Lidar for your archaeological discoveries!

Lidar used to be exotic and expensive, but no longer! Cutting edge, archaeological  aerial survey techniques are now free for us to use.

Here is an example

Smallshaw, note the three ditches of the prehistoric enclosure and the image “shows” the ground  under the tree cover!

Here is a standard aerial view.


Lidar image bank

Get your Lidar images here

The link example directs to OS grid reference SD 81, which covers most of west Rochdale.

The Ordnance Survey National Grid Reference System

See more about the OS grid reference system  here.

Selecting an OS grid square

Select a grid reference by entering the OS grid or move the map with your mouse or by touch.


Enter SD81 to select the grid that covers west Rochdale.

Download and process your Lidar images

  1. Select the grid you are interested in (SD81 in our example).
  2. Create a directory on your pc, or other device for the group on files you download, example SD81
  3. Select a group of files to download  from the bottom of the display
    (the different file types and what they mean are explained here)
  4. Select DSM (in this example) at 1m resolution for SD81.
  5. The files are a zip archive of 180.3MB!
  6. Select the green download icon to download the zip archive.
  7. Download the zip files to your directory (SD81 for example)
  8. Unzip the files with a compatible program (I used the free Pea zip, there are many others)
  9. You directory, with the unzipped files should look like these names, they are ASC file format.ascfiles
  10. These ASC files have to be converted into images you can view, use a GIS system if you have access to one (lucky you!), if not…go to step 11.
  11. To decode ASC files without a GIS system download the Relief Visualization Toolbox (RVT) for your operating system (currently supports Windows and Linux 64 ) from the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts.
  12. Download the RVT (for example rvt_1.1_win64 for Windows 7) and then unzip the files to a directory.
  13. Install the software, you should then see this
  14. Select click to continue and then you will see
  15. Select addfiles.jpg add the ASC files in your directory (SD81 in our example).
  16. Your directory should look like this:
  17. Load all the files and use the default settings for now and then select “Start”.
  18. This will take time depending on the speed of your computer.
  19. When the process is complete your directory should now have graphic files (TIFF format) created alongside the .ASC files.
  20. View these files with any program that can read and display the TIFF images, I used a free program called IrfanView.
  21. Here is a selection from one of the images, know what is in the centre? send me a message if you do please! -:) it’s old and it is north of Bury!
    mystery feature

Want to install your own GIS system?

LandSerf is a free GIS system which runs on any platform that supports the Java Runtime Environment (Windows, MacOSX, Unix, Linux etc.)

Too much work?

Try this site, just zoom in to explore your region (some areas do not have Lidar coverage). Note you do not have the choice of surface or terrain Lidar images.

Thanks to…

Special thanks to Marcus Jecock of Historic England for telling me about the Lidar source files and the software to decode the ASC files.

The software to decode the Lidar source files is from Slovenia’s Institute of Anthropological and Spatial Studies and is funded by the EU, see more details here.

James Moran-Zietek for telling me about LandSerf.

Under construction…


Scout Moor Archaeology

Introduction – Under Construction…

This post will briefly cover the historical background to the area, (including the Forest of Rossendale) to better understand the context of the many archaeological sites in and around Scout Moor.

Exciting Discoveries

There are some exciting newly discovered sites to reveal. As in the case of the adjacent Rooley Moor, the area has never had a thorough archaeological survey, perhaps that is an understatement.

See for Yourself (from the comfort of your browser)

Select one of the links below to see sites of Farmsteads Fecit Lane and Coal Road: (centered on SD 81852 17717).

To the North of these on Higher Hill (This site is not on any OS maps as far as I know).

The feature is best viewed with Microsoft Bing Maps birds eye view.

See the sites in Fecit Lane and Coal Rd. as they were in 1851 (surveyed 1844 to 1848) on and old OS map of Lancashire LXXX.

Wind farm road cuts ancient ditch called Man Road Ditch,  of unknown date or purpose.


Before the wind farm

Medieval and other documentation for this area

The extensive body of medieval documentation for the area has been largely ignored by archaeological surveys of the area. This has been covered here.

Missed Sites

Some of the sites archaeological surveys of the adjacent areas have missed include:

  • A ruined medieval manor house (Naden Head) complete with earthworks and early wall
  • Several prehistoric burial sites, including a prominent site on Hunger Hill (see the picture at the beginning of this blog.)
  • Prehistoric Fields on Rooley Moor
  • Several early farmsteads, such as Birchen Holts


There was a vaccary (medieval cattle ranch) somewhere in Cowpe, location not yet verified.

Scout Moor lies mostly in what was the NW of Spotland, a township in the parish of Rochdale, and in what was Bury Parish.

These are the historical areas (which were all in Lancashire), modern boundaries are very different; with the area now divided between Greater Manchester and Lancashire (Rossendale district).


Lancashire Forests and the Forest of Rossendale

Newbiggin – History of the Forrest of Rossendale

Medieval Forests – The Lancashire Antiquarian

Springhill website

Aerial Photographs

Google Maps

Lancashire’s Mario map site

Microsoft Bing maps

HER (Historic Environment Record)

Greater Manchester HER


Forum on Information Standards in Heritage (FISH) Thesauri

Under Construction…!

