Smaller earthwork and cropmark enclosures

The shape or plan and the size of enclosures has long exercised archaeologists who have attempted to classify them according to morphological criteria and chronological trends (e.g. Cox 1984; Riley 1980; Whimster 1989; Wilson 1987). For example, the recent Cropmark Landscapes of the Magnesian Limestone project identified curvilinear enclosures, D-shaped enclosures, rectilinear enclosures, enclosures with trackway entrances, enclosures with broad ditches, enclosures with outer compounds, field corner enclosures, enclosures with multiple circuits, and extensive enclosure groups (Roberts, Deegan and Berg 2010: 27-35). Excavation has shown that in most instances, the ditches were likely to have been external to earthen banks. Archaeology aims to identify patterning, but it must always be borne in mind that there is a danger of apophenia, and there will always be exceptions to broad generalisations or static typologies. In diachronic terms, it has been suggested that elsewhere in northern England, multi-vallate, irregular middle Iron Age enclosures became more regular and univallate during the later Iron Age, with single-ditched, subrectangular or rectangular forms common during the Roman period (Collens 1998). The many differences in enclosure size and form and variable dates from excavated examples suggest that this is too simplistic, and more local concerns of place, practice and identity might have been important. Many earthwork and cropmark enclosures remain unexcavated, and even those that have produced Romano-British material might have had earlier origins.

Medieval or post-medieval woodland plantings in South Yorkshire have preserved earthworks likely to be of Iron Age or Romano-British date (Buckland et al. forthcoming; Coutts 1999; Pouncett 2001, 2007; Whiteley 1992), including Scholes Coppice, Ecclesall Woods, Scabba Wood, Canklow Woods, Greno Wood, Wombwell Wood, Edlington Wood, and Peter Wood. An earthwork enclosure in Marr Thick Wood was levelled and ploughed in the early 1960s (Buckland 1986: 57; Cox 1984). Excavation showed that only the bases of the ditches survive (C. Merrony pers. comm.), though this remains unpublished. An enclosure in Roe Wood was destroyed in 1922 (Coutts 1999: 75). In non-wooded areas, earthwork enclosures shown on old maps or visible on historic aerial photographs have been ploughed-out or built on, as at Worsborough Common and Roughbirchworth Common. It is only comparatively recently that some enclosures have been surveyed in detail (e.g. Gowans and Pouncett 2010; Latham 1992; Lee 2005; Pouncett 2001, 2007).

Only a few enclosures in South Yorkshire’s woodland have been excavated. At Edlington Wood near Doncaster, a series of stone and earthen banks were noted by 19th century antiquaries (Armitage 1897: 36, 39; Hunter 1828: 90), but Roman brooch and coin hoard finds led to several surveys of a series of D-shaped and subrectangular enclosures built of limestone blocks facing stone and earth banks, and a series of stone buildings (Corder 1951: 66-69; Dolby 1973: 5-6; Ramm 1973: 28-31). Excavation of two superimposed enclosures during 1971-1973 found evidence for several occupation phases and pottery dating from the late 1st century AD (Sumpter 1973: 37-38). A complex sequence of modification, demolition and different uses followed, lasting until the early 4th century. The pottery, coin and metal finds indicate at least one relatively high-status settlement in the vicinity, either a successful ‘native’ farmstead that thrived during the Roman occupation, or perhaps a ‘Roman’ settler or someone retired from military service. Recent lidar analyses of Edlington Wood indicate that the enclosures formed part of a co-axial field system of low stone banks (Buckland et al. forthcoming).

Caesar’s Camp is situated within woodland in Scholes Coppice, on a slight rise on the edge of Rotherham. It was an ovate earthwork consisting of a single bank and ditch approximately 110m long and 95m wide, with a ditch up to 2.4m deep outside a bank originally around c. 3.5m high. The earthworks were surveyed in detail in 1992, when a narrow trench through the earthworks was also excavated. Only a few sherds of abraded 3rd to 4th-century Romano-British pottery were recovered from upper ditch fills (Atkinson, Latham and Sydes 1992: 40). A dip in the south-east side of the earthwork may reflect an original slumped entranceway, but due to later disturbance this is unclear. The enclosure had previously been interpreted as part of an Iron Age defensive network that included the Roman Ridge (Ashbee 1957). It was overlooked by an adjacent knoll, however, and so was unlikely to have been defensive.

