Aerial Archaeology Project Reveals Rich Archaeology Of Norfolk

By Culture24 Staff | 15 January 2009
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a black and white aeral photo showing

An RAF aerial photograph from 1945 shows the layout of the Mouseold Battery, Norwich. Pic courtesy English Heritage (NMR) RAF Photography

The latest phase of an English Heritage backed project to create a digital map of England by collating archaeological information from aerial archive photographs has resulted in nearly 4,000 archaeological discoveries in Norfolk.

The major project, called the National Mapping Programme (NMP), uses modern and historic aerial photographs - many of them contained in the National Monuments Record - to identify and analyse archaeological sites that have lain hidden for many years.

Among the 4,000 forgotten sites rediscovered in Norfolk are Bronze Age burial mounds, Iron Age settlements, Roman camps, medieval villages and World War II defences. The project has also created an accurate record of around 2,000 previously known sites.

“The National Mapping Programme is transforming our knowledge of landscape archaeology across England and the team are producing some fantastic results in Norfolk,” reported Helen Winton, Senior Investigator and NMP team leader for English Heritage.

“The recent Norfolk projects have been particularly exciting as the results have been unexpectedly complex. The many new discoveries have underlined the value of reviewing and collating the archaeological information contained in England’s aerial photographic collections.”

a map of an area

Mouseold Battery plotted onto an OS Map. © Crown Copyright, licence number 100019340

By examining crop marks and earthworks on scans of aerial photographs the NMP team looks for clues as to how the land was used, mapping the archaeological features by carefully overlaying all the information to build up a revealing digital picture of the area.

One of the areas examined by the team is the Mouseold Aerodrome and World War Two heavy anti-aircraft battery in Norwich.

Situated in an area now occupied by houses and schools, wartime aerial photographs taken by the RAF show details of a World War II heavy anti-aircraft battery to the north-east of the city, one of several protecting the area.

Four gun emplacements surrounding its command post are clearly visible in the centre of the photograph. The gun-laying radar platform – part of the equipment used to track the position of potential targets – can be seen to the right of the battery on the NMP map.

Trench systems, a radar platform and anti enemy landing defences have also been identified by the research, together with older ditches and pits that may relate to medieval or post-medieval activity.

an aerial photograph showing a large excavation across fields marked by a large red earth area with visible circles and other marks within it

Excavation Photograph at Harford Farm. Pic: Derek A Edwards April 5 1990. © Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service

At Caistor St Edmund the team delved further into history by looking into the prehistoric and Saxon cemeteries and settlement at Harford Farm.

The complex multi-phase site to the south of Norwich was first identified from the air in 1933. Subsequent aerial photography and excavation in 1989–91, in advance of the construction of the Southern Bypass, revealed that the large circular enclosures visible on the aerial photographs represent the remains of a Bronze Age barrow cemetery and surrounding Iron Age settlement.

Iron Age and later Roman funerary monuments were also uncovered, as well as Saxon graves. The NMP mapping, which involved consulting more than 100 aerial photographs of the site, allowed accurate plotting and dating of the archaeological features, which is helping archaeologists to understand them within their wider landscape context.

Sophie Tremlett, Senior Air Photo Interpretation Officer at Norfolk Landscape Archaeology, said that the work will inform future planning and development decisions.

black and white aerial photograph showing circular marks in a field

Aerial Photograph of the site at Harford Farm. taken on June 14 1974. Pic: Derek A Edwards © Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service

“One of the main aims of the survey is to inform and streamline planning decisions regarding the rich and varied historic environment of the area, which includes the prehistoric site of Arminghall ‘Henge’, the Roman town of Venta Icenorum (Caistor St Edmund) and the Iron Age and Roman complex at Fison Way, Thetford.”

English Heritage has mapped over a third of the country so far, and the Norwich-Thetford-A11 corridor is one of a number of currently ongoing projects.

The Norfolk NMP’s descriptive records are incorporated into the Norfolk Historic Environment Record, which can be accessed online via the Norfolk Heritage Explorer website: