The Appleby Archaeology Guide to Digital Search

or - "How to use the Internet to get information about archaeological sites"

Every year Apparch's "contact us" address receives numerous request from individuals who have encountered something mysterious on a map or when out for a walk and who want advice on what they have found. We're always happy to help, but, since the journey is often more interesting than the destination, we thought it might be a good idea to provide some self-help tools.

This page provides a guide to some of the fabulous, free research facilities available on the Internet.

Sample Query

As an example here's a question that arrived just the other day. The enquirer used to live in Long Marton and had been intrigued by a feature on a map of the locality. Here's what he had found:

Mysterious remains near Long Marton

So, we have here a curious cross-shaped structure and some intriguing but unhelpful captions – "camp", “tumulus” and "stones". Who wouldn’t want to know more?

Before we get to that, however, let's first examine the map itself . It looks strangely modern being in colour with satellite imagery overlying the cartographic details. If you look closely, however, you'll see that it is actually a map from the OS 6-inch series published in 1899. How can this be? How can a Victorian map look as if it had been produced by Google?

Online Ordnance Survey (OS) Maps at the National Library of Scotland

The answer is that a piece of digital wizardry has been employed here to overlay the original map-maker's work with Goggle satellite data. You'll note that this particular map has come from The National Library of Scotland’s (NLS) cartography collection at https://maps.nls.uk/os. Yes, all of this fantastic technology is available to us from the comfort of our armchairs, courtesy of the Internet and entirely free of charge!

You may wonder why the NLS should be interested in English maps at all, let alone such sophisticated ones. I have no idea either, but the fact remains that they do and they offer not only the full 6-inch series but all 89,818 sheets of the 25-inch series as well! Additionally, they provide terrific tools for searching and viewing these maps - you can easily spend a whole day just playing with them. From an archaeologist's point of view, the ability to see satellite detail with crop marks etc overlaying cartographic detail is of course quite startling. Here’s part of their catalogue:

Some of the maps available at the National Library of Scotland

Users new to the system will, naturally, require some assistance, but the NLS website provides excellent support (though in truth, operation is pretty much intuitive) and so this this guide won’t waste time trying to duplicate it here. Do give them a try...

Advert for NLS concluded, where do we go next to get some more information about the Long Marton mystery? The natural thought is that an Archive office somewhere must know something about it.

The Sites and Monuments Record (SMR)

County archive offices have, in the past, maintained information about the archaeological sites under their jurisdiction using something called the Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) – see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sites_and_monuments_record. Latterly, the SMR has been superseded by a more elaborate record, the Historic Environment Record (HER)

Since County Councils have never been subject to any statutory obligation in this area, however, implementation of SMR information systems has been variable. Worse, in recent years, funding cuts have meant that even those councils that attempted to implement digitised versions of their systems have struggled even to maintain these and have largely missed the opportunities afforded by recent technological development to co-operate and deliver the sort of integrated national database that you might now reasonable expect.

Cumbria County Council SMR Search Facility

Ideally we should be able to find whatever SMR records exist for any given site by supplying a grid reference to some sort of national website. Such websites do exist, but only as incomplete prototypes (and we’ll come to that in a minute), but our query relates to a record for Westmorland and, sadly, Cumbria County Council SMR records, which naturally, are the most likely place to find anything that might exist for our site, aren't available through these prototypes.

However, its reasonable to guess that an SMR for our particular site will have been created by Cumbria County Council. How can we check? Fortunately for us, while financial cutbacks have meant that Cumbria County Council (CCC) no longer maintains its SMR records and hasn’t had the opportunity to contribute to the national system, they did, in the early days, develop a local online search facility for their SMRs and this is still online on the County website at https://www.cumbria.gov.uk/planning-environment/countryside/historic-environment/her_online.asp Hurrah! It's basically a map search designed to show the location of all of the County’s SMRs.

In principle all we have to do is direct it to point the system at the area we're interested in and see if it says anything useful. In practice the CCC system is a bit quirky – but if it’s not exactly up to National Library of Scotland standards you have to reflect that a lot has changed in the IT world in recent years and the County system was developed quite some time ago. We should be grateful for what we have.

Here are a few pointers to using the CCC SMR search facility.

Start the process by entering the site and clicking on “Search The Historic Environment/Historic Environment Record Online”. This reveals a blank green "proto-map" and an invitation to enter either an address or a grid reference expressed as easting and northings (this latter being revealed by clicking on a “Navigate to” field) to open the map at our site.

