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.
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!
At the end of July we were commissioned by the Lake District National Park Authority to undertake topographic survey of the three large spoil tips at the extensive Greenside lead mining complex near Ullswater in the Lake District. Archaeologically the site is of national importance and is protected as a Scheduled Monument. Future management of the property necessitated the present detailed topographic survey in advance of engineering works to maintain the stability and structural integrity of the large spoil tips. The buildings beneath the spoil tips are currently used as hostel accommodation.
Normally such a detailed survey, requiring close contours for the extensive complex would take an inordinate amount of time to survey using traditional survey techniques such as Total Station or even differential GPS. Over the last few years we have been developing more rapid and cost-effective survey capability using various unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to photograph archaeological sites, which is combined with Agisoft software to create 3D models and contours of sites.
Part of the site was surveyed and excavated in 2003-4 in advance to engineering works on Spoil Tip 2 using traditional survey methods, but whilst that took a week or so to undertake the present UAV survey took a day of flying and setting in survey control to cover the entire mine complex.
The site was visualised in Agisoft as a digital terrain model in both solid form and also with the aerial photography draped over the top. The data from this model was used to create detailed contours of the earthworks at various scales which could then be used when drawing up the site.
The complete site was also output as a single flattened scaled composite image which was then annotated in the field to add in the finer detail of archaeological structures and provide hatchures to the topographic survey.
The finalised site drawings, contours and survey detail were then compiled into a single CAD drawing for the entire complex and figures created showing both the entire complex and detailed ones of specific features in the complex.
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.