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26 September 2009
New archaeological sites discovered on Exmoor

More than 2,200 previously unknown archaeological sites have been discovered on Exmoor (England). And significant new information has been added to a further 800 sites, thanks to painstaking research over the last two years. Two archaeologists from Exmoor National Park Authority looked through more than 12,000 aerial photographs as part of the Exmoor National Mapping Programme. The time consuming exercise was designed to help build up a more detailed picture of Exmoor's past by identifying and interpreting archaeological sites. The work, which has been funded by English Heritage as part of its National Mapping Programme, has created a highly detailed map of Exmoor's archaeology.
     During the survey the archaeologists examined piles of aerial photographs, dating from 1946 to 2009, the vast majority of them from English Heritage's National Monuments Record. Archaeologist Cain Hegarty who worked alongside fellow archaeologist Kathy Toms on the project, said: "We've been surprised not only by how well some earthwork sites have survived but also by their number and extent, and this even includes sites from the early prehistoric period." Most of the newly-discovered sites date from recent periods in Exmoor's history. However, much older remains were also found, such as the traces of Bronze Age settlements, some 3,500 years old.
     Most of the photos were looked at under a stereoscope which provided a 3D effect, enabling them to see subtle earthworks. Mr Hegarty added: "It might be possible for people to see lumps and bumps in a field but it would be difficult to differentiate from natural features without a trained eye." Mr Hegarty said: "This is possibly the best way of finding new sites and new monuments without actually going into the field so we still have the thrill of discovery but without the mud and rain. And it was a lot warmer."
     One of the most interesting finds was a possible neolithic or Bronze Age enclosure on Little Hangman Hill, Combe Martin. Although impossible to be completely accurate as to its age, it is similar when compared with other sites thought to be around that date on Dartmoor and Bodmin. Mr Hegarty said: "There is an ongoing English Heritage field survey which hopes to identify the extent and any internal features of the site on Little Hangman." There are other hilltop enclosures on Exmoor but what makes this unique is its extreme location, on the top of a steep hill, overlooking the sea.
     To find out more about the project and the wider National Mapping Programme visit the aerial survey web-pages at www.english-heritage.org.uk

Source: North Devon Journal (24 September 2009)

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