The Great Asby Scar Archaeological Survey - Week 3

The Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership (WDLP)




Lydia Loopesko

Penny Middleton

Livestock have proved to be a bit of a problem this week, with the location of transects being largely dependent on where the cattle happened to be. At the end of last week, we had to leave a field only part surveyed because the cows were in it. They seemed to have moved on by Monday, but alas no, on Tuesday they were back again. We found ourselves having to outfox the beasts, traipsing across the upland to survey small areas quickly before they came over to investigate and thwart our plans. In the end, after much cattle dodging, it took nearly three days to complete one of the zones. Such are the joys of upland survey! The weather has also been more temperamental this week, and most days we have had to find a sheltered spot for lunch away from the wind and rain. At other times the drizzle has made photography and record writing particularly difficult, but overall, we have been fairly lucky this season, so mustn’t grumble.

Based on the sites found so far, it is clear that there was prehistoric activity across the south and north slopes of Great Asby Scar. Slightly tucked away below the limestone pavement escarpment, we identified a prehistoric burial mound. This is similar to others we found on the south slopes of Scar, but smaller in size and with clear evidence of antiquarian excavation. To the north of this feature, a possible prehistoric stone circle is marked on the First Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1856) but no evidence of this was visible on the surface and it was probably cleared for land improvement in the late 19th or early 20th century. Close to the burial mound, two smaller vestigial cairns were recorded that were probably of a similar date. Other cairns were visible on the skyline but these were much narrower and taller and more likely to be post-medieval marker cairns or walker’s cairns.

Further down the slope, a line of three large boundary stones were recorded, extending northward on a different alignment to the current boundary wall. It is uncertain when these stones were set, but they definitely predate parliamentary enclosure in the late 18th and early 19th century, when the current field boundaries were laid out. Other relict boundary walls were recorded along the northern edge of the survey area, comprising a series of low earthworks that ran parallel to the modern field walls. This suggests they may have been still extant when the current wall was erected, possibly using stones from the earlier structure.

Evidence of a possible Romano-British settlement was identified on the north edge of the survey area. The layout of the settlement was not immediately evident as the site was obscured by dense bracken and most of the structures survived only as rubble footings. However, on closer examination we were able to discern several enclosures set around smaller stone cell-like structures, which were probably dwellings. A similar, but more intact, settlement was recorded just to the west of the first. Sadly, time was against us to allow us to record this properly, so it was left as something to look forward to when we come back in the Spring.

There was considerably more evidence of industrial activity on the north slopes of the Scar compared to the south. This included a well preserved lime kiln situated in the north-west corner of the survey area, near Maisongill, close to an extensive area of quarrying. Several bell pits were also recorded, that were probably associated with early copper mining in the area. These had been backfilled, surviving only as doughnut shaped earthworks on the surface. One of these contained a large accumulation of stone at its centre and was thought to be the remnants of a collapsed air vent used to provide ventilation to the mines beneath. If correct, this would indicate that the bell pits were interconnected beneath the ground. On our way out of the survey area on the last day we passed a mine adit, another exciting site to add to our survey list in the Spring.

Over the past three weeks, we have found a number of vertical stones set into the grikes (a vertical fissure) on the limestone pavement. A local source suggested that these were set up as tank targets by the nearby Warcop army training camp and number of artillery shell casings found during the survey further substantiate this interpretation.

We have covered a lot of ground over the last few weeks and are well ahead of schedule. Thanks to all our volunteers for their help this season. We have had a fantastic and rewarding time and recorded around 300 potential new sites to add to the Historic Environment Record. From the glimpses we have seen of the archaeology in the zones to be surveyed next season, there are some exciting things ahead. We are looking forward to returning in the Spring for another three weeks season.  If you would like to join us or find out more about the project, please contact Hannah Kingsbury by emailing or phoning 01539 756624.

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