Recently, a tremendous heatwave was felt across the globe and among other things, it was responsible for turning the United Kingdom yellow as grass in fields dried out. But every cloud has a silver lining, or in this case, the lack of cloud was the silver lining. The dried fields revealed the marks where lost buildings once existed.
More and more structures were identified as the heatwave progressed and Historic England has released some pretty stunning aerial photos of English fields revealing marks from buildings constructed over the last few millennia.
The flying archaeologists have discovered a variety of treasures, including prehistoric settlements, burial mounds, and farms from the Iron Age, Bronze Age, and Roman period. They also found two cursus monuments, rectangular Neolithic monuments that are among the oldest in Britain. The newly discovered ones date to between 3600 and 3000 BCE.
The dry spell has also revealed new features of known monuments, such as the prehistoric ceremonial landscape near Eynsham in Oxfordshire. Circles of pits, funerary monuments, and a settlement make this site particularly intriguing. But it’s not just ancient history. Among the more recent findings are the lost Elizabethan buildings and gardens of Tixall Hall dating from 1555 CE. A gatehouse built in 1557 CE still stands.
“This spell of very hot weather has provided the perfect conditions for our aerial archaeologists to ‘see beneath the soil’ as cropmarks are much better defined when the soil has less moisture," Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said in a statement. "The discovery of ancient farms, settlements and Neolithic cursus monuments is exciting. The exceptional weather has opened up whole areas at once rather than just one or two fields and it has been fascinating to see so many traces of our past graphically revealed.”
Cropmarks become particularly striking in dry weather. When water is scarce, the usually minor effects of buried buildings can mean life or death for the vegetation growing above, particularly in wet countries like England.
“This is the first potential bumper year in what feels like a long time. It is very exciting to have hot weather for this long," Helen Winton, Historic England Aerial Investigation and Mapping Manager, said. "2011 was the last time we had an exceptional year when we discovered over 1,500 sites, with most on the claylands of eastern England.”
Not all these sites are going to be excavated but knowing their positions helps us make decisions on future developments and estimate the damage that deep plowing could cause.