The rolling chalk hills of the Yorkshire Wolds have been under intensive arable cultivation for many decades. Their free-draining soils are ideal for the formation of cropmarks over buried archaeological features. Using evidence from thousands of aerial photographs taken over several decades, the project built up a remarkable picture of landscape use in earlier times.
The survey maps – depicting extensive patterns of burials, ceremonial sites, settlements and land divisions from the Neolithic to Roman times – provide a framework for continuing fieldwork and academic research.
The Yorkshire Wolds project was undertaken at a time when computer-aided rectification of oblique aerial photographs was being developed. The use of computer-aided techniques allowed a very large area – 1,350 square kilometres – to be mapped with a high level of accuracy by a small team of interpreters.
Neolithic ritual monuments at Rudston
Many of the Neolithic ceremonial and funerary monuments on the Yorkshire Wolds appear to cluster around a stream called the Gypsey Race, which flows from the highest land in the west, through the Great Wold Valley, to reach the North Sea at Bridlington.
A notable concentration of monuments is found around the village of Rudston, towards the eastern end of the Gypsey Race. At Rudston, four great cursus monuments converge on a bend in the stream. A henge monument also occupies the valley floor near the northern end of the longest cursus. Long barrows, mortuary enclosures, Neolithic round barrows and other possible ritual monuments are clustered on the higher ground overlooking the cursus complex and the course of the stream.
Extensive Iron Age and Roman landscapes
The most remarkable patterns recorded by the Yorkshire Wolds project were those associated with later prehistoric land division, settlement and agriculture.
A network of substantial linear earthworks, possibly representing tribal boundaries, began to develop in the late Bronze Age. Those earthworks formed the framework of a pattern of large scale land division which was developed and extended during the Iron Age and into the Roman period.
Some of the territories marked out by the linear earthworks were occupied by groups of settlement enclosures linked by trackways, while others appear to have remained free of enclosures. This pattern, viewed as a whole, gives the impression of a system of land resource management, within which some areas were used for habitation and farming, and others were reserved for some other activity, perhaps the grazing of animals.
Ancient Landscapes of the Yorkshire Wolds
The results of the Yorkshire Wolds project were published in 1997 as 'Ancient Landscapes of the Yorkshire Wolds' by Catherine Stoertz. The publication presents a description of the methods used to classify features visible solely as cropmarks, and provides detailed analyses of the landscape patterns formed by those features.
The analytical text, illustrated with detailed plans of extensive complexes, is accompanied by a set of four maps which present the complete survey results at a scale of 1:25,000. The remarkable extent and complexity of the region’s ancient landscapes, particularly those associated with land control and organisation during the Iron Age and Roman periods, can be clearly seen.
Since the completion of the project, the maps have guided further aerial reconnaissance, and have provided a framework for many detailed research and fieldwork projects.
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 at: via the link above.