Characterising the Landscape


Characterising, modelling and managing the buried landscape in the Vale of Pickering: securing  sustainability through survey before management

LRC Project 3409 funded By English Heritage From the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund 

The archaeological risks associated with mineral extraction on the margins of the Vale of Pickering are considerable and include both direct and indirect threats. For instance, the effects of draw-down and de-watering which can lead to desiccation and loss of important environmental evidence within a few hundred metres of an extraction site. It is clear from the field-by-field research within the project area that there are effectively few fields between the southern boundary of the ancient wetlands which filled the centre of the Vale of Pickering, and the foot of the Yorkshire Wolds that are without significant archaeological components.
The fieldwork has demonstrated that there are a number of areas where a responsible response to the recording and removal of the archaeological component ahead of mineral extraction could compromise the profitability of an extraction programme but there are other areas where the economic and archaeological impact would be considerably lower. For example, to the north of the fen-edge spring-line, which bisects the area from east to west,  are large areas of sand and gravel with a relatively low archaeological component. This has already become severely denuded as consequence of modern agricultural techniques and the loss of peat deposits.
3409.htm_txt_AggregatesSnow2This research project is concerned with identifying the density, level of preservation, chronological and cultural diversity of the archaeological resource. The project has combined geophysical and airborne survey, to map the resource, and sub-surface survey, to identify those areas with securely sealed deposits or those with high environmental potential. The results of the survey have been compiled into the most detailed archaeological map for its size of any landscape in Britain. 
The project has produced a wealth of new evidence, offering an almost unlimited research potential; to gain a detailed understanding of what has been discovered will however take years of careful and targeted excavation and research. Some aspects of the research, particularly the search for well preserved and wet environmental evidence, principally ancient pollen and plant remains, has produced disturbing results; the combination of drainage and possibly draw-down associated with Cook's Quarry has caused desiccation with the consequent decay of this fragile evidence. It is extremely unlikely that any well preserved environmental evidence of this type will survive beyond 2010.
The product of this research is a dynamic data set covering nearly 400 Hectares. This data set provides the basis for developing archaeological mitigation strategies for mineral extraction in the area. It will also assist in the development of broader development control strategies and provide a basis for the development of a management plan to develop public access. If we are to preserve the resource through sustainable aggregates extraction then we have an obligation to share the ‘preserved’ resource. In contrast to conventional publication this project relies on digital publication using a web-browser and portable document files (PDF) so that access to the data does not require specialist software. The key results of the project are held in a vast data set of image files and surface models, comprising nearly 3Gb of data, which would require both sophisticated software and users for day to day manipulation; the information they contain has been condensed into a series of overlay maps that allow the user to view the data in a number of different ways.
 This project has provided the base data set required to develop long term sustainability and management of the archaeology of the area and the basis for predictive modelling and assessment as new areas come under threat from mineral extraction. It has also addressed important issues with regard to archaeological assessment methodologies when applied to landscapes where blown sands make conventional assessment methods highly unreliable. 
Seeing the results of this project combined with the other geophysical surveys already undertaken by the LRC prompted David Miles, Chief Archaeologist for England, to state the 'the buried landscape of Heslerton is every bit as important as Stonehenge'.
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