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Woodland Archaeology Festival in the Crags

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Dozens of volunteers enjoyed getting hands-on at the Woodland Archaeology Festival

As a part of the ongoing Celebrating Our Woodland Heritage project, Pennine Prospects, supported by the National Trust and funded by the Heritage Lottery fund and Yorkshire Water held a Woodland Archaeology Festival at the National Trust property of Hardcastle Crags in June. 

Iron smelting

Iron smelting

The free week-long event provided a great opportunity for people to get hands-on experience of an archaeological excavation, as well as to learn about and get involved in traditional woodland industry activities.
The excavation centred on one of many charcoal burning platforms located across the property, and served as the first of three excavations to be undertaken as part of the project across the South Pennines this summer.



In all 46 volunteers, including families assisted with the excavation. People did not need to be trained archaeologists to participate as training and equipment was provided.  Chris Atkinson, Woodland Heritage Officer, explained, “The results of this excavation, and two more taking place in the region, will contribute greatly towards our understanding of charcoal production in the region during the 19th century and earlier.”  The results and samples will be analysed by three university organisations.

“We found evidence relating to the final use of the platform for charcoal production. We’ve taken samples from the top of the platform and underlying layers, which will be sent to the University of Glasgow for radiocarbon dating,” continued Chris.

“We’ve also taken cores from the platform to show a cross section of layers. These will be tested at the University of Sheffield for pollen, which will indicate the different species of trees and plant-life that have been growing here at different times so we can see how the woodland has changed over the centuries.

“And finally we will send samples of soil and charcoal to the University of Bradford to determine the types of wood that have been used to produce charcoal over the years,” Chris added.



Alongside the excavation hands-on activities displaying and promoting traditional woodland industry activities were on offer to visitors and volunteers.  The stands included a traditional charcoal burn, Iron Age iron smelt, Late Neolithic-Bronze Age pottery making and traditional woodland crafts such as carpentry.

“The charcoal burn led by Hywel Lewis from the University of Bradford went very well on the first weekend,” added Chris. “And so on the second weekend Louis Olivier Lortie and his team from the University of Sheffield used the charcoal produced to fire their Iron Age bloomery to successfully smelt iron. Experimental archaeology is a great way of learning about how particular techniques were undertaken in the past and provides a great opportunity for the public to get involved and understand the important role trees and woodland have played throughout human history.”

A second charcoal burning platform excavation has taken place in Hirst Wood, in Shipley, at which 22 volunteers took part. A third excavation is planned for the autumn in North Dean Woods, Halifax. To get involved email Chris.

The Woodland Archaeology Festival was part of the Celebrating Our Woodland Heritage Project, a three year project to promote this valuable historical resource to help protect it for future generations. The project is funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund (£400,000), with contributions from the Newground Together Trust (£60,000), the Green Bank Trust (£16,500) and Yorkshire Water (£20,000), and managed by Pennine Prospects, the organisation working in and for the South Pennines.

For more information about the project please visit Celebrate Our Woodland website or find us on Facebook at Celebrating Our Woodland Heritage.  Call Chris on 07582 101 691 or email Chris or Robin Gray.