The Archaeology of Aggregate Landscapes: Extensive Surveys, Interpretation, Dissemination and Interrogation

EH Project Number: 5748/14162.110

Project Summary

The Landscape Research Centre has been engaged in a number of remote sensing projects, funded from the EH/ALSF, concerned with mapping the archaeology on the sands and gravels on the margins of the Vale of Pickering. These projects primarily focussed upon data collection and primary interpretation have revealed an unanticipated wealth of evidence of past activity from the Neolithic to Medieval periods. The results challenge the established understanding of settlement sequence and density in an area which has in the past been considered an archaeological blank. The results of these surveys, which have a relevance to aggregate valley landscapes throughout lowland Britain, provide primary data which will inform future management strategies for sand and gravel extraction within the Vale of Pickering as well as influence our interpretation of the landscape at a large scale.

The results of these surveys have in the past been presented through vast paper printouts many metres long which defy conventional publication and have required detailed explanation when presented to archaeologists, planners or the general public. This project is concerned with taking the primary data from the various surveys, adding the interpretative component which combines individual remote sensing anomalies identified, for instance through aerial or geophysical survey, into more readily understood and individually described groups such as cemeteries, landscape boundaries or settlements.  The addition of time-depth indicating the start and end dates for each group and an estimate of its long term survival in the landscape allows us to reveal the development of the landscape over time.  With the added value introduced through the interpretive phase the data is being transferred to the local authority Heritage and Environment Record (HER) where it is fundamental to underpinning the long term requirements related to minerals planning and assist in securing a sustainable future for the archaeological resource.

Whilst the delivery of the interpreted data-set to the HER is a primary objective, for wider dissemination a more innovative approach is being adopted; the generation of a more dynamic and interactive resource which can be viewed on the internet using Google Earth. This allows the results to be seen in 3D in a far more visual and scale independent form draped over the Google Earth air photographic map base. The use of Google Earth allows the time depth to be presented both through time based animations and time based snapshots deployed through digitised feature overlays with supporting layers including the geophysical and air photographic imagery. In order to achieve this objective it has been necessary to develop a toolkit, which will be distributed freely once the project is completed, to facilitate simple conversion of similar landscape scale GIS data from the Ordnance Survey projection to the Latitude Longitude projection employed by WEB based Earth viewers. The resulting data files in Keyhole Mark-up Language (kml) are not system specific and thus have inbuilt future-proofing which will allow the data to be deployed using alternative viewing systems should Google Earth cease to be available as a free resource.

The approach and methodologies being deployed have been fully tested during a pilot phase of the project undertaken in 2009. The results and working pilot data have been presented at a number of seminars and conferences in Britain and Europe where the work has been praised as a model for the presentation of landscape level data necessary for revealing the intensity of past human activity in aggregate landscapes. The detailed discussion of the projects and results with particular reference to the assessment of the archaeology of aggregate landscapes will also be produced in book form.