At Scabba Wood, a sub-rectangular stone-walled enclosure investigated by the Doncaster Archaeological Group and the University of Sheffield had walls of double-orthostat limestone construction up to 0.5m wide with a stone rubble core (Merrony et al. 2017: 26). No clear entrance into the enclosure was identified, but a depression in the north-east corner led out into a possible holloway extending east-west past the site. The centre of the enclosure was hollowed as if worn or partly scooped out of the underlying limestone bedrock. There was probably an external ditch in places along with an internal ditch, which produced an Aucissa-type brooch of c. AD 40–65, stamped with the name ATGIVIOS. Though the internal ditch is an unusual feature, there are other regional parallels such as Royd Edge in West Yorkshire (Toomey 1982; Yarwood and Marriott 1988: 12). Worked flint, later prehistoric and Romano-British pottery, slag and a saddle quern fragment were recovered from within the interior, above an uneven surface of cobbling and natural limestone. The Roman pottery was mostly of 3rd to 4th century date. The enclosure was linked to one of a series of east-west banks faintly visible in a walkover survey and in lidar data (Chadwick and Robbins 1998; Merrony et al. 2017: 26, fig. 3), but also appears to have been within a block of prehistoric rectilinear fields and terraces, possibly overlain by the broad east-west banks. It is unclear if this was ever a permanently occupied ‘domestic’ enclosure, and it may have been principally used for livestock.

Castle Dike, Langsett used to be an earthwork but is now all but ploughed out. It is oval in plan (Bramwell 1973) and located on a south-west facing slope overlooking what is now Langsett Reservoir in the valley of The Porter or the Little Don river, on the Millstone Grit of the Pennine fringe at the west of the county. Geophysical survey demonstrated that it had two circuits of banks and ditches (Merrony et al. 1995: 90). No entrance is known. Features faintly visible on aerial photographs and on the geophysical survey plot might be possible roundhouses or building platforms.

Additional, smaller prehistoric enclosures may survive as earthworks on the Millstone Grit along the western edges of South Yorkshire and on into Derbyshire. Within South Yorkshire, more fragmentary fields and enclosures like those at Whitley, Wharncliffe (Makepeace 1985) may survive near Totley, Fox House, Higger Tor, Redmires, Broomhead Park, High Bradfield and Stocksbridge; but cultivation and woodland plantations may have damaged or destroyed many. To this author’s knowledge, none of the areas outside the Peak District National Park have been systematically mapped from historic aerial photographs or surveyed in detail and investigated further on the ground. Summaries of the Peak District evidence have been published elsewhere (e.g. Barnatt 1987, 2000, 2008; Bevan 2000).

These enclosures were subcircular or curvilinear in plan and defined by upstanding stone walls and banks rather than ditches. Remains of house platforms and stone roundhouses also survive. Such settlements often had irregular pens, garden plots or fields appended to them, and were rarely directly associated with larger, regular field systems or trackways. This might suggest a greater emphasis on pastoral agriculture, but cairnfields associated with some enclosures indicate clearance and cultivation. There may be a temporal dimension to this variation though – cairnfields might represent Bronze Age rather than Iron Age occupation (Barnatt 2000: 18-19). The settlements and fields on the Millstone Grit in the Peak District were somewhat different in character from those on the Magnesian Limestone and Coal Measures areas, and lowland locales (Barnatt 2000: 26-8; Bevan 2004: 56-65).

The date of upland enclosures and fields is difficult to establish, as many settlements could have been constructed and used from the middle Bronze Age well into the Romano-British period (Bevan 2000: 148). Few of these possible settlements have been excavated. At Gardom’s Edge near Baslow in Derbyshire, ceramics of late Bronze Age to earlier Iron Age date were associated with several roundhouses; and features with pottery along with residues on several sherds produced a broad range of radiocarbon dates ranging from 1300–700 BC, with some outliers in the lower range down to c. 400 BC (Beswick 2017a: 165-6). Swine Sty on Big Moor in Derbyshire produced ceramics and a radiocarbon date suggesting mid-Bronze Age inhabitation (Machin 1971; Machin and Beswick 1975), but 1st millennium pottery was also identified, though sadly this remains unpublished (Beswick 2017b: 186).

