Ponds, Pools and Lochans

3.8 Assessing the archaelogical and historical value of ponds

Information about the archaeological and historical value of ponds can be obtained from a number of sources, though at most sites it will be necessary to collect primary information. In general, to ensure adequate assessment of the quality of sites, professional archaeological advice should be sought (see contact addresses in Appendix 1).

Note that any activity which disturbs the ground surface of a site which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, including the excavation of sediment, requires Scheduled Monument Consent from Historic Scotland.

Sources of information about the history of ponds are listed in Table 12 and may be accessed by non-specialists seeking to make initial enquiries about sites in which they have an interest.

Provisional criteria for assessing the historical importance of ponds were developed for the DETR Lowland Pond Survey and are summarised in Table 13.

Table 12.
Methods for detailed investigations of the historical value of ponds
Documentary research: At the individual site level, detailed analysis of documents and maps can assist in interpreting identified archaeological remains. Examples of data sources which may be relevant include:

  • Early maps e.g. Estate Maps (generally from 17th century onwards), Tithe and Enclosure Maps.
  • Ordnance Survey maps (from 1800 onwards).
  • 1930s Land Utilisation Survey.
  • Aerial photographs (generally from 1940s onwards).
  • Estate Records.
  • Historic Scotland /SNH inventory of gardens and designed landscapes of special interest.
  • Research literature relating to history and environmental archaeology (including literary references).;

Assessment of aerial photographs:

Aerial photography has been extensively used in the identification of archaeological features.


Methodical walking, usually of ploughed fields, collecting and plotting artifacts. Analysis of the material found and its distribution can indicate areas of settlements, burials or industrial activities.

Geophysical surveys:

Sensitive electrical surveys used to locate buried features and designed to suit the scale of the project and the type of features suspected.

Test pits:

Excavation of small holes down to bedrock usually done at regular intervals in areas of grassland, not available for fieldwalking. This process, with total or sample sieving of all soil, is designed to find artifacts and environmental information8.

Trial excavations:

Excavations of trenches to test the depth of stratification, and extent and survival of features on known archaeological sites

Sediment coring:

Extensively used for environmental reconstruction, coring to collect biological and anthropogenic remains has been undertaken successfully on a variety of small shallow water bodies. This technique is also used to assess the likely impact of desilting ponds.


Table 13.
Provisional criteria for assessing the historical importance of ponds
Degree of significance Criteria
National importance
  • Outstanding examples in terms of the period, rarity, documentation, group value, survival/condition, fragility/vulnerability, diversity and potential.
Regional importance
  • Sites which would not normally be regarded as outstanding examples which are still documented historical sites.
  • Present on a regional database.
Local importance
  • Ponds typical of the local are or likely to have strong local associations e.g. marl pits.
  • Ponds that are little managed and likely to contain a valuable sediment record.

8 Note that any test pits, trial excavations or sediment cores in scheduled Ancient Monuments require a license from Historic Scotland.

ADLib logo Content provided by the Agricultural Document Library
© University of Hertfordshire, 2011