This Interactive Map Lets Users Explore England’s Hidden Archaeological Landscape

A new online tool draws on more than 500,000 aerial photographs taken over the past 30 years

Roman Fort
The free online map highlights sites spanning prehistoric times to the modern era, including this Roman fort next to Hadrian's Wall. Dave MacLeod / Historic England

From Roman ruins to Cold War bunkers, England is home to countless hidden archaeological landscapes spanning thousands of years. Now, writes Harriet Sherwood for the Guardian, an interactive map published by Historic England allows users to take “virtual flights” over these treasures of the past.

Researchers used more than 500,000 aerial photographs captured over the past 30 years, as well as 3-D laser scans, to piece together a digital mosaic described by Historic England as “a huge archaeological jigsaw puzzle.” The online map features heritage sites covering more than half of the country, reports Alexa Fox for the Northern Echo.

“This new aerial archaeology mapping tool lets people fly virtually over England and drink in its many layers of history,” says Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, in a statement. “It will allow everyone to explore the hidden heritage of their local places and what makes them special.”

Per the statement, the new tool—officially titled the Aerial Archaeology Mapping Explorer—allows history lovers to view archaeological features “not just as individual sites, but as part of complex, multi-period landscapes.”

Researchers used aerial photography and LiDAR surveys to create a 3-D map of England's historical landscape. Damian Grady / Historic England

Listings include an amalgam of historical periods, from 6,000 years ago to the 20th century. Highlights include prehistoric hillforts, medieval farming sites with furrows made by ancient plowing, coal-mining operations from the 18th and 19th centuries, encampments and coastal defenses used during the First and Second World Wars, and Cold War structures.

According to BBC News, the map also shows Iron Age and Roman farms in Yorkshire. Experts identified the ruins after spotting “cropmarks”—patterns formed in fields when crops are affected by buried archaeological features—during an aerial survey in 2006.

Similar surveys conducted by Historic England have yielded extensive maps and images of ancient sites dotted across the country, including Hadrian’s Wall, a Roman fortification built in the second century C.E. to keep out marauding Gaelic warriors from what is now Scotland.

Imagery of Yorkshire Dales National Park, meanwhile, reveals remains of settlements dating back to the prehistoric period, as well as mineshafts from the post-medieval era. Other sites featured on the portal range from Bronze Age round barrows to camps, settlements and field systems representing several millennia of activity.

Online Map
This screenshot from the Aerial Archeology Mapping Explorer shows two Roman camps near White Moss in Cumbria. Historic England

Recent light detection and ranging (LiDAR) surveys of Wallingford Estate, a sprawling preserve in Northumberland maintained by the National Trust, show historic farming systems, gardens and Iron Age settlements, as well as former areas of woodland. The scans were taken ahead of the replanting of 75,000 native trees at Wallingford.

“This is an exciting moment in the 5,000-year history of this special estate,” says archaeologist Mark Newman in a National Trust statement. “... All these discoveries will be investigated further to ensure none are impacted by the upcoming planting plans and to preserve their archaeology for future study.”

Each site included in the Historic England map includes a description with links to historic environment records, as well as reports about highlights and new discoveries. The government agency is continuing to map other regions and make more detailed analyses of known sites to see what new history might be uncovered.

“We hope it will give people a springboard to further investigation, whether for research purposes or simply to satisfy curiosity about what archaeological features they may have noticed around their local area,” says Wilson in the Historic England statement.

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