With many major and minor sites unrecorded SE Lancashire is the most exciting area in the UK if you want to discover archaeological sites. Don’t believe it? well I even had to get a 2 metre high medieval cross put on the Sites and Monuments register a few years ago, amazing but true. It is at Doffcocker near Bolton and is in the grounds of the church. The local paper was very helpful in tracking background information to the cross, which had been moved from a previous location, a bridge over a stream!
When looking for an archaeological site check SAW!
Soil – was the site on good soil or were there mineral deposits like coal or marl?
Aspect – Was the site facing the south and was it sheltered or on a hilltop?
W – Water was vital for farming and survival and also a source of power for water and fulling mills. Water (streams, rivers and lakes) could be a place to catch fish! In some places in Lancashire water was used as a defence in the form of a moat, even Prestwich Rectory had a moat and this can clearly be seen in the first series OS map in the mid 19th C.
Clues in the Landscape
Banks and ditches and old boundary walls are good indicators of rural archaeological sites. You may even see some stones where a building has decayed and probably had stone robbed. Wooden structures are unlikely to have left clues above ground but sometimes a moat survives, or was evident, at Prestwich Rectory (Old site not the one near the church) for example.
Place-names sometimes give clues for archaeologists, indicating an archaeological site a good example is the place-name “castle” as in Castleton in Rochdale. Yes, Rochdale had a Norman castle, but nothing is visible today.
The chance discovery of finds may sometimes indicate an archaeological site. However valuable finds were often hidden away from the main site, burial sites being the exception to this. Usually it is the mundane finds which indicate an archaeological site. These can be found on the surface of a ploughed field or a stream.
The Web has made access to aerial photographs easy, given a low angle of sunlight it is possible to see banks, ditches, roads and old cultivation marks which may indicate a nearby site.
Sites such as Google Earth have a wealth of information, Ssince photos were taken at different times of day the angle of sunlight varies and so will the visibility of features. Try viewing different views of the same site and different dates, try comparing the views from different sites.
Older photographs can show sites before they were ploughed or built on and show changes over time.
Medieval deeds, charters, court records and wills give many valuable clues to finding archaeological sites. Many deeds and charters are still to be translated from the Medieval Latin. Salford Hundred has a large number of untranslated medieval documents, many refer to boundaries and sites that remain undiscovered.
Getting out in the landscape and surveying sites is the essential work when discovering sites and it is the vital drawing together and evaluation of all evidence that might indicate an archaeological site.
Always start with the most mundane theory for your site and work your way logically through other interpretations of what you have found. Many antiquarians from the region were inclined to see many sites as ‘Roman’ rather than post Roman.
The geology of the region is complex and many natural features have been seen as archaeological sites, could your ‘site’ be glacial in origin? Sound geological knowledge is a vital part of any archaeological research and geological research must be undertaken for each site.
The local ecology is also vital in assessing archaeological sites, the climate has changed over time. If evidence of early vegetation survives there may be clues to human activity, such as forest clearance, or evidence of agriculture.
Folklore is not reliable, but sometimes it may indicate a site, or at least give an interesting background to the the site and landscape you are researching. The name ‘castle’ is one of the more common indicators of an archaeological site.
Make sure you act responsibly when accessing a site, respect landowners and the environment. Work with local communities to further the knowledge of and protect your local heritage.
Surveying What You Find
Here are some articles about surveying archaeological sites:
Enjoying Uppland Archaeology – Spotters Guide Essential! Pennine Uppland Archaeology Guide
Archaeological survey requires many skills and a holistic approach, a team of experts is needed to really assess the potential of an archaeological site. Included in this team is the local expert, who knows the landscape and local history of the site in question. Publishing and professionally reviewing information is crucial in getting discoveries accepted and advancing archaeological knowledge.
Practical Guide to Recording Archaeological Sites – Great Scottish site with guides and videos.
Watershed Landscape – inspirational!
(C) 2010 SMM