Mapping the Risk

Mapping the  risk and characterising the potential ~ aggregates, palaeoenvironment and  archaeology of the Vale of Pickering

LRC Project EH5288 funded by English  Heritage from the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund with additional support in  kind from North Yorkshire County Council, The Soil Survey of England and the  Environment Agency 

 Project Summary       

The Vale of Pickering is one of the two primary sources of  aggregates in North Yorkshire. Archaeological research over nearly 30 years  around West Heslerton has identified in one small part of the Vale of Pickering  one of the highest concentrations of evidence of past human activity identified  in Europe. The archaeological research in Heslerton, which was triggered by the  chance discovery of an Anglian (C 5th to C 7th) cemetery  during aggregate extraction, has confirmed a direct correlation between  aggregate bearing soils and the most intensive areas of human settlement. The  evidence accrued at Heslerton will divert pressure towards other aggregate  bearing resources in the lower valley where cemeteries and settlement sites  occur on low sand and gravel islands near the palaeochannels and palaeolakes  that once dominated the landscape of the lower valley.

Current knowledge suggests that these palaeochannels and  palaeolakes contain a rich but rapidly disappearing environmental resource from  the Palaeolithic to the Medieval periods; this material, surviving within peats  and waterlogged soils, are at risk from aggregate extraction and resulting  draw-down of the water table, a situation exacerbated both by global warming and  excessive drainage.

This project, which is only made possible by unprecedented  co-operative agreements with a number of organisations and data providers, aims  to create a series of new maps and flood models that identify and characterise  the palaeoenvironmental resource and the archaeological sensitivity of the sands  and gravels of the Vale of Pickering.

At the same time the project is assessing and developing methods  that can be applied to similar landscapes elsewhere in England and investigate  new methods of survey; particularly new approaches to geophysical survey  employing a multi-probe wheeled gradiometer.

The project is designed to generate new knowledge derived from  the combination of a variety of different resources which will be distributed to  all the project partners and will contribute to the development of sustainable  approaches to the management of the archaeological resource within an expanding  need for the production of locally sourced aggregates.


Project Objectives

The Vale of Pickering and surrounding hills, the Yorkshire  Wolds to the south, the North Yorkshire Moors to the north and the Hawardian  Hills to the south-west, covers an area of about 1600 square kilometres. The  Vale of Pickering is an unusual drainage basin as the principal river, the  Derwent, drains not towards the sea to the east but inland towards the Vale of  York. Prior to the last Ice Age the the Vale had drained into the sea near  Filey, however, as the ice sheets and glaciers receded at the end of the Ice  Age, lateral moraines were left which blocked the outflow towards the sea and  the Vale filled with water to a depth of more than 40 metres before forming a  drainage channel through what is now the Kirkham Gap through which the Derwent  flows today. The Vale of Pickering contains large resources of aggregates, both  in the form of sands and gravels and also quarried and crushed limestone and  chalk from the surrounding hills.

The current research builds upon extensive research  undertaken over more than 30 years and supported by the English Heritage  Archaeology Commissions, (Heritage Enabling Programme HEEP), The Aggregates Levy  Sustainability Fund (ALSF), and at Cook's Quarry, West Heslerton, by the mineral  operator under planning arrangements determined through PPG16. Past research has  been focussed particularly  upon the area between West Heslerton and  Sherburn situated between the north facing scarp of the Yorkshire Wolds and the  wetlands that once dominated the centre of the Vale of Pickering. Whilst  research in Heslerton was initially concentrated on rescue excavation,  undertaken ahead of sand and gravel extraction and in areas suffering from  active plough damage, a programme of extensive landscape survey designed to  reveal the wider context of the excavated areas was initiated during 1978. Since  2001 a series of large scale projects supported both by HEEP and the ALSF and  drawing upon a large archive of air-photographic and other remote sensing data  augmented by large area geophysical surveys have revealed the most detailed  picture of an archaeological landscape of this scale in Europe. The combined air  and ground based surveys have demonstrated the preeminent role of aggregate  bearing areas for human settlement from the prehistoric until medieval periods  but also reveal areas where the high water table, particularly in the past,  which were unsuitable for human habitation and thus could form more  archaeologically sustainable resource for future mineral extraction. These  projects relied upon the integration and a analysis of multi-faceted datasets  derived from airborne and ground based remote sensing as well as relatively new  data sets such as Lidar. The results of this research challenge our every  perception of the density, intensity and continuity of settlement in Britain and  although covering a large area they remain in isolation and thus are at risk of  being as a somehow unique reflection of past activity in one location than  representative of the broader picture.

This project was designed very much as a pilot project  designed to test the levels of archaeological activity associated with aggregate  bearing areas around the Vale of Pickering as a whole.