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Durham: An Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund National Mapping Programme project

The Durham National Mapping Programme (NMP) aerial survey project was undertaken to produce archaeological data to inform aggregates extraction. County Durham is heavily exploited for its mineral resources, but in the past its archaeological landscape has been under-investigated. The Durham Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF) NMP project (4778) was undertaken to reduce the impact of extractive industries on the historic environment.

The project revealed sites from the Bronze Age through to the 20th century. This provided the necessary detailed information to inform the management of the archaeological resource of County Durham.

County Durham’s archaeology has long been under-investigated when compared to other areas of Britain. As a consequence, the county lacked the necessary detailed archaeological maps associated with areas of substantial mining and quarrying activity.

Targeted aerial survey mapping, combined with a landscape-scale assessment of archaeological evidence, was undertaken. This has addressed these issues for areas of aggregate extraction. It is hoped this will help in the creation of mineral extraction development frameworks and future archaeological research. Some of the archaeological highlights are discussed below.

The Durham ALSF project was carried out to National Mapping Programme standards. It also formed part of a wider project, the Durham Assessment of Archaeological Resource in Aggregate Areas project. This was undertaken as a partnership between Durham County Council (DCC) and Archaeological Research Services Ltd (ARS Ltd).

Colour aerial photograph showing a number of large platforms in the fields around a group of modern farm buildings
The medieval settlement of Preston-le-Skerne visible as earthworks astride a modern road, formerly the route of a hollow way, photographed on 18 March 1999 (NMR 17264/29) © Crown copyright. HE

Settlement throughout history

Aerial survey of County Durham has proved particularly valuable for identifying settlement sites dating from prehistory to the present day. Notable highlights are the numerous Iron Age or Roman rectilinear ditched enclosures, representing early settlement. Dating of the majority of these sites was based on morphology alone as excavation evidence in the county is limited.

Interestingly, at the few rectilinear enclosed settlements that have been excavated, early phases represented by gullies or curvilinear ditches were dated to the Late Bronze Age date. On this basis, it is possible that any or all of the curvilinear enclosures identified and mapped from air photos as part of this project may have Bronze Age origins.

Colour aerial photo showing a field with a ripe crop. Various patterns are marked out by  yellow lines on a brown background
An Iron Age or Roman multi-phased ditched enclosure at Ferryhill, visible as cropmarks, photographed on 10-JUL-1992. Domestic use is shown by the round houses, which are rarely visible in cropmarks in the county (NMR 12299/1) © Crown copyright. HE

Aggregate extraction through history

An assessment of extractive industries in County Durham was also attempted in order to gauge their impact on the archaeological landscape. Aggregate extraction and coal mining are highly visible on air photographs, particularly in the region from the north-east to the south-west of the county, following the Magnesian Limestone and coal measures.

The smaller extractive coal workings, bell pits and quarries of post medieval date are the earliest industrial activities visible. These in turn make way for the large collieries and quarries of the 19th and 20th centuries with their extensive transport links including railways. Later vertical photography shows many collieries had been levelled in the latter part of the 20th century.

The images used on this page are copyright Historic England 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 Historic England Archive.

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

Durham - Assessment of Archaeological Resource in Aggregate Areas Interim report

Durham - Assessment of Archaeological Resource in Aggregate Areas Interim report

Published 1 January 2008

NMP report from the Durham- Assessment of Archaeological Resource in Aggregate Areas Project

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