Sewingshields Crags – Community Archaeology in Northumberland, June 2014

Surveying the stock enclosures/field-system in Area 2 at Sewingshields Crags

Surveying the stock enclosures/field-system in Area 2 at Sewingshields Crags

In the middle of June I went back out to Northumberland for a full week of community archaeology surveys as part of an Altogether Archaeology/Northumberland National Park funded project at Sewingshields Crags. This is the second year of my involvement in this particular project, which so far has taken in detailed surveys of cairnfields at Ravensheugh Crags (I do need to blog about this!) and a stone row at Standingstone Rigg, Simonburn (posts for this can be found here and here).

The projects have all been set up to enable volunteers to undertake practical archaeological projects within the National Park, with the aim to provide appropriate professional supervision and training in order to build the capacity of local groups to actively research little studied or poorly understood elements of the archaeology of the National Park.

Tynedale Archaeology Group has recently been established and is proving instrumental in undertaking both walkover surveys, and more detailed topographic surveys of archaeological sites on a broad swathe of the exposed moorland landscape north of this section of Hadrian’s Wall. In March 2014 they covered a plot of land north of Sewingshields Crags and identified three separate areas with surviving elements of complex archaeological features which were worthy of further more detailed surveys, and it is at this point that I stepped in to help out with these present detailed surveys.

The isolated base camp at Sewingshields Crags

The isolated base camp at Sewingshields Crags

This year the survey was in a relatively isolated block of rolling moorland interspersed with north-facing crags. The area was along a narrow rutted farm track which the hire van rattled along at a sedate pace, avoiding the quizzical sheep and cows (which would use the van as a huge salt lick). We set up base camp on the edge of the area leaving some toilet facilities and a tent to escape any hideous weather.

Previously recorded archaeological sites located at Sewingshields Crags and the three areas identified for detailed survey

Previously recorded archaeological sites located at Sewingshields Crags and the three areas identified for detailed survey

Survey Area 1, the southernmost portion of land investigated, was located immediately below the vertical face of Sewingshields Crags. It contained several interesting sites including a prehistoric field boundary containing a possible hut circle and a probable medieval period field boundary crossing an earlier enclosure. The present survey concentrated upon a medieval period farmstead which had previously been identified as several stack stands.

Marking breaks of slope with flags prior to surveying the earthworks in Area 1 at Sewingshields Crags

Marking breaks of slope with flags prior to surveying the earthworks in Area 1 at Sewingshields Crags

No matter what piece of cheap/Heath Robinson/ridiculously expensive bit of survey equipment you use there remains the same three basic elements to conducting any detailed field survey:

1. – Identifying the site, understanding what earthwork features are there (and marking the breaks of slope with flags!).

2. – Physically surveying the site, producing an outline plan (a glorified dot the dot puzzle).

3. – Drawing up the site, adding in hachures to make a finished drawing of the complex features (and if you are really whizzy using LiDAR data or data created from a contour model using a UAV to show the surrounding natural contours)

Surveying the earthworks of a probable medieval period farmstead in Area 1 at Sewingshields Crags

Surveying the earthworks of a probable medieval period farmstead in Area 1 at Sewingshields Crags

Measuring and drawing up the medieval farmstead in Area 1 at Sewingshields Crags

Measuring and drawing up the medieval farmstead in Area 1 at Sewingshields Crags

Adding hachures to the survey drawing of the medieval farmstead in Area 1 at Sewingshields Crags

Adding hachures to the survey drawing of the medieval farmstead in Area 1 at Sewingshields Crags

Drawing up the medieval farmstead in Area 1 at Sewingshields Crags

Drawing up the medieval farmstead in Area 1 at Sewingshields Crags

Drawing up crew no.II in Area 1 at Sewingshields Crags

Drawing up crew no.II in Area 1 at Sewingshields Crags

Drawing up crew no.I in Area 1 at Sewingshields Crags

Drawing up crew no.I in Area 1 at Sewingshields Crags

Finished survey drawings for Area 1 at  Sewingshields Crags

Finished survey drawings for Area 1 at Sewingshields Crags

The finished site drawing for the probable medieval farmstead revealed a rectangular platformed domestic structure with possible annexes to both north and south sides, a small yard attached to the north-east corner and a sub-divided paddock containing a small stock shelter.

GPS survey of a stone boundary in Area 2 at Sewingshields Crags

GPS survey of a stone boundary in Area 2 at Sewingshields Crags

Survey Area 2 was located further to the north and it contained a more diffuse spread of archaeological features. These broadly consisted of several phases of north/south and east/west orientated  field boundaries surrounding several possible stock enclosures that were sandwiched into the sheltered ground between two bands of exposed crag.

A double alignment of stones were recorded running just behind the summit of one of the crags, and this had initially interested us as it looked similar in form to the stones of the stone row we surveyed last year at Standingstone Rigg. Upon detailed investigation the present site is more likely to be the eroded remains of a medieval period field boundary.

