Dry weather un­veils an­cient sites

Ro­man camp among finds in crop marks from aerial survey

The Scotsman - - News Digest - ALI­SON CAMPSIE

By Crop marks ex­posed by Scot­land’s re­cent heat­wave have re­vealed two pre­vi­ously un­known an­cient sites.

Iron Age souter­rains (un­der­ground stone struc­tures) in the Bor­ders – a rare find in this part of the coun­try – and a Ro­man tem­po­rary camp at Lyne near Peebles have been iden­ti­fied by His­toric En­vi­ron­ment Scot­land’s aerial survey team. Nor­mally con­cealed un­der the soil of farms and fields, the ex­tremely dry weather has al­lowed the for­ma­tions to be­come vis­i­ble.

Mean­while, doc­u­mented sites which are usu­ally hid­den from view have been high­lighted once again in the ex­tremely dry con­di­tions.

Traces of Iron Age buri­als, Ne­olithic pits and pre­his­toric set­tle­ments have all emerged, along with pat­terns that re­veal chang­ing river cour­ses, which tell the story of Scot­land’s shift­ing land­scapes.

Dave Cow­ley, aerial survey project man­ager at His­toric En­vi­ron­ment Scot­land, made the dis­cov­er­ies af­ter a re­cent trip over the Bor­ders in a Cessna 102 – a plane which he de­scribed as a “vin­tage Mini on wings”.

Mr Cow­ley said: “Aerial sur­veys of Scot­land have been car­ried out since the 1930s, with each year usu­ally adding a lit­tle more to the patch­work of our knowl­edge.

“We de­pend on dry years to bring out the buried re­mains in the crops, so we are cur­rently out hunt­ing for new clues from the skies while the good weather lasts.

“The con­di­tions this year are show­ing us many sites that we knew were there, but may not have seen in re­cent damp sum­mers, as well as re­veal­ing new ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites that add to our abil­ity to see into the past to tell Scot­land’s story.”

The camp was dis­cov­ered within the known Ro­man com­plex of sites near Peebles and adds to the sig­nif­i­cance of the com­plex, which al­ready in­cludes two forts and two ad­di­tional tem­po­rary camps.

Mr Cow­ley de­scribed the for­ma­tion as “like the cor­ners on play­ing cards” given the pre­cise na­ture of the lay­out.

He said: “I knew in­stantly that this was a tem­po­rary Ro­man camp.

“I only saw one cor­ner of it as the ad­ja­cent fields were in a dif­fer­ent con­di­tion. Dif­fer­ent bits of in­for­ma­tion build up over time. Af­ter a while, you get the whole story com­ing through.”

Mr Cow­ley said it was a “real priv­i­lege” to con­duct the sur­veys, which are done from a height of 2,000 to 2,500 feet with around 50 miles cov­ered in 20 min­utes.

He added: “What I re­ally like about the aerial survey process is that it al­lows us to un­der­stand the land­scape of where peo­ple lived, where they died, where they buried the dead. You get that big­ger pic­ture.

He added: “You are look­ing from fea­tures from the Ice Age, and then fea­tures from 8,000 years ago, 5,000 years ago and then 2,000 years ago. But then you can also see what the farmer did the day be­fore yes­ter­day.

“You can see from yes­ter­day right to the dis­tant past.”

PIC­TURE: HES

Snaking pat­terns around a river re­vealed by the pro­longed dry weather show the pre­vi­ous course of the water

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