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Heatwave reveals Scotland's past

A heatwave has revealed fleeting traces of early settlements to historians taking a bird's eye view of Scotland. The conditions this summer have proved ideal for aerial archaeologists who document the buried sites, which appear in ripening crops or scorched grass. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland said it was one of the best in its 30 years.

Discoveries have included various prehistoric settlements and much more detail at two major Roman forts. Dave Cowley, the aerial survey manager at the RCAHMS, said the findings, across the Scottish lowlands, were significant and helped build a picture of where people had lived. "We've been finding archaeological sites that haven't been productive in the past and that's because of the extreme conditions," he said.

Crops that lie directly above buried features ripen at a different rate from the rest of the field when it is dry, producing "crop marks". Similar markings also form in grass as it parches in the sun.

Mr Cowley said: "Bits of the Borders, some of the Cheviot foothills, parts of Fife and the Moray Plain have produced previously unknown sites. Town Yetholm through to Morebattle have been producing material, which is parched out in grass. We have seen various types of prehistoric settlements usually as circular or rectangular enclosures and burial sites."

According to Mr Cowley, the aerial archaeologists have also been able to see patterns across the whole expanse of the Roman forts at Newstead in the Borders and Carpow in Fife. This has helped to build on the knowledge gained from small, detailed excavations.

"The sites that have been absolutely spectacular visually are two of our Roman forts," he said. "Newstead Roman Fort has shown better this year than it's shown since the 1940s. The line of the fort wall, the ditches and even details like the towers on either side of one of the gateways can be seen. You can also see the arrangement of all the internal roads inside the fort, the possible positions of bread ovens and other internal features. And at Carpow you're seeing raised pits and internal features."

The RCAHMS aerial survey has undertaken about 1,000 flights, using a four-seater Cessna aircraft from its base in Edinburgh, and it has produced more than 100,000 images of the country since 1976. The pictures have significantly improved the historical information about areas where thousands of years of agriculture have levelled and hidden the remains of earlier settlements. The information can also prove crucial to planners when considering sites for new developments such as housing or major pipe routes.
nickbrand Posted by nickbrand
22nd August 2006ce
Edited 1st September 2007ce

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