Prehistoric ceremonial landscape near Eynsham, Oxfordshire. The cropmarks reveal buried remains of later Prehistoric (circa 4000 BCE - 700 BCE) funary monuments, together with a settlement. This site is known and is protected as a scheduled monument, but there are features, such as a circle of pits that have not been visible for years (photo by Damian Grady, copyright Historic England)

Prehistoric ceremonial landscape near Eynsham, Oxfordshire, buried remains of later Prehistoric (c. 4000 BCE – 700 BCE) funerary monuments, together with a settlement (photo by Damian Grady, copyright Historic England)

This summer’s dry heat in England has led to the discovery of hidden archeological sites across the country. The recent heatwave that has persisted over the last few months has been drying out the soil, which allows aerial archeologists to more clearly see the cropmarks across landscapes.

According to Historic England, a group tasked with preserving historical buildings and monuments, in addition to advising the central and local government, these patterns in crops and grass “reveal thousands of years of buried English history.”

Roman Farm, Bicton, Devon. The central enclosure may have contained farm buildings, and then more fields and paddocks were attached to the central area. This form of settlement probably dates to the Roman period (photo by Damian Grady, copyright Historic England)

Using aerial photography, archeologists create maps that help them determine the importance of different buried remains. “This has been one of my busiest summers in 20 years of flying, and it has been very rewarding making discoveries in areas that do not normally reveal cropmarks,” Historic England Aerial Reconnaissance Manager Damian Grady said. Helen Winton, who is Historic England’s aerial investigation and mapping manager, pointed out that hot weather like this hasn’t occurred since 2011, when they discovered over 1,500 new archeological sites.

Iron Age square barrows, Pocklington, Yorkshire. The cropmarks of four squares indicate the distinctive remains of Iron Age burial sites on the Yorkshire Wolds. These cropmarks represent the ditch surrounding a burial mound (photo by Emma Trevarthen, copyright Historic England)

Of the new discoveries, Historic England archeologists have found Neolithic cursus monuments, Iron Age settlements, square barrows, and a Roman farm. The two Neolithic cursus monuments were both found near Clifton Reynes, Milton Keynes, England. Cursus monuments represent some of the oldest monumental structures in Great Britain and Ireland and often resemble ditches or trenches. These monuments date between 3600 and 3000 BCE, and though the function is unknown, they are believed to be enclosed paths acting as a barrier between landscape zones. Most of the cursus monuments in England have been discovered by aerial archeologists. Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, explained:

This spell of very hot weather has provided the perfect conditions for our aerial archaeologists to ‘see beneath the soil’ as cropmarks are much better defined when the soil has less moisture. The discovery of ancient farms, settlements, and Neolithic cursus monuments is exciting. The exceptional weather has opened up whole areas at once rather than just one or two fields, and it has been fascinating to see so many traces of our past graphically revealed.

Prehistoric Settlement, Lansallos, Cornwall. The inner ditch may have surrounded a settlement from the Bronze Age or Iron Age. The outer ditch may be later in date and may have been used as part of a system to manage livestock (photo by Damian Grady, copyright Historic England)

Iron Age Round, St Ive, Cornwall. The circular feature visible in the centre of this photograph is probably a Round. These settlements consist of a circular bank and outer ditch with a single entrance and usually contained round houses positioned close to the edge of the outer ditch (photo by Damian Grady, copyright Historic England)

In addition to these monuments, Iron Age and prehistoric settlements were also discovered. One set of Iron Age square barrows in Yorkshire, for instance, was spotted due to the cropmarks in the form of four squares, which indicate the remains of Iron Age burial sites. According to Historic England, the “cropmarks represent the ditch surrounding a burial mound.”

Other cropmarks have revealed Roman and prehistoric farms. In Bicton, Devon, cropmarks show different phases of activity dating back to the Roman period, with indication of a central enclosure that may have contained farm buildings. Archeologists are continuing their work looking for patterns in crops and grass to illuminate hidden English history.

Prehistoric settlement or cemetery, Stoke by Clare, Suffolk. An irregular shaped enclosure with a funnel entrance to the left. In the interior, there are faint traces of two circular features. These circles could be gully ditches surrounding Iron Age round houses or ditches around a Bronze Age burial mound (photo by Damian Grady, copyright Historic England)

Two Neolithic cursus monuments near Clifton Reynes, Milton Keynes. Until this year, the enclosure on the right has lain hidden beneath a medieval bank known as a headland that is being ploughed away (photo by Damian Grady, copyright Historic England)

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Deena ElGenaidi

Deena ElGenaidi is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers University-Camden in 2016, and her work has appeared in Longreads, Electric Literature,...