We’ve set up a dedicated blog for the forthcoming excavations on the longhouses in the Duddon Valley. I will post some more when it is fully up and running. Apologies for the exclamation mark!
I’ve been lucky to be involved over the last week or so with some preliminary survey work that OA North have been undertaking to assist the Duddon Valley Local History Group (DVLHG) with their ongoing investigations of a series of potentially medieval period longhouse and shieling settlement sites in the upper reaches of the Duddon Valley.
The group have been successful in a Heritage Lottery Fund bid for the Duddon Valley Medieval Longhouse Project to further investigate and then selectively excavate at several of these sites to build upon previous surveys and investigation undertaken between 2011 and 2013, and OA North will be providing professional expertise to assist DVLG in this project over the next few years.
We shall initially be concentrating at three probable domestic sites located in the rough upland pasture intakes on the east side of the Duddon Valley, with two separate examples at Tongue House High Close and one larger enclosure/farmstead with two longhouses at Longhouse Close.
As part of the project I am teaching detailed topographic recording along with helping out with various other strands of preliminary investigation, from UAV drone survey of the wider landscape surrounding the sites through to geophysical and palaeoenvironmental investigation. I will post some more detailed findings as we continue through the project.
As part of my work at Oxford Archaeology North I’ve recently been practicing (under supervision) flying and surveying with our UAV drones at various archaeological sites in the region. This is in advance of qualifying for a BNUC-S™ pilot qualification to get a Permission for Aerial Work for undertaking commercial projects.
The end of September saw community excavations undertaken at Quay Meadow, in Lancaster. It is located north-west of the Roman fort which is partially extant within Vicarage Fields, and is just below Lancaster Castle. The excavations were undertaken by Lancaster and District Heritage Group in tandem with a wider project aimed at trying to understand the heritage and archaeology of the area which is conducted by Beyond the Castle.
The three excavated trenches were located over interesting anomalies identified in an earlier geophysical survey of Quay Meadow previously undertaken by OANorth. The preliminary results of the excavations suggest evidence for a Roman road heading down towards the original Roman quayside, and what was initially identified as possibly being a post-medieval/modern structure in the geophysics actually turned out to be wall foundations of several Roman buildings found just below the topsoil. There is clearly much much more that Lancaster and District Heritage Group can get their teeth into in future years.
In practice the UAV survey was relatively simple for this site as all we wanted was a general plan view of all of the trenches and detailed post-excavation surveys of each individual trench, which we then created from the photogrammetry in Agisoft PhotoScan. We also created contours of the surrounding topography but this was not as spectacular as earlier results undertaken on the earthworks in Vicarage Fields to the south-east of the site.
The popular publication we produced for the Windermere Reflections project has now come back from the printers. It will shortly be available to purchase directly from the Lake District National Park Authority. Whether you are interested in community archaeology, industrial archaeology or the history of Windermere and the wider Lake District in general it is worth having a look at.
The book concentrates on the surveys and excavation undertaken in the Windermere catchment over the last few years as part of a Heritage Lottery funded project. Themes covered in the publication include metal mines, slate quarries, bloomeries, fulling mills and woodland industries. There is even a picture of me on the back!
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Friday was the final day out on site at the bloomery at Blelham Tarn so we finished backfilling and reinstating the trenches as well as doing the last bit of survey and drawing up of the earthworks. A massive thanks should go to all of the volunteers who have given their time to come out and explore the four bloomeries around Windermere. Thanks should also go to Jamie, Wilm and Andy at OA North, Ian at EAS Ltd, Jamie and the field rangers at the National Trust and John, Eleanor and Holly at the National Park for giving their professional guidance on site.
We will now try to get some interim descriptions of what we found in each of the trenches on this site, and then as the analysis of the results takes place we will keep you informed of what we have learned, in particular what dates come back from any radiocarbon samples.
Jamie returned to Blelham Tarn last weekend to undertake aerial survey on the site of the bloomery as no excavation was taking place. He used his octocopter, one of two UAV we have at the company, to take multiple vertical images across the site. The north-western half of the site was covered in trees but the main area of the bloomery mound/platform where the four trenches were opened up was surveyed in full. From the photographs taken we were able to process them in Agisoft to create three outputs which will be really useful in trying to get an understanding of the subtle topography and earthworks for this site. First we have a flattened aerial plan view of the visible parts of the site which can be overlain on the survey data I took last week.
Then we have the 3D contour model of the detailed topography of the site which we can spin around, zoom in and out of, and pick up fine detail from. The screenshot above shows the model with the photo layer draped on, the one below shows it as the solid 3D generated model. Again from these we can pick up subtle details of the site and surrounding topography, and also see the trenches, spoil heaps and turf stacks!
Finally we can create close contours from the 3D model (these here are at 10cm intervals) which are overlain on the rough survey data we took last week – open the image below and zoom it to have a look. We found that the contours were very detailed for this particular site and were (obviously) better than ones generated from LiDAR data for the region, which at 1m accuracy really didn’t show much of the earthworks themselves, and were also offset slightly from the survey data. We have found that the Agisoft contours are better at depicting earthworks of discrete complex sites, whereas the LiDAR contours at 1m resolution are fine for broader areas and showing the surrounding natural topography.
I will use all of this information tomorrow when we go back out to site with the volunteers to finish off and do annotated hatchure drawings of the bloomery.
As the excavations have got underway and continued in earnest this week at Blelham Tarn, I have been there for several days in both sunshine and occasional heavy downpours undertaking detailed topographic survey of the site. When the survey is eventually drawn up it will complement both the excavations and geophysical survey results and will give us a really detailed picture of this complicated site.
Two days were spent investigating the field containing the bloomery mound(s), using survey flags to differentiate the edges of breaks of slope to each earthwork, and then recording them using either theodolite or total station. The rough survey data has been overlain onto contour data at 10cm intervals that was created using LiDAR data, in order to give the general natural topography surrounding the site. One day was spent recording a large dammed pond and water channel located on the hillside above the bloomery and a further day was spent doing basic walkover survey to identify sites in the wider landscape surrounding the bloomery field.
The rough survey results still need to be drawn up in the field to create detailed hatchured plans of the archaeological features. Initial results have revealed that the core of the site consists of a small sub-rectangular building platform with a flattened slag mound to the west. The gap between these mounds is a relatively flat platform and would have been used as a working area, and it contains the two furnaces identified during the geophysical survey (location of magnetometry grid shown in orange). The first excavation trench (open trenches shown in pink) is located on the inner edge of this building platform and is set across a wheel pit that would have once held at least one water wheel to be used to power the bellows on one of the two furnaces.
There is a flat triangular working area located south of the bloomery which extends out into a bog. There is slight earthwork evidence for small dumps of slag/spoil on the area, and possibly the eastern edge of some type of building foundation (shown in the geophysics results). Two trenches will be opened in this area to investigate these features, as well as another trench which has been opened to record the tailrace running away from the wheel pit. There is no surface evidence for the tailrace as it was infilled with slag, although this is picked out beautifully on the geophysics results.
Upslope to the north of the bloomery there is a slight gully or remnants of a field boundary (not a headrace to the wheelpit) which has a further small slag heap set against it. On the steep slope above the site there is a large dammed pond with an overflow channel on the west side. It is probable that the pond was once used to power the waterwheel at the bloomery site but there is no direct evidence for this. The pond was heavily modified with a new dam in the Victorian era when it was used for hunting purposes.