Summer heatwave has revealed hidden archaeological sites across the UK

Stunning aerial photographs reveal how Britain’s summer heatwave has exposed 1,500 lost monuments, including Bronze Age burial mounds, Iron Age settlements, and a Roman farm

  • The record-breaking summer heatwave has revealed the outlines of scores of historical sites across the UK
  • Two Neolithic ‘cursus’ monuments near Clifton Reynes, Milton Keynes have been found
  • These 5,000-year-old straight-edged structures are believed to have been used for prehistoric ceremonies
  • Experts believe a Roman farm, with buildings, fields and paddocks, is etched on the ground in Bicton, Devon
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Weeks of blistering summer heat have revealed evidence of 1,500 hidden archaeological sites across the UK landscape, from prehistoric ‘cursus’ monuments laid out more than 5,000 years ago, to the outline of a long-demolished Tudor hall.

Iron Age settlements, Bronze Age square burial mounds, and a Roman farm have been spotted for the first time by aerial archaeologists studying patterns in crops and grass, Historic England said.

Archaeologists said the record-breaking dry summer has been particularly good for experts examining the landscape from the air as ‘cropmarks’ form faster and are more obvious when the soil is very dry.

These differences in crop colour and height can reveal the layouts of buried ditches or walls which once marked out settlements, field boundaries or funerary monuments.

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Neolithic cursus monuments, long rectangles pathways believed to have been used in processional prehistoric ceremonies, have been seen near Clifton Reynes, Milton Keynes following weeks of sorching temperatures. Cursus are one of the oldest types of monument found in the UK, typically dating back from around 3600 to 3000 BC

Among the new discoveries this year are two Neolithic ‘cursus’ monuments near Clifton Reynes, Milton Keynes, one of which has been hidden until this year under a medieval bank which is gradually being ploughed away.

They are long, straight-sided enclosures thought to be paths or processional ways which are one of the oldest monument types in the country, usually dating from 3600 to 3000 BC. 

Very little is known about the ancient structures, which can stretch several kilometres in length, have been previously found standing beside some of the most famous archaeological sites in Britain, including Stonehenge, Thornborough and Newgrange.

One of the new discoveries, found as part of an aerial photography and laser scanning project across Cornwall, is an Iron Age round settlement at St Ive and a prehistoric settlement with concentric ditches at Lansallos.

Experts are still assessing the latest finds, however, Damian Grady, the aerial reconnaissance manager for Historic England, said: ‘This has been one of my busiest summers in 20 years of flying.’


This artist impression from Historic England reveals what the crop markings could have looked like when they were used by people thousands of years ago


This hut, surrounded by a moat and a fence, would have housed a group of people, most likely a family, during prehistoric times. Experts have also spotted Iron Age square burial mounds or barrows in Pocklington, Yorkshire, alongside a Bronze Age burial mound and a ditch and series of pits that could mark a land boundary in Scropton, Derbyshire


The scorching weather has revealed an Iron Age round settlement at St Ive. The new discovery was made as part of an aerial photography and laser scanning project across Cornwall


Buildings, fields and paddocks have appeared at Bicton, Devon. Experts believe these structures once formed a farm when the Romans ruled Britain, between from 43 AD to 410 AD 

WHAT CAUSES CROP MARKS IN HOT WEATHER?

During scorching summer heatwaves, the dull outlines of ancient structures show up in fields across Britain.

These landscapes scars are called crop marks and can often only be seen from aerial footage or photographs of the countryside.

They appear when grass above ancient stone or wood still buried in the soil flourishes or deteriorates at different rates to surrounding plant life in the unusually hot weather.

This creates outlines which can help archaeologists pinpoint the location of ancient settlements that are otherwise hidden beneath centuries of farmed land. 

Crop marks are difficult to see from the ground, but thanks to the recent rise in shop-bought drone technology they are now being captured where they had otherwise remained hidden for centuries. 

Helen Winton, the head of aerial investigation and mapping, said this year’s summer heatwave was the best year since 2011, which revealed more than 1,500 sites across the UK for the first time.

Few of the newly identified sites will ever be excavated, however, now that the record-breaking temperatures have made their location known, many of these historical sites will be given protection from deep ploughing or development.

Experts have also spotted Iron Age square burial mounds or barrows in Pocklington, Yorkshire, alongside a Bronze Age burial mound and a ditch and series of pits that could mark a land boundary in Scropton, Derbyshire.

A settlement or cemetery has also been etched into the parched earth in Stoke by Clare, Suffolk.

What is now believed to be a Roman farm, with buildings, fields and paddocks, has appeared at Bicton in Devon.