Surveying the stock enclosures/field-system in Area 2 at Sewingshields Crags

Surveying the stock enclosures/field-system in Area 2 at Sewingshields Crags

Drawing up the stock enclosures/field-system in Area 2 at Sewingshields Crags

Drawing up the stock enclosures/field-system in Area 2 at Sewingshields Crags

Completed survey drawings for the stock enclosures/field-system in Area 2 at Sewingshields Crags

Completed survey drawings for the stock enclosures/field-system in Area 2 at Sewingshields Crags

Despite our best efforts we ran out of time over the week and could not finish surveying into Area 3 located on the western edge of the survey area. This area contained dispersed stack stands and two panels of rock art along with a well-preserved example of a Romano-British period enclosed settlement  set within contemporary parallel field boundaries. I did managed to quickly run around the settlement to produce an outline GPS survey of the features and the volunteers produced a hachured plan of the site over the weekend after I left site.

Finished plan of an enclosed settlement (Area 3) at Sewingshields Crags

Finished plan of an enclosed settlement (Area 3) at Sewingshields Crags

So what is next for this particular project? Well we have to take the site survey drawings and polish them up into proper figures in the office, a site gazetteer of all archaeological sites will be finalised and a descriptive report on the findings of the project will be produced. The most important output of the survey though is that Tynedale Archaeology Group now have their own survey equipment and have the expertise in both identifying and recording any complex archaeological sites that they encounter when they are out in the wild.

This region of dispersed hill farms dotted north of Hadrian’s Wall has a rich and diverse archaeological landscape which is at odds with the perception of many people coming to this part of the Northumberland National Park of it being relatively isolated and that everything is related to the Roman period. The ongoing projects relate to key research themes which remain relatively unexplored within Northumberland National Park,  namely enhancing our understanding of field-systems and settlement throughout the ages, understanding native/civilian settlement beyond Hadrian’s Wall in the Roman period and understanding the landscape context of prehistoric rock art in the region.

Next year there will most likely be a third year of surveys undertaken by Tynedale Archaeology Group and myself in or around the same locale. Before then the group are looking to secure access to undertake more walkover surveys and they have identified a shieling settlement with which they are hopefully going to practice their survey skills upon.

Special thanks must go all of the Altogether Archaeology volunteers who have undertaken work at Sewingshields Crags this year, and in particular to Phil and Ann Bowyer of Tynedale Archaeology Group and to Krissy Moore the Community Archaeologist at Northumberland National Park  for driving the project onwards.

 

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4 thoughts on “Sewingshields Crags – Community Archaeology in Northumberland, June 2014

  1. I do like reading your blog posts Pete, they give a great insight into how you professionals work – and it is great too that amateurs and the public are encouraged to get involved.

    Just a quick question though…how is the decision taken as to where to dig – not in that particular field but in the landscape generally. Is it done through old surveys, maps, local knowledge or satellite imagery – has someone driven past a clump of old rocks and thought ‘I would like to dig there’ or how???

    Thanks

    James

    Reply
    • Hi James,

      Thanks for reading, and I hope I can keep your interest with my posts! We are doing much more volunteer and community funded projects here at the moment, I will try and post some more of the other projects we are up to.

      Put it very simply the decision to dig anywhere, whether commercially or for research hinges on several staged pieces of work, this is because excavation, in particular with volunteers groups, is an expensive business (for the small scale funding of volunteers, or costly to future developers) and should only be done as a last resort (Post-excavation costs inc C14 dating, finds analysis, publication etc cost money).

      We start with a desk-based analysis, looking at historic mapping, documents, aerial photography etc and the archaeological record of what has been found before (recorded in the local Historic Environment Record – HER), and any statutorily designated sites (Listed Buildings, Scheduled Monuments etc). This gives a considered assessment of the surface and potential sub-surface archaeological remains and any built structures. This will guide the next phase.

      Next you want to visit the site and inspect the ground/area and do a simple (what we call Level 1) walkover survey. Writing a simple record of each site, take photos of earthworks/structures and mark their location with dots on a map. You can visit HER sites and anything picked up in the Desk-Based to check if it survives, and amend the HER record. From this comes a report with gazetteer of sites.

      There may be waterlogged areas or peat deposits where there is potential for waterlogged remains and this can be cores and environmental samples taken

      This will inform possible locations for more detailed building/topographic surveys of complex archaeological earthworks or significant buildings.

      All of the above will inform the location of possible excavation or which buildings are important enough to record or preserve.

      Often the sub-surface archaeological resource remains uncertain, then geophysical investigation can be undertaken which may pick up sub-surface archaeological remains.

      Finally if it is a developer funded project a systematic scheme of trial trenching of a percentage of the area will be undertaken to assess the survival of archaeological features. Volunteer projects however will typically only excavate a relatively small area, using all the previous stages to identify hot spots, or typically areas where features overly or junction with each other. These are where small keyhole excavations can be done so as to potentially get the maximum information on relationships between archaeological features for the least effort/money.

      I hope that makes things a little clearer for you, there should be lots of much more detailed information on how it works if you Google it!

      Cheers

      Pete

      Reply
      • Thanks Pete, that explains it perfectly. I always wondered as Britain is such a huge place for archaeological remains and with so much to go at…but that makes sense. And you don’t have to worry about me losing interest, I find it fascinating and your posts very well written 🙂

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