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.
Today was mostly spent shivering in the icy wind blowing through Bannisdale in the Lake District. I was instructing volunteers from the Lake District Archaeology Volunteer Network in the dark arts of surveying archaeological earthworks. The site in question was an enclosed hut circle settlement at Lamb Pasture that is scooped into the hillside on the north side of this small relatively isolated Lakeland valley. The site is a scheduled monument and as part of ongoing management and conservation works the Lake District National Park Authority require detailed surveys (which the volunteers will in future undertake) of this and other similar vulnerable sites.
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.
The historic garden survey report we completed in 2012 for Allan Bank, a National Trust property (and brief residence of William Wordsworth) located at Grasmere, Cumbria is now available online via the OA Library. This project recorded all the archaeological and historical features within the c 4.6 hectare gardens on the property in order to inform the future management of the estate. The work was completed in advance of remedial works to be undertaken before the gardens were opened to the public.
Deeds record the sale of the land at Allan Bank located above the head of Grasmere by a Mr Sawyer to a Mr Edward Partridge in 1756. In 1804 Mr Partridge, or his descendants, sold the property to John Gregory Crump, an attorney and merchant of Liverpool. Subsequently, a villa was built at Allan Bank between 1805-8 in a simple Classical style, and was positioned on the southern flank of a rocky shoulder dividing Easedale from the main Vale of Grasmere. The house was raised artificially to create the depth for cellars and it was orientated so that the main south front looked straight down the length of Grasmere. A few years later William Wordsworth and his family moved there as soon as it was completed as it’s first occupants between May 1808 and May 1811; and their literary friends Thomas de Quincey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge stayed with them for lengthy visits. He did not like living there, but needed to move to more ample accommodation than their previous dwelling at Dove Cottage. Their occupation of the property was short-lived, in part, due to complaints about smoky chimneys.
The extant remains comprise three separate garden areas: a large wilderness garden; a walled kitchen garden; and formal gardens adjacent to the house. The survey identified, and recorded, a total of 109 archaeological features and/or garden components. Elements in the wilderness garden consist of a series of sinuous pathways with rustic flights of steps constructed of stone slabs. There are four/five garden seats located at strategic spots within the garden which variously had panoramic views looking north-west onto Helm Crag, south-east to Grasmere lake and east towards the house, although many of these vistas are now obscured with mature trees. Water was managed in the garden, with a reservoir that probably served the house and an underground pipe followed the footpath towards the house and ran through an elaborate stone-vaulted tunnel. Streams have been canalised and one stream passes over a craggy waterfall and has a small pool beneath. There is also a small well within rustic stone retaining walls. Features pre-dating the construction of the wilderness garden include charcoal burning platforms and two sections of relict boundary walls.
The kitchen garden has a large slate-topped unheated fruit wall on the northern side, which would have masked the garden from the house. The garden was laid out into quarters by slate-edged pathways and in the centre are the remains of a stone circular structure that may have functioned as a formal focal platform. There is a slate-roofed garden shed, a ruined twentieth century greenhouse, water troughs, a compost heap and a French drain that drained water away from the waterfall in the wilderness garden.
The formal pleasure gardens form a discrete area running around the house and extend to the kitchen garden; its elements consist of driveways, a dwarf-kitchen garden terrace, containing rectangular flowerbeds, and a sundial. The west, south and east sides of the house have stone-lined flowerbeds and stone-hewn flower boxes. On the west side of the house is a small garden lawn with relict beds/pathways evident. It is enclosed on the west side by a sinuous retaining wall constructed of cyclopean boulders and there is a large rockery constructed of quartz stones. Land to the south of the garden has been landscaped/terraced but its function is unclear. The formal gardens are skirted on the west side by a curvilinear gravelled trackway that runs towards the kitchen garden.
To the east of the house is a gravelled drive adjacent to the main house entrance, grass-covered tennis courts and a stone outcrop with rock art motifs. On the north side of the house there are the remains of two external buildings, an elaborately decorated chapel or billiard room and the ruins of a small garage or coach house.
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.
