Introducing the Westmorland Dales Aerial Investigation and Mapping Project, which encompasses the south-eastern part of the Westmorland Dales area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, a region famous for its Roman archaeology, exemplified by the Crosby Garrett helmet, and Arthurian Legend as represented by Pendragon Castle.
The project will identify, map and interpret historic environment features to enhance the Yorkshire Dales Historic Environment Record using a range of aerial imagery.
The project is being undertaken by Archaeological Research Services Ltd in conjunction with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) and Historic England (HE) to cover 136km² of the area that was incorporated into the Yorkshire Dales National Park in 2016.
This is a well-preserved archaeological landscape where the extent of later prehistoric, Roman and medieval settlements have yet to be fully determined.
Such sites may be impacted by changes in land use and management, such as woodland creation, so it is important that their character and extent is understood.
The project will ensure the active conservation of these sites whilst enabling environmental recovery works to go ahead. It will study all available aerial photographs and LiDAR to identify and map archaeological features within the survey area.
It will also utilise Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (drone) based high-resolution LiDAR, multispectral and thermal imaging over a targeted area to assess the potential contribution of these techniques to the identification of archaeological sites and their extent.
The introduction of LiDAR has been an incredible tool for archaeologists to identify ancient features and landscapes that exist across Britain, especially in upland environments. In some places LiDAR allows us to peel back what is visible and see what might exist below, for example on moorland where the vegetation cover makes it hard to identify faint earthworks or where tree cover has made other survey methods nearly impossible. It can also help us to see features that exist underneath modern ploughing.
In the Yorkshire Dales we have found two ploughed down henges that are no longer visible, a significant number of prehistoric settlements, former farmsteads and complex medieval farming landscapes that exist underneath the stone walls and hay meadows not visible to the eye. Outside the dales LiDAR has been used to identify the locations of cities, roads and burial sites without invasive excavation or costly survey protecting them for future generations to study and enjoy.
LiDAR and other aerial survey techniques allow us to view archaeology at a landscape scale. It allows us to view hard to see features like co-axial field systems, large parallel earthwork banks that are believed to be bronze age in date. Not much survives across the dales of a known bronze age date, so the fact that these can be accurately identified, mapped and placed into context with known prehistoric settlements can help us to understand more about the lives of our ancestors.