Archaeologist at Large: a new beginning

Shannon Fraser – Senior Archaeologist

I recently arrived in the North York Moors to take up the post of Senior Archaeologist with the National Park. It is going to be quite an exciting challenge following in the footsteps of long-serving Graham Lee, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the history and prehistory of the landscapes within the Park! Having spent the last 16 years researching, conserving, interpreting and promoting the cultural heritage on National Trust for Scotland properties in eastern Scotland, I am used to dealing with a very broad range of archaeological and historic places – from the traces of mesolithic settlement to WWII aircraft crash sites in the Cairngorm mountains, from Pictish symbol stones to Renaissance palaces and gardens in the eastern lowlands. So some things will be familiar, while other elements of the North York Moors heritage will be quite new to me. Happily Graham is taking phased retirement, so he is still around to share with me his knowledge of and great enthusiasm for that heritage.

I have been taking as many opportunities as I can so far to get out into the North York Moors and explore the cultural landscape, meeting the people who work in, study and enjoy it. Recently, I joined a group of our stalwart Historic Environment Volunteers, on a day out exploring archaeological sites on Carlton Moor, Live Moor and Whorlton Moor in the north west of the National Park. The day was organized by our Monument Management Scheme team, as a thank-you to the volunteers for having devoted so much of their time to monitoring how scheduled archaeological sites within the Park are faring and helping to improve their condition.

Historic Environment Volunteers Day Out 5 August 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

We visited a number of prehistoric sites, in the company of Alan Kitching, one of the landowners in the area who has been extremely supportive of our efforts to remove nationally-important monuments from Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register through conservation and beneficial land management.

Among these monuments is a compact hillfort with well-preserved ramparts at Knolls End, at the end of the Live Moor plateau. The Cleveland Way actually cuts right across this monument – how many people realize they are walking through a defended settlement probably dating back to the iron age? The estate here has been working to control bracken on the fort site through an Environmental Stewardship agreement. Apart from the swathes of bracken making monuments very difficult to see, the plant’s extensive network of underground rhizomes can be very damaging to the structure of earthworks, like the hillfort’s ramparts, as well as to the archaeological layers below ground.

Historic Environment Volunteers Day Out 5 August 2017. Discussing monument management at a bronze age burial cairn. Copyright NYMNPA.

We were also able to appreciate the efforts of our historic environment volunteers who had helped to remove modern walkers’ cairns from the top of bronze age burial cairns. The adding of lots of new stones to these prehistoric monuments can radically change their appearance. More importantly, if stones are removed from previously undisturbed parts of the original cairn to add to a walkers’ cairn on top, it causes incremental damage. By removing obvious walkers’ cairns, we hope to discourage further ‘rearrangement’ of the stones so these wonderful meaningful monuments survive for yet more millennia.

All in all, it was a very pleasant experience meeting some of the committed people who are working to conserve the precious heritage of the North York Moors, whether landowners or volunteers. And the day ended with tea and cake – what more could you wish for?

Historic Environment Volunteers Day Out 5 August 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

Our Historic Environment Volunteers undertake both indoor and outdoor work. If you’re thinking you might like to join the team, and would like to find out more about what’s involved, please get in touch.

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