Mapping of the limestone hills of North Gloucestershire and the surrounding lower ground, including part of the Vale of Evesham, has recorded the evidence of human activity going back over 6,000 years. Highlights include early prehistoric ritual sites and barrows, Iron Age, Roman and medieval agricultural landscapes and Second World War military complexes.
The North Gloucestershire Cotswolds have seen human activity for millennia. Neolithic and Bronze Age barrows occupy positions on high ground. Iron Age hillforts cluster along the western escarpment, while evidence of later prehistoric settlement and agriculture appears both on the high Cotswolds and on the lower slopes.
Roman roads cross the hills, with villas and smaller settlements in all landscape regions and towns on the eastern dip slope. In the medieval period, the lower slopes were covered with the ridge and furrow of arable farming, while the central hills became the sheep pastures essential to the wool industry.
Continuing potential for new discoveries
The North Gloucestershire Cotswolds have been inhabited since at least the Neolithic period. Funerary monuments, settlements and agricultural sites have been recorded on all landscape zones. Recovery of evidence through aerial photography has not been uniform across the region, however, and there is still potential for new discoveries.
Differences in past and present agricultural practice have influenced the ability to record archaeological features through aerial photography. Much land on the high Cotswolds has been sheep pasture since the medieval period. Although this limits the possibility of cropmark formation, it increases the potential for features to survive as earthworks. Any change from pasture to arable in this region may also reveal unrecorded features as cropmarks.
On the lower slopes, which were covered by ridge and furrow in the medieval period, many of the Iron Age and Roman features mapped by the NMP survey have been revealed by cropmarks after the medieval ridges have been removed. As the ridges continue to be levelled, it is probable that more earlier features will be recorded.
A complex of rectilinear enclosures and trackways on the northern edge of Huntsman’s Quarry, near Naunton, represents a rare survival of possible Iron Age or Roman earthworks on the high central Cotswolds. The first specialist oblique photographs were taken by English Heritage in April 2002 – the enclosures had not been recorded previously through field investigation by either EH/RCHME or Gloucestershire County Council Archaeology Service.
A possible parallel for this enclosure group may have been found in the adjacent field to the west (the area in the top right corner of the photograph). There, a ditched enclosure of remarkably similar size, shape and alignment, was excavated in the mid-1990s by GCCAS. The results of that work revealed an enclosure which originated in the Middle Iron Age and was used into the Roman period.
These results suggest that the recently photographed earthworks nearer to the quarry may also be Iron Age or Roman in date. The enclosure seen on the aerial photographs could perhaps be associated with, or even part of, the excavated site.
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