This arrangement, however, is unfortunately rather inconvenient for queries such as ours since, on the one hand, it’s unlikely you’ll have a postcode for an archaeological site and, on the other, even if you can work out eastings and northings for your site (https://gridreferencefinder.com/ may be helpful in this respect), entering them into the CCC system seems, at first sight only to produce a red circle in the middle of the green blank map. Investigation seems to indicate that this is because the map is being drawn at very high “magnification” and will only reveal details when you use the scroll wheel on your mouse to “zoom out”. In practice, unless you are more competent than me, it may be better to get a postcode for a village closer to your site and then pan (click and drag) and zoom (mouse scroll wheel) the map until you get it positioned where you want. Do give the map a moment or two to “settle” after each such operation – patience is all in this game.

At this point, however, as the screen-shot below taken from the CCC system bears out, the map begins to show its usefulness – the blue symbols indicate that the system has found SMR records with coordinates that belong to the current field of view and it is now inviting us to investigate further

CCC Heritage map showing SMR locations

In this case, a right click on the blue square, which seems to correspond to the “Camp” cartography on our original map, and selection of the “Show Information” option reveals the following wonder:

CCC Heritage map showig SMR detailss

Ahha – we have SMR references and some summary information. It looks as if the "camp" has indeed seen a visit from the County Archaeologist and held to be some sort of Roman temporary defensive position - the type of thing that might be thrown up quickly to provide a base while something more elaborate was being constructed. Associated with this, it seems, the County Archaeologist noted a "Bank" of unknown date. Further clicks on the blue triangles now lead to information about the “barrows” - they were recorded as "Dufton Barrows" and were believed to be Bronze age.

Sadly, however, this is far as this particular system can take us. There is almost certainly more information available from the Record Office but this is probably still languishing in a card-index tray somewhere. It costs money to digitise information like this and CCC don’t have much these days. Write to your MP! Well, at least the online system has got us off to a good start and we’ve got a good excuse for an outing to the Record Office – almost certainly in this case, the Kendal branch.

Sites within the Lake District National Park (LDNPA)

The query we’ve looked at so far related to a “straightforward” Cumbrian site. All sites within the Appleby area will fall into this category and will have to be investigated via the CCC online system.

For Cumbrian sites that are located within the Lake District National Park, however, you’ll quickly find that online researchers are much better served.

The LDNPA has had much more money than CCC to spend on its SMR systems and, during the years of its existence, has developed an extensive archive of HER records (the more sophisticated version of the SMR) . Furthermore, they’ve registered them with the most important of the protyle national systems mentioned earlier – the national HER Gateway. You’re about to find that these newer systems are both easier to use and considerably more powerful..

The National Heritage Gateway

As explained earlier, these prototype national systems mean that you don’t have to worry about the County location of the site you’re investigating. Furthermore they generally deliver full information for an HER - i.e. far more than the summary detail we’ve seen from the CCC site).

The Heritage Gateway can be accessed at https://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/gateway/. The site is managed by Historic England in partnership with ALGAO (association of Local Government Officers and IHBC (Institute of Historic Building Conservation) and provides access to local and national records on the historic environment including the following resources:

You can cross search all the above resources on Heritage Gateway website, including by using the map. Not all resources can display their results on the map, but all can be viewed in the results list. More local and national resources continue to be added to the website on a regular basis.

You can see a full list of the local authorities contributing to the Heritage Gateway at the Historic Environment Records page.

To provide an example, I’ve used a prehistoric rock art site at Rooking in Patterdale where, a couple of years ago, we spent a very enjoyable afternoon examining a whole series of similar sites.

On entry to the stem, the user is invited to “enter a building name or location”. In the screen print shown below I’ve ignored this and clicked on an “enter more detailed search” link in order to get a better idea of what I’m supposed to do and what is going to happen.

Heritage Gateway search specification

It’s now clear that I can search on either Postcode or Grid Reference and in this case I’ve entered the grid reference for Rooking. Surely there must be SMRs and further details for the rock art sites here? The system has responded by homing in on Rooking, and the zoom control has allowed me to expand or reduce the resolution. I’ve used the “Search Within” box to cut the area of search down to 250m of my grid reference point. The purple overlay shows the bit of the visible area on the map that will actually be searched. Note that the visible area can also be panned in any direction by clicking and dragging (use of a mouse is a good idea again here). If the map doesn’t seem to respond immediately to these operations, give it a moment or two to settle – the software has actually got quite a lot of work to do. Note also that as you get used to this interface, you’ll find that you can also position the purple overlay by clicking on the map)..

