Heatwave crop marks reveal lost ancient sites in Scotland

The new discovery of the Roman temporary camp at Lyne near Peebles is shown to the left with the straight lines of the settlement clearly visible. PIC: HES.
The new discovery of the Roman temporary camp at Lyne near Peebles is shown to the left with the straight lines of the settlement clearly visible. PIC: HES.
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Crop marks exposed by Scotland’s recent heatwave have revealed two previously unknown ancient sites.

Iron Age souterrains (underground stone structures) in the Borders – a rare find in this part of the country – and a Roman temporary camp at Lyne near Peebles have been identified by Historic Environment Scotland’s aerial survey team. Normally concealed under the soil of farms and fields, the extremely dry weather has allowed the formations to become visible.

Parched grass shows up the banana shaped outline of what is probably a souterrain or Iron Age passage in the Scottish Borders. PIC: HES.

Parched grass shows up the banana shaped outline of what is probably a souterrain or Iron Age passage in the Scottish Borders. PIC: HES.

Meanwhile, documented sites which are usually hidden from view have been highlighted once again in the extremely dry conditions.

Traces of Iron Age burials, Neolithic pits and prehistoric settlements have all emerged, along with patterns that reveal changing river courses, which tell the story of Scotland’s shifting landscapes.

Dave Cowley, aerial survey project manager at Historic Environment Scotland, made the discoveries after a recent trip over the Borders in a Cessna 102 – a plane which he described as a “vintage Mini on wings”.

Mr Cowley said: “Aerial surveys of Scotland have been carried out since the 1930s, with each year usually adding a little more to the patchwork of our knowledge.

“We depend on dry years to bring out the buried remains in the crops, so we are currently out hunting for new clues from the skies while the good weather lasts.

“The conditions this year are showing us many sites that we knew were there, but may not have seen in recent damp summers, as well as revealing new archaeological sites that add to our ability to see into the past to tell Scotland’s story.”

The camp was discovered within the known Roman complex of sites near Peebles and adds to the significance of the complex, which already includes two forts and two additional temporary camps.

Mr Cowley described the formation as “like the corners on playing cards” given the precise nature of the layout.

He said: “I knew instantly that this was a temporary Roman camp.

“I only saw one corner of it as the adjacent fields were in a different condition. Different bits of information build up over time. After a while, you get the whole story coming through.”

Mr Cowley said it was a “real privilege” to conduct the surveys, which are done from a height of 2,000 to 2,500 feet with around 50 miles covered in 20 minutes.

He added: “What I really like about the aerial survey process is that it allows us to understand the landscape of where people lived, where they died, where they buried the dead. You get that bigger picture.

He added: “You are looking from features from the Ice Age, and then features from 8,000 years ago, 5,000 years ago and then 2,000 years ago. But then you can also see what the farmer did the day before yesterday.

“You can see from yesterday right to the distant past.”