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Mendip Hills AONB National Mapping Programme project

The aerial survey of the archaeology of the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was carried out to National Mapping Programme standards by staff from Somerset and Gloucestershire County Councils. The Mendip Hills have a rich archaeological heritage, ranging from Mesolithic cave deposits to Second World War military features.

The landscape appears to have had ritual importance in the Neolithic, with such field monuments as mortuary enclosures and the enigmatic Priddy Circles constructed during this period. There are also numerous Bronze Age barrows, often in linear cemeteries such as Priddy Nine Barrows, and Iron Age hill forts, for example at Dolebury. The Mendip Hills are rich in mineral resources and quarrying, and the remains of extraction are widespread.

Colour aerial photograph showing three large circular banked enclosures sitting in pasture fields
The four Priddy Circles (of which three can be seen in this photograph taken on 07-SEP-2006) have been interpreted as Neolithic henge monuments created for ritual purposes. However, their form is different to other known henge monuments, and their function is unknown. They appear to have been a focus for other ritual monuments in the landscape, such as the Priddy nine barrows and Ashen Hill barrow cemeteries (NMR 24327/42). © Historic England

Iron Age settlement in the Mendip Hills

Enclosed, or defended, settlements of varying sizes were constructed throughout the Mendip Hills during the Iron Age. These were visible on aerial photographs either as upstanding earthwork sites or as cropmarks, where buried remains have affected the growth of crops above them. Rowberrow Camp, a small Iron Age enclosed settlement approximately 60m x 60m may have contained a farmstead. It may have been reused as a sheep enclosure in the medieval period.

Black and white vertical aerial photograph showing upland landscape with a circular enclosure cut by a later trackway
Rowberrow Camp, a small Iron Age enclosed settlement photographed by the RAF on 13-JAN-1946. The pits inside the camp and extending to the east appear to be mining remains, possibly prospection pits for lead (RAF/3G/TUD/UK/21 PART IV 5352). Historic England RAF Photography

Lead mining on the Mendip Hills

The mineral wealth of the Mendip Hills led to the development of a major Roman mining settlement at Charterhouse. Mining of lead continued in this area into the medieval and post-medieval periods particularly around Charterhouse, Stockhill and Chancellor's Farm. The remains of lead mining have created distinctive patterns in the landscape of the Mendip Hills. Deposits close to the surface are mined and then the seam is followed. This caused long lines of pits to be excavated, known as mining rakes.

Black and white vertical aerial photograph showing upland landscape with numerous alignments of linear pits and gullies
An extensive area of post-medieval lead mining in the area around Chancellor's Farm to the north of Priddy photographed on 05-FEB-1964 (RAF/58/6155 (F21) 082). © Historic England RAF Photography
Colour map showing the mining rakes in green against a greyscale map background
NMP map of lead mining in the area around Chancellor’s Farm. The detailed mapping reveals that each rake is formed of numerous pits. NMP mapping © Historic England; OS base map © Crown copyright. All rights reserved 100023366 (2006)

Medieval farming on the Mendip Hills

The aerial survey of the area has revealed traces of several different forms of medieval farming on the Mendip Hills. Medieval farming landscapes, consisting of hillside cultivation terraces and strip field boundaries, can be seen along the southern slopes of Mendip, extending from Rodney Stoke to East Horrington. Strip field boundaries are the remains of divisions in a medieval or post-medieval system of farming in large, open, fields. The field boundaries survive as low banks of earth, caused by a build-up of plough soil, lower down the slopes on flatter land. However, land was also cultivated on the steeper slopes, where platforms were cut into the hillside. The earth that built up in banks at the edges of the platforms, through repeated ploughing, can be seen on aerial photographs. These banks are known as strip lynchets.

Black and white veritcal aerial photograph showing a landscape of relatively small fields apparently divided in strips
An extensive system of medieval or post-medieval strip lynchet cultivation to the east of Westbury-sub-Mendip photographed on 14-JAN-1946 (RAF/3G/TUD/UK PART II 5136). © Historic England RAF Photography

Mendip Hills lidar

The Mendip Hills AONB project was the first survey to National Mapping Programme standards where lidar data was examined simultaneously with aerial photographs. Because the landscape is largely pasture it was hoped that lidar would be able to record slight earthwork features that would not otherwise have been visible. The lidar data was commissioned by the AONB and was flown by the Unit for Landscape Modelling (ULM) Cambridge University.

