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Cornwall National Mapping Programme project

Cornwall County Council Historic Environment Service interpreted and mapped the archaeology of the entire county, including the Isles of Scilly, from aerial photographs. The project transformed the amount of information known and the way it can be accessed by archaeologists and the general public. Historic and prehistoric sites and landscapes can be viewed interactively on the Historic Environment Record Geographical Information System (GIS) and an overview is given on the Flying Past website.

Colour aerial photograph showing extensive surface mining with lots of disturbed ground surrounded by pasture fields and houses
Shallow workings for tin and copper at Wheal Bal near Cornwall’s south west tip photographed on 17-FEB-1998 (CAU ACS-5159) © Cornwall County Council

A rich and varied heritage

Cornwall has a rich and varied archaeological heritage reflected in the wide range of sites mapped during the NMP project. A striking aspect of Cornwall’s historic landscape is the extraordinary legacy of its tin and copper mining industries. The value of NMP interpretation and mapping of early workings is that many of these features do not appear on any other maps. This data was a key source of information leading to the inscription of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape as a World Heritage Site in 2006.

Archaeologists in Cornwall are fortunate that in the uplands the surviving remains are easily seen. On Bodmin Moor, for example, there are prehistoric settlements as well as abandoned medieval hamlets.

Away from the moors, in the farming heartland, many archaeological features have been levelled by ploughing. In some cases below-ground remains do survive and in certain dry summers these remains can be seen from the air as cropmarks.

At Coswarth in central Cornwall, an oval enclosure can be seen as a dark green mark in a field containing a paler green crop. Excavation of similar enclosures has shown that this site is likely to be a settlement of late Iron Age or Romano-British date. In Cornwall they are traditionally called rounds and are the predominant settlement type from this period in lowland areas. Rounds usually have entrances with gates, and contain several round houses although in this particular example all that can be seen is the enclosing ditch.

Colour aerial photograph showing fileds in crop with a circular feature seen as darker green lines against a paler background
"Coswarth Round" in central Cornwall. The house in the foreground provides a pointer to the size of the enclosure (CAU-ACS-3504) © Cornwall County Council

The defence of Cornwall

Leaping forward in time, many of Cornwall’s wartime defences are visible on RAF aerial photographs taken during the 1940s. By mapping individual features, such as pill boxes, anti-tank ditches and anti-aircraft batteries, a picture can be built up of the complete defensive networks protecting the county’s key strategic locations.

For example, Carkeel Anti-Aircraft battery is a fine example of a heavy anti-aircraft battery near the River Tamar, which forms the county border with Devon. Two phases of construction are known for the site and both are visible in the image below; the four gun emplacements that are still well preserved, towards the bottom of the image, were constructed towards the end of the war. Traces of four earlier emplacements, dating from 1940, can be seen towards the top of the image.

Ironically, although it is sited in Cornwall, this battery formed part of the defensive ring around Plymouth. Batteries like this worked to put up a barrage of fire to force bombers to fly higher, thereby reducing their accuracy.

The downside of this, of course, is that wayward bombs often fell onto residential areas. During the Plymouth blitz in the spring of 1941, the Cornish towns of Torpoint and Saltash, a few miles south of this battery, sustained severe damage.

Black and white vertical aerial photo showing a number of gun emplacements and associated ancillary buildings and structures
Carkeel Anti-Aircraft battery has four gun emplacements built towards the end of the war; traces of four earlier emplacements can be seen towards the top of the image. (MAL 71 005/055 04-FEB-1971) © National Remote Sensing Centre

The key findings from the project can be found in the project report:

Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Mapping Project: A Report for The National Mapping Programme (HEEP 2710)

Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Mapping Project: A Report for The National Mapping Programme (HEEP 2710)

Published 1 October 2007

Management report from the Cornwall NMP mapping project.

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.

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