Friday, 20 July 2012

Stone me! That's a lot of archaeology

We often think about archaeology as hidden history - digging to uncover the mysteries of the past that lay buried beneath our feet. 

But much of our heritage is completely visible to us every day.

The intricate pattern of stone barns and walls in the Dales show how farming has helped shape this landscape. Along with associated features such as stiles and gateposts, as well as curiosities like sheep creeps and pinfolds, they are a fascinating part of the National Park story to look for on a day out.
Buck and doe style coping stones on the
Settle-Carlisle Railway

Did you know there are over 8,500km of drystone walls in the Yorkshire Dales? Look closely and you will see there is a lot of variety. The top row are called coping stones and on parts of the Settle-Carlisle Railway lineside walling a ‘buck and doe’ pattern of short and tall stones was used, whereas in Wensleydale they were typically placed on top of large flat through stones. A good drystone waller can build five metres a day.

A squeeze stile
Stile design was born out of tradition, with the nature and availability of local stone dictating the type of construction. The most common form is a step stile, but squeeze stiles with their large slabs of shaped stone can also be found, especially in Wensleydale due to the presence of sandstone beds containing rock that can be easily quarried or split. 

Scattered around the moors and valleys, sheepfolds are stone enclosures used when gathering sheep for treatment or transportation. Washing the sheep before taking them to market meant the price of wool would be increased, so some sheepfolds were built near becks and gills. The beck would be dammed to raise the water level and the sheep pushed in and under with sticks for a thorough drenching.

Gatepost (or stoup) in Coverdale,
where some of the best
examples can be seen.
Until the eighteenth century, two stone posts cut with sockets and grooves respectively was a common design for gateposts (or stoups). Removable wooden poles were then fitted to close the gap.

Originally designed just for animals, most are too narrow for vehicles. One post was often removed to widen access and it is now unusual to find examples in the Dales with both the original gateposts in situ. 
Many house date stones relate to the seventeenth century when the country was prospering and there was a period of great rebuilding. Most barn date stones refer to the late eighteenth century; any earlier date stones are most likely reused from previous domestic buildings.

Stock underpass at Yarnbury
Stock underpasses - small tunnels below walled tracks or roads - were designed to allow cattle and other animals to access water. Most date from the 1750s to 1850s.

Smaller than field barns, compact stone buildings known as hennery piggeries housed pigs below and hens in the loft above, with stone or wooden steps leading to the upper level. Usually sited close to the farm house, the reason for this alliance was that foxes do not like pigs and thus were kept away from the vulnerable hens.

Sheep pinfold at Linton
Due to the practice of collective farming and communal grazing, livestock often roamed freely. Animals that wandered onto someone else’s meadow or land reserved for crops could cause damage so were captured and held in enclosures called pinfolds or pounds until their owner reclaimed them and a fine had been paid.

Sheep creep

Sheep creeps are passages in drystone walls which allow sheep to pass between fields - generally to gain access to water - but which are too small for cattle. The gap was blocked with a slab until the farmer wanted to allow access.

Smaller holes were sometimes created for rabbits as it prevented them burrowing and causing the wall to collapse – but often a ‘drop box’ was fitted below one side of the wall to catch them!

This month sees the national Festival of British Archaeology with fun family events taking place all over the country.

At the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes there is still time to catch an illustrated talk by local historian David Johnson with artefacts available to handle (21 July, 2-4pm), and an all day drop-in session with Annie Hamilton Gibney making coil pots using archaeological finds for inspiration (28 July).

You can also explore the historic features of the National Park - from churn stands to turbary stones - online on our Feature of the Season pages.

1 comment:

  1. Lots of interesting archaeology in Yorkshire Dales Churches as well including ancient crosses and stone coffins always worth looking in to the local church when you are in the Dales. Lots to see