Charterhouse Roman town and fortlet

The image below shows the area around Charterhouse Roman town. To the north-west is the amphitheatre (A) associated with the settlement. Near the bottom centre is the Roman fortlet (C), not to be confused with the sub-rectangular enclosure (B) of probable medieval or later date overlying the remains of the Roman town. To the south-east are faint traces of the Roman road (D) running just below the hedge line. The image is colour shaded according to height (ranging from red - high to blue – low) and the height has been exaggerated to emphasise the features.

Colour image showing stylised landscape coluor coded by height with various features highlighted and annotated.
Lidar-derived image of the area around Charterhouse Roman town on the Mendip Hills. © Historic England. The lidar image is used courtesy of Mendip Hills AONB – Original source Unit for Landscape Modelling (ULM) Cambridge University

The Roman road east of Charterhouse

The lidar data had already traced the route of the Roman road east of Charterhouse. This was previously recorded as an earthwork extending to Ubley Warren farmhouse and was thought to continue as far as the next hedge to the west. Beyond this point there was no projected route, but the road was presumed to be heading for the Roman town. The lidar data shows both the route of the road and that it survives as a low earthwork.

Colour image showing a stylised landscape in various shades of brown with a faint earthwork feature running diagonally across
A lidar-derived image of the area to the east of Charterhouse Roman town on the Mendip Hills showing the Roman Road running diagonally from north-west to south-east. © Historic England. The lidar image is used courtesy of Mendip Hills AONB – Original source Unit for Landscape Modelling (ULM) Cambridge University

Lead mining near Priddy

The special characteristics of the ability of lidar to penetrate woodland canopy were also demonstrated through the survey. For example a large area of lead mining near Priddy with numerous lead rakes can be clearly traced on aerial photographs, but a plantation of trees obscures one area. However, the last return of the lidar beam manages to penetrate the canopy and hit the ground surface revealing features that could not otherwise be seen.

Colour images in shades of green (left) and brown (right) showing stylised landscape
A lidar-derived image of an area of lead mining near Priddy. The first return lidar image (left) shows that lead rakes are visible to the south and west of the plantation; the last return (right) shows that these continue into the plantation itself (now visible only as a thin wedge of particularly dense vegetation). © Historic England. The lidar image is used courtesy of Mendip Hills AONB – Original source Unit for Landscape Modelling (ULM) Cambridge University

Military remains in the Mendip Hills

A variety of features were built on and around Mendip during the Second World War ranging from new buildings at Yoxter firing range to a bombing decoy complex on Black Down. The Black Down decoy was part of the Second World War defences of the city of Bristol against enemy air raid attacks. The decoy comprised lighting decoys (QL sites), intended to simulate the city lights and railway marshalling yards, and fire decoys (QF sites) which gave the illusion of targets having been set alight. Control bunkers for the bombing decoys survive on Black Down. The Black Down bombing decoy is located adjacent to an extensive grid pattern of mounds which were set up to prevent airborne landings on this relatively flat and un-wooded area. They were probably constructed prior to the bombing decoys.

Black and white vertical aerial photograph showing upland moorland with a regular grid of small mounds across it
Second World War bombing decoy and anti-glider obstructions on Black Down photographed by the RAF on 13-JAN-1946. The lighting decoy is located in the top left of the photograph. Part of the extensive grid pattern of mounds which were set up to prevent airborne landings can be seen across the photograph (RAF/3G/TUD/UK PART IV 5356). Historic England RAF photography
The Aggregate Landscape of Somerset: Predicting the Archaeological Resource

The Aggregate Landscape of Somerset: Predicting the Archaeological Resource

Published 1 June 2008

Archaeological Aerial Survey in the Central Mendip Hills. Report from the Central Mendip Hills AONB ALSF 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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Historic Places Investigation

Research Group

Mendip Hills AONB NMP

Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.

  • Colour aerial photograph showing three large circular banked enclosures sitting in pasture fields
  • Colour aerial photo showing arable fields separated by hedges; cropmarks show as dark green lines against a paler background
  • Black and white vertical aerial photograph showing upland pasture fields with a large earthen enclosure in the centre

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