Archaeologists digging up Peak District's medieval history

Archaeologists from across the country have headed to the Peak District in a bid to find out more about the area’s medieval past.

Friday, 3rd September 2021, 3:35 pm

A three-week dig is taking place at Dove Valley Activity Centre in Under Whitle, near Longnor, where experts are hoping to find links to the area’s medieval past including the remains of houses and rubbish tips.

Dr Ian Parker Heath is the project manager and archaeologist for the Tudor Farming Interpretation Group’s (TFIG) Digging Deeper: A Community Archaeology Project and said he is very excited about what the site has to uncover.

He said: “Digs like this don’t happen very often.

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Archaeologists from around the country are in Sheen to find a tudor farmhouse. Volunteer Leila Serougi.

"We have the funds to not only do a dig but to collect environmental data so we can add more to the story of the site.”

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The dig follows on from the hugely successful Peeling Back the Layers project in 2016 and aims to confirm the existence of a medieval farmhouse by carbon dating remains.

This previous excavation was useful in providing both artefactual and structural evidence of settlement of Under Whitle dating back to the 16th century and a range of materials were found during the excavation including metalwork, wood and ceramics.

The team at work

The archaeologists had hoped to find a medieval dwelling but were unsuccessful at that time so have returned to the site for further investigations.

The project also aims to find out what was growing in the valley in Tudor times and learn about the way our forefathers lived and farmed.

Ian said: “I hope we can find evidence of a dwelling. It won’t be a house as we know it with bricks but post holes in the ground or a drip channel.

“We have very little evidence of medieval life in the Peak District. We have the stories of people in the the towns but out in the countryside there is so much we don’t know so this dig could answer a lot of questions.”

Lead archaeologist Ian Parker Heath.

Ian says it would be really good if they find the remains of a rubbish tip on the excavation.

He said: “Rubbish tips are brilliant. They tell us about what people ate, how they cooked, what they ate off but had to throw away because it broke and what the animals ate.

"We previously found small pieces of pottery and the remains of charcoal from the same site which dated back to 1350AD right at the time of the Black Death so it will be great to spend more time looking at the site.”

Volunteer Margaret Black cleans some of the finds.

Due to the pandemic, archaeological digs had to be put on hold but now people from all over the country are heading to the site.

Ian said: “News of the dig has spread by word of mouth and people are very excited by it.

"A lot of people haven’t been able to get their hands dirty in a while and people have missed that so we are expecting around 30 volunteers from all over the UK to be working with us which is a great number."

As well as the volunteers, the project is also working with members of the community from scouts to asylum seekers and the black and Asian community.

"We want to reach out to people who may not normally experience archaeology,” said Ian.

"We want to share with them the exciting things we hopefully will find and broaden their horizons and give them the spark to become future gatekeepers of the past.”

Angela Knisely-Marpole

The project is being funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Peak District National Park Authority as well as several small community grants and this money will be used to fund three specialists who will be analysing the soil, the pollen and radon carbon dating finds from the terraces to provide a whole picture of the site rather than just recording the finds.

The dig started last week and the team will need to remove 80cms of soil before they are at the right level to start their work.

Ian said: "I am always hopeful and confident we will find things which will uncover secrets of the past but sometimes we don’t get lucky and that is the challenge.

"I’d like the weather to stay dry and overcast as the rain makes it harder to spot things in the soil sometimes but not too hot as it does make the work much more difficult if you are sweating in the sun.”The TFIG is inviting the community to come along and see what is happening at the activity centre and is hosting an open day on Sunday September, 5.

Secretary for the group Carolyn Chambers added: “Fans of Time Team are in for a treat in September as you are all invited to come along to our free open day to see the progress, meet the team and enjoy the beautiful scenery

"You will have the opportunity to see archaeology in real time, meet the experts and walk the heritage trail.

“An archaeobotanist will be taking soil samples and visitors can join in. There will be a mini dig for children to enjoy, The Quack will be on hand to advise on medieval medicine."

An exhibition of research into the families of Whitle including the Horobins, will be also on display.

The event will take place at Dove Valley Centre, Under Whitle Farm, Sheen, Near Longnor SK17 0PR between 12pm and 4pm and refreshments will be available.