- Exceptional dry conditions reveal ancient sites from the air
- Prehistoric settlements, burial mounds and Iron Age, Bronze Age and Roman farms discovered
- Neolithic cursus monuments - one of the oldest monument types in England discovered
This summer’s heatwave is particularly good for aerial archaeologists as cropmarks form faster and are more obvious when the soil is very dry. Over the past few months, Historic England’s archaeologists in the skies have been looking for patterns in crops and grass that reveal thousands of years of buried English history.
Aerial photography of cropmarksHistoric England uses aerial photography of cropmarks to produce archaeological maps which help to determine the significance of buried remains. This can help when making decisions about protecting them from future development or damage caused by ploughing.
Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said: “This spell of very hot weather has provided the perfect conditions for our aerial archaeologists to ‘see beneath the soil’ as cropmarks are much better defined when the soil has less moisture. The discovery of ancient farms, settlements and Neolithic cursus monuments is exciting. The exceptional weather has opened up whole areas at once rather than just one or two fields and it has been fascinating to see so many traces of our past graphically revealed.”
Helen Winton, Historic England Aerial Investigation and Mapping Manager said: “This is the first potential bumper year in what feels like a long time. It is very exciting to have hot weather for this long. 2011 was the last time we had an exceptional year when we discovered over 1,500 sites, with most on the claylands of eastern England."
Damian Grady, Historic England Aerial Reconnaissance Manager said: “This has been one of my busiest summers in 20 years of flying and it is has been very rewarding making discoveries in areas that do not normally reveal cropmarks.”
The new discoveries
Two Neolithic cursus monuments near Clifton Reynes, Milton KeynesThese long rectangles are believed to be Neolithic cursus monuments, one of the oldest monument types in the country, usually dating from between 3600 and 3000 BC. The rectangular feature on the left was recently mapped as part of a project funded by Historic England to record all archaeology from aerial photographs and airborne laser scanning (lidar) in North Bedfordshire. Until this year, the enclosure on the right has lain hidden beneath a medieval bank known as a headland, that is being gradually ploughed away.
Cursus monuments range in length from around 100 metres to nearly 10 kilometres in the case of the Dorset Cursus. Their exact function is still a mystery but they are generally thought of as enclosed paths or processional ways, while they may also have served to demarcate or even act as a barrier between different landscape zones. Most of the 100 plus cursus monuments known in England were discovered through aerial survey.