Aerial archaeologist Dr Toby Driver from the Royal Commission carefully targeted reconnaissance flights in a light aircraft to where the drought conditions were most severe across the length and breadth of Wales. When cropmarks show in drought conditions, the Royal Commission’s aerial survey programme only has a few weeks to record the sites before rain or harvest removes them.
By far the most significant discoveries for Wales have been from the Roman period with a major Roman fort complex discovered near Brecon, and a Roman marching camp discovered near Caerwent Roman town. The Roman fort near Brecon is a rare discovery for Wales and was made following a tip-off from Roman scholar Dr Jeffrey L. Davies, who has worked with Toby on the Abermagwr Roman villa excavations. Toby explained:
‘Jeffrey Davies noticed an anomaly in Roman coin finds near Brecon, reported under the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). He had a hunch that the coins, of the Emperor Claudius, could indicate a lost early Roman fort, and passed a grid reference to me the day before a flight into central Wales. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the pilot and I approached the location and saw fading cropmarks of a major Roman fort complex, lost beneath fields and a road for nearly 2,000 years.’
Other discoveries were made near Caerwent Roman town in south Wales, famously the market town of the Celtic Silures. Toby explained: ‘Close to Caerwent we discovered only the second Roman marching camp in Monmouthshire. These were overnight camps built by Roman soldiers on campaign in hostile territory. Because the campaigns against the tenacious Silures were documented by Roman historians, we expect more camps in south-east Wales than we currently know about. This new camp between Caerwent and Chepstow seems to show a small expeditionary force on manoeuvres, perhaps in the years around AD 50. West of Caerwent we found a remarkable ‘native’ Iron Age settlement. Given the decades of aerial survey in the region around Caerwent, these surprise discoveries show the continuing need for aerial archaeology in Wales.’
Learn more about aerial archaeology in Wales from the recent Royal Commission publication ‘Cymru Hanesyddol o'r Awyr / Historic Wales From the Air’ (RCAHMW 2012, £19.95) Dr Toby Driver, RCAHMW
How ‘cropmarks’ show lost archaeological sites
‘Cropmarks’ are revealed when grass and arable crops are put under drought stress, and they respond to subtle differences in moisture in the subsoil. Where crops are growing over the buried ditches of lost hillforts or prehistoric farms dark green lines form in fields; conversely buried stonework of lost buildings or old roads form yellow lines in grass and crops. These cropmarks can be seen most clearly from the air, but have to be photographed in a short time window before rain or harvest makes them disappear.
Subscribe to the Heritage of Wales News and sign up for the full feed RSS, just click this RSS button and subscribe!
Also find us on:
Twitter Hashtag: #RCAHMWales