The Howardian Hills were designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1987. In the spring of 1993 North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) with the aid of a grant from the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME) carried out a field survey of the AONB to help in its preparation for a Management Plan for the AONB. At the same time, an air survey of the AONB was requested by NYCC which Aerial Survey, RCHME undertook to carry out as a part of the National Mapping Programme (NMP).
The range of low hills known as the Howardian Hills are quite well defined geographically, trending north-west to south-east between the higher ground of the North York Moors to the north and the Yorkshire Wolds to the south. The Howardian Hills are composed of undulating Jurassic Limestone and Sandstone. Today the area is largely used for arable farming, but there are extensive areas of woodland, both ancient woodland and commercial coniferous plantations. Large estates dating from the medieval period also lie within the area.
So far the archaeology of the Howardian Hills has received rather less attention than the neighbouring areas of the North York Moors or the Yorkshire Wolds but there are definite similarities with the distinctive and sometimes quite different features to be found in both.
Cross-ridge dykes, parallel banks and ditches, are well known on the North York Moors and some were recorded at the northern end of the AONB from early photographs, but now lie in densely wooded plantations.
Extensive cropmarks of discontinuous parallel ditches were recorded on the dip slope to either side of Barton le Street. Similar features are seen on the Yorkshire Wolds, their appearance suggesting adaptation and reuse, perhaps over considerable periods of time and possibly serving different functions at different times.
Also similar to the Yorkshire Wolds was the recognition of square barrow cemeteries which sometimes appeared to be associated with trackways.
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