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South Dorset Ridgeway National Mapping Programme project

The South Dorset Ridgeway is a landscape of recognised natural beauty, a large part of which lies within the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) which was designated in 1959. The historic environment is a key contributor to the value of this landscape: the variety and extent of its archaeological resource make the South Dorset Ridgeway one of the richest and most important cultural landscapes in England.

Colour aerial photograph showing the edge of a scarp in rough pasture with an irregular banked enclosure
A Bronze Age enclosure dominates the summit of Tennants Hill. Traces of a field system, which is likely to be contemporary, are visible on the photograph taken on 01-SEP-2004 (NMR 23707/11) © Historic England

The project

The project area contains extensive archaeological remains and has been likened to the Avebury and Stonehenge World Heritage Site in terms of its importance as a historic landscape. The landscape of the Dorset Downs consists of open, mainly arable downland in amongst which are the earthwork remains of significant archaeological features, such as the complex of prehistoric funerary monuments at Broadmayne.

By systematically recording components of the historic environment from aerial photographs and lidar, this project facilitated a full assessment of the archaeological resource. It was carried out between September 2008 and September 2010 by the Cornwall Council Historic Environment Projects Team and funded by English Heritage (now Historic England) through the Historic Environment Enabling Programme.

Data resulting from the survey was input directly into the Dorset HBSMR database during the project. By enhancing the baseline data, the project has provided the appropriate tools to facilitate strategic planning decisions and the management and preservation of archaeological sites and historic landscapes within the project area. The data resulting from the project has fed into the South Dorset Ridgeway Heritage Project being carried out concurrently by the Dorset AONB. It will also assist the future implementation of the Dorset AONB Management Plan and increase public awareness of the rich archaeological resource and historic landscapes.

Colour aerial photograph showing ploughed fields with bare soil and a number of earth mounds overgrown with vegetation
A barrow cemetery at Broadmayne photographed on 06-OCT-2000. Visible on the photograph are a number of Bronze Age round barrows extant as earthwork mounds, together with a probable Neolithic bank barrow. In the foreground are the ploughed out remains of another probable Bronze Age round barrow (NMR 18968/16). © Historic England

Traditional aerial photographs and new data

The Environment Agency lidar jpeg images proved very useful for accurately locating features not visible on the Ordnance Survey base maps and particularly in areas off the main ridge of the Downs, for example, when mapping the extensive networks of post medieval water meadows. However, comparison of lidar images with traditional aerial photographs has shown that in this case the historic photographs hold more information, especially for areas where the meadows have been removed or significantly reduced.

Colour image showing stylised landscape in various shades of green to indicate different heights
Lidar-derived image tile showing the extensive water meadows to the west of Dorchester (EA SY 7290 DSM 1m) © Environment Agency 2008. All rights reserved

Project results

During the project 3,453 archaeological sites were identified, of which 2,500 were previously unrecognised. The main outcomes of the mapping included:

  • Nine new sites were provisionally allocated a Neolithic date including long barrows, oval barrows, hengiform monuments and a possible henge monument.
  • 325 new Bronze Age barrow sites were identified confirming that these funerary monuments extend right across the Ridgeway and on the higher ground to the north of the River Frome.
  • 229 new later medieval sites were recorded including 11 settlement sites.
  • Large numbers of post-medieval sites were recorded for the first time during the project - a period traditionally ignored by archaeological survey. Of particular note are the water meadow systems along the River Frome.
  • The Dorset coast was heavily protected from invasion during the Second World War. The remains of military installations have been recorded right along the coastline using early RAF verticals with many significant sites being recorded for the first time.

Colour map with archaeological features in green against a greyscale map background
NMP mapping of the Late Iron Age to Roman settlement at Maiden Castle Road, Dorchester. Square and rectangular enclosures are located along either side of an east-west aligned road © Historic England

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

The National Mapping Programme: South Dorset Ridgeway Mapping Project

The National Mapping Programme: South Dorset Ridgeway Mapping Project

Published 1 April 2011

Report from the South Dorset Ridgeway 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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