Saturday, 9 October 2010

Archaeological Asset-Stripping in Crosby Garrett: Two Google Earth Games (2)

OK, the other approach to our little Google Earth game. What are the known facts imparted in the generally available sources?

1) "Farmer Flogitoff" has land in or near Crosby Garrett.

2) The PAS says the find was made this year on "rough grassland". In fact that is what as I recall the PAS database record originally said, now it reads: "General landuse: Grassland, Heathland". The Google Earth photos of this region date to May 2009, good enough. So lets see what areas were under the plough last year (and you can use the time slider thingy to see what the land status was in 2003 and 2004 for part of the region). So we are looking at the rough grassland areas. To the north and east of the village there is a lot of ploughed land. There is also a lot of grassland that has been underdrained and ploughed (and is not really what one would describe as "rough"). Some has ploughed out (to a greater or lesser degree) ridge and furrow. To the south and west of the village there is more permanent pasture and rough pasture and fells where a group of 60 odd bits of a smashed helmet could lie with a better chance of not being disturbed by the plough.

3) The PAS (and newspaper accounts) say there were "no Roman sites" at the indicated findspot, but that it was "300 metres" (or so I guess) "from a Roman road". Well, if reliably reported, that's a bit of a giveaway. There is a known Roman road running NE-SW to the south of Crosby Garrett, from a junction with the Carlisle-Catterick road heading down in the direction of Kendal (eventually to arrive at Lancaster). Let us assume it is this one that is meant. Today this road can be followed across the fells in part as a track still in use. In the region of Crosby Garrett its line seems relatively clear, even from Google Earth.

It would be useful to our game to use the "Add Path" facility to run a thick fluorescent pink line along its route in the vicinity of Crosby Garrett.

4) When eventually "Anonymous Persistent Single Finder" showed the PAS the place he said he (they) had discovered the helmet (a patch of fresh summer vegetation on recently-turned earth) three months after the object arrived in the London auction house, we are told the area around the indicated spot had visible "earthworks". The people looking at the findspot were archaeologists and to my mind if what they saw was earthworks of the type we call "ridge and furrow" that is what would be reported ("we noted there was ridge and furrow"). But it says "earthworks", let us assume that this too is significant. After all, it was probably these that led detector-using treasure hunters to that area in the first place.

Four facts, not much to go on, but enough to have a stab at making an intelligent guess.

Now, get the ruler and measure a line about 300 m south of the line of the Roman road (you'll have to do this in several sectors as the line of the latter is sinuous rather than straight). And run your eye down that line and let's see what we can see.

Let's start with a line to the NORTH of the road from a point to the northeast of Crosby Garrett. If you were a metal detectorist you'd use the "add placemark" pointer to pick out any "interesting" humps and bumps in the fields, some odd twists in old hedgelines and so on as you follow the line 300 m to the north of the line of the Roman road. Most of the land here is grassland, but recently ploughed by the look of it. But there are some intriguing spots here and there. There's an odd trackway just to the east of the village, a ruiny thing by the railway tunnel. The white spots are sheep, not standing stones. But there's nothing extremely exciting until you get to the other side of the railway tunnel. There is some extremely "rough" grassland here (one might say verging on heathland), trackways, banks, hollow ways. The grass however is churned up by something like off-road hooligans, or perhaps some kind of earthmoving. Difficult to say. But there seems to be kosher archaeology underneath. Remember that spot (latitude 54°28'12.26"N longitude 2°25'32.63"W and the whole area to the southwest). The long banks are particularly interesting and have the look of something ancient - note where worn down by the passage of animals across them, giving that interesting "zipper" look from the air. While there is much here to interest the field archaeologist and landscape historian, there is not a lot here that I would have though would be particularly crying out to be targetted by artefact hunters. Or is there?

Let's have a look then to the SOUTH of the Roman road, same technique, ruler line 300 m parallel to the pink line. Starting at the top. Are you with me? Somewhere near Soulby. Grassland, field underdrainage, tractor marks, possible ploughed out circular mound, going further down the line to the SW... grainey photos... ploughed land, strip lynchets by Tarn Lane. Not really anything looking obviously like a (very) "productive site" for artefact hunting. Going up towards the fells now. To get a "feel" for the land here, make sure "terrain" is on and use the slider to hover obliquely - "nice views" here, don't you think? Much nicer than the flatter bits we've just looked over - though they too have their charm (see Google Street view of the area done on a rather soggy day). But keep checking vertically too.