Returning to the cropmark landscape, so-called ‘clothes-line’ enclosures (Historic England thesaurus) were appended to or ‘hanging off’ pre-existing linear boundaries or trackways, and usually post-dating them, though later linear boundaries might have linked isolated enclosures. Excavated examples include Roebuck Hill, Jump (Robinson and Johnson 2007), Enclosures E4 and E5 at Redhouse Farm, Adwick-le-Street (Upson-Smith 2002), and High Street Shafton (Burgess 2001a). Few of these have been published. D-shaped enclosures, either isolated or integrated with field systems, have been excavated at Enclosure E7 at Redhouse Farm, Adwick-le-Street (Meadows and Chapman 2004; Upson-Smith 2002), and Engine Lane, Shafton (Burgess 2001b, 2003), both likely to be Iron Age in origin; as well as at Warning Tongue Lane, Bessacarr (Atkinson and Merrony 1994).

Subcircular or irregular enclosures that were isolated or in small groups may have been slightly earlier in date and linked to livestock herding. Some enclosures featured funnel-shaped or ‘antennae’ entrances and were often linked to trackways, and one example was excavated near Brodsworth (C. Merrony pers. comm.). This example is like some ‘banjo’ enclosures of central and southern England, where the few excavated examples originated in the middle or later Iron Age and were initially thought to be associated with livestock herding (Cunliffe 2005: 247; Fasham 1987: 8-9). Recent overviews have stressed that many were also occupation sites and thus a more complex and diverse group of features (Lang 2016: 356-7; McOmish 2011: 4). Subcircular enclosure E3 at Woodhead Opencast Site was linked to a trackway (Mudd and Webster 2001: 9, fig. 2), and two smaller subcircular enclosures were also excavated in Areas A and C at the same overall site (C. Jones 2003: 4, 5-6, figs 2, 3, 7). The sites at Brodsworth and Woodhead Opencast Site have never been published – publication of these should again be a priority.

Most enclosures on the Magnesian Limestone areas of South Yorkshire, and the co-axial ‘brickwork’ fields to the south-east, were rectangular or subrectangular in plan (Deegan 2007; Riley 1980: 49-50; Roberts, Deegan and Berg 2010: 28). Some enclosures had internal subdivisions. This is apparent on some cropmark examples, but also been shown in excavated examples such as Enclosure E7 at Redhouse Farm, Adwick-le-Street (Upson-Smith 2002) and Engine Lane, Shafton (Burgess 2001b, 2003). These subdivisions consisted of gullies, probably to support fences, or lines of postholes or stakeholes from fences and palisades. The subdivisions created different functional and social spaces, restricted entrances, and gradations of access and privacy. Such physical devices not only structured the movements of people and animals around enclosures but might have also controlled access according to kinship or clan, age, gender, or status (q.v. Giles 2007b: 242).

There is little evidence for what was originally present along the tops of banks. Some stone-walled enclosures may have wall footings topped with turves or fences (Buckland et al. forthcoming). At Balby Carr the remains of species such as alder, willow, hazel, hawthorn, and buckthorn were recovered from the base of some waterlogged field ditches, where tool marks, pollen and other indicators of cutting and coppicing suggest managed hedgerows (Gale 2007: 32; Greig 2007: 34-5). The banks around enclosures may have supported hurdle fences or timber palisades, with significant implications for the management of local woodland resources and tenure over these. Two planks found in the inner possible enclosure ditch at Balby Carr may have been from a palisade of split timbers (Daniel 2016: 19).

In the same way that some field systems in South Yorkshire have been shown to have an Iron Age origin (see below), the same is true of lowland enclosures. At Armthorpe, late Iron Age ceramics and hearths might have pre-dated enclosures and fields; but at Rossington Grange Farm, a subrectangular enclosure produced Iron Age and Iron Age tradition pottery from lower ditch fills and some pits, whilst a radiocarbon date from one pit indicated occupation during the 2nd to 1st centuries BC (Roberts and Weston 2016: 8). At Engine Lane, Shafton, the primary fill of the earlier phase of enclosure ditch yielded a radiocarbon date of 400–200 BC, a date of 380–50 BC from an internal partition ditch, and carbonised wood from the primary fill of the recut produced dates of 60 BC–AD 140 (Burgess 2003). A middle fill of an enclosure ditch at Wombwell Opencast site returned a 1st century BC to 1st century AD date (Mudd and Webster 2001). At Topham Farm, Sykehouse, the first occupation might have taken place in the 2nd century BC (Roberts 2003: 7-8, 27); and the layout might suggest an early ‘open’ settlement, with Iron Age and Romano-British pottery and radiocarbon dates indicating continuity until the early 3rd century AD. The evidence from a series of excavations by different units at Balby Carr indicates an initial ‘open’ settlement of roundhouses in the 3rd century BC, followed by a double-ditched enclosure during the 2nd century BC (Daniel and Barclay 2016; Jones 2007). At Rossington Grange, Sykehouse and Balby, many additional enclosures and fields were added during the late Iron Age and/or early Roman periods, indicating some continuities of landscape use (though not necessarily always continuous inhabitation), along with expansion or extensification (see below).

