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Aerial technology is transforming our understanding of the past


Every year the government body that cares for England's historic environment discovers and photographs sites across England from a light aircraft. Here are nine examples which Historic England is sharing to mark the Festival of Archaeology.

Aerial technology is transforming our understanding of the past
The remains of a lime kiln in Cumbria which would have produced quick lime by burning limestone 
[Credit: © Historic England]
Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said: “Our aerial archaeologists continue to transform our knowledge of England’s past from traces visible from the air. We identify and record the archaeology in our landscapes from cropmarks and soil marks this way. This not only supports archaeological research, but also gives us a better understanding of which parts of the land can be developed and which parts need further investigation because of what lies beneath.”

Aerial technology is transforming our understanding of the past
Aerial view of Iron Age Roman Settlement at Comberton, Cambridgeshire 
[Credit: © Historic England]
Iron Age/Roman settlement in Comberton, Cambridgeshire 

The dry summer of 2015 proved an exciting year for cropmark discoveries on the Cambridgeshire claylands. The cropmarks are caused by buried archaeological remains which hold more moisture than the surrounding undisturbed soil. They helped experts to see and appreciate the true extent and complexity of this Iron Age/Roman settlement in Comberton. The cropmarks show tracks leading to ditched enclosures, some with round houses. Double ditched trackways can be seen approaching some of the enclosures.

Aerial technology is transforming our understanding of the past
Aerial view of Neolithic henge at Hornsea, East Yorkshire 
[Credit: © Historic England]
Neolithic henge reused as a Bronze Age ringwork in Hornsea, East Yorkshire

Historic England's aerial reconnaissance team spotted the buried remains of this rare and unusual prehistoric site during a dry summer. The layout of the site with the central circular feature, suggests that it was a Neolithic henge. The monument lies on slightly elevated ground, with open water likely to have surrounded it on three sides prior to subsequent silting and drainage in more recent centuries. The henge is surrounded by a field system. This suggests that it was reused in the Bronze Age as a settlement. The importance of this site led it to be protected as a scheduled monument.

Aerial technology is transforming our understanding of the past
Aerial view of Iron Age Roman Settlement at Comberton, Cambridgeshire 
[Credit: © Historic England]
Roman camp in Bradford Abbas, Dorset

Roman camps are temporary enclosures dug by Roman troops when on manoeuvres and have a very distinctive shape. The line of the buried ditch of a camp shows on this photo as different colours in the crops across several fields. This 'playing card' shaped enclosure on a slope looking over the river Yeo fits the pattern of size, shape and location of a Roman camp. They're common in some areas of Britain, such as along the line of Hadrian's Wall, indicating militarised zones. However, they are relatively rare in the south west of England and the camp at Bradford Abbas is only the fourth to be discovered in the area. Evidence for Roman military activity is known nearby at Ham Hill, South Cadbury and the probable early Roman fort, and later town, at Ilchester. The discovery poses the question of whether the camp at Bradford Abbas could be a survival of an early Roman military campaign against the local population.

Aerial technology is transforming our understanding of the past
Aerial view of Neolithic long mortuary enclosures at Stoke Hammond, Buckinghamshire 
[Credit: © Historic England]
Neolithic long mortuary enclosures in Stoke Hammond, Buckinghamshire

Features below the plough soil that cause cropmarks can be man-made or natural. In this case it's both. The man-made features are two elongated, capsule shaped enclosures, a circular enclosure and a few large pits. The rest are marks in the gravel, created naturally during the Ice Age. The capsule shaped enclosures are examples of one of the oldest types of monument in Britain called Neolithic Long Mortuary Enclosures. They're thought to be areas where dead bodies were placed before burial although there's debate within the archaeological community about what really went on in these enigmatic places!

Aerial technology is transforming our understanding of the past
Aerial view of Iron Age Roman settlement at Gillsmere, Cumbria 
[Credit: © Historic England]
Iron Age/Roman settlement in Gillsmere Sike, Killington, Cumbria

The low winter sunlight in this aerial photograph reveals subtle details of this late Iron Age or Roman settlement. The two round houses are separated from the surrounding land by an embanked boundary with an entrance on the southern side, opening towards a stream. The settlement is sheltered by rising ground to the south and looks out across views north of the Howgill Fells. The remains of medieval or post medieval ploughing - showing here as parallel ridges and furrows - shows that this area was in agricultural use for a long time.

Source: Historic England [July 28, 2016]
TANN

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