Mike Wood (NAL Project Officer)
Between 2006 and 2008, Network Archaeology Ltd (NAL) worked on an extended sequence of gas pipelines across the breadth of Northern England, from Easington on the East coast of Yorkshire to Nether Kellet near the Lancashire coast. This passed through landscape as varied as the upland moors within the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the undulating chalk Wolds between Hull and Beverley, rich farmland of Holderness and the Fenland of the Humberhead levels. Slicing through this varied topography has produced a wealth of new material encompassing such diverse datasets as prehistoric rock art, Iron Age dykes, late prehistoric villages, Roman cemeteries and post-medieval farm buildings. The Ganstead to Asselby scheme alone investigated 61 areas of archaeological potential in the field along a 52.5km route and alongside many smaller remains, revealed five sites deemed to be of regional or national significance spanning the later Iron Age to the end of the Roman period. As such, this represents both a challenge and opportunity in post-excavation; allowing for thematic discussion across a broad swathe of the landscape, linking ideas and places.
NAL has built a reputation over the last decade for delivering a high quality commercial field service to extremely time-sensitive linear developments, particularly within the provision of archaeological works to the natural gas industry. The problems facing pipeline archaeologists are numerous and need to be constrained by thorough planning and careful integration within the overall scheme using a staged approach to investigation and mitigation. This approach identified potential sites via desk-based research, non-intrusive fieldwork and targeted trial trenching. Archaeological fieldwork was then structured around windows of intensive and physically demanding 12-hour day rescue work, in advance of pipelines capable of progressing at a rate of 1km a day. This leads to multiple sites running simultaneously under different field supervisors, each working within the bubble of an individual site’s dimensions, dataset and time pressures.
Post-excavation has posed a series of questions on how to deal with the quantity and variety of data produced. How can we then assess the potential of spatially separated sites where excavation data is limited to narrow strips through archaeological remains often kilometres apart and then relate this to a regional research framework? The approach taken by NAL has focused on broadening our assessment beyond the individual site level, which may have a limited dataset; instead looking at how each part of the project fits into the wider landscape. By assessing sites not as isolated blocks of contexts, but as part of a human inhabited environment, we can draw together threads from along the length of the pipeline, linking chronologically phased areas to explore themes of economy, settlement patterns, field system development, funerary methods, trade networks and the relationship between these rural communities and the landscape they occupied. Post-excavation analysis will allow us to populate the landscape and throw light on the evolving rural identity of Northern England.