This is far from the only farmhouse to be discovered in the recent heatwave, with four Bronze and Iron Age farms have been spotted in Stogumber, Somerset.

One of these Bronze Age structures has signs of having been abandoned, with a new settlement built on top.

Near Eynsham in Oxfordshire features have revealed themselves, including a circle of pits, and later burial mounds and traces of a settlement.

These had previously been spotted by archaeologists and protected as a historic monument, however, the structures had been invisible for many years.  

More details of the lost Elizabethan buildings and gardens associated with Tixall Hall in Staffordshire can be seen through the drought, revealing buried foundations of the hall built in 1555 and a new hall started during the First World War, but demolished in 1926. 

Historic England uses aerial photography of cropmarks to produce archaeological maps which help to assess the significance of buried remains and can be used to make decisions about protecting them from development or damage caused by ploughing.


An aerial view near Churchstanton in Somerset, as the dry weather provides the perfect conditions for aerial archaeologists to ‘see beneath the soil’. The differences in colour or height of crops and grass can reveal the layouts of buried ditches or walls which once marked out settlements, field boundaries or funerary monuments


More details of the lost Elizabethan buildings and gardens associated with Tixall Hall in Staffordshire can be seen through the drought, revealing buried foundations of the hall built in 1555 and a new hall started during the First World War, but demolished in 1926  


Features in the landscape near Eynsham, Oxfordshire, can be seen this summer. These had previously been spotted by archaeologists and protected as a historic monument, however, the structures had been invisible for many years.


A Bronze Age burial mound and pit alignment at Scropton, Derbyshire is among the newly discovered archaeology. These cropmarks appear when grass above ancient stone or wood still buried in the soil flourishes or deteriorates at different rates to surrounding plant life in the unusually hot weather

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said: ‘This spell of very hot weather has provided the perfect conditions for our aerial archaeologists to ‘see beneath the soil’ as cropmarks are much better defined when the soil has less moisture.

‘The discovery of ancient farms, settlements and Neolithic cursus monuments is exciting.

‘The exceptional weather has opened up whole areas at once rather than just one or two fields and it has been fascinating to see so many traces of our past graphically revealed.’

Helen Winton, Historic England aerial investigation and mapping manager said it was ‘very exciting’ to have had the hot weather for so long.

The last ‘exceptional year’ was 2011, when more than 1,500 sites were discovered, she said.

Damian Grady, Historic England aerial reconnaissance manager added: ‘This has been one of my busiest summers in 20 years of flying and it is has been very rewarding making discoveries in areas that do not normally reveal cropmarks.’

Outlines of ancient structures appear in fields across Britain when grass above ancient stone or wood still buried in the soil flourishes or deteriorates at different rates to surrounding plant life in the unusually hot weather.

This creates outlines which can help archaeologists pinpoint the location of ancient settlements that are otherwise hidden beneath centuries of farmed land. 

These landscapes scars are known as ‘cropmarks’ and can often only be seen from aerial footage or photographs of the countryside. 

Cropmarks are difficult to see from the ground, but thanks to the recent rise in shop-bought drone technology they are now being captured where they had otherwise remained hidden for centuries. 

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT NEOLITHIC BRITAIN?

The Neolithic Revolution was the world’s first verifiable revolution in agriculture.

It began in Britain between about 5000 BC and 4500 BC but spread across Europe from origins in Syria and Iraq between about 11000 BC and 9000 BC.

The period saw the widespread transition of many disparate human cultures from nomadic hunting and gathering practices to ones of farming and building small settlements.


Stonehenge, the most famous prehistoric structure in Europe, possibly the world, was built by Neolithic people, and later added to during the early Bronze Age

The revolution was responsible for turning small groups of travellers into settled communities who built villages and towns.

Some cultures used irrigation and made forest clearings to better their farming techniques.

Others stored food for times of hunger, and farming eventually created different roles and divisions of labour in societies as well as trading economies.

In the UK, the period was triggered by a huge migration or folk-movement from across the Channel.


The Neolithic Revolution saw humans in Britain move from groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers to settled communities. Some of the earliest monuments in Britain are Neolithic structures, including Silbury Hill in Wiltshire (pictured)

Today, prehistoric monuments in the UK span from the time of the Neolithic farmers to the invasion of the Romans in AD 43.

Many of them are looked after by English Heritage and range from standing stones to massive stone circles, and from burial mounds to hillforts.

Stonehenge, the most famous prehistoric structure in Europe, possibly the world, was built by Neolithic people, and later finished during the Bronze Age.

Neolithic structures were typically used for ceremonies, religious feasts and as centres for trade and social gatherings.

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