ARCHAEOLOGISTS say discoveries at a working limestone quarry have helped shed new light on farming communities in the North during the Iron Age.

A ten-week dig at Potgate Quarry, North Stainley, near Ripon, has revealed an enclosure and tracks to surrounding farms that would were homes for numerous families for up to 150 years.

Radio carbon dating of the skeleton of a small piglet and the bones of a human infant have indicated the settlement dated from 130BC.

During the excavation, which is set to be completed this week, a team led by archaeologist Steve Timms have unearthed a range of features and artefacts illustrating the depth of agricultural processing in the area during the period.

Mr Timms said discoveries of corn drying ovens and imported sandstone quern stones for milling grain in a patchwork landscape of fields with different uses suggested agricultural organisation.

He said he expected future topsoil stripping work surrounding the site, on the western bank of the River Ure, would reveal there had been several outlying settlements.

Mr Timms said: “The Iron Age was not well understood in this area and this was a rare opportunity to look at a whole enclosure.

“We didn’t know at the start how many archaeological features, such as post holes and rubbish pits, there would be.

“What we found really brings it home that the people living there were just like you and me, but had different resources.”

He said the settlements contrasted with the Neolithic and Bronze Age ritual landscape of nearby Thornborough Henge and showed Iron Age settlers were exploring new areas to cultivate.

Mr Timms said the site contained numerous items, including worked antlers and an Iron Age stone bead, many of which were burned at the time the settlement was abandoned.

He said: “While it is possible they were attacked, it could also be that the settlement was burnt down as an easy way of flattening it.”

He said the dig, which had received support from local residents and community groups, had also found artefacts such as Roman pottery and it had become clear the site had been used again, as a paddock by the Romans.