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Archaeo News 

26 May 2004
Commons reveal buried history

The first ever archaeological survey of Britain’s urban commons – protected from development as ‘peoples land’ for up to 1,000 years – has been launched by English Heritage. Four years’ research into the open spaces close to the heart of some of country’s busiest towns and cities is expected bring forward significant finds, from undisturbed Bronze Age burial sites to temporary medieval fairgrounds. “Commons are archaeological encyclopedias,” says Mitch Pollington, archaeological investigator for English Heritage. “They were intensively used for all sorts of activities, from communal gatherings like country fairs or political rallies to military rifle ranges in wartime.” The survey is expected to strengthen the sometimes flimsy protection afforded to inner city green spaces.
     “One of the things that opened our eyes was a preliminary survey of Newcastle’s famous Town Moor a few years ago,” says Peter Topping, who is heading the survey. “We discovered all sorts of unexpected things on what most people see as a nice but empty space.” Last week archaeologists using satellite mapping techniques began work on the three large commons that virtually encircle the Yorkshire market town of Beverley. Aerial surveys have already detected signs of Bronze and Iron Age barrows, along with traces of the town’s original 18th-century racecourse. Such features have survived because they escaped modern ploughing. The survey has also started to dig and map other commons in Lincoln, Doncaster and at York, where mysterious zigzags on Walmgate Stray have been shown to have been practice trenches for soldiers bound for the western front in World War 1.

Source: Guardian Unlimited (20 May 2004)

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