We’re back at Great Asby Scar! Update on Season 2 week 1
The second season got off to a cracking start this week with surveying across zones G, K and M. G is located in the middle of the Scar, surrounded on three sides by limestone pavement; K is on the north side of the Scar, along Sayle Lane. Both of these zones are pastureland. In contrast, Zone M, on the north-west side of the Scar, comprises the open moorland of Gaythorne Plain.
Zone G revealed evidence of a landscape that has been actively managed for centuries. One immediate observation was that, with the exception of glacial erratics, the area was remarkably free of stones. The team recorded a large number of clearance cairns, signifying the area had been actively cleared by our ancestors to create the undulating grassland that now characterises this part of the Scar.
Some of the erratics were set in clear alignments and may have been relocated over large distances to mark land divisions or boundaries. Others had been placed to flank trackways or mark the entrances to enclosures. The erratics are large rounded granite boulders that are much bigger than most of the rocks in the surrounding area, and as such are very prominent in the landscape. In this way they would have served as good markers and way points for navigation across the uplands.
We recorded two different enclosures as well as the vestiges of several walls, which were likely to be used for livestock control. These generally occurred as an alignment of boulders or moss-covered stony mounds, making them sometimes difficult to spot. These early features would have provided a good source of stone for the construction of later field walls, a factor that has contributed to their poor condition today.
After completing Zone G, we moved on to the north end of the survey area (Zone K). Here, we recorded several interesting earthworks, including two small circular and sub-rectangular enclosures. We believe these were sow or clamp kilns for lime burning. The Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership excavated a sow kiln at Pendragon Castle in autumn last year, which you can read about here. This type of kiln pre-dates the stone-built draw kiln we saw in Season 1 on the south-west side of the Scar. However, they can date from the late medieval period up to the mid-19th century. Pieces of limestone would be collected and the kiln filled with alternate layers of stone and fuel and then sealed. Once lit, the contents of the kiln were left to burn over a number of days and then the whole structure was dismantled and the quicklime (burnt lime) removed. The lime would have been spread on the fields as fertiliser although some may have been used in making lime mortar.
Much of the limestone for the two sow kilns would have been sourced from the large sheer outcrop to the west. However, several quarries were found along the crag edge, some of which still retained large boulders that had been extracted and left at the base of the outcrop. Above the quarries there is a network of tracks to transport material off the Scar.
Zone M is open access moorland and very different in landscape character to the other two Zones surveyed. Up on this high, exposed plain we identified several cairns, sheepfolds and bields, but the area was vast, and we only just touched on it on Friday, so no doubt many new sites remain to be found.
There is no denying there was some pretty inclement weather last week, but the archaeology did not disappoint and made it worth battling the heavy rain and high winds. Thanks as ever to our intrepid team of volunteers and the speed and accuracy with which we are covering ground is largely thanks to these talented people who are willing to brave the elements with us. There are still places available for week two (16–20th March) and week three (23–27 March). Please contact Hannah Kingsbury at Hannah-Kingsbury@fld.org.uk for further details, or call 07814 305775.