Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age (c. 2500-2000BC)

The Gorple Dagger

©: B. Howcroft
Gorple Upper Reservoir: flint dagger (Scale: 0.5x)


Archaeological Research (1975 – 2003)

In 1975 the West Yorkshire Archaeological Unit was commissioned to carry out a survey of West Yorkshire from the prehistoric period to AD 1500. It had been noted by staff at the unit that there were large gaps in recorded information on the prehistory of the area to the north of the town of Todmorden, and the area around Widdop was a virtual archaeological blank: the Walshaw Stone Circle at SD 967342 being the sole exception. After obtaining permission from Yorkshire Water an annual permit was issued to fieldwalk the Gorple reservoirs for archaeological investigation purposes: any evidence found would be passed on to the S.M.R. The summers of 1975 and 1976 were very dry, resulting in exceptionally low water levels in the Widdop and Gorple reservoirs.

©: B. Howcroft
Gorple Upper Reservoir

Surface examination of the north shore of Gorple Upper Reservoir in October 1975 revealed evidence of prehistoric lithics eroding from below the peat blanket. The peat blanket was intact up to the embankment edge making it a completely sealed site. Between 1975 and 2003, 200 flint and chert tools were recovered from a 300m strip of the reservoir shore-line. The earliest evidence comes from a small number of broad blade microliths from the early Mesolithic and narrow blade microliths from the later Mesolithic, but the majority of lithics are from the Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age suggesting there might well have been a settled community living on the more gently sloping south-facing valley side during this period. Type tools of the period are leaf-shaped and barbed-and-tanged arrowheads and a Neolithic plano-convex knife. Many small round Bronze Age scrapers have also been recovered. In total 165 flint and 35 chert tools have been recovered, as well as 274 pieces of flint and chert debitage, 18 flint and chert cores, 1 gritstone, 1 quartzite hammer stone and several anvil stones.

Small blocks of chert are to be found on the reservoir embankment, brought down by glacial drift from the Pendle District. This source of raw material was apparently known to prehistoric man as many of the pieces have been knapped.

September 1974 marked the discovery of the exceptionally fine Gorple flint dagger and razor, clearly high status Bronze Age Beaker Period tools, both found close to a cairn, which was possibly the site of a crouched burial or cremation at SD 923 316. A circular area of stones with internal dimensions of 1 metre was noted close to the dagger find-site along with 2 possible cairns.


©: B. Howcroft
Gorple Upper Reservoir - dagger and razor find site SD 923 316

The four-notched dagger and razor may well have been grave goods. Yorkshire Water gave permission for the site to be examined in August 1995 by the Huddersfield and District Archaeological Society but no other evidence was found. The site is only visible at low water level and any other grave goods have probably been lost or destroyed by erosion, though four scrapers were also found in the area around the cairn. The Gorple Dagger may well have been hafted with bone either side of the tang. The dagger is similar to one found by Mortimer at Garton Slack in 1872 and to the three-notched dagger from the 1962 barrow excavation at Ferry Fryston. Such flint daggers are often thought to be copies of metal daggers. The finding of this high status dagger at Gorple suggests there might have been an east-west trade route through this area. The site is probably contemporary with lithics recovered from an occupation site some 200m to the west and with the known archaeology of the Worsthorne area, 3 km northwest of Gorple.