MON 21 JAN 2019 02:46 AM.
Heatwave reveals hidden archaeological sites across Britain:
Weeks of blistering summer heat have revealed evidence of 1500 hidden archaeological sites across the UK landscape, from prehistoric ‘cursus’ monuments laid out more than 5000 years ago, to the outline of a long demolished Tudor hall.
Iron Age settlements, Bronze Age square burial mounds, and a Roman farm have been spotted for the 1st time by aerial archaeologists studying patterns in crops and grass, Historic England said.
Archaeologists said the record breaking dry summer has been particularly good for experts examining the landscape from the air as ‘cropmarks’ form faster and are more obvious when the soil is very dry.
These differences in crop colour and height can reveal the layouts of buried ditches or wall’s which once marked out settlements, field boundaries or funerary monuments.
Among the new discoveries this year are two Neolithic ‘cursus’ monuments near Clifton Reynes, Milton Keynes, one of which has been hidden until this year under a medieval bank which is gradually being ploughed away.
They are long, straight sided enclosures thought to be paths or processional ways which are one of the oldest monument types in the country, usually dating from 3,600 to 3,000 BC.
Very little is known about the ancient structures, which can stretch several kilometres in length, have been previously discovered standing beside some of the most famous archaeological sites in Britain, including Stonehenge, Thornborough and Newgrange.
One of the new discoveries, found as part of an aerial photography and laser scanning project across Cornwall, is an Iron Age round settlement at St Ive and a prehistoric settlement with concentric ditches at Lansallos.
Experts are still assessing the latest finds, however, Damian Grady, the aerial reconnaissance manager for Historic England, said: ‘This has been one of my busiest summers in 20 years of flying.’
Helen Winton, the head of aerial investigations and mapping, said this years summer heatwave was the best year since 2011, which revealed more than 1500 sites across the UK for the first time.
Few of the newly identified sites will ever be excavated, however, now that the record breaking temperatures have made their location known, many of these historical sites will be given protection from deep ploughing or development.
Experts have also spotted Iron Age square burial mounds or barrows in Pocklington, Yorkshire, alongside a Bronze Age burial mound and a ditch and series of pits that could mark a land boundary in Scropton, Derbyshire.
A settlement or cemetery has also been etched into the parched earth in Stoke by Clare, Suffolk.
What is now believed to be a Roman farm, with building’s, fields and paddocks, has appeared at Bicton in Devon.
This is far from the only farmhouse to be discovered in the recent heatwave, with four Bronze and Iron Age farms have been spotted in Stogumber, Somerset.
1 of these Bronze Age structures has signs of having been abandoned, with a new settlement built on top.
Near Eynsham in Oxfordshire features have revealed themselves, including a circle of pits, and later burial mounds and traces of a settlement.
These had previously been spotted by archaeologist’s and protected as a historic monument, however, the structures had been invisible for many years.
More details of the lost Elizabethan buildings and garden associated with Tixall Hall in Staffordshire can be seen through the drought, revealing buried foundations of the hall built in 1555 and a new hall started during the 1st World War, but demolished in 1926.
Historic England uses aerial photography of cropmarks to produce archaeological maps which help to assess the significance of buried remains and can be used to make decisions about protecting them from development or damage caused by ploughing.
Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said: ‘This spell of very hot weather has provided the perfect conditions for our aerial archaeologist’s to see beneath the soil as cropmarks are much better defined when the soil has less moisture.
‘The discovery of ancient farms, settlements and Neolithic cursus monuments is exciting.
‘The exceptional weather has opened up whole areas at once rather than just 1 or 2 fields and it has been fascinating to see so many traces of our past graphically revealed.’
Helen Winton, Historic England aerial investigation and mapping manager said it was very exciting to have had the hot weather for so long.
The last ‘exceptional year’ was 2011, when more than 1500 sites were discovered, she said.
Damian Grady, Historic England aerial reconnaissance manager added: ‘This has been one of my busiest summers in 20 years of flying and it is has been very rewarding making discoveries in areas that do not normally reveal cropmarks.’
Outlines of ancient structures appear in fields across Britain when grass above ancient stone or wood still buried in the soil flourishes or deteriorates at different rates to surrounding plant life in the unusually hot weather.
This creates outlines which can help archaeologist’s pinpoint the location of ancient settlements that are otherwise hidden beneath centuries of farmed land.
These landscapes scars are known as ‘cropmarks’ and can often only be seen from aerial footage or photographs of the countryside.
Cropmarks are difficult to see from the ground, but thanks to the recent rise in shop bought drone technology they are now being captured where they had otherwise remained hidden for centuries.
A similar effect was seen in Wales, where the summers heatwave revealed the presence of a rare early medieval cemetery in south Gwynedd as well as a Roman villa site exposed in the Vale of Glamorgan.
Historic Environment Scotland has reported similar discoveries too, with the central and southern region’s of the country playing host to a Roman camp and iron age burial sites.
The Emerald Isle has had its own fair share of freshly discovered historical wonders, as a previously unknown henge showed up near Newgrange at Brú na Bóinne, already a World Heritage Site.
Drought and a gorse fire combined to expose a more recent phenomenon, the word Eire etched on the cliff top on Bray Head, made in the 2nd world war to alert planes that they were passing over a neutral nation.