This browser is not fully supported by Historic England. Please update your browser to the latest version so that you get the best from our website.

Yorkshire Wolds National Mapping Programme project

The rolling chalk hills of the Yorkshire Wolds have been under intensive arable cultivation for many decades. Their free-draining soils are ideal for the formation of cropmarks over buried archaeological features. The project used thousands of aerial photographs taken over several decades to build up a remarkable picture of landscape use in earlier times.

The survey maps depict extensive patterns of burials, ceremonial sites, settlements and land divisions from the Neolithic to Roman times. They still provide a framework for continuing fieldwork and academic research.

Cropmarks of an elaborate funnel-like system of ditches near Weaverthorpe, probably designed for the management of stock. DNR 1580/04A 08-AUG-1979 © Crown copyright. NMR Riley Collection
Cropmarks of an elaborate funnel-like system of ditches near Weaverthorpe, probably designed for the management of stock. DNR 1580/04A 08-AUG-1979 © Crown copyright. NMR Riley Collection

Computer-aided mapping

The Yorkshire Wolds project was undertaken at a time when computer-aided rectification of oblique aerial photographs was being developed. Computer-aided techniques allowed a very large area – 1,350 square kilometres – to be mapped with a high level of accuracy by a small team of interpreters.

Colour image with a distorted B&W photo at the centre with red lines radiating from it showing archaeology
Computer-aided rectification, interpretation and mapping allow information from many individual photographs to be combined, revealing extensive landscape features (NMR 1580/04A) © Historic England (Riley Collection)

Neolithic ritual monuments at Rudston

Many of the Neolithic ceremonial and funerary monuments on the Yorkshire Wolds appear to cluster around a stream called the Gypsey Race. It flows from the highest land in the west, through the Great Wold Valley, to reach the North Sea at Bridlington.

A notable concentration of monuments is found around the village of Rudston, towards the eastern end of the Gypsey Race. At Rudston, four great cursus monuments converge on a bend in the stream. A henge monument also occupies the valley floor near the northern end of the longest cursus. Long barrows, mortuary enclosures, Neolithic round barrows and other possible ritual monuments are clustered on the higher ground overlooking the cursus complex and the course of the stream.

Distribution map showing circles, rectangles and diamonds against a shaded background
A schematic map of the Neolithic ceremonial and funerary monuments in the vicinity of Rudston, in the Great Wold Valley. Extract from Stoertz 1997, Figure 32 The Neolithic landscape. © Crown copyright

Extensive Iron age and Roman landscapes

The most remarkable patterns recorded by the Yorkshire Wolds project were those associated with later prehistoric land division, settlement and agriculture.

A network of substantial linear earthworks – possibly representing tribal boundaries – began to develop in the late Bronze Age. Those earthworks formed the framework of a pattern of large-scale land division which was developed and extended during the Iron Age and into the Roman period.

Some of the territories marked out by the linear earthworks were occupied by groups of settlement enclosures linked by trackways. Others appear to have remained free of enclosures. This pattern gives the impression of a system of land resource management. Within this system some areas were used for habitation and farming and others were reserved for some other activity, perhaps the grazing of animals.

Colour map showing archaeological features in red against a greyscale Ordnance Survey background
North Dalton – a typical pastoral settlement of the Iron Age or Roman period. Air photo mapping © Historic England. Base mapping © Crown Copyright and database right 2015. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100019088.

Ancient landscapes of the Yorkshire Wolds

The results of the Yorkshire Wolds project were published in 1997 as 'Ancient Landscapes of the Yorkshire Wolds' by Catherine Stoertz. The publication describes the methods used to classify features visible solely as cropmarks, and provides detailed analyses of the landscape patterns formed by them.

The text is illustrated with detailed plans of extensive complexes and accompanied by a set of four maps. These present the complete survey results at a scale of 1:25,000. The remarkable extent and complexity of the region’s ancient landscapes, particularly those associated with land control and organisation during the Iron Age and Roman periods, can be clearly seen.

Since the completion of the project, the maps have guided further aerial reconnaissance and have provided a framework for many detailed research and fieldwork projects.

The results of the Yorkshire Wolds project were published in 1997 as Ancient Landscapes of the Yorkshire Wolds, by Catherine Stoertz © Crown copyright
The results of the Yorkshire Wolds project were published in 1997 as Ancient Landscapes of the Yorkshire Wolds, by Catherine Stoertz © Crown copyright

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.

Was this page helpful?

Contact

Group of people standing on a stony mound
Historic Places Investigation

Research Group

Also of interest...