Many enclosure ditches around settlements were repeatedly re-cut, a phenomenon recognised across Iron Age and Roman Britain (Chadwick 1999: 160-4; Knight and Howard 2004: 93; Rees 2008: 73-7). Rather than routine clearing-out of ditches, re-cutting appears to have been more episodic, a set of inscriptive and re-inscriptive practices possibly linked to changes in tenure, calendrical rites or social events, or notions of identity (Chadwick 1999: 163, 2008c: 238; Giles 2000: 183, 2007b: 246; Sharples 1999: 106). There was emphasis on the ditch terminals by enclosure entrances and gateways, and these same locales were sometimes chosen for the more ritualised deposition of artefacts and animal or human remains (see below).

There is a significant bias in the data, with enclosures in lowland Sherwood Sandstone and Magnesian Limestone locales generally much more visible archaeologically through aerial photographs in arable fields than those on predominantly pastoral Coal Measures or Millstone Grit areas. Much development and construction in South Yorkshire also focuses on the same low-lying areas, further skewing the pattern. Without more detailed National Mapping Programme-style mapping of the western areas, accompanied by programmes of geophysical and topographic survey, it is difficult to see this situation being addressed.

There is a tendency to regard enclosures, especially those with evidence for ‘domestic’ occupation, as relatively permanent nodal points within the wider landscape. This is a static and historically contingent perspective (Aldred 2014: 24; Edgeworth 2014: 49-50; Fleming 2010: 15; Sheller and Urry 2006: 214). Many enclosures were inhabited or utilised for centuries, but several excavated examples do not appear to have had sustained dwelling within them, and it is possible that these were only constructed and used within a few generations; perhaps just one or two decades. Some may have been occupied intermittently as rights of tenure and the fortunes of families fluctuated over the years; others probably experienced periods of abandonment followed by later re-occupation, though not necessarily of the same character. Others may only ever have been occupied on a seasonal basis, and there may have been much greater movement around the landscape than often supposed. Paths and trackways might have been longer-lived features within landscapes than many enclosures (Chadwick 2016b: 106). Archaeologists need to explore these tempos and rhythms of inhabitation and movement more effectively, and rather than trying to pigeonhole enclosures into typologies, it would be more productive to investigate their different and dynamic biographies.

Research questions

  • The extent of unenclosed, potentially earlier Iron Age settlement is largely unknown. Can archaeological prospection methodologies be refined in order to detect such slight features? Or will they continue to appear as chance discoveries in large developer-funded open area projects? Was the progression in some areas from open to enclosed settlements linked to increasing sedentism?
  • What social or subsistence factors underly intra-regional variations in site densities? May the density and/or spatial extent of settlements of specific types and periods and within certain landscape zones be underestimated?
  • How reliable is the known Iron Age and/or Romano-British settlement pattern? What factors, such as development pressure, skew the overall pattern? Can we use lidar and geophysical survey to prospect for such settlements on the Coal Measures and Gritstone areas in South Yorkshire, where cropmarks are rarer?
  • Are there any correlations at all between settlement form, date, and function? What internal features can be identified within these enclosed sites, and what subsistence and/or social practices were undertaken within them?
  • What social and economic roles might ‘open’ and enclosed sites have performed, and may the progression in some areas from open to enclosed settlements imply the development of less mobile or more hierarchical societies?
  • The nature and organisation of production, exchange and consumption at both Iron Age and Romano-British settlements requires investigation in the future. Did different settlements have concomitantly different ‘signatures’ of production and consumption, and did these reflect social differences?