An Aid For Your Own Discoveries

Part of key to Ordnance Survey Maps 1st Series

National Library of Scotland

Great site for old OS(Ordnance Survey)  maps of the UK, including detailed maps of Lancashire, here.


The most useful for archaeological work, which contain sites omitted from current maps are:

  • County Series 25 inch / 1:2,500 – 1841-1952
  • County Series 6 inch / 1:10,560 – 1842-1952.


Background to the Discoveries

Three sites were partially surveyed in 2010, with the help of Groundwork volunteers trained by Al Oswald of English Heritage.

One site, Naden Head has already been mentioned in earlier posts, the two other sites, were 2010. A fourth site discovered in 2007 was the subject of an inconclusive geophysical survey in 2010, a possible barrow lies to the west of this, naturally defensive site.

The Hill Fort

Hill forts are extremely rare in Lancashire and this appears to be in a better state of preservation than the scheduled hill fort north of Bury, known as Castlesteads. Castlesteads had a single ditch, Portfield Camp near Whalley, Lancashire is perhaps closer in construction and has similar dimensions to the site near Rochdale.

I found the Medieval reference to the hill fort in November 2012, the site was discovered in 2010 using aerial photography and field work.

A Barrow?


How could anyone miss this?  this area has never been archaeologically surveyed!

I have blanked out the background to hide the exact location, it has been reported to English Heritage, but not visited by them yet.

To be continued….

Unruly moors – it’s amazing what you find when you look

There is no substitute for walking areas, even soggy moor land, if you want to find something.

Here are some of the sites I have found in areas that were supposed to have been surveyed by archaeologists. They also said there was “a hiatus in Medieval times”, did they read there own references? I have reproduced some early names from Fishwick’s History of the Parish of Rochdale, many are on Rooley Moor! The name Ding was written Dinge in medieval times. A survey of the area found no medieval records for the area! but mentioned a ‘hiatus’ in medieval times, how many charter are there for the area?

Apart from Dinge we have Bikeden (Bagden), Naden and Prickshaw, for example. There are many medieval charters that relate to the the Ding area, as well as mentions in the Manor Surveys of Rochdale in the 17th. century.

Enclosure and Early Fields at SD 855177

Enclosure on Rooley Moor
Enclosure on Rooley Moor

The yellow arrows mark the line of the earlier enclosure, which has been “overlayed” with the larger and later fields marked by the stone wall running diagonally to the left of the arrows  and one wall running horizontally in the picture above. Grid reference SD 855177.

Pits SD 859183

This area of small “quarry pits” covers several acres and is easily visible on aerial photographs. Mysteriously they are invisible on maps and on an archaeological survey that was supposed to have walked the are. If they had walked the area they would have stumbled into the pits! This is the clearest indication that the survey failed to find even the most obvious and large archaeological features. They have not just appeared, they can be seen on 1940s black and white photographs and all subsequent aerial photographs.

Would you miss these?

They appear to be like pits, see this link.

Can’t miss these at SD 859183!














see this at

Would you miss this barrow?


Good News
You will be glad to know that the ruins of the Old Moorcock were recorded in the survey.


Archaeological Site Location and Survey


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!

Remember SAW

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.

Archaeological Finds

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.

Aerial Photographs

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.

Historical Records

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.

Low Sunlight Highlights Ditches and Banks


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:


With Alidaide and Tape

Practical Guide

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.

Further Reading

Practical Guide to Recording Archaeological Sites – Great Scottish site with guides and videos.

Watershed Landscape – inspirational!



(C) 2010 SMM


With so little published archaeological survey and research work undertaken in SE Lancashire, the area offers many opportunities for researchers.

A detailed survey of SE Lancashire (Salford Hundred)  has yet to be undertaken as regards archaeology.

Some ideas for research

  • Urban archaeology – Rochdale, well documented yet little excavation has taken place into medieval Rochdale.
  • Survey of the Pennine foothills and the Moors, many cairns are still unrecorded.
  • Inventory of unpublished excavations.
  • Geophysical survey strategies and benchmarking (which techniques are best suited to local soils?)
  • Surveying rural sites mentioned in medieval documents.
  • Survey of moorland enclosures and assarts.
  • Boundaries in the landscape, from ditches and banks to early stone walls.
  • Pollen analysis, to reveal human impact on the landscape and vegetation over time.
  • Early iron working
  • Early coal mining.
  • Excavations to confirm the nature of particular sites.
  • Moated rectories of Salford Hundred, myth or reality?
  • Priorities for archaeological research.
  • Comprehensive update of archaeological sites on planning GIS (Graphical Information System).

Under construction…

Missed by The Ordnance Survey, and Others…

These quarry pits are quite mysterious and had a field officer from the British Geological Survey puzzled.

Quarry Pits on Rooley Moor
Quarry Pits on Rooley Moor

Why dig so many small pits? They are too close together for trial pits and not an efficient way to quarry stone. They may have been dug by individuals, so far I have found no records of them. They are not even shown on any Ordnance Survey Maps, even though you can fall in to some of them.

Who dug these pits and how could they have been missed?
Who dug these pits and how could they have been missed?

These pits were missed by an archaeological survey that claimed to have surveyed the area.

Here is a detail of “spoil” from a quarry pit, the stone is known as “Haslingden Flags”.


See them from aerial photographs

They can even be seen from satellite pictures and cover a few acres,  see the aerial view here.