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.

Top Archaeological Finds-from-the-Air List Shows Aerial Technology is Transforming Understanding of the Past

A Roman camp in Dorset, a Neolithic henge in East Yorkshire and a Bronze Age cemetery in West Sussex are among the amazing archaeological sites Historic England has discovered from the air. Every year the government body that cares for England's historic environment discovers and photographs sites across England from a light aircraft. Here are nine examples which Historic England is sharing to mark the Festival of Archaeology.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said: "Our aerial archaeologists continue to transform our knowledge of England's past from traces visible from the air. We identify and record the archaeology in our landscapes from cropmarks and soil marks this way. This not only supports archaeological research, but also gives us a better understanding of which parts of the land can be developed and which parts need further investigation because of what lies beneath."

Iron Age/Roman settlement in Comberton, Cambridgeshire 

The dry summer of 2015 proved an exciting year for cropmark discoveries on the Cambridgeshire claylands. The cropmarks are caused by buried archaeological remains which hold more moisture than the surrounding undisturbed soil. They helped experts to see and appreciate the true extent and complexity of this Iron Age/Roman settlement in Comberton. The cropmarks show tracks leading to ditched enclosures, some with round houses. Double ditched trackways can be seen approaching some of the enclosures.

The settlement was mapped and recorded from aerial photographs during the National Archaeological Identification Survey: South West Cambridgeshire.

Aerial view of  Iron Age Roman Settlement
Aerial view of Iron Age Roman Settlement at Comberton, Cambridgeshire © Historic England 29365/001

Neolithic henge reused as a Bronze Age ringwork in Hornsea, East Yorkshire

Historic England's aerial reconnaissance team spotted the buried remains of this rare and unusual prehistoric site during a dry summer. The layout of the site with the central circular feature, suggests that it was a Neolithic henge. The monument lies on slightly elevated ground, with open water likely to have surrounded it on three sides prior to subsequent silting and drainage in more recent centuries. The henge is surrounded by a field system. This suggests that it was reused in the Bronze Age as a settlement. The importance of this site led it to be protected as a scheduled monument.

Aerial view of Neolithic henge
Aerial view of Neolithic henge at Hornsea, East Yorkshire © Historic England 28086/011

Roman camp in Bradford Abbas, Dorset

Roman camps are temporary enclosures dug by Roman troops when on manoeuvres and have a very distinctive shape. The line of the buried ditch of a camp shows on this photo as different colours in the crops across several fields. This 'playing card' shaped enclosure on a slope looking over the river Yeo fits the pattern of size, shape and location of a Roman camp. They're common in some areas of Britain, such as along the line of Hadrian's Wall, indicating militarised zones. However, they are relatively rare in the south west of England and the camp at Bradford Abbas is only the fourth to be discovered in the area. Evidence for Roman military activity is known nearby at Ham Hill, South Cadbury and the probable early Roman fort, and later town, at Ilchester. The discovery poses the question of whether the camp at Bradford Abbas could be a survival of an early Roman military campaign against the local population.

Read the research report on the aerial investigation and mapping of the site.

Aerial view of Roman camp
Aerial view of Roman camp at Bradford Abbas, Dorset © Historic England 26650/004

Neolithic long mortuary enclosures in Stoke Hammond, Buckinghamshire

Features below the plough soil that cause cropmarks can be man-made or natural. In this case it's both. The man-made features are two elongated, capsule shaped enclosures, a circular enclosure and a few large pits. The rest are marks in the gravel, created naturally during the Ice Age. The capsule shaped enclosures are examples of one of the oldest types of monument in Britain called Neolithic Long Mortuary Enclosures. They're thought to be areas where dead bodies were placed before burial although there's debate within the archaeological community about what really went on in these enigmatic places!

Read the research report on the aerial investigation and mapping of the sites.

Aerial view of Neolithic long mortuary enclosures
Aerial view of Neolithic long mortuary enclosures at Stoke Hammond, Buckinghamshire © Historic England 26957/027

Iron Age/Roman settlement in Gillsmere Sike, Killington, Cumbria

The low winter sunlight in this aerial photograph reveals subtle details of this late Iron Age or Roman settlement. The two round houses are separated from the surrounding land by an embanked boundary with an entrance on the southern side, opening towards a stream. The settlement is sheltered by rising ground to the south and looks out across views north of the Howgill Fells. The remains of medieval or post medieval ploughing - showing here as parallel ridges and furrows - shows that this area was in agricultural use for a long time.

The settlement and other features are part of a pattern of settlement and agriculture that was mapped and recorded from new and archive aerial photographs during the Lakes and Dales National Archaeological Identification Survey (Upland Pilot)

Aerial view of Iron Age Roman settlement at Gillsmere, Cumbria
Aerial view of Iron Age Roman settlement at Gillsmere, Cumbria © Historic England 28366/033
Was this page helpful?

Archaeology discoveries from the air image gallery

Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.

  • Aerial view of Bronze Age barrow cemetery at Fittleworth, West Sussex
  • Aerial view of monastic grange and lime kiln at Shap, Cumbria
  • Aerial view of World War Two Air Raid Shelter at Coventry
  • Aerial view of medieval farm at Lavenham, Suffolk

Also of interest...