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Breckland archaeological survey to National Mapping Programme standards

This survey, using aerial photographs and airborne laser scanning data (lidar), is mapping archaeological sites across part of Breckland that straddles the border between Norfolk and Suffolk. By making new discoveries and improving the records of known sites, we improve our understanding and protection of Breckland’s historic environment.

The forestry plantations and heathland that make Breckland so distinctive have many undisturbed archaeological sites within them. Some of these are of national and even international significance. There are many types of sites including prehistoric flint mines and burial mounds, Roman settlements, medieval rabbit warrens and Second World War training areas.

Lidar data records features usually hidden beneath the tree canopy or dense undergrowth. It is helping to  transform our knowledge of archaeological earthworks in the Brecks. Creating an accurate record of the location and form of these  sites is a crucial element of this project.

Mapping the Brecks

The Breckland NMP project is running alongside two other projects:

  • 'Brecks from Above' aerial photography mapping project
  • 'Revealing the Landscape', a new lidar survey of the main forested parts of the Brecks, the results of which are being used by 'Brecks from Above' and the Breckland NMP project

These are both part of the Breaking New Ground Landscape Partnership, which is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Colour aerial photo of ploughed field with planted fields each side; in the field is a dark circle against a pale background
The soilmarks of a ring ditch on former heathland at Hockwold, probably the remains of a Bronze Age barrow photographed on 16 May 2012 . Several earthwork mounds have been recorded nearby, suggesting a possible cemetery (NMR 27459/2) © Historic England Archive

Protecting archaeology

The Breckland landscape is scattered with the remains of round mounds, most of which are Bronze Age burial mounds. In part, they owe their preservation to the lack of intensive agriculture on the light, infertile soils of the forestry plantations and heathlands. In other parts of Norfolk and Suffolk, often only the buried remains of the surrounding ring ditch of the barrow survive, revealed as cropmarks in arable land.

Forestry and heathland vegetation can 'hide' archaeological earthworks, making them difficult to locate. While they're hidden, they're at risk of accidental damage from forestry operations or ground disturbance for heathland restoration. This survey aims to identify all archaeological sites visible on the aerial photographs and lidar. Land managers will be able to use the resulting map and records in the Local Historic Environment Record to avoid damaging heritage sites.

Colour image showing three roughly circular features in a line in the centre with various other linear features
Two round barrows and a possible pond barrow, visible on lidar data at Mount Ephraim, Weeting. Lidar © Crown Copyright. Forest Research. Based upon BNG LPS Project, FC England and Fugro Geospatial Data. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund

Survey highlights

Roman settlement at Hockwold

The western part of the project area borders the Fens. There were once extensive Roman settlements running along the fen-edge and the Little Ouse Valley. One of the more easterly of these settlements is within the project area on the parish border between Hockwold-cum-Wilton and Weeting.

Alongside evidence of roads and enclosures, there appear to be numerous structures built from wooden posts. These are visible as cropmarks of rectangular arrangements of circular post pits.

Cropmarks to the east at Weeting reveal remains of other buried Roman settlement and agricultural activity. An excavated 4th-century AD building was probably the barn within this Roman-British farming complex.

Colour oblique aerial photo of arable field showing patterns of archaeology as paler yellow lines against a green background
Cropmarks of the Roman settlement at Hockwold photographed on 13 July 1989, revealing a series of roads, enclosures and post-built structures. (Norfolk Historic Environment Record TL7587ABR) © Norfolk County Council. Photography by Derek Edwards

Medieval settlement at Weeting

In the Weeting area, there were significant areas of medieval settlement, including moated sites, building platforms and extensive boundaries and land management features. They include the remains of the medieval moated manorial site of Weeting Castle, designated as a Scheduled Monument.

Earthworks and cropmarks recorded from aerial photographs reveal former tracks, boundaries, drainage channels and platforms. These mainly relate to settlement and land use contemporary with Weeting Castle. Some are of a later date when the site became part of Weeting Park, associated with the later Weeting Hall. Buried remains of a line of fishponds are revealed by oblong cropmarks on the top left of the aerial photograph.

 

Colour oblique aerial photo showing ruined castle earthworks surrounded by arable fields where cropmarks show as darker lines
The moated manorial site of Weeting Castle photographed on 16 June 2010. The surrounding cropmarks relate to contemporary and later settlement, boundaries and fish ponds (visible as oblong cropmarks at the top left of the photo) (NMR 26974/21) © Historic England Archive

Project details

The project is using Historic England's National Mapping Programme (NMP) methodology.

The Heritage Lottery Fund and Norfolk County Council are supporting the portion of the project undertaken for 'Brecks from Above' as part of the Breaking New Ground Landscape Partnership. Historic England is providing additional support through our Heritage Protection Commissions Programme.

Norfolk and Suffolk Historic Environment Records are making the results of the project available via their online versions: Norfolk Heritage Explorer and Suffolk Heritage Explorer.

Norfolk Historic Environment Service, part of Norfolk County Council's Community and Environmental Services, are undertaking the project, in collaboration with the Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service conservation team.

Low-level oblique colour aerial photograph showing multiple conjoined hollows in grassland with a stand of trees to left
Aerial view of the Neolithic flint mines at Grime's Graves, taken on 7 October 2004. Grime's Graves is one of only six such sites in the country, and the only one that is open to the public (NMR 23726/7) © Historic England Archive

For further details about any Norfolk NMP project, please contact:
Norfolk Historic Environment Service, Union House, Gressenhall, Dereham, Norfolk NR20 4DR
Tel 01362 869283 or email sophie.tremlett@norfolk.gov.uk

For further information on a project or any other aspect of the work of the Historic Places Investigation Team please contact us via email using the link below.

 

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