Historic England's 'Miner - Farmer Landscapes' Project, and the Context of Roman Mining in the North Pennines
Ordinary Meeting of Fellows (Fellows and Guests Only)
Lecture by Alastair Oswald, FSA
The North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, England's largest, is internationally recognized for its geology and ecology. Until recently, however, its historic landscape had seen negligible field research, apart from the recording of individual components of post-medieval lead mines. Ordnance Survey fieldworkers from the 19th century onwards overlooked most earthwork evidence for early land-use. Consequently, the region has been caricatured as an 'uninhabited wilderness'. One of the few early sites recognized in the region - the well-preserved Roman fort known as Whitley Castle – appeared isolated, connected to the outside world only by the lonely Maiden Way.
The 'Miner - Farmer landscapes' project was designed to understand the totality of the historic landscape, but framed within an investigation of how the region's twin industries - mining and farming - have shaped the landscape, including its ecology and architecture. The research encompassed 50 square kilometres around Alston, the epicentre of the medieval and later lead industry, and comprised several different strands. As fieldwork progressed, it became clear that by unravelling the intricacies of past water management, developed for different purposes over many centuries, archaeology could help the Environment Agency, Natural England and the AONB to address important issues, which, at first sight, might appear to have little to do with archaeology. Foremost is the legacy of pollution left by abandoned mines. This issue has a positive dimension, however, because polluted ground is the preferred habitat of some of Britain’s rarest plant communities.
Currently in its publication phase, the project underpins the AONB’s ‘Altogether Archaeology’ community project and the development of Whitley Castle as a visitor attraction and field education centre. The successful use of Lidar in the field has also prompted spin-off community projects elsewhere, spreading a postitive influence at regional, national and international levels.
Location: Burlington House