Let's wander down to the southwest along a line roughly 300 m to the south of the Roman road and parallel with its general line. Nice ploughed out ridge and furrow up here. Coming to the crest of a valley - "nicer view" here, eh? I wonder if we are getting near Farmer Flogitoff's land? Railway cutting and (cut-and-cover?) tunnel, a bit of Industrial Archaeology - I wonder how many metal detectorists are into that too? Beyond it we get into really rough grassland. On the crest of the valley to the south, south facing slope, water down in the valley bottom, good place for prehistoric and Roman settlement it says in all the "how to" metal detecting books. I bet there's a few metal-detector-knob-twitching fingers itching by now if there's any artefact hunters playing this game with us. Mmmm. Interesting geomorphological forms here too for those turned on by that. But we're not here for geology. There's an abandoned railway line at the bottom of the valley (best seen in the dec 2003 photos), lovely. Makes me feel quite homesick. But now go back to the photos of 2009 and look on the crest of the valley just above that wonderful bridge. Nice area of grassland, one might even say "heathland" perhaps. See them? The whole area is covered with earthworks. Not just "any" earthworks, eminently lootable earthworks. These are HER sites 3431 and 3432 ("intake settlements" they are called on the online HER). I tell you if a "Farmer Flogitoff" owned that land, he is probably pestered on a regular basis by greedy artefact hunters from all over the region wanting to go over any of that area that is not scheduled and offering to split the profits of anything they sell 50:50 (like "Margaret" over on the Heritage Action website does with the "Anonymous Persistent Single Finder" who is Plural).

My bet is that the Crosby Garrett helmet finder was drawn to this parish precisely by finding out about these sites which anyone can now see on Google Earth (even over here in Warsaw). They were marked in that wonderful Gothic script on the old OS maps as "ancient settlement". The concentration of these earthworks here is perhaps is why he first came here seven years ago and kept searching the area. Let me be clear, I am not saying this is where the helmet comes from (although the earthwork complexes here fit the known facts about the indicated findspot extremely well), but this is precisely the sort of thing artefact hunters, metal detectorists in particular, target. Maybe Mr "Anonymous Persistent Single Finder" asked for permission and was refused access to this bit of land (I jolly well hope that at least part of this landscape palimpsest is scheduled), but the fact that there are three enticing earthwork settlement complexes within a few hundred metres of each other with pretty well preserved field systems all around makes this the sort of region a metal detectorist would like to have his "patch" in. The question is how close to these sites does Farmer Flogitoff own land? Actually it is not important as "Margaret" (who apparently lives in this region) speaks "for all landowners/farmers who allow them to detect upon their land", implying they have detecting rights on more than two farmers' lands in the region. So "Anonymous Finder" and his detecting partner or partners have good relationships with several (?) farmers in this particular region. One of them confirms the story that the helmet came from his land, his heathland pastures, 300 metres from the local Roman road, and allowed the "Anonymous Finder" to show the people from the PAS a spot which is where it is said to have been found three months earlier.

But here's the rub. There is visible archaeology across this area. Any artefacts - even in the topsoil - have a relationship with the field banks, ruts, bumps and hollows which form a legible pattern across a wide area. Recording something with a six or even eight figure grid reference is not by any means a record adequate enough to plot the precise relative and absolute pattern of any finds with relation to the other surface evidence. Especially when artefacts are hoiked out of the soil at different times - even if the reference is recorded accurately. The interpretation of a pattern like this, incorporating different kinds of observation is a sensitive task that cannot be carried out by just collecting random notes about random finds made by random individuals (not all of whom come forward anyway). Removal of artefacts willy-nilly from such a subtle landscape palimpsest at best erodes the dataset, more likely renders it utterly illegible. Destroys it. In our little Google game we have seen the complexity of the landscape around Crosby Garrett, seen something of the various types of evidence preserved, the various modern distortions overlaid on the older patterns. None of which is of any interest to the guy just out to find a few pretty geegaws for someone to collect.

PS. If you look on the photos above, you can even see where somebody has recently been digging... for truffles maybe? Are these sites scheduled?

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.