The Lincoln and the Witham Valley Project involved English Heritage in a partnership bringing specialist skills together to improve our understanding of this important landscape. The aerial survey component of the project, completed in 2005, mapped and recorded archaeological sites of prehistoric date through to 20th century military remains.
Aerial survey reveals the complexity of past landscapes
The discovery and excavation of a prehistoric causeway at Fiskerton had prompted an initial study of this complex landscape, which was a prelude to wider archaeological survey and the NMP mapping. The archaeological potential of the Witham Valley in Lincolnshire was highlighted in 'Time and Tide: The Archaeology of the Witham Valley' (Catney and Start, 2003). The report proposed a programme of research to investigate landscape change and settlement in the Valley from prehistoric to medieval times.
The NMP survey used vertical and oblique aerial photographs as the main source of information, but the project was also used as an early test of the usefulness of lidar for archaeological survey. The earliest diagnostic prehistoric monument forms identified from aerial photography are funerary monuments. The pattern of barrow distribution shows distinct clusters at focal points in the landscape, which suggests their siting was a deliberate and culturally significant act. Near Barlings Abbey, at the confluence of Barlings Eau and Stainfield Beck, there is a large Bronze Age barrow cemetery, visible as denuded earthworks in the alluvium and as levelled mounds visible as soilmarks.
Medieval monastic sites
The siting of monastic sites within the Witham Valley and the relationship of medieval abbeys with earlier features is apparent. The coincidence of existing road causeways, some of which may have had their origins in prehistory, is of particular interest.
The NMP mapping has revealed areas of levelled archaeology visible as soilmarks and cropmarks and places the monastic sites in their landscape context. South Kyme Augustinian Priory is located on the north bank of the River Slea and is one of several monastic sites within the wider Witham Valley. The complexity of the monastic plan is superimposed by a medieval moated manor and post medieval gardens.
Roman land management
Little new evidence of Roman settlement has been produced by the aerial survey mapping of the low lying areas of the Witham Valley, but more information has been recorded on the Car Dyke, which is a prominent feature in the flat fen landscape.
The Car Dyke was originally thought to be a Roman canal, but is now believed to be part of a 1st or 2nd century AD fen drainage system. It follows a sinuous course down the south and west side of the Witham Valley, surviving as earthworks for long stretches, but where levelled it is also visible as cropmarks. The central ditch has substantial banks flanking it, which possibly acted as flood defences.
Duck decoy ponds
The fens have a long history of exploitation, and during medieval and post medieval times duck decoy ponds, constructed to catch wildfowl, were prevalent. Duck decoy ponds were first introduced in Lincolnshire and Essex before spreading to other counties.
In addition to the standard NMP mapping of the project area lidar data flown by the Environment Agency in 2001 was also examined to see what features were visible.
The images used on this page are copyright English Heritage unless specified otherwise. For further details of any photographs or other images and for copies of these, or the plans and reports related to the project please contact the English Heritage Archive.
For further information on a project or any other aspect of the work of the Aerial Survey team please contact us by email via the link above.