Researchers have compiled an aerial survey of more than 10,000 images of Exmoor, United Kingdom, revealing evidence of 2,000 previously unknown archaeological sites and new information on known monuments. The findings shed light on agricultural practices of the Middle Ages.
According to Western Morning News, the evidence of medieval human agriculture and construction that was long unrecognized on land becomes visible from the air, showcasing the story of hill-farming in Exmoor (an area of hilly moorland in South West England) since the Middle Ages. Although the area appeared untouched by human involvement on the ground, aerial photographs provided the perspective needed to spot long lines, patterns, and markings on the ground. Evidence of erosion through centuries of farm animal hooves beating the ground, as well as imprints of huts and small wooden buildings, was captured.
“The aerial photographs taken down the decades can show even the most minimal of markings – like the pinch points where cattle and sheep would have been herded up onto the moor,” Rob Wilson-North, ENPA’s archaeologist and Conservation Manager at Exmoor National Park, told Western Morning News.
Remains of a farm in Exmoor, UK. Credit: Western Morning News
This finding comes after archaeologists this year revealed the discovery of previously unknown pre-historic monuments scattered across Salisbury Plain, using ground penetrating radar. These megalithic pits and stones found around Stonehenge reveal the way ancient man affected the natural environment in their daily lives, and left their mark for us to find now.
The biggest surprise in the Exmoor study was discovering the way in which the medieval farmers collaborated in water management. They apparently worked together on gutter systems to direct water and barnyard waste, using both engineering and trial-and-error practices. Such gutter systems continued to be used in the area into the early 1800s, but details were not written down at the time, and researchers are only now rediscovering the methods involved.
“2,000 previously unrecognized archaeological sites is a very large number and was certainly surprising to us. People might think we found a lot of Stonehenges that we didn’t know about before, but it wasn’t like that. They were almost all smaller things that had slipped through the net,” Wilson-North detailed to the Western Morning News.
There are sites of human engineering in Exmoor area dating back to Mesolithic times, such as at the Tarr steps bridge. Credit: S. Kühn, Wikipedia
The English Heritage preservation agency and Exmoor National Park Authority (ENPA) have detailed their findings in a new book, The Archaeology of Hill Farming on Exmoor, laying out the history of agriculture in the English Westcountry.
Featured image: A field gutter system as seen from the air. Credit: Western Morning News
By Liz Leafloor