The Lie of the Land: analytical survey of earthworks and landscapes

In his pioneering book The Making of the English Landscape published in 1955, W.G. Hoskins noted ‘everything in the landscape is older than we think’. The evidence for this is all around us. And once you know what to look for, you can’t help but see it.

Not much of England has escaped being altered by humans. Even in the seemingly wild places – such as the bleak uplands of Dartmoor or the rugged peaks of the Lakes – you can find evidence for past human activity. These previous interventions play an integral part in defining the character of the countryside we see and value today. The earthwork banks of prehistoric enclosures, the network of roads and field boundaries that connect and divide the countryside, and the fabric of village houses are all imprints of past inhabitants. The English landscape therefore incorporates the actions, behaviour and beliefs of people, and represents a living record of the past.

The English landscape represents a living record of the past

The English landscape represents a living record of the past

Analytical survey is a powerful tool that can help unravel the stories embedded in the landscape record. Through keen observation, careful recording and thoughtful analysis of visible archaeological and historical remains, insightful interpretations of a site or landscape can emerge. It is especially powerful when combined with desk-based research – incorporating information from current and historic maps, aerial photographs, historical documents and the findings of previous research. It can also help target further research using other specialist techniques (such as geophysical survey, archaeological excavation or environmental assessment) and can provide a wider context for their results. Continue reading

Medieval Motte or Prehistoric Mound? How we selected our study sites

Castle mottes are large earth and stone mounds, often coupled with a bailey, and are a characteristic component of the British landscape. Ask most people and they will have a favourite castle. It may be a local landmark which forms a familiar part of daily life or a more distant memory of a cherished past experience.

The motte and restored shell keep of Arundel Castle, West Sussex

The motte and restored shell keep of Arundel Castle, West Sussex

There are around 900 mottes or motte and bailey castles recorded from across England. So how did the Round Mounds Project team narrow this down to just 20 mottes for detailed study? Perhaps not surprisingly the first stage involved a review of existing information. The aim of this work was to identify castle sites with the potential for prehistoric origin. Continue reading