Great Tosson : Burials
Relatively little is known regarding the development of communities in the Northumbrian uplands during the early medieval era. However Great Tosson is one of the few villages in the National Park to have produced tangible evidence of this period. This takes the form of several extended inhumation burials with their heads to the west, found in 1858 during quarrying.
Two possible locations can be identified, Tosson Quarry north west of the village and a small quarry on the north slopes of Tosson Burgh hillfort, just to the west of the village. The latter is not marked on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey of c. 1860, but is already labelled 'Old Quarry' on the 2nd edition in 1897. Assuming that the survey work for the 1st edition was actually undertaken two or three years prior to 1860, it is quite possible that the burials were discovered shortly afterward, during the opening of a new quarry just below the ramparts of Tosson Burgh.
The graves were sited within an earlier prehistoric cemetery composed of four limestone cists, containing contracted burials and, in two cases, food vessels, and probably therefore Bronze Age in date. Diagnostic Anglo-Saxon artefacts associated with these burials included a spearhead, a bronze buckle, a horse bit and iron shears (Miket 1980, 294, no. 14; Sherlock & Welch 1992, 2-5, table 1; Lucy 1999, 34-5). Yet as Loveluck has commented that the Great Tosson burials are one of group in Northumberland which 'reflects a greater degree of overt indigenous influence on burial practice.' (2002, 141)
Several other Anglo-Saxon burials were found at nearby Hepple, in a quarry (Miket 1974; Miket 1980, 295, no. 15; Cramp & Miket 1982, 4-5, no.2.1-10; Sherlock & Welch 1992, 2-5, table 1; Lucy 1999, 39). Cramp (1983, 269) followed by Sherlock & Welch (op. cit., 2), suggests that the smaller quantity of grave goods in the Great Tosson and Hepple burials, as compared to some other Anglo-Saxon burials in Yorkshire and north-east England, may imply they were later date, perhaps belonging to the 7th to 8th centuries.
This may in turn reflect the adoption of Christianity and the influence of missionaries from the 620s onwards. Lucy (1999, 34-5, 39), however, assigns a 5th to 6th century date to the Great Tosson burials and a 7th-century date to those from Hepple. At any rate, these finds, together with the splendid, 9th-century carved cross from Rothbury (Cramp & Miket 1982, 17-19, no. 40; Corpus, Rothbury 1), emphasise the importance of this part of Coquetdale as a focus of settlement during this period.