The beginning of the week saw the completion of the topographic survey at the third of the four bloomery sites presently under investigation around Windermere. This site, at the aptly named Cinder Nab, is located adjacent to the shore on the south-west end of the lake and is a little distance to the south-east of Stott Park bobbin mill.
The monument, consisting of a large turf covered kidney-shaped mound of slag, along with its location adjacent to a body of water, is typical of the surviving elements found at medieval bloomery sites. The mound is in a very picturesque setting overlooking lake and it looked particularly lovely as it was covered in a dense carpet of bluebells interspersed with a smattering of cowslips.
The mound was bounded by a slight linear bank on the west side and in the past was apparently contained within a small copse of woodland immediately on the shore of the lake. It is surrounded by several other features, including a pair of smaller spoil mounds and the foundations of a presumably much later kiln that has been inserted into the shore edge just to the side of the bloomery mound.
The lake shore immediately adjacent to the mound has been eroded back exposing nodules of slag onto the foreshore, including one rather large example. The eroded section was cleaned back and recorded, it revealed deposits of slag waste, burnt charcoal-filled deposits and burnt clay layers. Evidently material associated with the furnace at the bloomery, including waste slag, fuel and clay from the furnace structure itself were dumped on the lake edge.
There was no obvious evidence for in-situ structural remains of a furnace in the exposed section and the furnace(s) must be elsewhere on the site, and as usual cannot be seen above ground. The site will now be subject to geophysical survey to identify the presence of any furnaces and any other possible evidence for sub-surface archaeological remains.
We spent the Friday of last week surveying the second of the four potential medieval bloomery sites located around the lake that are to be investigated as part of the Windermere Reflections project. This particular site was at High Stott Park, and lay to the north of the Stott Park Bobbin mill, a popular visitor attraction in this part of the Lake District.
The site consists of a flat-topped but slightly mounded field located to the south of the farm at High Stott Park. There is no obviously defined slag mound to this site but the area has slag exposed in molehills across the area and within a small stream/drainage gully on the south side. It seems that the area may have been landscaped probably as gardens for the farmhouse and this could have spread out the slag spoil into a thin layer across the field. Equally the slag may have been brought from elsewhere and dumped within the field, but from above ground we can’t tell if this is so, or if there are any surviving furnaces associated with a medieval bloomery.
For this particular survey we set up a grid of shovel test pits across the site to check for the presences and concentration of slag surviving across the field. The results of this process revealed that slag was present across the entire field for at least 50mx30m. Concentrations of charcoal were present in places and burnt clay deposits were evident in the north of the field. The site will be subject to geophysical survey over the next few days so hopefully this will give us a better picture of what is going on at the site, to see if there is any surviving evidence for furnaces associated with the slag material, and see if this is actually a real bloomery site.
Over the last few days we have surveyed the first of the four potential medieval bloomery sites to be investigated this year. This is at Ghyll Head, an undulating wooded stream gully descending steeply into the east side of Windermere.
The sloping topography and dense vegeatation made the survey particularly challenging, but Holly from the Lake District National Park did sterling work on Monday with the strimmer and managed to clear a swathe across the site. That left the pungent reek of wild garlic to assault our nostrils for the next few days.
This particular site consists of a relatively large mound of iron slag which spreads down the steep slope on the north side of the stream and just above the main road running along the east side of the lake. There are several possible building or working platforms evident near the spoil mound where the individual furnaces and bellows may have been placed, and adjacent to these the stream has been enclosed by a large retaining wall. This may have been the base for a water wheel that could have been used to power the site. Simple medieval period bloomery sites consist of at least one spoil mound of iron slag ‘bloom’ and would each have each had one or more small furnaces with hand powered bellows to process the raw iron ore. Water-powered sites are thought to be later in date and were more complex in form and could fire the furnace to a much higher temperature.
The interpretation of this site purely from the surface evidence is particularly complex as immediately adjacent to it there is a large dam and the site of a much later bobbin mill. It may be that many of the features recorded at the bloomery are related to this later site.
The site is probably going to be subject to geophysical survey next week so this should highlight the sub-surface extent of the site (and possibly where any furnace was) and any features not visible above ground. We will then be taking a secure sample for radiocarbon dating.