Farming the Historic Landscape

How can I recognise the presence of archaeological remains?

(B) Colour changes or stony patches in the plough soil can reveal the presence of archaeological sites, such as this medieval road near Coughton, in Warwickshire. Photograph: The Oxford Archaeological Unit.

(C) This Iron Age dyke near Damerham, Hampshire, survives well in grassland, but is levelled and reduced to a soil mark where it is being cultivated. Photograph: English Heritage NMR 15766-35.

Most archaeological sites have yet to be discovered. Only close inspection of the land provides hints of what lies hidden, and you may be aware of sites on your land that are not listed in Historic Environment Records. Local Authority Archaeologists will always welcome information about new discoveries.

Archaeological sites and remains come in many shapes and sizes. Some are easily recognisable, for example, earthworks (such as ridge and furrow and burial mounds) and large monuments (such as hill forts).

Many more cannot be seen: they are buried below the level of normal ploughing, surviving as pits, ditches and walls, and finds in the sub-soil.

There is a wealth of evidence to indicate the presence of remains on arable land. The following are the more common indicators:

  • Scatters of finds brought to the surface by ploughing, such as pottery, burnt clay, flint tools (arrowheads), metalwork (nails and brooches), human and animal bone, and building stone
  • Patches of stony ground and building materials representing disturbed walls, roads or yards
  • Darker or lighter patches in a field representing the contents of buried features (pits, ditches and buildings)
  • Differences in crop growth caused by buried archaeological features (see cover photograph).
  • The growth of crops, especially cereals, can reflect the depth of soil and available water. Where there are pits and ditches in the sub-soil, the crops grow better because the soil is deeper and wetter. Conversely, reduced soil depth over walls and patches of stone, together with restricted water, can lead to wilted crops, stunted growth and early ripening.
ADLib logo Content provided by the Agricultural Document Library
© University of Hertfordshire, 2011