Now, so far we’ve only got a map of the Patterdale with a purple square marking our area of interest. But this is where the magic happens. In the bottom right hand corner of the screen there’s button labelled search. Click this and the gateway starts to hunt through all of its multitudinous sources for records that are located in the purple square. This may take some little time so be patient – the screen maintains progress bars to keep you informed about what it’s doing.

Heritage Gateway search results

We can now see that the Lake District National Park HER has 3 records in our area and, if I click the “globe” icon (the first of the three icons at the end of the LDNPA line) I can list them.

Heritage Gateway LDNPA HERs

Hurrah - three Rock Art HERs. I hope you’ll agree that that is rather impressive! Furthermore, clicking on the first of these references, the one for Place Fell Cottage, produces the following page:

Heritage Gateway HER detail

Wouldn’t that level of detail have been welcome when we were looking at the Long Marton site! Note also, going back to the full set of search results, that there are records for this area available from other archive sources – 15 more, in fact. You could spend all day on this.

Other Information Sources

For most purposes relating to Cumbrian archaeological sites, the two sources covered in detail above – the CCC SMR and the Heritage Gateway are probably all you need. Nevertheless, as mentioned earlier, there are plenty of other on-line resources you might want to know about.

Archaeology Data Service (ADS)

The ADS site at https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/ is a commercial service that is designed to do rather more than just provide a searchable archive of SMR and HER records. This is where you would (for a fee) deposit your excavation data – surveys, reports, imagery and so on, in order to preserve them for posterity and publish them to the world in a protected . Searching, however, is free.

From the point of view of answering the sort of questions we are pursuing here, it may have limited application. Some HER records are certainly there (I was able to find the same Place Cottage entry we found on the Heritage Gateway, for example, and this time it was accompanied by a nice map showing the exact location of the site). But it doesn’t seem possible to search by postcode or grid reference – searches are by keyword. Thus, while it would be possible to pick up the Place Cottage HER by keying “Place Cottage Rooking”, it doesn’t seem to be possible to search by supplying its grid reference, NY400161. Also, I think it’s a fair assumption that no Cumbrian SMRs other than those filed by the LDNPA will be found in the ADS (sorry about all these acronyms!). That said, where you do have a place name for a site, the ADS may may be a better tool than the Heritage Gateway, since it is likely that it is “fishing” in a larger pond.

Historic England

This is where you would go to get information on a site that you think might be a scheduled monument. The Historic England site at https://historicengland.org.uk/sitesearch provides access to the National Heritage List for England, otherwise known as 'The List'. This originated in 1882, when the first powers of protection were established, and subsequently developed into what we know today as statutory ‘Listing’ just after the Second World War.

Drawing together all scheduled monuments, listed buildings, registered landscapes and battlefields, and protected wrecks, The List now holds over 400,000 entries and is continuously updated by Historic England on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Any sites listed here that are of interest to an archaeologist are almost certainly also to be found in ADS or Heritage Gateway, but the information recorded against them here may be fuller and, in some respects, better-presented (their maps are particularly goods, for example)

Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society (CWAAS) Transactions

CWAAS transactions first appeared in 1874 and all but the last ten years are available to the general public on-line. Papers include many reports on recent archaeological reports in Cumbria. The archive is accessed via keyword search and can be entered directly at https://cumbriapast.com/cgi-bin/cwaas/cp_main.pl?action=cp_transactions_content_search

CWAA search screen

The Modern Antiquarian

The Modern Antiquarian site at https://www.themodernantiquarian.com/home/ is not a formally-organised archive like the sites we’ve looked at so far but, nevertheless, is a useful source of pictures and information. It’s really a “bulletin board” with a search button, and contains “posts” contributed by enthusiastic amateurs like ourselves. Search is largely by keyword. Give it a try – you may strike lucky. Even if you don’t find what you’re looking for, your almost certain to find something else of interest!

The Atlas of Hillforts

If you are looking specifically for information about hillfort sites, the Atlas of Hillforts at https://hillforts.arch.ox.ac.uk/ will be of interest to you. It’s another “geographical” search system and is very easy to use. You might be surprised by just how may hillforts there are in the UK!

CWAA search screen

Hill-fort sites in North Cumbria and SW Scotland

We hope that you have found this helpful. If you have comments or suggestions of things that might be usefully added here, please send us details via the Apparch Admin contact address

Martin Joyce, Apparch, May 2020