this era, and the Neolithic period which followed, have been found throughout the region.
The Bronze Age saw a transition to more settled farming in the area. A 'tool kit', unearthed on Mixenden Moor, may well have belonged to a pastoral farmer, while the Blackheath 'barrow' near Todmorden is an early burial site.
Blackheath barrow, Todmorden
The Blackheath Barrow (though not strictly a barrow) was constructed at 925ft above sea level above Cross Stone, near Todmorden. It is one of the most prolific of local Bronze Age sites.
It is still faintly visible as a henge-like earth circle 100 ft across, amidst the greens of a golf club, but it is probably invisible to any but the practised eye. Known locally as the ‘Roman Barrow’, excavations in 1898 showed it to be Bronze Age in date. The bank was formed of rubble, into which various larger stones had been set at intervals, near each of which was an area of charcoal. Within the circle were uncovered several urns, two of which contained the remains of cremated bodies. Careful placement of deposits and stones was noted throughout the monument, including four semi-circular cairns, possibly kilns, at the cardinal points.
The urns and certain other finds are on permanent public display at Todmorden Library.
A report of the excavation by J Lawson Russell is in 'The Yorkshire Coiners 1767 -1783, and notes on Old and Prehistoric Halifax' by H. Ling Roth (1906). The book can be found in some of Calderdale's libraries: Online library catalogue
Mixenden tool kit
This would have been a treasure of its time; a fine bronze palstave or axe, retaining a sharp edge, and other items of what appeared to be a Bronze Age tool kit for a pastoral farmer.
The bronze axe was accompanied by a black whetstone, a stone axe “of a beautiful green pebble, speckled with white”, a grooved hammer stone, some arrowheads and a stone gouge. Why they were buried in a group on Mixenden Moor is a mystery, but the acid soil of the moor preserved all but their wooden holders until the last quarter of the eighteenth century, when they were found by a peat cutter.
These are not the only stone and bronze implements found around Calderdale, there seems to have been extensive settlement during the Bronze Age. H Ling Roth’s 1906 book, ‘The Yorkshire Coiners 1767-1783, and notes on Old and Prehistoric Halifax’ contains sketches of several of these, along with other artefacts from the Bronze Age. Since then, finds of further objects and sites from the period have deepened our knowledge of prehistoric Calderdale.
Other books of interest include:
- Michael Haigh, ‘The Early Prehistory of Calderdale’, in J Billingsley (ed)'Aspects of Calderdale' (Wharncliffe, 2002);
- David Shepherd, ‘Prehistoric Activity in the Central South Pennines’, in Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society Vol. 11 (2003);
- Raymond A. Varley, 'Lost Neolithic and Bronze Age Finds from Mixenden, near Halifax, West Yorkshire', in Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 70, (1998) pp.25-33;
- Illustration notes: From Thomas Dunham Whitaker, Loidis & Elmete, Vol. 1 (1816).