Priorities and implementation

  • When they are recognised during soil stripping, it is vital that adequate resources are directed towards the investigation of relatively unprepossessing features such as shallow ditches and gullies, as in some instances these might reflect late Bronze Age and earlier Iron Age unenclosed settlement, or the presence of relatively ephemeral timber structures such as fences or even timber sill beams (see below);
  • The sampling of enclosures needs to be much more rigorous and extensive. Hand-dug slots should form up to 20% of the total enclosure ditch length, targeting corners and terminals using 2–3m wide interventions. Following this, 100% of enclosure ditches should then be excavated using machine-dug spits under archaeological control. When applied elsewhere, as in West Yorkshire (Chadwick 2009: 137), this technique has proved extremely effective in identifying previously unknown entrances dug through in later phases (Martin, Richardson and Roberts 2013). It dramatically improves artefact retrieval and identification of animal ABGs and possible placed deposits (see below);
  • Later Iron Age settlements such as Topham Farm, Sykehouse and Balby Carr might be completely or partially concealed beneath alluvium and peat, and thus difficult to detect with aerial photography or conventional geophysical survey. Development-led work in low-lying areas would this be better using strip, map and record techniques to inform any subsequent full-scale excavation work necessary, as small-scale trial trenching and watching briefs alone cannot be relied upon;
  • Further earthwork and lidar survey are needed in South Yorkshire, focusing on upland and woodland enclosure sites and associated features. It should not be assumed that modern plantations have destroyed all archaeology within them – work elsewhere suggests some earthwork features may survive even in conifer plantations (e.g. Hoyle 2008, 2013). A Geographic Information System (GIS) could be used to analyse the wider landscape settings and relationships of these features, as initial work undertaken in West Yorkshire produced promising results (Reader 2008). Such surveys could be undertaken by Historic England, commissioned from a commercial field unit, and/or undertaken in conjunction with a university department. In addition, local societies and volunteers could play an important role;
  • There needs to be an assessment of problems affecting earthwork enclosures such as tree root damage in woodlands, or bracken and heather damage on moorlands. This also includes erosion caused by footpaths and activities such as walking, horse riding, illegal metal detecting, mountain biking and (especially) from trail motorbikes and other off-road vehicles. Such work could be undertaken with the assistance of local societies and volunteers, and lead to the production of an integrated resource management strategy;
  • Aerial photographic and some lidar mapping exists for Sherwood Sandstone and Magnesian Limestone areas of South Yorkshire, but enclosures on Coal Measures and Millstone Grit geology are much less well-covered. Full National Mapping Programme-style coverage of the entire county would thus be highly desirable;
  • The excellent results of the Magnesian Limestone Project (Roberts, Deegan and Berg 2010) should be used to inform a project of more detailed geophysical survey of selected enclosures and enclosure groups, using the latest technologies outlined in the section on enclosed sites above;
  • Large-scale geophysical survey undertaken by community groups and universities could also be used to prospect for unknown sites in pasture areas, at locales identified through GIS analyses as being potentially likely places for settlement in the past;
  • Ploughing of particularly vulnerable, unusual or important cropmark enclosure sites should be halted where possible. Agri-environmental schemes would be the principal curatorial means of achieving this;
  • Detailed palaeo-environmental sampling and analyses from cut-off river channels and waterlogged ditches might provide more detailed evidence for human and animal activities at nearby enclosure complexes;
  • Magnetic susceptibility, soil micromorphology and geochemical testing might provide insights into human and animal activities within enclosures. This includes soil aDNA analysis, where traces of human and animal DNA from faeces in buried deposits are analysed (Costello 2018; Rawlence et al. 2014). With soil lipid biomarkers, individual mammal species can be identified in residues of lipids derived from traces of urine and faeces in stratified deposits (Milek, Oehler and Anderson 2018). Both methodologies might be especially suitable for upland sites;
  • In addition to locating areas where metalworking may once have taken place in the past (q.v. Doonan and Slater 2017), portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometers (pXRF) might be able to detect elevated levels of strontium and rubidium that can indicate where fire was used (Frahm and Doonan 2013). In and around enclosures, elevated levels of iron can even suggest places where blood was shed repeatedly, as with animal slaughtering for example;
  • Unpublished excavations of enclosure sites need to be published as a matter of urgency (see below).