Landscape Survey Talk – Hexham 26th March 2015

Hexham_Talk_March2015

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.

 

Community Archaeology Fieldwork in Tynedale, Northumberland – March 2014

Tynedale Archaeology Group Survey March 2014

Should anyone want to get involved in the forthcoming archaeological surveys then please contact my good friends at the Tynedale Archaeology Group. I have had the pleasure of working with them over the last year on surveys at both Ravensheugh Crags and Standingstone Rigg as part of projects funded by the Northumberland National Park and Altogether Archaeology.

Long Meg and Her Daughters Stone Circle, Cumbria – Part Two

Long Meg and Her Daughters - 3D view of Long Meg

Long Meg and Her Daughters – 3D view of Long Meg

This post is concerned with the photogrammetric survey strand of survey that we undertook (see first post) as part of the Altogether Archaeology project at Long Meg and Her Daughters stone circle near Penrith, in the Eden Valley, Cumbria.

In this instance we undertook to photograph 33 of the 69 individual stones consisting the stone circle, and including the Long Meg monolith itself. This process was undertaken by the Altogether Archaeology volunteers who photographed each individual stone from the ground, and by taking shots from above using a photographic mast. The intention was to take photographs from all around the stones so as to provide complete overlapping coverage of each individual stone. The background detail needed to be removed from each photograph and this was achieved both by masking it out on the computer and by having a white background held behind the individual stones during photography.

Long Meg and Her Daughters - photographic recording in action

Long Meg and Her Daughters – photographic recording in action

Altogether Archaeology volunteers were instrumental in going through the various processes using Agisoft Photoscan Pro software to produce nine 3D models of individual stones from the circle. The software combined the photographs, computed the positions that the images were taken from, generated a 3D mesh, and then the photographs were reapplied to the 3D mesh as a texture.  Each individual photograph needed to be prepared, and this entailed masking out of any background detail still left in the photographs, and then the application of survey control. The end product was a series of 3D models that can be viewed as 2D plans or within Adobe Acrobat as 3D pdf files.

Long Meg and Her Daughters - 3D stone

Long Meg and Her Daughters – 3D stone with control points

The photographs of the Long Meg red sandstone monolith came out particularly well as the bright sunlight slanted across the face of the stone containing the rock art motifs and gave sharp definition to the rock strata and any depressions in the surface.

Long Meg and Her Daughters - rock art motifs

Long Meg and Her Daughters – rock art motifs

Again many thanks must go to all of the Altogether Archaeology volunteers who braved the weather to take the photography on site, and to those luckier souls who were based in the nearby village hall processing the data.

Long Meg and Her Daughters Stone Circle, Cumbria – Part One

Long Meg and Her Daughters - Plan View

Long Meg and Her Daughters – 2D Plan View

Earlier in the year we were commissioned by Paul Frodsham of the North Pennines AONB under the guise of the Heritage Lottery funded Altogether Archaeology project to undertake two types of photogrammetric survey at Long Meg and Her Daughters stone circle located in the Eden Valley, near Penrith, Cumbria. This was part of a wider community project to develop an understanding of this exceptionally important monument and provide detailed surveys and geophysical investigation of the monument.

The work was undertaken in March 2013 and this post is concerned with the first part of our input into the investigation, which was producing a detailed aerial photographic plan of the site using a quadcopter UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle).

Setting up the Quadcopter

Setting up the Quadcopter

This method uses aerial photographs taken from a small electrically powered model helicopter (UAV) which has the ability to carry a light weight camera and has the advantage that it can take photographs from much lower altitudes than can legally be achieved with a light aircraft. Survey control was introduced to the photographs by the placement of survey control targets across the site which were located by means of a survey grade GPS.The photogrammetric processing was undertaken using Agisoft software that provides detailed modelling using the overlap of up to 150 photographs, and creates a very detailed DTM (Digital Terrain Model) across the site. The photographs were then digitally draped over the model to create an accurate 3D model of the ground surface.

Long Meg and Her Daughters - Solid 3D oblique view

Long Meg and Her Daughters – Solid 3D oblique view

The primary output, however, was an accurate flat two dimensional image which can be used to generate accurate plans of surface archaeological features and contours across the extent of the site (at the top of the post). However, the 3D model can also be output as a tool to visualise the site from any perspective and can be viewed in more recent versions of Adobe Acrobat as a 3D pdf file.

Long Meg and Her Daughters - 3D Oblique View

Long Meg and Her Daughters – 3D Oblique View

Many thanks should go to all of the Altogether Archaeology volunteers who turned up in the cold weather to work on site during the project.

Update! – Standingstone Rigg, Northumberland

The drawings depicting the prehistoric stone row and pit alignment that we surveyed at the beginning of the month have now been completed! Profuse thanks must again go to all of the Altogether Archaeology volunteers who gave up their weekend to come out and be part of the survey.

Stone Row at Standingstone Rigg - Topographic Survey

Stone Row at Standingstone Rigg – Topographic Survey

Stone Row at Standingstone Rigg - Aerial Photography

Stone Row at Standingstone Rigg – Aerial Photography

Volunteer Survey at Standingstone Rigg, Northumberland

A training weekend was undertaken on the first weekend in September supervised by myself and Gemma Stewart, the Northumberland National Park Community Archaeologist, to survey a stone row alignment located on the open moorland at Standingstone Rigg, near Simonburn, Northumberland.

Training volunteers to use a theodolite

Training volunteers to use a theodolite

The project was funded through Northumberland National Park to enable volunteers to undertake practical archaeological projects within the National Park. The aim of the project was 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.

The survey falls under the wider umbrella of the Heritage Lottery Funded Altogether Archaeology Project, a multi-period community archaeology project  being undertaken to record archaeological sites in the North Pennines AONB and beyond.

Theodolite recording in progress

The field survey aimed to build upon preliminary survey work carried out in 2012 by Phil and Anne Bowyer, and train volunteers in various survey techniques to create a series of detailed plans of key features associated with the stone row.

Phil and Ann Bowyer 2012 sketch plan of the stone row

Phil and Ann Bowyer 2012 sketch plan of the stone row

The stone row was surveyed using a combination of a theodolite and disto technology to create a manual measured plan of the stones and a differential GPS to record surrounding structures and archaeological features. All upstanding and recumbent stones from the row were measured, described and photographed.

Northern end of the stone row, looking north

Northern end of the stone row, looking north

Preliminary results of the survey revealed a slightly sinuous NNE/SSW double alignment of both upstanding and recumbent stones that ran upslope over the crest of a ridgeline and down the other side, adjacent to one, or possibly two funerary cairns on the crest of the ridge. The stones have packing stones surrounding them and in the centre of the alignment it is often just the packing stones that survive as the standing stones have been removed for building a nearby sheepfold. The size of the stones does seem to follow the broad pattern of larger examples nearer the crest of the ridge in the north end of the alignment, and it is clear that the sandstone bedrock has been hewn and cleaved up along natural bedding planes often immediately adjacent to where the stones now stand.

Northern end of the stone row, looking south

Northern end of the stone row, looking south

The southern end of the stone row continues as an alignment of ten pits surviving as part-filled sunken features before it probably disappears into a boggy area to the south. The double stone row is a prehistoric monument  usually dating from the later Neolithic or Bronze Age, and this example is a very rare, if not unique surviving example from Northumberland. In the British Isles sinuous double stone rows which meander across open moorland countryside are more typically associated with the Dartmoor area.

Southern end of the stone row, looking south

These types of monuments are often found in association with other features such as funerary cairns, which is also possibly the case at our example, but so far I have not been able to identify any other stone rows associated with an extant pit alignment.

Pit alignment on the southern end of the stone row

Pit alignment on the southern end of the stone row

Hexacopter survey at Standingstone Rigg

Hexacopter survey at Standingstone Rigg

When the bad weather abated the week after the survey weekend, my manager Jamie Quartermaine returned to site with Gemma and Phil to survey it using his Hexacopter. This is a small remote-controlled helicopter that can be used (in light winds) to take aerial photography of archaeological sites.  The data was processed in Agisoft software to create both a composite photograph of the stone row and a 3D model of the site.

Hopefully when the final results of the project are published the weekend training exercise will have added significantly to our knowledge of the prehistory of Northumberland National Park, and it will have given local volunteers practical skills for recording further monuments in this landscape in the hinterland north of Hadrian’s Wall.

Particular thanks are due to Gemma Stewart for making the project possible, Phil and Anne Bowyer who have been doing so much background work to understand the archaeology of the surrounding landscape (forthcoming Ravensheugh Crags blog post), and the volunteers from Altogether Archaeology and members of Tynedale Archaeology Group who braved the inclement weather. Thanks are also due to the tenant farmer at Great Lonbrough farm and the Nunwick Estates. A special mention should also be given to Stan Beckensall who braved the rain on the Sunday to help survey the stones.

Agisoft plot of the aerial photography at the stone row

Agisoft plot of the aerial photography at the stone row